In a far-distant land, there reigned a queen, who was one day driving in a sledge over the new fallen snow, when, as it chanced, she was seized with a bleeding at her nose, which obliged her to alight. As she stood leaning against the stump of a tree, and gazed on her crimson blood that fell on the snow, she thought to herself, “I have now twelve sons, and not one daughter; could I but have a daughter fair as that snow and rosy as that blood, I should no longer care about my sons.” She had scarcely murmured the wish, before a sorceress stood beside her. “Thou shalt have a daughter,” said she, “and she shall be fair as this snow and rosy as thy blood; but thy twelve sons shall then be mine; thou may’st, however, retain them with thee, until thy daughter shall be baptized.”
Now, at the appointed time the queen brought into the world a daughter, who was fair as snow and rosy as blood, just as the sorceress had promised, and on that account she was called Snow-white and Rosy-red; and there was great joy throughout all the royal household, but the queen rejoiced more than all the rest. But when she remembered her promise to the sorceress, a strange sensation oppressed her heart, and she sent for a silversmith, and commanded him to make twelve silver spoons, one for each of the princes; she had one made for the princess also. On the day that the princess was baptized, the twelve princes were transformed into twelve wild ducks, and flew away, and were no more seen. The princess, however, grew up, and became wonderfully beautiful; but she was always wrapped in her own thoughts, and so melancholy, that no one could guess what was the matter with her.
One evening, when the queen was also in a very melancholy mood, thinking on her lost sons, she said to Snow-white and Rosy-red, “Why are you always so sad, my daughter? If there is anything the matter with you, tell it me. If there is anything you wish for, you shall have it.”
“Oh, dear mother,” she replied, “all around me seems so desolate; other children have brothers and sisters, but I have none, and that is why I am so sad.”
“My daughter,” said the queen, “you also once had brothers, for I had twelve sons, but I gave them all up in order to have you;” and thereupon she related to her all that had occurred.
When the princess heard what had befallen her brothers, she could no longer remain at home in peace, and notwithstanding all her mother’s tears and entreaties, nothing would satisfy her but she must and would set off in search of her brothers, for she thought that she alone was guilty of causing their misfortune; so she secretly left the palace. She wandered about the world, and went so far that you would not believe it possible that such a delicate maiden could have gone to such a distance. Once she strayed about a whole night in a great forest, and towards the morning she was so tired that she lay down on a bank and slept. Then she dreamed that she penetrated still farther into the forest, till she came to a little wooden hut, and therein she found her brothers. When she awoke, she saw before her a little beaten path through the moss, and she followed it till in the thickest of the forest she saw a little wooden hut, just like that she had dreamed of.
She entered it, but saw no one. There were, however, twelve beds and twelve chairs, and on the table lay twelve spoons, and, in fact, there were twelve of every article she saw there. The princess was overjoyed, for she could not but fancy that her twelve brethren dwelt there, and that it was to them that the beds, and the chairs, and the spoons belonged. Then she made a fire on the hearth, swept the room, and made the beds; afterwards she cooked a meal for them, and set everything out in the best order possible. And when she had finished her cooking and had prepared everything for her brothers, she sat down and ate something for herself, laid her spoon on the table, and crept under the bed belonging to her youngest brother.
She had scarcely concealed herself there, when she heard a great rustling in the air, and presently in flew twelve wild ducks; but the moment they crossed the threshold, they were instantly transformed into the princes, her brothers!
“Ah, how nicely everything is arranged here, and how delightfully warm it is already,” they exclaimed.
“Heaven reward the person who has warmed our room so nicely, and prepared such an excellent repast for us;” and hereupon each took his silver spoon in order to begin eating. But when each prince had taken his own, there was still one remaining, so like the others that they could not distinguish it. Then the princes looked at each other, and were very much astonished.
“That must be our sister’s spoon,” said they; “and since the spoon is here, she herself cannot be far off.”
“If it is our sister, and if she is here,” said the eldest, “she shall be killed, for she is the cause of our misfortune.”
“Nay,” said the youngest, “it would be a sin to kill her; she is not guilty of what we suffer; if any one is in fault, it is no other than our own mother.”
Then they all began to search high and low, and at last they looked under all the beds, and when they came to the bed of the youngest prince, they found the princess, and drew her from under it.
The eldest prince was now again for killing her, but she entreated them earnestly to spare her life, and said, “Ah, do not kill me; I have wandered about so long seeking for you, and I would willingly give my life if that would disenchant you.”
“Nay, but if you will disenchant us,” said they, “we will spare your life; for you can do it if you will.”
“Indeed; only tell me then what I am to do, for I will do anything you wish,” said the princess.
“You must collect the down of the dandelion flowers, and you must card, and spin, and weave it; and of that material you must cut out and make twelve caps, and twelve shirts, and twelve cravats, a set for each of us; but during the time that you are occupied in doing so, you must neither speak, nor weep, nor smile. If you can do that, we shall be disenchanted.”
“But where shall I be able to find sufficient down for all the caps, and shirts, and cravats?” asked she.
“That you shall soon see,” said the princes; and then they led her out into a great meadow, where were so many dandelions with their white down waving in the wind and glittering in the sun, that the glitter of them could be seen at a very great distance. The princess had never in all her life seen so many dandelions, and she began directly to pluck and collect them, and she brought home as many as she could carry; and in the evening she began to card and spin them into yarn. Thus she continued doing for a very long time; every day she gathered the down from the dandelions, and she attended on the princes also; she cooked for them, and made their beds; and every evening they flew home as wild ducks, became princes again during the night, and in the morning flew away again, as wild ducks.
Now it happened one day when Snow-white and Rosy-red had gone to the meadow to collect the dandelion-down—if I do not mistake, that was the last time that she required to collect them—that the young king of the country was hunting, and rode towards the meadow where Snow-white and Rosy-red was collecting her material. The king was astonished to see such a beautiful maiden walking there, and gathering the dandelion-down. He stopped his horse and addressed her; but when he could get no answer from her, he was still more astonished, and as the maiden pleased him so well, he resolved to carry her to his royal residence, and make her his wife. He commanded his attendants, therefore, to lift her upon his horse; but Snow-white and Rosy-red wrung her hands, and pointed to the bag wherein she had her work. So the king understood at last what she meant, and bade his attendants put the bag also on his horse. That being done, the princess, by degrees, yielded to his wish that she should go with him, for the king was a very handsome man, and spoke so gently, and kindly, to her. But when they arrived at the palace, and the old queen, who was the king’s step-mother, saw how beautiful Snow-white and Rosy-red was, she became quite jealous and angry; and she said to the king:—”Do you not see, then, that you have brought home a sorceress with you? for she can neither speak, nor laugh, nor cry.” The king, however, heeded not his step-mother’s words, but celebrated his nuptials with the fair maiden, and lived very happily with her. She, however, did not cease to work continually at the shirts.
Before the year was out, Snow-white and Rosy-red brought a little prince into the world. This made the old queen still more envious and spiteful than before; and when night came, she slipped into the queen’s room, and whilst she slept, carried off the infant, and threw it into a pit which was full of snakes. Then she returned, made an incision in one of the queen’s fingers, and having smeared her mouth with the blood, she went to the king, and said:—”Come now, and see what sort of a wife you have got; she has just devoured her own child.” Thereupon the king was so distressed that he very nearly shed tears, and said:—”Yes, it must be true, since I see it with my own eyes; but she surely will not do so again; this time I will spare her.” Before the year was out the queen brought into the world another prince, and the same occurred this time, as before. The step-mother was still more jealous and spiteful; she again slipped into the young queen’s room, during the night, and, whilst she slept, carried off the babe, and threw it into the pit to the serpents. Then she made an incision in the queen’s finger, smeared her lips with the blood, and told the king that his wife had again devoured her own child. The king’s distress was greater than can be imagined, and he said:—”Yes, it must be so, since I see it with my own eyes; but surely she will never do so again; I will spare her this once more.”
Before that year was out, Snow-white and Rosy-red brought a daughter into the world, and this also the old queen threw into the serpent hole, as she had done the others, made an incision in the young queen’s finger, smeared her lips with the blood, and then again said to the king: “Come and see if I do not say truly, she is a sorceress: for she has now devoured her third child,” Then the king was more distressed than can be described, for he could no longer spare her, but was obliged to command that she should be burnt alive. Now when the pile of faggots was blazing, and the young queen was to ascend, she made signs that twelve boards should be laid round the pile. This being done she placed on them, the shirts, caps, and cravats, she had made for her brothers; but the left sleeve of the youngest brother’s shirt was wanting, for she had not been able to finish it. No sooner had she done this than a great rustling and fluttering was heard in the air, and twelve wild ducks came flying from the wood, and each took a shirt, cap, and cravat in his beak, and flew off with them.
“Are you convinced now that she is a sorceress?” said the wicked step-mother to the king: “make haste and have her burnt before the flames consume all the wood.”
“There is no need of such haste,” said the king; “we have plenty more wood, and I am very desirous to see what will be the end of all this.”
At that moment came the twelve princes riding up, all as handsome and graceful as possible, only the youngest prince, instead of a left arm, had a duck’s wing.
“What are you going to do?” asked the princes.
“My wife is going to be burnt,” said the king, “because she is a sorceress, and has devoured her children.”
“That has she not,” said the princes. “Speak now, sister! You have delivered us, now save yourself.”
Then Snow-white and Rosy-red spoke, and related all that had happened, and that each time she had a child, the old queen had slipped into the room, taken the child, and then made an incision in her finger, and smeared the blood upon her lips. And the princes led the king to the serpent hole, and there lay the children, playing with the serpents and adders, and finer children than these could not be seen. Then the king carried them with him to his step-mother, and asked her what the person deserved who had desired to betray an innocent queen, and three such lovely children.
“To be torn in pieces by twelve wild horses,” said the old queen.
“You have pronounced your own doom, and shall suffer the punishment,” said the king, and forthwith the old queen was tied to twelve wild horses, and torn to pieces. But Snow-white and Rosy-red set off with the king, her husband, and her three children, and her twelve brothers, and went home to her parents, and told them all that had happened to her; and there were rejoicings throughout the kingdom, because the princess was saved, and that she had disenchanted her twelve brothers.
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