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The Three Tasks

Once there lived in a great city a mighty king. He had an only daughter. When she had reached her eighteenth year, and no bridegroom had offered himself, the king thought it would be best to give his daughter to any man who would perform the tasks assigned to him by the king. To this end the king caused the tower which stood in his city, and was famed for its immense size and height, to be decked with banners. It was so high that all his subjects could see it.

At first people did not know what the banners on the old tower meant, but when they asked about it, they were told so. Then the three sons of a peasant, Mathias, Jacob, and Hans, decided to try their luck. They set out, and in passing through their father's garden, the eldest said to the youngest, "Shut the garden door."

Hans thought he said, "Take the door." So Hans took the door off its hinges, and carried it on his back.

The two others went in front and did not trouble themselves much about Hans, and did not once notice that he was carrying the door on his back. When the night came on, they had to look out for a place to sleep in, and decided after some discussion to climb a tree, so that they might be safe from the wild beasts. Now the brothers noticed for the first time that Hans had brought the garden door along with him. They scolded him for this, and told him he must carry the door up the tree, so that no trace of a human presence was to be seen on the ground. And they pushed, and pushed till they had got the door up.

The brothers now stretched themselves out, and soon fell asleep. But they were awakened by some shots, and to their great horror they saw some robbers approaching the tree, and went on to camp underneath it. Although the brothers kept quite quiet, the robbers soon observed that someone was above, and loaded their guns to fire at the strangers. Hans, seeing these preparations, was so terrified that he let the door fall, and by its fall it killed the robbers.

The two elder brothers now perceived that they were saved by Hans, and behaved more kindly to him. The three wanderers remained sitting on the tree all night, and waited the break of day to continue on their way.

As soon as the first streak of dawn appeared, the three brothers came down and went on their way singing. After some hours they had reached the royal court, asked for entrance, and told why they had come.

Then the king said, "Two of you may go, for I have only one daughter, and she only needs one groom."

None of the brothers wanted to give way, and it even came to a quarrel, till at last the king commanded the eldest of the brothers, Mathias, to stay. The king then asked him about his situation and gave him the following task:

"You are to come sailing to me on a golden ship, but not on the water. The ship must not have wheels, but must sail through the air."

When Matthias had heard this, he went sadly home, and quite alone, for the other brothers had already gone before.

Next day Matthias went into the forest, and in the hope that the king would consider the task done if the ship was made of wood, he hit a fine tree and worked day and night on the ship. On the third day he felt very tired and could not help falling asleep. When he woke up, an old man came to him and asked for a piece of bread.

Matthias drove him off roughly. The man walked away and said: "Matthew, Matthew, you'll regret it."

Hardly had he uttered these words, he was gone and the tree that had almost assumed the form of a ship was in its former glory again before the astonished Matthias.

Gradually his surprise gave way to anger because his three day's work was for nothing. He went home and told his misfortune to his parents, but they could give him no explanation of it.

The deadline had passed, and Matthias was still at home. Two days after the expiry of the time there came messengers, and sadly Mathias went to the royal castle. He could not excuse himself, and so was condemned to death.

When his parents heard of this they were greatly troubled, and forbade the two younger brothers to woo the king's daughter. But the brothers had not in mind to obey, and the second went into a dense forest and selected a fine tree. He then began, like his brother, to hew the trunk into a ship. When in his weariness he fell asleep, there came a woman, woke up the sleeper, and begged for money. Jacob treated her harshly, and she went away, saying, "Tree, stand up!" and at once the tree stood up again in its full glory.

So Jacob fared no better than his brother, for he had not accomplished the task.

And now came the turn of the youngest brother. Hans went into the forest, hewed down a fine tree, and built out of it a ship. He finished his task singing; and when it was done there came to him a hideous old woman and demanded a kiss. Hans did not hesitate, but hugged and kissed the old woman, not once, but several times.

Then she said to him, "The victory is yours!" She then repeated something over the ship, and suddenly the ship was changed into pure gold, and began to move. It carried Hans to a great mountain, and here it rested. Hans waited till the ship should again begin to move. But this lasted too long, for he had already eaten the bread that his mother had given him.

When the third day had passed and the ship was still at rest, he cried in despair, "Woman, come to me!" All at once he then heard a rustling well. He went up to it and said, "Dear fountain, help me!" And suddenly Hans read these words on the surface of the brook: "Not far from me lies a pipe. Take it on your ship."

He sought the pipe and found it too. Then he went into his boat and began to whistle. A man appeared and asked: "What do you want?"

Hans told him his trouble, and the man told him than when Hans urgently needed water, he should just whistle and he himself would come and get him some.

Soon after the ship began to move and carried him to a field. Here, it stopped. A hunter came and gave Hans a trumpet with the remark, "Only blow if you need anything, and you will see what an expert hunter can do for you."

Then the ship began moving again and carried him to the castle of the king.

The king looked with astonishment on the man and the ship that could fly so cleverly and admirably through the air. Hans stepped out of the ship, and the king invited him to a merry feast. Then Hans asked the king for the second task, and the king answered, "Get me just a jug of water the moment you stand up from your chair by this table."

Hans remembered his pipe and whistled at once, and the pitcher was on the table when he stood up.

The third task was to call together all the sheep in the world, and let the king see them. Hans blew on his trumpet, and suddenly there was a multitude of sheep, including all those that kings owned in other countries.

The next day the betrothal ceremony was to take place. But the princess would not recognise Hans as her husband, and begged the king to set him some further tasks.

The king refused, saying, "Hans has performed his three tasks." So nothing helped against it; the princess had to become his wife, and as luck would have it, lived long and happily with him.


The Sounding Tree

Once there was a king's son, who carried on the government after his father had died. But by marrying he incurred the hatred of his mother, because he had not selected a bride who pleased her.

Not long after the wedding the king had to go to a war that lasted three years. His queen had meanwhile given birth to two fine boys. The mother of the king now sought to take her revenge, and wrote to the king that someone had given birth to a misshaped creature.

The king wrote back that such a woman was to be shut up in the hunger-tower, and the misbirth was to be cast into the water, all according to the customs then. This was done: The two boys were placed in a box that was then thrown into the water. The queen in the tower did not starve to death there though; she found food near the door to her room every morning.

Near the castle was the pleasure-garden, and the gardener found the box when he was fetching water. He opened it and found the boys inside. Full of joy he ran to his wife, and said, "Here is a couple of boys that we may adopt for our own!"

The boys grew up and learnt gardening.

Meanwhile the king had come home again, and the first thing he did was to ask for his queen. His mother reminded him that he himself had ordered the queen to be shut up in the hunger-tower for giving birth to a misshapen child. The king suddenly remembered, and also thought his mother told the truth about his offspring when she told him that one boy had had an ox's head and the other a horse's head.

But from that time the king had no more rest. One evening as he passed by the hunger-tower he saw a light in its upper part. He went to the keeper and had the key given to him. When he came to the door of the prison where he saw the light, he peeped through the keyhole, and saw his wife. He opened the door and fell on the queen's neck and begged her pardon. He asked her if she had had a misbirth. "No," she said as he brought her back to the castle. Soon the wicked mother was torn asunder by four horses.

Search was made for the two boys, but in vain. The gardener was dead recently, but the two sons kept the garden in so good order that the king appointed them gardeners.

In return for this the two brothers desired to give king enjoyment by bringing the sounding tree, the speaking bird, and the golden water into his garden. Many had sought for these three things, but none had succeeded.

The eldest brother set out and came to a hermit. He asked the hermit whether he knew anything of the three objects, and how he could come by them.

The hermit said, "My dear child, many hundreds have come to me and have asked the same question, but not one has returned, because not one did just what the bird told."

The gardener begged the hermit only to show him the way, and promised that he would do as the bird told.

"Take this road," said the hermit, "and you will hear the sounding tree."

And, in fact, after three days' travel, the gardener heard the sounding of the tree. Before he came up to it he had to pass through a great heap of stones that had the form of human beings.

Then he heard a voice call, "Good morning, young man, what do you want here?"

He looked round, and saw the speaking bird on the sounding tree. "It is you I want," said the gardener, "and the sounding tree and the golden water."

The bird said, "Break off a bough and take me with the basket down from the tree. Then go to the rock over there, there lies a key. Take the key and open the door in the rock. With the vessel that you will find in the rock, take of the golden water, and when you come out of the rock, do not look behind you, but go straight on."

The gardener went, but as he came out of the rock, the men-like stones came after him, and cried, "Brother, take me with you." Hearing the noise, he looked round, and was changed on the spot into a stone.

The second brother meantime waited for him, and as he did not come, he too set out on the road and came to the hermit, and asked him the way to the sounding tree, and whether his brother had not passed by that way.

"Yes," said the hermit, "but he cannot have done exactly as the bird instructed him to do, and so he has not come back."

"What road will I have to take to come to the sounding tree?"

The hermit showed him the way, and gave him the same directions as his brother had got.

After three days he heard the tree sound, and came to the stones. Seeing the stones, he thought they were men, and touched them, but they were only stones. The bird wished him good morning, and asked him what he wanted.

"You," he answered, "and the sounding tree, and the golden water." Now he had to do the same things as his brother had done.

When he stepped out of the rock, the stones followed and made a fearful noise, and cried, "Brother, take me with you."

But he went on, taking no heed of the noise, though it grew louder and louder. However, he was so frightened that he fell to the ground. When he recovered and rose, he saw that many hundreds, released by him, stood around him. His brother and he now went with the bough, the bird, and the golden water to their home. Then the bird said,

"Place now the bough in the earth, dig a pit by the side of it, and place the vessel in it with the water. Then hang me with the basket on the bough and go to rest. Until early morning all will be wonders."

When the brothers awoke early next morning they heard the tree sounding, and the golden water was flowing down a high rock. The king heard the sound and asked what it was, but none could say. At last he went down into the garden, and was not little astonished to see the tree, the water, and the bird. Many kings came and wondered at the beautiful sight. As they loudly exclaimed, "How beautiful!" the bird said, "But one thing is not beautiful."

"And what is that?" asked they. The bird answered, "That the king suffers his sons to be gardeners."

"What does this mean?" said the king. The bird, who knew much of what passed in the world, now told him what had happened. And the king, the queen, and all present, greatly rejoiced that the two lost sons had been found.

[Vernaleken 187-93]


The Sleeping Giant

There was once a giant who was asleep and snoring so that that the trees were shaking far and wide. Then came a wagon driver along the road with his wagon. It was drawn by eight pairs of horses. He thought: "It is a storm that makes the trees rustle so wildly."

When he had gone for a long time, he came to the giant, took him to be a hill and drove over him. He went on bravely, and throught he was on the right road still. Then he went on till he came to the nose of the great man. The wagon driver thought to himself: "Here are two tunnels," and did not know whether he should drive into the left or the right. At last he said, "I take my chances on the tunnel to the right," and steered into the left nostril of the giant. As he drove in, the wagon tickled the giant. He woke up and sneezed so that the wagon flew four miles away. That is what was the driver was told. And later he was more wary.




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