The Youngest Son and the Hand of the Princess
The Youngest Son and the Hand of the Princess
Because youngest sons always succeed and the older brothers don't
Long ago in a land ruled by a great and mighty king, there lived a widow and her three sons. Now none of these sons were married and were quite handsome and hard working, except for the youngest. He was rather foolish and would often sleep when he ought to work. Now the king had a daughter who was fair to look upon and many had come to claim her hand in marriage, but the king wasn't ready to give her to them; until one day he sent out a decree saying that his daughter's hand in marriage would be given to the man who could pass the tests set before him.
Now the first son came to his mother and begged her blessing, that he might depart and win her hand and come again home. She granted his wish and she baked his bread and he saddled his horse and rode away. After awhile, he came upon an old woman in the way and she begged a few coins, or, if he had any, some bread. He frowned and counting his money apologized that he had not enough to spare, for he must have money to put himself up in the inn and there was only enough food for the journey. So he took his leave and left the old woman behind.
He arrived at the inn and went to put his horse in the stables. Once he had unsaddled it he turned to leave and just then, a mouse scurried over and begged him to give him refuge from the cat. He looked at the cat and said that the cat needed to eat, too, and he left. The next morning, he saddled his horse and rode away, and soon he came upon the castle. Upon being let in, he found the halls crowded as suitors came to win the hand of the fair princess. Just as he got in line, a maid hurrying past tripped and dropped all the goblets off of her tray, shattering them. He watched as she began cleaning it up, but the whole time she watched him and at last said, 'Will you not help me?' And he said, 'You clumsy girl. If you dropped them, you should pick them up.' And turned away.
Some days later, when her eldest son did not return, the widow called her middle son and bade him go, and see how his brother fared, and try to win the hand of the princess if his brother had failed. So he saddled his mare and rode away. Along the way he met the old woman, but he too had nothing to spare, and the mouse in the stables he left as well. When he got to the palace, the maid was hurrying past and dropped her tray, but neither would he help her.
And after many days more, the widow called her youngest son to her and spoke to him with sadness.
'Alas, some ill has befallen your brothers, and now you are all I have left. And though you are lazy and foolish I would still have you stay with me.'
'Mother,' said he, 'I would go to win the hand of the princess, for where my brothers have failed, perhaps I shall not.'
'It is a risk, my son,' she said. 'But I would have you happy. Only promise me something.'
'I will bake you extra bread, for I know you are foolish enough to lose it in the way; and money as well. But remember all I have taught you about kindness to all, especially your elders. And do not forget to care for the dear donkey, as you should always be kind to the animals. And now be off with my blessing, and if you should find your brothers, give them my greetings and if they will, bring them back with you.'
And with that, he rode away.
As he rode along, he came upon the old woman. In his haste he did not wish to slow down, but she called, and he stopped. She stepped forward and asked bread or money. He remembered what his mother said about losing his food, but also about being kind to elders, so he gave her half his food and money and lifted her onto his donkey.
Then he started in the direction of the palace leading the donkey and she said, 'Good sir, you will be rewarded for this kindness.'
'I only wish peace of mind so I may sleep well,' said he, wishing his journey ended. At the inn, he entered the stables and putting his donkey up, he turned to leave and there was the mouse who begged refuge. After a moment, and remembering his mother's words, he said,
'Hear now, I have payed for a room in the inn and yet as I stand here, I know I am too weary to go upstairs, so I shall sleep here, and you shall have my room.' And with that, he promptly fell asleep.
'You will be rewarded for this kindness,' the mouse squeaked as he ran off. The next day, the young man took his donkey and put the old woman back on it, and placed the mouse in his pocket and continued on. When he at last reached the palace, it was late in the evening and the line of suitors was not very long. As he waited, the maid hurried past and dropped her tray.
'Will you not help me?' She asked as she picked up broken shards of glass.
The young man frowned in thought. His mother had not given him any advice in this area. So at last he said, 'I do not know what my mother would say. It is too much work to think on it, and I should like to go to sleep.'
And so she cleaned it by herself and left.
At last it was his turn to come before the king and the king said, 'My royal goats have been giving me more cheese than I can eat, and so I now have a mountain of cheese outside that must be eaten by dawn. If you can do it, you shall have my daughter's hand in marriage.'
'What, do you want a huge son in law?' he asked. 'But I am hungry, so I'll do it.'
'One more thing,' said the king. 'If you fail, I will cut off your head.'
'That's not so bad. What use is my head if I can't eat cheese?' He didn't know how true that was, for his head served no greater purpose than a place to put his meals.
So he went out and began to eat the cheese. After a while, he realized that he was very full and he lamented,
'Oh, that I had stayed safe at home with my mother. For there the greatest danger was to go without a meal.'
Then the mouse climbed out of his pocket and said, 'Allow me.' And leaving, he returned with all his friends and relations and they promptly devoured the cheese. Then, rejoicing, he slept. And in the morning he rose and came before the king and said,
'O king, the mountain of cheese is gone. And I must compliment you on the quality of your cheese. It was very good.' And the king, looking out, and seeing that it was gone, said,
'Very well, but you must do one more task, and then you shall have my daughter. I have fifty nieces and forty nephews, and all sit in the snowy region of my realm and do nothing, for they shiver with cold. If you can warm them by tomorrow morning, you shall have my daughter. But if you fail, I shall have you head!'
So he left and tried covering the children with blankets, and warming them with fire, but he did not have enough blankets and the fires went out before they could warm the children. At last he sat down and sobbed,
'Woe is me! My mother should have insisted I stay. For now I must suffer the same fate that my brothers have surely suffered.' And as he sobbed, he did not notice the old woman come up with her friends and relations; and they set to work, knitting scarves and mittens, and the children were so suddenly warmed that they ran about playing and shouting. And the young man came to the king and told him that the children were warmed. And when the king saw that it was true, he was filled with anger, for he would wished his daughter to be married to a prince. So he said,
'Hear me now, one more task do I have for you and then you shall surely have my daughter. There is an old prisoner in the dungeons, and every night, he escapes and robs someone of something valuable and then returns. If you can keep him from escaping, then you shall have my daughter, but if not, I shall send you home and you shall keep your head.'
For, said he to himself, perhaps he finds a way to accomplish these tasks for he so wishes to keep his head, and now I shall be rid of him.
So the young man, confident that he could keep the prisoner safely, went down to the prison and sat down. As night was coming, the prisoner called for a drink and food and it was brought to him. After eating, he said,
'Would you not like to try some of this wine they gave me? It is a surprise they would give it to me, as it is quite good.'
And the young man, curious, took the cup and drank. It was good, but shortly he fell fast asleep, for it contained a sleeping potion. The prisoner escaped and after awhile, returned.
In the morning, the youngest son came before the king and said,
'O king, I have fulfilled your request. The prisoner is safe in his cell.'
But the king said,
'No, for just last night a barrel of my best wine was stolen and it was by the prisoner you were to guard.' Then, he, mourning, left and took his donkey. And there was the maid who hurried up to him.
'I am sorry you have failed. That first day when you came, I hoped you would help me so that I would be able to tell you not to drink the wine, for he always puts something in it to make the guard go to sleep. I had no other chance to tell you.'
So he rode away and when he returned home, he told his mother all that had befallen him and she said,
'You should have helped he maid, for then, you surely would have succeeded.'
'But you did not tell me to,' he said.
'Need I tell you everything? Go, get to work, I have no more patience. Alas, what has befallen your brothers who have left me?'
And then her sons came riding down the road and embraced her and showed her their new wives. For they, upon hearing that they had to eat a mountain of cheese or die, had promptly forsaken the job and had taken wives of the nobility; and now were come to take their mother and brother back to live in comfort in the palace. The youngest son married the maid and took over guarding the prisoner and never again did the prisoner escape; for he did not drink the wine that was offered him, because his wife reminded him every day. And they lived Happily Ever After.
Thanks so much to Laura for editing this for me and James for making me a monthly writer!