A king had two sons. They were a pair of reckless fellows, who always had something foolish to do. One day they rowed out alone on the sea in a little boat. It was beautiful weather when they set out, but as soon as they had got some distance from the shore there arose a terrific storm. The oars went overboard at once, and the little boat was tossed about on the rolling billows like a nut-shell. The princes had to hold fast by the seats to keep from being thrown out of the boat.
In the midst of all this they met a wonderful vessel—it was a dough-trough, in which there sat an old woman. She called to them, and said that they could still get to shore alive if they would promise her the son that was next to come to their mother the queen.
‘We can’t do that,’ shouted the princes; ‘he doesn’t belong to us so we can’t give him away.’
‘Then you can rot at the bottom of the sea, both of you,’ said the old woman; ‘and perhaps it may be the case that your mother would rather keep the two sons she has than the one she hasn’t got yet.’
Then she rowed away in her dough-trough, while the storm howled still louder than before, and the water dashed over their boat until it was almost sinking. Then the princes thought that there was something in what the old woman had said about their mother, and being, of course, eager to save their lives, they shouted to her, and promised that she should have their brother if she would deliver them from this danger. As soon as they had done so the storm ceased and the waves fell. The boat drove ashore below their father’s castle, and both princes were received with open arms by their father and mother, who had suffered great anxiety for them.
The two brothers said nothing about what they had promised, neither at that time nor later on when the queen’s third son came, a beautiful boy, whom she loved more than anything else in the world. He was brought up and educated in his father’s house until he was full grown, and still his brothers had never seen or heard anything about the witch to whom they had promised him before he was born.
It happened one evening that there arose a raging storm, with mist and darkness. It howled and roared around the king’s palace, and in the midst of it there came a loud knock on the door of the hall where the youngest prince was. He went to the door and found there an old woman with a dough- trough on her back, who said to him that he must go with her at once; his brothers had promised him to her if she would save their lives.
‘Yes,’ said he; ‘if you saved my brothers’ lives, and they promised me to you, then I will go with you.’
They therefore went down to the beach together, where he had to take his seat in the trough, along with the witch, who sailed away with him, over the sea, home to her dwelling.
The prince was now in the witch’s power, and in her service. The first thing she set him to was to pick feathers. ‘The heap of feathers that you see here,’ said she, ‘you must get finished before I come home in the evening, otherwise you shall be set to harder work.’ He started to the feathers, and picked and picked until there was only a single feather left that had not passed through his hands. But then there came a whirlwind and sent all the feathers flying, and swept them along the floor into a heap, where they lay as if they were trampled together. He had now to begin all his work over again, but by this time it only wanted an hour of evening, when the witch was to be expected home, and he easily saw that it was impossible for him to be finished by that time.
Then he heard something tapping at the window pane, and a thin voice said, ‘Let me in, and I will help you.’ It was a white dove, which sat outside the window, and was pecking at it with its beak. He opened the window, and the dove came in and set to work at once, and picked all the feathers out of the heap with its beak. Before the hour was past the feathers were all nicely arranged: the dove flew out at the window, and at, the same moment the witch came in at the door.
‘Well, well,’ said she, ‘it was more than I would have expected of you to get all the feathers put in order so nicely. However, such a prince might be expected to have neat fingers.’
Next morning the witch said to the prince, ‘To-day you shall have some easy work to do. Outside the door I have some firewood lying; you must split that for me into little bits that I can kindle the fire with. That will soon be done, but you must be finished before I come home.’
The prince got a little axe and set to work at once. He split and clove away, and thought that he was getting on fast; but the day wore on until it was long past midday, and he was still very far from having finished. He thought, in fact, that the pile of wood rather grew bigger than smaller, in spite of what he took off it; so he let his hands fall by his side, and dried the sweat from his forehead, and was ill at ease, for he knew that it would be bad for him if he was not finished with the work before the witch came home.
Then the white dove came flying and settled down on the pile of wood, and cooed and said, ‘Shall I help you?’
‘Yes,’ said the prince, ‘many thanks for your help yesterday, and for what you offer to-day.’ Thereupon the little dove seized one piece of wood after another and split it with its beak. The prince could not take away the wood as quickly as the dove could split it, and in a short time it was all cleft into little sticks.
The dove then flew up on his shoulder and sat there and the prince thanked it, and stroked and caressed its white feathers, and kissed its little red beak. With that it was a dove no longer, but a beautiful young maiden, who stood by his side. She told him then that she was a princess whom the witch had stolen, and had changed to this shape, but with his kiss she had got her human form again; and if he would be faithful to her, and take her to wife, she could free them both from the witch’s power.
The prince was quite captivated by the beautiful princess, and was quite willing to do anything whatsoever to get her for himself.
She then said to him, ‘When the witch comes home you must ask her to grant you a wish, when you have accomplished so well all that she has demanded of you. When she agrees to this you must ask her straight out for the princess that she has flying about as a white dove. But just now you must take a red silk thread and tie it round my little finger, so that you may be able to recognise me again, into whatever shape she turns me.’
The prince made haste to get the silk thread tied round her little white finger; at the same moment the princess became a dove again and flew away, and immediately after that the old witch came home with her dough-trough on he back.
‘Well,’ said she, ‘I must say that you are clever at your work, and it is something, too, that such princely hands are not accustomed to.’
‘Since you are so well pleased with my work, said the prince, ‘you will, no doubt, be willing to give me a little pleasure too, and give me something that I have taken a fancy to.’
‘Oh yes, indeed,’ said the old woman; ‘what is it that you want?’
‘I want the princess here who is in the shape of a white dove,’ said the prince.
‘What nonsense!’ said the witch. ‘Why should you imagine that there are princesses here flying about in the shape of white doves? But if you will have a princess, you can get one such as we have them.’ She then came to him, dragging a shaggy little grey ass with long ears. ‘Will you have this?’ said she; ‘you can’t get any other princess!’
The prince used his eyes and saw the red silk thread on one of the ass’s hoofs, so he said, ‘Yes, just let me have it.’
‘What will you do with it?’ asked the witch.
‘I will ride on it,’ said the prince; but with that the witch dragged it away again, and came back with an old, wrinkled, toothless hag, whose hands trembled with age. ‘You can have no other princess,’ said she. ‘Will you have her?’
‘Yes, I will,’ said the prince, for he saw the red silk thread on the old woman’s finger.
At this the witch became so furious that she danced about and knocked everything to pieces that she could lay her hands upon, so that the splinters flew about the ears of the prince and princess, who now stood there in her own beautiful shape.
Then their marriage had to be celebrated, for the witch had to stick to what she had promised, and he must get the princess whatever might happen afterwards.
The princess now said to him, ‘At the marriage feast you may eat what you please, but you must not drink anything whatever, for if you do that you will forget me.’
This, however, the prince forgot on the wedding day, and stretched out his hand and took a cup of wine; but the princess was keeping watch over him, and gave him a push with her elbow, so that the wine flew over the table- cloth.
Then the witch got up and laid about her among the plates and dishes, so that the pieces flew about their ears, just as she had done when she was cheated the first time.
They were then taken to the bridal chamber, and the door was shut. Then the princess said, ‘Now the witch has kept her promise, but she will do no more if she can help it, so we must fly immediately. I shall lay two pieces of wood in the bed to answer for us when the witch speaks to us. You can take the flower-pot and the glass of water that stands in the window, and we must slip out by that and get away.’
No sooner said than done. They hurried off out into the dark night, the princess leading, because she knew the way, having spied it out while she flew about as a dove.
At midnight the witch came to the door of the room and called in to them, and the two pieces of wood answered her, so that she believed they were there, and went away again. Before daybreak she was at the door again and called to them, and again the pieces of wood answered for them. She thus thought that she had them, and when the sun rose the bridal night was past: she had then kept her promise, and could vent her anger and revenge on both of them. With the first sunbeam she broke into the room, but there she found no prince and no princess—nothing but the two pieces of firewood, which lay in the bed, and stared, and spoke not a word. These she threw on the floor, so that they were splintered into a thousand pieces, and off she hastened after the fugitives.
With the first sunbeam the princess said to the prince, ‘Look round; do you see anything behind us?’
‘Yes, I see a dark cloud, far away,’ said he.
‘Then throw the flower-pot over your head,’ said she. When this was done there was a large thick forest behind them.
When the witch came to the forest she could not get through it until she went home and brought her axe to cut a path.
A little after this the princess said again to the prince, ‘Look round; do you see anything behind us?’
‘Yes,’ said the prince, ‘the big black cloud is there again.’
‘Then throw the glass of water over your head,’ said she.
When he had done this there was a great lake behind them, and this the witch could not cross until she ran home again and brought her dough-trough.
Meanwhile the fugitives had reached the castle which was the prince’s home. They climbed over the garden wall, ran across the garden, and crept in at an open window. By this time the witch was just at their heels, but the princess stood in the window and blew upon the witch; hundreds of white doves flew out of her mouth, fluttered and flapped around the witch’s head until she grew so angry that she turned into flint, and there she stands to this day, in the shape of a large flint stone, outside the window.
Within the castle there was great rejoicing over the prince and his bride. His two elder brothers came and knelt before him and confessed what they had done, and said that he alone should inherit the kingdom, and they would always be his faithful subjects.