once a king and
queen who had twelve children—all boys. Now, one day the king told his
wife that if a daughter should be born, all the sons must die—that
sister alone might inherit his kingdom and riches.
So the king
had twelve coffins
made, which were filled with shavings, and in each was the little
for the dead. He had them locked up in a private room, the key of which
he gave to the queen, praying her not to speak of it to anyone. But the
poor mother was so unhappy that she wept for a whole day, and looked so
sad that her youngest son noticed it.
He had the
Bible name of
Benjamin, and was always with his mother.
mother," he said, "why
are you so sorrowful?"
I may not tell
you," she replied; but the boy allowed her no rest till she unlocked
door of the private room, and showed him the twelve coffins filled with
Benjamin," she said,
"these coffins are for you and your brothers; for if you should ever
a little sister, you will all die, and be buried in them."
bitterly as she
told him, but her son comforted her, and said, "Do not weep, dear
We will take care of ourselves, and go far away."
took courage, and said,
"Yes, go away with your eleven brothers, and remain in the forest; and
let one climb a tree, from whence he will be able to see the tower of
castle; If I should have a son, a white flag shall be hoisted, and then
you may return home; but if you see a red flag, you will know it is a
and then hasten away as fast as you can, and may Heaven protect you!
night I will pray for you, that you may not suffer from the cold in
or the heat in summer."
blessed all her
sons, and they went away into the forest, while each in turn mounted a
high tree daily, to watch for the flag on the tower.
passed, and it
was Benjamin's turn to watch. He saw the flag hoisted, and it was
signal that they must die. The brothers were angry, and said, "Shall we
suffer death on account of a maiden? When we find one we will kill her,
to avenge ourselves."
still farther into
the forest, and came upon a most pleasant little cottage, which was
"We will make this our home," they said; "and Benjamin, as you are the
youngest and weakest, you shall stay at home and keep house, while we
out and procure food."
wandered about the
forest, shooting hares, wild rabbits, pigeons and other birds, which
brought to Benjamin to prepare for food. In this cottage they lived for
ten years happily together, so that the time passed quickly.
little sister was growing
a great girl. She had a sweet disposition, and was very beautiful to
upon. She wore rich clothes, and a golden star on her forehead.
when she was about
ten years old, she discovered in her mother's wardrobe twelve shirts.
she exclaimed, "whose shirts are these? They are much too small for my
sighed as she replied,
"Dear child, these shirts belong to your twelve brothers."
the little maiden. "Where are they? I have not even heard of them."
knows where they
are," was the reply; "but they are wandering about the world
Then the queen took her little daughter to the private room in the
and showed her the twelve coffins which had been prepared for her
and related to her, with many tears, why they had left home.
mother," said the child,
"do not weep. I will go and seek my brothers." So she took the twelve
with her, and wandered away into the forest.
for a whole day,
and in the evening came to a cottage, stepped in, and found a young
who stared with astonishment at seeing a beautiful little girl dressed
in rich clothing and wearing a golden star on her forehead.
At last he
said, "Who are
you, and what do you want?"
"I am a
she said, "and I seek my twelve brothers, and I intend to search for
till I find them;" and she showed him their shirts.
Benjamin knew that she
was his sister, and said, "I am your youngest brother, Benjamin." Then
she wept for joy. They kissed each other with deep affection, and were
for a time very happy.
Benjamin said, "Dear
sister, we have made a vow that the first young maiden we meet should
because through a maiden we have lost our kingly rights."
she said, "if by so doing I could restore my brothers to their rightful
shall not die,"
he replied. "Hide yourself behind this tub until our eleven brothers
home; then I will make an agreement with them."
the brothers returned
from hunting, and the supper was ready. While they sat at table, one of
them said, "Well, Benjamin, have you any news?"
have," he said,
"although it seems strange that I, who stay at home, should know more
you, who have been out."
us your news,"
said one. So he said:
tell you if you will
make one promise."
they all cried.
"What is it?"
then, promise me that
the first maiden you meet with in the forest shall not die."
said they all;
"she shall have mercy, but tell us."
said the youngest
brother, "our sister is here;" and, rising, he lifted the tub, and the
king's daughter came forth in her royal robes and with a golden star on
her forehead, and looking so fair and delicate and beautiful that the
were full of joy, and kissed and embraced her with the fondest
and helped him in keeping the house clean and cooking the game which
others brought home. Everything was so nicely managed now and with so
order, the curtains and the quilts were beautifully white, and the
cooked so well that the brothers were always contented, and lived in
unity with their little sister.
There was a
around the house in which they lived, and one day, when they were all
home dining together, and enjoying themselves, the maiden went out into
the garden to gather them some flowers.
tended twelve lilies
with great care, and they were now in such splendid bloom that she
to pluck them for her brothers, to please them.
moment she gathered
the lilies, her twelve brothers were changed into twelve ravens, and
away over the trees of the forest, while the charming house and garden
vanished from her sight. Now was the poor little maiden left all alone
in the wild wood, and knew not what to do; but on turning round she saw
a curious old woman standing near, who said to her, "My child, what
done? Why didst thou not leave those white flowers to grow on their
They were thy twelve brothers, and now they will always remain ravens."
no way to set them
free?" asked the maiden, weeping.
"No way in
the world," she
replied, "but one, and that is far too difficult for thee to perform;
it would break the spell and set them free. Hast thou firmness enough
remain dumb seven years, and not speak to anyone, or even laugh? for if
ever you utter a single word, or fail only once in the seven years, all
you have done before will be vain, and at this one word your brothers
the maiden, "I
can do this to set my brothers free."
maiden climbed into
a tree, and, seating herself in the branches, began to knit.
remained here, living
on the fruit that grew on the tree, and without laughing or uttering a
As she sat
in her tree, the
king, who was hunting, had a favourite hound, who very soon discovered
her, ran to the tree on which the maiden sat, sprang up to it, and
at her violently.
came nearer, and
saw the beautiful king's daughter with the golden star on her forehead.
He was so struck with her beauty that he begged her to come down, and
her to be his bride. She did not speak a word, but merely nodded her
Then the king himself climbed up into the tree, and bringing her down,
seated her on his own horse and galloped away with her to his home.
marriage was soon after
celebrated with great pomp, but the bride neither spoke nor laughed.
had lived happily
together for some years, the king's mother, a wicked woman, began to
evil reports about the queen, and said to the king, "It is some beggar
girl you have picked up. Who can tell what wicked tricks she practises.
She can't help being dumb, but why does she never laugh? unless she has
a guilty conscience." The king at first would listen to none of these
but she urged him so long, and accused the queen of such wicked
that at last he condemned her to be burnt to death.
Now in the
court-yard a great
fire was kindled, and the king stood weeping at a window overlooking
court of the palace, for he still loved her dearly. He saw her brought
forth and tied to the stake; the fire kindled, and the flames with
forked tongues were creeping towards her, when at the last moment the
years were past, and suddenly a rustling noise of wings was heard in
air; twelve black ravens alighted on the earth and instantly assumed
own forms—they were the brothers of the queen.
down the pile and
extinguished the fire, set their sister free, and embraced her
The queen, who was now able to speak, told the king why she had been
and had never laughed.
of the king was
only equalled by his anger against the wicked witch, who was brought to
justice and ordered to be thrown into a vat of oil full of poisonous
where she died a dreadful death.