About a thousand years ago or more there were many kings in this country. Each had less land to govern than today. One of the many kings lived on the Keuterberg and was very fond of hunting. Once when he was riding forth from his castle with his huntsmen, three sisters were watching and tending their cows on the mountain. When they saw the king with all his followers, the eldest girl pointed to him, and called to the two other girls, "If I do not get that one, I will have none."
Then the second girl answered from the other side of the hill, and pointed to the one who was on the king's right hand, "Hilloa! hilloa! If I don't get that one, I will have no one."
And the third girl soon called to the other two girls that she liked another of the huntsmen best.
The two men were the two ministers.
The king heard all this, and when he had come back from the chase, he had the three sisters brought to him and asked them what they had said yesterday on the mountain. They would not tell him at first, so the king asked the eldest if she really would take him for her husband.
She said, "Yes," and in a short time the king married her. The two ministers married the two sisters, for all three sisters were fair and beautiful of face, especially the queen. She had hair like flax.
The two sisters had no children, and once when the king had to go from home, he invited them to come to the queen in order to cheer her, for she was about to bear a child. She gave birth to a little boy who brought a bright red star into the world with him. Then the two sisters agreed to throw the beautiful boy into the river. When they had thrown him in, a little bird flew up into the air, and sang,
"No, no, no, no, no."
When the two heard that, they were frightened almost to death, and ran away in great haste. When the king came home they told him that the queen had given birth to a dog.
The king said, "What God does, is well done!"
But a fisherman who lived near the water fished the little boy out again while he was still alive, and as his wife had no children, they reared him.
When a year had gone by, the king again went away, and the queen had another little boy. The queen's false sisters likewise took and threw the newborn into the river. Then a little bird flew up again and sang,
"No, no, no, no, no."
When the two heard that, they were frightened and ran away. When the king came back, they told him that the queen had once again given birth to a dog. He said: "What God allows to happen, is happening all right."
The fisherman fished this baby too out of the water and reared him.
Then the king again left his queen and castle. The queen gave birth to a little girl while he was away. The false sisters threw the baby into the river. Then again a little bird flew up on high and sang,
"No, no, no, no, no.
And when the king came home they told him that the queen had given birth to a cat.
Then the king grew angry, and said only, "Not again!" and ordered his wife to be cast into prison. She was shut up in it for many long years.
In the meantime the children grew up. The eldest once went out with some other boys to fish, but the other boys would not have him with them, and said, "Go away, foundling."
He was much troubled on hearing this, and asked the old fisherman if it was true. The fisherman told him that once when he was fishing he had drawn him out of the water. So the boy said he would go away and seek his father. The fisherman entreated him to stay, but the boy would not be hindered, and at last the fisherman let him go.
The boy went on his way and walked for many days, and at last he came to a great stretch of water. An old woman stood fishing at the shore.
"Good day, mother," said the boy.
"Many thanks," said she.
"You will fish long enough before you catch anything."
"And you will seek long enough before you find your father. How will you get over the water?" said the woman.
Then the old woman took him on her back and carried him through the water to the other side. The boy sought there for a long time, but could not find his father.
When a year had gone by, the second boy set out to seek his brother. He came to the water, and it happened to him just as with his brother.
Now there was no one at home but the daughter, and she mourned for her brothers so much that at last she also begged the fisherman to let her go, for she wished to go in search of her brothers. She likewise came to the great stretch of water, and she said to the old woman, "Good day, mother."
"Many thanks," answered the old woman.
"May God help you with your fishing," said the maiden.
When the old woman heard that, she became so friendly that she carried the girl over the water, gave her a wand, and said to her, "Go steadily onwards by this road, and when you come to a great black dog, you must pass it silently and boldly, without laughing or looking at it. Then you will come to a great, high castle. On the threshold of it you must let the wand fall, and go straight through the castle and out again on the other side. There you will see an old fountain that a large tree has grown out of. On the tree hangs a bird in a cage, and you must take down. Take likewise a glass of water out of the fountain.
With these two things go back by the same way. Pick up the wand again from the threshold and take it with you, and when you again pass by the dog, strike him in the face with it, but be sure that you hit him, and then just come back here to me."
The maiden found everything exactly as the old woman had said, and on her way back from the fountain she found her two brothers who had sought each other over half the world. They went together to the place where the black dog was lying on the road. She struck it in the face, and it turned into a handsome prince who went with them to the river. There the old woman was still standing. She rejoiced much to see them again, and carried them all over the water, and then she too went away, for now she was freed.
The three went to the old fisherman, and all were glad that they had found each other again, and hung the cage of the bird on the wall.
Now, the second son could not settle at home, and took his cross-bow and went a-hunting. When he was tired he took his flute, and made music. The king was hunting too, and heard that and went there, and when he met the youth, he said, "Who has given you leave to hunt here?"
"Oh, no one."
"To whom do you belong, then?"
"I am the fisherman's son."
"But he has no children."
"If you will not believe it, come with me."
The king did, and asked the fisherman about it. The fisherman told everything to him, and the little bird on the wall began to sing,
"The mother sits alone
On hearing a bird speak and sing they were all terrified. The king took the bird, the fisherman and the three children back with him to the castl, and ordered the prison to be opened and that his wife was brought out again. She had grown quite ill and weak. Then the daughter gave her some of the water of the fountain to drink, and she became strong and healthy. But the two false sisters were burnt, and the daughter married the prince who had been a dog.
1. The Failed Vixen Wedding
There was once on a time an old fox with nine tails, who believed that his wife was not faithful to him, and wished to try her. He stretched himself out under the bench, did not move a limb, and behaved as if he were stone dead. Mrs. Fox went up to her room, shut herself in, and her maid, Miss Cat, sat by the fire, and did the cooking.
When it became known that the old fox was dead, wooers came. The maid heard some one standing at the house-door, knocking. She went and opened it, and it was a young fox, who said,
"What may you be about, Miss Cat?
"I am waking,
"No, thank you, miss," said the fox. "What is Mrs. Fox doing?"
The maid replied,
"She sits all alone,
"Do just tell her, miss, that a young fox is here, and would like to woo her."
"Certainly, young sir."
The cat goes up the stairs trip, trap,
"Tell me what he is like, my dear? But has as beautiful tail as the late Mr. Fox?"
"Oh, no," answered the cat"
"Then I won't have him."
Miss Cat went downstairs and sent the wooer away. Soon afterwards there was another knock, and another fox was at the door and wished to woo Mrs. Fox. He had a large, bushy tail, but it was not big enough for Mrs. Fox.
After this still more came, each with a larger and more impressive tail than the other, but they were all turned away, till at last one came who had a tail that was as large as the tail of old Mr. Fox.
When the widow heard that, she said joyfully to the cat,
"Now open the gates and doors all wide,
But as soon as the wedding ceremonies had started, old Mr. Fox stirred where he lay under the bench and drove all the others and Mrs. Fox out of the house. She would have to marry again somewhere else.
2. The Succesful Vixen Wedding
When old Mr. Fox was dead, the wolf came as a wooer, and knocked at the door, and the cat who was servant to Mrs. Fox, opened it for him. The wolf greeted her, and said,
"Good day, Mrs. Cat of Kehrewit,
The cat replied,
"In milk I'm breaking bread so sweet,
"No, thank you, Mrs. Cat," answered the wolf. "Is Mrs. Fox not at home?"
The cat said,
"She sits upstairs in her room,
The wolf answered,
"If she's in want of a husband now,
Mrs. Fox asked, "Has the gentleman red stockings on' and has he a pointed mouth?"
"No," answered the cat.
"Then he won't do for me."
When the wolf was gone, came a dog, a stag, a hare, a bear, a lion, and all the beasts of the forest, one after the other. But one of the good points which old Mr. Fox had possessed, was always lacking, and the cat had continually to send the wooers away. At length came a young fox. Then Mrs. Fox said, "Has the gentleman red stockings on, and has he a little pointed mouth?"
"Yes," said the cat, "he has."
"Then let him come upstairs," said Mrs. Fox, and ordered the servant to prepare the wedding-feast.
"Sweep me the room as clean as you can,
Then the wedding was solemnized with young Mr. Fox, and there was much rejoicing and dancing; and if they have not left off, they are dancing still.