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The Three Tasks

         There were once two brothers who set out to seek their fortune. They wasted their time and their money in all sorts of foolish ways, and before long they were nearly penniless.
        After the two brothers had been gone some time, their younger brother, who had always been thought the simpleton of the family, set out to seek his fortune.
        One day as he was passing through a village far away from home, he found his two brothers.
        "Where are you going?" they asked.
        "I am going to seek my fortune," he replied.
        "Ha, ha! how foolish you are!" they cried. "With all our wit and wisdom we have been unable to make our fortune. It is silly of you even to try." And they laughed and made fun of him.
        Nevertheless, the three brothers decided to travel on together. As they journeyed on, they saw a large ant hill by the side of the road. The two elder brothers were about to destroy it, when the simpleton said, "Leave the poor ants alone. I will not let you disturb them."
        They went on their way until they came to a pond upon which two ducks were swimming. The two older brothers were about to kill them, when the simpleton said, "Leave them alone. I will not let you kill them."
        Soon the three came to a tree, in the trunk of which was a wild bee's nest. The two older brothers wished to steal the honey. They started to make a fire under the tree and smoke out the bees. The simpleton said, "Leave the poor bees alone. I will not let you rob them."


        At last the three brothers came to a castle where everything looked as if it had been turned to stone. There was not a single human being to be seen. They walked along the great wide hall, but still they saw no one.
        "The castle must be enchanted," the brothers said to one another.
        After passing through many rooms, they came to a door in which there were three locks. In the middle of the door was a little grating through which they could look into the room beyond.
        They saw a little man, dressed in gray, seated at a table. Twice they called to him, but he did not answer. They called a third time. Then he rose, opened the three locks, and came out.
        He said not a word, but led them to a table on which a feast was spread. When they had eaten and drunk as much as they wished, the old man showed each of them to a bedroom. There they rested well all night.
        The next morning the little gray man came to the eldest brother and beckoned him to follow. He led him to a room in which there was a stone table, and on the table there lay three stone tablets.
        On the table near the tablets was written:
        "This castle is enchanted. Before the enchantment can be broken, there are three tasks to be performed. The one who performs these three tasks shall marry the youngest and dearest of the three princesses who now lie asleep in the castle."
        When the eldest brother had read this, the old man gave him the first tablet. On it was written:
        "In the forest, hidden beneath the thick moss, are the pearls which belonged to the princesses. They are a thousand in number. These must be collected by sunset. If one single pearl is missing, then he who has sought them shall be turned to stone."
        The eldest brother searched the whole day long, but by sunset he had found only a hundred pearls. So he was turned to stone.
        The following day the second brother tried his luck, but by sunset he had found but two hundred pearls. So he, too, was turned to stone.
        Then it came the simpleton's turn. He searched all day amidst the moss, but he fared little better than his brothers. At last he sat down upon a stone and burst into tears.
        As he sat there, the king of the ants, whose life he had once saved, came with five thousand ants. Before long the little creatures had found every one of the pearls and piled them up in a heap.
        The little gray man then gave the simpleton the second tablet. Upon it was written the second task:
        "The key that opens the chamber in which the princesses are sleeping lies in the bottom of the lake. He who has performed the first task must find the key."
        When the simpleton came to the lake, the ducks which he had saved were swimming upon it. At once they dived down into the depths below and brought up the key.
        The simpleton showed the key to the little gray man, who then gave him the third tablet. On it was written the third task:
        "The one who has gathered the pearls and found the key to the chamber may now marry the youngest and dearest princess. He must, however, first tell which is she. The princesses are exactly alike, but there is one difference. Before they went to sleep, the eldest ate sugar, the second ate syrup, and the youngest ate honey."
        The simpleton laid down the tablet with a sigh. "How can I find out which princess ate the honey?" he asked himself.
        However, he put the key he had found in the lock and opened the door. In the chamber the three princesses were lying. Ah, which was the youngest?
        Just then the queen of the bees flew in through the window and tasted the lips of all three. When she came to the lips that had sipped the honey, she remained there. Then the young man knew that this was the youngest and dearest princess.
        So the enchantment came to an end. The sleepers awoke, and those who had been turned to stone became alive again. The simpleton married the youngest and dearest princess, and was made king after her father's death. His two brothers, who were now sorry for what they had done, married the other two princesses, and lived happily ever after.