Long ago there lived a very rich man who had three sons. When he felt himself to be dying he divided his property between them, making them share alike, both in money and lands. Soon after he died the king set forth a proclamation through the whole country that whoever could build a ship that should float both on land and sea should have his daughter to wife.
The eldest brother, when he heard it, said to the other, ‘I think I will spend some of my money in trying to build that ship, as I should like to have the king for my father-in-law.’
So he called together all the shipbuilders in the land, and gave them orders to begin the ship without delay. And trees were cut down, and great preparations made, and in a few days everybody knew what it was all for; and there was a crowd of old people pressing round the gates of the yard, where the young man spent the most of his day.
‘Ah, master, give us work,’ they said, ‘so that we may earn our bread.’
But he only gave them hard words, and spoke roughly to them. ‘You are old, and have lost your strength; of what use are you?’ And he drove them away. Then came some boys and prayed him, “master, give us work,’ but he answered them, ‘Of what use can you be, weaklings as you are! Get you gone!’ And if any presented themselves that were not skilled workmen he would have none of them.
At last there knocked at the gate a little old man with a long white beard, and said, ‘Will you give me work, so that I may earn my bread?’
But he was only driven away like the rest.
The ship took a long while to build, and cost a great deal of money, and when it was launched a sudden squall rose, and it fell to pieces, and with it all the young man’s hopes of winning the princess. By this time he had not a penny left, so he went back to his two brothers and told his tale. And the second brother said to himself as he listened, ‘Certainly he has managed very badly, but I should like to see if I can’t do better, and win the princess for my own self.’
So he called together all the shipbuilders throughout the country, and gave them orders to build a ship which should float on the land as well as on the sea. But his heart was no softer than his brother’s, and every man that was not a skilled workman was chased away with hard words. Last came the white-bearded man, but he fared no better than the rest.
When the ship was finished the launch took place, and everything seemed going smoothly when a gale sprang up, and the vessel was dashed to pieces on the rocks. The young man had spent his whole fortune on it, and now it was all swallowed up, was forced to beg shelter from his youngest brother. When he told his story the youngest said to himself, ‘I am not rich enough to support us all three. I had better take my turn, and if I manage to win the princess there will be her fortune as well as my own for us to live on.’
So he called together all the shipbuilders in the kingdom, and gave orders that a new ship should be built. Then all the old people came and asked for work, and he answered cheerfully, ‘Oh, yes, there is plenty for everybody;’ and when the boys begged to be allowed to help he found something that they could do.
And when the old man with the long white beard stood before him, praying that he might earn his bread, he replied, ‘Oh, father, I could not suffer you to work, but you shall be overseer, and look after the rest.’
Now the old man was a holy hermit, and when he saw how kind-hearted the youth was he determined to do all he could for him to gain the wish of his heart. By-and-bye, when the ship was finished, the hermit said to his young friend, ‘Now you can go and claim the king’s daughter, for the ship will float both by land and sea.’
‘Oh, good father,’ cried the young man, ‘you will not forsake me? Stay with me, I pray you, and lead me to the king!’
‘If you wish it, I will,’ said the hermit, ‘on condition that you will give me half of anything you get.’
‘Oh, if that is all,’ answered he, ‘it is easily promised!’ And they set out together on the ship.
After they had gone some distance they saw a man standing in a thick fog, which he was trying to put into a sack.
‘Oh, good father,’ exclaimed the youth, ‘what can he be doing?’
‘Ask him,’ said the old man.
‘What are you doing, my fine fellow?’
‘I am putting the fog into my sack. That is my business.’
‘Ask him if he will come with us,’ whispered the hermit.
And the man answered: ‘If you will give me enough to eat and drink I will gladly stay with you.’
So they took him on their ship, and the youth said, as they started off again, ‘Good father, before we were two, and now we are three!’
After they had travelled a little further they met a man who had torn up half the forest, and was carrying all the trees on his shoulders.
‘Good father,’ exclaimed the youth, ‘only look! What can he have done that for?’
‘Ask him why he has torn up all those trees.’
And the man replied, ‘Why, I’ve merely been gathering a handful of brushwood.’
‘Beg him to come with us,’ whispered the hermit.
And the strong man answered: ‘Willingly, as long as you give me enough to eat and drink.’ And he came on the ship.
And the youth said to the hermit, ‘Good father, before we were three, and now we are four.’
The ship travelled on again, and some miles further on they saw a man drinking out of a stream till he had nearly drunk it dry.
‘Good father,’ said the youth, ‘just look at that man! Did you ever see anybody drink like that?’
‘Ask him why he does it,’ answered the hermit.
‘Why, there is nothing very odd in taking a mouthful of water!’ replied the man, standing up.
‘Beg him to come with us.’
And the youth did so.
‘With pleasure, as long as you give me enough to eat and drink.’
And the youth whispered to the hermit, ‘Good father, before we were four, and now we are five.’
A little way along they noticed another man in the middle of a stream, who was shooting into the water.
‘Good father,’ said the youth, ‘what can he be shooting at?’
‘Ask him,’ answered the hermit.
‘Hush, hush!’ cried the man; ‘now you have frightened it away. In the Underworld sits a quail on a tree, and I wanted to shoot it. That is my business. I hit everything I aim at.’
‘Ask him if he will come with us.’
And the man replied, ‘With all my heart, as long as I get enough to eat and drink.’
So they took him into the ship, and the young man whispered, ‘Good father, before we were five, and now we are six.’
Off they went again, and before they had gone far they met a man striding towards them whose steps were so long that while one foot was on the north of the island the other was right down in the south.
‘Good father, look at him! What long steps he takes!’
‘Ask him why he does it,’ replied the hermit.
‘Oh, I am only going out for a little walk,’ answered he.
‘Ask him if he will come with us.’
‘Gladly, if you will give me as much as I want to eat and drink,’ said he, climbing up into the ship.
And the young man whispered, ‘Good father, before we were six, and now we are seven.’ But the hermit knew what he was about, and why he gathered these strange people into the ship. After many days, at last they reached the town where lived the king and his daughter. They stopped the vessel right in front of the palace, and the young man went in and bowed low before the king.
‘O Majesty, I have done your bidding, and now is the ship built that can travel over land and sea. Give me my reward, and let me have your daughter to wife.’
But the king said to himself, ‘What! am I to wed my daughter to a man of whom I know nothing. Not even whether he be rich or poor—a knight or a beggar.’
And aloud he spake: It is not enough that you have managed to build the ship. You must find a runner who shall take this letter to the ruler of the Underworld, and bring me the answer back in an hour.’
‘That is not in the bond,’ answered the young man.
‘Well, do as you like,’ replied the king, ‘only you will not get my daughter.’
The young man went out, sorely troubled, to tell his old friend what had happened.
‘Silly boy!’ cried the hermit, ‘Accept his terms at once. And send off the long-legged man with the letter. He will take it in no time at all.’
So the youth’s heard leapt for joy, and he returned to the king. ‘Majesty, I accept your terms. HEre is the messenger who will do what you wish.’
The king had no choice but to give the man the letter, and he strode off, making short work of the distance that lay between the palace and the Underworld. He soon found the ruler, who looked at the letter, and said to him, ‘Wait a little while i write the answer;’ but the man was so tired with his quick walk that he went sound asleep and forgot all about his errand.
All this time the youth was anxiously counting the minutes till he could get back, and stood with his eyes fixed on the road down which his messenger must come.
‘What can be keeping him,’ he said to the hermit when the hour was nearly up. Then the hermit sent for the man who could hit everything he aimed at, and said to him, ‘Just see why the messenger stays so long.’
‘Oh, he is sound asleep in the palace of the Underworld. However, I can wake him.’
Then he drew his bow, and shot an arrow straight into the man’s knee. The messenger awoke with such a start, and when he saw that the hour had almost run out he snatched up the answer and rushed back with such speed that the clock had not yet struck when he entered the palace.
Now the young man thought he was sure of his bride, but the king said, “Still you have not done enough. Before I give you my daughter you must find a man who can drink half the contents of my cellar in one day.’
‘That is not in the bond,’ complained the poor youth.
‘Well, do as you like, only you will not get my daughter.’
The young man went sadly out, and asked the hermit what he was to do.
‘Silly boy!’ said he. ‘Why, tell the man to do it who drinks up everything.’
So they sent for the man and said, ‘Do you think you are able to drink half the royal cellar in one day?’
‘Dear me, yes, and as much more as you want,’ answered he. ‘I am never satisfied.’
The king was not pleased at the young man agreeing so readily, but he had no choice, and ordered the servant to be taken downstairs. Oh, how he enjoyed himself! All day long he drank, and drank, and drank, till instead of half the cellar, he had drunk the whole, and there was not a cask but what stood empty. And when the king saw this he said to the youth, ‘You have conquered, and I can no longer withhold my daughter. But, as her dowry, I shall only give so much as one man can carry away.’
‘But,’ answered he, ‘let a man be ever so strong, he cannot carry more than a hundredweight, and what is that for a king’s daughter?’
‘Well, do as you like; I have said my say. It is your affair—not mine.’
The young man was puzzled, and did not know what to reply, for, though he would gladly have married the princess without a sixpence, he had spent all his money in building the ship, and knew he could not give her all she wanted. So he went to the hermit and said to him, ‘The king will only give for her dowry as much as a man can carry. I have no money of my own left, and my brothers have none either.’
‘Silly boy! Why, you have only got to fetch the man who carried half the forest on his shoulders.’
And the youth was glad, and called the strong man, and told him what he must do. ‘Take everything you can, till you are bent double. Never mind if you leave the palace bare.’
The strong man promised, and nobly kept his word. He piled all he could see on his back—chairs, tables, wardrobes, chests of gold and silver—till there was nothing left to pile. At last he took the king’s crown, and put it on the top. He carried his burden to the ship and stowed his treasures away, and the youth followed, leading the king’s daughter. But the king was left raging in his empty palace, and he called together his army, and got ready his ships of war, in order that he might go after the vessel and bring back what had been taken away.
And the king’s ships sailed very fast, and soon caught up the little vessel, and the sailors all shouted for joy.
Then the hermit looked out and saw how near they were, and he said to the youth, ‘Do you see that?’
The youth shrieked and cried, ‘Ah, good father, it is a fleet of ships, and they are chasing us, and in a few moments they will be upon us.’
But the hermit bade him call the man who had the fog in his sack, and the sack was opened and the fog flew out, and hung right round the king’s ships, so that they could see nothing. So they sailed back to the palace, and told the king what strange things had happened. Meanwhile the young man’s vessel reached home in safety.
‘Well, here you are once more’ said the hermit; ‘and now you can fulfil the promise you made me to give me the half of all you had.’
‘That will I do with all my heart,’ answered the youth, and began to divide all his treasures, putting part on one side for himself and setting aside the other for his friend. ‘Good father, it is finished,’ said he at length; ‘there is nothing more left to divide.’
‘Nothing more left!’ cried the hermit. ‘Why, you have forgotten the best thing of all!’
‘What can that be?’ asked he. ‘We have divided everything.’
‘And the king’s daughter?’ said the hermit.
Then the young man’s heart stood still, for he loved her dearly. But he answered, ‘It is well; I have sworn, and I will keep my word,’ and drew his sword to cut her in pieces.
When the hermit saw that he held his honour dearer than his wife he lifted his hand and cried, ‘Hold! she is yours, and all the treasures too. I gave you my help because you had pity on those that were in need. And when you are in need yourself, call upon me, and I will come to you.’
As he spoke he softly touched their heads and vanished. The next day the wedding took place, and the two brothers came to the house, and they all lived happily together, but they never forgot the holy man who had been such a good friend.