Illustration by H. J. Ford

I found a Grimm story I hadn’t read before today.

A poor young man left his home with his father’s blessing, as his father could no longer support him, and went to war for a King. He was brave in battle, rallying the troops when all seemed lost, and defeating the enemy. When the King heard that he owed the victory to him alone, he raised him above all the others, gave him great treasures, and made him the first in the kingdom.

The King had a daughter who was very beautiful, but she was also very strange. She had made a vow to take no one as her husband who did not promise to let himself be buried alive with her if she died first. On her side she would do the same, and if he died first, would go down to the grave with him. This strange oath had up to this time frightened away all suitors, but the young man was so charmed by her beauty that he agreed and promised to be buried with her should she die first. Then the King consented, and the two had a splendid wedding.

They lived quite happily for a while, but then the young princess became ill and none of the doctors was able to save her. As she lay there dead, the prince remembered what he had promised, and was horrified at having to lie down alive in the grave, but there was no escape. When the day came when the corpse was to be buried, he was taken down into the royal vault with it and then the door was shut and bolted.

Near the coffin stood a table on which were four candles, four loaves of bread, and four bottles of wine, and when this provision came to an end, he would have to die of hunger. And now he sat there full of pain and grief, ate every day only a little piece of bread, drank only a mouthful of wine, and saw death daily drawing nearer. One day, a snake crept out of a corner of the vault and approached the dead body. Thinking the snake was going to attack the body, he drew his sword cut the snake into three pieces. After a time a second snake crept out of the hole, and when it saw the other lying dead and cut in pieces, it went back, but soon came again with three green leaves in its mouth. It took the three pieces of the snake, laid them together, and placed one of the leaves on each wound. Immediately the severed parts joined themselves together, the snake moved, and became alive again, and both of them hastened away together. Of course, the prince wondered if the leaves could save his wife also. He picked up the leaves and laid one of them on the mouth of his dead wife, and the two others on her eyes. Almost immediately the color came back into her face, she drew a breath, and opened her eyes. The prince explained all that had happened, gave her some wine and bread, and called for the sentries. The sentries called for the King who came down himself and opened the door. He found both strong and well, and rejoiced with them. The prince took the three snake-leaves with him, gave them to a servant, and said, “Keep them for me carefully, and carry them constantly. Who knows in what trouble they may be of service to us!” (Gee, I wonder.)

A change had, however, taken place in his wife. It seemed as if all love for her husband had gone out of her heart. (Coming back from the dead can do that to a person.) After some time, the prince and princess went on a voyage to visit the prince’s father. Aboard the ship, the princess forgot about any feelings she had for her husband, even gratitude, and fell in love with the skipper. Together she and the skipper seized the prince when he was sleeping and threw him into the sea. The princess told the skipper that they would return home, make up a story about how the prince died, and marry. But the prince’s faithful servant had seen all that they did. Secretly, he unfastened a little boat from the ship, got into it, sailed after his master, letting the traitors go on their way. He fished up the dead body, and with the three snake-leaves, he brought the prince back to life.

They both rowed with all their strength day and night, and reached the old King before the others did. They told the king all that had happened and the king at first couldn’t believe his daughter was so horrible but vowed to learn the truth. He sent both the prince and his servant to a secret chamber where they could be hidden from everyone. Soon the great ship came sailing in, and the princess appeared before her father looking troubled. She told her father that the prince had become suddenly ill on the trip and died. The King said, “I will make the dead alive again,” and opened the chamber, and the two come out. When the woman saw her husband, she was thunderstruck, and fell on her knees and begged for mercy. The King said, “There is no mercy. He was ready to die with you and restored you to life again, but you murdered him in his sleep, and will receive the reward that you deserve.” She and the skipper were placed in a ship which had been pierced with holes, and sent out to sea, where they soon sank amid the waves.

Kind of a different story for the Grimms. Usually the couple lives happily ever after despite the evil mother or witch or whoever. This time, the king ends up killing his own daughter. Our hero is a man willing to sacrifice himself, leaving his father so he is no longer a burden, battling an enemy against all odds in war, and promising to love a woman in spite of her requirements. He is honorable, but the princess does not stand by a single oath she has made. Maybe she deserved her fate. Of course, the Grimms do like justice, it’s just not usually the princess who deserves it.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.