There once lived a King who became very ill. The kingdom despaired, not least his three sons who went out into the palace gardens in grief and there they met an old man.
“I know a way to save your father”, the old man claimed. “If he drinks the water of life, he will find health again. But it is very difficult to find”.
The eldest son sought to embark on the quest and asked the King’s permission, thinking that if he succeeds in saving the king his good deed will mean he will inherit the kingdom.
A long time into his journey he met a dwarf on the road.
“Where do you go in such a great hurry?” asked the dwarf.
“Out of my way, dwarf, I have more important matters to attend to than talking with you!”
Now the dwarf didn’t like this and it made him a little angry so he cursed the eldest son and soon after the prince came into a narrow mountain pass and the more he rode into it the narrower it grew until eventually he got stuck not able to go forwards nor go backwards. He sat there in disbelief.
When the eldest son didn’t return the next son leapt into action promising to embark on the perilous journey thinking ‘the kingdom will come to me if I succeed’. And, of course, as is the way in such stories, he followed the same foolish steps as his older brother, scorning the dwarf, who, slighted, exacted his own peculiar revenge sticking him in the mountain pass. Both brothers could move neither forward nor backwards. Such is the fate of the arrogant. They always run out of road.
Finally, the third and youngest brother went out with the last hope of saving the king. He too, after a period of time, came to the dwarf.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” asked the dwarf.
“I seek the water of life, for my father, the king, who is very sick” replied the young prince.
“The water of life flows from a fountain in the court of an enchanted castle. You can only penetrate the castle with an iron rod and two loaves of bread which I will give you.”
The prince was to knock three times on the Iron door with the rod, before throwing bread to the hungry lions inside. Then he must fetch the water and leave the castle before twelve or he would be trapped in there.
Thanking the dwarf, the prince set out on his journey.
Arriving at the castle, he did as he was told. From one of the rooms he took a sword and some bread that lay there. In another room he met a lovely maiden who kissed him and told him he had freed her. She promised that in a years’ time she would marry him and he would have her whole kingdom. The maiden gave him directions as to where to gather the water of life. Just before twelve the prince escaped out of the castle with the water.
On the way home he met the dwarf again. The prince did not want to return without his brothers so he asked the dwarf to set them free. This he did, but the dwarf warned the prince to be wary of them, for his brothers had evil in their hearts.
The prince told his brothers of his escapades and triumphs. After the tale the three brothers rode away and soon entered a kingdom where war and famine were raging. With the bread and sword he had gotten from the castle, the prince gifted the King and ended the war and famine. He travelled onwards and twice more met Kingdoms suffering with war and famine and twice more he healed them with his gifts.
After this the three brothers boarded a ship that brought them across a sea to their homeland. The two elder brothers consulted. They realised that they were coming back empty handed and would look inept in the eyes of the King, compared to their young brother. He would be granted the kingdom and they would be left with nothing. They schemed to take the water of life and refill the cup carrying it with salt water. Thus, when the young prince offered his father the cup (now filled with salt-water) it made him sicker. Then the older brothers swooped in with the healing water of life and accused their younger sibling of poisoning the king.
The King was angry and after consulting his court decided his young son must be punished so sent him out with the huntsman who was ordered to kill him when they reached the wood. With a heavy heart the huntsman confessed to the young prince what he had been told to do. The prince pleaded for his life and the huntsman agreed to spare him. The prince disappeared off deeper into the wood, not to return.
Soon after, gifts of gold arrived by the wagon load for the young son in gratitude for his generosity in resolving the problems of the neighbouring kingdoms. This gave the king pause for thought. Perhaps he had got it wrong. Maybe his son was not guilty after all. The huntsman spoke up and informed the King that his son in fact lives, for he did not have the heart to kill him. The King, greatly relieved, sent word throughout the Kingdom that if his son returned, he would be welcomed.
Meanwhile the day was approaching of the marriage to the princess and she had made a road of pure gold up to her castle and informed her attendants that whoever should ride up there in a straight line would indeed be the right person and should enter the castle. If anyone rode upon the side of the road, they should be denied access.
Of course, the two older brothers, one by one rode up and both thinking it a shame to ride along the gold, rode by the side of the road. Both were turned away when they got to the gates. The young prince who had been wandering around in the forest, arrived and so busy was he thinking about his beloved princess that he failed to notice the gold on the road and rode right over it. The princess met him at the door and soon after they were married.
The prince also heard of his father’s forgiveness and returned back to the King’s palace where he informed his father of his brother’s treachery. Meanwhile the two other brothers had taken themselves off on a ship and were not to be seen again.