THERE was once, I don't know where, a king whose only son was an exceedingly handsome and brave fellow, who went far into the neighbouring country to fight. The old king used to send letters to his son into the camp, through an old faithful servant. Once it happened that the letter-carrying old servant took a night's lodging in a lonely house, which was inhabited by a middle-aged woman and her daughter, who was very pretty. The people of the house had supper prepared for the messenger, and during the meal the woman questioned him whether he thought her or her daughter to be the prettier, but the messenger did not like to state the exact truth, as he did not wish to appear ungrateful for their hospitality, and only said, "Well, we can't deny but must confess it that we old people cannot be so handsome as the young ones." The woman made no reply; but as soon as the messenger had left she gave her servant orders to take her daughter into the wood and kill her, and to bring her liver, lungs, and two hands back with him. The manservant took the pretty girl with him, and, having gone a good distance, he stopped, and told the girl of her mother's commands. "But," continued he, "I haven't got the heart to kill you, as you have always been very kind to me; there is a small dog which has followed us, and I will take his liver and lungs back to your mother, but I shall be compelled to cut off your hands, as I can't go back without them." The servant did as he proposed; he took out the small dog's lungs and liver, and cut off the girl's hands, much as it was against his wish. He carefully covered the stumps of her arms with a cloth, and sent the girl away and went back to his mistress. The woman took the lungs and liver, put them into her mouth, and said, "You have come out of me, you must return into me," and swallowed them. The two hands she threw up into the loft. The servant left the woman's house in a great hurry at the earliest opportunity, and never returned again. In the meantime the girl without hands wandered about in unknown places. Fearing that she would be discovered in the daytime, she hid herself in the wood, and only left her hiding place at night to find food, and if she chanced to get into an orchard she ate the fruit she could reach with her mouth.
At last she came to the town where the king lived: the prince had by this time returned from the war. One morning, the king was looking out of his window, and to his great annoyance discovered that, again, there were less pears on a favourite tree in the orchard than he had counted the previous day. In a great rage he sent for the gardener, whose special business it was to take care of the orchard; but he excused himself on the ground that while he was watching the orchard at night an irresistible desire to sleep came over him, the like of which he had never experienced before, and which he was quite unable to shake off. The king, therefore, ordered another man to keep watch under the tree the next night, but he fared in the same way as the first; the king was still more angry. On the third night, the prince himself volunteered to keep watch, and promised to guard the fruit of the favourite tree; he laid down on the lawn under the tree, and did not shut his eyes. About midnight, the girl without hands came forth from a thicket in the garden, and, seeing the prince, said to him, "One of your eyes is asleep, the other one must go to sleep too, at once." No sooner had she uttered these words than the prince fell fast asleep, and the girl without hands walked under the tree, and picked the fruit with her mouth. But as there were only a few more pears left on the boughs which she could get at, she was obliged, in order to satisfy her hunger, to step on a little mound, and stand on tiptoe that she might reach the fruit; whilst standing in this position she slipped, and, having no hands to hold on with, she fell on the sleeping prince.
The shock awoke the prince at once, and, grasping the girl firmly with his arms, he kept her fast. Next morning the king looking out of his window discovered to his astonishment that no pears were missing, and therefore sent a messenger into the garden to his son to inquire what had happened? As soon as dawn began to break, the prince saw the girl's beautiful face; the king's messenger had by this time reached the prince, who in reply to his query, said: "Tell my father that I have caught the thief, and I will take care not to let her escape. If my father, the king, will not give me permission to marry her, I will never enter his house again; tell him also, that the girl has no hands." The king did not oppose his son's desire, and the girl without hands became the prince's wife, and they lived happily together for a time. It happened, however, that war broke out again with the sovereign of the neighbouring country, and the prince was once more obliged to go with his army. While he was away the princess was confined, and bore two children with golden hair. The old king was highly delighted, and at once wrote to his son informing him of the happy event. The letter was again entrusted to the same man, who took the messages during the first war: he on his way remembered the house where he was so well received on a previous occasion, and arranged that he should spend the night there. This time he found the old woman only. He got into conversation with her, and she asked him where he was going, and what news he had from the royal town: the messenger told her how the prince had found a beautiful girl without hands, whom he had married, and who had had two beautiful children. The woman at once guessed that it was her own daughter, and that she had been deceived by her servant; she gave her guest plenty to eat and drink, till he was quite drunk and went to sleep. Whereupon the woman searched the messenger's bag, found the king's letter, opened it and read it. The gist of the letter was this, "My dear son, you have brought to my house a dear and beautiful wife, who has borne you a beautiful golden-haired child."
The woman instantly wrote another letter, which ran thus: "You have brought to my house a prostitute, who has brought shame upon you, for she has been confined of two puppies." She folded the letter, sealed it as the first had been, and put it into the messenger's bag. Next morning the messenger left, having first been invited to spend the night at her house on his return, as the wicked mother was anxious to know what the prince's answer would be to the forged letter. The messenger reached the prince, handed him the letter, which gave him inexpressible grief; but as he was very fond of his wife he only replied, that, whatever the state of affairs might be, no harm was to happen to his wife until his return. The messenger took the letter back and again called upon the old woman, who was not chary to make him drunk again and to read the reply clandestinely. She was angry at the prince's answer, and wrote another letter in his name, in which she said, that if matters were as they had been represented to him in the letter, his wife must get out of the house without delay, so that he might not see her upon his return.
The messenger, not suspecting anything, handed the letter to the king, who was very much upset, and read it to his daughter-in-law. The old king pitied his pretty and good natured daughter deeply, but what could he do? They saddled a quiet horse, put the two golden-haired princes in a basket and tied it in front of the princess; and thus the poor woman was sent away amidst great lamentations.
She had been travelling without ceasing for three days, till on the third day she came into a country where she found a lake full of magic water, which had the power of reviving and making good the maimed limbs of any crippled man or beast who bathed in it. So the woman without hands took a bath in the lake, and both her hands were restored. She washed her children's clothes in the same lake, and again continued her journey. Not long after this the war with the neighbouring king was over, and the prince returned home. On hearing what had happened to his wife he fell into a state of deep grief, and became so ill that his death was expected daily. After a long illness, however, his health began to improve, but only very slowly, and years elapsed before his illness and his great grief had so far been conquered that he had strength or inclination to go out. At last he tried hunting, and spent whole days in the forest. One day as he was thus engaged he followed a stag, and got deeper and deeper into the thick part of the wood; in the meantime the sun had set and darkness set in. The prince, having gone too far, could not find his way back. But as good luck would have it he saw a small cottage, and started in its direction to find a night's lodging. He entered, and found a woman with two children--his wife and two sons. The woman at once recognised the prince, who, however, did not even suspect her to be his wife, because her hands were grown again: but, at the same time, the great likeness struck him very much, and at first sight he felt a great liking for the woman. On the next day he again went out hunting with his only faithful servant, and purposely allowed darkness to set in so that he might sleep at the cottage. The prince felt very tired and laid down to sleep, while his wife sat at the table sewing, and the two little children played by her side.
It happened that in his sleep the prince dropped his arm out of bed; one of the children noticing this called his mother's attention to it, whereupon the woman said to her son, "Place it back, my son, place it back, it's the hand of your royal father." The child approached the sleeping prince and gently lifted his arm back again. After a short time the prince dropped his leg from the bed while asleep; the child again told his mother of it, and she said, "Place it back, my son, put it back, it's your father's leg." The boy did as he was told, but the prince knew nothing of it. It happened, however, that the prince's faithful servant was awake and heard every word the woman said to the child, and told the story to his master the next day. The prince was astonished, and no longer doubted that the woman was his wife, no matter how she had recovered her hands. So the next day he again went out hunting, and, according to arrangement, stayed late in the wood and had to return to the cottage again. The prince, having gone to bed, feigned sleep, and dropped his arm over the bed; his wife, seeing this, again said, "Put it back, my son, put it back, it's your royal father's arm." Afterwards he dropped his other arm, and then his two legs purposely; and the woman in each case bade her son put them back, in the same words. At last he let his head hang over the bedside, and his wife said to her son, "Lift it back, my son, lift it back; it's your royal father's head." But the little fellow, getting tired of all this, replied, "I shan't do it; you better do it yourself this time, mother." "Lift it back, my son," again said the mother, coaxingly; but the boy would not obey, whereupon the woman herself went to the bed, in order to lift the prince's head. But no sooner had she touched him than her husband caught hold of her with both his hands, and embraced her. "Why did you leave me?" said he, in a reproachful tone. "How could I help leaving you," answered his wife, "when you ordered me out of your house?" "I wrote in the letter," said the prince, "this and this;" and told her what he had really written; and his wife explained to him what had been read to her from the letter that had been changed. The fraud was thus discovered, and the prince was glad beyond everything that he had found his wife and her two beautiful children.
He at once had all three taken back to the palace, where a second wedding was celebrated, and a great festival held. Guests were invited from the 77th country, and came to the feast. Through the letter-carrying messenger it became known that the cause of all the mischief was no one else than the princess's envious mother. But the prince forgave her all at the urgent request of his wife; and the young couple lived for a great many years in matrimonial bliss, their family increasing greatly. At the old king's death the whole realm fell to the happy couple, who are still alive, if they have not died since.