Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition) | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in August 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Three Brothers, The

THERE was once upon a time an old man whose family consisted of his wife, three sons, and a daughter. They were exceedingly poor, and finding that they could not possibly all live at home, the three sons and the daughter went out into the world in different directions to find some means of living. Thus the old man and his wife remained alone.

               Having neither horses nor oxen, the old man was obliged to go every day to the forest for fuel, and carry home the firewood on his back.

               On one occasion it was nearly evening when he started to go to the forest, and his wife, who was afraid to remain alone in the house, begged very hard to be permitted to go with him. He objected very much at first, but as she persisted in her entreaties, he at length consented to her following him, first bidding her, however, take good care to make the house-door safe, lest some one should break into the house.

               The old woman thought the door would be safest if she took it off its hinges, and carried it away on her back. So she took it off and followed her husband as fast as she was able. The old man, however, was not angry when he saw how she had mistaken his words, and the manner she had chosen to make sure of the door; for, he reflected, there was little or nothing at all in the house for any one to steal.

               When they had reached the forest the husband began to cut wood, and his wife gathered the branches together in a heap. Meanwhile it had got very late, and they were anxious as to how they should pass the night, seeing their own house was so far off that they would be unable to reach it before morning, and there were no houses in the neighbourhood where they could sleep. At last they observed a very tall and widely spreading pine-tree, and they resolved to climb up and pass the night on one of its branches.

               The man got up first, and his wife followed him, drawing, with great difficulty, the door after her. Her husband advised her to leave the door on the ground under the tree; but she would not listen to him, and could not be persuaded to remain in the tree without her house-door. Hardly had they settled themselves on a branch, the old woman holding fast her door, before they heard a great noise, which came nearer and nearer.

               They were excessively frightened at the noise, and dared neither speak nor move.

               In a short time they saw a captain of robbers followed by twelve of his men, approach the tree; the robbers were dressed all alike, in gold and silver, and one of them carried a sheep killed and ready for roasting. When the old man and woman saw the band of robbers come and settle under the pine-tree in which they had themselves taken refuge they thought their time was come, and gave themselves up for lost.

               As soon as the robbers had settled themselves, the youngest of them made a fire and put the sheep down to roast, whilst the captain conversed with the others. The sheep was already roasted and cut up, and the robbers had begun with great gaiety to eat it, when the old woman told her husband that she could not possibly hold the door any longer, but must let it fall. The old man begged her piteously not to let it go, but to hold it fast and keep quiet, lest the robbers should discover and kill them. The old woman said, however, that she was so exceedingly tired she could no longer by any possibility hold it. The old man, seeing it was no good talking about it, declared that, as he could not hold his corner of the door any longer when she had let go her corner, it was not worth while to complain, 'since,' as he said, 'what must be must be, and it is no use to be sorry for anything in this world.' Thereupon they both loosened their holds of the door at once, and it fell down, making a great noise--especially with its iron lock--as it fell from branch to branch.

               The door made so much noise in falling, that the whole forest re-echoed with the sound.

               The robbers, greatly astonished at the noise, and too frightened by the unexpected clashing above their heads to see what was the cause, took to their heels, without once thinking of the roast sheep they left behind, or of any of the treasures which they had brought with them. One of them alone did not run away far from the spot, but hid himself behind a tree, and waited to see what might come of so much noise.

               The old couple, seeing the robbers did not return, came down from the tree, and, being exceedingly hungry, began to eat heartily; the old man all the time praising the wisdom of his wife in throwing down the door.

               The robber who had hidden himself, seeing only the old people near the fire, came up to them, and begged to be allowed to share their meal, as he had not eaten anything for the last twenty-four hours. This they permitted, and spoke of all kinds of things, until the old man exclaimed suddenly to the robber, 'Take care! you have a hair on your tongue! Do not choke yourself, for I have no means to bury you here!'

               The brigand took this joke in earnest, and begged the old man to take the hair out of his mouth, and he would in return show him a cave wherein a great treasure was hidden. As he was describing the great heaps of gold ducats, thalers, shillings, and other coins which he said were in the cave, the old woman interrupted him, saying, 'I will take the hair out of your mouth, without pay! Only put your tongue out and shut your eyes!' The robber very gladly did as she told him, and she caught up a knife and in a moment cut off a piece of his tongue. Then she said, 'Well, now! I have taken the hair out!' When the robber felt what had been done to him he jumped up and down in pain, and at length ran away without hat or coat in the same direction as his companions had gone, shouting all the time, 'Help! help! give me some plaster!' His companions, hearing imperfectly these words, misunderstood him, and thought he cried to them, 'Help yourselves; here is the police-master!' especially as he ran as if the captain of police with a large force was at his heels. Accordingly, the robbers themselves ran faster and farther away.

               Meanwhile the old couple thought it no longer safe to stay under the pine-tree, so they gathered up quickly all the money, whether gold or silver, which they could carry, and hurried back to their home. When they got there they found the hens of the neighbours had pulled off the thatch of their house; they were, however, the less sorry for this, since they had now money enough to build another and a better home. And this they did, and continued to live in their fine new house without once remembering their sons and daughter, who had been wandering about the world already some nine long years.

               In the meantime the sons and the daughter had been working each in a different part of the world. When, however, they had been away from their home nine years, they all, as if by common consent, conceived an ardent desire to go back once more to their father's house. So they took the whole of the savings which they had laid up in their nine years' service, and commenced their journeys homewards.

               On his travels the eldest brother met with three gipsies, who were teaching a young bear to dance by putting him on a red-hot plate of iron. He felt compassion for the creature in its sufferings, and asked the gipsies why they were thus tormenting the animal. 'Better,' he said, 'let me have it, and I will give you three pieces of silver for it!' The gipsies accepted the offer eagerly, took the three pieces of silver, and gave him the bear. Travelling farther on he met with some huntsmen who had caught a young wolf, which they were about to kill. He offered them, also, three pieces of silver for the animal, and they, pleased to get so much, readily sold it. A little further still he met some shepherds, who were about to hang a little dog. He was sorry for the poor brute, and offered to give them two pieces of silver if they would give the dog to him, and this they very gladly agreed to.

               So he travelled on homeward, attended by the young bear, the wolf-cub, and the little dog. As all his nine years' savings had amounted only to nine pieces of silver, he had now but a single piece left.

               Before he reached his father's house he met some boys who were about to drown a cat. He offered them his last piece of money if they would give him the cat, and they were content with the bargain and gave it up to him. So, at last, he arrived at his home without any money, but with a bear, a wolf, a dog, and a cat.

               Just so, it had happened with the other two brothers. By their nine years' work they had only saved nine pieces of silver, and on their way home they had spent them in ransoming animals, exactly as the eldest brother had done.

               The sister, in her nine years' service, had saved only five pieces of money. As she travelled homeward she met with a hedgehog who was buying from a mouse its iron teeth, offering in exchange for them its bone teeth and two pieces of money besides.

               When she had listened a while to their bargaining, she said to the mouse, 'My dear little mouse, I offer you the hedgehog's teeth and three pieces of silver besides!'

               The mouse instantly agreed to this bargain. So she caught the hedgehog, drew its teeth, and gave them, with three pieces of silver, to the mouse, who gave her in return its iron teeth.

               As she went on her journey she began to suspect that the mouse had deceived her. To see if this was so or not she determined to make trial of the teeth, and, going a little aside from the road, she found a thick oak-tree and began to bite at it. It seemed to her that she had hardly begun to gnaw at the tree when it already commenced shaking, and threatened to fall. Seeing this, she was satisfied that she had really got the iron teeth, and so went on her journey quite contented.

               Before she reached her father's house she observed a mouse sharpening its teeth upon a stone. So she begged the mouse to lend her the stone, that she might sharpen her teeth also. The mouse, however, refused to do this unless she gave two pence. Without much reflection, she took out her last two pieces of money and handed them to the mouse, which gave her in return the stone to sharpen her teeth with.

               Then she resumed her journey homeward. As she walked, however, she reflected upon what she should say when her parents and brothers asked her where she had been, and how much she had saved during the nine years she had been from home.

               When she reached home she found her three brothers already there with their treasures--that is to say, with their bears, wolves, dogs, and cats. Luckily for her, her brothers did not ask her how much she had saved, for they felt sure that she must have made large savings. They asked her only about her health, and how she had travelled, and were all very glad that they were once again united together as a family.

               This joy, however, did not last long. Soon after they had returned, the old father died. Then the three brothers consulted together, and decided to invest part of the money, which their father and mother had got from the robbers, in the purchase of four horses and one grass-field.

               But their affairs did not go on very smoothly. One morning, instead of three horses in the stable they found only two; the third horse had been killed. Something had bitten it, sucked its blood, and devoured half of its body! And it was the finest of the three horses which had been killed. After this, the brothers resolved for the future to keep watch every night in the stable. When night came, they consulted as to which of them should first keep guard, and the youngest brother said, 'I will do so.' Accordingly, after having supped, he went to the stable to sleep there. Just about midnight came into the stable a creature all in white, and jumped at once on the youngest horse and began to gnaw it. When the brother who was watching saw that, he was in a great fright; so much so, indeed, that without stopping to find the doors, he got out through a hole in the roof. Whilst he was thus making his escape, the monster killed the horse, sucked its blood, and ate up half the body.

               Next day, when the elder brothers saw what had happened, they made a great lamentation over their loss. At night the eldest brother said to the second, 'Now do you go and keep a good watch; it is your horse that is in danger!' So the second brother went at once into the stable and lay down. Again, about midnight, the thing in white came in, and the watcher, as much frightened as his younger brother had been the night before, jumped up and escaped just as he had done. The monster, having bitten the horse, sucked its blood, and ate up half of it.

               Next morning, when he saw what had happened, the eldest brother said that he would keep guard at night over the remaining horse. So at night he went into the stable, gave his horse plenty of hay, and placed himself in a corner to watch. Again, when it was about midnight, the same creature in white came in. Seeing it coming he was first frightened, but soon rallied his spirits and stood, holding his breath, to see what would follow.

               He saw that the thing in white looked something like his sister, and carried in its hand a whetstone. Coming up to the horse the monster bit it, sucked its blood, and, after having eaten up half the body, left the stable. All that time the eldest brother had remained quiet, never stirring at all. Perhaps he did this from fear; perhaps, however, because he had resolved to be quiet, whatever might happen.

               Next morning, when the younger brothers found that the horse had been killed and half devoured, during their eldest brother's watch, they began to laugh and to tease him with his loss. He told them that he, however, knew what they did not--who it was that had killed and eaten their horses; but that they must not speak a word about it to any one. He then told them that their own sister had slain their horse, and had sucked the blood. At first they refused to believe this; soon, however, they were convinced that it was true. And the proof came in this way.

               One morning the two elder brothers went into the fields to work, and the younger remained at home. Their sister likewise remained at home, without knowing, however, that her youngest brother was also in the house. The eldest brother on going out had directed the youngest to place a kettle with water on the fire to boil, and to keep stirring the fire under it. In case the water should turn to blood he was immediately to open the cellar, let out a little dog, and bid it follow the way which they had taken when they went into the fields.

               When the two brothers were gone, the youngest went to walk in the yard, and on coming back heard a great noise and wailing in the house. So he went to the house-door and looked in through the keyhole; and what do you think he saw? His sister had cut her old mother's throat, and was just about to put the body on a spit to roast. On seeing this, he was terribly frightened, and ran to hide himself behind a large tub which stood in the kitchen. Shortly afterward his sister brought the spit out of doors, and put it before the fire to roast, speaking aloud, 'I shall do the same with my three brothers, one after the other, and then I shall remain alone the mistress of the entire property.'

               When the roasting was done, she carried the spit with the body into the room, and leaning it against a wall, brought out the whetstone and began to sharpen the teeth.

               The moment she went inside the house, the youngest brother jumped up from his hiding-place, rushed to the door, and from the outside watched what she was doing. When he had seen this, he filled the kettle, stirred up the fire, and then hid himself near the furnace. Having sharpened her teeth, his sister ate up the body of her mother, all except the head. After she had finished her meal, taking the head in her hand, she went out to the kitchen. On seeing the fire burning so well, and the kettle filled with water, she became angry, and began to look about to discover whether any one was in the house. Suspecting one of her brothers might be there, she shouted aloud, calling her brothers by their names, and searched everywhere in the house. Luckily, however, she forgot to look by the side of the furnace, where her younger brother lay hidden. Not finding any one in the house, she then took her mother's head in her hand and ran out, following the way her brothers had gone to their work in the fields. As she ran she shouted, 'Wait a little! Don't think you have escaped me!'

               The youngest brother, seeing his sister had run away, came out of his concealment to look at the water in the kettle. He saw the water had turned to blood, so he went quickly to the cellar and let out one of the little dogs which his sister feared more than all her brothers.

               Having let the dog free, the youngest brother came back to the kettle, to see what would happen to the water on the fire. By this time all the water, which had turned to blood, was boiling quickly, and throwing up a great number of bubbles; these bubbles rose the quicker the nearer the sister came to her two brothers in the field. When she was not more than five steps from them, however, she suddenly heard a noise, as if someone was running behind her; so she turned to look, and, seeing the dog coming, was terrified, and tried to save herself by climbing a tree which was close by. When, however, she caught at a branch, it broke in her hand, and she fell to the ground, and the same instant the dog rushed at her, and bit her into two pieces. The two brothers saw all this, but they were afraid to come near her lest she should again revive and attack them. Soon, however, seeing the dog was tearing her to pieces, they became convinced that she was really dead, so they came to the spot where she was, and took up her body and buried it, together with their mother's head, under the tree by which she had fallen.

               After they had done this, the two brothers returned home, and told their youngest brother all that had happened. He, on his part, told them how the boiling water had turned to blood and at first bubbled up quicker and quicker, but how, after some time, it grew quieter, and, at length, turned again to water. Then the three brothers congratulated themselves at having got rid of their terrible sister. A few days later they all went into the fields to bring in the hay which the two elder ones had mown. They found, however, hardly the third part of the hay which they had left. At this they wondered greatly, and looked about to see who had stolen it; but, finding no one, after a little while they took up what was left and returned home.

               At length the year, on which all this had happened, passed away. The next year, however, they dared not leave their mown grass unwatched. So they discussed which of them should first keep guard. Each of them offered to do it; but, at last, they agreed that the youngest brother should begin to watch. So he prepared himself, and, at night, went out into the field. Having come there, he climbed up into the tree under which his sister's body and his mother's head lay buried, and resolved to remain there until daybreak. About midnight he heard a great noise and shouting, which frightened him so much that he dared not stir at all. Some creatures came into the field and eat up most of the hay, and what they did not eat they tossed about and spoiled, so that it was fit for nothing. When daylight came, the youngest brother came down from the tree and went home, to tell what he had seen.

               So that year they had no hay.

               Next year, when hay harvest came, the three brothers took counsel together how to preserve their hay. The second brother now volunteered to watch in the field, and seemed quite sure he would be able to save the hay. Accordingly he went, and climbed into the tree, just as his brother had done the previous year. About midnight three winged horses came into the field with a company of fairies. The winged horses began to eat the newly mown hay, and the fairies danced over it. After the greater part of the hay had been eaten by the horses, and all the rest had been spoiled by the dancing of the fairies, the whole company left the field, just as day began to dawn. The watcher in the tree had witnessed all this; he was, however, too frightened to do anything--indeed, he hardly dared to move. When he went home, he told his brothers all that he had seen; at which they were sad, since this year again they would have no hay.

               However, the time passed, and the third summer came on. Again the three brothers cut the grass in their meadow, and consulted together anxiously how they should manage to keep their new hay.

               At length it was settled that it was now the turn of the eldest brother to keep watch. If he, also, failed to save the hay, it was agreed that they should divide amongst them the little property which they had left, and go out again, separately, to seek their fortunes in the world, seeing they had no luck in their own country.

               As had been agreed upon, the eldest brother now went out into the field at night; but, instead of going up into the tree as his brothers had done, he lay quietly down on a heap of hay, and waited to see what would happen. About midnight he heard a great noise, afar off, and, by-and-by, a troop of fairies, with three winged horses, came straight towards the place where he lay. Having got there, the fairies began to dance, and the horses to eat the hay, and canter about. The eldest brother looked on, and, at first, felt much afraid, and wished heartily the whole company would go away without seeing him. As, however, they seemed in no hurry to do this, he considered what he should do, and, at length, decided that it would be worth while to try to catch one of the three horses. So, when they came near him, he jumped on the back of one of them, and clung fast to it. The other two horses instantly ran away, and the fairies with them.

               The horse which the eldest brother had caught tried all sorts of tricks to throw off his unwelcome rider, but he could not succeed. Finding all his attempts to free himself quite useless, at last he said, 'Let me go, my good man, and I will be of use to you some other time.' The man answered, 'I will set you free on one condition; that is, you must promise never more to come in this field; and you must give me some pledge that you will keep your promise.'

               The horse gladly agreed to this condition, and gave the man a hair from his tail, saying, 'Whenever you happen to be in need, hold this hair to a fire, and I will instantly be at your service.'

               Thereupon the horse went off, and the eldest brother returned home. His brothers had waited impatiently for his return, and, when they saw him, pressed him immediately to tell them all that had happened. So he told everything, except that he had got a hair from the horse's tail, because he did not believe that the horse would keep his promise and come to him in his need. The two younger brothers, however, had no confidence that the fairies and winged horses would fulfil their promise and never come again to ruin their hay-field, so they proposed that the property should be at once divided, and that they should separate. The eldest brother tried to persuade them to remain at least one other year longer, to see what would happen; he was not able, however, to succeed in this. Accordingly they divided the remnant of their property, took each their animals, that is, each his bear, his wolf, his dog, and his cat, and left their home, for the second time, to seek their fortunes in the world.

               The first day they travelled together, but the second day they were obliged to separate, because having come to a crossway, and trying to keep on the same path, they found they could not take a step forward so long as they were together. They therefore left that path and tried another; it was, however, of no use, for they could not move a step forward as long as they were together; and when they tried the third path, the same happened there also. So they tried if two of them could go on in one road if one of them went before and the other behind. But this also they were unable to do; they could not get on one step, try as hard as they would, so nothing was left them but to separate and each of them to go alone by a different road. They were exceedingly sorry to part, but could not help themselves.

               Before the brothers separated, the eldest brother said, 'Now, brothers, before we part, let us stick our knives in this oak-tree; as long as we live our knives will remain where we stick them; when one of us dies, his knife will fall out. Let us, then, come here every third year to see if the knives are still in their places. Thus we shall know something, at least, about each other.' The other two agreed to this, and, having stuck their knives in the oak-tree, and kissed each other, went, each one his own way, taking his animals with him.

               Let us first follow the youngest brother in his wanderings. He travelled, with his attendant animals, all that day and the following night without stopping, and the next day saw before him a king's palace, and went straight towards it. Having been taken into the presence of the king, he begged his majesty to employ him in watching his goats. The king consented to take him as goat-herd, and from that day he had the charge of the king's goats and lived on thus quietly for a long time.

               One day the new goat-herd chanced to drive his flock to a high hill, not far from the king's palace. On the summit of the hill there was a very tall pine-tree, and the instant he saw it he resolved to climb up and look about from its top on the surrounding country. Accordingly, he climbed up, and enjoyed exceedingly the extensive and beautiful prospect. As he looked in one direction he saw, a long way off, a great smoke arising from a mountain. The moment he saw the smoke he fancied that one of his brothers must be there, as he thought it unlikely that any one else would be in such a wilderness. So he resolved at once to give up his place of goat-herd, and travel to the mountain which he had seen in the distance. Coming down from the tree, therefore, he immediately collected his goats, which was a very easy task for him to do, since he had such good help in his bear, his wolf, his dog, and his cat.

               No sooner had he reached the palace than he went straight to the king and said, 'Sir, I can no longer be your Majesty's goat-herd. I must go away, for I saw to-day a smoking mountain, and I believe that one of my brothers is there, and I wish to go and see if this be so. I therefore beg your Majesty to pay me what you owe me, and to let me go!' All this time he thought the king knew nothing about the smoking mountain.

               When he had said this, however, the king immediately began to advise him on no account to go to the mountain--for, as he assured him, whoever went there never came back again. He told him that all who had gone thither seemed at once to have sunk into the earth, for no one ever heard anything more about them. All the king's warnings and counsels, however, availed nothing; the goat-herd was bent on going to the smoking mountain, and looking after his two brothers.

               After he had made all preparations for the journey he set out, accompanied, as usual, by his four animals. He went straight to the mountain; but, having got there, he could not at first find the fire. Indeed, he had trouble enough before he discovered it. At length, however, he found a large fire burning under a beech-tree, and went near it to warm himself. At the same time he looked about on all sides to see who had made the fire. After looking about some time he heard a woman's voice, and upon his looking up to see whence the sound came, he saw an old woman sitting on one of the branches above his head. She sat huddled together all of a heap, and shaking with cold.

               No sooner had he discovered her than the old woman begged him to allow her to come down to the fire and warm herself a little. So he told her she might come down and warm herself as soon as she pleased. She answered, however, 'Oh, my son, I dare not come down because of your company. I am afraid of the animals you have with you--your bear, and wolf, and dog, and cat.'

               At this he tried to re-assure her and said, 'Don't be afraid! They will do you no harm.' However she would not trust them, so she plucked a hair from her head, and threw it down, saying, 'Put that hair on their necks and then I shall not be afraid to come down.'

               Accordingly the man took the hair and threw it over his animals, and in a moment the hair was turned into an iron chain which kept his four-footed followers bound fast together.

               When the old woman saw that he had done as she desired, she came down from the tree and took her place by the fire. She seemed at first a very little woman; as she sat by the fire, however, she began to grow larger. When he saw this he was greatly astonished, and said to her, 'But, my old woman, it seems to me that you grow bigger and bigger!' Thereupon she answered, shivering, 'Ha! ha! no, no, my son! I am only warming myself!' But, nevertheless, she continued to grow taller and taller, and had already grown half as tall as the beech-tree. The goat-herd watched her growing with wide-open eyes, and, beginning to get frightened, said again, 'But really you are getting a fearful size, and are growing taller and taller every moment.'

               'Ha, ha, my son,' she coughed and shivered, 'I am only warming myself!' Seeing, however, that she was now as tall as the tallest beech-tree, and, fearing that his life was in danger, he called anxiously to his companions, 'Hold her fast, my bear! Hold her fast, my wolf! Hold her fast, my dog! Hold her fast, my cat!' But it was all in vain that he called to them; none of them could move a step from their places. When he saw that, he endeavoured to run away, but found that he could no more move from his place than if he were fast chained to it. Then the old woman, seeing everything had gone on just as she wished, bent down a little, and, touching him with her little finger, said, 'Go, you have lost your head!' and the self-same moment he turned to ashes. After that, she touched, with the little toe of her left foot, all his animals, one after the other, and they also turned at once to ashes as their master had done.

               Having collected all the ashes she buried them under an oak-tree. Then as soon as she took the iron chain in her hand, it turned again into a hair, which she put back into its place on her head.

               She had before done with many young and noble knights just as she had now done with this poor goat-herd.

               The second brother, after serving a long time in a strange place, was seized with a great desire to go to the oak-tree at the cross-roads, where he had parted with his brothers, in order to see if their knives were still sticking in the tree. When he got there, he found the knife of his eldest brother still firmly fixed in the trunk of the oak, but his youngest brother's knife had fallen to the ground. Then he knew that his younger brother was dead, or in great danger of death, and he resolved at once to follow the way he had gone and try to discover what had become of him. Going then along the same road which his younger brother had travelled, he came, on the third day, to the king's palace, and went in and begged the king to take him into his service. Whereupon the king took him as goat-herd, exactly as he had taken before the youngest brother.

               When the second brother had tended the king's goats a long time, he one day drove them up a high hill, and, finding there a very tall pine-tree, resolved at once to climb up to its top and look about to see what kind of a country lay on the other side of the hill. When he had looked round a while from the tree he noticed a great volume of smoke rising from a mountain afar off, and the thought came at once to his mind that his brothers might be there. Accordingly, he came down quickly, collected his goats, and went back to the king's palace, followed by his four companions, that is to say, by his bear, his wolf, his dog, and his cat. When he had reached the palace he went straight to the king, and begged him to pay him his wages at once, and to let him go to look after his brothers; for he had seen a smoke upon a mountain, and he believed they were there. The king tried in vain to dissuade him by telling him that none who went there ever came back; but all his Majesty's words availed nothing. Thereupon, seeing he was decided on going, the king paid him what he owed him, and let him go.

               He at once set out, and went straight to the mountain; but, when he got there, he was a long time before he could find any fire. At last, however, he found one burning under a beech-tree, and he went up to it to warm himself, wondering all the time who had made it, since he saw no one near. As he warmed himself he heard a woman's voice in the tree above his head, and, looking up, saw there an old woman huddled up on a branch, and shaking with cold.

               As soon as he saw her, the old woman asked him to let her come down and warm herself by the fire, and he told her she might come and warm herself as long as she liked.

               She said, however, 'I am afraid of the company which you have with you. Take this hair and lay it over your bear, and wolf, and dog, and cat, and then I shall be able to come down.'

               So saying, she pulled a hair out of her head and threw it down. He laughed at her fears, and assured her that his companions would not hurt her; finding, however, notwithstanding all he said, that she was still afraid to come down from the tree, he, at last, took the hair and laid it on the beasts as she had directed. In an instant the hair turned into an iron chain, and bound the four animals fast together. Then the old woman came down, and took a place by the fire to warm herself. As the second brother watched her warming herself, he saw her grow bigger and bigger, until she had grown half as tall as the beech-tree.

               Wondering greatly, he exclaimed, 'Old woman, you are growing bigger and bigger.' 'Hy, hy! my son,' said she, coughing and shivering, 'I am only warming myself.' But when he saw that she was already as tall as the beech-tree, he became frightened, and called to his companions, 'Hold her, my bear! hold her, my wolf! hold her, my dog! hold her, my cat!' They were none of them, however, able to move, so fast were they held together by the iron chain.

               Seeing that, the old woman stooped down and touched him with her little finger, and he fell immediately into ashes. Then she touched the four animals, one after the other, with the little toe of her left foot, and they, also, crumbled to ashes.

               No sooner had the old woman done this than she collected all the ashes in a heap and buried them under an oak-tree. As she had before done with the ashes of many a youthful knight and gentleman, so she did now with those of this poor simple man. Pity, if they were to die, that some more worthy means than one hair from the head of a miserable old woman had not brought about their deaths!

               A very long time had passed, and yet the eldest brother never once thought of going back to the cross-roads where he had parted with his brothers. He was engaged in the service of a good and honest master, and, finding himself so well off, fancied that his brothers were the same. His master was an innkeeper, and the whole work of the servant was to prepare, morning and evening, the beds of the guests. He did his duty so well that his master thought of adopting him for his son, as he himself was childless.

               One day a gentleman of great distinction came to pass the night at the inn, and the servant thought that the stranger looked remarkably like his youngest brother. He wished to ask him his name, but could not for shame; partly because he feared his brother would reproach him for having forgotten to go to the cross-roads; partly because the guest's manners were so polished and his clothes were of fine silk and velvet; whereas he had left his brother very poorly clad, and of rustic manners.

               As he thought of the likeness which the guest bore to his youngest brother, he considered that, in his travels about the world, his brother might have found wisdom, and by his wisdom might have succeeded in some way of business, and by his business might have gained money; and then, having got money, that it would be easy for him to get as fine clothes as the stranger wore. Reasoning thus, he took courage at last to ask the gentleman about his family, and at length grew bold enough to ask him plainly if he was not his brother.

               This, however, the stranger quickly and positively denied, and asked, in return, about the servant's family. To all the particulars which the servant gave him he listened with a smile.

               Next morning, the guest left the inn very early; and when the servant went to arrange the bed in which he had slept, he found, under the pillow, a little stone.

               He thought the stone must be valuable, having been in the possession of so rich a man, and yet he considered its loss could hardly be felt by one who went clothed in silks and velvets. He lifted it to his lips to kiss it, before putting it in his pocket; but the moment his lips touched it, two negroes started out and asked him, 'What are your orders, sir?' He was frightened by the suddenness of their appearance, and answered, 'I do not order anything.' Then the negroes disappeared, and he put the stone in his pocket.

               The more he thought of this, the more he marvelled at the wonderful stone, and considered what he should do with it. By-and-by, in order to find out what the negroes could do, he took the stone out of his pocket, and raised it again to his lips. The moment he did so, the negroes re-appeared, and asked him again, 'What do you demand, sir?' He replied quickly, 'I desire to have the finest clothes prepared for me, of which no two pieces must be made from the same kind of stuff.' In a very few moments the negroes brought him the most beautiful clothes possible; so fine indeed were they all, that he could not decide which piece was the most beautiful. Then, dismissing the negroes, who disappeared in the stone, he dressed himself. He was admiring the fine fit of his clothes, when his master came to the door of his room, and, seeing a stranger in such an exceedingly rich dress, said humbly, 'Excuse me, sir, where do you come from?'

               'From not far off,' the servant answered.

               'Wait a moment, sir,' said the innkeeper; 'I will call my servant to take your orders;' and, going outside, he called loudly for his servant.

               Meanwhile, the servant quickly threw off his fine clothes and gave them back to the negroes. Dressing himself hurriedly in his old clothes, he rushed out of his room. Then, finding the pantry open, he began to arrange the things.

               His master found him employed in this way, and ordered him at once to leave that business, and to go into the house to make coffee for a distinguished guest who had that moment arrived.

               The strange guest, however, was nowhere to be found. The innkeeper looked, with his servant, into all the rooms, but there was no sign of a guest anywhere. Then the master, greatly astonished, thought that some thieves had been playing him a trick, and bid the servant in future to look more sharply who came in and who went out of the inn. The servant listened quietly to his master; but, having once remembered his brothers, he had now an irresistible desire to look after them, and so he told the innkeeper that he had resolved to go away, and desired that he might be paid his wages.

               The innkeeper was very sad at hearing this, and offered to raise his wages, and tried all means to keep him; but it was of no use. Seeing that the servant was resolved to go away, the master then paid him, and let him leave the inn. Then the eldest brother took with him his four animals--his bear, wolf, dog, and cat, and went away.

               After travelling a very long time, his good fortune brought him to the cross-roads where he had parted with his brothers. Instantly he rushed to the oak to see if the knives were still sticking in it, but his own knife alone stood in the tree. The two others had fallen out, and he was much grieved at this, believing that his brothers were dead or that they were in great danger. In his trouble he had quite forgotten the wonderful hair and stone which he possessed. He resolved to go and search after his brothers, and therefore went along the same road his youngest brother had taken when they parted.

               As he travelled he remembered the hair which the winged horse had given him, and the stone which he had found at the inn; but these did not much console him, he was so exceedingly sorry for his brothers. After travelling some time he found himself before a large palace, the door-keepers of which asked him if he would take charge of the king's goats. He said he would, if the king could only tell him something about his two brothers, who had travelled that way with a similar company to that which he had. The king said that no men with such a company had passed that way during his reign; and this was quite true, inasmuch as he had only recently mounted the throne, the old king, under whom the two brothers had served, having lately died. However, though the eldest brother could learn nothing of his two younger brothers, he decided to stay some time there, and so engaged himself to the king as goat-keeper.

               As he drove the goats out, day by day, he looked about on all sides for some trace of his brothers; for, although their knives had fallen out of the oak-tree, he tried to believe that they were not dead.

               One day, as he thus wandered about with his goats, he met an old man, who was going to the forest, with his axe on his shoulder, to cut wood.

               So he asked him if he had seen anything of his two brothers. The old man answered, 'Who knows? Perhaps they have been lost on that mountain where so many other men have lost their lives. Drive your goats up that high hill; from its top you will see a much higher mountain, which smokes, and never ceases to smoke. On that mountain many people have been lost; perhaps your brothers also have perished there. I will, however, give you one piece of good advice. Do not go, for anything in the world, to the place where it smokes. I am now an old man, but I never remember to have seen one man return who went there. Therefore, if your life is dear to you, do not go up that mountain.' So saying the old man went off.

               The goat-keeper drove his goats up the hill, and, from its top he saw, as he had been told, a very high mountain which smoked. He tried to discover if any living creature was thereon, but he could not see the traces of a single one there. He considered within himself whether he should go there or not, and, after revolving it over in his mind, he at length determined to go.

               In the evening, when he drove the goats home, he told the king of his intention. The king tried hard to dissuade him, and promised to raise his wages if he would stay with him; however, nothing could turn him from his resolution. So the king paid him, and he went away.

               Having come to the mountain he found the fire, and wondered who lit it. As he thought over this he heard a woman's voice, saying, 'Hy, hy!' So he looked up, and was astonished at seeing, in the branches of the beech-tree over his head, an old woman huddled together. Her hair was longer than her body, and as white as snow. When he looked up, she said to him, 'My son, I am so cold. I should like to warm myself, but I am afraid of your beasts. I made that fire myself, but, seeing you coming with your animals, I was frightened, and got up here to save myself.'

               'Well, you can now come down again, and warm yourself as much as you please,' said he. However, she protested, 'I dare not--your beasts would bite me. But I will throw you a hair, and you shall bind them with it. Then I can come down.' The eldest brother thought to himself: the hair must be a very singular hair indeed, if it could bind his bear, his wolf, his dog, and his cat. So, instead of throwing it over the animals, he threw it into the fire. Meanwhile the old woman came down from the tree, and they both sat by the fire. But he never moved his eyes from her.

               Very soon she began to grow, and grow, and in a short time she was ten yards high. Then he remembered the words of the old wood-cutter, and trembled. However, he only said to her, 'How you are growing, auntie.' 'Oh, no, my son,' she answered, 'I am only warming myself.' She still grew taller and taller, and had grown as tall as the beech-tree, when he again exclaimed, 'But how you are growing, old woman!'

               'Oh, no, my son. I am only warming myself,' she repeated as before.

               But he saw that she meant him mischief, so he shouted to his companions, 'Hold her, my dog! hold her, my little bear! hold her, my little wolf! hold her, my pussy!' Thereupon they all jumped on the old woman, and began to tear her. Seeing she was unable to help herself, she begged him to save her from her furious enemies, and promised she would give him whatever he asked. 'Well,' said he, 'I demand that you bring back to life my two brothers, with their companions, and all those you have destroyed. Besides that, I demand ten loads of ducats. If you will not comply with these demands, I shall leave you to be torn to pieces by my animals.' The old woman agreed to do all this, only she begged hard that one man should not be brought back to life, because she had said, when she had turned him to ashes, 'When you arise, may I lie down in your place!' and, therefore, she was afraid she should be turned to ashes herself if he came back to life.

               As the eldest brother, however, thought that she was trying to cheat him, he would not comply with her request.

               Finding that she could not otherwise help herself, she at length said to him, 'Take some ashes from that heap under the tree, and throw them over yourself and your company, and whilst you do so say, "Arise up, dust and ashes--what I am now may you also be!"'

               Wonder of wonders! The moment he did as she told him, there arose up crowds of men--more than ten thousand of them. On seeing such a multitude of people coming from under the tree, he was almost struck senseless with astonishment. But he explained to them briefly what had happened. Most of them thanked him heartily; some, however, of them would not believe him, and said with anger, 'We would rather you had not awakened us.' Then they went away in crowds; some took one way, some another, until they were all dispersed. Only his two brothers remained behind; though they, too, for some time could not believe that he was their brother. However, when they saw that their animals recognised his, they remembered that no one but themselves had had such a strange company of beasts. Having recognised each other, the brothers fell into each other's arms, and embraced affectionately. Then they divided the ducats which the old woman had given to the eldest, loaded their animals with their treasures, and went straight away towards the place where they were born, and where their parents had died.

               As for the old woman, when the last man arose from the ashes under the oak-tree, she herself crumbled into ashes under it.

               The three brothers built three fine palaces for themselves, and lived therein some time unmarried. At length, however, they began to think what would become of all their property after their deaths, and said to each other that it would be a pity for them to die without heirs. So they resolved to marry, that their wealth might be left to their sons and daughters.

               The eldest brother said, 'Let me go and find the best wives I can for all three of us; meantime you two will remain here, and take care of our property.' The others gladly agreed to this, as the eldest brother had given proofs enough that he was by far the wisest of the three, and they felt sure that he would be able also to bring this important business to a successful issue. So he made the needful preparations, and started on his journey to look out for three wives for himself and the two younger brothers who remained at home.

               After long travelling he arrived at a large city, and resolved to remain there all night, and to continue his journey in the morning.

               It happened that the king of that place had just arranged a horse-race, and promised his only daughter as the prize, and, with her, ten loads of treasure to the winner.

               The very evening the eldest brother arrived he heard the public bell-man proclaiming aloud through the streets, that every one who had a horse should come to-morrow to the royal field, and whoever should spring first over the ditch should be rewarded with the king's daughter, and should receive, with her, ten loads of gold.

               He listened to the proclamation without saying anything. Next morning he went out into the king's field in order to see the racing, and found there already innumerable horses of all kinds.

               A little later came also the princess, the king's daughter, and behind her were brought ten loads of treasures.

               When he saw the king's daughter he thought her so exceedingly beautiful that he went instantly a little aside from the crowd to get a better sight of her. He then remembered his wonderful stone. Taking it out he now lifted it to his lips, and immediately the two negroes appeared, and said, 'Master what do you command?' He replied, 'Bring me clothes of silk and velvet, together with precious stones, and ten good horses! and bring them as soon as possible!' He had not winked twice before the negroes had placed before him everything which he had demanded. Then he took out the hair, and striking fire with a flint, held the hair near it. The moment he did this, the same cream-coloured horse that had given him the hair stood beside him, and asked, 'Master, what do you command?' He answered, 'I wish that to-day we leave all the other horses behind us in the race, so that I may gain the king's daughter. Therefore prepare yourself, and let us go at once, as the other horses are now ready for starting.'

               The instant he had spoken these words, the cream-coloured horse stood, pawing the earth, ready and eager to begin the race. The man then mounted it, and off they went. The other racers, having started a few moments before, were already pretty far from the starting-point; in an instant, however, he had reached them, and in another had passed and left them far behind. When he reached the ditch--which was a hundred and five yards deep, and a hundred yards wide--the horse made so great a spring that it touched ground some fifty yards beyond the ditch, broad as it was.

               Then he rode back and took the maiden, the king's daughter, and, placing her behind him on his horse, carried her off, together with the loads of gold. All the people, seeing this, wondered greatly who the strange knight could be who had left all the best horses so far behind in the race, and had won the beautiful princess, with all her rich treasures.

               He rode along until he came to a wood pretty far from the city, and there he let his wonderful horse go until he should want him again. He then took off all his beautiful clothes, and put on his old dress, and in this manner went on with the maiden and the loads of gold.

               About evening he arrived at a strange city, and decided to remain there. After he had rested a little while, the people in the inn told him that all day long the city bell-man had proclaimed, that whoever had a good horse should go to-morrow to the horse-race, for the king of the palace had offered his only daughter as a prize, together with a hundredweight of gold and jewels; but that there was a ditch to be sprung over which was three hundred and fifty yards deep and a hundred and fifty yards wide. When he heard this he was greatly pleased, for he was quite sure that he should win this race also.

               Next morning, by the help of the little stone and the wonderful hair, he was again dressed in the finest clothes, and mounted on his cream-coloured horse, and so took his place amongst the racers.

               Every one wondered from what country this knight came, and were delighted at his rich dress; as for the horse, the people were never tired of admiring it. When the race-horses were arranged for the start he remained purposely behind. He knew well enough that this was of no consequence to him, as in one moment he could reach and pass them all. At length he started, and in a moment distanced the fleetest horse, arriving at the ditch, and leaping over it as if it were nothing. Then, without waiting a minute, he took possession of the king's daughter and her treasures, and went straight to the city where he had left the first king's daughter and her loads of gold.

               Taking the two princesses and all the wealth with him, he now thought that it was time for him to go back home. On his way, however, he had the great good luck to come again to a large city, where he resolved to remain during the night. There, also, the public crier had been proclaiming all day long, that the king had determined to give his only daughter and fifteen hundredweight of gold to whoever should win the race which was to be run on the morrow. In this instance, however, the horses would have to leap over a ditch one thousand yards deep and four hundred and fifty yards wide. On hearing this proclamation, the eldest brother became very joyful, for he knew that no racer had any chance of beating his wonderful horse.

               On the morrow, therefore, by means of his little stone and the hair, he ordered fifteen horses to be ready, to carry away the treasures he felt sure of winning, and, at the same time, directed the negroes to bring him his fairy courser and dresses so splendid that not even a king could buy them.

               Richly dressed in this way, and mounted, as he was, on his marvellous horse, all the world, who had gathered to see the great race, could look at nothing except at him.

               When all the racers were arranged for the start, he lingered behind and let them all speed off like falcons. He wished every one to see that he was the last to start, that they might not charge him afterwards with having in any way cheated. When they had already gone pretty far, he started himself, and in a moment he had reached them, passed them, and left them all a long, long distance behind. How could it be otherwise? When did the crow outfly the falcon? Coming to the ditch, he touched the bridle a little, and, in an instant, his horse had leaped over the ditch, and they were safe on the other side. So, without any delay, he took away the maiden, together with all the gold, and went back to the city. Having collected his immense treasures, he now took with him the three princesses, and went straight home. As he travelled along with his company, every one who met him asked him, 'Where are you going? are the girls for sale?' For you see the princesses were exceedingly beautiful. But beyond all others his two brothers, when he reached home, wondered and were delighted at the sight of the three beautiful princesses. They did not rejoice half so much over the great riches he had gained for them as over the marvellous fairness of the kings' daughters whom he had brought to be their wives.

               Thus each of the three brothers married a beautiful princess; the eldest brother, however, who had shown himself so much the bravest and wisest of them, married the youngest and most beautiful of the three.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Three Brothers, The
Tale Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Book Title: Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition)
Book Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Publisher: Columbus Printing, Publishing and Advertising Company
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1899
Country of Origin: Serbia
Classification: unclassified

Back to Top