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Main > Fairy tale > All authors > Andrew Lang > Fairy tale "The Riddle"

The Riddle

'What is this?' he asked. 'One slew none and yet killed twelve.'

She could not think what it was! She thought, and thought, and looked through all her books of riddles and puzzles, but she found nothing to help her, and could not guess; in fact, she was at her wits' end. As she could think of no way to guess the riddle, she ordered her maid to steal at night into the Prince's bedroom and to listen, for she thought that he might perhaps talk aloud in his dreams and so betray the secret. But the clever servant had taken his master's place, and when the maid came he tore off the cloak she had wrapped herself in and hunted her off with a whip.

On the second night the Princess sent her lady-in-waiting, hoping that she might succeed better, but the servant took away her mantle and chased her away also.

On the third night the King's son thought he really might feel safe, so he went to bed. But in the middle of the night the Princess came herself, all huddled up in a misty grey mantle, and sat down near him. When she thought he was fast asleep, she spoke to him, hoping he would answer in the midst of his dreams, as many people do; but he was wide awake all the time, and heard and understood everything very well.

Then she asked: 'One slew none--what is that?' and he answered: 'A raven which fed on the carcase of a poisoned horse.'

She went on: 'And yet killed twelve--what is that?' 'Those are twelve murderers who ate the raven and died of it.'

As soon as she knew the riddle she tried to slip away, but he held her mantle so tightly that she was obliged to leave it behind.

Next morning the Princess announced that she had guessed the riddle, and sent for the twelve judges, before whom she declared it. But the young man begged to be heard, too, and said: 'She came by night to question me, otherwise she never could have guessed it.'

The judges said: 'Bring us some proof.' So the servant brought out the three cloaks, and when the judges saw the grey one, which the Princess was in the habit of wearing, they said: 'Let it be embroidered with gold and silver; it shall be your wedding mantle.

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