THE TWELVE BROTHERS
So the poor girl found herself left all alone in the wood, and as she looked round her she noticed an old woman standing close beside her, who said:
' My child, what have you done ? Why didn't you leave the flowers alone ? They were your twelve brothers. Now they are changed for ever into ravens.'
The girl asked, sobbing : ' Is there no means of setting them free ? '
' No,' said the old woman, ' there is only one way in the whole world, and that is so difficult that you won't free them by it, for you would have to be dumb and not laugh for seven years, and if you spoke a single word, though but an hour were wanting to the time, your silence would all have been in vain, and that one word would slay your brothers.'
Then the girl said to herself: ' If that is all I am quite sure I can free my brothers.' So she searched for a high tree, and when she had found one she climbed up it and spun all day long, never laughing or speaking one word.
Now it happened one day that a King who was hunting in the wood had a large greyhound, who ran sniffing to the tree on which the girl sat, and jumped round it, yelping and barking furiously. The King's attention was attracted, and when he looked up and beheld the beautiful Princess with the golden star on her forehead, he was so enchanted by her beauty that he asked her on the spot to be his wife. She gave no answer, but nodded slightly with her head. Then he climbed up the tree himself, lifted her down, put her on his horse and bore her home to his palace.
The marriage was celebrated with much pomp and ceremony, but the bride neither spoke nor laughed.
When they had lived a few years happily together, the King's mother, who was a wicked old woman, began to slander the young Queen, and said to the King:
' She is only a low-born beggar maid that you have married ; who knows what mischief she is up to ? If she is deaf and can't speak, she might at least laugh; depend upon it, those who don't laugh have a bad conscience.' At first the King paid no heed to her words, but the old woman harped so long on the subject, and accused the young Queen of so many bad things, that at last he let himself be talked over, and condemned his beautiful wife to death.
So a great fire was lit in the courtyard of the palace, where she was to be burnt, and the King watched the proceedings from an