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The Six Servents
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
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
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
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
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
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.