Little brother took his little sister by the hand and said, "Since our mother died we have not had a single good hour. Our stepmother beats us every day, and whenever we come near her she kicks us away with her feet. Hard leftover crusts of bread are our food . The little dog under the table is better off, for she often throws it a good morsel. God have mercy, if our mother were to know about this. Come, let us go away together into the wide world."
They walked the whole day over meadows, fields, and stones. And when it rained the little sister said, "God and our hearts are crying together!"
In the evening they came to a large forest, and they were so tired from sorrow and hunger and from the long walk that they climbed into a hollow tree and fell asleep. The next day when they awoke the sun was already high in the sky and shone hotly down into the tree.
Then the brother said, "Sister, I am thirsty. If I knew of a little spring I would go and get a drink. I think I hear one."
The brother got up and took his sister by the hand to try to find the spring.
Now the wicked stepmother was a witch, and she had seen how the two children had gone away, and had secretly crept after them, as witches do, and she had bewitched all the springs in the woods.
They found a spring, glistening as it ran over the stones. The brother was about to drink from it, but his sister heard how its rushing sound said, "Whoever drinks from me will become a tiger. Whoever drinks from me will become a tiger."
Then the sister cried out, "Please, brother, do not drink, or you will become a wild animal and tear me to pieces."
The brother did not drink, although he was very thirsty, but said, "I will wait for the next spring."
When they came to the second spring the sister heard it say as well, "Whoever drinks from me will become a wolf. Whoever drinks from me will become a wolf."
Then the sister cried out, "Please, brother, do not drink, or you will become a wolf and eat me up."
The brother did not drink, and said, "I will wait until we come to the next spring, but then I must drink, say what you will, for I am very thirsty."
When they came to the third spring the sister heard how its rushing sound said, "Whoever drinks from me will become a deer. Whoever drinks from me will become a deer."
The sister said, "Oh, brother, do not drink, or you will become a deer and run away from me."
But the brother had already knelt down by the spring, leaned over, and drunk from the water. As soon as the first drops touched his lips he lay there in the form of a young deer.
Now the sister cried over her poor bewitched brother, and the deer cried also, sitting sadly next to her.
Finally the girl said, "Be quiet, my sweet little deer. I will never, never leave you."
She took off her golden garter and put it around the deer's neck. Then she picked some rushes and wove them into a soft cord. This she tied to the little animal and led it onward, walking deeper and deeper into the woods.
After they had walked a long, long way they finally came to a little house. The girl looked in, and because it was empty, she thought, "We can stay here and live."
She found leaves and moss to make a soft bed for the deer. Every morning she went out and gathered roots, berries, and nuts for herself, and brought tender grass for the little deer, who ate out of her hand, and was contented and played around about her. In the evening, when the sister was tired and had said her prayers, she laid her head on the deer's back for a pillow, and gently fell asleep. If only the brother had had his human form, it would have been a wonderful life.
For some time they were alone like this in the wilderness. Then it happened that the king of the country held a great hunt in these woods. The blasts of the horns, the barking of the dogs, and the merry shouts of the huntsmen sounded through the trees. The little deer heard this and wanted ever so much to be with them.
"Oh," he said to his sister, "let me go and join the hunt. I cannot resist it any longer." He begged so long that she finally agreed.
"But," she said she to him, "come back to me in the evening. I must lock the door to keep the wild huntsmen out. To let me know that it's you, knock and say, 'My little sister, let me in.' If you do not say that, I will not unlock the door."
Then the young deer jumped away. He felt so good and was so happy to be in the open air. The king and his huntsmen saw the beautiful animal and started after him, but they could not catch him, and whenever they thought that they surely had him, he jumped away over the bushes and disappeared.
When it was dark he ran to the little house, knocked, and said, "My little sister, let me in."
She opened the door for him, and he jumped inside and rested all night on his soft bed.
The next day the hunt began anew, and when the little deer again heard the hunting horn and the huntsmen's shouts, he could not resist, but said, "Sister, open the door for me. I must be off."
His sister opened the door for him, saying, "But this evening you must be here again and say the password."
When the king and his huntsmen again saw the young deer with his golden collar, they all chased after him, but he was too fast and nimble for them. And so it went the entire day, but as evening fell, the huntsmen had surrounded him, and one of them wounded him a little in the foot, causing him to limp. Slowly, he ran away.
A huntsman crept after him to the little house and heard how he called out, "My little sister, let me in," and saw that someone opened the door for him, and then immediately shut it again. The huntsman took notice of all this, then went to the king and told him what he had seen and heard.
Then the king said, "Tomorrow we will continue with our hunt."
The little sister, however, was terribly frightened when she saw that her young deer was wounded. She washed the blood off him, applied herbs, and said, "Go to bed, my sweet deer, so that you will get well again."
But the wound was so slight that the next morning the deer no longer felt it. And when he again heard the merry sound of the hunt outside, he said, "I cannot resist it. I must be there. They'll never get me."
Crying, the sister said, "This time they will kill you, and I will be alone in the woods, forsaken by the whole world. I will not let you out."
"Then I will die here from grief," answered the deer. "When I hear the hunting horn I feel that I have to jump out of my shoes!"
Then the sister could not help herself, and with a heavy heart she unlocked the door for him. The deer vigorously and joyfully bounded off into the woods.
When the king saw him he said to his huntsmen, "Chase after him all day long and into the night, but take care that no one does him any harm."
As soon as the sun had set the king said to the huntsman, "Now come and show me the little house in the woods."
When he came to the door he knocked and called out, "Dear little sister, let me in."
The door opened, and the king walked in, and there stood a girl who was more beautiful than any girl he had ever seen. The girl was frightened when she saw that it was not her deer, but a man wearing a golden crown on his head who came in.
However, the king looked kindly at her, reached out his hand to her, and said, "Will you go with me to my castle and be my dear wife?"
"Oh, yes," answered the girl, "but the little deer must go with me. I cannot leave him."
The king said, "He shall stay with you as long as you live, and he shall want nothing."
Just then he came bounding in, and the sister again tied him to the cord of rushes. She herself took hold of it and walked out of the little house with him.
The king lifted the beautiful girl onto his horse and took her to his castle, where their wedding was held with great splendor. She was now the queen, and they lived happily together for a long time. The deer was cared for and cherished, and ran about in the castle garden.
Now the wicked stepmother who had caused the children to go out into the world thought that the sister had been torn to pieces by wild animals in the woods, and that the brother, as a deer, had been killed by the huntsmen. When she heard that they were happy and well off, envy and hatred filled her heart, leaving her no peace. Her only thoughts were how she could bring about their downfall.
Her own daughter, who was ugly as night and had only one eye, complained to her, saying, "I am the one who should have become queen."
"Just be quiet," answered the old woman, then comforted her by saying, "When the time comes I shall be at hand."
As time went by the queen brought a handsome little boy into the world. It happened at a time when the king was out hunting. Then the old witch took the form of the chambermaid, went into the room where the queen was lying and said to her, "Come, your bath is ready. It will do you good and give you fresh strength. Hurry, before it gets cold."
The witch's daughter was also nearby. They carried the weak queen into the bathroom and put her into the tub. Then they locked the door shut and ran away. Now they had made a fire of such hellish heat in the bathroom that the beautiful young queen soon suffocated.
When this was done the old woman took her daughter, put a nightcap on her head, and laid her in the queen's bed. Furthermore, she gave her the form and appearance of the queen, but she could not replace the lost eye. So that the king would not notice it, the witch's daughter was to lie on the side where she had no eye.
In the evening when the king came home and heard that he had a little son he was delighted. He was about to go to his dear wife's bed to see how she was, when the old woman quickly called out, "You must leave the curtains closed. The queen is not yet permitted to look into the light, and she must have her rest."
The king went away, not knowing that a false queen was lying there in her bed. At midnight when everyone was asleep, the nurse who was sitting in the nursery by the cradle, and who was the only one still awake, saw the door open and the true queen walk in. She took the child from the cradle, laid him on her arm, and nursed him. Then she fluffed up his pillow, laid him back down, and covered him with his little quilt. And she did not forget the deer, but went to the corner where he was lying and stroked his back. Then she went back out through the door without saying a word.
The next morning the nurse asked the watchmen whether anyone had come into the castle during the night, and they answered, "No, we did not see anyone."
In this manner she came many nights, never speaking a word. The nurse saw her every time, but she did not dare to tell anyone about it. After some time had thus passed, the queen began to speak in the night, saying, "How is my child? How is my deer? I shall come two more times, then never again."
The nurse did not answer her, but when the queen had disappeared again, she went to the king and told him everything.
The king said, "Good heaven, what is this? Tomorrow night I will keep watch by the child."
That evening he went into the nursery, and at midnight the queen again appeared and said, "How is my child? How is my deer? I shall come one more time, then never again."
She nursed the child as she had done before, and then disappeared.
The king did not dare to speak to her, but on the following night he kept watch again. Once again she said, "How is my child? How is my deer? I come this one time, then never again."
Now the king could not restrain himself. He jumped towards her, saying, "You can only be my dear wife."
She answered, "Yes, I am your dear wife," and in that moment, by the grace of God, she came back to life, fresh, vibrant, and healthy.
She told the king about the crime that the wicked witch and her daughter had committed against her. The king ordered both to be brought before the court, and a judgment was pronounced against them. The daughter was led into the woods where she was torn to pieces by wild animals, and the witch was thrown into a fire where she miserably burned to death. And as soon as she had burned to ashes, the deer was transformed, and he received his human form again. And the sister and the brother lived happily together until they died.
Revised September 2, 2002.