The Two Brothers by Flora Annie Steel
Once upon a time there lived a King who had two young sons; they were
good boys, and sat in school learning all that kings' sons ought to
know. But while they were still learning, the Queen their mother
died, and their father the King shortly after married again. Of
course the new wife was jealous of the two young Princes, and, as
stepmothers usually do, she soon began to ill-use the poor boys.
First she gave them barley-meal instead of wheaten cakes to eat, and
then even these were made without salt. After a time, the meal of
which the cakes were made was sour and full of weevils; so matters
went on from bad to worse, until at last she took to beating the poor
young Princes, and when they cried, she complained to the King of
their disobedience and peevishness, so that he too was angry, and beat
At length the lads agreed it was high time to seek some remedy.
'Let us go into the world,' said the younger, 'and earn our own
'Yes,' cried the elder, 'let us go at once, and never again eat bread
under this roof.'
'Not so, brother,' replied the younger, who was wise beyond his years,
'don't you remember the saying—
''With empty stomachs don't venture away,
Be it December, or be it May'?'
So they ate their bread, bad as it was, and afterwards, both mounting
on one pony, they set out to seek their fortune.
Having journeyed for some time through a barren country, they
dismounted under a large tree, and sat down to rest. By chance a
starling and a parrot, flying past, settled on the branches of the
tree, and began to dispute as to who should have the best place.
'I never heard of such impertinence!' cried the starling, pushing and
striving to get to the topmost branch; 'why, I am so important a bird,
that if any man eats me he will without doubt become Prime Minister!'
'Make room for your betters!' returned the parrot, hustling the
starling away; 'why, if any man eats me he will without doubt
become a King!'
Hearing these words, the brothers instantly drew out their crossbows,
and aiming at the same time, both the birds fell dead at the selfsame
moment. Now these two brothers were so fond of each other that
neither would allow he had shot the parrot, for each wanted the other
to be the King, and even when the birds had been cooked and were ready
to eat, the two lads were still disputing over the matter. But at
last the younger said, 'Dearest brother, we are only wasting time.
You are the elder, and must take your right, since it was your fate to
be born first.'
So the elder Prince ate the parrot, and the younger Prince ate the
starling; then they mounted their pony and rode away. They had gone
but a little way, however, when the elder brother missed his whip, and
thinking he had perhaps left it under the tree, proposed to go back
and find it.
'Not so,' said the younger Prince, 'you are King, I am only Minister;
therefore it is my place to go and fetch the whip.'
'Be it as you wish,' replied the elder, 'only take the pony, which
will enable you to return quicker. In the meantime I will go on foot
to yonder town.'
The younger Prince accordingly rode back to the tree, but the
Snake-demon, to whom it belonged, had returned during the interval,
and no sooner did the poor Prince set foot within its shade than the
horrid serpent flew at him and killed him.
Meanwhile, the elder Prince, loitering along the road, arrived at last
at the town, which he found in a state of great commotion. The King
had recently died, and though all the inhabitants had marched past the
sacred elephant in file, the animal had not chosen to elect any one of
them to the vacant throne by kneeling down and saluting the favoured
individual as he passed by, for in this manner Kings were elected in
that country. Therefore the people were in great consternation, and
orders had been issued that every stranger entering the gates of the
city was forthwith to be led before the sacred elephant. No sooner,
therefore, had the elder Prince set foot in the town than he was
dragged unceremoniously—for there had been many disappointments—before
the over-particular animal. This time, however, it had found
what it wanted, for the very instant it caught sight of the Prince it
went down on its knees and began in a great hurry to salute him with
its trunk. So the Prince was immediately elected to the throne, amid
[Illustration: The sacred elephant bowing before the prince]
All this time the younger Prince lay dead under the tree, so that the
King his brother, after waiting and searching for him in vain, gave
him up for lost, and appointed another Prime Minister.
But it so happened that a magician and his wife, who, being wise folk,
were not afraid of the serpents which dwelt in the tree, came to draw
water at the spring which flowed from the roots; and when the
magician's wife saw the dead Prince lying there, so handsome and
young, she thought she had never seen anything so beautiful before,
and, taking pity on him, said to her husband, 'You are for ever
talking of your wisdom and power: prove it by bringing this dead lad
At first the magician refused, but when his wife began to jeer at him,
saying his vaunted power was all pretence, he replied angrily, 'Very
well; you shall see that although I myself have no power to bring the
dead back to life, I can force others to do the deed.'
Whereupon he bade his wife fill her brass drinking bowl at the spring,
when, lo and behold! every drop of the water flowed into the little
vessel, and the fountain was dry!
'Now,' said the magician, 'come away home, and you shall see what you
When the serpents found their spring had dried up, they were terribly
put out, for serpents are thirsty creatures, and love water. They
bore the drought for three days, but after that they went in a body to
the magician, and told him they would do whatever he desired if he
would only restore the water of their spring. This he promised to do,
if they in their turn restored the dead Prince to life; and when they
gladly performed this task, the magician emptied the brass bowl, all
the water flowed back into the spring, and the serpents drank and were
The young Prince, on coming back to life, fancied he had awakened from
sleep, and fearing lest his brother should be vexed at his delay,
seized the whip, mounted the pony—which all this time had been
quietly grazing beside its master—and rode off. But in his hurry and
confusion he took the wrong road, and so arrived at last at a
different city from the one wherein his brother was king.
It was growing late in the evening, and having no money in his pocket,
the young Prince was at a loss how to procure anything to eat; but
seeing a good-natured-looking old woman herding goats, he said to her,
'Mother, if you will give me something to eat you may herd this pony
of mine also, for it will be yours.'
To this the old woman agreed, and the Prince went to live in her
house, finding her very kind and good-natured. But in the course of a
day or two he noticed that his hostess looked very sad, so he asked
her what was the matter.
'The matter is this, my son,' replied the old woman, tearfully; 'in
this kingdom there lives an ogre, which every day devours a young man,
a goat, and a wheaten cake—in consideration of receiving which meal
punctually, he leaves the other inhabitants in peace. Therefore every
day this meal has to be provided, and it falls to the lot of every
inhabitant in turn to prepare it, under pain of death. It is my turn
to-day. The cake I can make, the goat I have, but where is the young
'Why does not some one kill the ogre?' asked the brave young Prince.
'Many have tried, but all have failed, though the King has gone so far
as to promise his daughter in marriage, and half his kingdom, to a
successful champion. And now it is my turn, and I must die, for where
shall I find a young man?' said the poor old woman, weeping bitterly.
'Don't cry, Goody,' returned the good-natured Prince; 'you have been
very kind to me, and I will do my best for you by making part of the
And though the old woman at first refused flatly to allow so handsome
a young man to sacrifice himself, he laughed at her fears, and cheered
her up so that she gave in.
'Only one thing I ask of you, Goody,' quoth the Prince; 'make the
wheaten cake as big as you can, and give me the finest and fattest
goat in your flock.'
This she promised to do, and when everything was prepared, the Prince,
leading the goat and carrying the cake, went to the tree where the
ogre came every evening to receive and devour his accustomed meal.
Having tied the goat to the tree, and laid the cake on the ground, the
Prince stepped outside the trench that was dug round the ogre's
dining-room, and waited. Presently the ogre, a very frightful monster
indeed, appeared. Now he generally ate the young man first, for as a
rule the cakes and goats brought to him were not appetising; but this
evening, seeing the biggest cake and the fattest goat he ever set eyes
upon, he just went straight at them and began to gobble them up. As
he was finishing the last mouthful, and was looking about for his
man's flesh, the Prince sprang at him, sword in hand. Then ensued a
terrible contest. The ogre fought like an ogre, but in consequence of
having eaten the cake and the goat, one the biggest and the other the
fattest that ever was seen, he was not nearly so active as usual, and
after a tremendous battle the brave Prince was victorious, and laid
his enemy at his feet. Rejoicing at his success, the young man cut
off the ogre's head, tied it up in a handkerchief as a trophy, and
then, being quite wearied out by the combat, lay down to rest and fell
Now, every morning, a scavenger came to the ogre's dining-room to
clear away the remains of the last night's feast, for the ogre was
mighty fastidious, and could not bear the smell of old bones; and this
particular morning, when the scavenger saw only half the quantity of
bones, he was much astonished, and beginning to search for more, found
the young Prince hard by, fast asleep, with the ogre's head by his
'Ho! ho!' thought the scavenger, 'this is a fine chance for me!'
So, lifting the Prince, who, being dead tired, did not awake, he put
him gently into a clay-pit close by, and covered him up with clay.
Then he took the ogre's head, and going to the King, claimed half the
kingdom and the Princess in marriage, as his reward for slaying the
Although the King had his suspicions that all was not fair, he was
obliged to fulfil his promise as far as giving up part of his kingdom
was concerned, but for the present he managed to evade the dreadful
necessity of giving his daughter in marriage to a scavenger, by the
excuse that the Princess was desirous of a year's delay. So the
Scavenger-king reigned over half the kingdom, and made great
preparations for his future marriage.
Meanwhile, some potters coming to get clay from their pit were
mightily astonished to find a handsome young man, insensible, but
still breathing, hidden away under the clay. Taking him home, they
handed him over to the care of their women, who soon brought him
round. On coming to himself, he learnt with surprise of the
scavenger's victory over the ogre, with which all the town was
ringing. He understood how the wicked wretch had stepped in and
defrauded him, and having no witness but his own word, saw it would be
useless to dispute the point; therefore he gladly accepted the
potters' offer of teaching him their trade.
Thus the Prince sat at the potters' wheel, and proved so clever, that
ere long they became famous for the beautiful patterns and excellent
workmanship of their wares; so much so, that the story of the handsome
young potter who had been found in a clay-pit soon became noised
abroad; and although the Prince had wisely never breathed a word of
his adventures to any one, yet, when the news of his existence reached
the Scavenger-king's ears, he determined in some way or another to get
rid of the young man, lest the truth should leak out.
Now, just at this time, the fleet of merchant vessels which annually
came to the city with merchandise and spices was detained in harbour
by calms and contrary winds. So long were they detained that the
merchants feared lest they should be unable to return within the year;
and as this was a serious matter, the auguries were consulted. They
declared that until a human sacrifice was made the vessels would never
leave port. When this was reported to the Scavenger-king he seized
his opportunity, and said, 'Be it so; but do not sacrifice a citizen.
Give the merchants that good-for-nothing potter-lad, who comes no one
[Illustration: The prince at the potter's wheel]
The courtiers of course lauded the kindness of the Scavenger-king to
the skies, and the Prince was handed over to the merchants, who,
taking him on board their ships, prepared to kill him. However, he
begged and prayed them so hard to wait till evening, on the chance of
a breeze coming up, that they consented to wait till sunset. Then,
when none came, the Prince took a knife and made a tiny cut on his
little finger. As the first drop of blood flowed forth, the sails of
the first ship filled with wind, and she glided swiftly out of
harbour; at the second drop, the second ship did likewise, and so on
till the whole fleet were sailing before a strong breeze.
The merchants were enchanted at having such a valuable possession as
the Prince, who could thus compel the winds, and took the very
greatest care of him; before long he was a great favourite with them
all, for he was really an amiable young man. At length they arrived
at another city, which happened to be the very one where the Prince's
brother had been elected King by the elephant, and while the merchants
went into the town to transact business, they left the Prince to watch
over the vessels. Now, growing weary of watching, the Prince, to
amuse himself, began, with the clay on the shore beside him, to make a
model from memory of his father's palace. Growing interested in his
work, he worked away till he had made the most beautiful thing
imaginable. There was the garden full of flowers, the King on his
throne, the courtiers sitting round,—even the Princes learning in
school, and the pigeons fluttering about the tower. When it was quite
finished, the poor young Prince could not help the tears coming into
his eyes, as he looked at it, and he sighed to think of past days.
Just at that very moment the Prime Minister's daughter, surrounded by
her women, happened to pass that way. She looked at the beautiful
model, and was wonderstruck, but when she saw the handsome, sad young
man who sat sighing beside it, she went straight home, locked the
doors, and refused to eat anything at all. Her father, fearing she
was ill, sent to inquire what was wrong, whereupon she sent him this
reply: 'Tell my father I will neither eat nor drink until he marries
me to the young man who sits sighing on the sea-shore beside a king's
palace made of clay.'
At first the Prime Minister was very angry, but seeing his daughter
was determined to starve herself to death if she did not gain her
point, he outwardly gave his consent; privately, however, arranging
with the merchants that immediately after the marriage the bride and
bridegroom were to go on board the ships, which were at once to set
sail, and that on the first opportunity the Prince was to be thrown
overboard, and the Princess brought back to her father.
So the marriage took place, the ships sailed away, and a day or two
afterwards the merchants pushed the young man overboard as he was
sitting on the prow. But it so happened that a rope was hanging from
the bride's window in the stern, and as the Prince drifted by, he
caught it and climbed up into her cabin unseen. She hid him in her
box, where he lay concealed, and when they brought her food, she
refused to eat, pretending grief, and saying, 'Leave it here; perhaps
I may be hungry by and by.' Then she shared the meal with her
The merchants, thinking they had managed everything beautifully,
turned their ships round, and brought the bride and her box back to
her father, who, being much pleased, rewarded them handsomely.
His daughter also was quite content, and having reached her own
apartments, let her husband out of the box and dressed him as a
woman-servant, so that he could go about the palace quite securely.
Now the Prince had of course told his wife the whole story of his
life, and when she in return had related how the King of that country
had been elected by the elephant, her husband began to feel sure he
had found his long-lost brother at last. Then he laid a plan to make
sure. Every day a bouquet of flowers was sent to the King from the
Minister's garden, so one evening the Prince, in his disguise, went up
to the gardener's daughter, who was cutting flowers, and said, 'I will
teach you a new fashion of arranging them, if you like.' Then, taking
the flowers, he tied them together just as his father's gardener used
The next morning, when the King saw the bouquet, he became quite pale,
and turning to the gardener, asked him who had arranged the flowers.
'I did, sire,' replied the gardener, trembling with fear.
'You lie, knave!' cried the King; 'but go, bring me just such another
bouquet to-morrow, or your head shall be the forfeit!'
That day the gardener's daughter came weeping to the disguised Prince,
and, telling him all, besought him to make her another bouquet to save
her father's life. The Prince willingly consented, for he was now
certain the King was his long-lost brother; and, making a still more
beautiful bouquet, concealed a paper, on which his name was written,
amidst the flowers.
When the King discovered the paper he turned quite pale, and said to
the gardener, 'I am now convinced you never made this nosegay; but
tell me the truth, and I will forgive you.'
Whereupon the gardener fell on his knees and confessed that one of the
women-servants in the Prime Minister's palace had made it for his
daughter. This surprised the King immensely, and he determined to
disguise himself and go with the gardener's daughter to cut flowers in
the Minister's garden, which he accordingly did; but no sooner did the
disguised young Prince behold his brother than he recognised him, and
wishing to see if power and wealth had made his brother forget their
youthful affection, he parried all questions as to where he had learnt
to arrange flowers, and replied by telling the story of his
adventures, as far as the eating of the starling and the parrot. Then
he declared he was too tired to proceed further that day, but would
continue his story on the next. The King, though greatly excited, was
accordingly obliged to wait till the next evening, when the Prince
told of his fight with the demon and delivery by the potters. Then
once more he declared he was tired, and the King, who was on pins and
needles to hear more, had to wait yet another day; and so on until the
seventh day, when the Prince concluded his tale by relating his
marriage with the Prime Minister's daughter, and disguise as a woman.
Then the King fell on his brother's neck and rejoiced greatly; the
Minister also, when he heard what an excellent marriage his daughter
had made, was so pleased that he voluntarily resigned his office in
favour of his son-in-law. So what the parrot and the starling had
said came true, for the one brother was King, and the other Prime
The very first thing the King did was to send ambassadors to the court
of the king who owned the country where the ogre had been killed,
telling him the truth of the story, and saying that his brother, being
quite satisfied as Prime Minister, did not intend to claim half the
kingdom. At this, the king of that country was so delighted that he
begged the Minister Prince to accept of his daughter as a bride, to
which the Prince replied that he was already married, but that his
brother the King would gladly make her his wife.
So there were immense rejoicings, but the Scavenger-king was put to
death, as he very well deserved.