Once upon a time in the land of Nod there lived an old man and his wife and their three sons. The two older boys, Hans and Ollie, were selfish, greedy and lazy. They made their younger brother, Peter, do all the work while they sat and watched and smoked their pipes. Peter did not complain but did the work cheerfully for that was his nature.
One day Father said to Hans, “My son, it is time for you to go out into the world and seek your fortune. Take this bag of food and see what you can find for yourself.”
“This won’t take long.” bragged Hans. “I will be back in a week with all the fortune I can use up in a lifetime!” And he set forth.
Hans had not gone far when he came upon an apple tree heavy with fruit. Standing beneath the tree was a small, ragged youth. “Please, Sir,” the child begged, “Would you hold me up so I can pick an apple? I am very hungry.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” scoffed Hans, “climb the tree for yourself!”
The boy took a hobbling step toward him. “I would Sir, but my legs are not strong enough. Could you please help me?”
“Sure!” said Hans, and grabbing two apples, he began eating one and shoved the other into his pocket. Ignoring the youth’s outstretched hand he laughed as he went on down the lane.” “Stupid boy!” he called back and finished eating the apple.
A little farther down the road Hans came upon an old woman bent beneath a load of
sticks. “Please, kind Sir, “she asked, “would you help an old woman? These sticks are so heavy and I am still a ways from my cottage.”
“Out of my way, old woman!” snorted Hans, and he shoved her roughly aside. “I can’t help every beggar I come to if I’m to find my fortune!”
The day turned cold and chill. Hans, finding a log beside the lane, settled himself upon it, brought out his pipe and lit it. “Finding a fortune is hard work!” he whined. “Now it looks like rain. I’d better find an inn for the night!”
Heaving himself up with a grunt he began walking again. Presently he saw an old man in a long cloak walking slowly ahead of him. The man was surely blind for he was searching the path ahead with a crooked stick. Hearing Han’s footsteps, he called, “Kind Sir! Help a blind man find his way. I’ve lost the path home and cannot find it with this stick.”
Hans looked at him closely, pulling aside his cloak to see if he carried a moneybag.
“Why should I help you, old man? You’ve nothing I need!”
“Those who would seek their fortune will find it by helping others.” said the old man.
“Ahgh” You sound just like my father!” snarled Hans, and pushed on by.
Hans walked on for a day or two but he found no fortune. Nor did he become kinder. Soon his food ran out and he came plodding back home. “There’s no fortune to be found out there!” he grumbled “All I found was a bunch of people begging for help and wanting my food! I’m done with fortune hunting! From now on I’m content to stay here!” And with that Hans sat down at the table and shouted, “Peter! Bring me food and wine. Now!”
Han’s father looked at his oldest son with sadness, but Ollie laughed, “Ho ho, brother simpleton! I’ll bet you didn’t walk any father than the next town before you gave up!
Father says there’s a fortune to be found out there and I’ll find it, or my name’s isn’t Ollie-the-hard-armed!” Then Ollie shoved as much food as would go into a sack, demanded money for lodging and set off.
Just as Hans had before him, Ollie encountered the same three people in the same three places. And, just as his brother had done, Ollie treated them with rude contempt. But Ollie, even greedier than his brother, took the sticks from the old woman and the cloak from the blind man and sold them in the next town for a few pennies. There he found a tavern and spent all he had on food and drink before his stumbled back home.
“Hans was right! There are no more fortunes to be found in this broad world. I, too, shall be content to remain here under a safe roof and care for my old mother and father!” With that he shouted for food and wine and slouched in a chair by the fire.
The mother and father looked at one another in dismay. The two older sons would never amount to anything or have homes of their own. The father turned to Peter, “Would you like to try your luck, my son?” he asked.
Hans and Ollie both spoke at once, “It’s no use sending out that weak one! He will stay here and serve us.”
Ollie looked sourly at his parents. “And you two will do as we say! Hans and I are masters of this house from now on! WE will decide what is to be done with the crops and the milk and butter from our cows!” Giving the room a final, surly glance, the brothers went outside to lie in the sun and smoke their pipes.
Father took Peter aside where no one could hear. “My son,” he said sadly, “you can see what has become of your brothers. To stay here would be great folly. Your mother will fix a sack for you and leave it behind the door. Leave early tomorrow morning to seek your fortune before your brothers awake. We will tell them you are in the upper meadow tending sheep.”
“But, Father,” protested Peter, “I am afraid to leave you here with them! They might hurt you!”
“No, they won’t hurt us, for they need us to do the work. You go, Peter, and if you find good fortune we will try to follow you later.”
So, early next morning Peter dressed in his sturdiest clothes and shoes and taking the sack his mother had filled for him, started off down the road. Sure enough, before he had gone very far, he came to the apple tree and the ragged youth standing near the path…
“Kind Sir,” the youth begged, “could you hold me up so I can reach an apple? They are too high for me and I am so hungry!”
“Of course I will!” said Peter. “Pick three or four and we will have them for desert, for I will share my food with you.” Peter lifted the lad to his shoulder and helped him pick half a dozen crisp, juicy apples.
When they had eaten, Peter started to go on, but the boy said, “Here, Peter, put these two apples in your pocket for later. And may you have good fortune always!”
Peter put the apples in his pocket and though he felt no different, the apples caused him to become invisible to the brothers who had discovered his absence and were now following to bring him back.
When Hans and Ollie could not see him, Ollie said, “I know! He must have gone in the opposite direction to throw us off the track! We’ll catch him before it’s time to eat supper!”
Meanwhile, Peter came upon the old woman carrying her load of sticks. Before she could even ask for help, Peter offered. “Here, old Mother, let me help you with that heavy load! How far have you yet to go?”
“Just down that side path a way,” the old woman replied. And when Peter had the load on his back she led him down the path to a clean, well kept but poor cottage. “The sticks are for the fire inside,” she said.
As she stepped across the threshold a wondrous thing occurred. Suddenly the cottage became a beautiful castle and in place of the old woman stood a beautiful princess! Peter dropped the sticks and jumped back at the sight before him.
“Don’t be afraid,” laughed the princess. “I have been under a spell for many years. My castle was turned into a poor cottage and I into an old woman carrying sticks. The spell could only be broken by a young man who was kind enough to carry them back here.”
Peter had dropped to his knees before the regal maiden, but she took his hand and told him to stand up. “You have one more task to perform,” she said, “and then you may return here and marry me and live as the prince in the castle.”
“One more task? But I have done no tasks,” said Peter.
“Oh, but you have,” said the princess. “The youth with whom you shared your lunch was the first. And for your kindness he gave you two apples which made you invisible to the brothers who are looking for you. Take them from your pockets now and look at them.”
Peter did so and, to his surprise, they had turned to gold.
“Keep them,” said the princess. “You will need them again one day.”
After giving him Peter a drink of cool water, she sent him on his way. His step was light and his heart merry when he spied the bent old man searching out the path ahead.
As he had to the brothers before him the old man called to Peter, “Kind Sir, could you help a poor blind man find his way?”
“Certainly, Sir!” said Peter, “How can I help?”
“The path I’m looking for is near here, I believe,” the old man said. “It is guarded by a tree shaped remarkably like a dragon.”
“Why here it is right beside us!” laughed Peter, “where does it lead?”
“Let me take your arm and we shall see.” And the two moved onto a wide, sun-dappled path trough the trees. Peter looked up once more at the tree and it did indeed look very much like a dragon. He even fancied he could see a great, many-faceted eye winking in the top branches.
The path wound down through the forest then opened into a small clearing. “There should be a cave close by,” said the man.
At first Peter could see nothing but trees and underbrush against the face of a cliff. He told the old man to rest while he looked and shortly found an opening behind a curtain of ivy.
“Yes, that’s it,” the man said when Peter described it to him. “Step inside and hold up a light.”
Peter took a candle from his pocket, lit it and stepped inside. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the brightness shining back at him. Then he realized the candle was being reflected from walls covered with jewels of every description. Trembling with wonder, he tuned to tell the old man what they had found. But the old man was gone. In his place stood a mighty king robed in royal splendor.
“You are truly a good-hearted lad,” the king said to Peter. “The spell has now been broken and my daughter, my castle and myself are free of it! It was your generosity, Peter that broke the spell. From now on I look upon you as my son, brother to the prince you met earlier today.”
Peter looked puzzled, “Prince? When did I meet a prince? Oh, I get it! The crippled youth I met beneath the apple tree! That was your son?”
”It was indeed, Peter. Now, if you so choose you may have the hand of my only daughter in marriage and live with us in the enchanted castle. Come, let us go home! But first, empty your sack of food and fill it with jewels. They will serve as the first of your rewards!”
Outside the cave stood two fine white horses fitted with royal trappings. Mounting these they went back the way they had come. As they left the meadow Peter asked why he had never seen or heard of the castle or the cave filled with jewels.
“When you left the path with my daughter and later with me you entered an enchanted kingdom. It can only be seen by those whose hearts are pure. We only appear in our disguises seeking help once every hundred years as your world figures time. It has been many centuries since we first began looking for kindness.”
The king was greeted with great joy by his daughter and son and they introduced themselves to Peter as Prince Percival and Princess Elinore, and their father as King Cedric. Peter stayed for many days in the beautiful land of enchantment and he did indeed fall in love with the Princess Elinore.
Preparations were made for the royal wedding but one day as they walked in the garden he said to King Cedric, “Sire, I have found fortune beyond my fondest dreams and a life of happiness here with you and fair Elinore. And though my heart is filled with love for you all, I cannot but grieve for my poor parents still at the mercy of Hans and Ollie. Do you think there is a way I could bring them here?”
“Of course, you can,” said the king. “If there hearts are good and they wish to come.”
“Oh, I know they will and they are good, hard working people!”
“Then go. In fact, you may go in broad daylight6 for the golden apples my son gave you will make you invisible to your brothers. Go now and hurry back for we shall miss you!”
Peter put the apples in his pocket and soon found himself back on the road. As he came in sight of his old home he saw how run down and shabby it had become in his short absence. Hans and Ollie did no work and only what the two old folks could do when they were not waiting on the brothers kept the farm going.
“Soon my parents will know what real freedom is!” thought Peter as he walked to the door. Looking in the window he saw Hans and Ollie asleep by the fire. He opened the door quietly so as not to disturb them and went in search of his mother and father. He found his mother in the kitchen cooking supper. When she saw Peter, resplendent in his royal garb, she dropped the pan she was holding with a clatter. She opened her mouth to speak his name, but Peter motioned her to silence.
“What’s going on out there?” shouted Hans.
“N n n nothing,” his mother called back. “I just dropped a pan.” Lowering her voice she whispered, “How did you get in here without your brothers seeing you? You must slip out the back way and leave, for they have become much worse since we helped you get away.”
Peter whispered back, “They can’t see me as long as I have these in my pocket.” He showed her the golden apples and her eyes grew wide. “I have found a fortune, Mother, and a new home for us. The story is too long to tell here but I will take you with me after Hans and Ollie go to bed.”
“You can’t,” his mother whispered with tears in her eyes. “They lock us in our rooms at night so we cannot follow you.”
“That just makes it easier,” chuckled Peter. “I’ll go find Father and tell him what to do. Be sure to have your clothes and anything else you wish to take packed and ready. I’ll be back for you before Midnight.”
After Peter had found his father and made arrangements he sat under a tree and waited for dark. It was hard to listen to his brothers shout at their parents and treat them cruelly, but he knew it would soon end.
When supper was over he heard Ollie shout, “Get in your room now! We want to go to town!”
“So much the better!” thought Peter, for town was in the opposite direction from the road they would travel. As soon as the brothers were out of sight Peter ran to the house, up the stair and down the hall to his parents’ room. As he helped them with their bags Peter said, “I wish there were some way to punish Hans and Ollie for the cruel way they have treated you.”
“Don’t fret, son,” laughed his father, “when they get back and find they have to work for their own supper they will be well paid! Now, tell us how you came to find your fortune!”
It was a happy group that journeyed back to the castle and a happier wedding a few days later when Peter and Princess Elinore were wed in the enchanted castle.
Hans and Ollie searched long and diligently for their parents. In truth, they searched longer and harder than they ever had for their fortunes. To everyone they met they would lament, “Our terrible younger brother has stolen our dear parents away from us and left us orphans!”
However, those who knew the family knew that Hans and Ollie were lying and those who did not had no information to give. At last the brothers were forced to return and work the farm themselves. And true to their father’s prediction, that was punishment indeed for the lazy pair.
Meanwhile, Peter, now Prince Peter, and his bride lived happily and quietly in their enchanted castle, just down the road and a million miles away from the two greedy brothers.
This simple fairytale became the inspiration for the six-volume series, The Windfallowo Chronicles.