There once lived a miller so very poor that he did not know how he would ever provide for his daughter, and so he resolved to give her in marriage to the first man who asked. By and by, a young man did ask, and the miller agreed that he should wed the girl. But the girl was not happy with this at all. She did not love her bridegroom, and she did not trust him.
One day, the bridegroom asked the girl, "Why have you never visited my home?"
"I do not know where it is," the girl told him.
"It is deep in the woods," said the bridegroom. "You must come on Sunday next."
The girl was afraid, and protested that she would not be able to find her way. But her bridegroom would brook no refusal, and told her, "The guests are already invited, and I will leave a trail of ashes for you to follow."
And so the girl knew she had to go. But she had a sense that something wicked was afoot, and before she set out filled her pockets with peas and lentils, and as she followed the trail of ashes, she dropped them so that she might know her way home.
When she saw her bridegroom's home, she was stricken with fear, for it looked so dark and empty. But, bracing herself, she went in, and found it to be empty. But a bird in a cage on the wall cried as she came in:
The girl took another step, and the bird cried again,
But the girl walked on. Presently she came to a cellar room, in which there sat an old woman whose head shook. The girl asked, "Does my bridegroom live here?"
The old woman sighed. "Oh, my poor child! You are in the house of a murderer. You shall wed not the young man, but death. He and his band shall kill you, and cut you to pieces, and cook you, and eat you."
The girl was greatly afraid, but the old woman took her hand and led her behind a hogshead which hid her from view, and told her, "Hide here until the robbers fall asleep, then we shall make our escape."
Soon after, the bridegroom and his band of robbers returned, dragging after them a young maiden. They did not pity her screams or struggles, but forced her to drink three glasses of wine: one white, one red, one yellow. At this, her heart burst in two, and the robbers laid her out on the table and removed her garment, and cut her to bits. One of the robbers noticed a gold ring on her finger, and tried to pull it off, but it would not budge. Finally, he cut off her finger, which flew behind the hogshead and landed in the girl's bosom. The robbers looked for it but could not find it, and one said, "Perchance it is behind the hogshead," but the old woman stopped them from looking by advising them to eat their dinner, which they greedily did.
The old woman slipped a sleeping potion into their wine, and as they slumbered, she and the girl fled the house, and followed the trail of lentils and peas back to the girl's father, to whom they told their story.
When the day of the wedding came, the guests all sat around a great table, and each was asked to relate something, but the bride was silent. Finally, the bridegroom said, "Come, my dear, cannot you tell us something?"
"I can," the bride agreed. "I will tell you of a dream I have lately had. I was walking in a dark wood, and came upon a house that I feared, so dark and empty was it. And when I entered, a bird in a cage cried,
"And presently I came upon an old woman whose head shook, and I asked her, 'Does my bridegroom live here?' and she said to me, 'Yes, but he is a murderer, and he means to
be your death.'
My darling, I only dreamt this.
"And then as I hid behind a hogshead, my bridegroom entered, with a band of robbers and a young maiden. They forced upon her three glasses of wine- white, red, and yellow- and her
heart burst in two.
My darling, I only dreamt this.
"And then they removed her dress, and cut her to bits, and, spying a ring on her finger, cut the finger off. And it flew behind the hogshead, into my bosom."
The bride produced the finger from the folds of her dress. "And here is the finger, and here is my proof."
And so the bridegroom and his band were turned over to the law, and payed for all their evil deeds.
Myths, Legends, Folklore & Faery Tales