The Three Brothers

: The Yellow Fairy Book

From the Polish. Kletke.

There was once upon a time a witch, who in the shape of a hawk

used every night to break the windows of a certain village

church. In the same village there lived three brothers, who were

all determined to kill the mischievous hawk. But in vain did the

two eldest mount guard in the church with their guns; as soon as

the bird appeared high above their heads, sleep overpowered the

and they only awoke to hear the windows crashing in.

Then the youngest brother took his turn of guarding the windows,

and to prevent his being overcome by sleep he placed a lot of

thorns under his chin, so that if he felt drowsy and nodded his

head, they would prick him and keep him awake.

The moon was already risen, and it was as light as day, when

suddenly he heard a fearful noise, and at the same time a

terrible desire to sleep overpowered him.

His eyelids closed, and his head sank on his shoulders, but the

thorns ran into him and were so painful that he awoke at once.

He saw the hawk swooping down upon the church, and in a moment he

had seized his gun and shot at the bird. The hawk fell heavily

under a big stone, severely wounded in its right wing. The youth

ran to look at it, and saw that a huge abyss had opened below the

stone. He went at once to fetch his brothers, and with their

help dragged a lot of pine-wood and ropes to the spot. They

fastened some of the burning pine-wood to the end of the rope,

and let it slowly down to the bottom of the abyss. At first it

was quite dark, and the flaming torch only lit up dirty grey

stone walls. But the youngest brother determined to explore the

abyss, and letting himself down by the rope he soon reached the

bottom. Here he found a lovely meadow full of green trees and

exquisite flowers.

In the middle of the meadow stood a huge stone castle, with an

iron gate leading to it, which was wide open. Everything in the

castle seemed to be made of copper, and the only inhabitant he

could discover was a lovely girl, who was combing her golden

hair; and he noticed that whenever one of her hairs fell on the

ground it rang out like pure metal. The youth looked at her more

closely, and saw that her skin was smooth and fair, her blue eyes

bright and sparkling, and her hair as golden as the sun. He fell

in love with her on the spot, and kneeling at her feet, he

implored her to become his wife.

The lovely girl accepted his proposal gladly; but at the same

time she warned him that she could never come up to the world

above till her mother, the old witch, was dead. And she went on

to tell him that the only way in which the old creature could be

killed was with the sword that hung up in the castle; but the

sword was so heavy that no one could lift it.

Then the youth went into a room in the castle where everything

was made of silver, and here he found another beautiful girl, the

sister of his bride. She was combing her silver hair, and every

hair that fell on the ground rang out like pure metal. The

second girl handed him the sword, but though he tried with all

his strength he could not lift it. At last a third sister came

to him and gave him a drop of something to drink, which she said

would give him the needful strength. He drank one drop, but

still he could not lift the sword; then he drank a second, and

the sword began to move; but only after he had drunk a third drop

was he able to swing the sword over his head.

Then he hid himself in the castle and awaited the old witch's

arrival. At last as it was beginning to grow dark she appeared.

She swooped down upon a big apple-tree, and after shaking some

golden apples from it, she pounced down upon the earth. As soon

as her feet touched the ground she became transformed from a hawk

into a woman. This was the moment the youth was waiting for, and

he swung his mighty sword in the air with all his strength and

the witch's head fell off, and her blood spurted up on the walls.

Without fear of any further danger, he packed up all the

treasures of the castle into great chests, and gave his brothers

a signal to pull them up out of the abyss. First the treasures

were attached to the rope and then the three lovely girls. And

now everything was up above and only he himself remained below.

But as he was a little suspicious of his brothers, he fastened a

heavy stone on to the rope and let them pull it up. At first

they heaved with a will, but when the stone was half way up they

let it drop suddenly, and it fell to the bottom broken into a

hundred pieces.

'So that's what would have happened to my bones had I trusted

myself to them,' said the youth sadly; and he began to cry

bitterly, not because of the treasures, but because of the lovely

girl with her swanlike neck and golden hair.

For a long time he wandered sadly all through the beautiful

underworld, and one day he met a magician who asked him the cause

of his tears. The youth told him all that had befallen him, and

the magician said:

'Do not grieve, young man! If you will guard the children who

are hidden in the golden apple-tree, I will bring you at once up

to the earth. Another magician who lives in this land always

eats my children up. It is in vain that I have hidden them under

the earth and locked them into the castle. Now I have hidden

them in the apple-tree; hide yourself there too, and at midnight

you will see my enemy.'

The youth climbed up the tree, and picked some of the beautiful

golden apples, which he ate for his supper.

At midnight the wind began to rise, and a rustling sound was

heard at the foot of the tree. The youth looked down and beheld

a long thick serpent beginning to crawl up the tree. It wound

itself round the stem and gradually got higher and higher. It

stretched its huge head, in which the eyes glittered fiercely,

among the branches, searching for the nest in which the little

children lay. They trembled with terror when they saw the

hideous creature, and hid themselves beneath the leaves.

Then the youth swung his mighty sword in the air, and with one

blow cut off the serpent's head. He cut up the rest of the body

into little bits and strewed them to the four winds.

The father of the rescued children was so delighted over the

death of his enemy that he told the youth to get on his back, and

in this way he carried him up to the world above.

With what joy did he hurry now to his brothers' house! He burst

into a room where they were all assembled, but no one knew who he

was. Only his bride, who was serving as cook to her sisters,

recognised her lover at once.

His brothers, who had quite believed he was dead, yielded him up

his treasures at once, and flew into the woods in terror. But

the good youth forgave them all they had done, and divided his

treasures with them. Then he built himself a big castle with

golden windows, and there he lived happily with his golden-haired

wife till the end of their lives.