THE TWELVE BROTHERS
Let us swear vengeance, and vow that wherever and whenever we shall meet one of her sex, she shall die at our hands.'
Then they went their way deeper into the wood, and in the middle of it, where it was thickest and darkest, they came upon a little enchanted house which stood empty.
' Here,' they said,' let us take up our abode, and 3rou, Benjamin, you are the youngest and weakest, you shall stay at home and keep house for us ; we others will go out and fetch food.' So they went forth into the wood, and shot hares and roe-deer, birds and wood-pigeons, and any other game they came across. They always brought their spoils home to Benjamin, who soon learnt to make them into dainty dishes. So they lived for ten years in this little house, and the time slipped merrily away.
In the meantime their little sister at home was growing up quickly. She was kind-hearted and of a fair countenance, and she had a gold star right in the middle of her forehead. One day a big washing was going on at the palace, and the girl looking down from her window saw twelve men's shirts hanging up to dry, and asked her mother :
' Who in the world do these shirts belong to ? Surely they are far too small for my father ? '
And the Queen answered sadly : ' Dear child, they belong to your twelve brothers.'
' But where are my twelve brothers ? ' said the girl. ' I have never even heard of them.'
' Heaven alone knows in what part of the wide world they are wandering,' replied her mother.
Then she took the girl and opened the locked-up room; she showed her the twelve coffins filled with shavings, and with the little pillow laid in each.
' These coffins,' she said,' were intended for your brothers, but they stole secretly away before you were born.'
Then she proceeded to tell her all that had happened, and when she had finished her daughter said:
' Do not cry, dearest mother ; I will go and seek my brothers till I find them.'
So she took the twelve shirts and went on straight into the middle of the big wood. She walked all day long, and came in the evening to the little enchanted house. She stepped hi and found a youth who, marvelling at her beauty, at the royal robes she wore, and at the golden star on her forehead, asked her where she came from and whither she was going.