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The Water Of Life

Long before you or I were born, there reigned, in a country a greatway off, a king who had three sons. This king once fe...

The Water Of Life

Long before you or I were born, there reigned, in a country a greatway off, a king who had three sons. This king once fell very ill—so illthat nobody thought he could live. His sons were very much grieved attheir father’s sickness; and as they were walking together verymournfully in the garden of the palace, a little old man met them andasked what was the matter. They told him that their father was veryill, and that they were afraid nothing could save him. «I know whatwould,» said the little old man; «it is the Water of Life. If he couldhave a draught of it he would be well again; but it is very hard toget.» Then the eldest son said, «I will soon find it’: and he went tothe sick king, and begged that he might go in search of the Water ofLife, as it was the only thing that could save him. «No,» said theking. «I had rather die than place you in such great danger as youmust meet with in your journey.» But he begged so hard that the king lethim go; and the prince thought to himself, «If I bring my father thiswater, he will make me sole heir to his kingdom.»

Then he set out: and when he had gone on his way some time he came toa deep valley, overhung with rocks and woods; and as he looked around,he saw standing above him on one of the rocks a little ugly dwarf,with a sugarloaf cap and a scarlet cloak; and the dwarf called to himand said, «Prince, whither so fast?» «What is that to thee, you uglyimp?» said the prince haughtily, and rode on.

But the dwarf was enraged at his behaviour, and laid a fairy spellof ill-luck upon him; so that as he rode on the mountain pass becamenarrower and narrower, and at last the way was so straitened that hecould not go to step forward: and when he thought to have turned hishorse round and go back the way he came, he heard a loud laugh ringinground him, and found that the path was closed behind him, so that hewas shut in all round. He next tried to get off his horse and make hisway on foot, but again the laugh rang in his ears, and he foundhimself unable to move a step, and thus he was forced to abidespellbound.

Meantime the old king was lingering on in daily hope of his son’sreturn, till at last the second son said, «Father, I will go insearch of the Water of Life.» For he thought to himself, «My brother issurely dead, and the kingdom will fall to me if I find the water.» Theking was at first very unwilling to let him go, but at last yielded tohis wish. So he set out and followed the same road which his brotherhad done, and met with the same elf, who stopped him at the same spotin the mountains, saying, as before, «Prince, prince, whither sofast?» «Mind your own affairs, busybody!» said the prince scornfully,and rode on.

But the dwarf put the same spell upon him as he put on his elderbrother, and he, too, was at last obliged to take up his abode in theheart of the mountains. Thus it is with proud silly people, who thinkthemselves above everyone else, and are too proud to ask or takeadvice.

When the second prince had thus been gone a long time, the youngestson said he would go and search for the Water of Life, and trusted heshould soon be able to make his father well again. So he set out, andthe dwarf met him too at the same spot in the valley, among themountains, and said, «Prince, whither so fast?» And the prince said, «Iam going in search of the Water of Life, because my father is ill, andlike to die: can you help me? Pray be kind, and aid me if you can!» «Doyou know where it is to be found?» asked the dwarf. «No,» said theprince, «I do not. Pray tell me if you know.» «Then as you have spokento me kindly, and are wise enough to seek for advice, I will tell youhow and where to go. The water you seek springs from a well in anenchanted castle; and, that you may be able to reach it in safety, Iwill give you an iron wand and two little loaves of bread; strike theiron door of the castle three times with the wand, and it will open:two hungry lions will be lying down inside gaping for their prey, butif you throw them the bread they will let you pass; then hasten on tothe well, and take some of the Water of Life before the clockstrikes twelve; for if you tarry longer the door will shut upon youfor ever.»

Then the prince thanked his little friend with the scarlet cloak forhis friendly aid, and took the wand and the bread, and went travellingon and on, over sea and over land, till he came to his journey’s end,and found everything to be as the dwarf had told him. The door flewopen at the third stroke of the wand, and when the lions werequieted he went on through the castle and came at length to abeautiful hall. Around it he saw several knights sitting in a trance;then he pulled off their rings and put them on his own fingers. Inanother room he saw on a table a sword and a loaf of bread, which healso took. Further on he came to a room where a beautiful younglady sat upon a couch; and she welcomed him joyfully, and said, ifhe would set her free from the spell that bound her, the kingdomshould be his, if he would come back in a year and marry her. Then shetold him that the well that held the Water of Life was in the palacegardens; and bade him make haste, and draw what he wanted beforethe clock struck twelve.

He walked on; and as he walked through beautiful gardens he came toa delightful shady spot in which stood a couch; and he thought tohimself, as he felt tired, that he would rest himself for a while, andgaze on the lovely scenes around him. So he laid himself down, andsleep fell upon him unawares, so that he did not wake up till the clockwas striking a quarter to twelve. Then he sprang from the couchdreadfully frightened, ran to the well, filled a cup that was standingby him full of water, and hastened to get away in time. Just as he wasgoing out of the iron door it struck twelve, and the door fell soquickly upon him that it snapped off a piece of his heel.

When he found himself safe, he was overjoyed to think that he had gotthe Water of Life; and as he was going on his way homewards, he passedby the little dwarf, who, when he saw the sword and the loaf, said,«You have made a noble prize; with the sword you can at a blow slaywhole armies, and the bread will never fail you.» Then the princethought to himself, «I cannot go home to my father without mybrothers’; so he said, «My dear friend, cannot you tell me where mytwo brothers are, who set out in search of the Water of Life beforeme, and never came back?» «I have shut them up by a charm between twomountains,» said the dwarf, «because they were proud and ill-behaved,and scorned to ask advice.» The prince begged so hard for hisbrothers, that the dwarf at last set them free, though unwillingly,saying, «Beware of them, for they have bad hearts.» Their brother,however, was greatly rejoiced to see them, and told them all that hadhappened to him; how he had found the Water of Life, and had taken acup full of it; and how he had set a beautiful princess free from aspell that bound her; and how she had engaged to wait a whole year, andthen to marry him, and to give him the kingdom.

Then they all three rode on together, and on their way home came toa country that was laid waste by war and a dreadful famine, so that itwas feared all must die for want. But the prince gave the king of theland the bread, and all his kingdom ate of it. And he lent the king thewonderful sword, and he slew the enemy’s army with it; and thus thekingdom was once more in peace and plenty. In the same manner hebefriended two other countries through which they passed on their way.

When they came to the sea, they got into a ship and during theirvoyage the two eldest said to themselves, «Our brother has got the waterwhich we could not find, therefore our father will forsake us andgive him the kingdom, which is our right’; so they were full of envyand revenge, and agreed together how they could ruin him. Then theywaited till he was fast asleep, and poured the Water of Life out ofthe cup, and took it for themselves, giving him bitter sea-waterinstead.

When they came to their journey’s end, the youngest son brought his cupto the sick king, that he might drink and be healed. Scarcely, however,had he tasted the bitter sea-water when he became worse even thanhe was before; and then both the elder sons came in, and blamed theyoungest for what they had done; and said that he wanted to poisontheir father, but that they had found the Water of Life, and hadbrought it with them. He no sooner began to drink of what they broughthim, than he felt his sickness leave him, and was as strong and wellas in his younger days. Then they went to their brother, and laughedat him, and said, «Well, brother, you found the Water of Life, didyou? You have had the trouble and we shall have the reward. Pray, withall your cleverness, why did not you manage to keep your eyes open?Next year one of us will take away your beautiful princess, if you donot take care. You had better say nothing about this to our father,for he does not believe a word you say; and if you tell tales, youshall lose your life into the bargain: but be quiet, and we will letyou off.»

The old king was still very angry with his youngest son, and thoughtthat he really meant to have taken away his life; so he called hiscourt together, and asked what should be done, and all agreed that heought to be put to death. The prince knew nothing of what was goingon, till one day, when the king’s chief huntsmen went a-hunting withhim, and they were alone in the wood together, the huntsman looked sosorrowful that the prince said, «My friend, what is the matter withyou?» «I cannot and dare not tell you,» said he. But the prince beggedvery hard, and said, «Only tell me what it is, and do not think I shallbe angry, for I will forgive you.» «Alas!» said the huntsman; «theking has ordered me to shoot you.» The prince started at this, andsaid, «Let me live, and I will change dresses with you; you shalltake my royal coat to show to my father, and do you give me yourshabby one.» «With all my heart,» said the huntsman; «I am sure Ishall be glad to save you, for I could not have shot you.» Then hetook the prince’s coat, and gave him the shabby one, and went awaythrough the wood.

Some time after, three grand embassies came to the old king’s court,with rich gifts of gold and precious stones for his youngest son; nowall these were sent from the three kings to whom he had lent his swordand loaf of bread, in order to rid them of their enemy and feedtheir people. This touched the old king’s heart, and he thought hisson might still be guiltless, and said to his court, «O that my sonwere still alive! how it grieves me that I had him killed!» «He isstill alive,» said the huntsman; «and I am glad that I had pity onhim, but let him go in peace, and brought home his royal coat.» Atthis the king was overwhelmed with joy, and made it known thoughoutall his kingdom, that if his son would come back to his court he wouldforgive him.

Meanwhile the princess was eagerly waiting till her deliverer shouldcome back; and had a road made leading up to her palace all of shininggold; and told her courtiers that whoever came on horseback, and rodestraight up to the gate upon it, was her true lover; and that they mustlet him in: but whoever rode on one side of it, they must be sure wasnot the right one; and that they must send him away at once.

The time soon came, when the eldest brother thought that he wouldmake haste to go to the princess, and say that he was the one who hadset her free, and that he should have her for his wife, and the kingdomwith her. As he came before the palace and saw the golden road, hestopped to look at it, and he thought to himself, «It is a pityto ride upon this beautiful road’; so he turned aside and rode on theright-hand side of it. But when he came to the gate, the guards, whohad seen the road he took, said to him, he could not be what he saidhe was, and must go about his business.

The second prince set out soon afterwards on the same errand; and whenhe came to the golden road, and his horse had set one foot uponit, he stopped to look at it, and thought it very beautiful, and saidto himself, «What a pity it is that anything should tread here!» Thenhe too turned aside and rode on the left side of it. But when he cameto the gate the guards said he was not the true prince, and that he toomust go away about his business; and away he went.

Now when the full year was come round, the third brother left theforest in which he had lain hid for fear of his father’s anger, andset out in search of his betrothed bride. So he journeyed on, thinkingof her all the way, and rode so quickly that he did not even see whatthe road was made of, but went with his horse straight over it; and ashe came to the gate it flew open, and the princess welcomed him withjoy, and said he was her deliverer, and should now be her husband andlord of the kingdom. When the first joy at their meeting was over, theprincess told him she had heard of his father having forgiven him, andof his wish to have him home again: so, before his wedding with theprincess, he went to visit his father, taking her with him. Then hetold him everything; how his brothers had cheated and robbed him, andyet that he had borne all those wrongs for the love of his father. Andthe old king was very angry, and wanted to punish his wicked sons; butthey made their escape, and got into a ship and sailed away overthe wide sea, and where they went to nobody knew and nobody cared.

And now the old king gathered together his court, and asked allhis kingdom to come and celebrate the wedding of his son and theprincess. And young and old, noble and squire, gentle and simple, cameat once on the summons; and among the rest came the friendly dwarf,with the sugarloaf hat, and a new scarlet cloak.

And the wedding was held, and the merry bells run. And all the good people they danced and they sung, And feasted and frolick’d I can’t tell how long.

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