Radpot was young when he inherited the throne after his father, who said to him, "In all things be guided by the advice of my wise counsellor Rathgeb and do well."
But Radpot had a stepmother. She advised that he should take a year's journey to perfect himself in knowledge of the world, before taking over the government. Radpot suspected some evil intentions in his stepmother's advice, and asked Rathgeb about it.
"Though your stepmother may have evil intentions," the counsellor said, "it is well that you should travel to see the world and get experience. We will establish a council of regency to the end that the queen will not be able to do great mischief while you are away."
Radpot therefore wanted to set out with Rathgeb for a year's journey. As he had his foot in the stirrup his stepmother said to him, "Take this vial. When you are worn and wearied with heat and travel, a few drops of it may restore you to strength and vigour. Farewell!"
Radpot stowed away the vial in his belt and waved his hand to her as he rode away. After a week of hard riding with his trusted counsellor he took out his stepmother's vial, to try it. Rathgeb saw it and said,
"Don't you think our horses should try it first. Our ride has been ten times as strenuous to them than to us so far."
"True," said the prince. He got off his horse, opened its mouth and poured some drops on his tongue. The poor beast stretched out his long neck with an air of agony, then fell over on its side and died. The prince gazed at what happened, bewildered.
"What can it be that killed my good horse?" he exclaimed. "Had I been riding it too hard, so that it was too late for the drops to help him?"
"Try it on my horse too," answered Rathgeb; "for he is in good shape, you can see!"
"All right," answered Radpot, "give the drops to your horse."
Rathgeb took the vial and poured just three drops on the tongue of his thirsty horse. Suddenly the horse fell down lifeless by the side of its companion.
Radpot came to understand that his stepmother had wanted to get rid of him, and both of them went on their journey on foot.
They had not gone far when three flying ravens passed them. The two men saw how the birds alighted on the dead horses, and then suddenly fell dead to the earth at the side of the dead horses.
"These birds might be useful to us somehow," said Rathgeb. He went back to the spot, picked up the dead ravens and took them with him.
After some time they came to a hut that was completely sheltered in the border of a vast forest. As they stood before the door, an old woman came out to greet the travellers. She seemed to be moved with compassion and entreated them not to come in, for the hut belonged to twelve robbers. They would not be home till the next day at dinner-time, so if the travellers took the path she told them of, they could easily escape.
The prince would have set out to find a safer shelter; but Rathgeb remarked that a prince should rather find means to overcome a danger than fly from it. Radpot remembered the promise he had made to his father, and agreed.
"When the robbers come in, do exactly as I do," said Rathgeb. "In the meantime keep up your courage." And so they supped on what the old woman set before them and went to bed and slept peacefully. The next day, an hour before dinner-time, Rathgeb went into the kitchen and handed the three ravens to the old woman to cook, telling her in detail how to cook them and how to make the sauces that were to go with the ravens. He was still watching how the dish was made when the twelve robbers came back. They received the two strangers in a friendly manner and invited them to dinner. The old servant had told Rathgeb that this was their custom and that after dinner they fell upon their guests and slew them at the moment when they least expected any onslaught.
Rathgeb accepted the invitation, if he and his companion were be allowed to eat their own food, some game they had brought down on the way. The robbers did not object, and they all sat down to table. While waiting for the dishes to be brought, the robbers entertained their guests with lively conversation, and Rathgeb joined it well, and the young prince too.
When the dishes were brought, the chief robber invited the two travellers to share that food. Rathgeb helped the prince to something to drink, while the robbers started eating. The poison of the ravens did its work; in a thrice the robbers fell under the table - all but one. For he had felt suspicious of the guests who brought their own food with them. Now he stood erect among the dead bodies of his companions.
"Draw, prince," said Rathgeb, "and rid us of this scum! Cross not your sword with him, but smite him down."
Radpot did not wait to be twice told.
When all the robbers were dead, Radpot and his counsellor went on their journey. They left the store of the robbers to the old woman who had warned them, and took only wine and bread with them for their necessities by the way.
Skirting along the borders of the forest, they soon came to a fine city. There they sat down at the first inn, while other guests came in. "What news is there?" Rathgeb asked one of them.
"The same news as before. The princess that all this country belongs to keeps propounding some new stupid riddle, promising her hand and kingdom to the one who can solve it. If not, the penalty is to be dressed like a fool or jester, with long ears and bells, and then having ride backwards all through the city, with all the people hooting."
Rathgeb then asked further about how the princess looked, and about how she behaved.
"Oh, she is charming, and as for her mind, there is no fault there, except that just because she is more gifted than other women, she has become proud and haughty and unbearable."
Rathgeb had heard enough, and as the princess liked to talk with foreigners, Rathgeb and the prince were allowed to see her. Rathgeb then proposed the prince to her as suitor on the condition that instead of the princess proposing the riddle for him to guess, he should propose one for the princess to guess. If she failed, she must marry his prince.
The princess saw that the young suitor was handsame, and did not mind it so very much if she did not solve the ridde, try as she must.
Rathgeb's riddle was: "What is that of which one killed two, two killed three and three killed eleven?"
The princess asked for three days to find out of it. During that time she consulted all her clever books and all the wise men of the kingdom, but she could not find any good answer.
The third day came, and with it Rathgeb and the prince. The princess had to marry the handsome prince. By Rathgeb's advice he had not told her that he was a prince: they passed for two travelling pedlars. At first all went well enough, for the princess loved her husband and therefore forgot many of her haughty ways. And as the prince governed the kingdom wisely under Rathgeb's advice, everybody was content.
In time, however, some of the princess's old habits of haughtiness and bad temper came back. Radpot found it hard to keep peace with her. From day to day this grew worse. In the meantime Rathgeb received news Radpot's stepmother was dead and that all the people wanted him to return and place himself at the head of the nation.
The old counsellor now told Radpot how to deal with his difficult wife. First he left the palace for several days, and on returning informed her that he had been engaged on important affairs. He went on to say that he had to go away for a long time, and that he might not come back, so he must bid her adieu.
The princess could not believe he was serious; but when she saw her husband preparing to leave, she earnestly asked to accompany with him, for despite her recent fits of scolding she loved him.
"If you came with me, you would not have a palace-full of servants, and would have to earn something to support us."
The princess accepted it all for love of her husband.
They set out the next day and soon came to a hut with an old woman inside it. It was all arranged to teach the princess a lesson. "Mother," said Radpot, and made his wife serve the old woman, despite her bad habits who kept popping up again and again.
The next morning he went out to work. When he came back in the evening he flung down a few pence on the table and told her to go out and get the supper with it. Little she knew of how to buy a workman's supper. What she brought, Radpot was so displeased with that he threw it out of window, so that she had to go supperless to bed. Before she went upstairs, however, Radpot told her to show him her day's work; and at once threw it on one side, saying he was sure such coarse stuff would not sell there.
The princess spent the night more in weeping than in sleeping. In the morning she had to get up and prepare the breakfast. In so doing she burnt her hands, but the old mother just scolded her for being so clumsy. All through the day she had to attend to the old woman's whims. In the evening when Radpot came home it was nearly the same thing again with the supper. He would scarcely suffer her to snatch more than a few mouthfuls, so angry he showed himself at her mistakes in the manner of preparing it. He told her, too, that so long as she did not know how to earn her food, she must not expect to have much of it.
This made her the more desirous that Rathgeb should take her work to the town. When he had done so, however, he brought it back, saying no one would buy such coarse, common work there. Then she tried other kinds, each finer and more delicate than the last; but all were brought back to her with the same answer. At last they gave her a basket of common pottery and told her to go and sell it to the poor people in the market-place. There were plenty of people who wanted to buy crockery and the most of them came to her basket because of her beautiful face all bathed in tears.
But just as she was reckoning up the nice sum to take home, a cavalier came riding past, and, without heed to her cries, upset the whole of her stock upon the road, smashing everything to pieces and scattering her heap of halfpence into the gutter. In a moment she thought it was Radpot and almost called to him by name; but he dashed away so quickly that he was out of hearing in a minute.
In the evening, when she came to tell how sadly things had gone, her husband seemed to be very angry, saying, "I'm afraid you'll never be any use to a poor man – we must get Rathgeb to take you back home again."
At this she threw herself at his feet and begged him to keep her by him.
"I will give you one more chance," he said, trying to seem indifferent: "Bring me my dinner while I am at work tomorrow; that will save me the time of going to get it. I am working at the palace; bring the dinner there and ask for the mason's labourer."
The next day she took good care to have the dinner ready in time; walked with it through the town and came at last to the palace. The clocks began to strike the midday hour when the servants showed what room to enter. It was a great hall. There sat Radpot on a throne, with Rathgeb respectfully by his side. The princess could in no way understand how they came to be there.
"Come in, dear wife!" said Radpot encouragingly; and Rathgeb went to the door and led her up to him. He bid her welcome and kissed her tenderly, telling her frankly what had been his plans with her. Then he led her into a room next to the hall, where there were ladies-in-waiting ready to dress her up nicely. When she was ready, pages in court suits went before her and heralds proclaimed her aloud.
As soon as the prince saw her arrive, he let his high council be called in and presented his consort to them, saying she was as virtuous as she was fair.
After this they lived together for many years in great happiness, for the princess had had a life-long lesson and never relapsed into her foolish ways.
Good words do not make you satiated. (Proverb from Trentino)
Naked woman and raw polenta are the man's ruin. (Proverb from Trentino)