The Sisters and the Fox
When, once upon a time, three sisters were walking through the forest, they met a weeping fox. They had never seen a weeping fox before, and so they went over to it, to see if there was anything they could do to alleviate its suffering.
“Why are you weeping?” the middle sister asked.
The fox did not so much as look up as he replied: “An enchantment lies upon me,” he said; “I was a prince of a kingdom far, far to the west, but a jealous witch killed my father and transformed me into the form that now stands before you, and brought me here to where you stand. I am weeping because I will never see my kingdom again, and neither will I see my mother, whom I hope still lives, though she be old and frail.”
The sisters were weeping too, by the time he had finished his sorrowful tale, and all of them agreed that they should help him, if they could.
The witch had taken over his father’s castle, the fox told them, and they would have to go there to reason with her. Perhaps there is yet hope, he said; perhaps she still has a conscience, and the will to do the right thing by him and his mother.
The sisters agreed there might yet be hope, and so they said that they would go with the fox and talk to the witch.
They travelled by day, and slept beneath the stars by night, and the fox caught food for them, and they ate well, though none of them dared ask him where he got the chickens from, for fear that they were stolen, and that they would have to make recompense.
After so many days that they had lost count of them three times each, they came to a lake, and on the other side stood a small cottage. The witch had enchanted the castle, too, said the fox, so that it appeared in the form they now saw; but when he lived there, it was a fine castle with chambers and rooms all finer than the others. He began to weep again, and said that now they must be sly, and listen to him, if they were to fool the witch and take back what was rightfully his. The sisters agreed to do what he suggested, for they had no ideas of their own of how they should approach the witch.
As the fox said, so they did; the oldest sister should go first to the witch, and simply ask that the fox be released from the enchantment. If this did not work, then the second sister would have to save both fox and sister.
The eldest sister walked up to the cottage, as bold as brass. She knocked on the door.
“Wait a little; I’m coming,” the witch said from within. The sister heard the scraping of a chair inside, then the sound of a walking stick on the floor. Just like that, there was a brilliant flash of light, and suddenly the sister was a toad. The witch opened the door, picked up the stunned toad, took her inside, and placed her in a pickle jar, together with a number of others, and put it back on to the shelf above her rocking chair.
The other sisters were shocked; but the fox reassured them: “One of you can still save your sister — and me at the same time,” he said.
So the second sister made her way, timidly, to the cottage. She was not so silly as to knock on the door, after what she had seen happen to her sister, so she lifted the latch and walked right in. Just like that, there was a brilliant flash of light, and suddenly the sister was a toad. The witch picked up the stunned toad, and placed her in a pickle jar, together with her sister and a number of others, and put it back on to the shelf above her rocking chair.
The youngest sister was shocked; but the fox reassured her: “You can still save your sisters — and me at the same time,” he said.
So the last sister also made her way to the cottage. She was not so silly as to knock on the door, and neither did she go straight in; she had seen the fate of her sisters, and determined that she would save both them and herself, if not the fox too. She went to the corner of the cottage. There, she ripped a fold off her skirt, took her tinderbox, and set it alight. She placed it against the corner of the wooden cottage, expecting the dry wattle in the wall to catch as easily as she had seen when her neigbour’s farm had burned.
But the wooden wall did not burn, and the girl imagined she saw it blink, change — momentarily. “It’s stone; it cannot burn!” the fox called out, seeing the smoke from the burning rag. Just like that, the witch swept out of the cottage, screeching with laughter, like a banshee. There was a blinding flash of light, and suddenly the sister was a toad. The witch picked up the stunned toad, took her inside, and placed her in a pickle jar, together with her sisters and a number of others, and put it back on to the shelf above her rocking chair.
“I hope you are satisfied!” the fox said to the witch; he was impatient: “I want my castle back, and I want to be turned back into myself!” The witch laughed scornfully.
“Har!” she screeched. “You’ll do what you’re told, and be happy to, too!”
The fox pointed at the pickle jar on the shelf above the rocking chair: “I have filled your jar for you. I have done what you told me. you promised you would leave me the way you found me!”
“You just watch yourself; I have always wanted a foxskin collar,” she said.