Iron Hans

Iron Hans

There was once upon a time a king who had a great forest near hispalace, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out ahuntsman to shoot him a roe, but he did not  come back. «Perhaps someaccident has  befallen him,» said the king, and  the next day he sentout two more huntsmen  who were to search for him, but they  too stayedaway. Then on the third  day, he sent for all his huntsmen,  and said:«Scour the whole forest  through, and do not give  up until you  havefound all three.»  But of these  also, none came home again, none wereseen  again. From that time forth, no  one would any  longer  ventureinto  the  forest, and  it  lay there  in  deep stillness and solitude,and nothing was seen of it, but sometimes an eagle or a hawk  flyingover it.  This lasted  for many years,  when an  unknown huntsmanannounced himself to the king as seeking a situation, and offered to gointo  the dangerous forest.  The king, however,  would not give  hisconsent, and said: «It is not safe in there; I fear it would fare withyou no better than with the others, and  you would never come outagain.»  The huntsman replied: «Lord, I will venture it at my own risk,of fear I  know nothing.»

The huntsman therefore betook himself with  his dog to the forest. Itwas not long before the dog fell in with  some game on the way, andwanted  to pursue it; but hardly  had the dog  run two steps when  itstood before  a deep pool, could go no  farther, and a naked  armstretched itself out  of the water, seized it, and  drew it under. Whenthe huntsman saw that,  he went back and  fetched three men  to comewith buckets and  bale out  the water. When they could see to thebottom there lay a wild man whose  body was brown like rusty iron, andwhose  hair hung over his face down to  his knees. They bound him withcords, and led him  away to the castle.  There was great astonishmentover the wild  man; the king, however, had him  put in an iron cage  inhis courtyard,  and forbade the door  to be opened  on pain of death,and the queen herself was to take the key into her keeping. And fromthis  time forth  everyone could again  go into  the forest  withsafety.

The king had a son of eight years, who was once playing in thecourtyard, and while he was playing, his golden ball fell into the cage.The boy  ran thither and said: «Give  me my ball  out.» «Not till  youhave opened  the door for me,» answered the man. «No,»  said the boy, «Iwill not do  that; the king has forbidden it,» and ran  away. The nextday he again went  and asked for his ball; the wild man  said: «Open mydoor,» but the boy  would not. On the third day  the king had ridden outhunting, and the boy  went once more and said: «I cannot open the  dooreven if I wished, for I  have not the key.» Then the wild man said: «Itlies under your mother’s pillow, you can get it there.» The boy, whowanted to have his ball back, cast all thought  to  the  winds,  andbrought  the  key.  The  door  opened  with difficulty, and the boypinched his fingers. When it was open the wild man stepped out,  gavehim  the golden  ball, and  hurried away.  The boy  had become afraid;he called  and cried after  him: «Oh, wild  man, do not  go away, or Ishall be  beaten!» The wild man turned  back, took him up,  set him onhis shoulder, and went with  hasty steps into the forest. When  the kingcame home, he observed the empty  cage, and asked the queen how  thathad happened. She knew nothing  about it, and sought  the key, but itwas gone. She called the boy, but no one answered. The king sent outpeople to seek for him  in the  fields, but  they did not  find him.Then he  could easily guess what had happened, and much grief reigned inthe royal court.

When the wild man had once more  reached the dark forest, he took theboy down from his shoulder, and said to  him: «You will never see yourfather and mother again, but I will keep you  with me, for you have setme  free, and I have  compassion on you.  If you do  all I bid  you, youshall  fare well. Of treasure  and gold have  I enough,  and more thananyone in  the world.» He made a bed of moss for the boy on which heslept, and the  next morning the man took him to a well, and said:«Behold, the gold well is as bright and clear as crystal, you shall  sitbeside it, and take care  that nothing falls into it, or it will  bepolluted. I will come every  evening to see if you have obeyed myorder.» The boy placed himself by the  brink of the well, and  often sawa  golden fish or a  golden snake show  itself therein, and took carethat nothing fell  in. As he was thus sitting,  his finger hurt him soviolently that he involuntarily put it in the water. He drew it  quicklyout  again,  but  saw that  it  was  quite  gilded,  and whatsoeverpains  he took  to  wash the  gold off  again,  all was  to  no purpose.In the evening Iron Hans came back, looked at the boy, and  said: «Whathas happened to the well?» «Nothing nothing,» he answered, and  held hisfinger behind his back,  that the man might not  see it. But he  said:«You have dipped your finger  into the water, this  time it may pass,but take care you do not  again let anything go in.»  By daybreak theboy  was already sitting by the well and watching it. His finger hurthim again and he passed it over his head, and  then unhappily a hairfell down into  the well. He took it quickly out, but  it was alreadyquite gilded. Iron  Hans came, and already knew what had happened.  «Youhave let a hair fall  into the well,» said he.  «I will allow you  towatch by it  once more, but  if this happens for the third time thenthe well is polluted and you can  no longer remain with me.»

On the third day, the  boy sat by the well,  and did not stir hisfinger, however much it hurt him. But the time  was long to him, and helooked  at the reflection of his face  on the surface of the  water. Andas he  still bent down more and more while he was doing so, and tryingto look straight into the eyes, his long hair fell down from hisshoulders into the  water. He raised himself up quickly,  but the wholeof the  hair of his head  was already golden and shone like the  sun.You can imagine how terrified  the poor boy was! He took hispocket-handkerchief and tied it round his  head, in order that  the manmight not  see it. When  he came  he already  knew everything, and said:«Take  the handkerchief off.»  Then the golden  hair streamed forth, andlet the boy excuse  himself as he might, it was of  no use. «You havenot stood the trial  and can stay here no longer. Go  forth into theworld, there you will learn what poverty is. But as you have  not a badheart, and as I  mean well by you, there  is one thing I will  grantyou; if you fall into  any difficulty, come to  the forest and cry:“Iron Hans,” and then I will come and help you. My power is great,greater  than you think, and I have gold and silver in abundance.»

Then the king’s  son left the  forest, and walked  by beaten andunbeaten paths ever  onwards until  at length  he reached  a greatcity. There  he looked for work, but could  find none, and he  learntnothing by which  he could help himself. At  length he went  to thepalace,  and asked if  they would take him in.  The people about  courtdid not at  all know what  use they could make  of him,  but they  likedhim, and  told him  to stay.  At length the cook took him  into hisservice, and  said he might carry  wood and water, and rake the cinderstogether. Once when it so happened that no one else was at hand, thecook ordered him to carry the food to the  royal table, but as he didnot like to let his golden hair be seen, he kept  his little cap on.Such a  thing as that had never  yet come under the  king’s notice, andhe said: «When you come to the royal table you must take  your hat off.’He answered: «Ah, Lord, I cannot; I have a bad sore place on  my head.’Then the king had the cook  called before him and scolded him,  andasked how he could take such a boy  as that into his service; and thathe was to send  him away at  once. The cook,  however, had pity  on him,and exchanged him for the gardener’s boy.

And now the boy had to plant and  water the garden, hoe and dig, andbear the wind and bad weather. Once in summer when he was working alonein  the garden, the day was so warm he took his little cap off that theair  might cool him. As the sun  shone on his hair it  glittered andflashed so  that the rays fell into the bedroom of  the king’s daughter,and up she  sprang to see what that could be. Then she  saw the boy, andcried to him:  «Boy, bring me a  wreath of  flowers.» He  put his capon with  all haste,  and gathered wild field-flowers and bound themtogether. When he was ascending the stairs with them, the  gardener methim, and  said: «How can you  take the king’s daughter a garland of suchcommon flowers? Go quickly, and  get another, and seek  out theprettiest  and rarest.» «Oh,  no,» replied  the boy, «the wild ones havemore scent, and will please her better.» When  he got into the room, theking’s daughter said: «Take your cap off, it is not seemly to keep it onin my presence.» He again said: «I may not, I have  a sore head.» She,however, caught  at his cap and  pulled it off, and  then his goldenhair rolled  down on  his shoulders,  and it  was splendid  to behold.He wanted to run out, but she held him by the arm, and gave him  ahandful of ducats. With  these he departed, but  he cared nothing forthe gold pieces. He took them  to the gardener, and  said: «I presentthem  to your children, they  can play  with them.»  The following  daythe  king’s daughter again  called  to him  that  he was  to  bring hera  wreath  of field-flowers, and then he went in with it, she instantlysnatched at  his cap, and wanted to take  it away from him, but  he heldit fast with  both hands. She again gave him a handful of ducats, but hewould not keep them, and gave them  to the  gardener for playthings  forhis  children. On  the third day things went just the same;  she couldnot get his cap away  from him, and he would not have her money.

Not long afterwards,  the country was  overrun by war.  The kinggathered together his people, and did  not know whether or  not he couldoffer  any opposition to the  enemy, who was  superior in strength  andhad a  mighty army. Then said the  gardener’s boy: «I  am grown up, andwill go to  the wars also, only give me a horse.» The others laughed,and said: «Seek  one for yourself when we are gone, we  will leave onebehind us in the  stable for you.» When they had gone forth,  he wentinto the stable, and led  the horse out; it was lame of one foot, andlimped hobblety jib, hobblety jib; nevertheless he mounted it, and rodeaway to the dark forest. When he came to the outskirts,  he called«Iron Hans» three  times so  loudly that  it echoed through the trees.Thereupon the wild man appeared immediately, and said: «What do youdesire?» «I want a strong steed, for I am going to  the wars.» «That youshall have,  and still more than  you ask for.» Then  the wild man  wentback  into the  forest,  and  it was  not  long  before  a stable-boycame out of it, who led a horse that snorted with its nostrils, andcould hardly be restrained, and behind them followed a great troop  ofwarriors entirely equipped in iron, and  their swords flashed in thesun. The youth made over his three-legged horse to the stable-boy,mounted  the other, and  rode  at the  head  of the  soldiers.  When hegot  near  the battlefield a great part of the king’s men had alreadyfallen, and  little was wanting to  make the rest  give way. Then  theyouth galloped  thither with his iron soldiers,  broke like a hurricaneover the enemy, and  beat down all who opposed him. They began  to flee,but the youth pursued,  and never stopped, until there was not a singleman left. Instead of returning to the king, however, he conducted histroop by byways back to the forest, and called forth  Iron Hans.  «Whatdo you  desire?» asked  the wild  man. «Take back your horse and yourtroops, and give me my three-legged  horse again.» All  that  he askedwas  done, and  soon  he was  riding  on  his three-legged horse. Whenthe king  returned to his  palace, his  daughter went to meet him, andwished him joy of his victory. «I am not the one who carried away thevictory,» said he, «but  a strange knight who came to  my assistancewith his soldiers.» The daughter wanted to hear who the strange knightwas, but the king did not  know, and said: «He followed the  enemy, andI did not see him again.»  She inquired of the gardener where his  boywas, but he smiled, and said: «He  has just come home on histhree-legged horse, and the others have been  mocking him, and crying:“Here comes  our hobblety jib back again!” They asked, too: “Under whathedge have you been lying sleeping all the time?” So he said:  “I didthe best of all, and  it would have gone badly without me.” And then hewas still more ridiculed.»

The king said to his daughter: «I  will proclaim a great feast thatshall last for  three days,  and you  shall throw  a golden  apple.Perhaps  the unknown man will show  himself.» When the feast  wasannounced, the  youth went out to the forest, and called Iron Hans.«What do you desire?»  asked he. «That I may catch the king’s daughter’sgolden apple.» «It is as  safe as if you had it already,» said IronHans. «You shall likewise have a suit of red armour for  the occasion,and ride  on a spirited  chestnut-horse.» When the day came, the youthgalloped to the spot, took his place  amongst the knights,  and wasrecognized  by no  one.  The king’s  daughter  came forward, and threw agolden apple to the knights, but none of them  caught it but he, only assoon as he had it he galloped away.

On the second day Iron Hans equipped him as a white knight, and gave hima white horse. Again he was  the only one who caught  the apple, and hedid not linger an instant, but galloped off with it. The king grewangry,  and said: «That is not allowed; he must  appear before me andtell his  name.» He gave the order that if the knight who caught theapple, should go  away again they should  pursue him, and  if he wouldnot come back  willingly, they were to cut him down and stab him.

On the third day, he received from Iron Hans a suit of black armour anda black horse, and again  he caught the  apple. But when  he was ridingoff with it, the king’s attendants  pursued him, and one  of them got sonear him that he wounded the youth’s leg with the point of his sword.The youth nevertheless escaped from them, but his horse leapt soviolently that  the helmet fell from the youth’s head, and  they couldsee that he had  golden hair. They rode back and announced this to theking.

The following day the  king’s daughter asked the  gardener about hisboy. «He is at work in the garden; the queer creature has been at thefestival too, and  only came  home  yesterday evening;  he  has likewiseshown  my children three golden apples which he has won.»

The king had him summoned into his presence, and he came and again hadhis little cap on his head. But the king’s daughter went up to him andtook it off, and then his golden hair fell down over his shoulders, andhe was  so handsome that all were amazed. «Are you  the knight who cameevery day  to the festival, always in different colours, and who caughtthe three golden apples?» asked the king.  «Yes,» answered he, «andhere the apples  are,» and he took them out of his pocket, and returnedthem to the king. «If you desire further proof, you may see the woundwhich your people gave me when they followed me.  But I am  likewise theknight who helped  you to  your victory over your enemies.»  «If you canperform  such deeds as that,  you are no gardener’s  boy; tell  me, whois your  father?» «My  father is  a mighty king, and gold  have I inplenty as great as  I require.» «I  well see,» said the king, «that  Iowe my thanks to  you; can I do anything  to please you?»  «Yes,’answered  he,  «that indeed  you  can. Give  me  your daughter to wife.’The maiden laughed,  and said: «He does not stand  much on ceremony, butI  have already seen  by his golden hair  that he was  no gardener’sboy,» and then she went  and kissed him. His father and  mother came tothe wedding, and were in great delight, for they had given up  all hopeof ever seeing their dear son again. And as they were sitting at  themarriage-feast, the  music  suddenly  stopped, the  doors  opened,  anda stately king  came in  with a  great retinue.  He went  up to  theyouth, embraced him and said: «I am Iron Hans, and was by enchantment awild man, but you have set me free; all the treasures which I possess,shall be your property.»