A fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm
There was once upon a time an old king who was ill and thought to
himself "I am lying on what must be my deathbed." Then said he "tell
faithful John to come to me." Faithful John was his favourite servant,
and was so called, because he had for his whole life long been so
true to him. When therefore he came beside the bed, the king said to
him "Most faithful John, I feel my end approaching, and have no
anxiety except about my son. He is still of tender age, and cannot
always know how to guide himself. If you do not promise me to teach
him everything that he ought to know, and to be his foster-father, I
cannot close my eyes in peace."
Then answered faithful John "I shall
not forsake him, and shall serve him with fidelity, even if it should
cost me my life."
At this, the old king said "Now I die in comfort
and peace." Then he added "After my death, you will show him the
whole castle - all the chambers, halls, and vaults, and all the
treasures which lie therein, but the last chamber in the long
gallery, in which is the picture of the princess of the golden
dwelling, will you not show. If he sees that picture, he will fall
violently in love with her, and will drop down in a swoon, and go
through great danger for her sake, therefore you must protect him
from that." And when faithful John had once more given his promise to
the old king about this, the king said no more, but laid his head on
his pillow, and died.
When the old king had been carried to his grave, faithful John told
the young king all that he had promised his father on his deathbed,
and said 'This shall I assuredly keep, and shall be faithful to you as
I have been faithful to him, even if it should cost me my life." When
the mourning was over, faithful John said to him "It is now time that
you should see your inheritance. I shall show you your father's
palace." Then he took him about everywhere, up and down, and let him
see all the riches, and the magnificent apartments, only there was
one room which he did not open, that in which hung the dangerous
picture. The picture, however, was so placed that when the door was
opened you looked straight on it, and it was so admirably painted
that it seemed to breathe and live, and there was nothing more
charming or more beautiful in the whole world. The young king
noticed, however, that faithful John always walked past this one
door, and said "Why do you never open this one for me?"
something within it," he replied, "which would terrify you."
king answered "I have seen all the palace, and I want to know what is
in this room also," and he went and tried to break open the door by
force. Then faithful John held him back and said, "I promised your
father before his death that you should not see that which is in this
chamber, it might bring the greatest misfortune on you and on me."
"Ah, no," replied the young king, "if I do not go in, it will be my
certain destruction. I should have no rest day or night until I had
seen it with my own eyes. I shall not leave the place now until you
have unlocked the door."
Then faithful John saw that there was no help for it now, and with a
heavy heart and many sighs, sought out the key from the great bunch.
When he opened the door, he went in first, and thought by standing
before him he could hide the portrait so that the king should not see
it in front of him. But what good was this? The king stood on
tip-toe and saw it over his shoulder. And when he saw the portrait
of the maiden, which was so magnificent and shone with gold and
precious stones, he fell fainting to the ground. Faithful John took
him up, carried him to his bed, and sorrowfully thought "The
misfortune has befallen us, Lord God, what will be the end of it?"
Then he strengthened him with wine, until he came to himself again.
The first words the king said were "Ah, the beautiful portrait.
Whose it it?"
"That is the princess of the golden dwelling," answered
Then the king continued "My love for her is so great,
that if all the leaves on all the trees were tongues, they could not
declare it. I shall give my life to win her. You are my most
faithful John, you must help me."
The faithful servant considered within himself for a long time how to
set about the matter, for it was difficult even to obtain a sight of
the king's daughter. At length he thought of a way, and said to the
king, "Everything which she has about her is of gold - tables, chairs,
dishes, glasses, bowls, and household furniture. Among your
treasures are five tons of gold, let one of the goldsmiths of the
kingdom fashion these into all manner of vessels and utensils, into
all kinds of birds, wild beasts and strange animals, such as may
please her, and we will go there with them and try our luck."
The king ordered all the goldsmiths to be brought to him, and they
had to work night and day until at last the most splendid things were
prepared. When everything was stowed on board a ship, faithful John
put on the dress of a merchant, and the king was forced to do the
same in order to make himself quite unrecognisable. Then they sailed
across the sea, and sailed on until they came to the town wherein
dwelt the princess of the golden dwelling.
Faithful John bade the king stay behind on the ship, and wait for
him. "Perhaps I shall bring the princess with me," said he,
"therefore see that everything is in order, have the golden vessels
set out and the whole ship decorated." Then he gathered together in
his apron all kinds of golden things, went on shore and walked
straight to the royal palace. When he entered the courtyard of the
palace, a beautiful girl was standing there by the well with two
golden buckets in her hand, drawing water with them. And when she
was just turning round to carry away the sparkling water she saw the
stranger, and asked who he was. So he answered, "I am a merchant," and
opened his apron, and let her look in. Then she cried "Oh, what
beautiful golden things," and put her pails down and looked at the
golden wares one after the other. Then said the girl "The princess
must see these, she has such great pleasure in golden things, that
she will buy all you have."
She took him by the hand and led him
upstairs, for she was the waiting-maid. When the king's daughter saw
the wares, she was quite delighted and said "They are so beautifully
worked, that I shall buy them all from you."
But faithful John said "I
am only the servant of a rich merchant. The things I have here are
not to be compared with those my master has in his ship. They are
the most beautiful and valuable things that have ever been made in
gold." When she wanted to have everything brought up to her, he said,
"There are so many of them that it would take a great many days to do
that, and so many rooms would be required to exhibit them, that your
house is not big enough."
Then her curiosity and longing were still
more excited, until at last she said "Conduct me to the ship, I shall
go there myself, and behold the treasures of your master." At this
faithful John was quite delighted, and led her to the ship, and when
the king saw her, he perceived that her beauty was even greater than
the picture had represented it to be, and thought no other than that
his heart would burst in twain. Then she boarded the ship, and the
king led her within. Faithful John, however, remained with the
helmsman, and ordered the ship to be pushed off, saying "Set all
sail, till it fly like a bird in the air." Within, the king showed
her the golden vessels, every one of them, also the wild beasts and
Many hours went by whilst she was seeing
everything, and in her delight she did not observe that the ship was
sailing away. After she had looked at the last, she thanked the
merchant and wanted to go home, but when she came to the side of the
ship, she saw that it was on the high seas far from land, and
hurrying onwards with all sail set. "Ah," cried she in her alarm, "I
am betrayed. I am carried away and have fallen into the power of a
merchant - I would rather die."
The king, however, seized her hand,
and said "I am not a merchant. I am a king, and of no meaner origin
than you are, and if I have carried you away with subtlety, that has
come to pass because of my exceeding great love for you. The first
time that I looked on your portrait, I fell fainting to the ground."
When the princess of the golden dwelling heard this, she was
comforted, and her heart was drawn to him, so that she willingly
consented to be his wife.
It so happened, while they were sailing
onwards over the deep sea, that faithful John, who was sitting on the
fore part of the vessel, making music, saw three ravens in the air,
which came flying towards them. At this he stopped playing and
listened to what they were saying to each other, for that he well
understood. One cried "Oh, there he is carrying home the princess of
the golden dwelling."
"Yes," replied the second, "but he has not got
Said the third "But he has got her, she is sitting beside
him in the ship."
Then the first began again, and cried "What good
will that do him? When they reach land a chestnut horse will leap
forward to meet him, and the prince will want to mount it, but if he
does that, it will run away with him, and rise up into the air, and
he will never see his maiden more."
Spoke the second, "But is there no
"Oh, yes, if someone else mounts it swiftly, and takes out
the pistol which he will find in its holster, and shoots the horse
dead, the young king is saved. But who knows that? And whosoever
does know it, and tells it to him, will be turned to stone from the
toe to the knee."
Then said the secon, "I know more than that, even
if the horse be killed, the young king will still not keep his bride.
When they go into the castle together, a wrought bridal garment will
be lying there in a dish, and looking as if it were woven of gold and
silver, it is, however, nothing but sulphur and pitch, and if he put
it on, it will burn him to the very bone and marrow."
Said the third,
"Is there no escape at all?"
"Oh, yes," replied the second, "if any
one with gloves on seizes the garment and throws it into the fire and
burns it, the young king will be saved. But what good will that do?
Whosoever knows it and tells it to him, half his body will become
stone from the knee to the heart."
Then said the third, "I know still
more, even if the bridal garment be burnt, the young king will still
not have his bride. After the wedding, when the dancing begins and
the young queen is dancing, she will suddenly turn pale and fall down
as if dead, and if some one does not lift her up and draw three drops
of blood from her right breast and spit them out again, she will die.
But if any one who knows that were to declare it, he would become
stone from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot."
ravens had spoken of this together, they flew onwards, and faithful
John had well understood everything, but from that time forth he
became quiet and sad, for if he concealed what he had heard from his
master, the latter would be unfortunate, and if he disclosed it to
him, he himself must sacrifice his life. At length, however, he said
to himself, "I shall save my master, even if it bring destruction on
myself." When therefore they came to shore, all happened as had been
foretold by the ravens, and a magnificent chestnut horse sprang
forward. "Good," said the king, "he will carry me to my palace,"
and was about to mount it when faithful John got before him, jumped
quickly on it, drew the pistol out of the holster, and shot the
horse. Then the other attendants of the king, who were not very fond
of faithful John, cried "How shameful to kill the beautiful animal
that was to have carried the king to his palace."
But the king said,
"Hold your peace and leave him alone, he is my most faithful John.
Who knows what good may come of this?"
They went into the palace, and
in the hall there stood a dish, and therein lay the bridal garment
looking no otherwise than as if it were made of gold and silver. The
young king went towards it and was about to take hold of it, but
faithful John pushed him away, seized it with gloves on, carried it
quickly to the fire and burnt it. The other attendants again began
to murmur, and said, "Behold, now he is even burning the king's bridal
But the young king said "Who knows what good he may have
done? Leave him alone, he is my most faithful John." And now the
wedding was solemnised - the dance began, and the bride also took
part in it, then faithful John was watchful and looked into her face,
and suddenly she turned pale and fell to the ground as if she were
dead. On this he ran hastily to her, lifted her up and bore her into
a chamber - then he laid her down, and knelt and sucked the three
drops of blood from her right breast, and spat them out.
"Yes," answered the king, "it shall be granted unto you."
faithful John, "I am unjustly condemned, and have always been true to
you," and he related how he had hearkened to the conversation of the
ravens when on the sea, and how he had been obliged to do all these
things in order to save his master.
Then cried the king "Oh, my most
faithful John. Pardon, pardon - bring him down." But as faithful
John spoke the last word he had fallen down lifeless and become a
Thereupon the king and the queen suffered great anguish, and the king
said "Ah, how ill I have requited great fidelity," and ordered the
stone figure to be taken up and placed in his bedroom beside his bed.
And as often as he looked on it he wept and said "Ah, if I could
bring you to life again, my most faithful John."
stone began to speak and said, "You can bring me to life again if you
will use for that purpose what is dearest to you."
Then cried the
king, "I shall give everything I have in the world for you."
continued, "If you will cut off the heads of your two children with
your own hand, and sprinkle me with their blood, I shall be restored
The king was terrified when he heard that he himself must kill his
dearest children, but he thought of faithful John's great fidelity,
and how he had died for him, drew his sword, and with his own hand
cut off the children's heads. And when he had smeared the stone with
their blood, life returned to it, and faithful John stood once more
safe and healthy before him. He said to the king, "Your truth shall
not go unrewarded," and took the heads of the children, put them on
again, and rubbed the wounds with their blood, at which they became
whole again immediately, and jumped about, and went on playing as if
nothing had happened. Then the king was full of joy, and when he saw
the queen coming he hid faithful John and the two children in a great
cupboard. When she entered, he said to her, "Have you been praying in
"Yes," answered she, "but I have constantly been thinking
of faithful John and what misfortune has befallen him through us."
Then said he, "Dear wife, we can give him his life again, but it will
cost us our two little sons, whom we must sacrifice." The queen
turned pale, and her heart was full of terror, but she said, "We owe
it to him, for his great fidelity." Then the king was rejoiced that
she thought as he had thought, and went and opened the cupboard, and
brought forth faithful John and the children, and said, "God be
praised, he is delivered, and we have our little sons again also,"
and told her how everything had occurred. Then they dwelt together
in much happiness until their death.