The water of life


L'eau de vie

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 thee," 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." - "Dost thou know, then, where that is to be found?" - "No," said the prince. "As thou hast borne thyself as is seemly, and not haughtily like thy false brothers, I will give thee the information and tell thee how thou mayst obtain the water of life. It springs from a fountain in the courtyard of an enchanted castle, but thou wilt not be able to make thy way to it, if I do not give thee 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 thou throwest 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 thou wilt be imprisoned." 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 delivered her, 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 thou hast won great wealth; with the sword thou canst 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, canst thou 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, however, 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 sharper, 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 had 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 should not have been able to shoot you." Then they exchanged clothes, and the huntsman returned home; the prince, however, went further into the forest. 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 favour 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 wooer 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 deliverer, 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 he 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 man, 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 to tread a piece of it 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 deliverer, 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 him. 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.
Il était une fois un roi qui tomba malade et nul ne crut qu'il en réchapperait. Il avait trois fils qui l'aimaient beaucoup et en furent très affectés.
Un jour qu'ils se trouvaient dans le jardin du palais et se lamentaient, ils virent -venir à eux un vieillard qui leur demanda le sujet de leur chagrin. Ils lui apprirent que leur père était très malade, que les remèdes n'étaient d'aucune efficacité, et que certainement il ne se rétablirait pas.

Le vieux leur dit alors:
- Je connais un remède, c'est l'eau de vie; votre père guérira s'il en boit, mais il n'est pas facile à trouver.
L'aîné dit:
- Je la trouverai bien moi.
Il se rendit auprès du roi malade et lui demanda L'autorisation de se mettre à la recherche de ce remède souverain. Mais le roi lui répondit qu'il préférait mourir plutôt que de consentir à ce que son fils s'exposât aux dangers de cette expédition. Cependant le prince insista tant que le roi céda. Le jeune homme se disait: " Si je rapporte cette eau à mon père, je deviendrai le préféré et hériterai de la couronne. "

Il se mit donc en route, et, après avoir longtemps chevauché, il trouva sur sa route un nain qui lui demanda où il allait si vite:
- Méchant nain, cela ne te regarde pas, lui répondit-il avec hauteur. Et il continua sa route.
Mais le, petit homme fut irrité de cette réponse et il lui jeta un sort. Le prince s'engagea bientôt entre deux montagnes, dans une gorge qui se resserra tellement qu'il ne, put bientôt plus avancer, il lui fut également impossible de revenir sur ses pas. Il voulut mettre pied à terre, impossible encore, il demeura donc dans cet état d'immobilité. L'auguste malade l'attendit longtemps, mais il ne revint pas.

Le second prince demanda alors à son père l'autorisation de se mettre, à la recherche de l'eau salutaire. Le roi refusa également tout d'abord, mais il finit par céder.
Le jeune homme prit donc le même chemin, et rencontra le même nain qui l'arrêta également et lui demanda où il se rendait avec tant de hâte.
- Méchant nain, cela ne te regarde pas, lui répondit le second prince. Et il s'en fut sans se retourner.
Mais le nain lui jeta également un sort et il s'engagea comme son frère dans une gorge d'où il ne put sortir. C'est le lot des orgueilleux.

Voyant que ses frères ne revenaient pas, le troisième, prince sollicita à son tour l'autorisation de se mettre à la recherche de l'eau de vie et son père dut le laisser partir.

Il rencontra également le nain, et quand celui-ci lui demanda où il se rendait en si grande hâte, il arrêta son cheval et lui répondit obligeamment:
- Je suis en quête de l'eau de vie, car mort père est à l'agonie.
- Sais-tu où la trouver lui demanda le petit homme.
- Non, répondit le prince.
- Je vais te l'apprendre et te dire comment tu y arriveras, puisque tu t'es mieux conduit que tes frères. L'eau de vie jaillit d'une fontaine qui se trouve dans la cour d'un château enchanté; tu n'y accéderas pas sans une baguette de fer et deux petits pains que je vais te remettre. Avec la baguette tu frapperas trois fois à la porte de fer du château et elle s'ouvrira; à l'intérieur tu verras deux lions qui voudront te dévorer. En leur jetant à chacun un pain, ils se calmeront, tu te hâteras alors d'aller chercher l'eau de vie avant que sonnent douze coups, car à ce moment-là la porte se referme et tu te trouverais emprisonné.
Le prince remercia avec effusion, prit la baguette et les pains et suivit sa route. Il arriva à destination et trouva tout comme le nain le lui avait prédit. La porte s'ouvrit au troisième, coup de baguette, et, après avoir apprivoisé les lions avec le pain, il pénétra dans le château. Il entra dans une grande, salle richement décorée où étaient assis des princes enchantés. Il retira leurs bagues de leurs doigts et prit un pain et un glaive qui se trouvait là.

Il vit dans une autre salle une charmante princesse qui se réjouit à sa vue, l'embrassa et lui annonça qu'il avait détruit le sort qui pesait sur elle.
Elle lui dit de revenir dans un an, qu'à cette époque leurs noces seraient célébrées et qu'il aurait son royaume.
Elle lui indiqua l'endroit où se trouvait l'eau de vie et l'engagea à se hâter d'en puiser avant que les douze coups ne retentissent. Il alla plus loin et arriva enfin dans une chambre où il vit un lit de repos; harassé de fatigue, il voulut s'y reposer un moment. Il s'y allongea et s'endormit; onze heures trois quarts sonnaient quand il s'éveilla. Il se leva et se précipita vers la fontaine. À l'aide d'un gobelet qu'il y trouva, il puisa de l'eau et s'en retourna en hâte. Il atteignait la porte quand retentirent les douze coups, et celle-ci se referma avec une telle violence qu'elle lui emporta un morceau de talon.

Mais, heureux de posséder l'eau bienfaisante, il prit le chemin du retour et repassa devant le nain. En Voyant le glaive et le pain, celui-ci lui dit:
- Tu as été heureusement inspiré en emportant cela: avec le glaive tu détruiras des armées, et le pain ne s'épuisera jamais.
Cependant le prince ne voulait pas retourner près de son père sans, ses frères et dit:
- Cher nain, ne pourrais-tu m'apprendre où je trouverai mes frères? Ils sont partis avant moi à la recherche de l'eau de vie: et ne sont pas revenus.
- Ils sont pris entre deux montagnes, dit le nain, c'est moi qui leur avais jeté le sort à, cause de leur orgueil.
Le prince le supplia tant qu'il les relâcha, mais le nain lui dit:
- Méfie-toi d'eux, car leur cœur est mauvais.
En voyant ses frères il éprouva une grande joie et leur rendit compte de son aventure:
Il avait trouvé la fontaine avec l'eau de vie et en avait pris un gobelet - il avait conjuré le sort qui pesait sur une belle princesse qui attendrait un an pour l'épouser et lui donner un grand royaume.

Ils s'en retournèrent tous les trois et arrivèrent dans un pays où sévissaient la guerre et la famine, et que son roi crut livré à l'extermination, tant la misère y était grande.
Le prince se rendit auprès du souverain et lui remit le pain qui alimenta tout son royaume, et le glaive à l'aide, duquel il battit les armées ennemies.
La paix et le bonheur rétablis, le prince reprit le pain et le glaive, et les trois frères continuèrent leur chemin.
Mais ils traversèrent encore deux royaumes où régnaient également la guerre et la famine. A chacun des rois le prince confia le pain et le glaive, et sauva ainsi trois royaumes.
Ils s'embarquèrent ensuite, et prirent la voie de mer.

Pendant la traversée, les deux aînés se dirent entre eux que leur frère ayant trouvé l'eau de vie, leur père lui donnerait le royaume qui leur revenait. Ils ne purent en supporter la pensée et résolurent sa perte. Ils attendirent qu'il fût profondément endormi et enlevèrent l'eau vitale de sa gourde qu'ils remplirent d'eau de mer.
Dès qu'ils furent rentrés à la maison, le jeune prince fit boire son père de son eau, mais quand il eut pris quelques gorgées de l'eau salée, le roi se trouva plus mal qu'auparavant. Les deux aînés survinrent tandis qu'il se lamentait.
Ils accusèrent leur frère d'avoir tenté d'empoisonner le roi, disant qu'ils apportaient la véritable eau de vie qu'ils lui tendirent. Aussitôt qu'il en bu, le roi sentit son mal se dissiper et il recouvra les forces de sa jeunesse.

Les deux aînés se moquèrent de leur cadet et ils lui dirent:
- Tu as, en effet, trouvé l'eau de vie, mais tu n'as eu que la peine, tandis que nous jouissons de la récompense; tu aurais dû être plus avisé et plus vigilant: nous te l'avons prise, tandis que tu dormais durant la traversée. Dans un an, c'est l'un de nous qui ira chercher la belle princesse. Mais prends garde de rien révéler de ce que tu apprends; notre père ne te croira pas d'ailleurs . De plus, si tu cherches à nous trahir, tu perdras la vie; tu demeureras sauf si tu te tais.
Cependant le, vieux roi crut que son plus jeune fils avait voulu attenter à sa vie, et il lui en témoigna de la colère. Il convoqua son conseil qui émit l'avis de faire fusiller secrètement le jeune prince. Un serviteur du roi devait l'accompagner à la chasse et l'exécuter dans la forêt.

Cependant, au moment décisif le prince fut surpris de l'air de tristesse de celui qui était charge de la funèbre mission.
- Qu'as-tu, lui demanda-t-il, pour paraître si triste?
- Je ne puis le dire, répondit le serviteur.
- Parle, lui dit le prince, je te pardonne d'avance.
- Hélas! dit alors le domestique, je suis chargé de vous fusiller, le roi l'ordonne ainsi.
Le prince tout consterné lui dit:
- Brave, serviteur, je te donnerai ma tenue royale, donne-moi la tienne à la place.
- Très volontiers, répondit l'autre; je n'aurais quand même pas eu le, courage de tirer sur vous.
Ils échangèrent leurs vêtements, et le serviteur rentra au château tandis que le prince s'enfonça dans la forêt.

Longtemps après arrivèrent chez le vieux roi trois voitures chargées d'or et de pierres précieuses pour être remises à son plus jeune, fils. C'étaient les trois rois dont les royaumes avaient été délivrés par son glaive et fécondés par son pain qui voulaient ainsi exprimer leur gratitude.
Le vieux roi songea: " Mon fils serait-il innocent? " et il dit à ses gens:
- Ah! s'il était encore en vie, que je regrette de l'avoir fait tuer!
- Il vit encore, dit le serviteur; je n'ai pu prendre sur moi de le tuer.
Et il raconta au roi comment les choses s'étaient passées.

Le cœur du vieux souverain fut soulagé d'un grand poids; il fit publier partout que son fils pouvait rentrer et qu'il lui serait fait bon accueil.
Cependant la princesse avait fait percer devant son palais une rue pavée d'or et de pierreries, et dit à ses gens que, celui qui pousserait son cheval au milieu de cette rue serait l'époux attendu et qu'il fallait lui permettre l'accès du palais, tandis qu'il fallait chasser ceux qui marcheraient sur le côté.

Un pou moins d'un an après l'époque, où le jeune prince avait pénétré auprès de la belle princesse, l'aîné se mit en route afin de se donner pour son libérateur et obtenir sa main et son royaume.
En voyant la précieuse route il se dit: " Ce serait grand dommage d'y mettre les pieds ," et il fit passer la bête sur le côté. Mais, arrivé devant la porte, les gens lui dirent de s'en retourner car il n'était pas l'époux attendu.
Le second prince survint peu après, et il pensa comme, son aîné qu'il serait grand dommage de détériorer une si belle route; il fit donc également passer son cheval sur le côté. Lui aussi, en se présentant au palais, vit les gens de la princesse lui déclarer qu'il n'était nullement l'époux attendu, et il fut prié de, s'en retourner.

Quand l'année fut tout à fait écoulée, le, troisième sortit du bois pour se rendre auprès de sa bien-aimée. Il ne songeait qu'à elle, à l'idée de se trouver auprès d'elle, et, dans sa distraction, il ne vit pas le somptueux pavage de la rue. Il laissa donc son cheval galoper au beau milieu de la voie et trouva la porte grande ouverte.
La princesse le reçut avec transport, le déclarant son sauveur et le, maître de son royaume.
Après que les noces eurent été célébrées en grande pompe, elle lui apprit que son père l'avait mandé auprès de lui et lui avait pardonné. Il se rendit donc auprès du vieux roi et lui raconta comment ses frères l'avaient trahi et qu'il s'était tu.

Le roi voulut les châtier, mais ils s'étaient déjà embarqués et ne reparurent jamais plus.

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