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The Three Snake-leaves

from The Green Fairy Book





There was once a poor man who could no longer afford to keep his
only son at home. So the son said to him, 'Dear father, you are so
poor that I am only a burden to you; I would rather go out into
the world and see if I can earn my own living.' The father gave
him his blessing and took leave of him with much sorrow. About
this time the King of a very powerful kingdom was carrying on a
war; the youth therefore took service under him and went on the
campaign. When they came before the enemy, a battle took place,
there was some hot fighting, and it rained bullets so thickly that
his comrades fell around him on all sides. And when their leader
fell too the rest wished to take to flight; but the youth stepped
forward and encouraged them and called out, 'We must not let our
country be ruined!' Then others followed him, and he pressed on
and defeated the enemy. When the King heard that he had to thank
him alone for the victory, he raised him higher than anyone else
in rank, gave him great treasures and made him the first in the
kingdom.

The King had a daughter who was very beautiful, but she was also
very capricious. She had made a vow to marry no one who would not
promise her that if she died first, he would allow himself to be
buried alive with her. 'If he loves me truly,' she used to say,
'what use would life be to him then?' At the same time she was
willing to do the same, and if he died first to be buried with
him. This curious vow had up to this time frightened away all
suitors, but the young man was so captivated by her beauty, that
he hesitated at nothing and asked her hand of her father. 'Do you
know,' asked the King, 'what you have to promise?' 'I shall have
to go into her grave with her,' he answered, 'if I outlive her,
but my love is so great that I do not think of the risk.' So the
King consented, and the wedding was celebrated with great
splendour.

Now, they lived for a long time very happily with one another, but
then it came to pass that the young Queen fell seriously ill, and
no doctor could save her. And when she lay dead, the young King
remembered what he had promised, and it made him shudder to think
of lying in her grave alive, but there was no escape. The King had
set guards before all the gates, and it was not possible to avoid
his fate.

When the day arrived on which the corpse was to be laid in the
royal vault, he was led thither, then the entrance was bolted and
closed up.

Near the coffin stood a table on which were placed four candles,
four loaves of bread, and four bottles of wine. As soon as this
provision came to an end he would have to die. So he sat there
full of grief and misery, eating every day only a tiny bit of
bread, and drinking only a mouthful of ovine, and he watched death
creeping nearer and nearer to him. One day as he was sitting
staring moodily in front of him, he saw a snake creep out of the
corner towards the corpse. Thinking it was going to touch it, he
drew his sword and saying, 'As long as I am alive you shall not
harm her,' he cut it in three pieces. After a little time a second
snake crept out of the corner, but when it saw the first one lying
dead and in pieces it went back and came again soon, holding three
green leaves in its mouth. Then it took the three bits of the
snake and laid them in order, and put one of the leaves on each
wound. Immediately the pieces joined together, the snake moved
itself and became alive and then both hurried away. The leaves
remained lying on the ground, and it suddenly occurred to the
unfortunate man who had seen everything, that the wonderful power
of the leaves might also be exercised upon a human being.

So he picked up the leaves and laid one of them on the mouth and
the other two on the eyes of the dead woman. And scarcely had he
done this, before the blood began to circulate in her veins, then
it mounted and brought colour back to her white face. Then she
drew her breath, opened her eyes, and said, 'Ah! where am I?' 'You
are with me, dear lady,' he answered, and told her all that had
happened, and how he had brought her to life again. He then gave
her some wine and bread, and when all her strength had returned
she got up, and they went to the door and knocked and called so
loudly that the guards heard them, and told the King. The King
came himself to open the door, and there he found both happy and
well, and he rejoiced with them that now all trouble was over. But
the young King gave the three snake-leaves to a servant, saying to
him, 'Keep them carefully for me, and always carry them with you;
who knows but that they may help us in a time of need!'

It seemed, however, as if a change had come over the young Queen
after she had been restored to life, and as if all her love for
her husband had faded from her heart. Some time afterwards, when
he wanted to take a journey over the sea to his old father, and
they were on board the ship, she forgot the great love and
faithfulness he had shown her and how he had saved her from death,
and fell in love with the captain. And one day when the young King
was lying asleep, she called the captain to her, and seized the
head of the sleeping King and made him take his feet, and together
they threw him into the sea. When they had done this wicked deed,
she said to him, 'Now let us go home and say that he died on the
journey. I will praise you so much to my father that he will marry
me to you and make you the heir to the throne.' But the faithful
servant, who had seen everything, let down a little boat into the
sea, unobserved by them, and rowed after his master while the
traitors sailed on. He took the drowned man out of the water, and
with the help of the three snake-leaves which he carried with him,
placing them on his mouth and eyes, he brought him to life again.

They both rowed as hard as they could night and day, and their
little boat went so quickly that they reached the old King before
the other two did. He was much astonished to see them come back
alone, and asked what had happened to them. When he heard the
wickedness of his daughter, he said, 'I cannot believe that she
has acted so wrongly, but the truth will soon come to light.' He
made them both go into a secret chamber, and let no one see them.

Soon after this the large ship came in, and the wicked lady
appeared before her father with a very sad face. He said to her,
'Why have you come back alone? Where is your husband?'

'Ah, dear father,' she replied, 'I have come home in great grief;
my husband fell ill on the voyage quite suddenly, and died, and if
the good captain had not given me help, I should have died too. He
was at his death-bed and can tell you everything.'

The King said, 'I will bring the dead to life again,' and he
opened the door of the room and called them both out. The lady was
as if thunderstruck when she caught sight of her husband; she fell
on her knees and begged for mercy. But the King said, 'You shall
have no mercy. He was ready to die with you, and restored you to
life again; but you killed him when he was sleeping, and shall
receive your deserts.'

So she and her accomplice were put in a ship which was bored
through with holes, and were drawn out into the sea, where they
soon perished in the waves.





Next: The Riddle

Previous: The Crystal Coffin



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