ONCE upon a time there was a king who had seven sons, and he was so fond of them that he never could bear to have them all away from him at once, and one of them always had to stay with him. When they had grown up, six of them were to go forth and look for wives; but the youngest the king wanted to keep at home, and the others were to bring along a bride for him. The king gave the six the handsomest clothes that had ever been seen, clothes that glittered from afar, and each received a horse that had cost many hundred dollars, and so they set forth. And after they had been at the courts of many kings, and had seen many princesses, they at last came to a king who had six daughters. Such beautiful princesses they had not as yet met with, and so each of them paid court to one of them, and when each had won his sweetheart, they rode back home again. But they were so deeply in love with their brides that they altogether forgot they were also to bring back a princess for their young brother who had stayed at home.
Now when they had already covered a good bit of the homeward road, they passed close to a steep cliff-side where the giants dwelt. And a giant came out, looked at them, and turned them all to stone, princes and princesses. The king waited and waited for his six sons; but though he waited and yearned, they did not come. Then he grew very sad, and said that he would never really be happy again. "If I did not have you," he told his youngest, "I would not keep on living, so sad am I at having lost your brothers." "But I had already been thinking of asking your permission to set out and find my brothers again," said the youngest. "No, that I will not allow under any circumstances," answered the father, "otherwise you will be lost to me into the bargain." But the youth's mind was set on going, and he pleaded so long that finally the king had to let him have his way. Now the king had only a wretched old nag for him, since the six other princes and their suite had been given all the good horses; but that did not worry the youngest. He mounted the shabby old nag, and "Farewell, father!" he said to the king. "I will surely return, and perhaps I will bring my six brothers back with me." And with that he rode off.
Now when he had ridden a while he met a raven, who was lying in the road beating his wings, and unable to move from the spot because he was so starved. "O, dear friend, if you will give me a bite to eat, then I'll help you in your hour of direst need!" cried the raven. "I have not much food, nor are you likely to be able to help me much," said the king's son, "but still I can give you a little, for it is easy to see you need it." And with that he gave the raven some of the provisions he had with him. And when he had ridden a while longer, he came to a brook, and there lay a great salmon who had gotten on dry land, and was threshing about, and could not get back into the water. "O, dear friend, help me back into the water," said the salmon to the king's son, "and I will help you, too, in your hour of greatest need!" "The help you will be able to give me will probably not amount to much," said the prince, "but it would be a pity if you had to lie there and pine away." And with that he pushed the fish back into the water. Then he rode on a long, long way, and met a wolf; and the wolf was so starved that he lay in the middle of the road, and writhed with hunger. "Dear friend, let me eat your horse," said the wolf. "My hunger is so great that my very inwards rattle, because I have had nothing to eat for the past two years!" "No," said the prince, "I cannot do that: first I met a raven, and had to give him my provisions; then I met a salmon and had to help him back into the water; and now you want my horse. That will not do, for what shall I ride on then?" "Well, my dear friend, you must help me," was the wolf's reply. "You can ride on me. I will help you in turn in your hour of greatest need." "The help you might give me would probably not amount to much; but I will let you eat the horse, since you are in such sorry case," returned the prince. And when the wolf had eaten the horse, the prince took the bit and put it in the wolf's mouth, and fastened the saddle on his back, and his meal had made the wolf so strong that he trotted off with the king's son as fast as he could. He had never ridden so swiftly before. "When we have gone a little further I will show you the place where the giants live," said the wolf; and in a short time they were there. "Well, this is where the giants live," said the wolf. "There you see your six brothers, whom the giant turned into stone, and yonder are their six brides; and up there is the door through which you must pass." "No, I would not dare do that," said the king's son. "He would murder me." "O no," was the wolf's reply, "when you go in you will find a princess, and she will tell you how to set about getting rid of the giant. You need only do as she says." And the prince went in, though he was afraid. When he entered the house the giant was not there; but in one of the rooms sat a princess, just as the wolf had said, and such a beautiful maiden the youth had never seen. "Now may God help you, how did you get in here?" cried the princess, when she saw him. "It is certain death for you. No one can kill the giant who lives here, for he hasn't his heart about him."
"Well, since I do happen to be here, I will at least make the attempt," said the prince. "And I want to try to deliver my brothers, who stand outside, turned to stone, and I would like to save you as well." "Well, if you insist upon it, we must see what we can do," replied the princess. "Now you must crawl under the bed here, and must listen carefully when I talk to the giant. But you must not make a sound." The prince slipped under the bed, and no sooner was he there than the giant came home. "Hu, it smells like the flesh of a Christian here!" he cried. "Yes," said the princess, "a jackdaw flew by with a human bone, and let it fall down the chimney. I threw it out again at once, but the odor does not disappear so quickly." Then the giant said no more about it. Toward evening he went to bed, but after he had lain there a while, the princess, who sat looking out of the window, said: "There is something I would have asked you about long ago, if only I had dared." "And what may that be?" inquired the giant. "I would like to know where you keep your heart, since you do not have it about you?" said the princess. "O, that is something you need not ask about; at any rate, it lies under the threshold of the door," was the giant's reply. "Aha," thought the prince under the bed, "that is where we will find it!"
The next morning the giant got up very early, and went into the forest, and no sooner had he gone than the prince and the king's daughter set about looking for the heart under the threshold of the door. Yet no matter how much they dug and searched--they found nothing. "This time he has fooled us," said the princess. "We'll have to try again." And she picked the loveliest flowers she could find and strewed them over the threshold--which they had put to rights again--and when the time drew near for the giant's return, the king's son crept under the bed once more. When he was beneath it, the giant came. "Hu hu, I smell human flesh!" he cried. "Yes," said the princess. "A jackdaw flew by with a human bone in her beak, and she let it fall down the chimney. I threw it out at once, but I suppose one can still smell it." Then the giant held his tongue, and said no more about it. After a time he asked who had strewn the flowers over the threshold. "O, I did that," said the princess. "What does it mean?" the giant then asked. "O, I am so fond of you that I had to do it, because I know that is where your heart lies." "Yes, of course," said the giant, "but it does not happen to lie there at all."
When he had gone to bed, the princess sat looking out of the window, and again asked the giant where he kept his heart, for she was so fond of him, said she, that she wanted to know above all things. "O, it is in the wardrobe there by the wall," said the giant. "Aha," thought the king's son under the bed, "that is where we will find it!"
The next morning the giant got up early, and went into the forest, and no sooner had he gone than the prince and the king's daughter set about looking for his heart in the wardrobe. Yet no matter how much they looked, they did not find it. "Well, well," said the princess, "we will have to try once more." Then she adorned the wardrobe with flowers and wreaths, and toward evening the king's youngest son again crawled under the bed. Then the giant came: "Hu hu, it smells of human flesh here!" he cried. "Yes," said the princess. "A jackdaw just this moment flew by with a human bone in her beak, and she let it fall down the chimney. I threw it out again at once, but it may be that you can still smell it." When the giant heard this, he had nothing further to say about it. But not long afterward he noticed that the wardrobe was adorned with flowers and wreaths, and asked who had done it. "I," said the princess. "What do you mean by such tomfoolery?" asked the giant. "O, I am so fond of you that I had to do it, since I know that is where your heart lies," was the reply of the princess. "Are you really so stupid as to believe that?" cried the giant. "Yes, surely, I must believe it," said the princess, "when you tell me so." "How silly you are," said the giant, "you could never reach the place where I keep my heart." "But still I would like to know where it is," answered the princess. Then the giant could no longer resist, and at last had to tell her the truth. "Far, far away, in a lake there lies an island," said he, "and on the island stands a church, and in the church there is a well, and in the well floats a duck, and in the duck there is an egg, and in the egg--is my heart!"
The next morning, before dawn, the giant went to the forest again. "Well, now I must get under way," said the prince, "and it is a way I wish I could find." So he said farewell to the princess for the time being, and when he stepped out of the door, the wolf was standing there waiting for him. He told him what had happened at the giant's, and said that now he would go to the well in the church, if only he knew the way. The wolf told him to climb on his back. He would manage to find the way, said he. And then they were off as though they had wings, over rock and wood, over hill and dale. After they had been underway for many, many days, they at last reached the lake. Then the king's son did not know how they were to get across. But the wolf told him not to worry, and swam across with the prince to the island. Then they came to the church. But the church-key hung high up in the tower, and at first the king's son did not at all know how they were to get it down. "You must call the raven," said the wolf, and that is what the king's son did. And the raven came at once, and flew right down with the key, and now the prince could enter the church. Then, when he came to the well, there was the duck, sure enough, swimming about as the giant had said. He stood by the well and called the duck, and at last he lured her near him, and seized her. But at the moment he grasped her and lifted her out of the water, she let the egg fall into the well, and now the prince again did not know how he was to get hold of it. "Well, you must call the salmon," said the wolf. That is what the king's son did, and the salmon came at once, and brought up the egg from the bottom of the well. Then the wolf told him to squeeze the egg a little. And when the prince squeezed, the giant cried out. "Squeeze it again!" said the wolf, and when the prince did so, the giant cried out far more dolefully, and fearfully and tearfully begged for his life. He would do all the king's son asked him to, said he, if only he would not squeeze his heart in two. "Tell him to give back their original form to your six brothers, whom he turned to stone, and to their brides, as well; and that then you will spare his life," said the wolf, and the prince did so. The troll at once agreed, and changed the six brothers into princes, and their brides into kings' daughters. "Now squash the egg!" cried the wolf. Then the prince squeezed the egg in two, and the giant burst into pieces.
When the king's youngest son had put an end to the giant in this way, he rode back on his wolf to the giant's home; and there stood his six brothers as much alive as ever they had been, together with, their brides. Then the prince went into the hill to get his own bride, and they all rode home together. And great was the joy of the old king when his seven sons all returned, each with his bride. "But the bride of my youngest is the most beautiful, after all, and he shall sit with her at the head of the table!" said the king. And then they had a feast that lasted for weeks, and if they have not stopped, they are feasting to this very day.