Grimm Origins: TheThree Snake Leaves

By: Neenia O.

“Whilst he thus gazed before him, he saw a snake creep out of a corner of the vault and approach the dead body.”

This week’s  quote comes from the tale of the Three Snake Leaves.

The story starts off with poor man who is dealing with the harsh reality of the fact that he was no longer able to provide for his young son. The man son soon comes to him and says, “Dear father, things go so badly with us that I am a burden to you. I would rather go away and see how I can earn my bread.” The young man’s father gives him his blessing and even though full of sorrow the young man leaves. During the time of his departure there was a war going on, so the young man “took service” with the king of his land, and joined the fight. There came a point during the war where comrades lay dead on both sides, and even the leader of the young man’s troops had been killed. Many have prepared to flee, but the young man stepped up and spoke to them, “We will not let our fatherland be ruined!” The other men heard his words and followed and the war was won in their favor.

When his king learned the victory was thanks to the young man, he became favored in his eyes and “he raised him above all the others, gave him great treasures, and made him the first in the kingdom.” The king had a daughter that many desired, but because of her strange request none had taken her hand. See the princess “had made a vow to take no one as her lord and husband who did not promise to let himself be buried alive with her if she died first. ‘ If he loves me with all his heart,’ said she, ‘of what use will life be to him afterwards?’ On her side she would do the same, and if he died first, would go down to the grave with him.” However even after hearing this, the young man who led the kingdom to victory still wished to wed her and he asked the king for her hand. The king asked the young man, “But dost thou know what thou must promise?” said the King. ‘I must be buried with her,’ he replied, ‘if I outlive her, but my love is so great that I do not mind the danger.’ Then the King consented, and the wedding was solemnized with great splendor.”

For years they lived happily in the kingdom, but as time passed the young Queen became severely ill and soon died. “The young King remembered what he had been obliged to promise, and was horrified at having to lie down alive in the grave, but there was no escape. The King had placed sentries at all the gates, and it was not possible to avoid his fate. When the day came when the corpse was to be buried, he was taken down into the royal vault with it and then the door was shut and bolted.”

By the young Queen’s coffin there was a table, and on it were four candles, four loaves of bread, and four bottles of wine. Once the young man/king’s provisions came to an end, he would die of hunger. He ate and drank only the minimum each day, but he knew that death was still approaching. “Whilst he thus gazed before him, he saw a snake creep out of a corner of the vault and approach the dead body. And as he thought it came to gnaw at it, he drew his sword and said, ‘As long as I live, thou shalt not touch her,’ and hewed the snake in three pieces.” After some more time had passed a second snake slithered out of the hole, baring three leaves in its mouth. The second snake took the three chopped up pieces of the first snake and laid them together (in their right order), and placed a leaf on each of the three pieces of the first snake. “Immediately the severed parts joined themselves together, the snake moved, and became alive again, and both of them hastened away together.” After witnessing this, the young king began to wonder if this would also work on a human being. He quickly picked up the discarded leaves and placed them on his queen, one on each eye, and the third on her mouth. “And hardly had he done this than the blood stirred in her veins, rose into her pale face, and coloured it again. Then she drew breath, opened her eyes, and said, ‘Ah, God, where am I?’ ‘Thou art with me, dear wife,’ he answered, and told her how everything had happened, and how he had brought her back again to life.”

After allowing her to regain some of her strength, the young king and his queen went to the gates and alerted the guards to her recovery. This stirred so much commotion that the king came down to see for himself. The king was so happy to find both alive and well. “The young King, however, took the three snake-leaves with him, gave them to a servant and said, ‘Keep them for me carefully, and carry them constantly about thee; who knows in what trouble they may yet be of service to us!’ ”

Sadly a change had taken place in the young Queen’s heart, “after she had been restored to life, it seemed as if all love for her husband had gone out of her heart.” After some time, the young king planned a voyage for him and his queen, to visit his father. While at sea, she conceived a wicked plan with the skipper, and one night after the young King was asleep, “she called in the skipper and seized the sleeper by the head, and the skipper took him by the feet, and thus they threw him down into the sea. When the shameful deed was done, she said, ‘Now let us return home, and say that he died on the way. I will extol and praise thee so to my father that he will marry me to thee, and make thee the heir to his crown.’ But the faithful servant who had seen all that they did, unseen by them, unfastened a little boat from the ship, got into it, sailed after his master, and let the traitors go on their way. He fished up the dead body, and by the help of the three snake-leaves, which he carried about with him, and laid on the eyes and mouth, he fortunately brought the young King back to life.”

The young king and his servant rowed with all their strength, “and their little boat flew so swiftly that they reached the old King before the others did.” The older king was shocked see them return alone. “When he learnt the wickedness of his daughter he said, ‘I cannot believe that she has behaved so ill, but the truth will soon come to light,’ and bade both go into a secret chamber and keep themselves hidden from every one. Soon afterwards the great ship came sailing in, and the godless woman appeared before her father with a troubled countenance. He said, ‘Why dost thou come back alone? Where is thy husband?’” The young queen told her farther a tale of how the younger king became ill and died, and if weren’t for the skipper’s assistance “it would have gone ill with me. He was present at his death, and can tell you all.” Her father replied, “I will make the dead alive again,” and he opened the chamber, and allowed the two to come out. When the young queen saw her husband, she was taken aback, and fell to her knees and begged for leniency. “The King said, ‘There is no mercy. He was ready to die with thee and restored thee to life again, but thou hast murdered him in his sleep, and shalt receive the reward that thou deservest.’ Then she was placed with her accomplice in a ship which had been pierced with holes, and sent out to sea, where they soon sank amid the waves.”



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