Once upon a time there was a king who had several sons. I don't know exactly how many there were. The youngest had no rest at home, for nothing would please him but to go out into the world and try his luck. After a long time the king was had to let him go. After he had traveled some days, he came to a giant's house, and there he got a place in the giant's service. In the morning the giant went off to herd his goats, and as he left the yard he told the prince to clean out the stable; "After you have finished, you can have the rest of the day off, for you must know that you have come to an easy master. But when you are asked to do something, you must do it well, and don't even think of going into any of the rooms that are beyond the one where you slept last night, for if you do, it will cost you your life."
"I surely do have an easy master," said the prince to himself, as he walked up and down the room humming and singing, for he thought there was plenty of time to clean out the stable. "But it would be good to take just a peep into his other rooms, for there must be something in them that he doesn't want me to see, since he won't allow me to enter them."
He went into the first room, and there was a pot boiling on a hook by the wall, but the prince saw no fire underneath it. I wonder what is inside it, he thought. He dipped a lock of his hair into it, and the hair seemed to have turned to copper. "What a nice stew," he said. "If you tasted it, it would do something to your gullet." With that he went into the next room.
There, too, was a pot hanging by a hook. It, too, was bubbling and boiling, although there was also no fire under it. "I may as well try this too," said the prince. He put another lock into the pot, and it came out looking like silver. "We don't have such expensive stew at my father's house," said the prince. "But the important thing is how it tastes." With that he went into the third room.
There, too, hung a pot, boiling just as he had seen in the two other rooms, and the prince wanted to test this one as well, so he dipped a lock of hair into it, and it came out looking like pure gold, so that the light gleamed from it. "This is getting worse and worse," said the old woman. "No, it's getting better and better," said the prince. "If he is cooking up gold in here, I wonder what he is cooking up in the next room."
He wanted to see; so he went through the door into the fourth room. Well, there was no pot to be seen in there, but there was a girl -- she was certainly a princess -- seated on a bench. Whoever she was, she was so beautiful that the prince had never seen anyone like her all his born days.
"Oh, in Jesus' name," she said, "what do you want here?"
"I entered service here yesterday," said the prince.
"Service indeed! May God help you out of it!" she said.
"Well, I think I've got an easy master; he hasn't given me much to do today. As soon as I have cleaned out the stable my day's work is over."
"Yes, but how will you do it?" she said; "for if you set to work to clean it like other people, ten pitchforks full will come back in for every one that you throw out. But I will teach you what to do. Turn the fork upside down, and throw with the handle, and then everything will fly out by itself."
He said that he would do it that way, and then he sat there the whole day, for he and the princess soon decided that they wanted to get married. Thus, the first day of his service with the giant went by very quickly indeed. As evening approached, she said that he should go and clean out the stable before the giant came home. He went out to the stable, and thought he would just see if what she had said were true, and so he began to work like he had seen the servants in his father's stable do; but he soon had to stop, for he hadn't worked a minute before the stable was so full of dung that he hadn't room to stand. Then he did what the princess had told him to do: He turned the fork upside down and worked with the handle. In an instant the stable was as clean as if it had been scoured. When he was finished he went back to the room that the giant had given him, and began to walk up and down, humming and singing. After a while, the giant came home with his goats.
"Have you cleaned the stable?" asked the giant.
"Yes, master, it's all spic-and-span," answered the prince.
"I'll soon see if it is," growled the giant, and strode off to the stable, where he found it just as the prince had said.
"You've been talking to my Mastermaid, I can see," said the giant; "for you didn't suck this knowledge out of your own breast."
"Mastermaid!" said the prince, playing dumb, "what sort of thing is that, master? I'd like to see one."
"Well!" said the giant, "you'll see her soon enough."
The next day the giant again went out with his goats. Before leaving he told the prince to bring in his horse, which was out grazing on the pasture, and when he had done that he could take the rest of the day off.
"For you must know that you have come to an easy master," said the giant; "but if you go into any of the rooms I spoke of yesterday, I'll rip your head off." Then off he went with his flock of goats.
"You are indeed an easy master," said the prince; "but I still I would like to have a chat with your Mastermaid. Maybe she'd just as soon mine as yours!" So he went to her, and she asked him what he had to do that day.
"Oh, nothing to be afraid of," he said. "I only have to go up to the pasture and bring in his horse."
"Very well, and how will you go about doing it?"
"Well, there's nothing very difficult about riding a horse home. I have ridden many a frisky horse before now," said the prince.
"This task will not be as easy as you think, "she said, "but I'll teach you how to do it. When you see it, it will come up to you breathing fire and flame out of its nostrils like a pitch torch. You must take the bit that is hanging behind the door over there. Throw it into his mouth, and he will grow so tame that you can do anything that you want to with him."
He said that he would do that and so he sat there the whole day, talking and chatting with the Mastermaid about one thing and another. But they talked about how happy they would be if they could only get married, and get away from the giant; and, to tell the truth, the prince would have forgotten both the horse and the pasture, if the Mastermaid hadn't reminded him of them as evening was approaching. She told him that he had better go out bring the horse in before the giant came home. So he set off. Taking the bit which hung in the corner, he ran up to the pasture, and it wasn't long before he met the horse, with fire and flame blowing out of its nostrils. But he took his time, and when the horse came up to him, with its jaws wide apart, he threw the bit into its mouth, and the horse became as quiet as a lamb. After that it was not at all difficult to ride it home and put it into the stable. Then the prince went to his room, and began to hum and sing.
When the giant came home that evening with his goats, the first words that he said were, "Have you brought my horse down from the pasture?"
"Yes, master, that I have," said the prince; "and although it is a wonderful riding horse, I rode it straight home to the stable."
"I'll just check on that," said the giant, and ran out to the stable. The horse was standing there just as the prince had said.
"You've been talking to my Mastermaid, you have!" said the giant again, "for you haven't sucked this out of your own breast."
"Yesterday master talked of this Mastermaid, and today it's the same story. God bless you, master! Won't you show me the thing at once? I really would like to see it," said the prince, pretending to be simple minded and stupid.
"You'll get to see her soon enough," said the giant.
On the third day at dawn the giant went out into the woods again with his goats. Before leaving he said to the prince, "Today you must go to Hell and get my fire tax. When you have done that you can have the rest of the day off, for you must know that you have come to an easy master." And with that off he went.
"Easy master, indeed!" said the prince. "You may be easy, but you give me hard tasks all the same. I may as well see if I can find your Mastermaid. You claim that she belongs to you, but I'll see if she won't tell me what to do," and so he went to her once again.
The Mastermaid asked what the giant had asked him to do that day, and he told her how he was to go to Hell and fetch the fire tax.
"And how will you go about it?" asked the Mastermaid.
"You will have to tell me," said the prince, "for I have never been to Hell in my life. Even if I knew the way, I wouldn't know how much I am to ask for."
"Well, I'll tell you," said the Mastermaid. "Go to the steep cliff over there beyond the pasture. Take the club that is lying there and knock on the face of the cliff. Someone who is all glowing with fire will come out. Tell him about your errand. When he asks you how much you need, say, 'As much as I can carry.'"
He said that he would do just that, and then he sat there with the Mastermaid all that day too. Although evening was approaching, he would have sat there until now, if the Mastermaid had not reminded him that it was time to be off to Hell to fetch the giant's fire tax before he came home. So he went on his way, and did just as the Mastermaid had told him. When he reached the rock he picked up the club and gave a great thump. The cliff opened, and out came a person whose face was aglow, and from whose eyes and nostrils flew sparks of fire.
"What do you want?" he said.
"I've come from the giant to fetch his fire tax," said the prince.
"How much do you need?" said the other.
"I never ask for more than I am able to carry," said the prince.
"Lucky for you that you did not ask for a whole horseload," said the man from the cliff; "but come now into the cliff with me, and you shall have it."
So the prince went inside with him, and what heaps and heaps of gold and silver he saw lying in there, just like stones in a gravel pit. He got a load just as big as he was able to carry, and set off for home with it.
When the giant came home with his goats that evening, the prince went into his room, and began to hum and sing just as he had done the evenings before.
"Have you been to Hell after my fire tax?" roared the giant.
"Oh yes, that I have, master," answered the prince.
"Where did you put it?" said the giant.
"The sack is on the bench over there," said the prince.
"I'll check on that," said the giant, and went to the bench. There he saw that the sack was so full that the gold and silver dropped out on the floor as soon as he untied the string.
"You've been talking to my Mastermaid, that I can see," said the giant; "and if you have, I'll rip your head off."
"Mastermaid!" said the prince; "yesterday master talked of this Mastermaid, and today he talks of her again, and the day before yesterday it was the same story. I only wish I could see what sort of thing she is, I do!"
"Well, wait until tomorrow," said the giant, "and then I'll take you in to her myself."
"Thank you kindly, master," said the prince; "but I'll bet that master is only joking."
The next day the giant took him in to the Mastermaid, and said to her, "You must cut his throat, and boil him in the great big pot, you know the one I mean, and when the stew is ready just give me a call." Then he lay down on the bench to sleep, and began to snore so loud that it sounded like thunder in the mountains.
The Mastermaid took a knife and cut the prince in his little finger, and let three drops of blood fall on a stool; then she took all the old rags and soles of shoes, and all the rubbish she could lay her hands on, and put it all into the pot. She then filled a chest full of ground gold, and took a lump of salt, and a flask of water that hung behind the door, and she took, besides, a golden apple, and two golden chickens, and off she set with the prince from the giant's house as fast as they could. When they had gone a little way, they came to the sea, and after that they sailed over the sea; but I do not know where they got the ship from.
After the giant had slept a good bit, he began to stretch as he lay on the bench, and called out, "Will it soon be done?"
"Only just begun," answered the first drop of blood on the stool.
So the giant went back to sleep, and slumbered a long, long time. At last he began to toss about a little, and cried out, "Do you hear what I say? Will it soon be done?" but he did not look up this time any more than the first, for he was still half asleep.
"Half done," said the second drop of blood.
The giant again thought it was the Mastermaid, so he turned over on his other side, and fell asleep again; and when he had slept for many hours, he began to stir and stretch his old bones, and he called out, "Isn't it done yet?"
"Done to a turn," said the third drop of blood.
So the giant got up, and began to rub his eyes, but he couldn't see who it was that was talking to him. He searched and called for the Mastermaid, but no one answered.
"Ah, well! I dare say she's just gone outside for a bit," he thought, and took up a spoon and went up to the pot to taste the stew. There he found nothing but shoe soles, and rags, and such stuff, all boiled up together, so that he couldn't tell the thick from the thin. As soon as he saw this, he realized what had happened, and he became so angry that he barely knew which leg to stand upon. Away he went after the prince and the Mastermaid, until the wind whistled behind him; but he soon came to the water and couldn't cross it.
"Never mind," he said; "I can fix this. I'll just call on my stream sucker."
So he called on his stream sucker, and he came and stooped down, and took one, two, three, gulps; and then the water fell so much in the sea that the giant could see the Mastermaid and the prince sailing in their ship.
"Throw out the lump of salt!" said the Mastermaid.
So the prince threw it overboard, and it grew up into a mountain so high, right across the sea, that the giant couldn't pass it, and the stream sucker couldn't help him by swilling up any more water.
"Never mind," cried the giant; "there's a fix for this too." So he called on his hill borer to come and bore through the mountain, so the stream sucker might crawl through and take another swill; but just as they had made a hole through the hill, and the stream sucker was about to drink, the Mastermaid told the prince to pour a drop or two out of the flask into the sea, and then the sea was just as full as ever, and before the stream sucker could take another gulp, they reached the land and were saved from the giant.
So they made up their minds to go home to the prince's father; but the prince would not hear of the Mastermaid's walking, for he did not think it would be appropriate, neither for her nor for him.
"Just wait here ten minutes," he said, "while I go home after the seven horses which stand in my father's stall. It's not very far, and I won't be gone very long; I will not hear of my sweetheart walking to my father's palace."
"No!" said the Mastermaid, "please don't leave me, for once you are home in your palace you'll forget me outright; I know you will."
"Oh!" said the prince, "how can I forget you; you with whom I have gone through so much, and whom I love so dearly?"
There was no stopping him, he insisted on going home to fetch the coach and seven horses, and she was to wait for him by the seaside. Finally the Mastermaid gave in. "But when you get home," she warned, "don't even take the time to greet anyone, but go straight to the stable, hitch up the horses, and drive back as quickly as you can. They will all come to you, but you must pretend that you cannot see them; and above all else, do not eat a bite of food, for if you do, we shall both come to grief." The prince promised all of this.
Now, just as he came home to the palace, one of his brothers was preparing to get married. The bride, with all her relatives, had just arrived at the palace. They all thronged around him, and asked about this thing and that, and wanted him to go inside with them. He pretended that he could not see them, and went straight to the stall and began to hitch up the horses. When they saw they could not get him to go inside, they came out to him with food and drink, the best of everything they had prepared for the feast, but the prince would not taste a thing, but busied himself with the horses.
Finally the bride's sister rolled an apple across the yard to him, saying, "Well, if you won't eat anything else, at least take a bite of this, for you must be hungry and thirsty after your long journey." So he picked up the apple and took a bite out of it. He barely had the piece in his mouth before he forgot the Mastermaid, and that he was going to drive back for her.
"I must be crazy," he said. "What am I doing here with this coach and horses?"
So he put the horses back into the stable, and went along with the others into the palace, and it was soon settled that he should marry the bride's sister, who had rolled the apple to him.
The Mastermaid sat by the seashore, and waited and waited for the prince, but the prince did not come. Finally she left the shore, and walked a while until she came to a little hut, which stood by itself in a grove near the king's palace. She went in and asked if she might stay there. The hut belonged to an old woman, who was a disgusting and cranky old hag. At first she would not hear of the Mastermaid's lodging in her house, but finally, in exchange for kind words and high rent, the Mastermaid was permitted to stay there.
The hut was as dark and dirty as a pigsty, so the Mastermaid said she would clean it up a little, so that their house might look like other people's. The old hag did not like this either, and complained and became angry; but the Mastermaid did not pay any attention to her. She took her chest of gold, and threw a handful or so into the fire. The gold melted and bubbled over out of the grate, spreading itself over the whole hut, until it was entirely plated with gold, both outside and in. But as soon as the gold began to bubble up, the old hag became so afraid that she ran out as if the evil one were after her. As she ran through the door, she forgot to stoop down, and she crushed her head against the door frame.
The next morning the constable passed that way. He could scarce believe his eyes when he saw the golden hut shining and glistening there in the grove; but he was still more astonished when he went in and saw the lovely maiden who was sitting there. He fell in love with her at once, and begged her on the spot to marry him.
"Very well, but do you have a lot of money?" asked the Mastermaid. He said that he had plenty, and he went home to fetch it. That evening he came back with a half-bushel sack filled with money, and set it down on the bench.
The Mastermaid said that he was rich enough and that she would have him. They went to bed together, but they had barely lain down before she said she must get up again, because she had forgotten to bank up the fire. "Please don't get up," said the constable; "I'll take care of it." He jumped out of bed, and ran to the hearth.
"Tell me as soon as you have taken hold of the poker," said the Mastermaid.
"I'm holding it now," said the constable.
Then the Mastermaid said, "God grant that you may hold the poker and that the poker may hold you, and may you heap hot burning coals over yourself until morning." So the constable had to stand there all night long, shoveling hot burning coals over himself. He begged, and prayed, and wept, but none of this made the coals a bit colder. As soon as day broke, and he finally was able to rid himself of the poker, he set off as though the bailiff or the devil were after him. Everyone who met him stared at him, for he acted like a madman, and looked like he had been flayed and tanned. They wondered what had happened to him, but he was too ashamed to tell anyone.
The next day the clerk passed by the place where the Mastermaid lived, and he too saw how it gleamed and glistened in the grove, and he went inside to find out who lived there. When he saw the beautiful maiden, he fell even more madly in love with her than had the constable, and he immediately began to woo her.
The Mastermaid responded to him, as she had responded to the constable, by asking if he had a lot of money. The clerk replied that he was wealthy enough, and to prove it he went home to fetch his money. That evening he came back with a large sack of money -- I think that the sack held a whole bushel -- and set it down on the bench. So she accepted him, and they went to bed. But the Mastermaid had forgotten to shut the outside door, and she would have to get up and lock it for the night.
"What! You should do that!" said the clerk. "No, you lie here, and I'll go and take care of it." He jumped up like a pea on a drumhead, and ran into the hallway.
"Tell me when you have hold of the door latch" said the Mastermaid.
"I've got hold of it now," said the clerk.
"Then may you hold the door, and may the door hold you, and may you go back and forth until morning!" said the Mastermaid.
And so the clerk had to dance the whole night through. He had never experienced such a waltz before, and would not want to experience such a waltz again. He pulled the door one way, and then the door pulled him back the other; and so it went on and on. First he was dashed into one corner of the hallway, and then into the other, until he was almost battered to death. At first he cursed and swore; then he begged and prayed, but the door cared for nothing but holding its own until the break of day. As soon as it let him go, the clerk ran off, leaving his money behind to pay for his night's lodging, and forgetting his courtship altogether, for -- to tell the truth -- he was afraid that the door might come dancing after him.
Everyone who met him stared and gaped at him, for he too acted like a madman, and he would not have looked worse if he had spent the whole night butting against a flock of rams.
On the third day the sheriff passed that way, and he too saw the golden hut, and went inside to find out who lived there. He had barely set eyes on the Mastermaid before he began to woo her. So she responded to him as she had with the other two. If he had lots of money she would have him; if not, he might as well go about his business. Well, the sheriff said that he wasn't so badly off, and that he would go home and fetch the money. When he came back that evening, he had a bigger sack even than the clerk had had -- it must have been at least a bushel and a half -- , and put it down on the bench. So it was soon settled that he was to have the Mastermaid, but they had barely gone to bed before the Mastermaid said she had forgotten to bring the calf home from the meadow, so she would have to get up and drive him into the stall.
"No!" swore the sheriff. He would go and take care of it. And stout and fat as he was, he jumped up as nimbly as a young boy.
"Tell me when you've got hold of the calf's tail," said the Mastermaid.
"I have hold of it now," said the sheriff.
"Then may you hold the calf's tail, and may the calf's tail hold you, and may you tour the world together until morning."
The race began at once. Away they went, he and the calf, over high and low, across hill and dale, and the more the sheriff cursed and swore, the faster the calf ran and jumped. By dawn the poor sheriff had nearly collapsed, and he was so glad to be able to let go of the calf's tail that he forgot his sack of money and everything else. He was a large man, and he went home a little slower than the clerk and the constable had done, and the slower he went the more time people had to gape and stare at him; and I must say they made good use of their time, for he was terribly tattered and torn from his dance with the calf.
The next day there was to be a wedding at the palace, the elder prince to be married. And the younger one, the one who had lived with the giant, was to marry the bride's sister. They had just got into the coach and were about to drive off, when one of the harness pins snapped off. They put in another, and then a third, but they all broke, whatever kind of wood they used to make them with. It all took a long time, and they couldn't get to church, and everyone became very unhappy. All at once the constable said -- for he too had been invited to the wedding -- that a maiden lived over there in the grove, "And if you can only get her to lend you her fireplace poker, I know very well that it will hold."
They sent a messenger at once, and he asked the maiden very politely if she would not mind lending them the poker that the constable had spoken of. The maiden said "yes," they might have it; so they got a harness pin which wasn't likely to break.
But just as they were driving off, the bottom of the coach fell apart. They set to work to make a new bottom as best they could; but however many nails they used nor whatever kind of wood they chose, as soon as they put a new bottom into the coach, it fell apart again as soon as they drove off, so they were even worse off than when they had broken the harness pin. Then the clerk said -- for if the constable was there, you may be sure that the clerk was there too -- "A maiden lives over there in the grove, and if you could only get her to lend you half of her outside door, I know it would hold together."
They sent another message to the grove, and he asked very politely if they couldn't borrow the golden door that the clerk had described; and they got it on the spot. They were just setting out, but now the horses were not strong enough to draw the coach, though there were six of them; then they put on eight, and ten, and twelve, but the more they put on, and the more the coachman whipped, the more the coach wouldn't stir an inch. By this time it was late in the day, and everyone about the palace was very unhappy; they had to make it to the church, and yet it looked as if they would never get there. Then the sheriff said that a maiden lived in the golden hut over there in the grove, and if they could only borrow her calf, "I know it can pull the coach, even if it were as heavy as a mountain."
Well, they all thought it would look silly to be drawn to church by a calf, but there was nothing they could do about it, so they had to send a third time, and ask very politely in the king's name, if he couldn't borrow the calf the sheriff had spoken of, and the Mastermaid let them have it on the spot, for she was not going to say "no" this time either. So they put the calf on before the horses, and waited to see if it would do any good, and away went the coach over high and low, and stock and stone, so that they could barely catch their breath; sometimes they were on the ground, and sometimes up in the air, and when they reached the church, the calf began to run around and around it like a spinning wheel, so that they had a hard time getting out of the coach, and into the church. On the way back home they went even faster, and they reached the palace almost before they knew they had set out.
Now when they sat down to dinner, the prince -- the one who had been with the giant -- said he thought they ought to ask the maiden who had lent them her poker, her door, and her calf, to come up to the palace. "For," he said he, "if we hadn't got these three things, we would still be stuck here."
The king thought that that was only right and fair, so he sent five of his best men down to the golden hut to greet the maiden from the king, and to ask her if she wouldn't be so good as to come and dine at the palace.
"Send the king my greetings," said the Mastermaid, "and tell him, if he's too good to come to me, then I am too good to go to him."
So the king had to go himself, and then the Mastermaid went with him without any more bother; and as the king thought she was more than she seemed to be, he sat her down in the highest seat by the side of the youngest bridegroom.
Now, when they had sat a little while at the table, the Mastermaid took out her golden apple, and the golden cock and hen, which she had carried off from the giant, and put them down on the table before her, and the cock and hen began at once to peck at one another, and to fight for the golden apple.
"Just look," said the prince; "and see how those two are struggling for the apple."
"Yes, just as we two had to struggle to escape from the cliff," said the Mastermaid.
Then the spell was broken, and the prince knew her again, and he was very glad indeed. But as for the witch who had rolled the apple over to him, he had her tied to twenty-four horses and torn to pieces, so that there was not a bit of her left. Then they celebrated the wedding for real. And even though they were still stiff and sore, the constable, the clerk, and the sheriff kept it up with the best of them.
Revised March 25, 2001