There was once a young huntsman who went into the forest to lie in wait. He had a fresh and joyous heart, and as he was going thither, whistling upon a leaf, an ugly old crone came up, who spoke to him and said, “Good-day, dear huntsman, truly you are merry and contented, but I am suffering from hunger and thirst, do give me an alms.”
The huntsman had compassion on the poor old creature, felt in his pocket, and gave her what he could afford. He was then about to go further, but the old woman stopped him and said, “Listen, dear huntsman, to what I tell you; I will make you a present in return for your kindness. Go on your way now, but in a little while you will come to a tree, whereon nine birds are sitting which have a cloak in their claws, and are plucking at it; take your gun and shoot into the midst of them, they will let the cloak fall down to you, but one of the birds will be hurt, and will drop down dead. Carry away the cloak, it is a wishing-cloak; when you throw it over your shoulders, you only have to wish to be in a certain place, and you will be there in the twinkling of an eye. Take out the heart of the dead bird and swallow it whole, and every morning early, when you get up, you will find a gold piece under your pillow.”
The huntsman thanked the wise woman, and thought to himself, “Those are fine things that she has promised me, if all does but come true.”
And verily when he had walked about a hundred paces, he heard in the branches above him such a screaming and twittering that he looked up and saw there a crowd of birds who were tearing a piece of cloth about with their beaks and claws, and tugging and fighting as if each wanted to have it all to himself.
“Well,” said the huntsman, “this is wonderful, it has really come to pass just as the old wife foretold!” and he took the gun from his shoulder, aimed and fired right into the midst of them, so that the feathers flew about. The birds instantly took to flight with loud outcries, but one dropped down dead, and the cloak fell at the same time. Then the huntsman did as the old woman had directed him, cut open the bird, sought the heart, swallowed it down, and took the cloak home with him.
Next morning, when he awoke, the promise occurred to him, and he wished to see if it also had been fulfilled. When he lifted up the pillow, the gold piece shone in his eyes, and next day he found another, and so it went on, every time he got up. He gathered together a heap of gold, but at last he thought, “Of what use is all my gold to me if I stay at home? I will go forth and see the world.”
He then took leave of his parents, buckled on his huntsman’s pouch and gun, and went out into the world. It came to pass, that one day he travelled through a dense forest, and when he came to the end of it, in the plain before him stood a fine castle. An old woman was standing with a wonderfully beautiful maiden, looking out of one of the windows.
The old woman, however, was a witch and said to the maiden, “There comes one out of the forest, who has a wonderful treasure in his body, we must filch it from him, my dear daughter, it is more suitable for us than for him. He has a bird’s heart about him, by means of which a gold piece lies every morning under his pillow.”
She told her what she was to do to get it, and what part she had to play, and finally threatened her, and said with angry eyes, “And if you do not attend to what I say, it will be the worse for you.”
Now when the huntsman came nearer he descried the maiden, and said to himself, “I have travelled about for such a long time, I will take a rest for once, and enter that beautiful castle. I have certainly money enough.” Nevertheless, the real reason was that he had caught sight of the pretty girl.
He entered the house, and was well received and courteously entertained. Before long he was so much in love with the young witch that he no longer thought of anything else, and only saw things as she saw them, and did what she desired.
The old woman then said, “Now we must have the bird’s heart, he will never miss it.” She prepared a drink, and when it was ready, poured it into a cup and gave it to the maiden, who was to present it to the huntsman. She did so, saying, “Now, my dearest, drink to me.”
So he took the cup, and when he had swallowed the draught, he brought up the heart of the bird. The girl had to take it away secretly and swallow it herself, for the old woman would have it so. Thenceforward he found no more gold under his pillow, but it lay instead under that of the maiden, from whence the old woman fetched it away every morning; but he was so much in love and so befooled, that he thought of nothing else but of passing his time with the girl.
Then the old witch said, “We have the bird’s heart, but we must also take the wishing-cloak away from him.”
The girl answered, “We will leave him that, he has lost his wealth.” The old woman was angry and said, “Such a mantle is a wonderful thing, and is seldom to be found in this world. I must and will have it!”
She gave the girl several blows, and said that if she did not obey, it should fare ill with her. So she did the old woman’s bidding, placed herself at the window and looked on the distant country, as if she were very sorrowful.
The huntsman asked, “Why dost thou stand there so sorrowfully?” “Ah, my beloved,” was her answer, “over yonder lies the Garnet Mountain, where the precious stones grow. I long for them so much that when I think of them, I feel quite sad, but who can get them? Only the birds; they fly and can reach them, but a man never.”
“Hast thou nothing else to complain of?” said the huntsman. “I will soon remove that burden from thy heart.”
With that he drew her under his mantle, wished himself on the Garnet Mountain, and in the twinkling of an eye they were sitting on it together. Precious stones were glistening on every side so that it was a joy to see them, and together they gathered the finest and costliest of them.
Now, the old woman had, through her sorceries, contrived that the eyes of the huntsman should become heavy. He said to the maiden, “We will sit down and rest awhile, I am so tired that I can no longer stand on my feet.” Then they sat down, and he laid his head in her lap, and fell asleep. When he was asleep, she unfastened the mantle from his shoulders, and wrapped herself in it, picked up the garnets and stones, and wished herself back at home with them.
But when the huntsman had had his sleep out and awoke, and perceived that his sweetheart had betrayed him, and left him alone on the wild mountain, he said, “Oh, what treachery there is in the world!” and sat down there in care and sorrow, not knowing what to do. But the mountain belonged to some wild and monstrous giants who dwelt thereon and lived their lives there, and he had not sat long before he saw three of them coming towards him, so he lay down as if he were sunk in a deep sleep.
Then the giants came up, and the first kicked him with his foot and said, “What sort of an earth-worm is lying curled up here?”
The second said, “Step upon him and kill him.”
But the third said, “That would indeed be worth your while; just let him live, he cannot remain here; and when he climbs higher, toward the summit of the mountain, the clouds will lay hold of him and bear him away.”
So saying they passed by. But the huntsman had paid heed to their words, and as soon as they were gone, he rose and climbed up to the summit of the mountain, and when he had sat there a while, a cloud floated towards him, caught him up, carried him away, and travelled about for a long time in the heavens. Then it sank lower, and let itself down on a great cabbage-garden, girt round by walls, so that he came softly to the ground on cabbages and vegetables.
Then the huntsman looked about him and said, “If I had but something to eat! I am so hungry, and my hunger will increase in course of time; but I see here neither apples nor pears, nor any other sort of fruit, everywhere nothing but cabbages,” but at length he thought, “At a pinch I can eat some of the leaves, they do not taste particularly good, but they will refresh me.”
With that he picked himself out a fine head of cabbage, and ate it, but scarcely had he swallowed a couple of mouthfuls than he felt very strange and quite different. Four legs grew on him, a large head and two thick ears, and he saw with horror that he was changed into an ass. Still as his hunger increased every minute, and as the juicy leaves were suitable to his present nature, he went on eating with great zest. At last he arrived at a different kind of cabbage, but as soon as he had swallowed it, he again felt a change, and reassumed his former human shape.
Then the huntsman lay down and slept off his fatigue. When he awoke next morning, he broke off one head of the bad cabbages and another of the good ones, and thought to himself, “This shall help me to get my own again and punish treachery.”
Then he took the cabbages with him, climbed over the wall, and went forth to seek for the castle of his sweetheart. After wandering about for a couple of days he was lucky enough to find it again. He dyed his face brown, so that his own mother would not have known him; and begged for shelter: “I am so tired,” said he, “that I can go no further.”
The witch asked, “Who are you, countryman, and what is your business?” “I am a king’s messenger, and was sent out to seek the most delicious salad which grows beneath the sun. I have even been so fortunate as to find it, and am carrying it about with me; but the heat of the sun is so intense that the delicate cabbage threatens to wither, and I do not know if I can carry it any further.”
When the old woman heard of the exquisite salad, she was greedy, and said, “Dear countryman, let me just taste this wonderful salad.”
“Why not?” answered he, “I have brought two heads with me, and will give you one of them,” and he opened his pouch and handed her the bad cabbage. The witch suspected nothing amiss, and her mouth watered so for this new dish that she herself went into the kitchen and dressed it. When it was prepared she could not wait until it was set on the table, but took a couple of leaves at once, and put them in her mouth, but hardly had she swallowed them than she was deprived of her human shape, and she ran out into the courtyard in the form of an ass.
Presently the maid-servant entered the kitchen, saw the salad standing there ready prepared, and was about to carry it up; but on the way, according to habit, she was seized by the desire to taste, and she ate a couple of leaves. Instantly the magic power showed itself, and she likewise became an ass and ran out to the old woman, and the dish of salad fell to the ground.
Meantime the messenger sat beside the beautiful girl, and as no one came with the salad and she also was longing for it, she said, “I don’t know what has become of the salad.” The huntsman thought, “The salad must have already taken effect,” and said, “I will go to the kitchen and inquire about it.”
As he went down he saw the two asses running about in the courtyard; the salad, however, was lying on the ground. “All right,” said he, “the two have taken their portion,” and he picked up the other leaves, laid them on the dish, and carried them to the maiden. “I bring you the delicate food myself,” said he, “in order that you may not have to wait longer.” Then she ate of it, and was, like the others, immediately deprived of her human form, and ran out into the courtyard in the shape of an ass.
After the huntsman had washed his face, so that the transformed ones could recognize him, he went down into the courtyard, and said, “Now you shall receive the wages of your treachery,” and bound them together, all three with one rope, and drove them along until he came to a mill. He knocked at the window, the miller put out his head, and asked what he wanted. “I have three unmanageable beasts,” answered he, “which I don’t want to keep any longer. Will you take them in, and give them food and stable room, and manage them as I tell you, and then I will pay you what you ask.”
The miller said, “Why not? But how am I to manage them?”
The huntsman then said that he was to give three beatings and one meal daily to the old donkey, and that was the witch; one beating and three meals to the younger one, which was the servant-girl; and to the youngest, which was the maiden, no beatings and three meals, for he could not bring himself to have the maiden beaten. After that he went back into the castle, and found therein everything he needed.
After a couple of days, the miller came and said he must inform him that the old ass which had received three beatings and only one meal daily was dead; “the two others,” he continued, “are certainly not dead, and are fed three times daily, but they are so sad that they cannot last much longer.”
The huntsman was moved to pity, put away his anger, and told the miller to drive them back again to him. And when they came, he gave them some of the good salad, so that they became human again. The beautiful girl fell on her knees before him, and said, “Ah, my beloved, forgive me for the evil I have done you; my mother drove me to it; it was done against my will, for I love you dearly. Your wishing-cloak hangs in a cupboard, and as for the bird’s-heart I will take a vomiting potion.”
But he thought otherwise, and said, “Keep it; it is all the same, for I will take thee for my true wife.” So the wedding was celebrated, and they lived happily together until their death.