|Fairy Tales Home
The Water of Life
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
There was once a king who had an illness, and no one believed that he
would come out of it with his life. He had three sons who were much
distressed about it, and went down into the palace-garden and wept.
There they met an old man who inquired as to the cause of their
grief. They told him that their father was so ill that he would most
certainly die, for nothing seemed to cure him. Then the old man
said, "I know of one more remedy, and that is the water of life. If
he drinks of it he will become well again, but it is hard to find."
The eldest said, "I will manage to find it." And went to the sick
king, and begged to be allowed to go forth in search of the water of
life, for that alone could save him. "No," said the king, "the
danger of it is too great. I would rather die."
But he begged so long that the king consented. The prince thought in
his heart, "If I bring the water, then I shall be best beloved of my
father, and shall inherit the kingdom." So he set out, and when he
had ridden forth a little distance, a dwarf stood there in the road
who called to him and said, "Whither away so fast?" "Silly shrimp,"
said the prince, very haughtily, "it is nothing to do with you." And
rode on. But the little dwarf had grown angry, and had wished an
evil wish. Soon after this the prince entered a ravine, and the
further he rode the closer the mountains drew together, and at last
the road became so narrow that he could not advance a step further.
It was impossible either to turn his horse or to dismount from the
saddle, and he was shut in there as if in prison. The sick king
waited long for him, but he came not.
Then the second son said, "father, let me go forth to seek the
water." And thought to himself, "If my brother is dead, then the
kingdom will fall to me." At first the king would not allow him to go
either, but at last he yielded, so the prince set out on the same
road that his brother had taken, and he too met the dwarf, who
stopped him to ask whither he was going in such haste. "Little
shrimp," said the prince, "that is nothing to do with you." And rode
on without giving him another look. But the dwarf bewitched him, and
he, like the other, rode into a ravine, and could neither go forwards
nor backwards. So fare haughty people.
As the second son also remained away, the youngest begged to be
allowed to go forth to fetch the water, and at last the king was
obliged to let him go. When he met the dwarf and the latter asked
him whither he was going in such haste, he stopped, gave him an
explanation, and said, "I am seeking the water of life, for my father
is sick unto death."
"Do you know, then, where that is to be found?"
"No," said the prince.
"As you have borne yourself as is seemly, and not haughtily like your
false brothers, I will give you the information and tell you how you
may obtain the water of life. It springs from a fountain in the
courtyard of an enchanted castle, but you will not be able to make
your way to it, if I do not give you an iron wand and two small
loaves of bread. Strike thrice with the wand on the iron door of the
castle and it will spring open, inside lie two lions with gaping
jaws, but if you throw a loaf to each of them, they will be quieted.
Then hasten to fetch some of the water of life before the clock
strikes twelve else the door will shut again, and you will be
The prince thanked him, took the wand and the bread, and set out on
his way. When he arrived, everything was as the dwarf had said. The
door sprang open at the third stroke of the wand, and when he had
appeased the lions with the bread, he entered the castle, and came to
a large and splendid hall, wherein sat some enchanted princes whose
rings he drew off their fingers. A sword and a loaf of bread were
lying there, which he carried away. After this, he entered a
chamber, in which was a beautiful maiden who rejoiced when she saw
him, kissed him, and told him that he had set her free, and should
have the whole of her kingdom, and that if he would return in a year
their wedding should be celebrated. Likewise she told him where the
spring of the water of life was, and that he was to hasten and draw
some of it before the clock struck twelve. Then he went onwards, and
at last entered a room where there was a beautiful newly-made bed,
and as he was very weary, he felt inclined to rest a little. So he
lay down and fell asleep.
When he awoke, it was striking a quarter to twelve. He sprang up in
a fright, ran to the spring, drew some water in a cup which stood
near, and hastened away. But just as he was passing through the iron
door, the clock struck twelve, and the door fell to with such
violence that it carried away a piece of his heel.
He, however, rejoicing at having obtained the water of life, went
homewards, and again passed the dwarf. When the latter saw the sword
and the loaf, he said, "With these you have won great wealth, with
the sword you can slay whole armies, and the bread will never come to
an end." But the prince would not go home to his father without his
brothers, and said, "Dear dwarf, can you not tell me where my two
brothers are? They went out before I did in search of the water of
life, and have not returned."
"They are imprisoned between two mountains," said the dwarf. "I have
condemned them to stay there, because they were so haughty." Then the
prince begged until the dwarf released them, but he warned him and
said, "Beware of them, for they have bad hearts." When his brothers
came, he rejoiced, and told them how things had gone with him, that
he had found the water of life and had brought a cupful away with
him, and had rescued a beautiful princess, who was willing to wait a
year for him, and then their wedding was to be celebrated and he
would obtain a great kingdom.
After that they rode on together, and chanced upon a land where war
and famine reigned, and the king already thought he must perish, for
the scarcity was so great. Then the prince went to him and gave him
the loaf, wherewith he fed and satisfied the whole of his kingdom,
and then the prince gave him the sword also wherewith he slew the
hosts of his enemies, and could now live in rest and peace. The
prince then took back his loaf and his sword, and the three brothers
rode on. But after this they entered two more countries where war
and famine reigned and each time the prince gave his loaf and his
sword to the kings, and had now delivered three kingdoms, and after
that they went on board a ship and sailed over the sea. During the
passage, the two eldest conversed apart and said, "The youngest has
found the water of life and not we, for that our father will give him
the kingdom - the kingdom which belongs to us, and he will rob us of
all our fortune." They then began to seek revenge, and plotted with
each other to destroy him. They waited until they found him fast
asleep, then they poured the water of life out of the cup, and took
it for themselves, but into the cup they poured salt sea-water.
Now therefore, when they arrived home, the youngest took his cup to
the sick king in order that he might drink out of it, and be cured.
But scarcely had he drunk a very little of the salt sea-water than he
became still worse than before. And as he was lamenting over this,
the two eldest brothers came, and accused the youngest of having
intended to poison him, and said that they had brought him the true
water of life, and handed it to him. He had scarcely tasted it, when
he felt his sickness departing, and became strong and healthy as in
the days of his youth.
After that they both went to the youngest, mocked him, and said, "You
certainly found the water of life, but you have had the pain, and we
the gain, you should have been cleverer, and should have kept your
eyes open. We took it from you whilst you were asleep at sea, and
when a year is over, one of us will go and fetch the beautiful
princess. But beware that you do not disclose aught of this to our
father, indeed he does not trust you, and if you say a single word,
you shall lose your life into the bargain, but if you keep silent,
you shall have it as a gift."
The old king was angry with his youngest son, and thought he had
plotted against his life. So he summoned the court together and had
sentence pronounced upon his son, that he should be secretly shot.
And once when the prince was riding forth to the chase, suspecting no
evil, the king's huntsman was told to go with him, and when they were
quite alone in the forest, the huntsman looked so sorrowful that the
prince said to him, "Dear huntsman, what ails you?" The huntsman
said, "I cannot tell you, and yet I ought." Then the prince said,
"Say openly what it is, I will pardon you." "Alas," said the
huntsman, "I am to shoot you dead, the king has ordered me to do it."
Then the prince was shocked, and said, "Dear huntsman, let me live,
there, I give you my royal garments, give me your common ones in
their stead." The huntsman said, "I will willingly do that, indeed I
would not have been able to shoot you." Then they exchanged clothes,
and the huntsman returned home, while the prince went further into
After a time three waggons of gold and precious stones came to the
king for his youngest son, which were sent by the three kings who had
slain their enemies with the prince's sword, and maintained their
people with his bread, and who wished to show their gratitude for it.
The old king then thought, "Can my son have been innocent?" And said
to his people, "Would that he were still alive, how it grieves me
that I have suffered him to be killed." "He still lives," said the
huntsman, "I could not find it in my heart to carry out your
command." And told the king how it had happened. Then a stone fell
from the king's heart, and he had it proclaimed in every country that
his son might return and be taken into favor again.
The princess, however, had a road made up to her palace which was
quite bright and golden, and told her people that whosoever came
riding straight along it to her, would be the right one and was to be
admitted, and whoever rode by the side of it, was not the right one
and was not to be admitted.
As the time was now close at hand, the eldest thought he would hasten
to go to the king's daughter, and give himself out as her rescuer,
and thus win her for his bride, and the kingdom to boot. Therefore
he rode forth, and when he arrived in front of the palace, and saw
the splendid golden road, he thought, it would be a sin and a shame
if I were to ride over that. And turned aside, and rode on the right
side of it. But when he came to the door, the servants told him that
he was not the right one, and was to go away again.
Soon after this the second prince set out, and when he came to the
golden road, and his horse had put one foot on it, he thought, it
would be a sin and a shame, a piece might be trodden off. And he
turned aside and rode on the left side of it, and when he reached the
door, the attendants told him he was not the right one, and he was to
go away again.
When at last the year had entirely expired, the third son likewise
wished to ride out of the forest to his beloved, and with her forget
his sorrows. So he set out and thought of her so incessantly, and
wished to be with her so much, that he never noticed the golden road
at all. So his horse rode onwards up the middle of it, and when he
came to the door, it was opened and the princess received him with
joy, and said he was her saviour, and lord of the kingdom, and their
wedding was celebrated with great rejoicing. When it was over she
told him that his father invited him to come to him, and had forgiven
So he rode thither, and told him everything, how his brothers had
betrayed him, and how he had nevertheless kept silence. The old king
wished to punish them, but they had put to sea, and never came back
as long as they lived.