|The Crystal Ball|
|Once upon a time, there lived a woman who had three sons. The sons loved each other dearly, but as luck would have it, their mother was an evil sorceress. Suspicious by nature, she didn't trust them and was afraid they were out to steal her powers. Ever greater got her paranoia about her sons so that one day, she turned the oldest into an eagle. Unable to live among humans any longer, he flew off and settled in an aerie high up in the mountains. The second one didn't fare much better ... his mother turned him into a whale. Naturally, he had to live in the ocean from then on. All that was seen of these two every so often was an eagle circling high above his former home, or a mighty plume of water from the second-oldest son's spout. Each had two hours every day in which they were able to take on their former human form. So the youngest, wo was not the slightest bit interested in being magicked into a wild animal, left home posthaste and decided to try his luck elsewhere.
He had heard rumours that somewhere far away, in an enchanted castle, there lived a princess, the most beautiful maiden anyone had ever seen, but she was under a horrible spell. In desperation she was waiting for someone to lift this spell. Twenty-three brave men had come but all had lost their life trying. Alas, the spell stipulated that there could be 24 tries and if no-one succeeded, the maiden would remain bespellt forever. So our young man, not knowing the meaning of the word 'fear' nor the nature of the spell or what had to be done to break it, decided he might as well be Number 24 and free the princess.
It didn't help him not knowing where to find the castle and he wandered about for a long time. And got lost in a deep, dark forest. Where he came upon a couple of giants who were beckoning him to come closer. They were in a pickle, they said, because they had been fighting for some time over a hat, but as they were equal in strength and cunning, the fight seemed unending. They were hoping the human could come up with a solution to settle their fight. The young man accepted but wondered why two giants would fight over a battered-looking old hat. "It's a wish-hat," he was informed, "whoever wears the hat only has to wish himself somewhere, and instantly, that's where he is."
"That's easy," said the young man, "give me the hat and I will walk off a bit. Then, when I call you, start running. The first one to reach me shall have the hat."
The giants thought this a splendid idea, gave him the hat, and he started to walk away, absentmindedly pulling the hat over his ears. He wasn't thinking about the giants any longer, he was thinking of his quest, and how he might find the castle where the bespellt princess lived. But as soon as he had finished the thought, he stood high on a mountain, in front of the gate to a magnificent castle.
He had no trouble entering, and as he went from room to room, he finally came face to face with the princess. And recoiled in horror. She looked at least a hundred, her face ashen and wrinkled, with dull eyes and stringy grey hair.
"You're supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the world?" he cried.
She informed him that was her spell, human eyes could only see her as this horrid old crone. But when he looked at her through the mirror she handed him, he could see her in all her beauty and grace, the sadness in her eyes, the tears rolling down her cheeks. Naturally, he was immediately besotted with the maiden.
"How can I free you?" he inquired, "I'm not afraid of anything."
She told him he must find a crystal ball and take this to the warlock who had put the spell on her. This crystal ball would take his powers from him and therefore break all his spells. But she was not very hopeful that she would ever be free, since he was the last one that could try, and he would probably just lose his life, as the prevous 23 men had done. But he insisted she tell him what he had to do. So she did:
"When you get outside the castle gate, keep walking down the mountain, down to the valley, where you will find a well. There, you have to fight a wild oxen, to the death. If you should manage to kill him, he will turn into a fiery bird. This bird will carry a hot-glowing egg in its body, and in the egg, the yoke, that is the crystal ball. The bird will not give up the egg without a fight, but if it does, the egg will drop to the ground, setting fire to everything around it and in that fire, the crystall ball will be destroyed and all will be lost."
This seemed a pretty hopeless situation, but the young man went anyway, down the montain, to the well, where the wild oxen came at him, horns lowered ... but he managed to stab the animal with his sword that it fell dead to the ground. Immediately, a huge fiery bird arose and tried to fly off, but an eagle, the oldest brother, chased it out over the sea and pecked at it until it finally dropped the egg. Alas, they were no longer over the water, the egg fell onto a fisherman's hut at the shore which immediately caught fire. That's when brother number 2, the whale, came along, made waves and spouted a mighty plume of water at the flames. This prevend the egg from melting and the youngest brother was able to retrieve the crystal ball, unharmed.
He went to the home of the warlock, showed him the crystal ball, and so broke his power. He learned that not only could he now take the restored princess as his wife and rule as king over the lands belonging to the magnificent castle on the mountain, he now had the power to restore his brothers.
This is exactly what he did, and they all lived happily ever after.