In olden times there was a king, who had behind his palace a
beautiful pleasure-garden in which there was a tree that bore golden
apples. When the apples were getting ripe they were counted, but on
the very next morning one was missing. This was told to the king,
and he ordered that a watch should be kept every night beneath the
The king had three sons, the eldest of whom he sent, as soon as night
came on, into the garden, but when midnight came he could not keep
himself from sleeping, and next morning again an apple was gone.
The following night the second son had to keep watch, but it fared no
better with him, as soon as twelve o'clock had struck he fell asleep,
and in the morning an apple was gone.
Now it came to the turn of the third son to watch, and he was quite
ready, but the king had not much trust in him, and thought that he
would be of less use even than his brothers, but at last he let him
go. The youth lay down beneath the tree, but kept awake, and did not
let sleep master him. When it struck twelve, something rustled
through the air, and in the moonlight he saw a bird coming whose
feathers were all shining with gold.
The bird alighted on the tree, and had just plucked off an apple,
when the youth shot an arrow at him. The bird flew off, but the
arrow had struck his plumage, and one of his golden feathers fell
down. The youth picked it up, and the next morning took it to the
king and told him what he had seen in the night. The king called his
council together, and everyone declared that a feather like this was
worth more than the whole kingdom. If the feather is so precious,
declared the king, one alone will not do for me, I must and will have
the whole bird.
The eldest son set out, and trusting to his cleverness thought that
he would easily find the golden bird. When he had gone some distance
he saw a fox sitting at the edge of a wood so he cocked his gun and
took aim at him. The fox cried, do not shoot me, and in return I
will give you some good counsel. You are on the way to the golden
bird, and this evening you will come to a village in which stand two
inns opposite to one another.
One of them is lighted up brightly, and all goes on merrily within,
but do not go into it, go rather into the other, even though it looks
like a bad one. How can such a silly beast give wise advice, thought
the king's son, and he pulled the trigger. But he missed the fox, who
stretched out his tail and ran quickly into the wood.
So he pursued his way, and by evening came to the village where the
two inns were, in one they were singing and dancing, the other had a
poor, miserable look. I should be a fool, indeed, he thought, if I
were to go into the shabby tavern, and pass by the good one. So he
went into the cheerful one, lived there in riot and revel, and forgot
the bird and his father, and all good counsels.
When many months had passed, and the eldest son did not come back
home, the second set out, wishing to find the golden bird. The fox
met him as he had met the eldest, and gave him the good advice of
which he took no heed. He came to the two inns, and his brother was
standing at the window of the one from which came the music, and
called out to him. He could not resist, but went inside and lived
only for pleasure.
Again some time passed, and then the king's youngest son wanted to
set off and try his luck, but his father would not allow it. It is of
no use, said he, he will find the golden bird still less than his
brothers, and if a mishap were to befall him he knows not how to help
himself, he's not too bright at the best. But at last, as he had no
peace, he let him go.
Again the fox was sitting outside the wood, and begged for his life,
and offered his good advice. The youth was good-natured, and said,
be easy, little fox, I will do you no harm. You shall not repent it,
answered the fox, and that you may get on more quickly, get up behind
on my tail. And scarcely had he seated himself when the fox began to
run, and away he went over stock and stone till his hair whistled in
the wind. When they came to the village the youth got off, he
followed the good advice, and without looking round turned into the
little inn, where he spent the night quietly.
The next morning, as soon as he got into the open country, there sat
the fox already, and said, I will tell you further what you have to
do. Go on quite straight, and at last you will come to a castle, in
front of which a whole regiment of soldiers is lying, but do not
trouble yourself about them, for they will all be asleep and snoring.
Go through the midst of them staight into the castle, and go through
all the rooms, till at last you will come to a chamber where a golden
bird is hanging in a wooden cage. Close by, there stands an empty
gold cage for show, but beware of taking the bird out of the common
cage and putting it into the fine one, or it may go badly with you.
With these words the fox again stretched out his tail, and the king's
son seated himself upon it, and away he went over stock and stone
till his hair whistled in the wind.
When he came to the castle he found everything as the fox had said.
The king's son went into the chamber where the golden bird was shut
up in a wooden cage, whilst a golden one stood by, and the three
golden apples lay about the room. But, thought he, it would be
absurd if I were to leave the beautiful bird in the common and ugly
cage, so he opened the door, laid hold of it, and put it into the
golden cage. But at the same moment the bird uttered a shrill cry.
The soldiers awoke, rushed in, and took him off to prison. The next
morning he was taken before a court of justice, and as he confessed
everything, was sentenced to death.
The king, however, said that he would grant him his life on one
condition - namely, if he brought him the golden horse which ran
faster than the wind, and in that case he should receive, over and
above, as a reward, the golden bird.
The king's son set off, but he sighed and was sorrowful, for how was
he to find the golden horse. But all at once he saw his old friend
the fox sitting on the road. Look you, said the fox, this has
happened because you did not give heed to me. However, be of good
courage. I will give you my help, and tell you how to get to the
golden horse. You must go straight on, and you will come to a
castle, where in the stable stands the horse. The grooms will be
lying in front of the stable, but they will be asleep and snoring,
and you can quietly lead out the golden horse. But of one thing you
must take heed, put on him the common saddle of wood and leather, and
not the golden one, which hangs close by, else it will go ill with
you. Then the fox stretched out his tail, the king's son seated
himself upon it, and away he went over stock and stone until his hair
whistled in the wind.
Everything happened just