Once upon a time there was a woman who was truly a witch. She had two daughters, one ugly and wicked, whom she loved because she was her own daughter, and one beautiful and good, whom she hated, because she was her stepdaughter. The stepdaughter had a beautiful apron, which the other girl wanted so much that she became envious, and she told her mother that she just had to have that apron.
"Be still, my child," said the old woman, "and you shall have it. Your stepsister has long deserved to die, and tonight when she is asleep I will come and chop off her head. Just be sure to lie down at the far side of the bed, and push her close to the front."
It would have been all over with the poor girl, but just then she was standing in a corner, and she overheard everything. She was not allowed to go outside all day long, and at bedtime her wicked stepsister had her get into bed first, so she would be lying next to the wall. However, after the witch's daughter fell asleep, the stepdaughter gently pushed her to the front side of the bed, and she took her place back against the wall.
In the night the old woman crept into the bedroom holding an ax in her right hand while feeling with her left hand for anyone lying at the front of the bed. Then she grasped the axe with both hands and chopped off her own child's head.
After the witch had gone away, the girl got up and went to her sweetheart, whose name was Roland, and knocked at his door.
When he came out, she said to him, "Listen, dearest Roland, we must flee at once. My stepmother tried to kill me, but she killed her own child instead. When daylight comes, and she sees what she has done, we'll be lost."
"You had better take her magic wand," said Roland, "or we will not be able to escape if she comes after us."
The girl got the magic wand, then she took the dead girl's head and dropped three drops of blood onto the floor, one in front of the bed, one in the kitchen, and one on the steps. Then she hurried away with her sweetheart.
The next morning when the old witch got up, she called her daughter, wanting to give her the apron. But the daughter did not come.
So she shouted, "Where are you?"
"Here on the steps. I'm sweeping," answered the first drop of blood.
The old woman went out, but seeing no one on the steps, she shouted again, "Where are you?"
"Here in the kitchen. I'm warming myself," shouted the second drop of blood.
She went into the kitchen, but found no one.
So she shouted again, "Where are you?"
"Here in the bed. I'm sleeping," shouted the third drop of blood.
She went into the bedroom and approached the bed. What did she see there? Her own child swimming in blood and whose head she herself had cut off.
The witch flew into a rage, jumped to the window, and as she could see far into the world, she saw her stepdaughter hurrying away with her sweetheart Roland.
"That won't help you!" shouted the witch. "Even if you've already gone a long way, you won't escape from me!"
She put on her many-league boots, in which she covered an hour's walk with every step, and it was not long before she overtook them. However, when the girl saw the old woman striding toward them, she used the magic wand to transform her sweetheart Roland into a lake, and herself into a duck swimming in the middle of the lake.
The witch stood on the shore and threw in pieces of bread, trying with great effort to lure the duck to her. But the duck did not give in, and the old woman had to return home that night without success. Afterward the girl and her sweetheart Roland returned to their natural shapes, and they walked on through the whole night until daybreak. Then the girl transformed herself into a beautiful flower in the middle of a briar hedge, and her sweetheart Roland into a fiddler.
It was not long before the witch came striding up toward them.
She said to the musician, "Dear musician, may I pick that beautiful flower for myself?"
"Oh, yes," he replied. "And I will play for you while you're doing it."
She crawled hastily into the hedge and was just about to pick the flower, knowing perfectly well who it was, when he began to play. She was forced to dance, whether she wanted to or not, for it was magic dance music. The faster he played, the more violently she was forced to jump. The thorns tore the clothes off her body, pricking her until she bled, and as he did not stop, she had to dance until she fell down dead.
They were now free, so Roland said, "Now I will go to my father and arrange for our wedding."
"I'll stay here and wait for you," said the girl. "And I'll transform myself into a red boundary stone, so that no one will recognize me."
So Roland set forth, and the girl, in the shape of a red boundary stone, stood there and waited for her sweetheart. But when Roland arrived home, he was snared by another woman, who caused him to forget the girl. The poor girl waited there a long time.
Finally, when he failed to return, she grew sad and transformed herself into a flower, thinking, "Someone will surely come this way and trample me down."
However, it happened that a shepherd who was herding his sheep in the field saw the flower. As it was so beautiful, he picked it, took it home with him, and put it away in his chest. From that time forth, strange things happened in the shepherd's house. When he arose in the morning all the work was already done. The room was swept, the table and benches cleaned, the fire on the hearth was lighted, and the water was fetched, and at noon, when he came home, the table was already set, and a good dinner served. He didn't know how this happened, for he never saw anyone in his house, and no one could have hidden himself in it.
He was, of course, pleased with this good service, but with time he became so afraid that he went to a wise woman and asked for her advice.
The wise woman said, "There is magic behind it. Be on the watch very early some morning, and if anything is moving in the room, if you see anything, no matter what it is, throw a white cloth over it, and then the magic will be stopped."
The shepherd did what she told him to do, and the next morning just at dawn, he saw the chest open and the flower come out. He quickly jumped towards it and threw a white cloth over it. Instantly the transformation came to an end, and a beautiful girl stood before him, who admitted to him that she had been the flower, and that she had been doing his housekeeping. She told him her story. He liked her and asked her to marry him, but she answered, "No," for she wanted to remain faithful to her sweetheart Roland, even though he had abandoned her. Nevertheless, she promised not to go away, and to continue keeping house for the shepherd.
The time drew near when Roland was to be married. According to an old custom in that country, it was announced that all the girls were to attend the wedding and sing in honor of the bridal pair. When the faithful girl heard this, she grew so sad that she thought her heart would break, and she did not want to go. But the other girls came and took her. When it was her turn to sing, she declined, until at last she was the only one left, and then she could not refuse.
But when she began her song, and it reached Roland's ears, he jumped up and shouted, "I know that voice. That is the true bride. I do not want anyone else." Everything he had forgotten, and which had vanished from his mind, had suddenly come home again to his heart.
Thus the faithful girl was married to her sweetheart Roland. Her grief came to an end, and her joy began.
Revised September 6, 2002.