“The Riddle” is from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Household Tales. It tells the story of a king’s son who is traveling about the world by choice, with only a servant to keep him company. One evening, the pair is deep in a wood and have no where to spend the night. Then the king’s son sees a girl heading to a small cottage. He asks if they can find shelter there that night, and the girl replies yes, but she wouldn’t recommend staying with them, because guess who’s house it is. A witch, of course, who else would live in the dark, mysterious, dangerous forest? They stay the night anyway, just making sure not to eat or drink anything, thanks to a warning from the girl. Unfortunately, right before they leave, poison gets spilled on the servant’s horse and it dies. The servant runs to tell the king’s son and then goes back for the saddle. He also kills the raven that is feasting on the carcass and takes it with him for dinner.
The next night the two stop at an inn, but their bad luck continues. It is actually a den of murderers, but when the twelve killers come that night, they have dinner first with the innkeeper and witch. All of them eat soup with which has the cut up meat of the raven in it and they all die, since the raven had eaten the poisoned meat and passed the poison onto them.
Having escaped doom again, the pair travel on and come to a kingdom where the princess has promised to wed any man who can tell her a riddle she can’t solve. If he tells her a riddle and she solves it, his head is cut off. so far, nine suitors have been killed, but of course she’s beautiful and the king’s son is determined to marry her. He tells her his riddle. “‘What is this?’ said he, ‘One slew none, and yet slew twelve.'” She can’t figure it out and first sends two of her maids to sit by his bed on two nights, hoping he’ll give a clue in his sleep, but he has his servant stay in the bed instead. The third night he sleeps in his own bed and the princess herself sits by his bed. In his sleep, he does tell her the answer, but manages to grab her robe before she leaves.
The next morning, the princess announces that she knows the answer, it’s the raven, but the young man has the proof of her deception. The judges state, “Let the mantle be embroidered with gold and silver, and then it will be your wedding-mantle.”
It doesn’t mention any happily ever after, not surprising considering how set the princess seems to be against getting married. Like most Grimm stories, the bad guys are punished appropriately, in this instance killed by the poison the witch herself brewed. I do think that the king’s son’s idea to travel wasn’t the best plan, first a witch, then murderers, then a beautiful woman who seems to enjoy getting men killed. Ah, well, I guess every every young fairy tale man needs to go out into the world and find his destiny. Or his princess.
You can read the story severl places, including here.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.