The Enchanted Toad
There was once a peasant, like many others, who had three sons but his wife
had long been dead. When the two elder lads were somewhat grown up they went one day to
their father, and begged him to allow them to go from home, and get themselves wives. The
peasant answered: "It is not fitting that you go seeking for wives before you have
tried your luck in the world. I want to know which of you can earn the handsomest cloth to
spread over the table on Yule eve. This was agreeable to the two brothers, and on their
departure the peasant gave five shillings to each of them, saying it would be for them to
live on until they could find themselves some employment.
When the two elder sons were ready to leave home, the youngest son went to his father,
and begged for permission to go and try his fortune. The peasant would not listen to him,
but said mockingly: "Yes, you poor little fellow! No doubt there are many who will be
glad to have you in their service! It is better for you to sit at home in the
chimney-corner; that is your proper place." But the boy insisted: "Father, let
me go with them. No one can tell what turns luck may tale. It may be that I get on well in
the world, though I am little and younger than my brothers." When the old man heard
this he thought to himself: "Well, it may be all right to be rid of him for some
time. Here he is of no use, and he will no doubt, come back before the forest is green
again." So, the lad got leave to accompany his brothers, and also received five
shillings from his father to subsist on during his travels.
The three sons then set out, and travelled the whole day. Towards evening they came to
an alehouse by the roadside, in which a number of travellers and other guests were
assembled. The two elder brothers sat down, and ate and drank, and gambled, and made
merry, while the youngest lad crept into a corner by himself, and would not join the
company. When the two brothers had thus spent their money, they went to their young
brother, and demanded from him his five shillings, telling him he had better return home,
and the sooner the better. But the lad refused to give them his money, whereupon the
brothers seized and beat him, took his money from him, and drove him out of the alehouse.
They then sat down again, and ate and drank as before. But the poor boy fled away in the
dark night, not knowing where to direct his steps. He trod many rugged paths, until he was
unable to proceed further. Sitting down, therefore, on a little hill, he wept bitterly,
until he fell asleep from weariness.
Early in the morning, before the lark had begun his song, the lad awoke and continued
his journey. He now wandered over mountains and through deep valleys, neither knowing nor
caring in what direction he went, provided only that he could escape from his brothers.
After travelling for a long time he came to a green path that led to a mansion. This
mansion was so spacious, that he thought it could be no other than a royal palace. The lad
did not long hesitate, but entered, and came into many fine apartments, one more sumptuous
than another -- but not a living soul was there. After wandering about for some time out
of one hall into another, he came at last to a room yet more splendid than any of the
others. In the place of honor there sat a toad, blacker than the blackest pitch, and so
horrid in appearance that the lad could hardly turn his eyes towards her. The toad asked
who he was, and on what errand he came. He answered, as was the truth: "I am a poor
peasant boy, and have left home in search of some employment."
The toad then said: "Would you like to stay here with me? I am just now in great
want of a servant." The boy expressed his willingness, and said that he would gladly
serve her. The toad said: "Be welcome, then! If you are faithful to me, it shall be
well for you." The matter was now settled, and the lad assured her that there should
be no lack of devotion on his part, provided only that his mistress did not require of him
more than he was able to perform.
When all was thus arranged, the lad and the toad went down into the garden that lay
around the house, and came to a large bush, of a kind that the youth had never before
seen. The toad then said: "It shall be your job to cut a branch of this bush every
day when the sun is in the heavens. You must do it on Sunday as well as on Monday, on
Yule-day as well as on Midsummer-day; but you must cut only branch each day." The boy
promised to obey her wishes in all things. The toad then led him up to a chamber, and
said: "Here you may henceforward sleep and live. On this table you will always find
meat and drink, when you are hungry. This bed you shall find ready whenever you wish to
rest, and in every respect you shall enjoy perfect liberty. Only be faithful in what is
required of you." When she had thus spoken they separated, and the toad hopped away.
The lad then went down into the garden, and cut a branch from the bush, and so was at
liberty for that day. On the following morning he did the same, and so on throughout the
whole year. He fared well in the palace, enjoying an abundance of everything he could
wish. Nevertheless, his time seemed long; for the day came and the day went, and he never
saw nor heard a human being.
When a year had expired, and the youth had cut the last branch of the bush, the toad
came hopping to him, thanked him for his faithful services, and asked him what reward he
wished. The lad answered that he had done very little that deserved a reward, and would be
quite satisfied with whatever his mistress would be pleased to give him.
The toad then said: "I know well enough what you would like as payment. Your
brothers are gone to earn cloths to spread on their father's table on Yule-eve. But I will
give you a cloth, the like of which they will hardly find, even if they search over twelve
kingdoms." With these words she gave the youth a tablecloth whiter than snow, and so
fine that it could not be matched. The lad was now overjoyed, thanked his mistress in many
expressions of gratitude, bade her farewell, and prepared, with great joy of heart, to
return home to his father.
The youth now set out on his journey, and travelled the whole day without meeting with
any adventure. Late in the evening he perceived a light, towards which he bent his course,
in expectation of finding shelter for the night. On reaching the spot he at once
recognized the alehouse in which he had left his brothers, and on entering, lo! there sat
his two brothers in the midst of cups and jugs, eating and drinking, and making merry. As
the lad no longer remembered the wrong he had suffered at their hands, he felt glad to
meet with his brothers, and went and greeted them affectionately. He then asked how they
had done since they last saw each other, and whether they had succeeded in getting a cloth
to lay upon their father's Yule-table. The brothers answered yes, and said that all had
turned out well. Each then produced his cloths, but the cloths were both torn and worn.
"Now," said the lad, "wait, and you shall see another sort of thing."
He then spread out the cloth given him by the toad, and all the guests in the alehouse
admired the fineness of the texture. But the two brothers were not content that their
youngest brother should possess so costly a thing. They therefore took the beautiful cloth
from him by force, and gave him their old ones in return. All the three then returned home
to their father. When Yule-eve came, and the youths spread their cloth on the table, the
old man was delighted, and could not rejoice enough at their good fortune. The two
brothers then began to praise themselves, and talked largely of all the great things they
had performed. But the youngest lad said very little. He was neither heard nor believed,
say what he might.
When the two elder brothers had remained at home over Yule-tide they went one day to
their father, and begged for permission to go and get themselves wives. But the old man
answered as before: "It is not proper that you should go looking for wives before you
have further tried your luck in the world. I long to see which of you can earn the
handsomest drinking-cup to set on the table on Yule-eve." On their departure the old
man gave to each of them five shillings as before.
When they had left home the youngest boy went to his father, and asked for permission
to go again and try his luck. The father at first refused his consent, but finally yielded
to the lad's pleading, thinking to himself he would no doubt come back before the forest
was in leaf. So he got his five shillings and departed.
In the same alehouse the lad found his elder brothers eating, drinking, and gambling,
and was, as before, robbed by them. He then wandered forth again to the palace of his late
mistress. When the toad saw him she returned a friendly answer to his greeting, and asked
the reason his coming. He answered: "I am come again to offer my services, if you
The toad replied: "Be welcome, I am just now in great need of a servant. If you
wilt serve me well, your reward shall not be small." The toad then took forth a
bundle of short threads, gave them to the youth, and said: "This shall be your task;
you must tie a thread round every branch of the bush that you had to cut last year. But
you must tie a thread every day the sun is in the heavens, and you must do so as well on
Sunday as on Monday, as well on Yule-day as on Midsummer-day. You must not tie many
threads, but only one." His treatment in the palace was then as generous as told
When the year was at an end, and the youth had bound the last thread round the last
branch, the little toad came again hopping to him, thanked him for his faithful services,
and asked what reward he wished. He answered, as before, that he had done little to
deserve a reward, and would be quite content with whatever his mistress might think proper
to give him. Thereupon the toad said: "I know well what reward you wish above all.
Your brothers are gone to earn a drinking-cup to set on their father's table on Yule-eve;
but I will give you a cup, the like of which is hardly to be found." With these words
she gave the youth a drinking vessel which was of fine silver, covered with gold inside
and out; thirteen masters had set their marks on it, the workmanship was, moreover, so
curious and elaborate, that its like was not to be found, even if twelve kingdoms were to
be searched through. The youth returned thanks for the costly gift, as it was well worth,
and with great joy of heart prepared to return home.
After travelling the whole day he came late in the evening within sight of the same
alehouse of which we have already spoken. He would have taken another direction, but a
rapid river prevented him from going by any other road, and he required shelter for the
night. On entering the alehouse he found his brothers just as when he last parted from
them; and again they robbed him of his treasure.
When the three brothers had been at home till Yule was past, the two elder ones went
again to their father and asked his permission to set out in search of wives. The old man
readily granted their request, thinking that his sons were now grown up and
well-experienced in all things. He added, "I long to see which of you brings the
fairest bride to the village by Yule-eve." Each then having received his five
shillings, they set out on their journey.
When they were about to leave home, the youngest son went to his father, and begged to
be allowed to accompany his brothers. The old man would not listen to him, but said:
"You young fool, do you think there is any one who will have you for a husband?
Better is it for you to sit at home and rake in the ashes, that is the right place for
you." The youth would not be diverted from his purpose, but said: "Father, let
me go with them; no one can tell what will turn up. It may chance to go well with me,
although I am little and younger than my brothers." The old man at last thought:
"Well, it may be as well to let him go for a time, he will no doubt come back when
pressed by want." Thus the youth got permission to accompany his brothers, and, on
parting from his father, received, like each of them, his five shillings.
The three brothers then set out on their wanderings, and in the evening came to the
same inn, and there all happened as before. The elder brothers robbed the youngest, and
threw him out of the house.
After long traveling he bent his way again to the palace where he enjoyed so much ease
and comfort. On reaching his destination, he entered boldly into the beautiful chamber, in
which his mistress was in the habit of sitting. She received him graciously, and asked the
reason for his coming. He told her that he came to offer his services, if she had need of
them. The toad replied: "You are welcome, for I am in great want of a servant. If you
serve me faithfully, your reward shall be greater than you now think." The youth
assured her that there should be no lack of faith on his part, provided she did not
require more than he could perform.
The toad said: "Your work shall be neither hard nor tedious. It shall be thy
employment to gather up the branches you hast cut and tied, and lay them together in a
heap in the court-yard. But you shall take up a branch every day that the sun is in the
heavens, and you shall do so as well on Wednesday as on Thursday, on Yule-day as well as
on Midsummer-day; and you must not take up many branches together, but a single one only.
When the year is at an end, and you hast gathered up the last branch, you shall set fire
to the heap and withdraw a while to thy chamber. Then go down and sweep well round the
pile, that every branch may be consumed. If then you see anything in the fire, take it out
and save it." The youth promised to obey these directions. She thereupon, as before,
conducted him to his chamber, and went hopping away. The lad then went down into the
garden, fetched a branch that he had previously cut and tied, carried it to the vacant
spot where he purposed erecting the pile, and was afterwards free for the rest of the day.
On the following morning he did the same, and so on through the whole year. In the palace
he enjoyed every comfort, and grew up into a tall, comely young man. But his hours were
passed in solitude, for he neither saw nor heard a human being, and he often thought how
his brothers were probably taking home their brides, while he had not one.
When the year had run its course, and the youth had gathered up the last branch and
laid it with the others, he did as the toad had ordered him: set fire to the heap, and
withdrew for a while to his chamber. He then returned and swept round the heap, that all
the branches, great and small, might be burnt to ashes. Behold! there rose from the midst
of the fire a damsel exquisitely beautiful; she was whiter than snow, and her hair hung
down to her feet and covered her like a mantle.
When the youth saw the fair damsel, he ran quickly and snatched her out of the flames.
The young maiden then fell on his neck, overcome with joy, and thanked him for having
saved her. She was the daughter of a king, and had been enchanted by a troll, who had
changed her into a loathsome toad.
At the same moment a great commotion and noise arose in the palace, and the court was
filled with courtiers, knights and high-born dames, all of whom had, in like manner been
enchanted. All now came forward and greeted their queen as well as the brave youth who had
released them. But the princess ordered horses to be put instantly to her gilded chariot,
and made preparations for immediate departure. She then caused the peasant's son to be
clothed in silk and rich scarlet, gave him arms and other equipment, such as might befit a
prince's son -- and thus was the poor peasant lad transformed into as noble and stately a
youth as ever girded a sword to his side. When everything was. ready for the journey, the
king's daughter said: "I can well believe that your thoughts are turned to your
brothers, who are directing their steps towards home together with their brides. We will,
therefore, travel to your father, that he may also know what kind of bride you have earned
for yourself." The youth immediately stepped into the gilded chariot, and in great
state and with a large retinue they departed to visit the old peasant in his cottage.
The youth and his fair bride now traveled on to the old peasant's cottage, at which
they did not arrive until late in the evening. They entered and begged to have lodging for
the night; but the old man answered, as was the truth that he was expecting his three sons
with their brides, and had, moreover, only a very small cottage, that was ill suited to
receive persons of such high nobility. But the king's daughter said that she would have
her way, and the old peasant could not refuse her. She then ordered a sumptuous Yule-feast
to be prepared, and sent her pages out into the neighborhood to invite guests to the
entertainment. When the evening was far advanced, and the feast was ready, the two elder
sons arrived with their brides; and no one wondered that the old man was not particularly
delighted with his daughters-in-law, as they were homely and cross. While they were
sitting at table, the king's daughter asked the old man whence he had procured so fine a
cloth and such a beautiful drinking-cup. The old peasant answered: "My two elder sons
were out, and received them as payment for their services." Whereupon the princess
said: "No, your elder sons earned neither the one nor the other; but if you will know
the truth, it is your youngest son who has earned them; and here you see the fellow both
of the cloth and cup." When she had thus spoken, the youth rose from the table and
all now saw that the stranger prince was no other than the old peasant's youngest son, the
little lad, who had formerly been so despised by his kindred. When the old man recognized
his son, and, at the same time, heard all that had taken place, he was stricken with
amazement, and could scarcely believe his own eyes and ears. But the two elder sons stood
with shame before their father and the many guests; and their treachery and falsehood
became in later times known to the whole neighborhood.
The youth and the beautiful princess now allowed the guests to drink to their happy
union, and there was such a Yule-feast as had not been seen within living memory. But when
Yule was over, the bride and bridegroom returned to their kingdom, and took the old
peasant with them. And the youth became king over the whole realm, and lived with his fair
queen in love and happiness.
Yule-Tide Stories: A Collection of Scandinavian and North German Popular Tales
and Traditions. Hrsg. von Benjamin Thorpe. London 1853. (AT 402)