The Two Brothers





Sicilianische Malirchen. L. Gonzenbach.





Long ago there lived two brothers, both of them very handsome, and both

so very poor that they seldom had anything to eat but the fish which

they caught. One day they had been out in their boat since sunrise

without a single bite, and were just thinking of putting up their lines



and going home to bed when they felt a little feeble tug, and, drawing

in hastily, they found a tiny fish at the end of the hook.



'What a wretched little creature!' cried one brother. 'However, it is

better than nothing, and I will bake him with bread crumbs and have him

for supper.'



'Oh, do not kill me yet!' begged the fish; 'I will bring you good

luck--indeed I will!'



'You silly thing!' said the young man; 'I've caught you, and I shall eat

you.'



But his brother was sorry for the fish, and put in a word for him.



'Let the poor little fellow live. He would hardly make one bite, and,

after all, how do we know we are not throwing away our luck! Put him

back into the sea. It will be much better.'



'If you will let me live,' said the fish, 'you will find on the sands

to-morrow morning two beautiful horses splendidly saddled and bridled,

and on them you can go through the world as knights seeking adventures.'



'Oh dear, what nonsense!' exclaimed the elder; 'and, besides, what proof

have we that you are speaking the truth?'



But again the younger brother interposed: 'Oh, do let him live! You know

if he is lying to us we can always catch him again. It is quite worth

while trying.'



At last the young man gave in, and threw the fish back into the sea; and

both brothers went supperless to bed, and wondered what fortune the next

day would bring.



At the first streaks of dawn they were both up, and in a very few

minutes were running down to the shore. And there, just as the fish had

said, stood two magnificent horses, saddled and bridled, and on their

backs lay suits of armour and under-dresses, two swords, and two purses

of gold.



'There!' said the younger brother. 'Are you not thankful you did not

eat that fish? He has brought us good luck, and there is no knowing how

great we may become! Now, we will each seek our own adventures. If you

will take one road I will go the other.'



'Very well,' replied the elder; 'but how shall we let each other know if

we are both living?'



'Do you see this fig-tree?' said the younger. 'Well, whenever we want

news of each other we have only to come here and make a slit with our

swords in the back. If milk flows, it is a sign that we are well and

prosperous; but if, instead of milk, there is blood, then we are either

dead or in great danger.'



Then the two brothers put on their armour, buckled their swords, and

pocketed their purees; and, after taking a tender farewell of each

other, they mounted their horses and went their various ways.





The elder brother rode straight on till he reached the borders of a

strange kingdom. He crossed the frontier, and soon found himself on

the banks of a river; and before him, in the middle of the stream, a

beautiful girl sat chained to a rock and weeping bitterly. For in this

river dwelt a serpent with seven heads, who threatened to lay waste the

whole land by breathing fire and flame from his nostrils unless the king

sent him every morning a man for his breakfast. This had gone on so long

that now there were no men left, and he had been obliged to send his

own daughter instead, and the poor girl was waiting till the monster got

hungry and felt inclined to eat her.



When the young man saw the maiden weeping bitterly he said to her, 'What

is the matter, my poor girl?'



'Oh!' she answered, 'I am chained here till a horrible serpent with

seven heads comes to eat me. Oh, sir, do not linger here, or he will eat

you too.'



'I shall stay,' replied the young man, 'for I mean to set you free.'



'That is impossible. You do not know what a fearful monster the serpent

is; you can do nothing against him.'



'That is my affair, beautiful captive,' answered he; 'only tell me,

which way will the serpent come?'



'Well, if you are resolved to free me, listen to my advice. Stand a

little on one side, and then, when the serpent rises to the surface, I

will say to him, "O serpent, to-day you can eat two people. But you had

better begin first with the young man, for I am chained and cannot run

away." When he hears this most likely he will attack you.'



So the young man stood carefully on one side, and by-and-bye he heard

a great rushing in the water; and a horrible monster came up to the

surface and looked out for the rock where the king's daughter was

chained, for it was getting late and he was hungry.



But she cried out, 'O serpent, to-day you can eat two people. And you

had better begin with the young man, for I am chained and cannot run

away.'



Then the serpent made a rush at the youth with wide open jaws to swallow

him at one gulp, but the young man leaped aside and drew his sword,

and fought till he had cut off all the seven heads. And when the great

serpent lay dead at his feet he loosed the bonds of the king's daughter,

and she flung herself into his arms and said, 'You have saved me from

that monster, and now you shall be my husband, for my father has made

a proclamation that whoever could slay the serpent should have his

daughter to wife.'



But he answered, 'I cannot become your husband yet, for I have still far

to travel. But wait for me seven years and seven months. Then, if I do

not return, you are free to marry whom you will. And in case you should

have forgotten, I will take these seven tongues with me so that when I

bring them forth you may know that I am really he who slew the serpent.'



So saying he cut out the seven tongues, and the princess gave him a

thick cloth to wrap them in; and he mounted his horse and rode away.



Not long after he had gone there arrived at the river a slave who had

been sent by the king to learn the fate of his beloved daughter. And

when the slave saw the princess standing free and safe before him, with

the body of the monster lying at her feet, a wicked plan came into his

head, and he said, 'Unless you promise to tell your father it was I who

slew the serpent, I will kill you and bury you in this place, and no one

will ever know what befell.'



What could the poor girl do? This time there was no knight to come to

her aid. So she promised to do as the slave wished, and he took up the

seven heads and brought the princess to her father.



Oh, how enchanted the king was to see her again, and the whole town

shared his joy!



And the slave was called upon to tell how he had slain the monster, and

when he had ended the king declared that he should have the princess to

wife.



But she flung herself at her father's feet, and prayed him to delay.

'You have passed your royal word, and cannot go back from it Yet grant

me this grace, and let seven years and seven months go by before you

wed me. When they are over, then I will marry the slave.' And the king

listened to her, and seven years and seven months she looked for her

bridegroom, and wept for him night and day.



All this time the young man was riding through the world, and when the

seven years and seven months were over he came back to the town where

the princess lived--only a few days before the wedding. And he stood

before the king, and said to him: 'Give me your daughter, O king, for

I slew the seven-headed serpent. And as a sign that my words are true,

look on these seven tongues, which I cut from his seven heads, and on

this embroidered cloth, which was given me by your daughter.'



Then the princess lifted up her voice and said, 'Yes, dear father, he

has spoken the truth, and it is he who is my real bridegroom. Yet pardon

the slave, for he was sorely tempted.'



But the king answered, 'Such treachery can no man pardon. Quick, away

with him, and off with his head!'



So the false slave was put to death, that none might follow in his

footsteps, and the wedding feast was held, and the hearts of all

rejoiced that the true bridegroom had come at last.



These two lived happy and contentedly for a long while, when one

evening, as the young man was looking from the window, he saw on a

mountain that lay out beyond the town a great bright light.



'What can it be?' he said to his wife.





'Ah! do not look at it,' she answered, 'for it comes from the house of

a wicked witch whom no man can manage to kill.' But the princess had

better have kept silence, for her words made her husband's heart burn

within him, and he longed to try his strength against the witch's

cunning. And all day long the feeling grew stronger, till the next

morning he mounted his horse, and in spite of his wife's tears, he rode

off to the mountain.



The distance was greater than he thought, and it was dark before he

reached the foot of the mountain; indeed, he could not have found the

road at all had it not been for the bright light, which shone like the

moon on his path. At length he came to the door of a fine castle, which

had a blaze streaming from every window. He mounted a flight of steps

and entered a hall where a hideous old woman was sitting on a golden

chair.



She scowled at the young man and said, 'With a single one of the hairs

of my head I can turn you into stone.'



'Oh, what nonsense!' cried he. 'Be quiet, old woman. What could you

do with one hair?' But the witch pulled out a hair and laid it on his

shoulder, and his limbs grew cold and heavy, and he could not stir.



Now at this very moment the younger brother was thinking of him, and

wondering how he had got on during all the years since they had parted.

'I will go to the fig-tree,' he said to himself, 'to see whether he is

alive or dead.' So he rode through the forest till he came where the

fig-tree stood, and cut a slit in the bark, and waited. In a moment a

little gurgling noise was heard, and out came a stream of blood, running

fast. 'Ah, woe is me!' he cried bitterly. 'My brother is dead or dying!

Shall I ever reach him in time to save his life?' Then, leaping on his

horse, he shouted, 'Now, my steed, fly like the wind!' and they rode

right through the world, till one day they came to the town where the

young man and his wife lived. Here the princess had been sitting every

day since the morning that her husband had left her, weeping bitter

tears, and listening for his footsteps. And when she saw his brother

ride under the balcony she mistook him for her own husband, for they

were so alike that no man might tell the difference, and her heart

bounded, and, leaning down, she called to him, 'At last! at last! how

long have I waited for thee!' When the younger brother heard these words

he said to himself, 'So it was here that my brother lived, and this

beautiful woman is my sister-in-law,' but he kept silence, and let her

believe he was indeed her husband. Full of joy, the princess led him to

the old king, who welcomed him as his own son, and ordered a feast to

be made for him. And the princess was beside herself with gladness, but

when she would have put her arms round him and kissed him he held up

his hand to stop her, saying, 'Touch me not,' at which she marvelled

greatly.



In this manner several days went by. And one evening, as the young man

leaned from the balcony, he saw a bright light shining on the mountain.



'What can that be?' he said to the princess.



'Oh, come away,' she cried; 'has not that light already proved your

bane? Do you wish to fight a second time with that old witch?'



He marked her words, though she knew it not, and they taught him where

his brother was, and what had befallen him. So before sunrise he stole

out early, saddled his horse, and rode off to the mountain. But the way

was further than he thought, and on the road he met a little old man who

asked him whither he was going.



Then the young man told him his story, and added. 'Somehow or other I

must free my brother, who has fallen into the power of an old witch.'



'I will tell you what you must do,' said the old man. 'The witch's power

lies in her hair; so when you see her spring on her and seize her by

the hair, and then she cannot harm you. Be very careful never to let her

hair go, bid her lead you to your brother, and force her to bring him

back to life. For she has an ointment that will heal all wounds, and

even wake the dead. And when your brother stands safe and well before

you, then cut off her head, for she is a wicked woman.'



The young man was grateful for these words, and promised to obey them.

Then he rode on, and soon reached the castle. He walked boldly up the

steps and entered the hall, where the hideous old witch came to meet

him. She grinned horribly at him, and cried out, 'With one hair of my

head I can change you into stone.'



'Can you, indeed?' said the young man, seizing her by the hair. 'You old

wretch! tell me what you have done with my brother, or I will cut your

head off this very instant.' Now the witch's strength was all gone from

her, and she had to obey.



'I will take you to your brother,' she said, hoping to get the better of

him by cunning, 'but leave me alone. You hold me so tight that I cannot

walk.'



'You must manage somehow,' he answered, and held her tighter than ever.

She led him into a large hall filled with stone statues, which once had

been men, and, pointing out one, she said, 'There is your brother.'



The young man looked at them all and shook his head. 'My brother is not

here. Take me to him, or it will be the worse for you.' But she tried

to put him off with other statues, though it was no good, and it was

not until they had reached the last hall of all that he saw his brother

lying on the ground.



'That is my brother,' said he. 'Now give me the ointment that will

restore him to life.'



Very unwillingly the old witch opened a cupboard close by filled with

bottles and jars, and took down one and held it out to the young man.

But he was on the watch for trickery, and examined it carefully, and saw

that it had no power to heal. This happened many times, till at length

she found it was no use, and gave him the one he wanted. And when he

had it safe he made her stoop down and smear it over his brother's face,

taking care all the while never to loose her hair, and when the dead

man opened his eyes the youth drew his sword and cut off her head with

a single blow. Then the elder brother got up and stretched himself, and

said, 'Oh, how long I have slept! And where am I?'



'The old witch had enchanted you, but now she is dead and you are free.

We will wake up the other knights that she laid under her spells, and

then we will go.'



This they did, and, after sharing amongst them the jewels and gold they

found in the castle, each man went his way. The two brothers remained

together, the elder tightly grasping the ointment which had brought him

back to life.



They had much to tell each other as they rode along, and at last the

younger man exclaimed, 'O fool, to leave such a beautiful wife to go and

fight a witch! She took me for her husband, and I did not say her nay.'



When the elder brother heard this a great rage filled his heart, and,

without saying one word, he drew his sword and slew his brother, and his

body rolled in the dust. Then he rode on till he reached his home,

where his wife was still sitting, weeping bitterly. When she saw him

she sprang up with a cry, and threw herself into his arms. 'Oh, how long

have I waited for thee! Never, never must you leave me any more!'



When the old king heard the news he welcomed him as a son, and made

ready a feast, and all the court sat down. And in the evening, when the

young man was alone with his wife, she said to him, 'Why would you not

let me touch you when you came back, but always thrust me away when I

tried to put my arms round you or kiss you?'



Then the young man understood how true his brother had been to him, and

he sat down and wept and wrung his hands because of the wicked murder

that he had done. Suddenly he sprang to his feet, for he remembered the

ointment which lay hidden in his garments, and he rushed to the place

where his brother still lay. He fell on his knees beside the body, and,

taking out the salve, he rubbed it over the neck where the wound was

gaping wide, and the skin healed and the sinews grew strong, and the

dead man sat up and looked round him. And the two brothers embraced each

other, and the elder asked forgiveness for his wicked blow; and they

went back to the palace together, and were never parted any more.





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