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.»