Once upon a time there was an old king who was so ill that he thought to
himself, "I am most likely on my death-bed." Then he said, "Send Trusty John to
me." Now Trusty John was his favourite servant, and was so called because all
his life he had served him so faithfully. When he approached the bed the King
spake to him: "Most trusty John, I feel my end is drawing near, and I could face
it without a care were it not for my son. He is still too young to decide
everything for himself, and unless you promise me to instruct him in all he
should know, and to be to him as a father, I shall not close my eyes in peace."
Then Trusty John answered: "I will never desert him, and will serve him
faithfully, even though it should cost me my life."
Then the old King said: "Now I die comforted and in peace"; and then he went
on: "After my death you must show him the whole castle, all the rooms and
apartments and vaults, and all the treasures that lie in them; but you must not
show him the last room in the long passage, where the picture of the Princess of
the Golden Roof is hidden. When he beholds that picture he will fall violently
in love with it and go off into a dead faint, and for her sake he will encounter
many dangers; you must guard him from this." And when Trusty John had again
given the King his hand upon it the old man became silent, laid his head on the
pillow, and died.
When the old King had been carried to his grave Trusty John told the young
King what he had promised his father on his death-bed, and added: "And I shall
assuredly keep my word, and shall be faithful to you as I have been to him, even
though it should cost me my life.
Now when the time of mourning was over, Trusty John said to him: "It is time
you should see your inheritance. I will show you your ancestral castle." So
he took him over everything, and let him see all the riches and splendid
apartments, only the one room where the picture was he did not open. But the
picture was placed so that if the door opened you gazed straight upon it, and it
was so beautifully painted that you imagined it lived and moved, and that it was
the most lovable and beautiful thing in the whole world. But the young King
noticed that Trusty John always missed one door, and said: "Why do you never
open this one for me?"
"There is something inside that would appall you," he answered. But the King
replied: "I have seen the whole castle, and shall find out what is in there";
and with these words he approached the door and wanted to force it open. But
Trusty John held him back, and said: "I promised your father before his death
that you shouldn't see what that room contains. It might bring both you and me
to great grief." "Ah! no," answered the young King; "if I don't get in, it will
be my certain destruction; I should have no peace night or day till I had seen
what was in the room with my own eyes. Now I don't budge from the spot till you
have opened the door.
Then Trusty John saw there was no way out of it, so with a heavy heart and
many sighs he took the key from the big bunch. When he had opened the door he
stepped in first, and thought to cover the likeness so that the King might not
perceive it; but it was hopeless: the King stood on tiptoe and looked over his
shoulder. And when he saw the picture of the maid, so beautiful and glittering
with gold and precious stones, he fell swooning to the ground. Trusty John
lifted him up, carried him to bed, and thought sorrowfully: "The curse has come
upon us; gracious heaven! what will be the end of it all?" Then he poured wine
down his throat till he came to himself again. The first words he spoke were:
"Oh! who is the original of the beautiful picture?" "She is the Princess of the
Golden Roof," answered Trusty John. Then the King continued: "My love for her is
so great that if all the leaves on the trees had tongues they could not express
it; my very life depends on my winning her. You are my most trusty John: you
must stand by me."
The faithful servant pondered long how they were to set about the matter, for
it was said to be difficult even to get into the presence of the Princess. At
length he hit upon a plan, and spoke to the King: "All the things she has about
her--tables, chairs, dishes, goblets, bowls, and all her household
furniture--are made of gold. You have in your treasure five tons of gold; let
the goldsmiths of your kingdom manufacture them into all manner of vases and
vessels, into all sorts of birds and game and wonderful beasts; that will
please her. We shall go to her with them and try our luck."
summoned all his goldsmiths, and they had to work hard day and night, till at
length the most magnificent things were completed. When a ship had been laden
with them the faithful John disguised himself as a merchant, and the King had to
do the same, so that they should be quite unrecognizable. And so they crossed
the seas and journeyed till they reached the town where the Princess of the
Golden Roof dwelt.
Trusty John made the King remain behind on the ship and await his return.
"Perhaps," he said, "I may bring the Princess back with me, so see that
everything is in order; let the gold ornaments be arranged and the whole ship
decorated." Then he took a few of the gold things in his apron, went ashore, and
proceeded straight to the palace. When he came to the courtyard he found a
beautiful maiden standing at the well, drawing water with two golden pails. And
as she was about to carry away the glittering water she turned round and saw the
stranger, and asked him who he was. Then he replied: "I am a merchant," and
opening his apron, he let her peep in.
"Oh! my," she cried; "what beautiful
gold wares!" and set down her pails, and examined one thing after the other.
Then she said: "The Princess must see this, she has such a fancy for gold things
that she will buy up all you have." She took him by the hand and let him into
the palace, for she was the lady's maid.
When the Princess had seen the wares she was quite enchanted, and said:
"They are all so beautifully made that I shall buy everything you have."
Trusty John said: "I am only the servant of a rich merchant, what I have here is
nothing compared to what my master has on his ship; his merchandise is more
artistic and costly than anything that has ever been made in gold before."
She desired to have everything brought up to her, but he said: "There is
such a quantity of things that it would take many days to bring them up, and
they would take up so many rooms that you would have no space for them in your
Thus her desire and curiosity were excited to such an extent
that at last she said: "Take me to your ship; I shall go there myself and view
your master's treasures."
Then Trusty John was quite delighted, and brought her to the ship; and the
King, when he beheld her, saw that she was even more beautiful than her picture,
and thought every moment that his heart would burst. She stepped on to the ship,
and the King led her inside. But Trusty John remained behind with the steersman,
and ordered the ship to push off. "Spread all sail, that we may fly on the ocean
like a bird in the air." Meanwhile the King showed the Princess inside all his
gold wares, every single bit of it--dishes, goblets, bowls, the birds and game,
and all the wonderful beasts. Many hours passed thus, and she was so happy that
she did not notice that the ship was sailing away. After she had seen the last
thing she thanked the merchant and prepared to go home; but when she came to the
ship's side she saw that they were on the high seas, far from land, and that the
ship was speeding on its way under full canvas.
"Oh!" she cried in terror,
"I am deceived, carried away and betrayed into the power of a merchant; I would
rather have died!"
But the King seized her hand and spake: "I am no
merchant, but a king of as high birth as yourself; and it was my great love for
you that made me carry you off by stratagem. The first time I saw your
likeness I fell to the ground in a swoon."
When the Princess of the Golden
Roof heard this she was comforted, and her heart went out to him, so that she
willingly consented to become his wife.
Now it happened one day, while they were sailing on the high seas, that
Trusty John, sitting on the forepart of the ship, fiddling away to himself,
observed three ravens in the air flying toward him. He ceased playing, and
listened to what they were saying, for he understood their language. The one
croaked: "Ah, ha! so he's bringing the Princess of the Golden Roof home."
"Yes," answered the second, "but he's not got her yet."
"Yes, he has,"
spake the third, "for she's sitting beside him on the ship."
Then number one
began again and cried: "That'll not help him! When they reach the land a
chestnut horse will dash forward to greet them: the King will wish to mount
it, and if he does it will gallop away with him, and disappear into the air, and
he will never see his bride again."
"Is there no escape for him?" asked
"Oh! yes, if someone else mounts quickly and shoots the horse
dead with the pistol that is sticking in the holster, then the young King is
saved. But who's to do that? And anyone who knows it and tells him will be
turned into stone from his feet to his knees."
Then spake number two: "I
know more than that: even if the horse is slain, the young King will still not
keep his bride: when they enter the palace together they will find a ready-made
wedding shirt in a cupboard, which looks as though it were woven of gold and
silver, but is really made of nothing but sulphur and tar: when the King puts it
on it will burn him to his marrow and bones."
Number three asked: "Is there
no way of escape, then?"
"Oh! yes," answered number two: "If someone seizes
the shirt with gloved hands and throws it into the fire, and lets it burn, then
the young King is saved. But what's the good? Anyone knowing this and telling it
will have half his body turned into stone, from his knees to his heart."
Then number three spake: "I know yet more: though the bridal shirt too be
burnt, the King hasn't even then secured his bride: when the dance is held after
the wedding, and the young Queen is dancing, she will suddenly grow deadly
white, and drop down like one dead, and unless some one lifts her up and draws
three drops of blood from her right side, and spits them out again, she will
die. But if anyone who knows this betrays it, he will be turned into stone from
the crown of his head to the soles of his feet."
When the ravens had thus
conversed they fled onward, but Trusty John had taken it all in, and was sad and
depressed from that time forward; for if he were silent to his master concerning
what he had heard, he would involve him in misfortune; but if he took him into
his confidence, then he himself would forfeit his life. At last he said: "I will
stand by my master, though it should be my ruin."
Now when they drew near the land it came to pass just as the ravens had
predicted, and a splendid chestnut horse bounded forward. "Capital!" said the
King; "this animal shall carry me to my palace," and was about to mount, but
Trusty John was too sharp for him, and, springing up quickly, seized the pistol
out of the holster and shot the horse dead. Then the other servants of the King,
who at no time looked favorably on Trusty John, cried out: "What a sin to kill
the beautiful beast that was to bear the King to his palace!"
But the King
spake: "Silence! let him alone; he is ever my most trusty John. Who knows for
what good end he may have done this thing?" So they went on their way and
entered the palace, and there in the hall stood a cupboard in which lay the
ready-made bridal shirt, looking for all the world as though it were made of
gold and silver. The young King went toward it and was about to take hold of it,
but Trusty John, pushing him aside, seized it with his gloved hands, threw it
hastily into the fire, and let it burn. The other servants commenced grumbling
again, and said: "See, he's actually burning the King's bridal shirt." But the
young King spoke: "Who knows for what good purpose he does it? Let him alone,
he is my most trusty John."
Then the wedding was celebrated, the dance began, and the bride joined in,
but Trusty John watched her countenance carefully. Of a sudden she grew deadly
white, and fell to the ground as if she were dead. He at once sprang hastily
toward her, lifted her up, and bore her to a room, where he laid her down, and
kneeling beside her he drew three drops of blood from her right side, and spat
them out. She soon breathed again and came to herself; but the young King had
watched the proceeding, and not knowing why Trusty John had acted as he did, he
flew into a passion, and cried: "Throw him into prison."
On the following morning sentence was passed on Trusty John, and he was
condemned to be hanged. As he stood on the gallows he said: "Every one
doomed to death has the right to speak once before he dies; and I too have that
"Yes," said the King, "it shall be granted to you."
So Trusty John spoke: "I am unjustly condemned, for I have always been
faithful to you"; and he proceeded to relate how he had heard the ravens'
conversation on the sea, and how he had to do all he did in order to save his
Then the King cried: "Oh! my most trusty John, pardon! pardon! Take him
down." But as he uttered the last word Trusty John had fallen lifeless to the
ground, and was a stone.
The King and Queen were in despair, and the King spake: "Ah! how ill have I
rewarded such great fidelity!" and made them lift up the stone image and place
it in his bedroom near his bed. As often as he looked at it he wept and said:
"Oh! if I could only restore you to life, my most trusty John!" After a time the
Queen gave birth to twins, two small sons, who throve and grew, and were a
constant joy to her. One day when the Queen was at church, and the two children
sat and played with their father, he gazed again full of grief on the stone
statue, and sighing, wailed: "Oh, if I could only restore you to life, my most
trusty John!" Suddenly the stone began to speak, and said: "Yes, you can restore
me to life again if you are prepared to sacrifice what you hold most dear."
And the King cried out: "All I have in the world will I give up for your
The stone continued: "If you cut off with your own hand the heads of your two
children, and smear me with their blood, I shall come back to life."
The King was aghast when he heard that he had himself to put his children to
death; but when he thought of Trusty John's fidelity, and how he had even died
for him, he drew his sword, and with his own hand cut the heads off his
children. And when he had smeared the stone with their blood, life came back,
and Trusty John stood once more safe and sound before him. He spake to the King:
"Your loyalty shall be rewarded," and taking up the heads of the children, he
placed them on their bodies, smeared the wounds with their blood, and in a
minute they were all right again and jumping about as if nothing had happened.
Then the King was full of joy, and when he saw the Queen coming, he hid
Trusty John and the two children in a big cupboard. As she entered he said to
her: "Did you pray in church?"
"Yes," she answered, "but my thoughts dwelt constantly on Trusty John, and of
what he has suffered for us."
Then he spake: "Dear wife, we can restore him to life, but the price asked is
our two little sons; we must sacrifice them."
The Queen grew white and her heart sank, but she replied: "We owe it to him
on account of his great fidelity."
Then he rejoiced that she was of the same mind as he had been, and going
forward he opened the cupboard, and fetched the two children and Trusty John
out, saying: "God be praised! Trusty John is free once more, and we have our two
small sons again." Then he related to her all that had passed, and they lived
together happily ever afterward.
Adapted by Andrew Lang for The Blue Fairy Book,