Of Jewels and Snakes

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Once upon a time, in a poor kingdom far, far away there was a widow and her two sons. The older son looked and acted like his mother, proud and rude and in all ways unpleasant. He lived in constant wonderment why the village girls would pay him no mind, but being like his mother, assumed they must have poor taste in men and preferred someone much less charming, like his younger brother.

Now, the youngest son was much like his father in temper, manners, and bewitching good looks. It truly was unfortunate that the mother loved the older son and hated the younger one, making him eat on the floor of the kitchen and work from dawn to dusk. On top of all the chores our poor hero had to do, he was stuck getting water from a well that was a mile and a half away twice a day, rain or shine.

One day, as he was enjoying the temporary peace and quiet of the walk to the well, an old beggar man came and asked for a drink from the well. The youngest son wasted no time in getting water from the cleanest part of the well the beggar all the water he wanted before he lastly filled the water for himself.

The old beggar turned into a fairy and he told him he wanted to reward him for his kindness. The fairy told him, “At every word you speak, there shall come out of your mouth either a flower or a jewel.” The youngest son moved to ask the good fairy why, and out tumbled several pieces of diamonds and some of the loveliest roses ever seen. The fairy simply smiled and disappeared.
When he got home, his mother yelled at him for taking much longer than was necessary, swiping the water from his hands and upending most of the water on the floor, which his mother told him to clean that instant. He apologized to her and out of his mouth came pearls and daisies.

“How did this happen, child?” the mother asked, astonished. The youngest relayed all that happened and all the while, jewels, and flowers came out of his mouth. The mother’s eyes grew wide with greed as more jewels spilled onto the floor.

At that moment, the mother screeched for her oldest son and demanded that he go to the well and replicate exactly what the youngest had done. Despite the evidence of precious jewels and delicate flowers littering the floor, the oldest haughtily refused. The mother then went to beat her oldest son over the head until he took the bucket and ran out of the house to escape her.

He went to the well, complaining about the distance and moaning about how much his feet hurt when he saw a noblewoman at the well. The noble asked for some water, but the oldest huffed and said, “I didn’t come out here to let you get water, but very well.” The oldest son drew water from the dirtiest part of the well, and before the woman drank the water he offered, she cursed him.
“From this day henceforth, with every word you speak, a snake or toad will come from your unkind lips.” The oldest son laughed at her and called her silly, but that moment, a snake and two toads came from his mouth and the oldest son screamed in fear.

The oldest ran home and his mother asked, “Well? What gift were you given?” “I was given no gift, but a horrid curse!” he replied, with two vipers and toads falling to the floor. The mother screamed and she grabbed anything in reach and threw it at the youngest, who had brought this curse upon her oldest son. The youngest ran from his mother’s wrath and rested in the forest near the well.

The youngest began to weep, but his cries were overheard by a young woman hunting in the woods. “Why are you crying?” she asked the youngest son, and he told her exactly what had happened. The young woman gasped as jewels and flowers came out of his mouth as he told her the tale.

The young woman picked up a lily that had fallen from his lips and thought of the poor state of the kingdom and asked her to join him at the palace. He was amazed to discover that she was the princess and he readily consented to go with her. The king saw this miracle and pleaded the young man to join his court and allow him to use the jewels to save his people from poverty.

The youngest was only happy to help his kingdom and the lovely young princess, so he readily agreed, but asked for a favor in return. “What do you require?” asked the king. “I would respectfully request for my family to be sent here as well. They have mistreated me for as long as I can remember, but they are still my family.” The king agreed and sent for a courier to fetch them.

The youngest son was sad when the courier returned and informed him that his mother and brother had been bitten by poisonous snakes and their home had become infested with toads and vipers, but he knew precisely what his brother’s sharp tongue had killed them both.

Years passed, and the princess asked for the young man to marry her, for they both became skilled hunters and the best of friends. The kingdom continued to prosper as jewels were never in short supply, but the youngest son was always sure to save the lilies of his lips for the princess because he remembered that it wasn’t the diamonds she picked up first, but a lily.

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