At this time the queen was expecting their thiteenth chind. Then said the king to the queen, if the thirteenth child, is a girl, the twelve boys shall die, in order that her possessions may be great, and that the kingdom may fall to her alone. He even brought twelve coffins, which were already filled with shavings, and in each lay a little death pillow, and he had them taken into a locked-up room, and then he gave the queen the key of it, and bade her not to speak of this to anyone.
The mother, however, now sat in great grief all day long, until the youngest son, Benjamin, said to her, dear mother, why are you so sad.
Dearest child, she answered, I may not tell you. But he let her have no rest until she revealed all that the king has told her. She tols him if I bring a little girl into the world, you are all to be dead. On this the son comforted her and said, weep not, dear mother, we will save ourselves, and go hence. She asked Benjamin to go forth into the forest with your eleven brothers, and let one sit constantly on the highest tree which can be found, and keep watch, looking towards the tower here in the castle. If I give birth to a little son, I will put up a white flag, and then you may venture to come back. But if I bear a daughter, I will hoist a red flag, and then fly hence as quickly as you are able, and may the good God protect you.
With the mother’s blessings all her sons therefore, went forth into the forest. They each kept watch in turn, and sat on the highest oak and looked towards the tower. When eleven days had passed Benjamin saw that a flag was being raised. It was, however, not the white, but the blood-red flag which announced that they were all to die. When the brothers heard that, they were very angry and said, are we all to suffer death for the sake of a girl. We swear that we will avenge ourselves – wheresoever we find a girl, her red blood shall flow.
Thereupon they went deeper into the forest, and in the midst of it, they found a little bewitched hut, which was standing empty. Then said they, here we will dwell, and you benjamin, who are the youngest and weakest, you shall stay at home and keep house, we others will go out and fetch food.
And that it how they lived together for ten years in the little hut.
The little daughter which their mother the queen had given birth to, was now grown up. She was good of heart, fair face, and had a golden star on her forehead. Once, she saw twelve men’s shirts and asked her mother, to whom do these twelve shirts belong, for they are far too small for father. Then the queen answered with a heavy heart, dear child, these belong to your twelve brothers. The queen then narated the complete story how her brothers were forced to leave the palace and devil in the forest.
Learning the story she felt sorry for her brothers and took to find them. So she took the twelve shirts and went forth, and straight into the great forest. She walked the whole day, and in the evening she came to the bewitched hut. Then she entered it and found a young boy, who asked, from where do you come, and what is that you want? And she answered, I am a king’s daughter, and am seeking my twelve brothers, and I will walk as far as the sky is blue until I find them. And she showed him the twelve shirts which belonged to them. Then benjamin saw that she was his sister, and said, I am benjamin, your youngest brother. And she began to weep for joy, and benjamin wept also, and they kissed and embraced each other with the greatest love. But after this he said, dear sister, there is still one difficulty. We have agreed that every maiden whom we meet shall die, because we have been obliged to leave our kingdom on account of a girl. Then said she, I will willingly die, if by so doing I can save my twelve brothers.
No, answered he, you shall not die. Seat yourself beneath this tub until our eleven brothers come, and then I will soon come to an agreement with them.
When all the brothers came back from work and gathered for their dinner, Benjamin told them if they know what is going in the forest.
No, they answered.
Benjamin continued, you have been in the forest and I have stayed at home, and yet I know more than you do.
Tell us then, they cried.
He answered, but promise me that the first maiden who meets us shall not be killed.
Yes, they all said, she shall have mercy, only do tell us.
Then said he, our sister is here, and he lifted up the tub, and the king’s daughter came forth in her royal garments with the golden star on her forehead, and she was beautiful, delicate and fair. Then they were all rejoiced, and fell on her neck, and kissed and loved her with all their hearts.
The princess also decided to stay back in the forrest with her brothers.
There was, a little garden belonging to the bewitched house wherein stood twelve lily flowers, which are likewise called student-lilies. She wished to give her brothers pleasure, and plucked the twelve flowers, and thought she would present each brother with one while at dinner. But at the self-same moment that she plucked the flowers the twelve brothers were changed into twelve ravens, and flew away over the forest, and the house and garden vanished likewise. And now the poor maiden was alone in the wild forest, and when she looked around, an old woman was standing near her who said, my child, what have you done. Why did you not leave the twelve white flowers growing. They were your brothers, who are now forevermore changed into ravens. The maiden said, weeping, is there no way of saving them.
No, said the woman, there is but one in the whole world, and that is so hard that you will not save them by it, for you must be dumb for seven years, and may not speak or laugh, and if you speak one single word, and only an hour of the seven years is wanting, all is in vain, and your brothers will be killed by the one word.
Then the princess said to herself that I know with certainty that I shall set my brothers free. She sought a high tree and seated herself in it and spun, and neither spoke nor laughed.
Now it so happened that a king was hunting in the forest, who had a great greyhound which ran to the tree on which the princess was sitting, and sprang about it, whining, and barking at her. Then the king came by and saw the beautiful king’s daughter with the golden star on her brow, and was so charmed with her beauty that he called to ask her if she would be his wife. She made no answer, but nodded a little with her head. So he climbed up the tree himself, carried her down, placed her on his horse, and bore her home. Then the wedding was solemnized with great magnificence and rejoicing, but the bride neither spoke nor smiled. When they had lived happily together for a few years, the king’s mother, who was a wicked woman, began to slander the young queen, and said to the king, this is a common beggar girl whom you have brought back with you. Who knows what wicked tricks she practises secretly. Even if she be dumb, and not able to speak, she still might laugh for once. But those who do not laugh have bad consciences.
At first the king would not believe it, but the old woman urged this so long, and accused her of so many evil things, that at last the king let himself be persuaded and sentenced her to death.
A great fire was lighted in the courtyard in which she was to be burnt, and the king stood above at the window and looked on with tearful eyes, because he still loved her so much. And when she was bound fast to the stake, and the fire was licking at her clothes with its red tongue, the last instant of the seven years expired. Then a whirring sound was heard in the air, and twelve ravens came flying towards the place, and sank downwards, and when they touched the earth they were her twelve brothers, whom she had saved. They tore the fire asunder, extinguished the flames, set their dear sister free, and kissed and embraced her. And now as she dared to open her mouth and speak, she told the king why she had been dumb, and had never laughed. The king rejoiced when he heard that she was innocent, and they all lived in great unity ever thereafter.