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The Water of Life

LONG before you and I were born there reigned, in a country a great way off, a king who had three sons. This king once fell very ill, so ill that nobody thought he would live. His sons were very much grieved at their father’s sickness; and as they walked weeping in the garden of the palace, an old man met them and asked what they ailed. They told him their father was so ill that they were afraid nothing could save him. ‘I know what would,’ said the old man; ‘it is the Water of Life. If he could have a draught of it he would be well again, but it is very hard to get.’ Then the eldest son said, ‘I will soon find it,’ and went to the sick king, and begged that he might go in search of the Water of Life, as it was the only thing that could save him. ‘No,’ said the king; ‘I had rather die than place you in such great danger as you must meet with in your journey.’ But he begged so hard that the king let him go; and the prince thought to himself; ‘If I bring my father this water I shall be his dearest son, and he will make me heir to his kingdom.’ Then he set out, and when he had gone on his way some time he came to, a deep valley overhung with rocks and woods; and as he looked around there stood above him on one of the rocks a little dwarf; who called out to him and said, ‘Prince, whither hastest thou so fast?’ ‘What is that to you, little ugly one?’ said the prince sneeringly, and rode on his way. But the little dwarf fell into a great rage at his behaviour, and laid a spell of ill luck upon him, so that, as he rode on, the mountain pass seemed to become narrower and narrower, and at last the way was so straitened that he could not go a step forward, and when he thought to have turned his horse round and gone back the way he came, the passage be found had closed behind also, and shut him quite up; he next tried to get off his horse and make his way on foot, but this he was unable to do, and so there he was forced to abide spell-bound. Meantime the king his father was lingering on in daily hope of his return, till at last the second son said, ‘Father, I will go in search of this Water;’ for he thought to himself, ‘My brother is surely dead, and the kingdom will fall to me if I have good luck in my journey.’ The king was at first very unwilling to let him go, but at last yielded to his wish. So he set out and followed the same road which his brother had taken, and met the same dwarf, who stopped him at the same spot, and said as before, ‘Prince, whither hasted thou so fast?’ ‘Mind your own affairs, busy body!’ answered the prince scornfully, and rode off. But the dwarf put the same enchantment upon him, and when he came like the other to the narrow pass in the mountains he could neither move forward nor backward. Thus it is with proud silly people, who think themselves too wise to take advice. When the second prince had thus stayed away a long while, the youngest said he would go and search for the Water of Life, and trusted he should soon be able to make his father well again. The dwarf met him too at the same spot, and said, ‘Prince, whither hastest thou so fast?’ and the prince said, ‘I go in search of the Water of Life, because my father is ill and like to die: - can you help me?’ ‘Do you know where it is to be found?’ asked the dwarf. ‘No,’ said the prince. ‘Then as you have spoken to me kindly and sought for advice, I will tell you how and where to go. The Water you seek springs from a well in an enchanted castle, and that you may be able to go in safety I will give you an iron wand and two little loaves of bread; strike the iron door of the castle three times with the wand, and it will open: two hungry lions will be lying down inside gaping for their prey; but if you throw them the bread they will let you pass; then hasten onto the well and take some of the Water of Life before the clock strikes twelve, for if .you tarry longer the door will shut upon you for ever.’ Then the prince thanked the dwarf for his friendly, aid, and took the wand and the bread and went travelling on and on over sea and land, till he came to his journey’s end, and found every thing to be as the dwarf had told him. The door flew open at the third stroke of the wand, and when the lions were quieted he went on through the castle, and came at length to a beautiful hail; around it he saw several knights sitting in a trance; then he pulled off their rings and put them on his own fingers. In another room be saw on a table a sword and a loaf of bread, which he also took. Farther on he came to a room where a beautiful young lady sat upon a couch, who welcomed him joyfully, and said, if he would set her free from the spell that bound her, the kingdom should be his if he would come back in a year and marry her; then she told him that the well that held the Water of Life was in the palace gardens, and bade him make haste and draw what he wanted before the clock struck twelve. Then he went on, and as he walked through beautiful gardens he came to a delightful shady spot in which stood a couch; and he thought to himself, as he felt tired, that he would rest himself for a while and gaze on the lovely scenes around him. So he laid himself down, and sleep fell upon him unawares and he did not wake up till the clock was striking a quarter to twelve; then he sprung from the couch dreadfully frightened, ran to the well, filled a cup that was standing by him full of Water, and hastened to get away in time. Just as he was going out of the iron door it struck twelve, and the door fell so quickly upon him that it tore away a piece of his heel. When he found himself safe he was overjoyed to think that he had got the Water of Life; and as he was going on his way homewards, he passed by the little dwarf, who when he saw the sword and the loaf said, ‘You have made a noble prize; with the sword you can at a blow slay whole armies, and the bread will never fail.’ Then the prince thought to himself; ‘I cannot go home to my father without my brothers;’ so he said, ‘Dear dwarf, cannot you tell me where my two brothers are, who set out in search of the Water of Life before me and never came back?’ ‘I have shut them up by a charm between two mountains,’ said the dwarf; ‘because they were proud and ill behaved, and scorned to ask advice.’ The prince begged so hard for hit brothers that the dwarf at last set them free, though unwillingly, saying, ‘Beware of them, for they have bad hearts.’ Their brother, however, was greatly rejoiced to see them, and told them all that had happened to him, how he had found the Water of Life, and had taken a cup full of it, and how he had set a beautiful princess free from a spell that bound her; and how she had engaged to wait a year, and then to marry him and give him the kingdom. Then they all three rode on together, and on their way home came to a country that was laid waste by war and a dreadful famine, so that it was feared all must die for want. But the prince gave the king of the land the bread, and all his kingdom ate of it. And he slew the enemy’s army with the wonderful sword, and left the kingdom in peace and plenty. In the same manner he befriended two other countries that they passed through on their way. When they came to the sea, they got into a ship, and during their voyage the two eldest said to themselves,. ‘Our ...