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The Riddle

Once upon a time there was a King's son, who had a mind to see the world; so he set forth, and took no one with him but a faithful servant. One day he came into a great forest, and when evening drew on he could find no shelter, and did not know where to pass the night. Just then he perceived a maiden who was going towards a little cottage, and as he approached he saw that she was young and beautiful, so he asked her whether he and his servant could find a welcome in the cottage for the night. "Yes, certainly," replied the maiden in a sorrowful voice, "you can; but I advise you not to enter." "Why not?" asked the Prince. The maiden sighed, and answered, "My stepmother practices wicked arts, she acts not hospitably to strangers."

He perceived now that he was come to a witch's cottage; but because it was very dark, and he could go no further, he went in, for he was not at all afraid. The old woman was sitting in an armchair by the fire, and looked at the strangers out of her red eyes. "Good-evening," she muttered, appearing very friendly; "sit yourselves down and rest." Then she poked up the fire on which a little pot was boiling. The daughter warned them both to be cautious, and neither to eat or drink anything, for the old woman brewed bad drinks; so they slept quietly till morning.

As they made ready for their departure, and the Prince was already mounted on horseback, the old witch said, "Wait a bit, I will bring you a parting draught." While she went for it the Prince rode away; but the servant, who had to buckle his saddle, was left alone when she came with the draught. "Take that to thy master," she said, but at the same moment the glass cracked, and the poison spurted on the horse, and so strong was it that the poor animal fell backwards dead. The servant ran after his master, and told him what had occurred; but as he would not leave the saddle behind, he went back to fetch it. As he came to the dead horse he saw a crow perched upon it feeding himself. "Who knows whether we shall meet with anything better today?" said the servant, and killing the crow he took it with him.

The whole day long they journeyed on in the forest, but could not get out of it; and at the approach of night, finding an inn, they entered it. The servant gave the crow to the host, that he might cook it for their supper; but they had fallen into a den of thieves, and in the gloom of night twelve ruffians came, intending to rob and murder the strangers. Before they began, however, they sat down to table, and the host and the witch joined them, and then they all partook of a dish of pottage, in which the flesh of the crow was boiled. Scarcely had they eaten two morsels apiece when they all fell down dead; for the poison which had killed the horse was imparted to the flesh of the crow. There was now no one left in the house but the daughter of the host, who seemed to be honest, and had had no share in the wicked deeds. She opened all the doors to the Prince, and showed him the heaped-up treasure; but the Prince said she might keep it all, for he would have none of it, and so rode on further with his servant.

After they had wandered a long way in the world they came to a city where dwelt a beautiful but haughty Princess, who had declared that whoever propounded to her a riddle which she could not solve should be her husband; but if she solved it he must have his head cut off. Three days was the time given to consider, but she was always so sharp that she discovered the proposed riddle before the appointed time. Nine suitors had been sacrificed in this way, when the Prince arrived, and, being blinded with her great beauty, resolved to stake his life upon her. So he went before her and proposed his riddle, namely:

"What is this? One killed no one, and yet killed twelve."

She knew not what it was, and thought and thought, but she could not make it out; and, although she searched through all her riddle-books, she could find nothing to help her; in short, her wisdom was at an end. Since she knew not how to help herself she bade her maid slip into the sleeping-room of the Prince, and there listen to his dreams, thinking perhaps he might talk in his sleep and unfold the riddle. The bold servant, however, had put himself instead of his master into the bed; and when the servant came into the room he tore off the cloak in which she had wrapped herself, and hunted her out with a rod.

The second night the Princess sent her chambermaid to see if she could be more fortunate in listening; but the servant snatched her mantle away, and hunted her away with a rod.

The third night the Prince himself thought he should be safe, and so he laid in his own bed; and the Princess herself came, having on a dark gray cloak, and sat herself down by him. When she thought he was asleep and dreaming she spoke to him, hoping he would answer, as many do; but he was awake, and heard and understood everything very well. First she asked, "One kills none; what is that?" He answered, "A crow which ate of a dead and poisoned horse, and died of it." Further she asked, "And yet killed twelve, what is that?" "Twelve robbers who partook of the crow, and died from eating it." As soon as she knew the riddle she tried to slip away, but he held her mantle fast so that she left it behind.

The following morning the Princess announced that she had discovered the riddle, and bade the twelve judges come and she would solve it before them. The Prince, however, requested a hearing for himself, and said, "She has stolen in upon me by night and asked me, or she would never have found it out." The judges said, "Bring us a witness." The the servant brought up the three mantles, and when the judges saw the dark gray cloak which the Princess used to wear, they said, "Let the cloak be adorned with gold and silver, that it may be a wedding garment."


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