It so happened that the king of that land, soon after the child′s birth, passed through the village in disguise, and stopping at the blacksmith′s shop, asked what news was stirring. "Great news!" said the people. "Master Brock, down that lane, has just had a child born to him that they say is a Luck′s-child; and we are told that, when he is fourteen years old, he is fated to marry our noble king′s daughter." This did not please the king; so he went to the poor child′s parents, and asked them whether they would sell him their son? "No," said they. But the stranger begged very hard, and said he would give a great deal of money: so as they had scarcely bread to eat, they at last agreed, saying to themselves, "He is a Luck′s-child; all, therefore, is no doubt for the best - he can come to no harm."
The king took the child, put it into a box, and rode away; but when he came to a deep stream he threw it into the current, and said to himself, "That young gentleman will never be my daughter′s husband." The box, however, floated down the stream. Some kind fairy watched over it, so that no water reached the child; and at last, about two miles from the king′s chief city, it stopped at the dam of a mill. The miller soon saw it, and took a long pole and drew it towards the shore, and finding it heavy, thought there was gold inside; but when he opened it he found a pretty little boy that smiled upon him merrily. Now the miller and his wife had no children, and they therefore rejoiced to see their prize, saying, "Heaven has sent it to us"; so they treated it very kindly, and brought it up with such care that everyone liked and loved it.
About thirteen years passed over their heads, when the same king came by chance to the mill, and seeing the boy, asked the miller if that was his son. "No," said he, "I found him, when a babe, floating down the river in a box into the mill-dam." "How long ago?" asked the king. "Some thirteen years," said the miller. "He is a fine fellow," said the king; "can you spare him to carry a letter to the queen? It will please me very much, and I will give him two pieces of gold for his trouble." "As your majesty pleases," said the miller.
Now the king had guessed at once that this must be the child he had tried to drown, so he wrote a letter by him to the queen, saying, "As soon as the bearer of this reaches you, let him be killed and buried, so that all may be over before I come back."
The young man set out with this letter but missed his way, and came in the evening to a dark wood. Through the gloom he saw a light afar off, to which he bent his steps, and found that it came from a little cottage. There was no one within except an old woman, who was frightened at seeing him, and said, "Why do you come hither, and whither are you going?" "I am going to the queen, to whom I was to have given a letter; but I have lost my way, and shall be glad if you will give me a night′s rest." "You are very unlucky," said she, "for this is a robbers′ hut; and if the band come back while you are here it may be worse for you." "I am so tired, however," replied he, "that I must take my chance, for I can go no further"; so he laid the letter on the table, stretched himself out upon a bench, and fell asleep.
When the robbers came home and saw him, they asked the old woman who the strange lad was. "I have given him shelter for charity," said she; "he had a letter to carry to the queen, and lost his way." The robbers took up the letter, broke it open, and read the orders which were in it to murder the bearer. Then their leader was very angry at the king′s trick; so he tore his letter, and wrote a fresh one, begging the queen, as soon as the young man reached her, to marry him to the princess. Meantime they let him sleep on till morning broke, and then showed him the right way to the queen′s palace; where, as soon as she had read the letter, she made all ready for the wedding: and as the young man was very handsome, the princess was very dutiful, and took him then and there for a husband.
After a while the king came back; and when he saw that this Luck′s-child was married to the princess, notwithstanding all the art and cunning he had used to thwart his luck, he asked eagerly how all this had happened, and what were the orders which he had given. "Dear husband," said the queen, "here is your own letter - read it for yourself." The king took it, and seeing that an exchange had been made, asked his son-in-law what he had done with the letter he gave him to carry. "I know nothing of it," said he; "if it is not the one you gave me, it must have been taken away in the night, when I slept." Then the king was very wroth, and said, "No man shall have my daughter who does not go down into the wonderful cave and bring me three golden hairs from the beard of the giant king who reigns there; do this, and you shall have my free leave to be my daughter′s husband." "I will soon do that," said the youth; so he took leave of his wife, and set out on his journey.
At the first city that he came to, the guard at the gate stopped him, and asked what trade he followed, and what he knew. "I know everything," said he. "If that be so," said they, "you are just the man we want; be so good as to find out why our fountain in the market-place is dry, and will give no water. Tell us the cause of that, and we will give you two asses loaded with gold." "With all my heart," said he, "when I come back."
Then he journeyed on, and came to another city, and there the guard also asked him what trade he followed, and what he understood. "I know everything," answered he. "Then pray do us a good turn," said they; "tell us why a tree, which always before bore us golden apples, does not even bear a leaf this year." "Most willingly," said he, "as I come back."
At last his way led him to the side of a great lake of water, over which he must pass. The ferryman soon began to ask, as the others had done, what was his trade, and what he knew. "Everything," said he. "Then," said the other, "pray tell me why I am forced for ever to ferry over this water, and have never been able to get my freedom; I will reward you handsomely." "Ferry me over," said the young man, "and I will tell you all about it as I come home."
When he had passed the water, he came to the wonderful cave. It looked very black and gloomy; but the wizard king was not at home, and his grandmother sat at the door in her easy chair. "What do you want?" said she. "Three golden hairs from the giant′s beard," answered he. "You will run a great risk," said she, "when he comes home; yet I will try what I can do for you." Then she changed him into an ant, and told him to hide himself in the folds of her cloak. "Very well," said he: "but I want also to know why the city fountain is dry; why the tree that bore golden apples is now leafless; and what it is that binds the ferryman to his post." "You seem fond of asking puzzling things," said the old dame; "but lie still, and listen to what the giant says when I pull the golden hairs, and perhaps you may learn what you want." Soon night set in, and the old gentleman came home. As soon as he entered he began to snuff up the air, and cried, "All is not right here: I smell man′s flesh." Then he searched all round in vain, and the old dame scolded, and said, "Why should you turn everything topsy-turvy? I have just set all straight." Upon this he laid his head in her lap, and soon fell asleep. As soon as he began to snore, she seized one of the golden hairs of his beard and pulled it out. "Mercy!" cried he, starting up: "what are you about?" "I had a dream that roused me," said she, "and in my trouble I seized hold of your hair. I dreamt that the fountain in the market-place of the city was become dry, and would give no water; what can be the cause?" "Ah! if they could find that out they would be glad," said the giant: "under a stone in the fountain sits a toad; when they kill him, it will flow again."
This said, he fell asleep, and the old lady pulled out another hair. "What would you be at?" cried he in a rage. "Don′t be angry," said she, "I did it in my sleep; I dreamt that I was in a great kingdom a long way off, and that there was a beautiful tree there, that used to bear golden apples, but that now has not even a leaf upon it; what is the meaning of that?" "Aha!" said the giant, "they would like very well to know that. At the root of the tree a mouse is gnawing; if they were to kill him, the tree would bear golden apples again: if not, it will soon die. Now do let me sleep in peace; if you wake me again, you shall rue it."
Then he fell once more asleep; and when she heard him snore she pulled out the third golden hair, and the giant jumped up and threatened her sorely; but she soothed him, and said, "It was a very strange dream I had this time: methought I saw a ferryman, who was bound to ply backwards and forwards over a great lake, and could never find out how to set himself free; what is the charm that binds him?" "A silly fool!" said the giant: "if he were to give the rudder into the hand of any passenger that came, he would find himself free, and the other would be forced to take his place. Now pray let me sleep."
In the morning the giant arose and went out; and the old woman gave the young man the three golden hairs, reminded him of the three answers, and sent him on his way.
He soon came to the ferryman, who knew him again, and asked for the answer which he had said he would give him. "Ferry me over first," said he, "and then I will tell you." When the boat reached the other side, he told him to give the rudder to the first passenger that came, and then he might run away as soon as he pleased. The next place that he came to was the city where the barren tree stood: "Kill the mouse," said he, "that is gnawing the tree′s root, and you will have golden apples again." They gave him a rich gift for this news, and he journeyed on to the city where the fountain had dried up; and the guard asked him how to make the water flow. So he told them how to cure that mischief, and they thanked him, and gave him the two asses laden with gold.
And now at last this Luck′s-child reached home, and his wife was very glad to see him, and to hear how well everything had gone with him. Then he gave the three golden hairs to the king, who could no longer deny him, though he was at heart quite as spiteful against his son-in-law as ever. The gold, however, astonished him, and when he saw all the treasure he cried out with joy, "My dear son, where did you find all this gold?" "By the side of a lake," said the youth, "where there is plenty more to be had." "Pray tell me where it lies," said the king, "that I may go and get some too." "As much as you please," replied the other. "You must set out and travel on and on, till you come to the shore of a great lake: there you will see a ferryman; let him carry you across, and when once you are over, you will see gold as plentiful as sand upon the shore."
Away went the greedy king; and when he came to the lake he beckoned to the ferryman, who gladly took him into his boat; and as soon as he was there gave the rudder into his hand and sprang ashore, leaving the old king to ferry away, as a reward for his craftiness and treachery.
"And is his majesty plying there to this day?" You may be sure of that, for nobody will trouble himself to take the rudder out of his hands.