The Water Of Life

: Grimms' Fairy Tales

Long before you or I were born, there reigned, in a country a great way

off, a king who had three sons. This king once fell very ill--so ill

that nobody thought he could live. His sons were very much grieved

at their father's sickness; and as they were walking together very

mournfully in the garden of the palace, a little old man met them and

asked what was the matter. They told him that their father was very ill,

hat they were afraid nothing could save him. 'I know what would,'

said the little old man; 'it is the Water of Life. If he could have a

draught of it he would be well again; but it is very hard to get.' Then

the eldest son said, 'I will soon find it': and he went to the sick

king, and begged that he might go in search of the Water of Life, as

it was the only thing that could save him. 'No,' said the king. 'I had

rather die than place you in such great danger as you must meet with in

your journey.' But he begged so hard that the king let him go; and the

prince thought to himself, 'If I bring my father this water, he will

make me sole heir to his kingdom.'

Then he set out: and when he had gone on his way some time he came to a

deep valley, overhung with rocks and woods; and as he looked around, he

saw standing above him on one of the rocks a little ugly dwarf, with a

sugarloaf cap and a scarlet cloak; and the dwarf called to him and said,

'Prince, whither so fast?' 'What is that to thee, you ugly imp?' said

the prince haughtily, and rode on.

But the dwarf was enraged at his behaviour, and laid a fairy spell

of ill-luck upon him; so that as he rode on the mountain pass became

narrower and narrower, and at last the way was so straitened that he

could not go to step forward: and when he thought to have turned his

horse round and go back the way he came, he heard a loud laugh ringing

round him, and found that the path was closed behind him, so that he was

shut in all round. He next tried to get off his horse and make his way

on foot, but again the laugh rang in his ears, and he found himself

unable to move a step, and thus he was forced to abide spellbound.

Meantime the old king was lingering on in daily hope of his son's

return, till at last the second son said, 'Father, I will go in search

of the Water of Life.' For he thought to himself, 'My brother is surely

dead, and the kingdom will fall to me if I find the water.' The king was

at first very unwilling to let him go, but at last yielded to his wish.

So he set out and followed the same road which his brother had done,

and met with the same elf, who stopped him at the same spot in the

mountains, saying, as before, 'Prince, prince, whither so fast?' 'Mind

your own affairs, busybody!' said the prince scornfully, and rode on.

But the dwarf put the same spell upon him as he put on his elder

brother, and he, too, was at last obliged to take up his abode in the

heart of the mountains. Thus it is with proud silly people, who think

themselves above everyone else, and are too proud to ask or take advice.

When the second prince had thus been gone a long time, the youngest son

said he would go and search for the Water of Life, and trusted he should

soon be able to make his father well again. So he set out, and the dwarf

met him too at the same spot in the valley, among the mountains, and

said, 'Prince, whither so fast?' And the prince said, 'I am going in

search of the Water of Life, because my father is ill, and like to die:

can you help me? Pray be kind, and aid me if you can!' 'Do you know

where it is to be found?' asked the dwarf. 'No,' said the prince, 'I do

not. Pray tell me if you know.' 'Then as you have spoken to me kindly,

and are wise enough to seek for advice, I will tell you how and where to

go. The water you seek springs from a well in an enchanted castle; and,

that you may be able to reach it in safety, I will give you an iron wand

and two little loaves of bread; strike the iron door of the castle three

times with the wand, and it will open: two hungry lions will be lying

down inside gaping for their prey, but if you throw them the bread they

will let you pass; then hasten on to the well, and take some of the

Water of Life before the clock strikes twelve; for if you tarry longer

the door will shut upon you for ever.'

Then the prince thanked his little friend with the scarlet cloak for his

friendly aid, and took the wand and the bread, and went travelling on

and on, over sea and over land, till he came to his journey's end, and

found everything to be as the dwarf had told him. The door flew open at

the third stroke of the wand, and when the lions were quieted he went on

through the castle and came at length to a beautiful hall. Around it he

saw several knights sitting in a trance; then he pulled off their rings

and put them on his own fingers. In another room he saw on a table a

sword and a loaf of bread, which he also took. Further on he came to a

room where a beautiful young lady sat upon a couch; and she welcomed him

joyfully, and said, if he would set her free from the spell that bound

her, the kingdom should be his, if he would come back in a year and

marry her. Then she told him that the well that held the Water of Life

was in the palace gardens; and bade him make haste, and draw what he

wanted before the clock struck twelve.

He walked on; and as he walked through beautiful gardens he came to a

delightful shady spot in which stood a couch; and he thought to himself,

as he felt tired, that he would rest himself for a while, and gaze on

the lovely scenes around him. So he laid himself down, and sleep

fell upon him unawares, so that he did not wake up till the clock was

striking a quarter to twelve. Then he sprang from the couch dreadfully

frightened, ran to the well, filled a cup that was standing by him full

of water, and hastened to get away in time. Just as he was going out of

the iron door it struck twelve, and the door fell so quickly upon him

that it snapped off a piece of his heel.

When he found himself safe, he was overjoyed to think that he had got

the Water of Life; and as he was going on his way homewards, he passed

by the little dwarf, who, when he saw the sword and the loaf, said, 'You

have made a noble prize; with the sword you can at a blow slay whole

armies, and the bread will never fail you.' Then the prince thought

to himself, 'I cannot go home to my father without my brothers'; so he

said, 'My dear friend, cannot you tell me where my two brothers are, who

set out in search of the Water of Life before me, and never came back?'

'I have shut them up by a charm between two mountains,' said the dwarf,

'because they were proud and ill-behaved, and scorned to ask advice.'

The prince begged so hard for his brothers, that the dwarf at last set

them free, though unwillingly, saying, 'Beware of them, for they have

bad hearts.' Their brother, however, was greatly rejoiced to see them,

and told them all that had happened to him; how he had found the Water

of Life, and had taken a cup full of it; and how he had set a beautiful

princess free from a spell that bound her; and how she had engaged to

wait a whole year, and then to marry him, and to give him the kingdom.

Then they all three rode on together, and on their way home came to a

country that was laid waste by war and a dreadful famine, so that it was

feared all must die for want. But the prince gave the king of the land

the bread, and all his kingdom ate of it. And he lent the king the

wonderful sword, and he slew the enemy's army with it; and thus the

kingdom was once more in peace and plenty. In the same manner he

befriended two other countries through which they passed on their way.

When they came to the sea, they got into a ship and during their voyage

the two eldest said to themselves, 'Our brother has got the water which

we could not find, therefore our father will forsake us and give him the

kingdom, which is our right'; so they were full of envy and revenge, and

agreed together how they could ruin him. Then they waited till he was

fast asleep, and poured the Water of Life out of the cup, and took it

for themselves, giving him bitter sea-water instead.

When they came to their journey's end, the youngest son brought his cup

to the sick king, that he might drink and be healed. Scarcely, however,

had he tasted the bitter sea-water when he became worse even than he was

before; and then both the elder sons came in, and blamed the youngest

for what they had done; and said that he wanted to poison their father,

but that they had found the Water of Life, and had brought it with them.

He no sooner began to drink of what they brought him, than he felt his

sickness leave him, and was as strong and well as in his younger days.

Then they went to their brother, and laughed at him, and said, 'Well,

brother, you found the Water of Life, did you? You have had the trouble

and we shall have the reward. Pray, with all your cleverness, why did

not you manage to keep your eyes open? Next year one of us will take

away your beautiful princess, if you do not take care. You had better

say nothing about this to our father, for he does not believe a word you

say; and if you tell tales, you shall lose your life into the bargain:

but be quiet, and we will let you off.'

The old king was still very angry with his youngest son, and thought

that he really meant to have taken away his life; so he called his court

together, and asked what should be done, and all agreed that he ought to

be put to death. The prince knew nothing of what was going on, till one

day, when the king's chief huntsmen went a-hunting with him, and they

were alone in the wood together, the huntsman looked so sorrowful that

the prince said, 'My friend, what is the matter with you?' 'I cannot and

dare not tell you,' said he. But the prince begged very hard, and said,

'Only tell me what it is, and do not think I shall be angry, for I will

forgive you.' 'Alas!' said the huntsman; 'the king has ordered me to

shoot you.' The prince started at this, and said, 'Let me live, and I

will change dresses with you; you shall take my royal coat to show to my

father, and do you give me your shabby one.' 'With all my heart,' said

the huntsman; 'I am sure I shall be glad to save you, for I could not

have shot you.' Then he took the prince's coat, and gave him the shabby

one, and went away through the wood.

Some time after, three grand embassies came to the old king's court,

with rich gifts of gold and precious stones for his youngest son; now

all these were sent from the three kings to whom he had lent his sword

and loaf of bread, in order to rid them of their enemy and feed their

people. This touched the old king's heart, and he thought his son might

still be guiltless, and said to his court, 'O that my son were still

alive! how it grieves me that I had him killed!' 'He is still alive,'

said the huntsman; 'and I am glad that I had pity on him, but let him

go in peace, and brought home his royal coat.' At this the king was

overwhelmed with joy, and made it known thoughout all his kingdom, that

if his son would come back to his court he would forgive him.

Meanwhile the princess was eagerly waiting till her deliverer should

come back; and had a road made leading up to her palace all of shining

gold; and told her courtiers that whoever came on horseback, and rode

straight up to the gate upon it, was her true lover; and that they must

let him in: but whoever rode on one side of it, they must be sure was

not the right one; and that they must send him away at once.

The time soon came, when the eldest brother thought that he would make

haste to go to the princess, and say that he was the one who had set

her free, and that he should have her for his wife, and the kingdom with

her. As he came before the palace and saw the golden road, he stopped to

look at it, and he thought to himself, 'It is a pity to ride upon this

beautiful road'; so he turned aside and rode on the right-hand side of

it. But when he came to the gate, the guards, who had seen the road

he took, said to him, he could not be what he said he was, and must go

about his business.

The second prince set out soon afterwards on the same errand; and when

he came to the golden road, and his horse had set one foot upon it,

he stopped to look at it, and thought it very beautiful, and said to

himself, 'What a pity it is that anything should tread here!' Then he

too turned aside and rode on the left side of it. But when he came to

the gate the guards said he was not the true prince, and that he too

must go away about his business; and away he went.

Now when the full year was come round, the third brother left the forest

in which he had lain hid for fear of his father's anger, and set out in

search of his betrothed bride. So he journeyed on, thinking of her all

the way, and rode so quickly that he did not even see what the road was

made of, but went with his horse straight over it; and as he came to the

gate it flew open, and the princess welcomed him with joy, and said

he was her deliverer, and should now be her husband and lord of the

kingdom. When the first joy at their meeting was over, the princess told

him she had heard of his father having forgiven him, and of his wish to

have him home again: so, before his wedding with the princess, he went

to visit his father, taking her with him. Then he told him everything;

how his brothers had cheated and robbed him, and yet that he had borne

all those wrongs for the love of his father. And the old king was very

angry, and wanted to punish his wicked sons; but they made their escape,

and got into a ship and sailed away over the wide sea, and where they

went to nobody knew and nobody cared.

And now the old king gathered together his court, and asked all his

kingdom to come and celebrate the wedding of his son and the princess.

And young and old, noble and squire, gentle and simple, came at once

on the summons; and among the rest came the friendly dwarf, with the

sugarloaf hat, and a new scarlet cloak.

And the wedding was held, and the merry bells run.

And all the good people they danced and they sung,

And feasted and frolick'd I can't tell how long.