The Blue Light

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there was a soldier who had served the king loyally for many long years. When the war was over and the soldier could no longer serve because of the many wounds he had received, the king said to him, "You can go home now. I no longer need you. There will be no more money for you, because wages are only for those who earn them."

Because the soldier did not know how he could earn a living, he sadly walked the whole day long, until he came to a forest in the evening. As darkness fell he saw a light. He approached it and came to a little house, where a witch lived. "Give me a night's shelter and a little to eat and drink," he said to her, "otherwise I will perish."

"Oho!" she answered. "Who gives anything to a runaway soldier? But I will have pity and take you in after all, if you will do what I ask of you."

"What do you want?" asked the soldier.

"For you to dig up my garden tomorrow."

The soldier agreed, and the next day he worked with all his might, but could not finish before evening. "I see," said the witch, "that you can do no more work today. I will take you in for one more night if tomorrow you will cut up and split a stack of wood for me."

The soldier took the entire day to do this, and that evening the witch proposed that he remain a third night. "Tomorrow I have only a small task for you. Behind my house there is a dry well into which my light has fallen. It burns blue and never goes out. I want you to get it for me."

The next day the old woman led him to the well and lowered him down it in a basket. He found the blue light and gave a sign that she should pull him up again. And she did pull him up, but when he was close to the edge, she wanted to take the blue light from him. "No," he said, sensing her evil thoughts, "I shall not give you the light until I am standing on the ground with both feet."

Then the witch became furious, let him fall back into the well, and walked away. The poor soldier fell to the damp floor without being injured. The blue light continued to burn, but how could that help him? He saw that would not be able to escape death. He sadly sat there for a while. Then he happened to reach into his pocket and found his tobacco pipe, which was still half full. "This will be your last pleasure," he thought, pulled it out, lit it with the blue light, and began to smoke.

After the fumes had wafted about the cavern, suddenly there stood before him a little black dwarf, who said, "Master, what do you command?"

"Why should I command you?" replied the bewildered soldier.

"I must do everything that you demand," said the dwarf."

"Good," said the soldier, "then first help me out of this well."

The dwarf took him by the hand and led him through an underground passage, and he did not forget to take the blue light with him. Along the way he showed him the treasures that the witch had collected and hidden there, and the soldier took as much gold as he could carry. When he was above ground, he said to the dwarf, "Now go and bind the old witch and take her to the judge."

Not long afterward she came riding by on a tomcat as fast as the wind and screaming horribly. And not long after that the dwarf was back. "It is all taken care of," he said. "The witch is hanging on the gallows. Master, what do you command now?"

"Nothing at the moment," answered the soldier. "You can go home, but be ready when I call you."

"It is only necessary," said the dwarf, "for you to light your pipe with the blue light, and I will be with you." With that he disappeared before his very eyes.

The soldier returned to the city from which he had come. He moved into the best inn and had beautiful clothes made for himself. Then he told the innkeeper to furnish his room as luxuriously as possible. When it was finished he summoned the black dwarf and said, "I served the king loyally, but he sent me away to starve. For this I now want revenge."

"What am I to do?" asked the little man.

"Late this evening, when the king's daughter is lying in bed, bring her here to me in her sleep. She shall do maid service for me."

The dwarf said, "That is an easy thing for me, but a dangerous thing for you. If you are found out, it will not go well for you."

At the strike of twelve the door opened, and the dwarf carried the king's daughter in.

"Aha, is that you?" cried the soldier. "Get to work now! Go fetch the broom and sweep the room." When she was finished he called her to his chair, stuck his feet out at her, and said, "Pull off my boots," then threw them in her face, and she had to pick them up and clean them and make them shine. She did everything that he ordered her to do, without resisting, silently, and with half-closed eyes. At the first cock's crow, the dwarf carried her to the royal palace and back to her bed.

The next morning, after the king's daughter had gotten up, she went to her father and told him that she had had an amazing dream. "I was carried away through the streets as fast as lightning and taken to a soldier's room. I had to serve as his maid and wait on him and do common work, sweep the room, and clean his boots. It was only a dream, but still I am as tired as if I had really done it all."

"The dream could have been true," said the king. "I will give you some advice. Fill your pocket with peas, then make a small hole in your pocket. If you are carried away again, they will fall out and leave a track on the street."

As the king was thus speaking, the dwarf was invisibly standing nearby and heard everything.

That night when he once again carried the sleeping princess through the streets, a few peas did indeed fall out of her pocket, but they did not leave a track, because the cunning dwarf had already scattered peas in all the streets. And once again the king's daughter had to do maid service until the cock crowed.

The next morning the king sent his people out to look for the track, but it was to no end, for in all the streets there were poor children gathering peas and saying, "Last night it rained peas."

"We must think of something else," said the king. "Leave your shoes on when you go to bed, and before you return from there, hide one of them. I will be sure to find it."

The black dwarf overheard this proposal, and that evening when the soldier again wanted the king's daughter brought to him, the dwarf advised him against this, saying that he had no way to protect him against such trickery. If the shoe were to be found in his room, it would not go well with him.

"Do what I tell you," replied the soldier, and for a third night the king's daughter had to work like a maid. But before she was carried back, she hid a shoe under the bed.

The next morning the king had the entire city searched for the shoe, and it was found in the soldier's room. The soldier himself, following the little man's request, was already outside the city gate, but they soon overtook him and threw him into prison.

In his haste, he had forgotten to take along his most valuable things: the blue light and the gold. He had only one ducat in his pocket. Standing at the window of his prison and weighted down with chains, he saw one of his comrades walking by. He knocked on the glass, and as he walked by, he said, "Be so good and bring me the little bundle that I left at the inn. I'll give you a ducat for it."

The comrade ran forth and brought back the desired things. As soon as the soldier was alone again, he lit his pipe and summoned the black dwarf. "Have no fear," he said to his master. "Just go where they lead you, and let everything happen, but take the blue light with you."

The next day the soldier was tried, and although he had done nothing wrong, the judge still sentenced him to death. As he was being led out, he asked the king for one last wish.

"What sort of a wish?" asked the king.

"That I might smoke one more pipe on the way."

"You can smoke three," answered the king, "but do not think that I will let you live."

Then the soldier pulled out his pipe and lit it with the blue light. As soon as a few rings of smoke had risen, the dwarf was standing there. He had a cudgel in his hand and said, "What does my master command?"

"Strike the false judges and their henchmen to the ground for me. And don't spare the king either, who has treated me so badly."

Then the dwarf took off like lightning, zip-zap, back and forth, and everyone he even touched with his cudgel fell to the ground and did not dare to move. The king became afraid. He begged for mercy, and in order to save his life, he gave to the soldier his kingdom as well as his daughter for a wife.

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Revised August 12, 2008.