The Six Servants
In olden times there lived an aged queen who was a sorceress, and
her daughter was the most beautiful maiden under the sun. The old woman, however, had no
other thought than how to lure mankind to destruction, and when a wooer appeared, she said
that whosoever wished to have her daughter, must first perform a task, or die. Many had
been dazzled by the daughter's beauty, and had actually risked this, but they never could
accomplish what the old woman enjoined them to do, and then no mercy was shown, they had
to kneel down, and their heads were struck off.
A certain king's son who had also heard of the maiden's beauty, said
to his father, "Let me go there, I want to demand her in marriage."
"Never," answered the king, "if you were to go, it would be going to your
death." On this the son lay down and was sick unto death, and for seven years he lay
there, and no physician could heal him. When the father perceived that all hope was over,
with a heavy heart he said to him, "Go thither, and try your luck, for I know no
other means of curing you." When the son heard that, he rose from his bed and was
well again, and joyfully set out on his way.
And it came to pass that as he was riding across a heath, he saw
from afar something like a great heap of hay laying on the ground, and when he drew
nearer, he could see that it was the stomach of a man, who had laid himself down there,
but the stomach looked like a small mountain. When the fat man saw the traveler, he stood
up and said, "If you are in need of any one, take me into your service." The
prince answered, "What can I do with such a clumsy man?" "Oh," said
the stout one, "this is nothing, when I really puff myself up, I am three thousand
times fatter." "If that's the case," said the prince, "I can make use
of you, come with me."
So the stout one followed the prince, and after a while they found
another man who was lying on the ground with his ear laid to the turf. "What are you
doing there?" asked the king's son. "I am listening," replied the man.
"What are you listening to so attentively?" "I am listening to what is just
going on in the world, for nothing escapes my ears, I even hear the grass growing."
"Tell me," said the prince, "what you hear at the court of the old queen
who has the beautiful daughter." Then he answered, "I hear the whizzing of the
sword that is striking off a wooer's head." The king's son said, "I can make use
of you, come with me."
They went onwards, and then saw a pair of feet lying and part of a
pair of legs, but could not see the rest of the body. When they had walked on for a great
distance, they came to the body, and at last to the head also. "Why," said the
prince, "what a tall rascal you are." "Oh," replied the tall one,
"that is nothing at all yet, when I really stretch out my limbs, I am three thousand
times as tall, and taller than the highest mountain on earth. I will gladly enter your
service, if you will take me." "Come with me," said the prince, "I can
make use of you."
They went onwards and found a man sitting by the road who had bound
up his eyes. The prince said to him, "Have you weak eyes, that you cannot look at the
light?" "No," replied the man, "but I must not remove the bandage, for
whatsoever I look at with my eyes, splits to pieces, so powerful is my glance. If you can
use that, I shall be glad to serve you." "Come with me," replied the king's
son, "I can make use of you."
They journeyed onwards and found a man who was lying in the hot
sunshine, trembling and shivering all over his body, so that not a limb was still.
"How can you shiver when the sun is shining so warm?" said the king's son.
"Alas," replied the man, "I am of quite a different nature. The hotter it
is, the colder I am, and the frost pierces through all my bones, and the colder it is, the
hotter I am. In the midst of ice, I cannot endure the heat, nor in the midst of fire, the
cold." "You are a strange fellow," said the prince, "but if you will
enter my service, follow me."
They traveled onwards, and saw a man standing who made a long neck
and looked about him, and could see over all the mountains. "What are you looking at
so eagerly?" said the king's son. The man replied, "I have such sharp eyes that
I can see into every forest and field, and hill and valley, all over the world." The
prince said, "Come with me if you will, for I am still in want of such an one."
And now the king's son and his six servants came to the town where
the aged queen dwelt. He did not tell her who he was, but said, "If you will give me
your beautiful daughter, I will perform any task you set me." The sorceress was
delighted to get such a handsome youth as this into her net, and said, "I will set
you three tasks, and if you are able to perform them all, you shall be husband and master
of my daughter." "What is the first to be?" "You shall fetch me my
ring which I have dropped into the red sea."
So the king's son went home to his servants and said, "The
first task is not easy. A ring is to be got out of the red sea. Come, find some way of
doing it." Then the man with the sharp sight said, "I will see where it is
lying," and looked down into the water and said, "It is hanging there, on a
pointed stone." The tall one carried them thither, and said, "I would soon get
it out, if I could only see it." "Oh, is that all," cried the stout one,
and lay down and put his mouth to the water, on which all the waves fell into it just as
if it had been a whirlpool, and he drank up the whole sea till it was as dry as a meadow.
The tall one stooped down a little, and brought out the ring with his hand.
Then the king's son rejoiced when he had the ring, and took it to
the old queen. She was astonished, and said, "Yes, it is the right ring. You have
safely performed the first task, but now comes the second. Do you see the meadow in front
of my palace? Three hundred fat oxen are feeding there, and these must you eat, skin,
hair, bones, horns and all, and down below in my cellar lie three hundred casks of wine,
and these you must drink up as well, and if one hair of the oxen, or one little drop of
the wine is left, your life will be forfeited to me." "May I invite no guests to
this repast?" inquired the prince, "No dinner is good without some
company." The old woman laughed maliciously, and replied, "You may invite one
for the sake of companionship, but no more."
The king's son went to his servants and said to the stout one,
"You shall be my guest to-day, and shall eat your fill." Hereupon the stout one
puffed himself up and ate the three hundred oxen without leaving one single hair, and then
he asked if he was to have nothing but his breakfast. Then he drank the wine straight from
the casks without feeling any need of a glass, and drained them down to their dregs.
When the meal was over, the prince went to the old woman, and told
her that the second task also was performed. She wondered at this and said, "No one
has ever done so much before, but one task still remains," and she thought to
herself, "You shall not escape me, and will not keep your head on your
shoulders." "This night," said she, "I will bring my daughter to you
in your chamber, and you shall put your arms round her, but when you are sitting there
together, beware of falling asleep. When twelve o'clock is striking, I will come, and if
she is then no longer in your arms, you are lost."
The prince thought, "The task is easy, I will most certainly
keep my eyes open." Nevertheless he called his servants, told them what the old woman
had said, and remarked, "Who knows what treachery lurks behind this? Foresight is a
good thing - keep watch, and take care that the maiden does not go out of my room
again." When night fell, the old woman came with her daughter, and gave her into the
princes's arms, and then the tall one wound himself round the two in a circle, and the
stout one placed himself by the door, so that no living creature could enter. There the
two sat, and the maiden spoke never a word, but the moon shone through the window on her
face, and the prince could behold her wondrous beauty. He did nothing but gaze at her, and
was filled with love and happiness, and his eyes never felt weary. This lasted until
eleven o'clock, when the old woman cast such a spell over all of them that they fell
asleep, and at the self-same moment the maiden was carried away.
Then they all slept soundly until a quarter to twelve, when the
magic lost its power, and all awoke again. "Oh, misery and misfortune," cried
the prince, "now I am lost." The faithful servants also began to lament, but the
listener said, "Be quiet, I want to listen." Then he listened for an instant and
said, "She is on a rock, three hundred leagues from hence, bewailing her fate. You
alone, tall one, can help her, if you will stand up, you will be there in a couple of
"Yes," answered the tall one, "but the one with the
sharp eyes must go with me, that we may destroy the rock." Then the tall one took the
one with bandaged eyes on his back, and in the twinkling of an eye they were on the
enchanted rock. The tall one immediately took the bandage from the other's eyes, and he
did but look round, and the rock shivered into a thousand pieces. Then the tall one took
the maiden in his arms, carried her back in a second, then fetched his companion with the
same rapidity, and before it struck twelve they were all sitting as they had sat before,
quite merrily and happily. When twelve struck, the aged sorceress came stealing in with a
malicious face, as much as to say, "Now he is mine, for she believed that her
daughter was on the rock three hundred leagues off." But when she saw her in the
prince's arms, she was alarmed, and said, "Here is one who knows more than I
do." She dared not make any opposition, and was forced to give him her daughter. But
she whispered in her ear, "It is a disgrace to you to have to obey common people, and
that you are not allowed to choose a husband to your own liking."
On this the proud heart of the maiden was filled with anger, and she
meditated revenge. Next morning she caused three hundred great bundles of wood to be got
together, and said to the prince that though the three tasks were performed, she would
still not be his wife until someone was ready to seat himself in the midst of the wood,
and bear the fire. She thought that none of his servants would let themselves be burnt for
him, and that out of love for her, he himself would place himself upon it, and then she
would be free. But the servants said, "Every one of us has done something except the
frosty one, he must set to work, and they put him in the middle of the pile, and set fire
to it." Then the fire began to burn, and burnt for three days until all the wood was
consumed, and when the flames had burnt out, the frosty one was standing amid the ashes,
trembling like an aspen leaf, and saying, "I never felt such a frost during the whole
course of my life, if it had lasted much longer, I should have been benumbed."
As no other pretext was to be found, the beautiful maiden was now
forced to take the unknown youth as a husband. But when they drove away to church, the old
woman said, "I cannot endure the disgrace," and sent her warriors after them
with orders to cut down all who opposed them, and bring back her daughter. But the
listener had sharpened his ears, and heard the secret discourse of the old woman.
"What shall we do?" said he to the stout one. But he knew what to do, and spat
out once or twice behind the carriage some of the sea-water which he had drunk, and a
great lake arose in which the warriors were caught and drowned.
When the sorceress perceived that, she sent her mailed knights, but
the listener heard the rattling of their armor, and undid the bandage from one eye of
sharp-eyes, who looked for a while rather fixedly at the enemy's troops, on which they all
sprang to pieces like glass. Then the youth and the maiden went on their way undisturbed,
and when the two had been blessed in church, the six servants took leave, and said to
their master, "Your wishes are now satisfied, you need us no longer, we will go our
way and seek our fortunes."
Half a league from the palace of the prince's father was a village
near which a swineherd tended his herd, and when they came thither the prince said to his
wife, "Do you know who I really am? I am no prince, but a herder of swine, and the
man who is there with that herd, is my father. We two shall have to set to work also, and
help him." Then he alighted with her at the inn, and secretly told the innkeepers to
take away her royal apparel during the night. So when she awoke in the morning, she had
nothing to put on, and the innkeeper's wife gave her an old gown and a pair of worsted
stockings, and at the same time seemed to consider it a great present, and said, "If
it were not for the sake of your husband I should have given you nothing at all."
Then the princess believed that he really was a swineherd, and tended the herd with him,
and thought to herself, "I have deserved this for my haughtiness and pride."
This lasted for a week, and then she could endure it no longer, for
she had sores on her feet. And now came a couple of people who asked if she knew who her
husband was. "Yes," she answered, "he is a swineherd, and has just gone out
with cords and ropes to try to drive a little bargain." But they said, "Just
come with us, and we will take you to him," and they took her up to the palace, and
when she entered the hall, there stood her husband in kingly raiment. But she did not
recognize him until he took her in his arms, kissed her, and said, "I suffered so
much for you that you, too, had to suffer for me." And then the wedding was
celebrated, and he who has related this, wishes that he, too, had been present at it.