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The Riddle

A King's son once had a great desire to travel through the world, so he started off, taking no one with him but one trusty servant. One day he came to a great forest, and as evening drew on he could find no shelter, and could not think where to spend the night. All of a sudden he saw a girl going towards a little house, and as he drew nearer he remarked that she was both young and pretty. He spoke to her, and said, 'Dear child, could I and my servant spend the night in this house?'

'Oh yes,' said the girl in a sad tone, 'you can if you like, but I should not advise you to do so. Better not go in.'

'Why not?' asked the King's son.

The girl sighed and answered, 'My stepmother deals in black arts, and she is not very friendly to strangers.'

The Prince guessed easily that he had fallen on a witch's house, but as by this time it was quite dark and he could go no further, and as moreover he was not at all afraid, he stepped in.

An old woman sat in an armchair near the fire, and as the strangers entered she turned her red eyes on them. 'Good evening,' she muttered, and pretending to be quite friendly. 'Won't you sit down?'

She blew up the fire on which she was cooking something in a little pot, and her daughter secretly warned the travellers to be very careful not to eat or drink anything, as the old woman's brews were apt to be dangerous.

They went to bed, and slept soundly till morning. When they were ready to start and the King's son had already mounted his horse the old woman said: 'Wait a minute, I must give you a stirrup cup.' Whilst she went to fetch it the King's son rode off, and the servant who had waited to tighten his saddle-girths was alone when the witch returned.

'Take that to your master,' she said; but as she spoke the glass cracked and the poison spurted over the horse, and it was so powerful that the poor creature sank down dead. The servant ran after his master and told him what had happened, and then, not wishing to lose the saddle as well as the horse, he went back to fetch it.

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