Witch's Broom

Once there were three brothers, the sons of a king.  The two eldest princes were handsome, dapper young men who thought a great deal of themselves.  They went out into the world to seek their fortune, but soon fell into lazy ways, preferring to drink and gamble and enjoy themselves rather than work or seek adventure.  The youngest brother was a plain and simple fellow who did not talk very much.  The family didn’t think much of him, and neither did anyone else.  They called him the Fool.

When the two eldest brothers did not return home one day, the Fool went out to look for them.  Eventually he found them in a poor tavern by the crossroads.  He was overjoyed to see his brothers again, but they laughed at him for thinking that he could make his way in the world when they, who were so much cleverer, had failed.

But the Fool roused his brothers to continue seeking their fortune.  They set out together.  After they had traveled for a while, they came across a large anthill.

“Let’s smash it!” said the oldest brother, “It’d be fun to watch the ants run and try to save their pitiful ant eggs.  We could put a good scare into them!”

But the Fool stopped them.  “Leave the little creatures alone,” he said, “Let them be in peace.  I won’t let you harm them.”

They continued on their way, and eventually they came to a lake where ducks were swimming.

“Let’s catch a few and roast them,” said the second brother, “We could make ourselves a good meal!”

“I won’t let you kill them,” said the Fool, “Leave them in peace.”

They continued on their way, and at least they came to a beehive in a tall tree dripping with honey that ran down the trunk.

“Let’s light a big fire,” said the two older brothers together, “We can smoke out the bees and kill them and take their honey.”

“I won’t let you burn them out,” the Fool said, “Leave them in peace.”

On their way they went, and at last they came to a great stone castle.  No one came out to greet them.  There were no courtiers in the courtyard, and in the stables there were on horses of stone.  No living creature seemed to be around.

The three brothers were afraid, but they had come so far, they were reluctant to go home without explore the castle itself.  They entered its empty halls and wandered through dusty rooms, seeing no signs of life.


At last they came to a high tower.  At the very top was a door with three locks on it and a small hole in the center.  They looked through the peephole and saw a gray dwarf sitting at a table.  They knocked loudly and called out to him, but he did not hear them.  Again they knocked and called, and still he did not answer.  But when they knocked and called a third time, he got up and unlocked the door.

He spoke not a word to them, but led them to a table that was spread with al sorts of good things to eat and drink.  When they were finished, he led each one to his own bedroom.

In the morning, the dwarf went into the room of the eldest brother and brought him to a room deep in the heart of the castle, where a stone tablet stood.  On the stone was an inscription that told how the castle could be rescued from its enchantment. Three tasks had to be performed.

The first task was to gather the thousand pearls of the king’s daughter that were scattered among the moss of the forest, all before nightfall.  If so much as one single pearl was missing, the brother would be turned to stone.

The eldest brother went to the moss and searched all day long.  For once he worked as hard as he could, without a trace of laziness!  But at the end of the day, he had found only a hundred pearls.  As the sun set he turned to stone.

The next day the dwarf took the second brother to the stone tablet.  He too read the inscription, went to the moss, and searched and searched.  He looked so hard that his eyes crossed and sweat dripped down his nose, but at the end of the day he had found only two hundred pearls.  As the sun set he too turned to stone.

The third day, the dwarf took the Fool to read the inscription on the stone tablet.  He went out to the moss and began to gather pearls, but soon he began to feel that the task was impossible.  He sat down on a rock and wept.

While he was sitting and weeping, the Queen of the Ants, whose life he had saved, came to his aid with five thousand ants.  They searched the moss and gathered the pearls, and before the sun had even dipped toward the horizon, all the pearls were gathered and neatly stacked in a pile.

The second task was to find the key to the bedroom of the king’s daughter.  The key had fallen into the lake.  When the Fool went down to the shore and saw the depths of the cold, blue waters, he almost wept again, for he was sure he could never swim to the bottom and return alive.  But just then, the ducks he had saved came swimming up, and they happily dove down to the bottom and brought him the key.

With the key, he could perform the third task.  He entered the bedroom of the princess, and there three beautiful young women lay asleep.  His task was to recognize the youngest daughter, but all three looked exactly alike!  The only difference between them was what they had eaten before falling asleep.  The eldest had eaten a spoonful of sugar, the second daughter had eaten sweet syrup, and the youngest had tasted a spoonful of honey.

Just as he was about to give up, the Queen Bee the Fool had protected from the fire blew in and buzzed around the lips of the three princesses.  She stayed on the mouth of the princess who had tasted the honey.

"She is the youngest princess," the Fool cried, and the spell was broken.  Everyone awoke, and all who had been turned into stone were restored to life.  The princess gave the Fool a handsome reward.  And the Fool's brothers never made fun of him again!