Water of Life
by the Grimm Brothers

A KING was very ill, and no one believed that he would come out of it with his life. He had
three sons who were much distressed about it, and went down into the palace-garden and wept.
There they met an old man who inquired as to the cause of their grief. They told him that their
father was so ill that he would most certainly die, for nothing seemed to cure him. Then the old
man said, "I know of one more remedy, and that is the water of life; if he drinks of it he will
become well again; but it is hard to find." The eldest said, "I will manage to find it," and went to
the sick King, and begged to be allowed to go forth in search of the water of life, for that alone
could save him. "No," said the King, "the danger of it is too great. I would rather die." But he
begged so long that the King consented. The Prince thought in his heart, "If I bring the water,
then I shall be best beloved of my father, and shall inherit the kingdom."

So he set out, and when he had ridden forth a little distance, a dwarf stood there in the road
who called to him and said, "Whither away so fast?" "Silly shrimp," said the Prince, very
haughtily, "it is nothing to you," and rode on. But the little dwarf had grown angry, and had
wished an evil wish. Soon after this the Prince entered a ravine, and the further he rode the
closer the mountains drew together, and at last the road became so narrow that he could not
advance a step further; it was impossible either to turn his horse or to dismount from the
saddle, and he was shut in there as if in prison. The sick King waited long for him, but he came

Then the second son said, "Father, let me go forth to seek the water," and thought to himself,
"If my brother is dead, then the kingdom will fall to me." At first the King would not allow him
to go either, but at last he yielded, so the Prince set out on the same road that his brother had
taken, and he too met the dwarf, who stopped him to ask whither he was going in such haste.
"Little shrimp," said the Prince, "that is nothing to you," and rode on without giving him
another look. But the dwarf bewitched him, and he, like the other, got into a ravine, and could
neither go forwards nor backwards. So fare haughty people.

As the second son also remained away, the youngest begged to be allowed to go forth to fetch
the water, and at last the King was obliged to let him go. When he met the dwarf and the latter
asked him whither he was going in such haste, he stopped, gave him an explanation, and said,
"I am seeking the water of life, for my father is sick unto death." "Dost thou know, then, where
that is to be found?" "No," said the Prince. Then said the dwarf: "As thou hast borne thyself
politely and not haughtily like thy false brothers, I will give thee the information and tell thee
how thou mayst obtain the water of life. It springs from a fountain in the court-yard of an
enchanted castle, but thou wilt not be able to make thy way to it, if I do not give thee an iron
wand and two small loaves of bread. Strike thrice with the wand on the iron door of the castle,
and it will spring open. Inside lie two lions with gaping jaws, but if thou throwest a loaf to each
of them, they will be quieted; then hasten to fetch some of the water of life before the clock
strikes twelve, else the door will shut again, and thou wilt be imprisoned."

The Prince thanked him, took the wand and the bread, and set out on his way. When he arrived,
everything was as the dwarf had said. The door sprang open at the third stroke of the wand,
and when he had appeased the lions with the bread, he entered into the castle, and came in a
large and splendid hall, wherein sat some enchanted Princes whose rings he drew off their
fingers. A sword and a loaf of bread were lying there, which he carried away. After this, he
entered a chamber in which was a beautiful maiden who rejoiced when she saw him, kissed him,
and told him that he had delivered her, and should have the whole of her kingdom, and that if
he would return in a year their wedding should be celebrated; likewise she told him where the
spring of the water of life was, and that he was to hasten and draw some of it before the clock
struck twelve. Then he went onwards, and at last entered a room where there was a beautiful
newly-made bed, and as he was very weary, he felt inclined to rest a little. So he lay down and
fell asleep.

When he awoke, it was striking a quarter to twelve. He sprang up in a fright, ran to the spring,
drew some water in a cup which stood near, and hastened away. But just as he was passing
through the iron door, the clock struck twelve, and the door fell to with such violence that it
carried away a piece of his heel. He, however, rejoicing at having obtained the water of life,
went homewards, and again passed the dwarf. When the latter saw the sword and the loaf, he
said, "With these thou hast won great wealth; with the sword thou canst slay whole armies,
and the bread will never come to an end."

But the Prince would not go home to his father without his brothers, and said, "Dear dwarf,
canst thou not tell me where my two brothers are? They went out before I did in search of the
water of life, and have not returned." "They are imprisoned between two mountains," said the
dwarf. "I have condemned them to stay there, because they were so haughty." Then the Prince
begged until the dwarf released them; he warned him, however, and said, "Beware of them, for
they have bad hearts."

When his brothers came, he rejoiced, and told them how things had gone with him, that he had
found the water of life, and had brought a cupful away with him, and had delivered a beautiful
Princess, who was willing to wait a year for him, and then their wedding was to be celebrated,
and he would obtain a great kingdom.

After that they rode on together, and chanced upon a land where war and famine reigned, and
the King already thought he must perish, for the scarcity was so great. Then the Prince went to
him and gave him the loaf, wherewith he fed and satisfied the whole of his kingdom, and then
the Prince gave him the sword also, wherewith he slew the hosts of his enemies, and could now
live in rest and peace. The Prince then took back his loaf and his sword, and the three brothers
rode on.

After this they entered two more countries where war and famine reigned, and each time the
Prince gave his loaf and his sword to the Kings, and had now delivered three kingdoms, and
after that they went on board a ship and sailed over the sea. During the passage,

he two eldest conversed apart and said, "The youngest has found the water of life and not we;
for that our father will give him the kingdom- the kingdom which belongs to us, and he will rob
us of all our fortune." They began to seek revenge, and plotted with each other to destroy him.
They waited until once when they found him fast asleep, then they poured the water of life out
of the cup, and took it for themselves, but into the cup they poured salt sea-water. Now
therefore, when they arrived at home, the youngest took his cup to the sick King in order that
he might drink out of it, and be cured. But scarcely had he drunk a very little of the salt
sea-water than he became still worse than before. And as he was lamenting over this, the two
eldest brothers came, and accused the youngest of having intended to poison him, and said
that they had brought him the true water of life, and handed it to him. He had scarcely tasted it,
when he felt his sickness departing, and became strong and healthy as in the days of his youth.

After that they both went to the youngest, mocked him, and said, "You certainly found the
water of life, but you have had the pain, and we the gain. You should have been sharper, and
should have kept your eyes open. We took it from you while you were asleep at sea, and when
a year is over, one of us will go and fetch the beautiful Princess. But beware that you do not
disclose aught of this to our father; indeed he does not trust you, and if you say a single word,
you shall lose your life into the bargain, but if you keep silent, you shall have it as a gift."

The old King was angry with his youngest son, and thought he had plotted against his life. So
he summoned the court together, and had sentence pronounced upon his son that he should
be secretly shot. And once when the Prince was riding forth to the chase, suspecting no evil,
the King's huntsman had to go with him, and when they were quite alone in the forest, the
huntsman looked so sorrowful that the Prince said to him, "Dear huntsman, what ails you?" The
huntsman said, "I cannot tell you, and yet I ought." Then the Prince said, "Say openly what it
is, I will pardon you." "Alas!" said the huntsman, "I am to shoot you dead, the King has
ordered me to do it." Then the Prince was shocked, and said, "Dear huntsman, let me live; there,
I give you my royal garments; give me your common ones in their stead." The huntsman said,
"I will willingly do that, indeed I should not have been able to shoot you." Then they
exchanged clothes, and the huntsman returned home; the Prince, however, went further into the

After a time three wagons of gold and precious stones came to the King for his youngest son,
which were sent by the three Kings who had slain their enemies with the Prince's sword, and
maintained their people with his bread, and who wished to show their gratitude for it. The old
King then thought, "Can my son have been innocent?" and said to his people, "Would that he
were still alive; how it grieves me that I have suffered him to be killed!" "He still lives," said the
huntsman, "I could not find it in my heart to carry out your command," and told the King how it
had happened. Then a great weight fell from the King's heart, and he had it proclaimed in every
country that his son might return and be taken into favor again.

The Princess, however, had a road made up to her palace which was quite bright and golden,
and told her people that whosoever came riding straight along it to her, would be the right
wooer and was to be admitted, and whoever rode by the side of it, was not the right one, and
was not to be admitted. As the time was now close at hand, the eldest son thought he would
hasten to go to the King's daughter, and give himself out as her deliverer, and thus win her for
his bride, and the kingdom to boot. Therefore he rode forth, and when he arrived in front of the
palace, and saw the splendid golden road, he thought it would be a sin and a shame if he were
to ride over that, and turned aside, and rode on the right side of it. When he came to the door,
the servants told him that he was not the right man, and was to go away again.

Soon after this the second Prince set out, and when he came to the golden road, and his horse
had put one foot on it, he thought it would be a sin and a shame to tread a piece of it off, and he
turned aside and rode on the left side of it, and when he reached the door, the attendants told
him he was not the right one, and was to go away again.

When at last the year had entirely expired, the third son likewise wished to ride out of the forest
to his beloved, with her to forget his sorrows. So he set out and thought of her so incessantly,
and wished to be with her so much, that he never noticed the golden road at all. So his horse
rode onwards up the middle of it, and when he came to the door, it was opened and the Princess
received him with joy, and said he was her deliverer, and lord of the kingdom, and their wedding
was celebrated with great rejoicing.

When it was over she told him that his father invited him to come to him, and had forgiven him.
So he rode thither, and told him everything; how his brothers had betrayed him, and how he
had nevertheless kept silence. The old King wished to punish them, but they had put to sea,
and never came back as long as they lived. - -


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