Contributed by Marilyn McPhie
Once upon a time there were seven brothers. They lived by themselves in a small cottage, for their parents were long gone. One day, weary of doing the household chores and dissatisfied with the routine of their lives, they realized that everything would be much improved if they were married. Alas, they lived deep in the woods, and there were no neighbors, so to find wives, they determined that they would have to set off on a quest.
And so six of the brothers left the next morning, leaving only the youngest behind to care for the place. They did assure him that they would find brides for themselves and one for him as well.
They had traveled for several days when they came to a small cottage, and before the door stood an old, old man. “Whither away?” he inquired, and when they told him that they were going to find brides for themselves and their youngest brother, the old, old man said, “Well, then, you must bring me a bride as well. And make sure that she is young and pretty.”
The eldest brother said, “And what use would an old man have for a young and beautiful woman?” With a laugh, the six brothers went on their way.
Presently, they came to a town, and they had the great good fortune to meet a man who told him of his seven daughters. When they followed the man to his house, they found seven young and lovely women. As luck would have it, they were in a mind to be married, and the youngest said that she would be happy to be the bride of their brother back at home. The parents agreed, and the party set off.
On the way back home, the brothers and their brides passed by the house of the old, old man. He greeted them, and counting up the women, he cried, “Oh! You fine young men. What a lovely bride you have brought me!”
When the youngest sister said that she had been promised to their younger brother, the old man flew into a rage. “She will be mine!” he insisted. And with that he took out a wand, and murmuring a dark charm, he turned the six brothers and their brides into grey stones. Of course, he kept the youngest girl for himself.
From that day on, the youngest sister was obliged to keep house for the old man and to do his every bidding. As might be imagined, she was not happy with this fate. She missed her sisters, of course. One day the old man saw that she was weeping and asked the trouble. She replied only that she knew that he was very old, and she feared that if he were to die, she would be left alone in the solitary cottage deep in the woods.
“Ah,” he said, “is that all? Do not fear that I will die and that you will be alone. If I were to die, you will find my wand above the door, and with it you can set free your sisters and their lovers. So you will have plenty of company. But, of course, I am not likely to die – since I have no heart in my body.”
“If your heart is not in your body, pray, where is it?” she inquired.
“Well, if you must know, it is in the bed cover.”
The next day when the old man was gone, the girl spent the day embroidering beautiful flowers on the bed quilt. When the man returned, he admired the embroidery, but asked the reason for it. She explained that, since she knew that his heart was in the bed cover, she had made it beautiful to show her honor and affection.
The old man laughed, “That was kind of you, but my heart is not really in the bed cover at all.”
“And where is it then?”
The old man paused and then said, “Ah, well, it is actually in the doorway.”
The next day, the young woman decorated the doorway with vines and flowers.
When the old man returned, he asked about the decorations, and she replied that, knowing that his heart was in the doorway, she had decorated it in his honor.”
Again the old man laughed. “I was not serious,” he said. “My heart is not in the doorway.”
Then she began to weep. “You must tell me where your heart is. If you do not, I fear that one day I shall be left alone.”
At last the old man told her. “It is far, far from here. There is an ancient church. It has iron doors and is surrounded by a great moat with no bridge. In that church is a bird which flies up and down. It never eats, and never drinks, and never dies. While that bird lives, so shall I, for it is my heart.”
One day while the old man was away, a young traveler came along. The young woman greeted him and asked him where he was going and what was his errand.
With a sad sigh, the youth explained that he was searching for his six brothers who had set off to find brides for themselves and one for him. They had not returned, and he didn’t know where to find them.
“Ah,” said the girl. “I can tell you all about that.”
She told him the whole story. Immediately, the young man determined to find the bird and kill it. “Then,” he said, “I shall return and release my brothers and your sisters from the spell.”
By that time it was late, and the girl hid the youth in a closet for the night. The next morning, after the old man left for the day, she sent the young man on his way with a sack of provisions, a wish for his success, and a kiss.
As the young man traveled, he became hungry, so he stopped and opened the knapsack and was delighted with the store of good things to eat. He exclaimed, “Oh, I should like to share my breakfast with someone.’
In an instant, a large red ox appeared out of a thicket, saying “I accept your kind invitation.”
The young man was startled, but he shared his food with the ox. As the ox returned to the thicket he said, “Many thanks. If you are even in distress or necessity, call me, even if only by a thought.”
The young man packed up the rest of the food and went on his way. When the sun was high in the sky, he was hungry again, so he stopped and, spreading out the fine food, he called out, “Is there someone who would like to share my dinner?”
There was a great rustling in the underbrush, and out ran a wild boar. “Did you mean it? Will you share with me?” he asked. “Gladly,” replied the young man, and as their meal concluded, the wild boar thanked him and said, “If ever you are in need, think of me.”
The young man went on, but as it began to get dark, he spread out the last of his food for a supper. Again he offered to share, and this time he heard the flapping of wings, and a large griffin appeared. Again the meal was shared, and again the grateful creature offered his help should the need arise.
He gathered up his things and decided to walk a bit father before settling for the night. To his surprise, he had not gone far before he saw a church, the very church that had been described to him. But of course it was surrounded by a moat with no bridge, so seeing no way in, he lay down on the ground to sleep.
The next morning, he began to think about how he could get across the moat, and it occurred to him that if only the red ox were there, it might drink up the water in the moat. No sooner thought, than done! The red ox appeared, drank up the water, and the young man crossed on dry ground.
Now he stood before the iron doors to the church, with no way to enter. Now again he thought of his mealtime companion. If only the wild boar were there, he thought, it could surely take care of the doors. Of course, the wild boar appeared and charged at the doors with its great horns. Soon it had made a hole in the doors large enough for the youth to enter.
He saw a bird flying above his head, but could not catch it. He thought, of course, of the griffin, and suddenly, the griffin flew into the church. It caught the bird and dropped it into the young man’s hand.
Taking the bird with him, the youth set off in haste for the cottage of the old, old man. When he arrived, the girl was delighted to see him, but soon the old man was to come back, so the youth hid under the bed.
The old man came through the door moaning and gasping. “I am not long for this world,” he declared, “for I sense that my heart has been captured.”
Sure enough, the young man squeezed the bird, and when it was dead, so was the old man.
The girl found the wand above the door, and touching it to the grey stones outside, she released her sisters and their lovers from the spell.
How great was their gratitude and joy. And so there was a grand wedding. The seven brothers married the seven sisters, and they all lived in peace and contentment for the rest of their lives.
‘Oh!’ he exclaimed, ‘if only the griffin were here, he would soon catch it.’
At these words the griffin appeared, and, seizing the bird, gave it to the youth, who carried it off carefully, while the griffin flew away.
The young man hurried home as fast as possible, and reached the cottage before evening. He told his story to the little bride, who, after giving him some food and drink, hid him with his bird beneath the bed.
Presently the old man came home, and complained of feeling ill. Nothing, he said, would go well with him any more: his ‘heart bird’ was caught.
The youth under the bed heard this, and thought, ‘This old fellow has done me no particular harm, but then he has bewitched my brothers and their brides, and has kept my bride for himself, and that is certainly bad enough.’
So he pinched the bird, and the old man cried, ‘Ah! I feel death gripping me! Child, I am dying!’
With these words he fell fainting from his chair, and as the youth, before he knew what he was doing, had squeezed the bird to death, the old man died also.
Out crept the young man from under the bed, and the girl took the magic wand (which she found where the old man had told her), and, touching the twelve grey stones, transformed them at once into the six brothers and their brides.
Then there was great joy, and kissing and embracing. And there lay the old man, quite dead, and no magic wand could restore him to life, even had they wished it.
After that they all went away and were married, and lived many years happily together.