A German fairytale, and one of the Brothers Grimm’s famous collection, ‘The Goose Girl’ tells the classic story of a pure-hearted princess and a wicked villain. Unlike many fairy tales, this villain is not an evil stepmother, or a wicked witch, but instead a servant, who sees an opportunity to take the princess’ life for her own.
“Alas, young Queen, how ill you fare! If this your tender mother knew, Her heart would surely break in two.”
― Brothers Grimm
Once there lived a widowed queen and a young princess, alone in their great castle, for the king had died many years earlier. Eventually the princess grew up and, as was so often the case for young princesses, the time came for her to marry. Her fiancé lived in a far-off kingdom, and the queen was very worried about her daughter travelling such a long way.
The night before the princess was to leave, the queen went to her daughter’s bedroom. She took a knife with her and a small white cloth, cutting her fingers and allowing three drops of blood to land onto the fabric. She gave this to her daughter, telling her it would keep her safe.
The next morning the princess set off. With her she took a dowry of gold and silver, a talking horse named Falada, and a chambermaid. The princess and the chambermaid had been travelling for a while when the princess grew thirsty. She asked the chambermaid to bring her water and the chambermaid refused, saying that she had no desire to be the princess’ servant. The princess went to the river and bent down to drink. When she did so, the charm her mother had given her fell from her dress and washed downstream. Now that the princess was vulnerable, the chambermaid saw her chance. Over the course of the journey, she bullied the princess into handing over her fine clothes, switching her fine horse for the chambermaid’s own pony and even swearing an oath that she would tell nobody of what the chambermaid had done, and the truth of the princess’ own identity.
When they arrived, the prince went immediately to the chambermaid and took her into the castle, leaving the princess stood outside. His father, the king, saw the princess and was struck by her incredible beauty. He went to the chambermaid and asked who this young girl was. The chambermaid told him she was her servant, and asked the king to find her some work to do. The king agreed, and the princess was sent to work with Conrad, the boy who herded the geese.
With the princess out of the way, the chambermaid asked the prince for a small favour. She told him that her horse had caused her trouble on the way and asked for the creature’s head to be removed. In truth, the chambermaid knew that the talking horse had been witness to her cruelty to the princess, and knew her true identity. The head of Falada was stuck on a gate, and each day the princess passed through it with the geese. Each time the princess walked through the gate, the head would sigh, and say ‘oh princess, if your mother knew, her heart would break in two’.
Each day, the princess and Conrad would take the geese out of the city and into a meadow for the day. When they did this, the princess would unbind and brush her lovely golden hair. Seeing this, Conrad was entranced by the colour, and decided that he would like to pluck a few strands of the Princess’ hair and keep it for himself. Realising that Conrad meant some mischief, the princess asked the wind to snatch his hat and fly away with it. Angry, Conrad chased the hat, not catching it until after the princess had rebound her hair. This happened for several days until eventually Conrad grew annoyed. He went to the king and said that he would no longer work with the princess.
Curious, the next day the king followed along as Conrad and the princess went along with their chores. He overheard the horse head calling the girl ‘princess,’ and the princess entreating the wind to keep Conrad away from her. That evening the king took the princess aside and asked told her what he had seen.
The princess told him that she was bound in silence, having sworn an oath to tell no one of her circumstances. The king said that if the princess was unable to tell him, then she should tell her secrets to the iron stove, and then left the room. The princess did so, climbing inside and telling the stove her story. Outside, the eavesdropping king heard the whole story. He took the princess to the prince and told him that he had been deceived. The princess was his true bride. The prince was overjoyed and took the princess in his arms.
That night the princess joined the family at dinner. It had been so long that the chambermaid did not recognise the princess, especially dressed once again in fine clothing. After the meal, the king told the chambermaid a story of a servant who had deceived, robbed, and impersonated their master. He asked the chambermaid what punishment should be delivered. The cruel chambermaid decreed that the servant should be stripped naked and placed in a barrel studded with sharp nails. The barrel should be dragged though the city by horses until the wicked servant was dead.
‘Then that is to be your fate’ the king decreed, and the chambermaid was dragged away.
With the chambermaid dead, the prince and the princess were free to finally marry. The two of them did so at once, and together ruled over their kingdom.
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