Little Sister: The Story of Suyettar and the Nine Brothers

Parker Fillmore July 30, 2015
21 min read
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There was once a woman who had nine sons. They were good boys and loved her dearly but there was one thing about which they were always complaining.

“Why haven’t we a little sister?” they kept asking. “Do give us a little sister!”

When the time came that another child was to be born, they said to their mother:

“If the baby is a boy we are going away and you will never see us again, but if it is a little girl then we shall stay home and take care of it.”

The mother agreed that if the child were a girl she would have her husband put a spindle outside on the gatepost and, if it were a boy, an ax.

“Just wait,” she said, “and see what your father puts on the gatepost and then you will know whether it is another brother God has sent you or a little sister.”

The baby turned out to be a girl and the mother was overjoyed.

“Hurry, husband!” she cried, “and put a spindle on the gatepost so that our nine sons may know the good news!”

The man did so and then quickly returned to the mother and baby. The moment he was gone Suyettar slipped up and changed the tokens. She took away the spindle and put in its place an ax. Then with an evil grin she hurried off mumbling to herself:

“Now we’ll see what we’ll see!”

She hoped to bring trouble and grief and she succeeded. As soon as the nine sons saw the ax on the gatepost they thought their mother had given birth to another son and at once they left home vowing never to return.

The poor mother waited for them and waited.

“What is keeping my sons?” she cried at last. “Go out to the gate, husband, and see if they are coming.”

The man went out and soon returned bringing back word that some one had changed the tokens.

“The spindle that I put on the gatepost is gone,” he said, “and in its place is an ax.”

“Alas!” cried the poor mother, “some evil creature has done this to spite us! Oh, if we could only get word to our sons of the little sister they were so eager to have!”

But there was no way to reach them for no one knew the way they had gone.

In a short time the husband died and the poor woman, abandoned by her nine sons, had only her little daughter left. She named the child Kerttu. Kerttu was a dear little girl and her face was as beautiful as her heart was good. Whenever she found her mother weeping alone she tried to comfort her and, as she grew older, she wanted to know the cause of her mother’s grief. At last the mother told her about her nine brothers and how they had gone away never to return owing to the trick of some evil creature.

“My poor mother!” she cried, “how sorry I am that I am the innocent cause of your loss! Let me go out into the world and find my brothers! When once they hear the truth they will gladly come home to you to care for you in your old age!”

At first the mother would not consent to this.

“You are all I have,” she said, “and I should indeed be miserable and lonely if anything happened you!”

But Kerttu continued to weep every time she thought of her poor brothers driven unnecessarily from home and at last the mother, realizing that she would nevermore be happy unless she were allowed to go in search of them, gave up opposing her.

“Very well, my daughter, you may go and may God go with you and bring you safely back to me. But before you go I must prepare you a bag of food for the journey and bake you a magic cake that will show you the way.”

So she baked a batch of bread and at the same time mixed a little round cake with Kerttu’s own tears and baked it, too. Then she said:

“Here now, my child, are provisions for the journey and here is a magic cake that will lead you to your brothers. All you have to do is throw it down in front of you and say:

‘Roll, roll, my little cake!
Show me the way that I must take
To find at last the brothers nine
Whose own true mother is also mine!’

Then the little cake will start rolling and do you follow wherever it rolls. But, Kerttu, my child, you must not start out alone. You must have some friend or companion to go with you.”

Now it happened that Kerttu had a little dog, Musti, that she loved dearly.

“I’ll take Musti with me!” she said. “Musti will protect me!”

So she called Musti and Musti wagged his tail and barked with joy at the prospect of going out into the world with his mistress.

Then Kerttu threw down the magic cake in front of her and sang:

“Roll, roll, my little cake!
Show me the way that I must take
To find at last the brothers nine
Whose own true mother is also mine!”

At once the cake rolled off like a little wheel and Kerttu and Musti followed it. They walked until they were tired. Then Kerttu picked up the little cake and they rested by the wayside. When they were ready again to start the cake a-rolling, all Kerttu had to do was throw it down in front of her and say the magic rime.

Their first day was without adventure. When night came they ate their supper and went to sleep in a field under a tree.

The second day they overtook an ugly old woman whom Kerttu disliked on sight. But she said to herself:

“Shame on you, Kerttu, not liking this woman just because she’s old and ugly!” and she made herself answer the old woman’s greetings politely and she made Musti stop snarling and growling.

The old hag asked Kerttu who she was and where she was going and Kerttu told her.

“Ah!” said the old woman, “how fortunate that we have met each other for our ways lie together!”

She smiled and petted Kerttu’s arm and Kerttu felt like shuddering. But she restrained herself and told herself severely:

“You’re a wicked girl not to feel more friendly to the poor old thing!”

Musti felt much as Kerttu did. He no longer growled for Kerttu had told him not to, but he drooped his tail between his legs and, pressing up close to Kerttu, he trembled with fright. And well he might, too, for the old hag was none other than Suyettar who had been waiting all these years just for this very chance to do further injury to Kerttu and her brothers.

Kerttu, poor child, was, alas! too good and innocent to suspect evil in others. She said to Suyettar:

“Very well, if our ways lie together then we can be companions.”

So Suyettar joined Kerttu and Musti and the three of them walked on following the little cake. As the day advanced the sun grew hotter and hotter and at last when they reached a lake Suyettar said:

“My dear, let us sit down here for a few moments and rest.”

They all sat down and presently Suyettar said:

“Let us go bathing in the lake. That will refresh us.”

Kerttu would have agreed if Musti had not tugged at her skirts and warned her not to.

“Don’t do it, dear mistress!” Musti growled softly. “Don’t go in bathing with her! She’ll bewitch you!”

So Kerttu said:

“No, I don’t want to go in bathing.”

Suyettar waited until they were again journeying on and then when Kerttu wasn’t looking she turned around and kicked Musti and broke one of the poor little dog’s legs. Thereafter Musti had to hop along on three legs.

The next afternoon when they passed another lake, Suyettar tried again to tempt Kerttu into the water.

“The sun is very hot,” she said, “and it would refresh us both to bathe. Come, Kerttu, my dear, don’t refuse me this time!”

But again Musti tugged at Kerttu’s skirts and, licking her hand, whispered the warning:

“Don’t do it, dear mistress! Don’t go in bathing with her or she will bewitch you!”

So again Kerttu said politely:

“No, I don’t feel like going in bathing. You go in alone and I’ll wait for you here.”

But this was not what Suyettar wanted and she said, no, she didn’t care to go in alone. She was furious, too, with Musti and later when Kerttu wasn’t looking she gave the poor little dog a kick that broke another leg. Thereafter Musti had to hop along on two legs.

They slept the third night by the wayside and the next day they went on again always following the magic cake. In midafternoon they passed a lake and Suyettar said:

“Surely, my dear, you must be tired and hot. Let us both bathe in this cool lake.”

But Musti, hopping painfully along on two legs, yelped weakly and said to Kerttu:

“Don’t do it, dear mistress! Don’t go in bathing with her or she’ll bewitch you!”

So for a third time Kerttu refused and later, when she wasn’t looking, Suyettar kicked Musti and broke the third of the poor little dog’s legs. Thereafter Musti hopped on as best he could on only one leg.

Well, they went on and on. When night came they slept by the roadside and then next morning they started on again. The sun grew hot and by midafternoon Kerttu was tired and ready to rest. When they reached a lake Suyettar again begged that they both go in bathing. Kerttu was tempted to agree when poor Musti threw himself panting at her feet and whimpered:

“Don’t do it, dear mistress! Don’t go in bathing with her or she will bewitch you!”

So Kerttu again refused.

“That’s right, dear mistress!” Musti panted, “don’t do it! I shall soon be dead, I know, for she hates me, but before I die I want to warn you one last time never to go in bathing with her or she will bewitch you!”

“What’s that dog saying?” Suyettar demanded angrily, and without waiting for an answer she picked up a heavy piece of wood and struck poor Musti such a blow on the head that it killed him.

“What have you done to my poor little dog?” Kerttu cried.

“Don’t mind him, my dear,” Suyettar said. “He was sick and lame and it was better to put him out of his misery.”

Suyettar tried to soothe Kerttu and make her forget Musti but all afternoon Kerttu wept to think that she would never again see her faithful little friend.

The next afternoon when Suyettar begged her to go in bathing there was no Musti to warn her against it and at last Kerttu allowed herself to be persuaded. She was tired from her many days’ wandering and it was true that the first touch of the cool water refreshed her.

“Now splash water in my face!” Suyettar cried.

But Kerttu didn’t want to splash water into Suyettar’s face for she supposed Suyettar was an old woman and she thought it would be disrespectful to splash water into the face of an old woman.

“Do you hear me!” screamed Suyettar.

When Kerttu still hesitated, Suyettar looked at her with such a terrible, threatening expression that Kerttu did as she was bidden. She splashed water into Suyettar’s face and, as the water touched Suyettar’s eyes, Suyettar cried out:

“Your bonny looks give up to me
And you take mine for all to see!”

Instantly they two changed appearance: Suyettar looked young and beautiful like Kerttu, and Kerttu was changed to a hideous old hag. Then too late she realized that the awful old woman to whom she had been so polite was Suyettar.

“Oh, why,” Kerttu cried, “why didn’t I heed poor Musti’s warning!”

Suyettar dragged her roughly out of the water.

“Come along!” she said. “Dress yourself in those rags of mine and start that cake a-rolling! We ought to reach your brothers’ house by to-night.”

So poor Kerttu had to dress herself in Suyettar’s filthy old garments while Suyettar, looking like a fresh young girl, decked herself out in Kerttu’s pretty bodice and skirt.

Unwillingly now and with a heavy heart Kerttu threw down the cake and said:

“Roll, roll, my little cake!
Show me the way that I must take
To find at last the brothers nine
Whose own true mother is also mine!”

Off rolled the little cake and they two followed it, Kerttu weeping bitterly and Suyettar taunting her with ugly laughs. Then suddenly Kerttu forgot to weep for Suyettar took from her her memory and her tongue.

The little cake led them at last to a farmhouse before which it stopped. This was where the nine brothers were living. Eight of them were out working in the fields but the youngest was at home. He opened the door and when Suyettar told him that she was Kerttu, his sister, he kissed her tenderly and made her welcome. Then he invited her inside and they sat side by side on the bench and talked and Suyettar told him all she had heard from Kerttu about his mother and about the tokens which had been changed at Kerttu’s birth. The youngest brother listened eagerly and Suyettar told her story so glibly that of course he supposed that she was his own true sister.

“And who is the awful looking old hag that has come with you?” he asked pointing at Kerttu.

“That? Oh, that’s an old serving woman whom our mother sent with me to bear me company. She’s dumb and foolish but she’s a good herd and we can let her drive the cow out to pasture every day.”

The older brothers when they came home were greatly pleased to find what they thought was their sister. They began to love her at once and to pet her and they said that now she must stay with them and keep house for them. She told them that was what she wanted to do and she said that now she was here the youngest brother need no longer stay at home but could go out every morning with the rest of them to work in the fields.

So now began a new life for poor Kerttu. In the morning after the brothers were gone Suyettar would scold and abuse her. She would bake a cake for her dinner to be eaten in the fields and she would fill the cake with stones and sticks and filth. Then she would take Kerttu as far as the gate where she would give her back her tongue and her memory and order her roughly to drive the cow to pasture and look after it all day long. In the late afternoon when Kerttu drove home the cow, Suyettar would meet her at the gate and take from her her tongue and her memory and then in the evening the brothers would see her as a foolish old woman who couldn’t talk. Every morning and every evening Kerttu begged Suyettar to show her a little mercy, but far from showing her any mercy Suyettar grew more cruel from day to day.

Suyettar was very proud to think that nine handsome young men took her for a beautiful girl and she felt sure they would never find out their mistake for only Kerttu knew who she really was and Kerttu was entirely in her power.

At night seated in the shadow in a far corner of the kitchen with her nine brothers laughing and talking Kerttu felt no sorrow for at such times of course she had no memory. But during the day it was different. Then when she was alone in the meadow she had her memory and her tongue and she thought about her poor mother at home anxiously awaiting her return and she thought of her nine sturdy brothers all of whom might now through her mistake fall victims to Suyettar. These thoughts made her weep with grief and as the days went by she put this grief into a song which she sang constantly:

“I’ve found at last the brothers nine
Whose own true mother is also mine,
But they know me not from stick or stone!
They leave me here to weep alone,
While Suyettar sits in my place
With stolen looks and stolen face!
She snared me first with evil guile
And now she mocks me all the while:
By night she takes my tongue away,
She feeds me sticks and stones by day!…
Oh, little they guess, the brothers nine,
That their own true mother is also mine!”

The brothers as they worked in nearby fields used to hear the song and they wondered about it.

“Strange!” they said to one another. “Can that be the old woman singing? In the evening at home she never opens her mouth and our dear sister always says that she’s dumb and foolish.”

One afternoon when Kerttu’s song sounded particularly sad, the youngest brother crept close to the meadow where Kerttu was sitting in order to hear the words. He listened carefully and then hurried back to the others and with frightened face told them what he had heard.

“Nonsense!” the older brothers said. “It can’t be so!”

However, they, too, wanted to hear for themselves the words of the strange song, so they all crept near to listen.

It looked like an old hag who was singing but the voice that came out of the withered mouth was the voice of a young girl. As they listened they, too, grew pale:

“I’ve found at last the brothers nine
Whose own true mother is also mine,
But they know me not from stick or stone!
They leave me here to weep alone,
While Suyettar sits in my place
With stolen looks and stolen face!
She snared me first with evil guile
And now she mocks me all the while:
By night she takes my tongue away,
She feeds me sticks and stones by day!…
Oh, little they guess, the brothers nine,
That their own true mother is also mine!”

“Can it be true?” they said, whispering together.

They sent the youngest brother to question Kerttu and he, when he had heard her story, believed it true. Then the other brothers went to her one by one and questioned her and finally they were all convinced of the truth of her story.

“It is well for us,” they said, “if we do not all fall into the power of that awful creature! How, O how can we rescue our poor little sister!”

“I can never get back my own looks,” Kerttu said, “unless Suyettar splashes water into my eyes and unless I cry out a magic rime as she does it.”

The brothers discussed one plan after another and at last agreed on one that they thought might deceive Suyettar.

They had Kerttu inflame her eyes with dust and come groping home one midday. The brothers, too, were at home and as Kerttu came stumbling into the kitchen they said to Suyettar:

“Oh, sister, sister, see the poor old woman! Something ails her! Her eyes—they’re all red and swollen! Get some water and bathe them!”

“Nonsense!” Suyettar said. “The old hag’s well enough! Let her be! She doesn’t need any attention!”

“Oh, sister!” the youngest brother said, reproachfully, “is that any way for a human, kindhearted girl like you to talk? If you won’t bathe the old creature’s eyes, I will myself!”

Then Suyettar who of course wanted them to think that she was a human, kindhearted girl said, no, she would bathe them. So she took a basin of water over to Kerttu and told her to lean down her head. As she splashed the first drop of water into Kerttu’s eyes, Kerttu cried out:

“My own true looks give back to me
And take your own for all to see!”

Instantly Suyettar was again a hideous old hag though still dressed in Kerttu’s pretty bodice and skirt, and Kerttu was herself again, young and fresh and sweet, though still incased in Suyettar’s rags. But the brothers pretended that they saw no difference and kept on talking to Suyettar as though they still thought her Kerttu. And Suyettar because her eyes were blinded with the dust supposed that they were still deceived.

Then one of the brothers said to Suyettar:

“Sister dear, the sauna is all heated and ready. Don’t you want to bathe?”

Suyettar thought that this would be a fine chance to wash the dust from her eyes, so she let them lead her to the sauna. Once they got her inside they locked the door and set the sauna a-fire. Oh, the noise she made then when she found she had been trapped! She kicked and screamed and cursed and threatened! But Kerttu and the brothers paid no heed to her. They left her burning in the sauna while they hurried homewards.

They found their poor old mother seated at the window weeping, for she thought that now Kerttu as well as her sons was lost forever. As Kerttu and the nine handsome young men came in the gate she didn’t recognize them until Kerttu sang out:

“I bring at last the brothers nine
Whose own true mother is also mine!”

Then she knew who they were and with thanks to God she welcomed them home.

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