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Iron Hans

from Grimms' Fairy Tales





There was once upon a time a king who had a great forest near his
palace, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out a
huntsman to shoot him a roe, but he did not come back. 'Perhaps some
accident has befallen him,' said the king, and the next day he sent out
two more huntsmen who were to search for him, but they too stayed away.
Then on the third day, he sent for all his huntsmen, and said: 'Scour
the whole forest through, and do not give up until you have found all
three.' But of these also, none came home again, none were seen again.
From that time forth, no one would any longer venture into the forest,
and it lay there in deep stillness and solitude, and nothing was seen
of it, but sometimes an eagle or a hawk flying over it. This lasted for
many years, when an unknown huntsman announced himself to the king as
seeking a situation, and offered to go into the dangerous forest. The
king, however, would not give his consent, and said: 'It is not safe in
there; I fear it would fare with you no better than with the others,
and you would never come out again.' The huntsman replied: 'Lord, I will
venture it at my own risk, of fear I know nothing.'

The huntsman therefore betook himself with his dog to the forest. It was
not long before the dog fell in with some game on the way, and wanted to
pursue it; but hardly had the dog run two steps when it stood before a
deep pool, could go no farther, and a naked arm stretched itself out of
the water, seized it, and drew it under. When the huntsman saw that, he
went back and fetched three men to come with buckets and bale out the
water. When they could see to the bottom there lay a wild man whose body
was brown like rusty iron, and whose hair hung over his face down to his
knees. They bound him with cords, and led him away to the castle. There
was great astonishment over the wild man; the king, however, had him put
in an iron cage in his courtyard, and forbade the door to be opened
on pain of death, and the queen herself was to take the key into her
keeping. And from this time forth everyone could again go into the
forest with safety.

The king had a son of eight years, who was once playing in the
courtyard, and while he was playing, his golden ball fell into the cage.
The boy ran thither and said: 'Give me my ball out.' 'Not till you have
opened the door for me,' answered the man. 'No,' said the boy, 'I will
not do that; the king has forbidden it,' and ran away. The next day he
again went and asked for his ball; the wild man said: 'Open my door,'
but the boy would not. On the third day the king had ridden out hunting,
and the boy went once more and said: 'I cannot open the door even if I
wished, for I have not the key.' Then the wild man said: 'It lies under
your mother's pillow, you can get it there.' The boy, who wanted to have
his ball back, cast all thought to the winds, and brought the key. The
door opened with difficulty, and the boy pinched his fingers. When it
was open the wild man stepped out, gave him the golden ball, and hurried
away. The boy had become afraid; he called and cried after him: 'Oh,
wild man, do not go away, or I shall be beaten!' The wild man turned
back, took him up, set him on his shoulder, and went with hasty steps
into the forest. When the king came home, he observed the empty cage,
and asked the queen how that had happened. She knew nothing about it,
and sought the key, but it was gone. She called the boy, but no one
answered. The king sent out people to seek for him in the fields, but
they did not find him. Then he could easily guess what had happened, and
much grief reigned in the royal court.

When the wild man had once more reached the dark forest, he took the boy
down from his shoulder, and said to him: 'You will never see your father
and mother again, but I will keep you with me, for you have set me free,
and I have compassion on you. If you do all I bid you, you shall fare
well. Of treasure and gold have I enough, and more than anyone in the
world.' He made a bed of moss for the boy on which he slept, and the
next morning the man took him to a well, and said: 'Behold, the gold
well is as bright and clear as crystal, you shall sit beside it, and
take care that nothing falls into it, or it will be polluted. I will
come every evening to see if you have obeyed my order.' The boy placed
himself by the brink of the well, and often saw a golden fish or a
golden snake show itself therein, and took care that nothing fell in.
As he was thus sitting, his finger hurt him so violently that he
involuntarily put it in the water. He drew it quickly out again, but saw
that it was quite gilded, and whatsoever pains he took to wash the gold
off again, all was to no purpose. In the evening Iron Hans came back,
looked at the boy, and said: 'What has happened to the well?' 'Nothing
nothing,' he answered, and held his finger behind his back, that the
man might not see it. But he said: 'You have dipped your finger into
the water, this time it may pass, but take care you do not again let
anything go in.' By daybreak the boy was already sitting by the well and
watching it. His finger hurt him again and he passed it over his head,
and then unhappily a hair fell down into the well. He took it quickly
out, but it was already quite gilded. Iron Hans came, and already knew
what had happened. 'You have let a hair fall into the well,' said he.
'I will allow you to watch by it once more, but if this happens for the
third time then the well is polluted and you can no longer remain with
me.'

On the third day, the boy sat by the well, and did not stir his finger,
however much it hurt him. But the time was long to him, and he looked at
the reflection of his face on the surface of the water. And as he
still bent down more and more while he was doing so, and trying to look
straight into the eyes, his long hair fell down from his shoulders into
the water. He raised himself up quickly, but the whole of the hair of
his head was already golden and shone like the sun. You can imagine how
terrified the poor boy was! He took his pocket-handkerchief and tied it
round his head, in order that the man might not see it. When he came he
already knew everything, and said: 'Take the handkerchief off.' Then the
golden hair streamed forth, and let the boy excuse himself as he might,
it was of no use. 'You have not stood the trial and can stay here no
longer. Go forth into the world, there you will learn what poverty is.
But as you have not a bad heart, and as I mean well by you, there is
one thing I will grant you; if you fall into any difficulty, come to the
forest and cry: "Iron Hans," and then I will come and help you. My
power is great, greater than you think, and I have gold and silver in
abundance.'

Then the king's son left the forest, and walked by beaten and unbeaten
paths ever onwards until at length he reached a great city. There he
looked for work, but could find none, and he learnt nothing by which he
could help himself. At length he went to the palace, and asked if they
would take him in. The people about court did not at all know what use
they could make of him, but they liked him, and told him to stay. At
length the cook took him into his service, and said he might carry wood
and water, and rake the cinders together. Once when it so happened that
no one else was at hand, the cook ordered him to carry the food to the
royal table, but as he did not like to let his golden hair be seen, he
kept his little cap on. Such a thing as that had never yet come under
the king's notice, and he said: 'When you come to the royal table you
must take your hat off.' He answered: 'Ah, Lord, I cannot; I have a bad
sore place on my head.' Then the king had the cook called before him
and scolded him, and asked how he could take such a boy as that into his
service; and that he was to send him away at once. The cook, however,
had pity on him, and exchanged him for the gardener's boy.

And now the boy had to plant and water the garden, hoe and dig, and bear
the wind and bad weather. Once in summer when he was working alone in
the garden, the day was so warm he took his little cap off that the air
might cool him. As the sun shone on his hair it glittered and flashed so
that the rays fell into the bedroom of the king's daughter, and up she
sprang to see what that could be. Then she saw the boy, and cried to
him: 'Boy, bring me a wreath of flowers.' He put his cap on with all
haste, and gathered wild field-flowers and bound them together. When he
was ascending the stairs with them, the gardener met him, and said: 'How
can you take the king's daughter a garland of such common flowers? Go
quickly, and get another, and seek out the prettiest and rarest.' 'Oh,
no,' replied the boy, 'the wild ones have more scent, and will please
her better.' When he got into the room, the king's daughter said: 'Take
your cap off, it is not seemly to keep it on in my presence.' He again
said: 'I may not, I have a sore head.' She, however, caught at his
cap and pulled it off, and then his golden hair rolled down on his
shoulders, and it was splendid to behold. He wanted to run out, but she
held him by the arm, and gave him a handful of ducats. With these he
departed, but he cared nothing for the gold pieces. He took them to the
gardener, and said: 'I present them to your children, they can play with
them.' The following day the king's daughter again called to him that he
was to bring her a wreath of field-flowers, and then he went in with it,
she instantly snatched at his cap, and wanted to take it away from him,
but he held it fast with both hands. She again gave him a handful of
ducats, but he would not keep them, and gave them to the gardener for
playthings for his children. On the third day things went just the
same; she could not get his cap away from him, and he would not have her
money.

Not long afterwards, the country was overrun by war. The king gathered
together his people, and did not know whether or not he could offer any
opposition to the enemy, who was superior in strength and had a mighty
army. Then said the gardener's boy: 'I am grown up, and will go to the
wars also, only give me a horse.' The others laughed, and said: 'Seek
one for yourself when we are gone, we will leave one behind us in the
stable for you.' When they had gone forth, he went into the stable, and
led the horse out; it was lame of one foot, and limped hobblety jib,
hobblety jib; nevertheless he mounted it, and rode away to the dark
forest. When he came to the outskirts, he called 'Iron Hans' three
times so loudly that it echoed through the trees. Thereupon the wild man
appeared immediately, and said: 'What do you desire?' 'I want a strong
steed, for I am going to the wars.' 'That you shall have, and still more
than you ask for.' Then the wild man went back into the forest, and it
was not long before a stable-boy came out of it, who led a horse that
snorted with its nostrils, and could hardly be restrained, and behind
them followed a great troop of warriors entirely equipped in iron, and
their swords flashed in the sun. The youth made over his three-legged
horse to the stable-boy, mounted the other, and rode at the head of the
soldiers. When he got near the battlefield a great part of the king's
men had already fallen, and little was wanting to make the rest give
way. Then the youth galloped thither with his iron soldiers, broke like
a hurricane over the enemy, and beat down all who opposed him. They
began to flee, but the youth pursued, and never stopped, until there
was not a single man left. Instead of returning to the king, however, he
conducted his troop by byways back to the forest, and called forth Iron
Hans. 'What do you desire?' asked the wild man. 'Take back your horse
and your troops, and give me my three-legged horse again.' All that he
asked was done, and soon he was riding on his three-legged horse. When
the king returned to his palace, his daughter went to meet him, and
wished him joy of his victory. 'I am not the one who carried away the
victory,' said he, 'but a strange knight who came to my assistance with
his soldiers.' The daughter wanted to hear who the strange knight was,
but the king did not know, and said: 'He followed the enemy, and I did
not see him again.' She inquired of the gardener where his boy was, but
he smiled, and said: 'He has just come home on his three-legged horse,
and the others have been mocking him, and crying: "Here comes our
hobblety jib back again!" They asked, too: "Under what hedge have you
been lying sleeping all the time?" So he said: "I did the best of all,
and it would have gone badly without me." And then he was still more
ridiculed.'

The king said to his daughter: 'I will proclaim a great feast that shall
last for three days, and you shall throw a golden apple. Perhaps the
unknown man will show himself.' When the feast was announced, the youth
went out to the forest, and called Iron Hans. 'What do you desire?'
asked he. 'That I may catch the king's daughter's golden apple.' 'It is
as safe as if you had it already,' said Iron Hans. 'You shall likewise
have a suit of red armour for the occasion, and ride on a spirited
chestnut-horse.' When the day came, the youth galloped to the spot, took
his place amongst the knights, and was recognized by no one. The king's
daughter came forward, and threw a golden apple to the knights, but none
of them caught it but he, only as soon as he had it he galloped away.

On the second day Iron Hans equipped him as a white knight, and gave him
a white horse. Again he was the only one who caught the apple, and
he did not linger an instant, but galloped off with it. The king grew
angry, and said: 'That is not allowed; he must appear before me and tell
his name.' He gave the order that if the knight who caught the apple,
should go away again they should pursue him, and if he would not come
back willingly, they were to cut him down and stab him.

On the third day, he received from Iron Hans a suit of black armour and
a black horse, and again he caught the apple. But when he was riding off
with it, the king's attendants pursued him, and one of them got so near
him that he wounded the youth's leg with the point of his sword. The
youth nevertheless escaped from them, but his horse leapt so violently
that the helmet fell from the youth's head, and they could see that he
had golden hair. They rode back and announced this to the king.

The following day the king's daughter asked the gardener about his
boy. 'He is at work in the garden; the queer creature has been at the
festival too, and only came home yesterday evening; he has likewise
shown my children three golden apples which he has won.'

The king had him summoned into his presence, and he came and again had
his little cap on his head. But the king's daughter went up to him and
took it off, and then his golden hair fell down over his shoulders, and
he was so handsome that all were amazed. 'Are you the knight who came
every day to the festival, always in different colours, and who caught
the three golden apples?' asked the king. 'Yes,' answered he, 'and here
the apples are,' and he took them out of his pocket, and returned them
to the king. 'If you desire further proof, you may see the wound which
your people gave me when they followed me. But I am likewise the knight
who helped you to your victory over your enemies.' 'If you can perform
such deeds as that, you are no gardener's boy; tell me, who is your
father?' 'My father is a mighty king, and gold have I in plenty as great
as I require.' 'I well see,' said the king, 'that I owe my thanks to
you; can I do anything to please you?' 'Yes,' answered he, 'that indeed
you can. Give me your daughter to wife.' The maiden laughed, and said:
'He does not stand much on ceremony, but I have already seen by his
golden hair that he was no gardener's boy,' and then she went and
kissed him. His father and mother came to the wedding, and were in great
delight, for they had given up all hope of ever seeing their dear
son again. And as they were sitting at the marriage-feast, the music
suddenly stopped, the doors opened, and a stately king came in with a
great retinue. He went up to the youth, embraced him and said: 'I am
Iron Hans, and was by enchantment a wild man, but you have set me free;
all the treasures which I possess, shall be your property.'





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Previous: King Grisly-beard



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