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From Snowdrop and Other Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Age Rating 4 to 8.

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There was once a Merchant who had two children, a boy and a girl. They were both small, and not old enough to run about. He had also two richly-laden ships at sea, and just as he was expecting to make a great deal of money by the merchandise, news came that they had both been lost. So now instead of being a rich man he was quite poor, and had nothing left but one field near the town. To turn his thoughts from his misfortune, he went out into this field, and as he was walking up and down a little black Mannikin suddenly appeared before him, and asked why he was so sad. The Merchant said, 'I would tell you at once, if you could help me.' 'Who knows,' answered the little Mannikin. 'Perhaps I could help you.' Then the Merchant told him that all his wealth had been lost in a wreck, and that now he had nothing left but this field. 'Don't worry yourself,' said the Mannikin. 'If you will promise to bring me in twelve years' time the first thing which rubs against your legs when you go home, you shall have as much gold as you want.' The Merchant thought, 'What could it be but my dog?' He never thought of his boy, but said Yes, and gave the Mannikin his bond signed and sealed, and went home. When he reached the house his little son, delighted to hold on to the benches and totter towards his father, seized him by the leg to steady himself.

The Merchant was horror-stricken, for his vow came into his head, and now he knew what he had promised to give away. But as he still found no gold in his chests, he thought it must only have been a joke of the Mannikin's. A month later he went up into the loft to gather together some old tin to sell it, and there he found a great heap of gold on the floor. So he was soon up in the world again, bought and sold, became a richer merchant than ever, and was altogether contented. In the meantime the boy had grown up, and he was both clever and wise. But the nearer the end of the twelve years came, the more sorrowful the Merchant grew; you could even see his misery in his face. One day his son asked him what was the matter, but his father would not tell him. The boy, however, persisted so long that at last he told him that, without knowing what he was doing, he had promised to give him up at the end of twelve years to a little black Mannikin, in return for a quantity of gold. He had given his hand and seal on it, and the time was now near for him to go. Then his son said, 'O father, don't be frightened, it will be all right. The little black Mannikin has no power over me.' When the time came, the son asked a blessing of the Priest, and he and his father went to the field together; and the son made a circle within which they took their places. When the little black Mannikin appeared, he said to the father, 'Have you brought what you promised me?'

The man was silent, but his son said, 'What do you want?' The Mannikin said, 'My business is with your father, and not with you.' The son answered, 'You deceived and cheated my father. Give me back his bond.' 'Oh no!' said the little man; 'I won't give up my rights.' They talked to each other for a long time, and at last they decided that, as the son no longer belonged to his father, and declined to belong to his foe, he should get into a boat on a flowing stream, and his father should push it off himself, thus giving him up to the stream. So the youth took leave of his father, got into the boat, and his father pushed it off. Then, thinking that his son was lost to him for ever, he went home and sorrowed for him. The little boat, however, did not sink, it drifted quietly down the stream, and the youth sat in it in perfect safety. It drifted for a long time, till at last it stuck fast on an unknown shore. The youth landed, and seeing a beautiful castle near, walked towards it. As he passed under the doorway, however, a spell fell upon him. He went through all the rooms, but found them empty, till he came to the very last one, where a Serpent lay coiling and uncoiling itself. The Serpent was really an enchanted maiden, who was delighted when she saw the youth, and said, 'Have you come at last, my preserver? I have been waiting twelve years for you. This whole kingdom is bewitched, and you must break the spell.' 'How am I to do that?' he asked.

She said, 'To-night, twelve black men hung with chains will appear, and they will ask what you are doing here. But do not speak a word, whatever they do or say to you. They will torment you, strike, and pinch you, but don't say a word. At twelve o'clock they will have to go away. On the second night twelve more will come, and on the third twenty-four. These will cut off your head. But at twelve o'clock their power goes, and if you have borne it, and not spoken a word, I shall be saved. Then I will come to you, and bring a little flask containing the Water of Life, with which I will sprinkle you, and you will be brought to life again, as sound and well as ever you were.' Then he said, 'I will gladly save you!' Everything happened just as she had said. The black men could not force a word out of him; and on the third night the Serpent became a beautiful Princess, who brought the Water of Life as she had promised, and restored the youth to life. Then she fell on his neck and kissed him, and there were great rejoicings all over the castle. Their marriage was celebrated, and he became King of the Golden Mountain. [Illustration: {The Son made a circle, and his Father and he took their places within it, and the little black Mannikin appeared.}] They lived happily together, and in course of time a beautiful boy was born to them.

When eight years had passed, the King's heart grew tender within him as he thought of his father, and he wanted to go home to see him. But the Queen did not want him to go. She said, 'I know it will be to my misfortune.' However, he gave her no peace till she agreed to let him go. On his departure she gave him a wishing-ring, and said, 'Take this ring, and put it on your finger, and you will at once be at the place where you wish to be. Only, you must promise never to use it to wish me away from here to be with you at your father's.' He made the promise, and put the ring on his finger; he then wished himself before the town where his father lived, and at the same moment found himself at the gate. But the sentry would not let him in because his clothes, though of rich material, were of such strange cut. So he went up a mountain, where a Shepherd lived, and, exchanging clothing with him, put on his old smock, and passed into the town unnoticed. When he reached his father he began making himself known; but his father, never thinking that it was his son, said that it was true he had once had a son, but he had long been dead. But, he added, seeing that he was a poor Shepherd, he would give him a plate of food. The supposed Shepherd said to his parents, 'I am indeed your son. Is there no mark on my body by which you may know me?' His mother said, 'Yes, our son has a strawberry mark under his right arm.'

He pushed up his shirt sleeve, and there was the strawberry mark; so they no longer doubted that he was their son. He told them that he was the King of the Golden Mountain, his wife was a Princess, and they had a little son seven years old. 'That can't be true,' said his father. 'You are a fine sort of King to come home in a tattered Shepherd's smock.' His son grew angry, and, without stopping to reflect, turned his ring round and wished his wife and son to appear. In a moment they both stood before him; but his wife did nothing but weep and lament, and said that he had broken his promise, and by so doing had made her very unhappy. He said, 'I have acted incautiously, but from no bad motive,' and he tried to soothe her. She appeared to be calmed, but really she nourished evil intentions towards him in her heart. Shortly after he took her outside the town to the field, and showed her the stream down which he had drifted in the little boat. Then he said, 'I am tired; I want to rest a little.' So she sat down, and he rested his head upon her lap, and soon fell fast asleep. As soon as he was asleep, she drew the ring from his finger, and drew herself gently away from him, leaving only her slipper behind. Last of all, taking her child in her arms, she wished herself back in her own kingdom. When he woke up, he found himself quite deserted; wife and child were gone, the ring had disappeared from his finger, and only her slipper remained as a token.

'I can certainly never go home to my parents,' he said. 'They would say I was a sorcerer. I must go away and walk till I reach my own kingdom again.' So he went away, and at last he came to a mountain, where three Giants were quarrelling about the division of their father's property. When they saw him passing, they called him up, and said, 'Little people have sharp wits,' and asked him to divide their inheritance for them. It consisted, first, of a sword, with which in one's hand, if one said, 'All heads off, mine alone remain,' every head fell to the ground. Secondly, of a mantle which rendered any one putting it on invisible. Thirdly, of a pair of boots which transported the wearer to whatever place he wished. He said, 'Give me the three articles so that I may see if they are all in good condition.' So they gave him the mantle, and he at once became invisible. He took his own shape again, and said, 'The mantle is good; now give me the sword.' But they said, 'No, we can't give you the sword. If you were to say, "All heads off, mine alone remain," all our heads would fall, and yours would be the only one left.'

At last, however, they gave it to him, on condition that he was to try it on a tree. He did as they wished, and the sword went through the tree trunk as if it had been a straw. Then he wanted the boots, but they said, 'No, we won't give them away. If you were to put them on and wish yourself on the top of the mountain, we should be left standing here without anything.' 'No,' said he; 'I won't do that.' So they gave him the boots too; but when he had all three he could think of nothing but his wife and child, and said to himself, 'Oh, if only I were on the Golden Mountain again!' and immediately he disappeared from the sight of the Giants, and there was an end of their inheritance. When he approached his castle he heard sounds of music, fiddles and flutes, and shouts of joy. People told him that his wife was celebrating her marriage with another husband. He was filled with rage, and said, 'The false creature! She deceived me, and deserted me when I was asleep.' Then he put on his mantle, and went to the castle, invisible to all. When he went into the hall, where a great feast was spread with the richest foods and the costliest wines, the guests were joking and laughing while they ate and drank. The Queen sat on her throne in their midst in gorgeous clothing, with the crown on her head. He placed himself behind her, and no one saw him. Whenever the Queen put a piece of meat on her plate, he took it away and ate it, and when her glass was filled he took it away and drank it. Her plate and her glass were constantly refilled, but she never had anything, for it disappeared at once. At last she grew frightened, got up, and went to her room in tears, but he followed her there too. She said to herself, 'Am I still in the power of the demon? Did my preserver never come?'

He struck her in the face, and said, 'Did your preserver never come? He is with you now, deceiver that you are. Did I deserve such treatment at your hands?' Then he made himself visible, and went into the hall, and cried, 'The wedding is stopped, the real King has come.' The Kings, Princes, and Nobles who were present laughed him to scorn. But he only said, 'Will you go, or will you not?' They tried to seize him, but he drew his sword and said, 'All heads off, mine alone remain.' Then all their heads fell to the ground, and he remained sole King and Lord of the Golden Mountain.



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