很久很久以前，在一个非常遥远的地方，有一个国王生了重病，人们都认为他已经病入膏肓，无药可救了。 国王有三个儿子，他们对父亲的身体非常担心，每当他们伤心之时就跑到王宫的花园里去哭泣。 一次，他们在花园里遇见了一位老人，老人问他们什么使得他们这么伤心。 他们就把自己对父亲生病、担心无法医治的事告诉了老人，老人听了之后说道："原来是这么回事，我知道有一种生命之水，只要你们的父亲喝上一口，他的病就会好，并且很快就能恢复健康，但这种水非常难找到。"大儿子忙说："我一定要找到这种水。"他来到生病的父亲面前，请求让他去找生命之水，这是救父亲生命的唯一希望。 但国王说："不！我宁愿死去。也不要你去冒这个险。"大儿子苦苦哀求父亲让他去，他心里是这样想的："如果我给父亲找回了生命之水，我就是父亲最亲爱的人了，他一定会让我继承他的王位。"经过努力，国王终于同意了他的请求。
大王子出发了，他一路上趾高气扬、不闻不问。 一天，他来到一座树木从生、怪石林立的深山峡谷中，四下一看，发现他上面的怪石上坐着一个小矮人。 小矮人问他："王子，你走这么快要到哪儿去呀？""关你什么事呢？你这个丑小鬼。"王子轻蔑傲慢地说完，骑着马走了。 小矮人对他的行为非常生气，针对他念了一句邪恶的咒语。 这一来，大王子骑马所经过的山峡就变得越来越窄，最后山道狭窄到使他一步也不能向前移动了。 他想拨马往来路退回去，但后面的山峡也合在一起使他完全卡在了里面，他想下马走路，可连马也下不来了，竟死死地被咒语困在那儿了。
他的父亲老国王在病中一天挨一天地盼望着大儿子，可就是不见他回转。 时间不等人，二儿子又向父亲说："爸爸，我要去找生命之水。"他暗想："我哥哥一定是死了，如果我这一去运气好，这个王国今后肯定就归我来继承了。"国王开始不愿意让他去，但最后经不住他苦苦哀求，就同意了他的请求。 他沿着哥哥相同的路径，抱着相同的态度，在同一个地方遇上了同一个小矮人，小矮人和先前一样说道："王子，你走这么快要到哪儿去呀？""多管闲事！留意你自己的事情吧。"王子很不屑地回答完，骑着马走了，小矮人气愤之下对他施了同样的魔法，二王子也和他哥哥一样被困在窄窄的山峡中，既不能前进，也不能后退了。 这就是那些自以为聪明、不听劝说、不懂礼貌、骄傲而又愚蠢的人的下场。
二王子出去不少时候了，在和他哥哥一样毫无回音的情况下，小王子也向父亲请求要去寻找生命之水，他自信能很快使父亲恢复健康，最后他征得父亲的同意出发了。 他在同一个地方也遇到了小矮人。 小矮人问道："王子 ，你走这么快要到哪儿去呀？ "王子回答说："我爸爸生病快要死了，我是去寻找生命之水来救活他的。 您能帮助我吗？ "小矮人问道："你知道到哪儿去找吗？ "王子回答道："不知道。 "小矮人说道："你对我说话挺和气，又真心诚意地请求我的帮助，我就告诉你到哪儿去找，又如何去找这种生命之水吧。 你所要寻找的水是一座被施了魔法的城堡中一口井里面涌出来的水，我给你一根铁杖和两小块面包，你可以很顺利地到达那儿。 当你到达城堡时，用这根铁杖敲三下城门，门会自动打开。 进门迎面躺着两头饥饿的狮子，张着大嘴随时等候着猎物送上门来，但如果把面包扔给它们，它们就会让你进去，你要尽快到井边去取生命之水，赶在时钟敲过十二点之前出城，要是你稍有耽搁，城门又会关上，你就永远也别想出来了。 "小王子对小矮人热情友好的帮助连声道谢，接过铁杖和面包，按照小矮人的指点出发了。他翻山越岭，漂洋过海，终于到达此行的目的地--被施了魔法的城堡。一切都和小矮人所说的完全相同，他用铁杖敲了三下城门，门向上打开了，扔掉面包让狮子安静下来后，他走进城堡，终于来到一座漂亮的大厅。
大厅周围有几个骑士坐在那儿昏睡着，他取下他们的戒指戴在自己的手指上。 又顺着大厅来到另一间房中，看到一张桌子上有一把宝剑和一块面包，他一起收了起来。 他再来到一个房间里，房子里的一张靠椅上坐着一个年青美丽的少女，看见他进来，少女很高兴地欢迎他，说他为她解脱了魔咒，他就应该得到这个王国，要是他一年之后回到这儿，她就和他结婚。 接着，她又告诉他那口井就在王宫的花园里，要他赶快在十二点钟之前去汲取他所要的生命之水。 告别少女后，他一路寻去，就在他走进那座美丽的花园时，一座令人爽快的凉棚吸引了他的注意。 凉棚下有一张睡椅，看到这些，他想到自己太累了，应该休息一会儿。 于是，他走上前去，在睡椅上躺了下来，很快就沉睡过去，一直睡到时钟响过十一点四十五分才醒来。 当意识到剩下的时间已经不多时，他立即惊慌地跳起来向井口跑去，拿起井边的一个杯子舀了一满杯水，十万火急地及时冲出了城门。 他刚刚跨出铁门，时钟就敲过十二点，铁门从上面落了下来，速度极快，连他的鞋后跟也被切掉了一块。
他们兄弟见面之后非常高兴，小王子把他是如何发现生命之水，并取了一满杯，以及他是如何解救一个美丽的公主摆脱魔咒的，公主又如何约定一年以后等他去和她完婚 ，要把王位传给他等经历都告诉了他们，然后三人一起骑着马往回赶路。 在路上，他们经过一个国家时，看到那儿正遭受战争和饥饿的蹂躏，土地荒芜，民不聊生，人们都以为这个国家就要灭亡了。 但小王子把那块面包借给那个国王，使他的臣民摆脱了饥饿，又用那把宝剑杀败了敌国的军队，使这个王国恢复了和平，过上了富裕的生活。 一路上，他又以同样的方式帮助了他们所经过的另外两个国家，把他们从危难之中解救出来，使那里的人民得以安居乐业。
最后，他们来到海边，一起上了一艘船。 当船在海上航行的时候，两个哥哥私下说："弟弟找到了我们没能找到的生命之水，因此，父亲一定会看轻我们，并且会把属于我们的王位传给他。"他们充满妒忌和报复心理，一起商定怎样才能毁了他。 他们等他睡觉后，偷偷地把那杯生命之水倒出来自己藏着，在杯子里换上了海水。
当他们回到王宫时，小儿子把他的杯子端给病重的父亲，满以为他喝了就会恢复健康。 可是国王只尝了一点点海水，病情就更加严重了。 这时，两个大儿子进来斥责小弟弟，说他这样做是想毒害自己的父亲，他们才真正找到了生命之水，并带了回来。 说完，他们把水端给国王喝。 国王刚喝一点，就觉得病好了，而且身体变得和他自己年青时一样强健。 两个哥哥走到弟弟身边嘲笑他说："哎哟！弟弟，你不是找到了生命之水吗？你千辛万苦跋涉，却让我们得到了回报，你要是聪明一点的话，为什么不把眼睛放亮一点呢？明年，我们俩人会有一个去娶你那美丽的公主。要是你不留点神，把这事说了出去，不仅父亲不会再相信你的话，我们也会要你的命。
老国王的病好了之后，对小儿子仍然很生气，以为他是想害他的命。 于是，他召集大臣一起问他们应该怎么处理这事，最后商定的结果是要将他的小儿子处死，而小王子对此事一点也不知道。 一天，国王的猎手去打猎，他们单独一起在树林中时，王子看见猎人一付愁眉苦脸的样子，就问道："我的朋友，你有什么心事吗？"猎人回答说："我不能够，也不敢告诉你。"王子听了这话，苦苦地请求他说："你只管说，--难道你认为我会生气吗？没关系，我原谅你就是了。"猎人叹口气说道："哎--！国王要我射杀你。"王子听了大吃一惊，说道："你就饶了我吧，我把衣服脱下来给你，你拿着这套王室衣服给我父亲看。再请你给我一件你的旧衣服。"猎人说："从内心来说，我能救你是很高兴的，因为我并不想射杀你。"接着，他脱下自己的旧衣服给了王子，拿着王子的衣服，穿过树林走了。
过了一段时间，有三个王国的大使带着金子和宝石等丰盛的礼物来到了老国王的王宫大院，说这是他们三个国家的国王送给他小儿子的礼物。 因为他的小儿子把宝剑和面包借给他们，使他们的国家打败了敌人，人民不再挨饿。 老国王了解到这些，心里一合计，他想自己的儿子可能没有罪，就对朝臣们说："哎呀！我竟派人把他杀死了，多么令人伤心啊！但愿我的儿子还活着就好了。"这时，那位猎人说道："陛下，他真的还活着，因为当时我很同情他，在树林没有射杀他，而是让他平平安安地走了，只带回了他的外衣。现在我很高兴我当时救了他。"国王一听，立即欣喜若狂地传令全国，如果他的儿子回来了，他会原谅他。
也就是在这个时候，那位公主正急切地盼望着她的救命恩人的归来。 她铺了一条通向王宫的路，路全部是用闪闪发光的黄金筑成的。 并告知她的臣民，只要是骑在马背上、直接沿着路面跑进门的人就是她真正的爱人，一定要放他进来。 如果来人是骑着马从路旁边进来的话，他就不是真的，一定要立即把他赶走。
约定的一年期限很快就要到了。 大王子想，他应该抢先去见公主，告诉她说是他解救了她，他就可以娶她作妻子，并得到那个王国了。 当他来到王宫前看到金子铺成的路时，他停了下来，心里暗想："骑着马在这么漂亮的路上跑多可惜呀！"于是，他拔转马头，从路的右边骑了过去。 可当他走到宫门口时，卫兵对他说他不是真的，要他走开。 不久，二王子也抱着同样的心理出发了，当他来到金子路前，那匹马的一只脚还只是刚踏上路面，他便立即把马勒住。 望着这闪闪发光的道路，他心想，这路真漂亮，禁不住自言自语地说："要是有什么东西踩在这上面就太煞风景了！"他说，所以，他也拨转马头从路的左边骑了进去。 但当他来到宫门时，卫兵说他不是真王子，也把他轰走了。
现在，一年的正式期限到了，小王子离开森林要去找他的未婚新娘。 这之前，他因害怕自己的父亲不原谅他，所以一直躲在树林里。 一路上，他老是想着她，快马加鞭不停地飞驰，甚至到了金子路也没有注意到，仍然骑着马直接从路上跑去。 待他来到宫门时，门立即打开了，那位公主非常高兴地来欢迎他的到来，说他就是自己的救命恩人，现在，他是自己的丈夫，也是这个王国的君主了。 婚礼在盛大的宴会中举行了，当一切办完之后，公主告诉他，说她听说了他的父亲已经原谅了他，希望他能再回家去。 新国王听了之后，回去见了父亲，将他的两个哥哥如何欺骗他，抢去生命之水的事情都告诉了父亲，并说明是出于对父亲的爱，他才忍受了所有的冤屈。 老国王听了异常震怒，要惩罚他的两个劣子。 但两个儿子听到风声后逃跑了，他们上了一条船扬帆出海去了，从此，再也没有听到过他们的消息。
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.