IN THE most beautiful land of Asia, where Adam and Eve may have lived, where all animals, including cows, live wild, where the corn grows wild, and even bread grows on trees, there lived a pretty girl, whose palace was built on a low hill, which looked over a pretty, a very pretty valley, from which one could see the whole world. In the same country there lived a young king who decided not to get married till he succeeded in finding the prettiest woman or girl in the world. The pretty maid lived with her old father, and with only two servant girls. The young king lived and enjoyed himself amongst the finest young aristocrats. One day it struck the young king that it would be a good thing to get married; so he instructed his aristocratic friends to go all over his vast realm, and to search about till they found the prettiest girl in the land: they had not to trouble whether she was poor or rich; but she must be the prettiest. Each of them was to remain in the town where he found the girl that he deemed was the prettiest and to write and let the king know, so that he might go and have a look at all of them and choose for himself the prettiest amongst all the beauties, the one he liked best. After a year he received letters from every one of his seventy-seven friends, and extraordinarily all the seventy-seven letters arrived from the same town, where, on a low hill above a pretty little valley, there stood a golden palace, in which there lived a young lady with a nice old man and two maids, and from the four windows of which palace the whole world could be seen. The young king started with a large retinue of wedding guests to the place where the prettiest girl in the world lived: he found there all his seventy-seven friends, who were all fever-stricken with love, and were lying about on the pavement of the palace, on hay which was of a very fine silk-like grass; there they lay every one of them. The moment the young king saw the beautiful girl he cried: "The Lord has created you expressly for me; you are mine and I am yours! and it is my wish to find my rest in the same grave with you."
The young lady also fell very much in love with the handsome king; in her fond passion she could not utter a word, but only took him round his slender waist  and led him to her father. Her old father wept tears of joy, that at last a man was found whom his daughter could love, as she had thought every man ugly hitherto. The ceremony of betrothal and wedding was very short; at his pretty wife's wish, the king came to live on the beautiful spot, than which there was not a prettier one in the whole world! By the side of the palace there was an earth-hut, in which lived an old witch who knew all the young lady's secrets, and who helped her with advice whenever she needed it. The old witch praised the young lady's beauty to all she met, and it was she who had gathered the seventy-seven young aristocrats into the palace. On the evening of the wedding she called upon "the world's beautiful lady" and praised the young king to her, his handsomeness and riches, and after she had praised him for an hour or two she sighed heavily: the pretty young lady asked her what troubled her, as she had this very moment spoken of her husband as being a handsome, rich, and worthy man? "Because, my pretty lady, my beautiful queen, if you two live sometime here, you will not long be the prettiest woman in the world; you are very pretty now, and your husband is the handsomest of all men; but should a daughter be born to you, she will be more beautiful than you; she will be more beautiful than the morning star--this is the reason of my sadness, my beautiful lady." "You are quite right, good old woman, I will follow any advice; if you tell me what to do, I will obey you. I will do anything to remain the most beautiful woman in the world." This was what the old witch said to the beautiful lady: "I will give you a handful of cotton wool; when your husband sleeps with you, put this wool on your lips, but be careful not to make it wet, because there will be poison on it. When your husband arrives at home all in perspiration from the dance, he will come to you and kiss you, and die a sudden death." The young lady did as the witch told her, and the young king was found dead next morning; but the poison was of such a nature that the physicians were not able to find out what the king had died of.
The bride was left a widow, and again went to live with her maid and her old father, and made a solemn vow that she would never marry again. And she kept her word. As it happened, however, by some inexplicable circumstance, or by some miracle, after a few months she discovered that she was with child; so she ran to the old witch and asked her what to do. The witch gave her a looking-glass and the following advice: "Every morning you have to ask this mirror whether there is a more beautiful woman than yourself in existence, and if it says that there is not, there really won't be one for a long time, and your mind may be at ease; but should it say that there is one, there will be one, and I will see to that myself." The beautiful lady snatched the mirror from the witch in great joy, and as soon as she reached her dressing-room she placed the little mirror on the window ledge and questioned it thus: "Well, my dear little mirror, is there a more beautiful woman in the world than I?" The mirror replied: "Not yet, but there will be one soon, who will be twice as handsome as you." The beautiful woman nearly lost her wits in her sorrow, and informed the witch what the mirror had replied. "No matter," said the old hag, "let her be born, and we shall soon put her out of the way."
The beautiful lady was confined, and a pretty little daughter was born, and it would have been a sin to look at her with an evil eye. The bad woman did not even look at the pretty little creature, but fetched her mirror and said: "Well, my dear little mirror, is there a more beautiful creature than I?" and the looking-glass replied: "You are very beautiful, but your little daughter is seven times prettier than you." So as soon as she left her bed she sent for the old witch to ask her advice, who, when she took the babe in her arms, exclaimed that she had never seen such a beautiful creature in all her life. While she gazed at the beautiful child she spat in her eyes and covered her face, telling the beautiful woman to look at the child again in three hours, and when she uncovered it she would be surprised to find what a monster it had become. The beautiful lady felt very uneasy, and asked the witch whether she was allowed to question the mirror again? "Certainly," replied the witch, "for I know that at this moment you are the most beautiful woman in existence." But the mirror replied, "You are beautiful, but your daughter is seventy-seven times more beautiful than you." The beautiful woman nearly died of rage, but the old witch only smiled, being confident of her magic power.
The three hours passed, the little girl's face was uncovered, and the old witch fainted away in her rage; for the little girl had become not only seven times, but seventy-seven times more beautiful than ever from the very same thing that usually disfigured other babies: when she recovered she advised the beautiful lady to kill her baby, as not even the devil himself had any power over it. The old father of the beautiful woman had died suddenly, broken hearted by his daughter's shame! The beautiful woman was nearly killed by sorrow over the loss of her father, and in order to forget her troubles, she spared her daughter till she was thirteen: the little girl grew more beautiful every day, so that the woman could not bear her daughter's beauty any longer, and handed her to the old witch to be killed. The witch was only too glad to avail herself of the opportunity, and took her into a vast forest, where she tied the girl's hands together with a wisp of straw, placed a wreath of straw on her head, and a girdle of straw round her waist, so that by lighting them she would burn to death the most beautiful masterpiece of the Lord. But all of a sudden a loud shouting was heard in the forest, and twelve robbers came running as swift as birds towards the place where the old witch and the pretty girl were standing. One of the robbers seized the girl, another knocked the old witch on the head, and gave her a sound beating. The witch shammed death, and the robbers left the wicked old wretch behind, carrying off the pretty girl (who had fainted in her fright) with them. After half an hour the old witch got up, and rushed to the castle where the beautiful woman lived, and said, "Well, my queen, don't question your mirror any more, for you are now the most beautiful creature in the world, your beautiful daughter lies under ground." The beautiful lady jumped for joy, and kissed the ugly old witch.
The pretty girl upon her recovery found herself in a nice little house, in a clean bed, and guarded by twelve men, who praised her beauty in whispers, which was such as no human eye had seen before. The innocent little thing, not thinking of any harm, looked at the men with their great beards, who stared at her with wide open eyes. She got up from her soft bed, and thanked the good men for having delivered her from the clutches of the awful old witch, and then inquired where she was, and what they intended to do with her; if they meant to kill her, she begged them do it at once, as she would die with pleasure, and was only afraid of being killed by that horrible old witch, who was going to burn her to death. None of the robbers could utter a word, their hearts were so softened by her sweet words: such words as they had never before heard from human lips, and her innocent look which would have tamed even a wild bull. At last one of the robbers, who was splendidly dressed, said: "You pretty creature of the Lord, you are in the midst of twelve robbers, who are men of good hearts, but bad morals; we saved you from the hands of the ugly old witch whom I knocked down, and killed I believe; we would not kill you, for the whole world; but, on the contrary, would fight the whole world for you! Be the ornament of our house and the feast of our eyes! Whatsoever your eyes or your mouth may desire, be it wherever man exists, we will bring it to you! be our daughter, and we will be everything to you! your fathers! brothers! guardians! and, if you need it, your soldiers!" The little girl smiled, and was very pleased: she found more happiness among the robbers than she ever did in her mother's palace; she shook hands with all, commended herself to their protection, and at once looked after the cooking. The chief of the robbers called three strong maidens, dressed in white, from a cave, and ordered them to carry out without delay the orders of their queen, and if he heard one word of complaint against any of them, they should die the death of a pig. The young girl spoke kindly to the three maids, and called them her companions.
The robbers then went out on to the highway in great joy--to continue their plundering--singing and whistling with delight, because their home and their band had the most beautiful queen in the world. The beautiful woman, the girl's mother, one day felt weary, and listless, because she had not heard any one praise her beauty for a very long time. So in her ennui she took her mirror and said to it: "My dear, sweet little mirror, is there a more beautiful creature in all the world, than I?" The little mirror replied, "You are very beautiful, but your daughter is a thousand times handsomer!" The woman nearly had a fit, in her rage, for she had not even suspected that her hateful daughter was yet alive: she ran to the old witch like one out of her mind, to tell what the mirror had said. The witch at once disguised herself as a gipsy, and started on her journey, and arrived at the fence of the place where the pretty girl lived; the garden was planted with flowers and large rose bushes; among the flower beds she could see the pretty girl sauntering in a dress fit for a queen. The old witch's heart nearly broke when she saw the young girl, for never, not even in her imagination, had she ever seen any one so beautiful. She stole into the garden among the flower beds, and on approaching saw that the young girl's fingers were covered with the most precious diamond rings: she kissed the girl's beautiful hand, and begged to be allowed to put on a ring more precious than any she had; the girl consented, and even thanked her for it. When she entered the house, she all at once dropped down as if dead; the witch rushed home, and brought the good news to the beautiful queen, who at once questioned the mirror, whether there was yet any one who was prettier than she, and the mirror replied, that there was not.
The pretty woman was delighted, and nearly went mad with joy on hearing that she was once more the most beautiful creature in existence, and gave the witch a handful of gold.
At noon the robbers dropped in one after another from their plundering, and were thunderstruck when they saw that the glory of their house and the jewel of their band lay dead. They bewailed her with loud cries of grief, and commanded the maidens with threats to tell them who had done it, but they were even more stunned with grief, and bewailed the good lady, and could not utter a single word, till one of them said that she saw the pretty girl talking with a gipsy woman for a while, and that the moment the woman left she suddenly dropped down dead. After much weeping and wailing the robbers made preparations for the laying out of their adored queen; they took off her shoes in order to put more beautiful ones upon her pretty feet: they then took the rings off her fingers in order to clean them, and as at the very last one of the robbers pulled off the most precious ring from her little finger, the young girl sat up and smiled, and informed them that she had slept very well, and had had most beautiful dreams; and also that if they had not taken off that very ring (which the gipsy woman had put on that day) from her little finger she would never have waked again. The robbers smashed the murderous ring to atoms with their hatchet-sticks, and begged their dear queen not to speak to anyone, except themselves, as all others were wicked, and envious of her on account of her beauty, while they adored her. Having partaken of a good supper, the robbers again went out to their plunder singing, and quite at rest in their minds, and for a couple of weeks nothing happened to the young lady; but after a fortnight her mother again felt ennui and questioned her mirror: "Is there any one living being on this earth more beautiful than I?" The mirror replied: "You are very beautiful, but your daughter is one thousand times more beautiful." The beautiful lady began to tear her hair in rage, and went to complain to the witch that her daughter was alive still, so the witch again went off and found the young lady, as before, among the flower-beds. The witch disguised herself as a Jewess this time, and began to praise the gold and diamond pins with which the young lady's shawl was fastened, which she admired very much, and begged the young lady's leave to allow her to stick another pin amongst those which she had already in her bosom, as a keepsake. Among all the pins the prettiest one was the one which the witch disguised as a Jewess stuck in the young lady's bosom. The young lady thanked her for it, and went indoors to look after the cooking, but as soon as she arrived in the house she gave a fearful scream and dropped down dead.
The joy of her mother was great when the witch arrived home in great delight and the mirror again proved that the girl was dead. The robbers were full of joy, in anticipation of the pleasure of seeing again their pretty young girl, whose beauty was apparently increasing daily; but when they heard the cries of sorrow of the three servant maids and saw the beautiful corpse stretched out on the bier, they lost all their cheerfulness and began to weep also. Three of the robbers carried in all the necessaries for the funeral, while the others undressed and washed the corpse, and as they were drawing out from her shawl the numerous pins, they found one amongst them which sparkled most brilliantly, whereupon two of them snatched it away, each being anxious to replace it in the girl's bosom when redressing her for burial, when suddenly the virgin queen sat up and informed them that her death was caused by a Jewess this time. The robbers buried the pin five fathoms deep in the ground, so that no evil spirit might get it. There is no more restless being in the world than a woman; it is a misfortune if she is pretty, and the same if she is not: if she be pretty she likes to be continually told of it, if she be not she would like to be. The evil one again tempted the beautiful lady, and she again questioned her mirror whether any living being was prettier than she: the mirror replied that her daughter was prettier.
Upon this she called the old witch all kinds of bad names in her rage, and threatened her that if she did not kill her daughter outright she would betray her to the world, and accuse her of having led her to all her evil deeds; that it was she who induced her to kill her handsome husband, and that she had given her the mysterious mirror, which was the cause of her not being able to die in peace. The old hag made no reply, but went off in a boisterous manner: she transformed herself into a pretty girl and went straight into the house in which the young lady was dressing herself and falsely told her that she had been engaged by the robbers to wait always upon her while she dressed, because she had already been killed twice, once by a gipsy woman, and another time by a Jewess; and also that the robbers had ordered her not to do anything else but to help her in her toilet. The innocent girl believed all that the she-devil said. She allowed her to undo her hair and to comb it. The witch did her hair in accordance with the latest fashion, and plaited it and fastened it with all sorts of hair pins; while doing so she hid a hair-pin which she had brought with her among the girl's hair, so that it could not be noticed by anyone; having finished, the new lady's maid asked permission to leave her mistress for a moment, but never returned, and her young lady died, while all wept and sobbed most bitterly. The men and the maids had again to attend with tears to their painful duty of laying her out for her funeral; they took away all her rings, breast-pins, and hair-pins; they even opened every one of the folds of her dress, but still they did not succeed in bringing the young girl to life again. Her mother was really delighted this time, because she kept on questioning the mirror for three or four days, and it always replied to her heart's content. The robbers wailed and cried, and did not even enjoy their food; one of them proposed that they should not bury the girl, but that they should come to pray by the side of their dear dead; others again thought that it would be a pity to confide the pretty body to the earth, where it would be destroyed; others spoke of the terrible pang, and said that their hearts would break if they had to look at her dead beauty for any length of time. So they ordered a splendid coffin to be made of wrought gold. They wrapped her in purple and fine linen; they caught an elk and placed the coffin between its antlers, so that the precious body might not decompose underground: the elk quietly carried the precious coffin about, and took the utmost care to prevent it falling from its antlers or its back. This elk happened to graze in Persia just as the son of the Persian king was out hunting all alone. The prince was twenty-three years old; he noticed the elk and also the splendid coffin between its antlers, whereupon he took a pound of sugar from his bag and gave it to the elk to eat. Taking the coffin from its back the Persian king's son opened the gold coffin with fear and trembling, when, unfolding the fine linen, he discovered a corpse, the like of which he had never seen before, not even in his dreams.
He began to shake it to wake her: to kiss her, and at last went down upon his knees by her side to pray to God fervently to restore her to life, but still she didn't move. "I will take her with me into my room," he said, sobbing. "Although it is a corpse that must have been dead for some time, there is no smell. The girl is prettier in her death than all the girls of Persia alive." It was late at night when the prince got home, carrying the golden coffin under his cloak. He bewailed the dead girl for a long time and then went to supper. The king looked anxiously into his son's eyes, but did not dare to question him as to the cause of his grief. Every night the prince locked himself up, and did not go to sleep until he had, for a long time, bemoaned his dead sweetheart; and whenever he awoke in the night he wept again.
The prince had three sisters, and they were very good girls, and very fond of their brother. They watched him every night through the keyhole, but could see nothing. They heard, however, their brother's sobbing and were very much grieved by it. The Persian king had war declared against him by the king of the neighbouring country. The king, being very advanced in age, asked his son to go in his place to fight the enemy. The good son promised this willingly, although he was tortured by the thought of being obliged to leave his beautiful dead girl behind. As, however, he was aware that he would again be able to see and weep over his dear one when once the war was over, he locked himself in his room for two hours, weeping all the time, and kissing his sweetheart. Having finished, he locked his room and put the key in his sabretache. The good-hearted princesses impatiently waited till their brother crossed the border with his army, and so soon as they knew that he had left the country they went to the locksmith of the castle and took away every key he had, and with these tried to unlock their brother's room, till at last one of the keys did fit. They ordered every servant away from the floor on which the room was situated and all three entered. They looked all round, and in all the cupboards, and even took the bed to pieces, and as they were taking out the planks of the bed they suddenly discovered the glittering gold coffin, and in all haste placed it on the table, and having opened it found the sleeping angel. All three kissed her; but when they saw that they were unable to restore life, they wept most bitterly. They rubbed her and held balsam under her nose, but without avail. Then they examined her dress, which was very far superior to their own. They moved her rings and breast-pins, and dressed her up like a pretty doll. The youngest princess brought combs and perfumed hair-oils in order to do the hair of the dear dead. They pulled out the hair-pins and arranged them in nice order, so as to be able to replace them as before. They parted her golden hair, and began to comb it, adorning each lock with a hair-pin. As they were combing the hair at the nape of the neck the comb stuck fast, so they looked at once for the cause of it, when they saw that a golden hair-pin was entangled in the hair, which the eldest princess moved with the greatest care. Whereupon the beautiful girl opened her eyes and her lips formed themselves into a smile; and, as if awakening from a long, long dream, she slightly stretched herself, and stepped from the coffin. The girls were not afraid at all, as she, who was so beautiful in her death, was still more beautiful in life. The youngest girl ran to the old king and told him what they had done, and that they had found out the cause of their brother's grief, and how happy they were now. The old king wept for joy and hastened after his daughter, and on seeing the beautiful child exclaimed: "You shall be my son's wife, the mother of my grandchildren!" And thereupon he embraced and kissed her, and took her into his room with his daughters. He sent for singing birds so that they might amuse his dear little new daughter. The old king inquired how she made his son's acquaintance and where she first met him. But the pretty princess knew nothing about it, but simply told him what she knew, namely, that she had two enemies who sooner or later would kill and destroy her; and she also told him that she had been living among robbers, to whom she had been handed over by an old witch who would always persecute her till the last moment of her life. The old king encouraged her, and bade her not to fear anyone, but to rest in peace, as neither her mother nor the old witch could get at her, the Persian wise men being quite able to distinguish evil souls from good ones. The girl settled down and partook of meat and drink with the king's daughters, and also inquired after the young prince, asking whether he was handsome or ugly; although, she said, it did not matter to her whether he was handsome or ugly; if he was willing to have her, she would marry him. The princesses brought down the painted portrait of the prince and the young girl fell so deeply in love with it that she continually carried it with her kissing it. One morning the news spread over all the country that the young king had conquered his enemy and was hurrying home to his residential city. The news turned out to be true, and clouds of dust could be seen in the distance as the horsemen approached. The princesses requested their pretty new sister to go with them into the room which adjoined their brother's, where her coffin was kept under the bed.
The moment the prince arrived, he jumped off his horse, and, not even taking time to greet his father, he unlocked his room and began to sob most violently, dragging out the coffin gently from under the bed, placing it on the bed with great care, and then opening the lid with tears; but he could only find a hair-pin. He rushed out of the room like a madman, leaving the coffin and the door open, crying aloud, and demanding what sacrilegious hand had robbed his angel from him. But his angel, over whom he had shed so many tears, stood smiling before him. The youth seized her and covered her with as many kisses as there was room for. He took his betrothed, whom Providence had given to him, to his father and told him how he had found the pretty corpse on the back of an elk; and the girl also told the whole story of her life; and the princesses confessed how they had broken into their brother's room, and how they restored his sweetheart to life again. The old king was intoxicated with joy, and the same day sent for a priest, and a great wedding feast was celebrated. The young folks whom Providence had brought together lived very happily, when one day the young queen, who was as beautiful as a fairy, informed her husband that she was being persecuted, and that while her mother lived she could never have any peace. "Don't fear, angel of my heart," said the young king, "as no human or diabolic power can harm you while you are here. Providence is very kind to us. You seem to be a favourite and will be protected from all evil." The young queen was of a pious turn of mind and believed the true words of her husband, as he had only spoken out her own thoughts. About half a year had passed by and the beautiful woman of the world was still happy. Her mirror was covered with dust, as she never dreamt for a moment that her daughter was yet alive; but being one day desirous to repeat her former amusement she dusted her mirror, and, pressing it to her bosom, said: "Is there a prettier living creature in the world than myself?" The mirror replied: "You are very pretty, but your daughter is seventy-seven thousand times more beautiful than you." The beautiful woman, on hearing the mirror's reply, fainted away, and they had to sprinkle cold water over her for two hours before she came round. Off she set, very ill, to the old witch and begged her, by everything that was holy, to save her from that hateful girl, else she would have to go and commit suicide. The old witch cheered her, and promised that she would do all that lay in her power.
After eight months had elapsed the young prince had to go to war again; and, with a heavy heart, took leave of his dear pretty wife, as--if one is obliged to tell it--she was enceinte. But the prince had to go, and he went, consoling his wife, who wept bitterly, that he would return soon. The young king left orders that as soon as his wife was confined a confidential messenger was to be sent without delay to inform him of the event. Soon after his departure two beautiful boys with golden hair were born and there was great joy in the royal household. The old king danced about, like a young child, with delight. The princesses wrapped the babies in purple and silk, and showed them to everybody as miracles of beauty.
The old king wrote down the joyful news and sent the letter by a faithful soldier, instructing him that he was not to put up anywhere under any pretence whatever. The old soldier staked his moustache not to call anywhere till he reached the young king.
While angels were rejoicing, devils were racking their brains and planning mischief!
The old witch hid a flask full of spirits under her apron and hurried off on the same road as the soldier, in order to meet him with his letter. She pitched a small tent on the road-side using some dirty sheets she had brought with her, and, placing her flask of spirits in front of her, waited for the passers-by. She waited long, but no one came; when all of a sudden a huge cloud gathered in the sky, and the old witch was delighted. A fearful storm set in. As the rain poured down, the old witch saw the soldier running to escape the rain. As he ran past her tent, the wicked old soul shouted to him to come in and sit down in her tent till the rain was over. The soldier, being afraid of the thunder, accepted her invitation, and sat musingly in the tent, when the old woman placed a good dose of spirits in front of him, which the soldier drank; she gave him another drop, and he drank that too. Now there was a sleeping-draft in it, and so the soldier fell fast asleep, and slept like a fur cloak. The old woman then looked in his bag for the letter, and, imitating the old king's hand-writing to great perfection, informed the young prince that a great sorrow had fallen upon his house, inasmuch as his wife had been delivered of two puppies. She sealed the letter and woke the soldier, who began to run again and did not stop until he reached the camp. The young prince was very much upset by his father's letter, but wrote in reply that no matter what sort of children his wife had borne they were not to touch but to treat them as his own children until he returned. He ordered the messenger to hurry back with his reply, and not to stop anywhere; but the old soldier could not forget the good glass of spirits he had, and so went into the tent again and had some more. The witch again mixed it with a sleeping-draught and searched the bag while the soldier slept. She stole the letter, and, imitating the young prince's hand-writing, wrote back to the old king that he was to have his wife and the young babes killed, because he held a woman who had puppies must be a bad person. The old king was very much surprised at his son's reply but said nothing to anyone. At night he secretly called the old soldier to him and had his daughter-in-law placed in a black carriage. The old soldier sat on the box and had orders to take the woman and her two children into the middle of the forest and brain them there. The carriage stopped in the middle of the forest, the old soldier got down and opened the door, weeping bitterly. He pulled out a big stick from under his seat and requested the young queen to alight. She obeyed his orders and descended holding her babes in her arms.
The old soldier tried three times to raise the stick, but could not do so; he was too much overcome by grief. The young queen implored him not to kill her, and told him she was willing to go away and never see anyone again. The old soldier let her go, and she took her two babes and sheltered in a hollow tree in the forest: there she passed her time living on roots and wild fruit.
The soldier returned home, and was questioned by the old king as to whether he had killed the young queen, as he didn't like to disappoint his son, who was to return from the camp next day. The old soldier declared on his oath that he had killed her and her babes too, and that he had thrown their bodies into the water. The young king arrived at home in great sorrow, and was afraid to catch sight of his unfortunate wife and her ugly babes.
The old king had left his son's letter upon his desk by mistake; the prince picked it up, and was enraged at its contents: "This looks very like my writing," he said, "but I did not write it; it must be the work of some devil." He then produced his father's letter from his pocket, and handed it to him. The old king was horrified at the awful lie which some devil had written in his hand. "No, my dear son," said the old father, weeping, "this is not what I wrote to you; what I really did write was, that two sons with golden hair had been born to you." "And I," replied the young king, "said that whatsoever my wife's offspring was, no harm was to happen to them till I returned. Where is my wife? where are my golden-haired children?" "My son," said the old king, "I have carried out your orders; I sent them to the wood and had them killed, and the corporal belonging to the royal household had their bodies cast into the water." The old soldier listened, through a crack in the door, to the conversation of the two kings, who both wept bitterly. He entered the room without being summoned, and said: "I could not carry out your orders, my lord and king; I had not the heart to destroy the most beautiful creature in the world; so I let her go free in the forest, and she left, weeping. If they have not been devoured by wild beasts, they are alive still." The young king never touched a bit of supper, but had his horse saddled at once, and ordered his whole body-guard out. For three days and three nights they searched the wood in every direction, without intermission: on the fourth night, at midnight, the young king thought he heard, issuing from a hollow tree, a baby's cry, which seemed as harmonious to him as the song of a nightingale. He sprang off his horse, and found his beautiful wife, who was more beautiful than ever, and his children, who were joyfully prattling in their mother's arms. He took his recovered family home, amidst the joyous strains of the band, and, indeed, a high festival was celebrated throughout the whole realm.
The young woman again expressed her fears with trembling, that, while her mother and that she-devil were alive, she could not live in peace.
The young king issued a warrant for the capture of the old witch; and the old soldier came, leading behind him, tied to a long rope, an awful creature, whose body was covered all over with frightful prickles, and who had an immense horn in the middle of her forehead. The young queen at once recognised her as the old witch, who had been captured in the act of searching the wood in order to find her, and slay her and her two babes. The young queen had the old witch led into a secret room, where she questioned her as to why she had persecuted her all her life. "Because," said the old witch, "I am the daughter of your grandfather, and the sister of your mother! When I was yet but a suckling babe, your grandmother gave orders that I was to be thrown into the water; a devil coming along the road took me and educated me. I humoured your mother's folly because I thought she would go mad in her sorrow that a prettier creature than herself existed; but the Lord has preserved you, and your mother did not go mad till I covered her with small-pox, and her face became all pitted and scarred. Her mirror was always mocking her, and she became a wandering lunatic, roaming about over the face of the land, and the children pelting her with stones. She continually bewails you."
The young queen informed her husband of all this, and he had the old witch strangled, strung up in a tree, and a fire made of brimstone lighted under her. When her soul (pára-animal soul) left her wicked body, a horse was tied to each of her hands and feet, and her body torn into four, one quarter of her body being sent to each of the points of the compass, so that the other witches might receive a warning as to their fate.
The "most beautiful woman in the world" was now very ugly, and happened by chance to reach the palace where the pretty queen lived. Her daughter wept over her, and had her kept in a beautiful room, every day showing her through a glass door her beautiful children. The poor lunatic wept and tortured herself till one day she jumped out of the window and broke her neck. The young king loved his beautiful wife as a dove does its mate; he obeyed her slightest wish, and guarded her from every danger.
The two little sons with the golden hair became powerful and valiant heroes, and when the old king died he was carried to his vault by his two golden-haired grandchildren.
The young couple, who had gone through so many sad trials, are alive still, if they have not died since.