A long time ago there lived a king who was famed for his wisdom through all the land. Nothing was hidden from him, and it seemed as if news of the most secret things was brought to him through the air. But he had a strange custom; every day after dinner, when the table was cleared, and no one else was present, a trusty servant had to bring him one more dish. It was covered, however, and even the servant did not know what was in it, neither did anyone know, for the King never took off the cover to eat of it until he was quite alone. This had gone on for a long time, when one day the servant, who took away the dish, was overcome with such curiosity that he could not help carrying the dish into his room. When he had carefully locked the door, he lifted up the cover, and saw a white snake lying on the dish. But when he saw it he could not deny himself the pleasure of tasting it, so he cut off a little bit and put it into his mouth. No sooner had it touched his tongue than he heard a strange whispering of little voices outside his window. He went and listened, and then noticed that it was the sparrows who were chattering together, and telling one another of all kinds of things which they had seen in the fields and woods. Eating the snake had given him power of understanding the language of animals.
Now it so happened that on this very day the Queen lost her most beautiful ring, and suspicion of having stolen it fell upon this trusty servant, who was allowed to go everywhere. The King ordered the man to be brought before him, and threatened with angry words that unless he could before the morrow point out the thief, he himself should be looked upon as guilty and executed. In vain he declared his innocence; he was dismissed with no better answer. In his trouble and fear he went down into the courtyard and took thought how to help himself out of his trouble. Now some ducks were sitting together quietly by a brook and taking their rest; and, whilst they were making their feathers smooth with their bills, they were having a confidential conversation together. The servant stood by and listened. They were telling one another of all the places where they had been waddling about all the morning, and what good food they had found, and one said in a pitiful tone, "Something lies heavy on my stomach; as I was eating in haste I swallowed a ring which lay under the Queen's window." The servant at once seized her by the neck, carried her to the kitchen, and said to the cook, "Here is a fine duck; pray, kill her." - "Yes," said the cook, and weighed her in his hand; "she has spared no trouble to fatten herself, and has been waiting to be roasted long enough." So he cut off her head, and as she was being dressed for the spit, the Queen's ring was found inside her. The servant could now easily prove his innocence; and the King, to make amends for the wrong, allowed him to ask a favour, and promised him the best place in the court that he could wish for.
The servant refused everything, and only asked for a horse and some money for travelling, as he had a mind to see the world and go about a little. When his request was granted he set out on his way, and one day came to a pond, where he saw three fishes caught in the reeds and gasping for water. Now, though it is said that fishes are dumb, he heard them lamenting that they must perish so miserably, and, as he had a kind heart, he got off his horse and put the three prisoners back into the water. They quivered with delight, put out their heads, and cried to him, "We will remember you and repay you for saving us!" He rode on, and after a while it seemed to him that he heard a voice in the sand at his feet. He listened, and heard an ant-king complain, "Why cannot folks, with their clumsy beasts, keep off our bodies? That stupid horse, with his heavy hoofs, has been treading down my people without mercy!" So he turned on to a side path and the ant-king cried out to him, 'We will remember you - one good turn deserves another!" The path led him into a wood, and here he saw two old ravens standing by their nest, and throwing out their young ones. "Out with you, you idle, good-for-nothing creatures!" cried they; "we cannot find food for you any longer; you are big enough, and can provide for yourselves." But the poor young ravens lay upon the ground, flapping their wings, and crying, "Oh, what helpless chicks we are! We must shift for ourselves, and yet we cannot fly! What can we do, but lie here and starve?" So the good young fellow alighted and killed his horse with his sword, and gave it to them for food. Then they came hopping up to it, satisfied their hunger, and cried, "We will remember you - one good turn deserves another!"
And now he had to use his own legs, and when he had walked a long way, he came to a large city. There was a great noise and crowd in the streets, and a man rode up on horseback, crying aloud, "The King's daughter wants a husband; but whoever sues for her hand must perform a hard task, and if he does not succeed he will forfeit his life." Many had already made the attempt, but in vain; nevertheless when the youth saw the King's daughter he was so overcome by her great beauty that he forgot all danger, went before the King, and declared himself a suitor.
So he was led out to the sea, and a gold ring was thrown into it, in his sight; then the King ordered him to fetch this ring up from the bottom of the sea, and added, "If you come up again without it you will be thrown in again and again until you perish amid the waves." All the people grieved for the handsome youth; then they went away, leaving him alone by the sea. He stood on the shore and considered what he should do, when suddenly he saw three fishes come swimming towards him, and they were the very fishes whose lives he had saved. The one in the middle held a mussel in its mouth, which it laid on the shore at the youth's feet, and when he had taken it up and opened it, there lay the gold ring in the shell. Full of joy he took it to the King, and expected that he would grant him the promised reward. But when the proud princess perceived that he was not her equal in birth, she scorned him, and required him first to perform another task. She went down into the garden and strewed with her own hands ten sacks-full of millet-seed on the grass; then she said, "To-morrow morning before sunrise these must be picked up, and not a single grain be wanting." The youth sat down in the garden and considered how it might be possible to perform this task, but he could think of nothing, and there he sat sorrowfully awaiting the break of day, when he should be led to death. But as soon as the first rays of the sun shone into the garden he saw all the ten sacks standing side by side, quite full, and not a single grain was missing. The ant-king had come in the night with thousands and thousands of ants, and the grateful creatures had by great industry picked up all the millet-seed and gathered them into the sacks. Presently the King's daughter herself came down into the garden, and was amazed to see that the young man had done the task she had given him. But she could not yet conquer her proud heart, and said, "Although he has performed both the tasks, he shall not be my husband until he has brought me an apple from the Tree of Life." The youth did not know where the Tree of Life stood, but he set out, and would have gone on for ever, as long as his legs would carry him, though he had no hope of finding it. After he had wandered through three kingdoms, he came one evening to a wood, and lay down under a tree to sleep. But he heard a rustling in the branches, and a golden apple fell into his hand. At the same time three ravens flew down to him, perched themselves upon his knee, and said, "We are the three young ravens whom you saved from starving; when we had grown big, and heard that you were seeking the Golden Apple, we flew over the sea to the end of the world, where the Tree of Life stands, and have brought you the apple." The youth, full of joy, set out homewards, and took the Golden Apple to the King's beautiful daughter, who had no more excuses left to make. They cut the Apple of Life in two and ate it together; and then her heart became full of love for him, and they lived in undisturbed happiness to a great age.
从前有位以他的智慧而闻名全国的国王，世界上的事情他没有不知道的，而且，好像再秘密的事情也能有风声传到他的耳朵里。 不过，这位国王有个古怪的习惯：每天吃完晚饭，桌子已经收拾干净，而且其他人也都已离开之后，一位忠实的侍从会再给他端来一道菜。 不过，这道菜用盖子盖着，谁也不知道里面装的是什么，就连这侍从也不知道，因为国王每次都要等到房间里只剩下他一个人时才揭开盖子吃。
这种情况持续了很长一段时间，终于有一天，端碗的侍从再也克制不住好奇心，把这道菜端进了自己的房间。 他小心地锁上门，揭开盖子，看到盘子里的菜是一条白蛇。 他看到之后，就忍不住想尝一尝，于是他用刀子割下一小块送进嘴里。 蛇肉刚碰到他的舌头，他就听到了窗子外面有一些奇怪的小声音在窃窃私语。 他走到窗边侧耳细听，发现原来是一群麻雀在聊天，相互说着在田野和森林里的所见所闻。 吃了那块蛇肉之后，他现在居然能听懂动物语言了！
说来也巧，也就在这一天，王后最漂亮的戒指不见了，因为这个侍从哪里都可以去，所以偷戒指的嫌疑也就落到了他的头上。 国王把他叫去大骂一通，并且威胁说，要是他第二天早晨说不出小偷是谁，那么他自己会被判为小偷，并被处死。 侍从一再声明自己是清白无辜的，可没有用，国王还是不改变自己的主意。
侍从的心里又是烦恼又是害怕，便走进院子去想怎样摆脱自己厄运的办法。 有几只鸭子安安静静地坐在院子里的小溪旁，一面用喙梳理羽毛，一面说着悄悄话。 侍从站在一旁听着。 它们分别讲述着他们一上午都到过哪些地方，都找到一些什么好东西吃。 其中一只鸭子抱怨说："我的胃里有样很重的东西。我吃东西的时候匆匆忙忙的 ，结果把王后窗子下的一只戒指吞进肚子里去了。 "侍从立刻抓住这只鸭子的脖子，把它拿到厨房，对厨师说："送你一只肥鸭子。 请把它宰了。 ""好的，"厨师说，一面用手掂了掂鸭子，"这家伙拼死拼活地把自己吃得肥肥的，早就等着进烤箱了。 "厨师说着便砍下了鸭子的脑袋，在掏鸭内脏的时候，发现王后的戒指在里面。
这下侍从轻而易举地证明了自己的清白。 国王觉得不该那样冤枉他，想作一些弥补，便允许他提出一个请求，而且还答应，只要他开口，可以把宫中最好的职位给他。 可是侍从谢绝了这一切，只请求给他一匹马和一些旅费，让他出去看看外面的世界。 国王答应了他的请求，他便上了路。 一天，他来到了一个池塘边，看到池塘里有三条鱼让芦苇缠住了，嘴一张一张地想喝水。 虽然人们常说鱼都是哑巴，他却听到它们在为自己这样惨死而哀声叹气。 他很善良，下了马，把三条鱼重新放回到水里。 鱼高兴极了，从水里探出头来，冲着他喊道："我们会记住你的，而且会报答你的救命之恩。"
他骑着马继续向前走。 过了一会儿，他觉得好像听到脚底下的沙子里有什么声音。 他听了一会儿，听到一只蚁王在抱怨："那些骑着笨牲口的人类为什么不离我们远一点呢？这匹蠢马沉重的蹄子踩死了我们多少人呵！"于是，他赶紧把马带到旁边的小路上。 蚁王对他叫道："我们会记住你的。好心自然会有好报的！"
这条小路把他带进了一座森林。 他看到两只老乌鸦站在窝边，正往外扔小乌鸦。 "你们这些好吃懒做、没有用的东西！都给我出去！"老乌鸦在骂着，"我们再也养不活你们了。你们都长这么大了，应该自己养活自己。"可那些小乌鸦一个个躺在地上，扑打着翅膀喊着："我们真是可怜啊！没有谁能帮助我们。要我们自己养活自己 ，可我们连飞都还不会啊！ 除了躺在这里饿死，我们还有什么别的法子呢？ "善良的青年从马背上跳下来，拔出宝剑把马杀了，留给小乌鸦当粮食。小乌鸦们立刻跳过来，一面吃一面叫道："我们会记住你的。 好心自然会有好报！ "
他现在只能靠两条腿步行。 他走了很长一段路后，来到了一座大城市。 街上叽叽喳喳的围了一群人，一个人骑在马背上高声叫道："公主要选丈夫，但求婚者必须完成一项艰巨的任务，完不成就得送掉自己的性命。"许多人都已经尝试过了，可他们只是白白地送掉了性命。 我们这位年轻人一看到公主，就被她的美貌迷住了，他忘记了危险，到国王面前去求婚。
他站在海边，盘算着该怎么办。 突然，他看到有三条鱼在向他游来，而且正是他救过的那三条鱼。 中间那条鱼衔着一只贝壳，游到岸边就把它吐在了年轻人的脚边。 他捡起贝壳打开一看 ，只见那枚金戒指就在里面。 他兴冲冲地带着戒指去见国王，以为国王一定会把答应的奖赏赐给他。
年轻人坐在花园里，盘算着怎样才能完成这项任务。 可是他什么办法也没有想出来，只好难过地坐在那里，等待着天亮被人带去处死。 谁知当第一缕阳光照进花园时，他却看到那十袋小米已经装得满满的排在他的身旁，而且一粒也不少。 原来，那只蚁王晚上带着成千上万的蚂蚁来过了。 这些知恩报恩的小动物不辞辛劳地捡起所有的小米，装进了袋子。
不一会儿，公主亲自来到了花园，看到年轻人已经完成了交给他的任务，她不由得感到万分惊讶。 可她那颗高傲的心还没有被征服，于是她说："虽然他完成了两项任务 ，我还是不能嫁给他，除非他能从生命之树上摘来一个苹果。 "年轻人根本不知道生命之树长在什么地方，可他还是出发了，而且准备一直找下去，直到他走不动为止。不过他也不抱多大希望，他找遍了三个王国，一天来到了一座森林。他躺在一棵树下刚准备睡觉，突然听到树枝上有沙沙的声音，一个金苹果掉进了他的手里！与其同时，三只乌鸦飞了下来，落在他的膝盖上，说："我们就是你救活的三只乌鸦。 我们长大了之后，听说你在寻找金苹果，便飞过大海，到了长着生命之树的世界尽头，给你把苹果摘来了。 "年轻人万分高兴地踏上归途，带着金苹果回到了美丽的公主那里，这下公主再也没有什么可说的了。他俩把生命之果切成两半，吃了下去，她的心便充满了对他的爱，他们从此过着幸福安宁的生活。