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The Devil and His Grandmother
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore

There was a great war, and the king had many soldiers, but gave them
small pay, so small that they could not live upon it, so three of
them agreed among themselves to desert. One of them said to the
others, "If we are caught we shall be hanged on the gallows, how
shall we manage it?" Another said, "Look at that great cornfield, if
we were to hide ourselves there, no one could find us, the troops are
not allowed to enter it, and to-morrow they are to march away." They
crept into the corn, only the troops did not march away, but remained
lying all round about it. They stayed in the corn for two days and
two nights, and were so hungry that they all but died, but if they
had come out, their death would have been certain. Then said they,
"What is the use of our deserting if we have to perish miserably

But now a fiery dragon came flying through the air, and it came down
to them, and asked why they had concealed themselves there. They
answered, "We are three soldiers who have deserted because the pay
was so bad, and now we shall have to die of hunger if we stay here,
or to dangle on the gallows if we go out." "If you will serve me for
seven years," said the dragon, "I will convey you through the army so
that no one shall seize you." "We have no choice and are compelled to
accept," they replied. Then the dragon caught hold of them with his
claws, and carried them away through the air over the army, and put
them down again on the earth far from it, but the dragon was no other
than the devil. He gave them a small whip and said, "Whip with it
and crack it, and then as much gold will spring up round about as you
can wish for, then you can live like great lords, keep horses, and
drive your carriages, but when the seven years have come to an end,
you are my property."

Then he put before them a book which they were all three forced to
sign. "But first I will ask you a riddle," said he, "and if you can
guess it, you shall be free, and released from my power." Then the
dragon flew away from them, and they went away with their whip, had
gold in plenty, ordered themselves rich apparel, and traveled about
the world. Wherever they were they lived in pleasure and
magnificence, rode on horseback, drove in carriages, ate and drank,
but did nothing wicked. The time slipped quickly by, and when the
seven years were coming to an end, two of them were terribly anxious
and alarmed, but the third took the affair easily, and said,
"Brothers, fear nothing, I still have my wits about me, I shall guess
the riddle." They went out into the open country and sat down, and
the two pulled sorrowful faces. Then an aged woman came up to them
who inquired why they were so sad. "Well," said they, "what has that
got to do with you? After all, you cannot help us." "Who knows?"
said she. "Just confide your trouble to me." So they told her that
they had been the devil's servants for nearly seven years, and that
he had provided them with gold as though it were hay, but that they
had sold themselves to him, and were forfeited to him, if at the end
of the seven years they could not guess a riddle.

The old woman said, "If you are to be saved, one of you must go into
the forest, there he will come to a fallen rock which looks like a
little house, he must enter that, and then he will obtain help." The
two melancholy ones thought to themselves, "That will still not save
us," and stayed where they were, but the third, the merry one, got up
and walked on in the forest until he found the rockhouse. In the
little house a very aged woman was sitting, who was the devil's
grandmother, and asked the soldier where he came from, and what he
wanted there. He told her everything that had happened, and as he
pleased her well, she had pity on him, and said she would help him.
She lifted up a great stone which lay above a cellar, and said,
"Conceal yourself there, you can hear everything that is said here,
only sit still, and do not stir. When the dragon comes, I will
question him about the riddle, he tells everything to me, so listen
carefully to his answer."

At twelve o'clock at night, the dragon came flying thither, and asked
for his dinner. The grandmother laid the table, and served up food
and drink, so that he was pleased, and they ate and drank together.
In the course of conversation, she asked him what kind of a day he
had had, and how many souls he had got. "Nothing went very well
to-day," he answered, "but I have laid hold of three soldiers, I have
them safe." "Indeed? Three soldiers, they're clever, they may escape
you yet." The devil said mockingly, "They are mine. I will set them
a riddle, which they will never be able to guess." "What riddle is
that?" she inquired. "I will tell you, in the great north sea lies a
dead dogfish, that shall be your roast meat, and the rib of a whale
shall be your silver spoon, and a hollow old horse's hoof shall be
your wineglass."

When the devil had gone to bed, the old grandmother raised up the
stone, and let out the soldier. "Did you give heed to everything?"
"Yes," said he, "I know enough, and will save myself." Then he had to
go back another way, through the window, secretly and with all speed
to his companions. He told them how the devil had been outwitted by
the old grandmother, and how he had learned the answer to the riddle
from him. Then they were all delighted, and of good cheer, and took
the whip and whipped so much gold for themselves that it ran all over
the ground.

When the seven years had fully gone by, the devil came with the book,
showed the signatures, and said, "I will take you with me to hell.
There you shall have a meal. If you can guess what kind of roast
meat you will have to eat, you shall be free and released from your
bargain, and may keep the whip as well." Then the first soldier began
and said, "In the great north sea lies a dead dogfish, that no doubt
is the roast meat."

The devil was angry, and began to mutter, "Hm. Hm. Hm." And asked the
second, "But what will your spoon be?" "The rib of a whale, that is
to be our silver spoon." The devil made a wry face, again growled,
"Hm. Hm. Hm." He said to the third, "And do you also know what your
wineglass is to be?" "An old horse's hoof is to be our wineglass."
Then the devil flew away with a loud cry, and had no more power over
them, but the three kept the whip, whipped as much money for
themselves with it as they wanted, and lived happily to their end.