The King of the Golden Mountain

By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

A certain merchant had two children, a boy and a girl; they were both young, too young to walk. And two richly-laden ships of his sailed forth to sea with all his property on board, and just as he was expecting to win much money by them, news came that they had gone to the bottom, and now instead of being a rich man he was a poor one, and had nothing left but one field outside the town.

In order to drive his misfortune a little out of his thoughts, he went out to this field, and as he was walking backwards and forwards in it, a little black mannikin stood suddenly by his side, and asked why he was so sad, and what he was taking so much to heart.

Then said the merchant, “If thou couldst help me I would willingly tell thee.” “Who knows?” replied the black dwarf. “Perhaps I can help thee.” Then the merchant told him that all he possessed had gone to the bottom of the sea, and that he had nothing left but this field. “Do not trouble thyself,” said the dwarf. “If thou wilt promise to give me the first thing that rubs itself against thy leg when thou art at home again, and to bring it here to this place in twelve years’ time, thou shalt have as much money as thou wilt.” The merchant thought, “What can that be but my dog?” and did not remember his little boy, so he said yes, gave the black man a written and sealed promise, and went home.

When he reached home, his little boy was so delighted that he held by a bench, tottered up to him and seized him fast by the legs. The father was shocked, for he remembered his promise, and now knew what he had pledged himself to do; as, however, he still found no money in his chest, he thought the dwarf had only been jesting. A month afterwards he went up to the garret, intending to gather together some old tin and to sell it, and saw a great heap of money lying. Then he was happy again, made purchases, became a greater merchant than before, and felt that this world was well governed.

In the meantime the boy grew tall, and at the same time sharp and clever. But the nearer the twelfth year approached the more anxious grew the merchant, so that his distress might be seen in his face. One day his son asked what ailed him, but the father would not say. The boy, however, persisted so long, that at last he told him that without being aware of what he was doing, he had promised him to a black dwarf, and had received much money for doing so. He said likewise that he had set his hand and seal to this, and that now when twelve years had gone by he would have to give him up.

Then said the son, “Oh, father, do not be uneasy, all will go well. The black man has no power over me.” The son had been himself blessed by the priest, and when the time came, father and son went together to the field, and the son made a circle and placed himself inside it with his father. Then came the black dwarf and said to the old man, “Hast thou brought with thee that which thou hast promised me?” He was silent, but the son asked, “What dost thou want here?” Then said the black dwarf, “I have to speak with thy father, and not with thee.” The son replied, “Thou hast betrayed and misled my father; give back the writing.” “No,” said the black dwarf, “I will not give up my rights.”

They spoke together for a long time after this, but at last they agreed that the son, as he did not belong to the enemy of mankind, nor yet to his father, should seat himself in a small boat, which should lie on water which was flowing away from them, and that the father should push it off with his own foot, and then the son should remain given up to the water. So he took leave of his father, placed himself in a little boat, and the father had to push it off with his own foot. The boat capsized so that the keel was uppermost, and the father believed his son was lost, and went home and mourned for him.

The boat, however, did not sink, but floated quietly away, and the boy sat safely inside it, and it floated thus for a long time, until at last it stopped by an unknown shore. Then he landed and saw a beautiful castle before him, and set out to go to it.

When he entered it, however, he found that it was bewitched. He went through every room, but all were empty until he reached the last, where a snake lay coiled in a ring. The snake, however, was an enchanted maiden, who rejoiced to see him, and said, “Hast thou come, oh, my deliverer? I have already waited twelve years for thee; this kingdom is bewitched, and thou must set it free.” “How can I do that?” he inquired. “Tonight come twelve black men, covered with chains, who will ask what thou art doing here; keep silence, however; give them no answer, and let them do what they will with thee; they will torment thee, beat thee, stab thee; let everything pass, only do not speak; at twelve o’clock, they must go away again.

“On the second night twelve others will come; on the third, four-and-twenty, who will cut off thy head, but at twelve o’clock their power will be over, and then if thou hast endured all, and hast not spoken the slightest word, I shall be released. I will come to thee, and will have, in a bottle, some of the water of life. I will rub thee with that, and then thou wilt come to life again, and be as healthy as before.” Then said he, “I will gladly set thee free.”

Everything happened just as she had said. The black men could not force a single word from him, and on the third night the snake became a beautiful princess who came with the water of life and brought him back to life again. So she threw herseff into his arms and kissed him, and there was joy and gladness in the whole castle. After this their marriage was celebrated, and he was King of the Golden Mountain.

They lived very happily together, and the Queen bore a fine boy. Eight years had already gone by, when the King bethought him of his father; his heart was moved, and he wished to visit him. The Queen, however, would not let him go away, and said, “I know beforehand that it will cause my unhappiness”; but he suffered her to have no rest until she consented. At their parting she gave him a wishing-ring, and said, “Take this ring and put it on thy finger, and then thou wilt immediately be transported whithersoever thou wouldst be, only thou must promise me not to use it in wishing me away from this place and with thy father.” That he promised her, put the ring on his finger, and wished himself at home, just outside the town where his father lived.

Instantly he found himself there, and made for the town, but when he came to the gate, the sentries would not let him go in, because he wore such strange and yet such rich and magnificent clothing. Then he went to a hill where a shepherd was watching his sheep, changed clothes with him, put on his old shepherd’s-coat, and then entered the town without hindrance. When he came to his father, he made himself known to him, but he did not at all believe that the shepherd was his son, and said he certainly had had a son, but that he was dead long ago; however, as he saw he was a poor, needy shepherd, he would give him something to eat.

Then the shepherd said to his parents, “I am verily your son. Do you know of no mark on my body by which you could recognize me?” “Yes,” said his mother, “our son had a raspberry mark under his right arm.” He slipped back his shirt, and they saw the raspberry under his right arm, and no longer doubted that he was their son. Then he told them that he was King of the Golden Mountain, and a King’s daughter was his wife, and that they had a fine son of seven years old. Then said the father, “That is certainly not true; it is a fine kind of King who goes about in a ragged shepherd’s-coat.”

From Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Garden City, N.Y.: International Collectors Library, 1900.

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