A man had a shepherd who had served him faithfully and honestly for many years. One day, as the shepherd was tending his sheep, he heard a hissing noise in the forest and wondered what it could he. He therefore went into the wood in the direction of the sound to learn what it was. There he saw that the dry grass and leaves had caught fire and in the middle of a burning circle a snake was hissing. The shepherd stopped to see what the snake would do, for the fire was burning all around it and the flames approached it nearer and nearer every moment. Then the snake cried:
"Shepherd! for heaven's sake save me from this fire!"
The shepherd stretched out his crook over the flames to the snake and the snake passed along it on to his hand and from his hand it crawled to his neck, where it twisted itself round.
When the shepherd perceived this, he was greatly alarmed and said to the snake:
"What? Have I saved you to my own destruction?"
The snake answered him, "Do not be afraid, but carry me to my father's house. My father is the king of the snakes."
The shepherd, however, began to beg the snake to excuse him, saying that he could not leave the sheep; but the snake answered:
"Do not be troubled about the sheep; no harm shall happen to them; only go as fast as you can."
The shepherd then walked through the forest with the snake till he came to a gate that was entirely made of snakes knotted together. The snake on the shepherd's neck gave a whistle and all the other snakes untwisted themselves. Then the snake said to the shepherd:
"When we come to my father's place he will give you whatever you ask for: silver, gold and precious stones. But do not take any of these; ask to know the language of the animals, rather. He will refuse you this for a long time, but at last he will grant your request."
Meanwhile they came to the palace, to the father. He cried:
"Dearest daughter, where have you been?"
She told him in due order how she had been surrounded by the forest fire and how the shepherd had rescued her. Then the king of the snakes turned to the shepherd and said to him:
"What may I give you for saving my daughter?"
The shepherd answered, "Only let me understand the language of animals. Nothing else."
The king said, "That is not good for you; for if I let you know the tongue of animals and you were to tell anyone of it, you would die at once."
The shepherd answered: "If you wish to give me anything, then grant me the knowledge of the language of animals; but if you do not care to give me that - farewell." And the shepherd turned to leave the place.
The king called him back, saying: "Stay! come here to me, since you will have it at all hazards. Open your mouth."
The shepherd opened his mouth and the king of the snakes breathed into it and said:
"Now you understand the language of animals and of all created things. Tell no one of this, for if you do, you must die at once!"
The shepherd returned home through the forest. As he walked he heard and understood all that the birds said and the grass and all the other things that are on the earth. When he came to his sheep and found them all together and quite safe, he laid himself down to rest. Scarcely had he lain down when two ravens flew toward him. They perched on a tree and began to talk together:
"What if that shepherd knew that beneath the place where the black lamb lies there is a cellar full of silver and gold!'
When the shepherd heard this, he went to his master and told him of it. The master took a cart with him and they dug down to a door leading to the cave and took the treasure with them to the master's house. But he was an honest man, and gave all the treasure to the shepherd, saying:
"My son, all this treasure is yours. Buy yourself a house with it, marry and live happily there."
The shepherd took the treasure, built himself a house, and, after marrying, lived a happy life. Soon he became known as the richest man in the whole neighbourhood. He had his own shepherd, cow keeper, horse grooms and swineherd; plenty of goods and gears and great riches.
One day, just before Christmas, he said to his wife, "Get some wine and brandy and all things necessary, for tomorrow we will go to the farmyard and take the good things to the shepherds that they too may enjoy themselves."
The wife prepared all that he had told her. When the shepherds arrived next day at the farmhouse, the master said to them:
"Come here, all of you; this food and drink is for you after much and faithful service. I will watch over the flocks for you tonight." And he remained with the flocks.
About midnight the wolves began to howl and the dogs to bark, The wolves said to the dogs:
"May we come in and do what mischief we like? Then you, too, shall have your share."
The dogs answered, "Come in; and we will eat our fill with you."
But among the dogs there was an old one, who had but two teeth in his head and he said to the wolves:
"That will not do. So long as I have my two teeth in my head you shall do no harm to my master or his sheep."
The master heard it all and understood what was said. On the following morning he ordered all the dogs to be killed save only the old one. The hirelings said, "Heaven forbid, sir; that would be a great pity!"
But the master answered, "Do what I have told you."
Then he prepared to return home with his wife and they both mounted their horses. And as they rode on, the husband got a little ahead, while the wife fell behind. At last the husband's horse neighed and called to the mare:
"Come on! make haste! Why do you lag behind!"
The mare answered the husband's horse, "Yes, it is all very easy for you: you have only one to carry, the master; while I have to carry two, the mistress and her baby."
The husband turned round and laughed and his wife seeing this, urged the mare forward. When she overtook her husband she asked him what he had been laughing at.
"It was something that came to mind," answered the husband.
But the wife was not satisfied with this answer and pressed him again and again to tell her why he had laughed.
But he excused himself and said: "Let me alone, wife!"
But she insisted that he should tell her what he had been laughing at. At last he said to her:
"If I tell you why I shall die at once."
His wife did not care for that, but urged him to tell her.
Meanwhile they had reached home. The husband ordered a coffin to be made at once. When it was ready he had it placed before the house and said to his wife:
"See now, I now lay down in this coffin. If I tell you why I laughed, I shall die."
The husband lay down in the coffin and looked around him for the last time. And there came the old dog from the farmyard and sat down at his head and whined. The husband, seeing this, said to his wife:
"Bring a piece of bread and give it to this dog."
The wife brought out a piece of bread and threw it down to the dog, but the dog would not even look at it. Then the house cock ran up and began to pick at the bread. The dog said to it:
"You miserable greedy thing! You can eat when you see that the master is going to die!"
The cock answered, "Let him die since he is such a fool. I have a hundred wives. If anyone of them got angry, I should be at her directly with my beak. The master has only one wife and he cannot even manage her."
When the husband heard this he quickly sprang out of the coffin and called his wife into their bedroom.
"Come, wife," he said, "and you will get what you desire."
Then, with a little give and take they soon came to an agreement that she should not ask him about it again.