There was once upon a time, an old Queen, whose husband had been dead for many years, and she had a beautiful daughter.
When the Princess grew up, she was betrothed to a Prince who lived very far away. When the time came for her to be married, and she had to journey forth into the distant kingdom, the aged Queen packed up for her many costly vessels of silver and gold, and trinkets, also of gold and silver, and cups and jewels, in short, everything which appertained to a royal dowry, for she loved her child with all her heart.
She likewise sent her maid-in-waiting, who was to ride with her, and hand her over to the Bridegroom. Each had a horse for the journey, but the horse of the King’s Daughter was called Falada, and could speak.
So when the hour of parting had come, the aged mother went into her bedroom, took a small knife and cut her finger with it until it bled. Then she held a white handkerchief to it, into which she let three drops of blood fall.
She gave the handkerchief to her daughter and said, “Dear Child, preserve this carefully. It will be of service to you on your way.”
So they took a sorrowful leave of each other. The Princess put the piece of cloth in her bosom, mounted her horse, and then went away to her Bridegroom.
After she had ridden for a while she felt a burning thirst, and said to her waiting-maid, “Dismount, and take my cup which you have brought with you, and get me some water from the stream, for I should like to drink.”
“If you are thirsty,” said the waiting-maid, “get off your horse yourself, and lie down and drink out of the water. I don’t choose to be your servant.”
So in her great thirst the Princess alighted, bent down over the water in the stream and drank, and was not allowed to drink out of the golden cup. Then she said, “Ah, Heaven!” and the three drops of blood answered:
But the King’s Daughter was humble, said nothing, and mounted her horse again.
She rode some miles further, but the day was warm, the sun scorched her, and she was thirsty once more. When they came to a stream of water, she again cried to her waiting-maid, “Dismount, and give me some water in my golden cup,” for she had long ago forgotten the girl’s ill words.
But the waiting-maid said still more haughtily, “If you wish to drink, drink as you can, I don’t choose to be your maid.”
And as she was thus drinking and leaning right over the stream, the handkerchief with the three drops of blood fell out of her bosom, and floated away with the water without her observing it, so great was her trouble. The waiting-maid, however, had seen it, and she rejoiced to think that she had now power over the Bride, for since the Princess had lost the drops of blood, she had become weak and powerless.
So now, when she wanted to mount her horse again, the one that was called Falada, the waiting-maid said, “Falada is more suitable for me, and my nag will do for you,” and the Princess had to be content with that.
Then the waiting-maid, with many hard words, bade the Princess exchange her royal apparel for her own shabby clothes; and at length she was compelled to swear by the clear sky above her, that she would not say one word of this to any one at the Royal Court. And if she had not taken this oath she would have been killed on the spot. But Falada saw all this, and observed it well.
The waiting-maid now mounted Falada, and the true Bride the bad horse, and thus they traveled onward, until they entered the royal palace. There were great rejoicings over her arrival, and the Prince sprang forward to meet her, lifted the waiting-maid from her horse, and thought she was his Bride. She was conducted up-stairs, but the real Princess was left standing below.
Then the old King looked out of the window and saw her standing in the courtyard, and how dainty and delicate and beautiful she was. He instantly went to the royal apartment, and asked the Bride about the girl she had with her, who was standing down below in the courtyard, and who she was.
“I picked her up on my way for a companion. Give the girl something to work at, that she may not stand idle.”
But the old King had no work for her, and knew of none, so he said, “I have a little boy who tends the geese, she may help him.”
The boy was called Conrad, and the true Bride had to help him to tend the geese.
Soon afterward the false Bride said to the young King, “Dearest Husband, I beg you to do me a favor.”
He answered, “I will do so most willingly.”
“Then send for the butcher, and have the head of the horse on which I rode here, cut off, for it vexed me on the way.” In reality, she was afraid that the horse might tell how she had behaved to the King’s Daughter.
Then she succeeded in making the King promise that it should be done, and the faithful Falada was to die. This came to the ears of the real Princess, and she secretly promised the butcher a piece of gold if he would perform a small service for her. There was a great dark-looking gateway in the town, through which, morning and evening, she had to pass with the geese: would he be so good as to nail up Falada’s head on it, so that she might see him again? The butcher promised to do that, and cut off the head, and nailed it fast beneath the dark gateway.
Early in the morning, when she and Conrad drove out their flock beneath this gateway, she said in passing:
Then the head answered:
Then they went still farther out of the town, and drove their geese into the country. And when they had come to the meadow, she sat down and unbound her hair which was like pure gold. Conrad saw it and delighted in its brightness, and wanted to pluck out a few hairs. Then she said:
And there came such a violent wind that it blew Conrad’s hat far away across county, and he was forced to run after it.
When he came back she had finished combing her hair and was putting it up again and he could not get any of it. Then Conrad was angry, and would not speak to her. And thus they watched the geese until the evening, and then they went home.
And she sat down again in the field and began to comb out her hair. Conrad ran and tried to clutch it, so she said in haste:
Then the wind blew, and blew his little hat off his head and far away, and Conrad was forced to run after it. When he came back, her hair had been put up a long time, and he could get none of it. So they looked after their geese till evening came.
But in the evening, after they had got home, Conrad went to the old King, and said, “I won’t tend the geese with that girl any longer!”
“Why not?” inquired the old King.
“Oh, because she vexes me the whole day long.”
Then the old King commanded him to relate what it was that she did to him.
And Conrad said, “In the morning, when we pass beneath the dark gateway with the flock, there is a sorry horse’s head on the wall, and she says to it:
And the head replies:
And Conrad went on to relate what happened on the goose-pasture, and how when there he had to chase his hat.
The old King commanded him to drive his flock out again next day, and as soon as morning came, he placed himself behind the dark gateway, and heard how the maiden spoke to the head of Falada. Then he went into the country, and hid himself in the thicket in the meadow. There he soon saw with his own eyes, the goose-girl and the goose-boy bringing their flock, and how after a while she sat down and unplaited her hair, which shone with radiance. And soon she said:
Then came a blast of wind and carried off Conrad’s hat, so that he had to run far away, while the maiden quietly went on combing and plaiting her hair. All of which the King observed.
Then, quite unseen, he went away, and when the goose-girl came home in the evening, he called her aside, and asked why she did all these things.
“I may not tell you that, and I dare not lament my sorrows to any human being, for I have sworn not to do so by the heaven which is above me. If I had not done that, I should have lost my life.”
He urged her and left her no peace, but he could draw nothing from her. Then said he, “If you will not tell me anything, tell your sorrows to the iron stove there,” and he went away.
Then she crept into the iron stove, and began to weep and lament, and emptied her whole heart, and said, “Here am I deserted by the whole world, and yet I am a King’s Daughter, and a false waiting-maid has by force brought me to such a pass, that I have been compelled to put off my royal apparel. She has taken my place with my Bridegroom, and I have to do the mean work of a goose-girl.
The old King was standing outside by the pipe of the stove, and was listening to what she said, and heard it. Then he came back again, and bade her come out of the stove. And royal garments were placed on her, and it was marvelous how beautiful she was! The old King called his son, and revealed to him, that he had got the false Bride who was only a waiting-maid, but that the true one was standing there, as the goose-girl.
The young King rejoiced with all his heart when he saw her beauty and youth, and a great feast was made ready to which all the people and all good friends were invited. At the head of the table sat the Bridegroom with the King’s Daughter at one side of him, and the waiting-maid on the other, but the waiting-maid was blinded, and did not recognize the Princess in her dazzling array.
When they had eaten and drunk, and were merry, the old King asked the waiting-maid as a riddle, what a person deserved who had behaved in such and such a way to her master, and at the same time related the whole story, and asked what sentence such a one merited?
Then the false Bride said, “She deserves no better fate than248 to be put in a barrel which is studded inside with pointed nails, and two white horses should be harnessed to it, to drag her along through one street after another, till she is dead.”
“It is you,” said the old King, “and you have pronounced your own sentence. Thus shall it be done unto you.”
And when the sentence had been carried out, the young King married his true Bride, and both of them reigned over their kingdom in peace and happiness.