Once there was a blacksmith, and he had only one son, John by name. They sent him to school, but fortune changed and his parents fell into poverty, so they were forced to take their son home again. John had already passed through the higher standard, but he could not support his parents. So one day he said:
"Father and mother! What can I do at home? There is no business here, so I cannot be a clerk, and I am too old now to learn a trade. So I will go out into the world and find myself a job, and, whenever I can, I will send you some money. And when I get a good job, you must sell your cottage and come and live with me."
His father and mother wept, because he wanted to leave them, but they knew that he was right, for there was no chance for him if he stayed at home. So they let him go. They gave him their blessing before he went out into the world. John wept till his heart nearly broke at parting with his aged parents.
He walked on till noon. At noon he sat down beneath a lime-tree beside a well, and had his meal and a drink. Then, strengthened and refreshed, he walked on till nightfall. The country was quite unknown to him, so he had to spend the night in the forest. The next day he went on again till he came into a wild mountain country. There he stopped and thought over what he should do next. He stood awhile, and then he went on again. He reached a pleasant valley, and there he found three brothers. They were quarrelling and on the point of coming to blows. John asked them what the matter was. The eldest answered:
"Our father has died, and he bequeathed to us these boots, this cloak, and this hat. And each of us would like to own the boots."
"Why?" asked John.
"Because they have the property that whoever puts them on can cover ten miles in the moment he wishes it. The cloak has the property that its owner can fly as far and as high as he likes. And the property of the hat is that it makes its wearer invisible."
John said: "You are brothers, and you ought not to quarrel. You must love one another. So that you won't quarrel any more, I will decide the matter for you. Give me those things."
They gave him the boots, the cloak, and the hat. He put the hat on, and they could not see him any more; he wrapped himself in the cloak, took the boots, and flew away.
He flew some distance before he alighted on a log and put the boots on. As he sat on the log, it turned over, and he saw a big hole under it. He went down the hole and came to some stairs, and went down them to the bottom without any difficulty. There he found a big room without any human being in it. The table was laid for one person. He thought: "I am hungry. Shall I eat this meal?" Finally he decided to risk it; he took off his hat and began to eat.
When he had finished, an old crone entered the room, and asked: "Did you like your meal?"
Oh, it was very nice indeed," answered John; "and, by the way, could you give me lodging for the night?"
"I will, if you can stand it; for at mid-night twenty-four ghosts will come, and they will try to make you play cards with them and dance with them. But you must sit still and not so much as look at them."
So the first night came. John was sitting eating his meal. When he had finished, he remained at table. After eleven o'clock two dozen ghosts entered the room and asked him to play cards with them. He refused, so they began preparations for playing skittles, and again asked him to join them, but he would not. Then a delightful music began to play, and they asked him to dance with them. No, he would not; he did not so much as look at them. They kept on dragging him about, tearing and biting him, till he began to think it was all over with him. But just then it struck twelve, and the ghosts vanished.
In the morning the old crone came back and waked him, for he was still asleep on the ground. She asked him: "How did you sleep?"
"Very well," said John.
"Did you, now?" answered the old woman. "Well, next night will be still worse, if you can stand it. Two score of ghosts will come, and they'll urge you to play cards and skittles with them and to dance with them. But you must sit quiet; don't so much as look at them."
He stayed there that day, and had a good time. Then the second night came. After eleven o'clock twoscore ghosts rushed in. They urged him to play cards and skittles with them and to dance with them. But John would not. He sat still, without so much as looking at them. So they began to torture him again, and dragged him about even worse than before. But when it struck twelve they left him on the ground and disappeared.
In the morning the old crone came. She washed him with some lotion till he recovered. She asked him: "How did you sleep?"
"Splendidly," said he.
"Did you, now?" said she. "It was a bad lodging for you, but the third night will be even worse, if you can stand it. Three score of ghosts will come, and will urge you to play cards and skittles and to dance with them. But you must sit still and not so much as look at them."
All that day he had a good time again. The third night came, and after eleven o'clock three score of ghosts rushed in. They gathered round him, and urged, prayed, and besought him to play and dance with him. When he refused, they seized him and began knocking him against the ground, tearing and biting him, so that he lost his senses and did not see them go away.
In the morning the old crone came and anointed him with a precious salve till he recovered. The old woman said: "You wouldn't have had such a bad time if you had not stolen the boots, the cloak, and the hat. The ghosts would simply have pressed you; they would have had no power over you. As you followed my advice and did not play with them, you have delivered an enchanted town and a beautiful princess. She will come to you at once. Now you are rich, return the stolen goods."
Then there came a girl in a white robe. It was the beautiful princess, and she thanked him for delivering her and the whole town. He went to the window, and outside he saw streets full of people and soldiers and a great bustle going on. The princess said:
"My father is a king, and you will marry me and succeed him. But my father dwells far from here, and we will go to him. Do you take this ring here."
So they went off. When the wedding was to take place, John wanted his parents to be present, so he asked the princess: "May I go to see my parents? I would like them to be at our wedding."
The princess answered: "They live a great way from us, but you will be able to get to them. The ring I gave you has the property that, when you turn it on your finger and wish to go a hundred miles, you will cover that distance in a moment. On your way you will come to a king who has a beautiful daughter. But you must not think of her nor of me, for then you will lose the ring, and you will not be able to go any farther."
John started. He turned the ring, and in a moment he was a hundred miles off, and found himself with a king who had several sons. They entertained him splendidly. Then he came to another king who had an only daughter, and she was very vulgar. The king insisted that John should marry her. John thought: "What are you thinking of, my man? My bright one is so beautiful that there is not her equal in the wide world, while your daughter is only a vulgar creature." At the moment he thought of his bride the ring slipped from his finger and disappeared.
John left them then. He was very sad, and considered what he should do. "My bride is far away now," he thought. "I cannot find my way either to her or to my parents."
As he was walking along in this sad mood, he thought of his cloak, and it came into his mind that, if he could reach the Sun's abode the same day, he could ask where his bride's castle was. As soon as he thought of this he was at the Sun's house. The Sun was not in; only his housekeeper was at home. He asked her for a lodging, and said that he would like to ask the Sun whether he knew the castle where his bride dwelt. She gave him the lodging. When the Sun returned home in the evening, John asked him whether he had any knowledge of the castle in which his wife dwelt. The Sun answered: "I don't know. I never shone there. But go and ask the Moon."
The next day, as soon as he woke, he flew off on his cloak to the Moon's castle. When he got there, the Moon was not in, and John asked the housekeeper for a night's lodging. He said he would like to ask the Moon's advice.
The housekeeper said: "You must wait till the Moon comes home, but you will be very cold, for my mistress is an extremely cold person."
"I will crouch in a corner and wait till the mistress comes; in any case, my cloak is warm enough."
When the morning drew near, the Moon returned home, and John asked her whether she knew where his bride's castle was.
The Moon said: "I never shone there. But go to the Wind. He is a fellow who penetrates everywhere, and so he is likely to know where that castle is."
So John went to the Wind's house. The Wind was not in, but Melusine, his wife, was alone at home. John asked her to let him stay there for the night. She tried to dissuade him.
"It is impossible, good sir. My lord is used to blow terribly. It will be exceedingly cold."
He answered: "I will cover myself up and crouch somewhere. I can endure cold, and, anyhow, my cloak is warm enough." So he stayed there for the night.
After midnight the Wind came home and asked: "Who is here with you, wife? I smell a man."
"Who should be here?" she said. "Your nose is still full of the human smell."
But the Wind persisted: "There is somebody here! Tell me!"
So she confessed. "Don't be angry, dear husband! There is a man staying here for the night, and he wants to ask you whether you will be kind enough to take him to his bride's castle."
The Wind answered: "It is very far from here, and I must ask the Lord how strongly I am to blow, if we are to get there. I was there yesterday; they are going to celebrate a wedding there, and they have been drying some shirts ready for it, and I have been helping them."
The Wind went to ask the Lord; and when he came back, he said to John: "I can blow strongly enough, but I don't know whether you will be able to keep step with me."
John answered: "I have got good boots, and I am sure I can."
So he wrapped himself in his cloak, covered his head with his hat, and put his boots on, and he went ahead so quickly that the Wind could hardly keep step with him. As they drew near to the castle, the Wind said: "Here it is," and disappeared in a whirl.
The other bridegroom had already arrived, and was at the wedding feast. John passed through the castle, and came to the table at which they were dining. Nobody could see him. He remained standing near the bride, and whenever she lifted the food to her mouth, he ate it before it could reach her mouth, so that the spoon reached her mouth empty.
After the banquet she said: "My plates were well filled, and yet it is as though I had been eating nothing at all. Who is it that has eaten my food? My glass was full too. I have not drunk, and yet it is empty. Who has drunk my wine?"
Then she went to the kitchen, and John followed close at her heels. When she was alone he revealed himself. He took his hat off, and she knew him. She was greatly rejoiced at this, and ran to the room and said:
"Gentlemen, I would like to ask you a question. I had a golden key and I lost it. So I had a silver key made for me, and, now that it is made, I have found the golden key. Would you be so kind as to advise me which of them I ought to keep?"
The bridegroom stepped forward and said: "Keep the golden key."
Off she went. She dressed John in beautiful garments, and then presented him to the guests, saying: "This is my golden key. He delivered me from torment, and I was to marry him. He went to see his parents, but he could not reach them. Now he has come back to me just as I was going to marry another man, the silver key of my story, though I had given up all hope of his return. Yet he has come back, and I shall keep him, the golden key, for the silver key has himself decided so."
The wedding was celebrated the next day, and John took charge of the old king's kingdom. Then they both went to visit his old parents, and brought them back with them to the palace. On their way back they called on the three brothers, and John gave them back the boots, the cloak, and the hat. And if they haven't died since, they are still alive enjoying their kingdom.