Once there was a robber who grew tired of the life he had chosen. He tired of living in the forests and hiding in ravines and working in horrible weather merely to rob passing noblemen in order to avoid working. Indeed, the robber had come to realize that in all his years he had worked harder as a robber to amass his fortune than if he’d settled down and raised pigs. So one day he emerged from the forest, declared to the people of the village that he had changed his ways, and was taken in as the good and reformed man he became.
In time the robber married and had three sons. The sons grew up hearing the stories of their father and had seen that he turned out alright, so much so that when the robber asked them what they intended to do with their lives they announced their intention to go into the family business as robbers.
“My sons, a fair bit of warning before you head out into the world. There is much I haven’t told you about my days as a robber. I hold scars and old wounds that I have never fully or completely explained. You will find the life is not as easy as you think it and the ends hardly justify the means.”
The boys looked to their father, his home for which he never worked to build or maintain, the fact that he continued not to work, that he was able to find a true love, marry and have three sons, and they decided they could withstand anything that would bring them such a life. And so, without blessing or curse, the father let his sons out into the world.
Immediately the boys set their sights on the horse belonging to the queen. The horse itself would fetch a good price but it was the saddle trimmed with bells of solid gold they knew would make them a fortune quick. Already they had a plan in place, where the smallest of the brothers would lie in a trough covered by the finest grass from the forest. When the queen came to town the boys would lead the queen’s horsemen to the trough to be tied up, and when night fell the youngest boy would emerge, silence the bells with wax, and then ride to the agreed-upon rendezvous point with his brothers.
And their plan might have worked, had they not chosen the queen’s horse, for the horse had been trained to be met by the queen each morning and given a small apple to eat. So come the dawn as the three boys mounted the horse they were surprised to find themselves unable to control the beast who, like a homing pigeon, returned to where he had been tied up to be met by the queen and her horsemen who captured the boys and threw them in the dungeon.
When the queen inquired as to why three strong, smart, good-looking young boys should want to take up as robbers they protested that it wasn’t their fault. They begged the queen’s mercy and promised they were only doing what they’d been taught, that they had been raised the sons of a well-to-do robber and knew no other skills than the family trade. This piqued the queen’s curiosity and she sent for the boy’s father immediately.
“You sons tell me they are in the family business of taking things from people,” the queen said.
“My sons are mistaken, I have not robbed since before they were born, though I suspect I deserve some of the blame for the stories I told of my own youth. Had I not kept from them some of the darker, more fantastical tales of my robbing days, perhaps all of this could have been avoided.”
“I was yo have them beheaded for their theft, but I would be willing t let them go if you were to tell me the most fantastic of your adventures.”
The robber considered this a moment, then agreed.
“When I started out there were nine of us, a band of robbers, working the countryside. We spent our days taking the purses of the rich and noble who could afford it and let pass those who worked hard for what little they possessed. At night we would make camp in the forest and divide our gold and feast on whatever nature provided. Though we were close and bound by honor we nonetheless took to hiding our gold in secret away from the others.
“One day one of my brother robbers went to hide his gold and never returned. A few days later another disappeared. ‘Perhaps they have given up life here in the woods’ I said, but I was beginning to worry. Every few days another of our band disappeared until there were only two of us left. I decided that the forest was haunted and intended to gather my gold and leave before I was taken next.
“On my way to my hiding place I took a different path than normal, afraid something might be waiting for me along the way. That was when I discovered a cave that practically glowed with heat from all the treasure stored within. Something told me there was a connection so I sat watch and waited for days until I saw an Ogre return with two sacks over his back. One sack was full of gold that he added to his spoils while from the other he removed my remaining fellow robber! As he strung my friend from a tree like cured meat I realized what had happened to the rest of my band and where the cave full of gold came from.
“Afraid to move for fear of being spied by the Ogre I fell asleep in hiding but woke to find the Ogre tying up my arms and legs. He took me back to his cave where he set me on a pole propped over a cooking spit. I knew that if I didn’t think fast I would end up eaten just like my brothers…”
The robber paused. He could see the queen and her court caught in thrall of his story.
“Surely what I have told you so far will be enough to release one of my sons, your highness?”
“Yes, yes! Continue and free the other two!”
“Very well. In watching the Ogre prepare me for cooking I could see that he had difficulty with his eyesight. I offered to help him with his eyesight if he would permit me, and if I failed he could continue to eat me, but if I succeeded he would have to let me go. The Ogre agreed but only if I could do it while remaining tied up. So I instructed him to place a large cooking pot on the fire and proceeded to instruct him in the making of a potion that would cure ailments. In it I had him place sulfurs and acids, toxic mushrooms and poisonous animals. The Ogre did as I said but was wary the entire time, as if he were expecting it to be a trick. I had originally intended for him to drink the deadly potion but when I announced it was completed the Ogre insisted I try the potion myself first. I knew that if I didn’t think fast I would end up poisoned by the potion myself…”
The robber paused. The entire court sat on the edges of their seat waiting to hear what would happen next.
“I believe by this point that I have at least secured the release of two of my sons, your highness.”
“Certainly!” said the queen. “Continue and free your last son!”
“Very well. I had been correct in my assessment of the Ogre’s eyesight and asked that he free my hands so that I might drink better. Once freed, and the Ogre placed the ladle in my hands I pretended to drink, letting the liquid pour out onto the ground in front of me. And it was one deadly potion! It hissed and steamed and scorched the earth at my feet. Satisfied that it was not poison the Ogre snatched the ladle and greedily bent over to drink directly from the cooking pot. As he did, I hopped onto his back and then onto his head until it was submerged in the potion. I jumped away as the potion melted off my boots and burned the ropes off my legs but was stunned to see the Ogre lift his head from the potion. Instead of killing him outright the potion merely burned and disfigured his face, blinding him in the process. You would think I would have made my escape at this point but the Ogre fell to his knees and began crying and I found myself filled with remorse.
“‘You win,’ said the Ogre, ‘Take what you will from me, You have beat me fair and square and I cannot stop you.’ And then he removed a ring from one of his fingers and handed it to me. ‘With this you will never be lost. Wear it in good health.” I put on the ring and had intended to make my escape when all of a sudden I found myself shouting ‘Here I am!’ over and over again uncontrollably. With this the Ogre jumped up, groped around for his club, and came after me. It was clear to me that the ring was bewitched, forcing me to announce myself to the Ogre so that he may strike me through sounding. I tried to remove the ring but it was attached to my finger in such a way that the only way I could remove it was by removing my finger along with it…”
The robber paused. The queen and all in her court looked at the robber’s hands and noticed one of his hands was gloved as if to hide something. The robber noticed them looking his hand but seemed lost in thought until the queen spoke.
“Show me your hand,” said the queen.
“Ah, yes. You will wanting proof. If I show you my hand will you grant me a request? Regardless of what you see?”
“You have told a good story, and that alone merits reward. I have already made my promise about your sons freedom, so, yes, I will grant you a wish.”
The robber removed the glove from his hand and revealed that he was, indeed, missing a finger.
“I could just as easily have lost this finger in a trap, or had it eaten off by a hungry fox or a bear in heated battle,” said the robber. “Instead, I was forced to remove my knife and slice it off so that I could escape the curse of the Ogre’s ring. As you can guess, I was able to escape from the Ogre long enough to make plans to slay him and claim his fortune for my own.”
“I hope you’ll forgive my doubting you,” the queen said. “And now, you have a request?”
The robber looked at his missing finger then put the glove back on. He thought of all he had done, all he had lived, all he had survived.
“Though I am not proud of my former life as a thief I came by my fortunes through much hard work. I did not wait for my father to come save me from an Ogre and I wasn’t fool-hearted enough to believe I knew everything when I went out into the world. Tell me, you highness, what would you have done if my boys had no father to gain their release?”
“Normally, thieves left in the dungeons to spend the remainder of their lives.”
“Then that is my request, that they be sent to the dungeons.”
“But you more than earned their release.”
“Yes, but they haven’t earned their release. I faced down an Ogre to secure my freedom. If they are to be free they shall have to earn it themselves. Promise me that you will do nothing to aid them, or take pity on them and give them any unearned freedoms.”
“You have my word,” said the queen.
And the robber’s sons were never heard from again.