The Three Feathers

(Die drei Federn)

[From Zwehrn. First published in the edition of 1819. About the Grimm Collection.]

Once upon a time there was a king who had three sons. Of these, two were canny and clever, but the third didn’t talk much, was simple-minded, and was just called the Dunce. When the king grew old and weak and began to think about his end, he didn’t know which of his sons should inherit the kingdom after him. “Go out,” he said to them, “and whoever brings me the finest carpet shall be king after my death.” To avoid any quarreling among them he led them outside his palace, blew three feathers into the air, and said, “Where they blow, there you go.” The first feather flew east, the second west, the third, however, flew straight ahead and not far, but soon dropped to the ground. One brother now went to the right, and the second to the left, and they laughed at the Dunce who had to stay where the third feather had dropped.

The Dunce sat down and was sad. He suddenly noticed a trapdoor beside the feather; he lifted it up, found a stair, and went down. Then he came to another door, knocked, and heard a voice inside calling,

Maiden green and small,
Hop-toad’s puppy,
Hop to and fro!
Let’s see quickly who’s outside.

The door opened of itself, and he saw a big fat toad sitting there with a lot of little toads around about it. The big toad asked what he desired. “I’d like to have the most beautiful and finest carpet,” he answered. Then it called a young toad and said,

Maiden young and small,
Hop-toad’s puppy,
Hop to and fro!
Bring me the big box.

The young toad fetched the box. The fat toad opened it and from it gave the Dunce a carpet more beautiful and finer than anybody up on earth could have woven. He thanked the toad and went up again.

The two others, however, regarded their youngest brother as so stupid that they thought he’d find nothing and get nothing. “Why should we go to any great trouble with our search?” they said, stripped the coarse rags off the first shepherd’s wife they met, and brought them home to the king. At the same time the Dunce came back with his fine carpet. When the king saw that, he was astonished and said, “By right the kingdom belongs to the younest.” However, the two others left their father no peace, saying that the Dunce, having no understanding of anything, couldn’t possibly become king, and begged him to establish a new condition.

Then the father said, “Whoever brings me the finest ring shall inherit the kingdom,” took the three brothers outdoors, and blew into the air the three feathers which they were to follow. The two eldest again went east and west, but the Dunce’s feather flew straight ahead and dropped beside the opening in the earth. Again he went down to the fat toad and told it he needed the finest ring. It had its big box brought at once and from it gave him a ring sparkling with precious stones and more beautiful than any goldsmith on earth could have fashioned. The two elder brothers laughed at the Dunce for going to look for a gold ring, took no pains at all, just knocked the nails out of an old carriage tire, and brought it to the king. But when the Dunce displayed his gold ring, the father again said, “The kingdom belongs to him.”

The two elder brothers didn’t cease plaguing the king until he established still a third condition and declared that whoever brought home the fairest woman should have the kingdom. Once again he blew the three feathers into the air, and they flew as on the previous occasions.

Without further ado the Dunce went down to the fat toad and said, “I’m supposed to bring home the fairest woman.”

“My!” answered the toad, “the fairest woman! She isn’t right on hand, but nevertheless you shall have her.” It gave him a scooped-out yellow turnip to which six mice were harnessed. Then the Dunce said quite sadly, “What shall I do with that?” “Just put one of my little toads in it,” answered the toad. At random he seized one out of the group and put it in the yellow coach. No sooner was it inside than it became a most beautiful damsel, the turnip became a coach, and the six mice turned into horses. Then he kissed her, raced off with the horses, and brought her to the king. Later his brothers came; they’d taken no pains at all to look for a beautiful woman but had brought along the first peasant women they’d met. When the king saw her, he said, “The kingdom belongs to the youngest after my death.”

Once more the two eldest deafened the king’s ears with their outcries, saying, “We can’t agree to the Dunce becoming king,” and demanded that preference be given to the one whose woman could jump through a hoop that was hanging in the middle of the hall. They thought, “The peasant women can do that easily; they’re strong enough, but the delicate damsel will jump to her death.” Once again the old king yielded. Then the two peasant women actually jumped through the hoop but were so clumsy that they fell and broke their big arms and legs. Then the fair damsel whom the Dunce had brought along, jumped, and jumped through as easily as a roe deer, and all opposition had to cease.

Accordingly he received the crown and ruled wisely for a long time.


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