Two maidens sat at the edge of a well, spinning. As they were spinning on the edge of a well one can only presume there was something not quite right about them, and indeed one was beautiful and the other was horrid. Or rather, they each thought themselves beautiful and thought the other was horrid.
Bored with each others company they elected to entertain themselves through a sort of contest. “Whoever lets her skirt fall into the water must dive in after it,” said the maiden with the hair of yellow straw, and the maiden with hair as brown as flax agreed.
Almost as soon as that the straw-haired maiden got her skirt wet and so she dove into the well. However, instead of popping back up she found herself diving down toward another opening in the well, into another land. There she came upon a pear tree that seemed to be humming to itself.
“Little pear tree, shake and shake, rattle yourself,” she said.
And the little pear tree shimmied and swayed and rattled in a way that amused her.
She continued to explore this new land and soon came upon a little calf dancing among the clover. Feeling rather imperial in this new place the straw-haired maiden point to the calf and said “Bow down!”
And the little calf bowed low like a loyal subject.
Next the maiden came upon a little oven doing its level best to dance in place as much as its cast iron heaviness would allow. “Little oven,” the maiden said, “bake me a loaf of bread!”
And the little oven did just that, as happily as it could.
Wandering further still the straw-haired maiden came upon a house made of pancakes! A house of pancakes! Can you imagine? Well, there was no need for the maiden to imagine, she simply walked up to the house and began eating away at its walls, never once considering there might be someone living inside. Indeed, she got quite a shock when a voice called out “You’re letting in the wind, dear child, and it’s agitating the lice on my head! Come and pick out the lice for me?”
When the maiden entered the house of pancakes she found a little old woman whose skin was fire-red. Graciously (though part of her was disgusted to do so) the maiden picked the lice from the old woman’s hair until she fell asleep. Then the maiden carefully got up and searched out the old woman’s pancake house until she came upon a room full of golden objects. Among them was a dress of spun gold, which the maiden put on and then dashed out of the house.
When she came upon the little over she said “Little oven, please don’t tell on me.”
“Oh, no, of course not!”
And when she came upon the calf and the pear tree she asked the same of them, and they agreed not to tell on her.
Once she reached the well she dove back in and surfaced just as day was dawning. A rooster saw the maiden and cried out, “Our golden maiden has returned home!”
Seeing this the flax-haired maiden asked what had happened and the straw-haired maiden explained everything. Hearing this the flax-haired maiden dove into the well and did just as she had been told. She asked the pear tree to shake, told the lamb to bow down, had the little oven baker her bread, and ate from house of pancakes. This time the little old red woman realized that word had gotten out about her room full of golden objects and she was not pleased. She played along as before, asking the maiden to pick the lice from her hair, and then pretended to fall asleep. When the flax-haired maiden escaped with another golden dress she asked the little oven, the calf, and the pear tree not to tell on her, and they all agreed, just as before.
But soon he little old red woman came along and asked the little oven where the maiden went. When the oven pretended not to know the old woman said, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it!” And so the little oven pointed the way. She had to do the same with the calf and the pear tree until she came upon the well and dove in.
As the flax-haired maiden was reunited with the straw-haired maiden they complimented each other on their choice of dress, though secretly they thought themselves most beautiful and the other simply horrid. Suddenly out of the well popped the little red woman and when the rooster saw her cried out, “Our fiery demon has returned home!”
“It wasn’t enough that you came to my land and demanded my tree to sway, to make my lamb bow down, to force my oven and my house to feed you, but you both felt you had to steal from a little old lady as well? I know your thoughts and can see you both for the horrid creatures you really are, but I know something else. Those dresses will obey my every command, and I command them to return home with you in them and to see that you never return!”
With that the dresses forced the two maidens to dive head-first into the well where they were never heard from again. And to this day that rooster stares down into the well each morning and cries whenever he catches a glimpse of gold at the bottom of the well.
Spinning on the edge of a well, indeed!