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Main > German folktales > Fairy tale "The Prince and the Maiden"

The Prince and the Maiden

Once upon a time a king found himself lost in a forest. Try as he might, he could not find his way out. As he was wandering down yet another path which had turned out to be as hopeless as the rest, a man with a long, gray beard came toward him.

The stranger said, "I will show you the way out if you promise that you will give me in one year the first thing that comes out of your house."

"It's my sporting dog who greets me first at the door," thought the King. "I wouldn't want to give up my dog. Still, the welfare of my kingdom depends on me and I must find my way home." He turned to the stranger. "Very well, I accept your terms." Scarcely had he uttered the words than he found himself at the great gates of his palace. Out rushed the nurse holding the royal baby, who stretched his arms to his father. The king, horrified, shrank back and ordered the nurse to take the baby back in the palace at once.

When the king was able to consider the best way of handling the situation, he exchanged his baby, a beautiful baby boy, for the infant daughter of a peasant, and the prince lived roughly as the son of poor people, while the little peasant girl slept in a golden cradle, under silken sheets. At the end of a year, the stranger arrived to claim his property, and took away the little girl, believing her to be the true child of the king. The king was so delighted with the success of his plan that he gave splendid presents to the foster parents of his son, so that they might lack for nothing. But he did not dare bring back the baby, his true son, lest the trick should be found out. The peasants were contented with this arrangement, which gave them food and money in abundance.

By-and-by the boy grew big and tall, and seemed to lead a happy life in the home of his foster parents, the peasant couple. But a shadow hung over him which really poisoned most of his pleasure, and that was the thought of the poor innocent girl who had suffered in his stead, for his foster parents had told him in secret the story of his royal birth and how he was switched as an infant with the peasant girl.

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