A King was once taken very ill, and his people were afraid that he would die. All the doctors in the land were sent for, but none of them could make him well.
The king's three sons were full of sorrow, for, by the law of that country, if their father died, their uncle would become king.
In the midst of their grief, an old man came up to them, asking, "Why do you weep?"
"Our father is so ill that nothing can cure him," they replied.
"He should drink of the water of life," said the old man. "That would cure, him at once. But it is very hard to find."
"I will at least try to find it," said the eldest Son. Away he went to his father, and asked leave to go in search of this strange water.
The king was afraid to let him go at first; but the young prince begged so hard that at last his father gave him leave.
On his he met a dwarf, who asked, "Where are you riding in such haste?"
"Get out of my way," said the prince, rudely. "I will not tell you."
The young man rode on until he came to a narrow valley between two hills. He was only half way through it, when the angry dwarf caused the hills to close both before and behind him, and to shut him quite in.
As the eldest son did not return, the second one begged his father to let him go in search of the water. He had not gone far, when he, too, was met by the dwarf, who asked, "Where are you going?"
"I will not tell you," said the prince, speaking quite as rudely as his brother had done. This made file dwarf so angry that he caused the second prince to be shut in by the mountains also.
The third son now set off to find the strange water. He, also, was met by the dwarf, who asked, "Where are you riding so fast?"
The prince stopped, and replied: "I am seeking the water of life, for my father is very ill. Can you tell me where it is to be found?"
"Yes," replied the dwarf, "and as you have not been rude like your brothers, I will tell you.
"It is in the well of a fairy castle, into which you can get by means of this iron rod and these three loaves of bread. If you knock at the door of the castle with the rod, it will be opened at once.
"Inside you will see three lions with open mouths; throw a loaf into each, and then draw some water from the well. But be careful to leave before tile clock strikes twelve, or the castle will become your prison."
The prince thanked the dwarf, took the iron rod and the three loaves of bread, and set off to the fairy castle.
Everything took place just as the little man had said. The door sprang open at the touch of the rod, and the loaves stopped the lions' mouths.
While walking through the castle, the young prince came into a large room, where lay a lovely princess fast asleep. By her side were a loaf of bread and a strange sword, and on her finger was a handsome ring.
The prince fell deeply in love, and made up his mind to exchange rings with her. In drawing off her ring, however, he broke a spell which a wicked fairy had laid on her, and she woke up.
The princess thanked him for setting her free, and, as a reward, gave him the loaf and the sword. The loaf, she said, would never fail; while with the sword he could slay all his foes.
The princess also showed him the well of life, and told him that if he would come to her again in a year's time, she would be his wife.
The prince thanked her, filled a large bottle with water from the well, and left the fairy castle just as the clock struck twelve.
On his way home, he came to a country where, from war and want, the people were starving. The prince fed them with the loaf that never failed, and with his sword drove away all their foes.
Soon after this, he met the dwarf again. After thanking him for his kindness, the prince asked what had become of his brothers.
"They were very rude to me," replied the little man, "and I have shut them up."
But will you not set them free now?" said the prince. At last, the dwarf said that he would, but warned the young man that they might do him harm.
The brothers were no sooner free than they formed a wicked plot. They stole the water that their brother had drawn from the well, and filled his bottle with salt water.
When they reached home, the king drank of the salt water, which made him worse than before. Then the wicked brothers gave him the true water, and he became quite well.
Thinking his youngest son had tried to poison him, the king drove him from the country. But the dwarf took care of him, and brought him safely to the fairy castle at the end of the year.
The princess was married to him at once, and gave him her kingdom. His father, too, soon found out the truth, for the people whom the young man had helped came to thank him, and the dwarf told the king the whole story.
How glad the king was when the dwarf told him where his son was living! He went to see him at once, and then came back to punish his wicked sons.
But they had already left the country in great fear; their ship was lost at sea, and both of them were drowned. As for the young prince and his wife, they lived happily together for many, many years.