Once an old man lived in a village with his wife. They were very poor and had one only son. When he grew up, the mother said to her husband: "It's time we secured a wife for our son."
"Well, go and see if you can bargain for a wife."
The old woman went to her neighbour and asked him if her son could marry his daughter. But the neighbour said, "No!" She went to the next peasant, who also declined. She searched the whole village in vain. When she came back she said: "I fear our son is born under an unlucky star!"
"I went through the whole village and there is nobody who will give his daughter in marriage to him."
"That looks bad!" said the husband. "It will soon be summer, and unless we get a wife for him we shall not have anybody to help us at the harvest. Woman, go into the next village, and maybe you find somebody there."
The old woman went to the next village, went from one end to the other, went through all the courtyards and houses of the peasants, but she was put off everywhere. She came back home and sulked: "No one wants to be kin with such poor folk as us!"
"In that case it is best to spare our legs and go and sit behind the oven."
But the son was indignant. He asked: "Father, let me go and seek my own fate."
"Where then will you go?"
"Wherever I feel for!"
Both his parents blessed him and they let him go.
When the boy was on the road, he wept bitterly and spoke to himself: "Am I the feeblest man in the world since no maiden will have me? If so, even if a Bad Master would send me a bride I would examine if she was fit for me."
Suddenly an old man came to meet him. "Good day!"
"Good day, old father!"
"What were you saying just now?"
The boy was frightened and did not know what to answer.
"Relax! Perhaps I can help you in your need. Speak out boldly."
So the boy told him all. "No maiden would marry me. That made me angry; and I said if Milord himself came and gave me a girl, I would examine her to see whether she was fit to be my bride."
The old man laughed and said: "I can give you many brides." They then came to a lake. "Stand with your back to the water, and step backwards," the old man told the boy.
As soon as the boy turned round, and took four steps, he found himself under the water, in a white stone palace. All the rooms were splendidly furnished and finely decorated.
The old man gave him meat and drink, and afterwards showed him twelve maidens, each of whom was fairer than the others. "Choose one, any of them."
"It's a difficult choice! Let me have till tomorrow to think of it."
"Well, you can have till tomorrow," said the old man, and he took him into a large room.
The boy lay down to sleep and began to think which maiden to choose. Suddenly the door opened and a beautiful girl came in. "Are you asleep or not?"
"No, I cannot sleep. I am thinking which bride to choose."
"That is what I came to counsel you about, for you have become the guest of a Bad Master. If you wish to return to the light of day, do as I say. If you don't, you won't get out of this place alive."
"Please counsel me, then."
"Tomorrow Milord will show you twelve maidens that look very much alike. You must choose me: Look at me very carefully then, for I will wear a patch over my right eye, and that will be the sign."
The maiden went on to tell him her story. "Do you know the parish priest in a neighbouring village? I am his daughter, and was stolen from his house nine years ago. One day my father was angry with me and made a hasty wish that the devil might take me. I went in front of the house and cried, and then and there I was snatched and carried off here, and I have never left the place since."
Next day the old man set the twelve maidens in a row before the boy, and commanded him to choose one of them. He looked till he found the one with the patch over the right eye, and chose her.
The old man was angry at the thought of giving her up. He therefore mixed the maidens together and told the boy to make a second choice. The boy hit on the same one, and after a third choice he got her for his bride.
"This has been your piece of luck. Now take her home!"
All at once the boy and the maiden found themselves on the bank of the lake. From there they walked on till they reached the high road. The devil wanted to hunt after them; but all at once the lake vanished, and there was no trace of the water.
When the boy had taken his bride into the village, he stopped at the priest's house. The priest saw her, and sent a servant out and asked what they desired. r
"We are wandering folk, and ask for shelter."
"I have merchant guests staying here, and my hut would be too small anyhow."
"But, father!" said the merchants to their host, "wandering folk must be always taken in: they will not disturb us."
"Well, come in."
The boy and the maiden came in, made due greetings, and sat down on a corner of the lire bank.
"Don't you know me, father? I am your own daughter!" She told him what had happened; and they kissed, embraced, and shed tears of joy.
"Who is he?" said the priest, pointing to the boy.
"That is my own chosen bridegroom, the one who brought me back to the light of day. Were it not for him I should have remained beneath for ever!" Then the girl opened her bag. There were golden and silver vessels in it which she had taken with them from the bad place.
A merchant looked at the vessels and said: "I know these! I used to own them. But once I was dining with guests I became rather drunk, quarrelled with my wife, and wished the gold and silver on the table to hell. Afterwards then were gone!"
As soon as the man mentioned hell the Bad Master appeared on the threshold, gathered up all the gold and silver vessels and threw some muck back instead.
So the boy got a fine bride, married her, and drove to see his parents. They had long given him up for dead, for he had been away for three years, although it had seemed to him only twenty-four hours under water.