Once upon a time there lived an old Queen, whose husband had been dead some years, and left her with one child, a beautiful daughter. When this daughter grew up she was to be married to a King's son, who lived far away.
Now when the time came for her to leave, the mother gave her daughter a lock of hair, saying, "Dear child, preserve this well, and it will help you out of trouble."
Afterwards the mother and daughter took a sorrowful leave of each other, and the princess placed the lock of hair in her bosom, mounted her horse Falada, and rode away to her intended bridegroom. Now this horse could speak. After she had ridden for about an hour she became very thirsty, and said to her servant, "Dismount, and bring me some water from yonder stream in the cup which you carry with you, for I am very thirsty."
"If you are thirsty," replied the servant, "dismount yourself, and stoop down to drink the water, for I will not be your maid!"
The Princess, on account of her great thirst, did as she was bid, and bending over the brook she drank of its water without daring to use her golden cup. While she did so the lock of hair said, "Ah! if thy mother knew this, her heart would break."
As she leaned over the water, the lock of hair fell out of her bosom and floated down the stream without her noticing it, because of her great anguish. But her servant had seen what happened, and she was glad, for now she had power over her mistress, because with the loss of the lock of hair, she became weak and helpless. When, then, the Princess was going to mount her horse again, the maid said, "No, Falada belongs to me; you must get upon this horse:" and she was forced to yield. Then the servant bade her take off her royal clothes, and put on her common ones instead; and, lastly, she made the Princess promise and swear by the open sky that she would say nought of what had passed at the King's palace; for if she had not sworn she would have been murdered. But Falada, the horse, observed all that passed with great attention.
Then the servant mounted upon Falada, and the rightful Princess upon a sorry hack; and in that way they traveled on till they came to the King's palace. On their arrival there were great rejoicings, and the young Prince, running towards them, lifted the servant off her horse, supposing that she was the true bride; and she was led up the steps in state, while the real Princess had to stop below. Just then the old King chanced to look out of his window and saw her standing in the court, and he remarked how delicate and beautiful she was; and, going to the royal apartments, he inquired there of the bride who it was she had brought with her and left below in the courtyard.
"Only a girl whom I brought with me for company," said the bride. "Give the wench some work to do, that she may not grow idle."
The old King, however, had no work for her, and knew of nothing; until at last he said, "Ah! there is a boy who keeps the geese: she can help him." This youth was called Conrad, and the true bride was set to keep geese with him.
Soon after this, the false bride said to her betrothed, "Dearest, will you grant me a favor?"
"Yes," said he; "with the greatest pleasure."
"Then let the butcher be summoned, that he may cut off the head of the horse on which I rode hither, for it has angered me on the way." In reality she feared lest the horse might tell how she had used the rightful Princess, and she was glad when it was decided that Falada should die.
This came to the ears of the Princess, and she promised secretly to the butcher to give him a piece of gold if he would show her a kindness, which was, that he would nail the head of Falada over a certain large and gloomy arch, through which she had to pass daily with the geese, so that then she might still see her old steed as she had been accustomed. The butcher promised, and, after killing the horse, nailed the head in the place which the Princess pointed out, over the door of the arch.
Early in the morning, when she and Conrad drove the geese through the arch, she said in passing:
"Ah, Falada, that you hang so high!"
and the head replied:
"Ah Princess, that you go humbly by! Thy mother's heart would surely break Were she to know of your heart-ache!"
Then she drove on through the town to a field. When they arrived in the meadow, she sat down and unloosened her hair, which was of pure gold. Its shining appearance so charmed Conrad that he tried to pull out a couple of locks. So she sang:
"Blow, blow, thou wind, Blow Conrad's hat away."
Immediately there came a strong wind, which snatched Conrad's hat off his head, and led him a rare chase; and when he returned what with combing and curling, the Princess had rearranged her hair, so that he could not catch a loose lock. This made Conrad very angry, and he would not speak to her; so all day long they tended their geese in silence.
After they returned home Conrad went to the old King and declared he would no longer keep geese with the servant.
"Why not?" asked the old King.
"Oh! she vexes me the whole day long," said Conrad; and then the King bade him tell all that had happened. So Conrad did, and told how, in the morning, when they passed through a certain archway, she spoke to a horse's head, which was nailed up over the door, and said:
"Ah, Falada, that you hang so high!"
and it replied:
"Ah, Princess, that you go humbly by! Thy mother's heart would surely break Were she to know of your heart-ache!"
And, further, he told how when they arrived in the meadow, she caused the wind to blow his hat off, so that he had to run after it ever so far. When he had finished his tale, the old King ordered him to drive the geese out again the next morning; and he himself, when morning came, stationed himself behind the gloomy archway, and heard the servant talk to the head of Falada. Then he followed them also into the fields. There he saw with his own eyes the Goose Girl and boy drive in the geese; and after a while she sat down and, unloosening her hair, which shone like gold, began to sing the old rhyme:
"Blow, blow, thou wind, Blow Conrad's hat away."
Then the King felt a breeze come, which took off Conrad's hat, so that he had to run a long way after it; while the Goose Girl combed out her hair and put it back in proper trim before his return. All this the King observed, and then went home unnoticed; and when the Goose Girl returned at evening, he called her aside, and asked her what it all meant.
"That I dare not tell you, nor any other man," replied she; "for I have sworn by the free sky not to speak of my griefs, else lose my life."
The King pressed her to say what it was, and left her no peace about it; but still she refused. So at last he said, "If you will not tell me, tell your griefs to this fireplace;" and he went away.
Then she crept into the fireplace and began to weep and groan; and soon she relieved her heart by telling her tale. "Here sit I," she said "forsaken by all the world, and yet I am a King's daughter; and a false servant has exercised some charm over me, whereby I was compelled to lay aside my royal clothes; and she has also taken my place at the bridegroom's side, and I am forced to perform the common duties of a Goose Girl. Oh, if my mother knew this, her heart would break with grief!"
The old King, meanwhile, stood outside by the chimney and listened to what she said; and when she had finished he came in, and called her away from the fireplace. Then her royal clothes were put on, and the old King, calling his son, showed him that he had taken a false bride, who was only a servant-girl, and that the true bride stood there as a Goose Girl.
The prince was glad indeed at heart when he saw her beauty and virtue. Then there was a great feast, at which the bridegroom sat, with the Princess on one side and the servant-girl on the other. But the latter was dazzled, and recognized her mistress no longer in her shining dress.
When they had finished their feasting, and were beginning to be gay, the old King set a riddle to the real servant-girl: What such an one were worthy of who had, in such and such a manner, deceived her masters; and he related all that had happened to the true bride. The servant-girl replied, "Such an one deserves nothing better than to be put into a cask, lined with sharp nails, and then to be dragged by two horses through the streets till the wretch be killed."
"You are the woman then!" exclaimed the King; "You have proclaimed your own punishment, and it shall be strictly fulfilled."
The sentence was at once carried out, and afterwards the Prince married his rightful bride, and they lived long in peace and happiness.