The twelve brothers


De tolv brødre

There were once on a time a king and a queen who lived happily together and had twelve children, but they were all boys. Then said the King to his wife, "If the thirteenth child which thou art about to bring into the world, is a girl, the twelve boys shall die, in order that her possessions may be great, and that the kingdom may fall to her alone." He caused likewise twelve coffins to be made, which were already filled with shavings, and in each lay the little pillow for the dead, and he had them taken into a locked-up room, and then he gave the Queen the key of it, and bade her not to speak of this to any one.

The mother, however, now sat and lamented all day long, until the youngest son, who was always with her, and whom she had named Benjamin, from the Bible, said to her, "Dear mother, why art thou so sad?"

"Dearest child," she answered, "I may not tell thee." But he let her have no rest until she went and unlocked the room, and showed him the twelve coffins ready filled with shavings. Then she said, my dearest Benjamin, thy father has had these coffins made for thee and for thy eleven brothers, for if I bring a little girl into the world, you are all to be killed and buried in them." And as she wept while she was saying this, the son comforted her and said, "Weep not, dear mother, we will save ourselves, and go hence." But she said, "Go forth into the forest with thy eleven brothers, and let one sit constantly on the highest tree which can be found, and keep watch, looking towards the tower here in the castle. If I give birth to a little son, I will put up a white flag, and then you may venture to come back, but if I bear a daughter, I will hoist a red flag, and then fly hence as quickly as you are able, and may the good God protect you. And every night I will rise up and pray for you -- in winter that you may be able to warm yourself at a fire, and in summer that you may not faint away in the heat."

After she had blessed her sons therefore, they went forth into the forest. They each kept watch in turn, and sat on the highest oak and looked towards the tower. When eleven days had passed and the turn came to Benjamin, he saw that a flag was being raised. It was, however, not the white, but the blood-red flag which announced that they were all to die. When the brothers heard that, they were very angry and said, "Are we all to suffer death for the sake of a girl? We swear that we will avenge ourselves!-- wheresoever we find a girl, her red blood shall flow."

Thereupon they went deeper into the forest, and in the midst of it, where it was the darkest, they found a little bewitched hut, which was standing empty. Then said they, "Here we will dwell, and thou Benjamin, who art the youngest and weakest, thou shalt stay at home and keep house, we others will go out and get food." Then they went into the forest and shot hares, wild deer, birds and pigeons, and whatsoever there was to eat; this they took to Benjamin, who had to dress it for them in order that they might appease their hunger. They lived together ten years in the little hut, and the time did not appear long to them.

The little daughter which their mother the Queen had given birth to, was now grown up; she was good of heart, and fair of face, and had a golden star on her forehead. Once, when it was the great washing, she saw twelve men's shirts among the things, and asked her mother, "To whom do these twelve shirts belong, for they are far too small for father?" Then the Queen answered with a heavy heart, "Dear child, these belong to thy twelve brothers." Said the maiden, "Where are my twelve brothers, I have never yet heard of them?" She replied, "God knows where they are, they are wandering about the world." Then she took the maiden and opened the chamber for her, and showed her the twelve coffins with the shavings, and pillows for the head. "These coffins," said she, "were destined for thy brothers, but they went away secretly before thou wert born," and she related to her how everything had happened; then said the maiden, "Dear mother, weep not, I will go and seek my brothers."

So she took the twelve shirts and went forth, and straight into the great forest. She walked the whole day, and in the evening she came to the bewitched hut. Then she entered it and found a young boy, who asked, "From whence comest thou, and whither art thou bound?" and was astonished that she was so beautiful, and wore royal garments, and had a star on her forehead. And she answered, "I am a king's daughter, and am seeking my twelve brothers, and I will walk as far as the sky is blue until I find them." She likewise showed him the twelve shirts which belonged to them. Then Benjamin saw that she was his sister, and said, "I am Benjamin, thy youngest brother." And she began to weep for joy, and Benjamin wept also, and they kissed and embraced each other with the greatest love. But after this he said, "Dear sister, there is still one difficulty. We have agreed that every maiden whom we meet shall die, because we have been obliged to leave our kingdom on account of a girl." Then said she, "I will willingly die, if by so doing I can deliver my twelve brothers."

"No," answered he, "thou shalt not die, seat thyself beneath this tub until our eleven brothers come, and then I will soon come to an agreement with them."

She did so, and when it was night the others came from hunting, and their dinner was ready. And as they were sitting at table, and eating, they asked, "What news is there?" Said Benjamin, "Don't you know anything?" - "No," they answered. He continued, "You have been in the forest and I have stayed at home, and yet I know more than you do." - "Tell us then," they cried. He answered, "But promise me that the first maiden who meets us shall not be killed." - "Yes," they all cried, "she shall have mercy, only do tell us."

Then said he, "Our sister is here," and he lifted up the tub, and the King's daughter came forth in her royal garments with the golden star on her forehead, and she was beautiful, delicate and fair. Then they were all rejoiced, and fell on her neck, and kissed and loved her with all their hearts.

Now she stayed at home with Benjamin and helped him with the work. The eleven went into the forest and caught game, and deer, and birds, and wood-pigeons that they might have food, and the little sister and Benjamin took care to make it ready for them. She sought for the wood for cooking and herbs for vegetables, and put the pans on the fire so that the dinner was always ready when the eleven came. She likewise kept order in the little house, and put beautifully white clean coverings on the little beds, and the brothers were always contented and lived in great harmony with her.

Once on a time the two at home had prepared a beautiful entertainment, and when they were all together, they sat down and ate and drank and were full of gladness. There was, however, a little garden belonging to the bewitched house wherein stood twelve lily flowers, which are likewise called students. She wished to give her brothers pleasure, and plucked the twelve flowers, and thought she would present each brother with one while at dinner. But at the self-same moment that she plucked the flowers the twelve brothers were changed into twelve ravens, and flew away over the forest, and the house and garden vanished likewise. And now the poor maiden was alone in the wild forest, and when she looked around, an old woman was standing near her who said, "My child, what hast thou done? Why didst thou not leave the twelve white flowers growing? They were thy brothers, who are now for evermore changed into ravens." The maiden said, weeping, "Is there no way of delivering them?"

"No," said the woman, "there is but one in the whole world, and that is so hard that thou wilt not deliver them by it, for thou must be dumb for seven years, and mayst not speak or laugh, and if thou speakest one single word, and only an hour of the seven years is wanting, all is in vain, and thy brothers will be killed by the one word."

Then said the maiden in her heart, "I know with certainty that I shall set my brothers free," and went and sought a high tree and seated herself in it and span, and neither spoke nor laughed. Now it so happened that a king was hunting in the forest, who had a great greyhound which ran to the tree on which the maiden was sitting, and sprang about it, whining, and barking at her. Then the King came by and saw the beautiful King's daughter with the golden star on her brow, and was so charmed with her beauty that he called to ask her if she would be his wife. She made no answer, but nodded a little with her head. So he climbed up the tree himself, carried her down, placed her on his horse, and bore her home. Then the wedding was solemnized with great magnificence and rejoicing, but the bride neither spoke nor smiled. When they had lived happily together for a few years, the King's mother, who was a wicked woman, began to slander the young Queen, and said to the King, "This is a common beggar girl whom thou hast brought back with thee. Who knows what impious tricks she practises secretly! Even if she be dumb, and not able to speak, she still might laugh for once; but those who do not laugh have bad consciences." At first the King would not believe it, but the old woman urged this so long, and accused her of so many evil things, that at last the King let himself be persuaded and sentenced her to death.

And now a great fire was lighted in the courtyard in which she was to be burnt, and the King stood above at the window and looked on with tearful eyes, because he still loved her so much. And when she was bound fast to the stake, and the fire was licking at her clothes with its red tongue, the last instant of the seven years expired. Then a whirring sound was heard in the air, and twelve ravens came flying towards the place, and sank downwards, and when they touched the earth they were her twelve brothers, whom she had delivered. They tore the fire asunder, extinguished the flames, set their dear sister free, and kissed and embraced her. And now as she dared to open her mouth and speak, she told the King why she had been dumb, and had never laughed. The King rejoiced when he heard that she was innocent, and they all lived in great unity until their death. The wicked step-mother was taken before the judge, and put into a barrel filled with boiling oil and venomous snakes, and died an evil death.
Der var engang en konge og en dronning, som levede lykkeligt med hinanden. De havde tolv børn, men det var drenge allesammen. En dag sagde kongen til sin kone: "Hvis det trettende barn, du føder, bliver en pige, skal de tolv drenge dræbes, for at hun kan få hele kongeriget." Han lod straks lave tolv kister, og der blev lagt høvlspåner i dem og puder, som de døde skulle ligge på. Så lod han dem stille ind i en stue, låsede døren og gav dronningen nøglen, men forbød hende at tale til nogen derom.

Dronningen sad hele dagen og sørgede, og hendes yngste søn, der hed Benjamin efter bibelen og altid var hos hende, spurgte hende da: "Hvorfor er du så bedrøvet, lille mor?" - "Mit elskede barn," svarede hun, "jeg tør ikke sige det." Men han lod hende ikke have fred, før hun gik hen og lukkede stuen op og viste ham de tolv kister med høvlspånerne. Så sagde hun: "Kære Benjamin, disse kister har din far ladet lave til dig og dine elleve brødre, og hvis jeg føder en datter, skal I allesammen dræbes og lægges deri og begraves." Hun græd, mens hun fortalte det, men drengen trøstede hende og sagde: "Du skal ikke græde, lille mor, vi skal nok klare os, vi løber vores vej." Men dronningen sagde: "Du skal tage dine elleve brødre med dig ud i skoven. Der skal en af jer kravle op i det højeste træ, I kan finde, og holde udkig efter tårnet her på slottet. Hvis jeg føder en dreng, hejser jeg en hvid fane, og så skal I komme hjem igen, men føder jeg en pige, hejser jeg en rød fane, og så skal I flygte, så hurtigt I kan. Den gode Gud vil nok beskytte jer. Hver nat vil jeg stå op og bede for jer, om vinteren beder jeg, at I må have ild til at varme jer ved, og om sommeren, at heden ikke må plage jer."

Hun velsignede sine sønner, og de gik ud i skoven. De skiftedes nu til at sidde oppe i den højeste eg og holde udkig efter tårnet. Da elleve dage var gået, og det var Benjamins tur, så han at her blev hejset en fane op, men det var det røde blodbanner, der forkyndte, at de allesammen skulle dø. Da brødrene hørte det, blev de rasende og råbte: "Vi vil ikke dø for en piges skyld. Vi sværger, at vi vil hævne os. Hvor vi møder en pige, skal hendes røde blod flyde."

De gik dybere ind i skoven og langt, langt inde, hvor der var allermørkest fandt de et lille forladt hus. "Her vil vi bo," sagde den ældste, "Benjamin er den yngste og svageste, han skal blive hjemme og passe huset. Vi andre må se at skaffe føden." De drog så ud i skoven og skød harer og rådyr og fugle, og hvad de kunne få ram på, og bragte det hjem til Benjamin, der lavede det til, så de kunne spise sig mætte. I ti år boede de nu i det lille hus, og tiden faldt dem aldrig lang.

Imidlertid var den lille pige, som dronningen havde født, vokset op. Hun havde et godt hjerte og et smukt ansigt, og midt i panden havde hun en guldstjerne. Engang, da de havde storvask på slottet, fandt hun mellem tøjet tolv drengeskjorter og spurgte sin moder: "Hvem tilhører disse tolv skjorter, de er da altfor små til far." - "De tilhører dine tolv brødre, kære barn," svarede hendes moder bedrøvet. "Hvor er de da henne, dem har jeg jo aldrig hørt noget om," sagde pigen. Og dronningen svarede: "Kun Gud ved, hvor de er. De vandrer omkring ude i den vide verden." Hun tog nu pigen med sig op i stuen med de tolv kister. "Disse kister var bestemt til dine brødre," sagde hun, "men drengene løb hemmeligt deres vej, inden du blev født," og så fortalte hun, hvordan det altsammen var gåeftil. Pigen trøstede hende og sagde: "Du skal ikke græde, kære mor. Jeg vil gå ud og søge efter mine brødre."

Hun tog de tolv skjorter med og begav sig på vej. Hun kom netop til den store skov og gik hele dagen i den. Om aftenen kom hun til det lille hus. Hun gik derind og traf en dreng, som spurgte: "Hvordan kommer du her? Hvor skal du hen?" Han var forbavset over, at hun var så smuk og klædt som en prinsesse med en stjerne i panden. "Jeg er en kongedatter," svarede hun, "jeg søger efter mine tolv brødre, og jeg vil gå, så længe jeg har himlen over mig, lige til jeg finder dem." Hun viste ham også de tolv skjorter, hun havde taget med. Da så Benjamin, at det var hans søster, og sagde: "Jeg er Benjamin, din yngste bror." De græd begge to af glæde og omfavnede og kyssede hinanden. Men så sagde han: "Nu er der kun en ting i vejen, lille søster. Vi har aftalt at dræbe alle de piger vi traf på vor vej, fordi det var en piges skyld, at vi måtte forlade vort rige." - "Jeg vil gerne dø," svarede hun, "hvis jeg kan frelse mine brødre derved." - "Nej," sagde Benjamin, "du skal ikke dø. Kryb ind under dette kar, og bliv der, til vores brødre kommer hjem, så skal jeg nok tale med dem." Det gjorde hun. Da det blev mørkt, kom de andre hjem fra jagten, og maden stod færdig og ventede på dem. Mens de sad ved bordet og spiste og drak, spurgte de: "Er der ikke noget nyt at fortælle?" - "Ved I ikke noget?" spurgte Benjamin. "Nej," svarede de. "I har været i skoven," sagde han, "og jeg har siddet hjemme og ved dog mere end I." - "Fortæl os det," råbte de. "Lover I mig så, at I vil lade være med at dræbe den første pige, I møder?" spurgte Benjamin. "Ja," råbte de allesammen, "hun skal få lov til at beholde livet. Fortæl os nu bare, hvad du ved." Benjamin rejste sig og gik hen til karret og løftede det op. "Her er vores søster," sagde han. Kongedatteren kom frem i sine kongelige klæder med guldstjernen på panden og så så smuk og god ud, at de allesammen straks kom til at holde af hende og omfavnede og kyssede hende.

Hun blev nu hjemme hos Benjamin og hjalp ham. De elleve brødre drog ud i skoven og fangede rådyr og fugle for at de kunne få noget at leve af, og søsteren og Benjamin lavede det til. Hun samlede brænde og urter og satte gryden over ilden, så maden altid var færdig i rette tid. Hun holdt huset i orden og redte sengene bløde og hvide, og brødrene var stadig tilfredse og levede i den største enighed.

En dag havde de to derhjemme lavet dejlig mad, og da de andre kom hjem, satte de sig til bords og spiste og drak. Ved siden af huset var der en lille have, hvori der stod tolv liljer, og da pigen gerne ville gøre sine brødre en glæde, gik hun ud for at plukke de tolv blomster for at give dem hver en, når de havde spist. Men i samme nu, hun plukkede dem, blev de tolv brødre forvandlede til ravne og fløj skrigende henover skoven. Huset og haven var også forsvundet. Nu var den stakkels pige helt alene i den store skov. Da hun vendte sig om, så hun, at der stod en gammel kone, som rystede på hovedet og sagde: "Barn, barn, hvad har du gjort? Nu er de for evig tid forvandlede til ravne." - "Kan jeg slet ikke gøre noget for at frelse dem," spurgte pigen grædende. "Nej," sagde den gamle, "der er kun en eneste ting, der kan redde dem, men det er så svært, det kan du ikke gøre. I syv år må du hverken tale eller le, og hvis du siger et eneste ord, og der mangler blot et sekund i de syv år, er det altsammen forgæves, og dine brødre må dø."

Men pigen tænkte: "Jeg vil frelse mine brødre." Hun klatrede så op i et højt træ og sad der og spandt og spandt og sagde ikke et ord og lo aldrig. Nu hændte det en gang, at en konge drog på jagt i skoven. Han havde en stor hund med, og den løb hen til træet, hvor pigen sad, snusede til det og sprang rundt om det og gøede. Kongen red derhen og så den smukke kongedatter med guldstjernen på panden. Han blev så betaget af hendes skønhed, at han råbte til hende, om hun ville være hans dronning. Hun svarede ikke, men nikkede blot. Han klatrede så selv op i træet, bar hende ned, satte hende foran sig på hesten og red hjem med hende. Brylluppet blev fejret med pomp og pragt, men bruden hverken talte eller lo. Da de havde levet lykkeligt med hinanden nogle år, begyndte kongens onde stedmor at bagtale den unge dronning og sagde til kongen: "Det er en simpel tiggertøs, du har taget med dig. Hvem ved, hvad for ugudelige ting hun hemmeligt foretager sig. Selv om hun ikke kan tale, kunne hun dog le engang imellem. Den, der aldrig ler, har en ond samvittighed." Kongen ville først ikke høre på hende, men den gamle blev så længe ved og beskyldte dronningen for så mange slemme ting, at han til sidst lod sig overtale og dømte hende til døden.

Der blev nu rejst et stort bål i gården, og der skulle hun brændes. Kongen stod oppe i vinduet og så til med tårer i øjnene, for han elskede hende endnu. Men lige i det øjeblik, hun blev bundet fast til pælen, og de røde flammer begyndte at slikke op ad hende, var det sidste sekund af de syv år forbi. Der hørtes en susen i luften, tolv ravne kom trækkende og dalede ned. Da de berørte jorden, forvandledes de til de tolv brødre, som hun havde frelst. De rev bålet ned, slukkede ilden, befriede deres kære søster og omfavnede og kyssede hende. Og nu, da hun atter kunne tale, fortalte hun kongen, hvorfor hun havde været stum og aldrig havde let. Kongen blev så glad, da han fik at vide, at hun var uskyldig, og de levede lykkeligt sammen til deres død. Den onde stedmor blev stillet for domstolen og puttet i et fad med kogende olie og giftige slanger og omkom ynkeligt.

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