The Three Snake-Leaves

The Three Snake Leaves

Wainwright Illustration: The Three Snake Leaves

This is a tale that I have not heard before.  Thanks again to the Brothers Grimm, here is my summary:

Once upon a time there was a poor man.  He has a son, and when he could no longer support his son the boy say to him, “My dear father, let me make my own way in the world and earn my own bread.”  With great sorrow, they parted and the son went on his way.

At that time, the King was at war, and the son entered into his service.  During a dangerous battle, in which his comrades fell on all sides and their leader was killed and all seemed lost, the youth stepped up.  He said to those remaining men, who were on the verge of flight, “We shall not let our fatherland fall!” The other men followed him and together they conquered the enemy.

The King heard that he owed the victory to the youth, and he gave him great treasures and wealth and raised him above all others.

It happened that the King had a very beautiful daughter.  This daughter was not only pretty but strange.  She vowed that she would not take any husband unless he promised that if she died first he would let himself be buried alive with her.  “What use will he have for living, if he loves me with all his heart?” she asked. She vowed to do the same, and if he would die first then she would go to the grave with him.  So far, this vow had scared away all suitors, but the youth was so charmed by her that he asked her father for her hand.

“Do you know what you must promise?” asked the King.

“I do, and if it comes that I must be buried with her then so be it. I love her so much that I will take this risk,” the youth replied.

So there was a splendid wedding and much rejoicing.  The new couple lived happily for some time, but then he young Queen was struck by a mysterious illness.  No one could cure her and the illness soon took the young Queen’s life.

As the Queen lay like stone, the young King remembered his promise with horror.  There was no escape; the old king posted sentries at the door.  So the young King took his fate with grace, and when it was time for the Queen to be buried, they were both taken to the royal tomb.  The Queen was laid inside, with the King by her side, and the door was shut and bolted.

Inside the tomb, near the coffin, was a table.  There were four candles, four loaves of bread, and four bottles of wine.  When these rations were done, the young King would die of hunger.  He sat by his wife’s side, full of grief, and ate only a little piece o bread and a mouthful of wine.  Slowly he weakened.

One day, the young king saw a snake slither out of a corner of the tomb and come toward the coffin.  The young King was horrified that the snake might feast on his wife’s corpse, so he drew his sword, swore that the snake would not touch her, and hacked it into pieces.

A little while later, a second snake slithered out of the hole.  When it saw the first snake, hewed to pieced, the second snake quickly exited the tomb.  He soon came back, with three green leaves in it’s mouth.  The young King watched with interest as the snake rearranged the pieces of the dead snake’s body, so they aligned where they were supposed to connect.  The snake then put one of the leaves on each wound.  Immediately the parts joined and the snake was whole and alive again.  The two snakes slithered away together.

The leaves remained on the floor, and the young King picked them up and wondered if they could have similar powers for his wife.  So he laid a leaf on her mouth and on each of her eyes.  As soon as the last leaf was in place, colour returned to her face and she drew breath.  Opening her eyes, the Queen exclaimed, “Where am I?”

“You are with me, my love,” the young King answered, gathering her in his arms.  He then explained what had transpired and gave her some bread and wine.  She regained her strength and they went to the door and knocked and yelled so loudly that the sentries heard and brought the old King.

When the old King ordered the door to the tomb opened, and saw that they were both alive and well, there was much rejoicing.  The young King took the three leaves in his pocket as they left.  He gave them to his most loyal and trusted servant and bade the man, “Keep these for me with care.  Carry them with you at all times, as who knows when or if I shall need them again!”

The young Queen, though alive, was changed.  Her love for her husband seemed lost, and she was cold and aloof. When he wanted to make a voyage over the sea, in order to visit his old father, the Queen decided to accompany him.  The Queen, forgetting the great love and loyalty of her husband, thought of a wicked plan.  Enlisting the help of the skipper, the Queen waited until the young King lay asleep in his bunk.  Then she and the skipper came in and seized the King by his head and feet and slung him overboard to drown.

“Let’s go home,” proclaimed the Queen to her skipper, “and we shall tell my father that my husband died along the way.  I will convince my father that you are a much better substitute, and we shall be married and you will be the heir to the crown.”

In the meantime, the young King’s faithful servant had watched the Queen and the skipper.  The servant had unfastened a lifeboat from the side and quickly sailed after his master.  He was able to rescue the dead body of the young King and bring it onto the little boat.  Then the servant put a snake-leaf on the young King’s mouth, and one on each of his eyes.  Scarcely had the last leaf been placed before the young King was again alive and drawing breath.  The servant explained what had occurred and together he and the young King rowed swiftly back to the shore.  They rowed with all their strength and did not stop until they reached their destination.  So fast was their journey that they reached the old King before the Queen’s boat returned.

The young King explained what had happened to he the old King, who was shocked at the evil deeds of his daughter.  “I cannot believe that she has behaved so wickedly,” said the old King, “but we shall soon have the truth.” He then told the young King to hide in a secret chamber until the young Queen returned.

It was not long before the Queen and the skipper arrived.

“Why do you come alone?  Where is your husband?” asked the old King.

“My dearest father, I am in great grief.  My poor husband became so suddenly ill and died.  Without the help of this good skipper things would have gone badly for me as well,” replied the Queen.

The old King saw through her false grief and said, “I can make the dead come alive again!”  With that, the opened the door to the secret chamber and the young King stepped out.

When the young Queen saw her husband she was shocked.  With alarm, she fell to her knees and begged for mercy and forgiveness.

The old king said, “This man was ready to die with you.  He restored you to life but you repay him with murder in his sleep! There is no mercy.” Then the old King ordered her ship pierced with holes.  She and the skipper (an accomplice in murder) were put on the ship and sent out to sea.  The ship soon sank beneath the waves and the Queen was not seen ever again.

My thoughts:

  • I am pretty sure that the Grimm brothers did some poor math in the version that I read.  If the young King hacked the snake into three pieces, there would be TWO wounds. So above I omitted how many pieces the snake was hacked into.  Just a point of annoyance which has no relevance to the story.
  • What the heck were those leaves?
  • Being brought back to life makes you a little bit evil, I guess.  However, the Queen may have been messed up to begin with, with her crazy vow.
  • This was a weird story!

Anyway, Merry Christmas Eve!

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