Reprinted with permission.
There are many stories about three sons who set off to find their fortune. Usually the youngest brother is considered a fool, someone of no account. This story follows the same pattern.
Once upon a time there was a king who had 3 sons. Two of them were bright and clever but the youngest one was considered a fool, because he hardly ever spoke and was considered naïve. The two oldest sons left home to seek their fortune and never returned home, so the youngest one, the fool set out to look for them. They were not happy to see him, saying he would slow them down and ruin their chances, but he insisted on staying with them.
So all three continued on their way and presently they came to an anthill. “Let’s smash the hill and then we can watch the ants run around and try to protect their eggs”, but the fool said “Let the poor things enjoy themselves, I will not suffer you to trouble them.”
So on they went, and came to a lake where many many ducks were swimming about. The two brothers wanted to catch two, and roast them. But the foolish brother said, “Let the poor things enjoy themselves, you shall not kill them.’”
Next they came to a bees’-nest in a hollow tree, and there was so much honey that it ran down the trunk; and the two brothers wanted to light a fire under the tree and kill the bees, so as to get their honey. But the fool held them back, and said, “Let the pretty insects enjoy themselves, I cannot let you burn them.”
At length the three brothers came to a strange castle: and as they passed by the stables they saw fine horses standing there, but all were of marble, and no living creature was to be seen save for one old man.
He said nothing, but took hold of them and led them to a beautiful table covered with all sorts of good things: and when they had eaten and drunk, he showed each of them to a bed-chamber.
The next morning he came to the eldest brother and told him that the castle was enchanted and whoever succeeded in three tasks would lift the enchantment.
“In the wood, under the moss, lie the thousand pearls belonging to the king; they must all be found: and if one be missing by set of sun, he who seeks them will be turned into stone.”
The eldest brother set out, and sought for the pearls the whole day: but the evening came, and he had not found the first hundred: so he was turned into stone.
The next day the second brother undertook the task; but he succeeded no better than the first; and therefore he too was turned into stone.
At last came the youngest brother’s turn; and he looked in the moss; but it was so hard to find the pearls, and the job was so tiresome!–so he sat down upon a stone and cried. And as he sat there, the king of the ants (whose life he had saved) came to help him, with five thousand ants; and it was not long before they had found all the pearls and laid them in a heap.
The second task was equally difficult: “The key of the princess’s bed-chamber must be fished up out of the lake.” And as the fool came to the brink of it, he saw the two ducks whose lives he had saved swimming about; and they dived down and soon brought in the key from the bottom.
The third task was the hardest. It was to choose out the youngest and the best of the king’s three daughters. Now they were all beautiful, and all exactly alike: but he was told that the eldest had eaten a piece of sugar, the next some sweet syrup, and the youngest a spoonful of honey; so he was to guess which it was that had eaten the honey.
Then came the queen of the bees, who had been saved by the youngest brother from the fire, and she tasted the lips of all 3 princesses the lips of all three; but at last she sat upon the lips of the one that had eaten the honey: and so the fool knew which was the youngest. Thus the spell was broken, and all who had been turned into stones awoke, and took their proper forms. And the youngest brother married the youngest and the best of the princesses, and was king after her father’s death; but his two brothers married the other two sisters.