The Three Golden Hairs: The Story of a Charcoal-Burner's Son Who Married a Princess
There was once a king who took great delight in hunting. One day he followed a stag a great distance into the forest. He went on and on until he lost his way. Night fell and the king by happy chance came upon a clearing where a charcoal-burner had a cottage. The king asked the charcoal-burner to lead him out of the forest and offered to pay him handsomely.
“I’d be glad to go with you,” the charcoal-burner said, “but my wife is expecting the birth of a child and I cannot leave her. It is too late for you to start out alone. Won’t you spend the night here? Lie down on some hay in the garret and tomorrow I’ll be your guide.”
The king had to accept this arrangement. He climbed into the garret and lay down on the floor. Soon afterwards a son was born to the charcoal-burner.
At midnight the king noticed a strange light in the room below him. He peeped through a chink in the boards and saw the charcoal-burner asleep, his wife lying in a dead faint, and three old women, all in white, standing over the baby, each holding a lighted taper in her hand.
The first old woman said: “My gift to this boy is that he shall encounter great dangers.”
The second said: “My gift to him is that he shall go safely through them all, and live long.”
The third one said: “And I give him for wife the baby daughter born this night to the king who lies upstairs on the straw.”
The three old women blew out their tapers and all was quiet. They were the Fates.
The king felt as though a sword had been thrust into his heart. He lay awake till morning trying to think out some plan by which he could thwart the will of the three old Fates.
When day broke the child began to cry and the charcoal-burner woke up. Then he saw that his wife had died during the night.
“Ah, my poor motherless child,” he cried, “what shall I do with you now?”
“Give me the baby,” the king said. “I’ll see that he’s looked after properly and I’ll give you enough money to keep you the rest of your life.”
The charcoal-burner was delighted with this offer and the king went away promising to send at once for the baby.