A CERTAIN merchant had two children, a
son and daughter, both very young, and scarcely able to run alone. He had
two richly laden ships then making a voyage upon the seas, in which he
had embarked all his property, in the hope of making great gains, when
the news came that they were lost. Thus from being a rich man he became
very poor, so that nothing was left him but one small plot of land; and,
to relieve his mind a little of his trouble, he often went out to walk
One day, as he was roving along, a little rough-looking dwarf stood before him, and asked him why he was so sorrowful, and what it was that he took so deeply to heart. But the merchant replied, “If you could do me any good, I would tell you.” “Who knows but I may?” said the little man; “tell me what is the matter, and perhaps I can be of some service.” Then the merchant told him how all his wealth was gone to the bottom of the sea, and how he had nothing left except that little plot of land. “Oh! trouble not yourself about that,” said the dwarf; “only promise to bring me here, twelve years hence, whatever meets you first on your return home, and I will give you as much gold as you please.” The merchant thought this was no great request; that it would most likely be his dog, or something of that sort, but forgot his little child: so he agreed to the bargain, and signed and sealed the engagement to do what was required.
But as he drew near home, his little boy was so pleased to see him, that he crept behind him and laid fast hold of his legs. Then the father started with fear, and saw what it was that he had bound himself to do; but as no gold was come, he consoled himself by thinking that it was only a joke that the dwarf was playing him.
About a month afterwards he went up stairs into an old lumber room to look for some old iron, that he might sell it and raise a little money; and there he saw a large pile of gold lying on the floor. At the sight of this he was greatly delighted, went into trade again, and became a greater merchant than before.
Meantime his son grew up, and as the end of the twelve years drew near, the merchant became very anxious and thought-ful; so that care and sorrow were written upon his face. The son one day asked what was the matter: but his father refused to tell for some time; at last however he said that he had, without knowing it, sold him to a little ugly-looking dwarf for a great quantity of gold; and that the twelve years were coming round when he must perform his agreement. Then the son said, “Father, give yourself very little trouble about that; depend upon it I shall be too much for the little man.”
When the time came, they went out together to the appointed place; and the son drew a circle on the ground, and set himself and his father in the middle. The little dwarf soon came, and said to the merchant, “Have you brought me what you promised?” The old man was silent, but his son answered, “What do you want here?” The dwarf said, “I come to talk with your father, not with you.” “You have deceived and betrayed my father,” said the son; “give him up his bond.” “No,” replied the other, “I will not yield up my rights.”
Upon this a long dispute arose; and at last it was agreed that the son should be put into an open boat, that lay on the side of a piece of water hard by, and that the father should push him off with his own hand; so that he should be turned adrift. Then he took leave of his father, and set himself in the boat; and as it was pushed off it heaved, and fell on one side into the water: so the merchant thought that his son was lost, and went home very sorrowful.
But the boat went safely on, and did not sink; and the young man sat securely within, till at length it ran ashore upon an unknown land. As he jumped upon the shore, he saw before him a beautiful castle, but empty and desolate within, for it was enchanted. At last, however, he found a white snake in one of the chambers.
Now the white snake was an enchanted princess; and she rejoiced greatly to see him, and said, “Art thou at last come to be my deliverer? Twelve long years have I waited for thee, for thou alone canst save me. This night twelve men will come: their faces will be black, and they will be hung round with chains. They will ask what thou dost here; but be silent, give no answer, and let them do what they will beat and torment thee. Suffer all, only speak not a word; and at twelve o’clock they must depart. The second night twelve others will come; and the third night twenty-four, who will even cut off thy head; but at the twelfth hour of that night their power is gone, and I shall be free, and will come and bring thee the water of life, and will wash thee with it, and restore thee to life and health.” And all came to pass as she had said; the merchant’s son spoke not a word, and the third night the princess appeared, and fell on his neck and kissed him; joy and gladness burst forth throughout the castle; the wedding was celebrated, and he was king of the Golden Mountain.
They lived together very happily, and the queen had a son. Eight years had passed over their heads when the king thought of his father: and his heart was moved, and he longed to see him once again. But the queen opposed his going, and said, “I know well that misfortunes will come.” However, he gave her no rest till she consented. At his departure she presented him with a wishing-ring, and said, “Take this ring, and put it on your finger; whatever you wish it will bring you: only promise that you will not make use of it to bring me hence to your father’s.” Then he promised what she asked, and put the ring on his finger, and wished himself near the town where his father lived. He found himself at the gates in a moment; but the guards would not let him enter because he was so strangely clad. So he went up to a neighbouring mountain where a shepherd dwelt, and borrowed his old frock, and thus passed unobserved into the town. When he came to his father’s house, he said he was his son; but the merchant would not believe him, and said he had had but one son, who he knew was long since dead: and as he was only dressed like a poor shepherd, he would not even offer him any thing to eat. The king however persisted that he was his son, and said, “Is there no mark by which you would know if I am really your son?” “Yes,” observed his mother, “our son has a mark like a raspberry under the right arm.” Then he showed them the mark, and they were satisfied that what he had said was true. He next told them how he was king of the Golden Mountain, and was married to a princess, and had a son seven years old. But the merchant said, “That can never be true; he must be a fine king truly who travels about in a shepherd’s frock.” At this the son was very angry; and, forgetting his promise, turned his ring, and wished for his queen and son. In an instant they stood before him; but the queen wept, and said he had broken his word, and misfortune would follow. He did all he could to soothe her, and she at last appeared to be appeased; but she was not so in reality, and only meditated how she should take her revenge.
One day he took her to walk with him out of the town, and showed her the spot where the boat was turned adrift upon the wide waters. Then he sat himself down, and said, “I am very much tired; sit by me, I will rest my head in your lap, and sleep a while.” As soon as he had fallen asleep, however, she drew the ring from his finger, and crept softly away, and wished herself and her son at home in their kingdom. And when the king awoke, he found himself alone, and saw that the ring was gone from his finger. “I can never return to my father’s house,” said he; “they would say I am a sorcerer: I will journey forth into the world till I come again to my kingdom.”
So saying, he set out and travelled till he came to a mountain, where three giants were sharing their inheritance; and as they saw him pass, they cried out and said “Little men have sharp wits; he shall divide the inheritance between us.” Now it consisted of a sword that cut off an enemy’s head whenever the wearer gave the words “Heads off!” a cloak that made the owner invisible, or gave him any form he pleased; and a pair of boots that transported the person who put them on wherever he wished. The king said they must first let him try these wonderful things, that he might know how to set a value upon them. Then they gave him the cloak, and he wished himself a fly, and in a moment he was a fly. “The cloak is very well,” said he; “now give me the sword.” “So,” said they, “not unless you promise not to say ‘Heads off!’ for if you do, we are all dead men.” So they gave it him on condition that he tried its virtue only on a tree. He next asked for the boots also; and the moment he had all three in his possession he wished himself at the Golden Mountain; and there he was in an instant. So the giants were left behind with no inheritance to divide or quarrel about.
As he came near to the castle he heard the sound of merry music; and the people around told him that his queen was about to celebrate her marriage with another prince. Then he threw his cloak around him, and passed through the castle, and placed himself by the side of his queen, where no one saw him. But when any thing to eat was put upon her plate, he took it away and eat it himself; and when a glass of wine was handed to her, he took and drank it: and thus, though they kept on serving her with meat and drink, her plate continued always empty.
Upon this, fear and remorse came over her, and she went into her chamber and wept; and he followed her there. “Alas!” said she to herself, “did not my deliverer come? why then doth enchantment still surround me?”
“Thou traitress!” said he, “thy deliverer indeed came, and now is near thee: has he deserved this of thee?” And he went out and dismissed the company, and said the wedding was at an end, for that he was returned to his kingdom: but the princes and nobles and counsellors mocked at him. However, he would enter into no parley with them, but only demanded whether they would depart in peace, or not. Then they turned and tried to seize him; but he drew his sword, and, with a word, the traitors’ heads fell before him; and he was once more king of the Golden Mountain.