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
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
'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.