The Little Lamb and the Little Fish

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time were a little brother and a little sister who loved each other with all their hearts. Their own mother, however, was dead, and they had a stepmother who was not kind to them. She secretly did everything she could to hurt them.

It so happened that the two of them were playing with other children in a meadow in front their house. There was a pond in the meadow that came up to one side of the house. The children ran around it, caught one another, and played a counting out game:

Eenie, meenie, let me live,
And to you my bird I'll give.
The little bird will bring me straw,
The straw I'll give then to the cow.
For which the cow will give me milk,
The milk I'll to the baker take.
With which he then will bake a cake,
The cake I'll then give to the cat.
Little cat will catch some mice for that,
The mice I'll hang up in the smoke,
And after that I'll cut them up.

While playing this game they stood in a circle, and the one to whom they were pointing when they said "cut them up" had to run away, and all the others would run after him and catch him. While they were thus running about so joyfully the stepmother was watching them from the window, and grew angry. Because she understood the art of witchcraft she bewitched them both, transforming the little brother into a fish, and the little sister into a lamb.

The little fish swam back and forth in the pond and was sad, and the little lamb walked back and forth in the meadow and was sad, and would not eat. She would not even touch one blade of grass. Thus a long time passed, and then some strangers came as guests to the castle.

The treacherous stepmother thought, "Now is my chance," and called the cook and said to him, "Go and fetch the lamb from the meadow and slaughter it. We have nothing else for our guests."

The cook went and got the little lamb, took her into the kitchen, and tied her feet together. She bore all this patiently. The cook then took out his knife and was whetting it on the doorstep in order to kill the little lamb when he saw how a little fish was swimming back and forth in the water in front of the gutter and looking up at him. This was the little brother, for when the little fish saw the cook take the little lamb away, he followed them, swimming along the pond as far as the house.

Then the little lamb cried down to him:

Oh little brother in the lake
My sad heart is about to break.
The cook, he makes his knife so sharp
To stab it then into my heart.

The little fish answered:

Oh little sister, way up there
My sad heart also soon will break,
Deep down here in this lake.

When the cook heard that the little lamb could speak, saying such sad words to the little fish down below, he was frightened and thought that this could not be an ordinary little lamb, but must have been bewitched by the wicked woman in the house.

He said, "Don't worry. I won't kill you."

Then he took another animal and prepared it for the guests, after which he took the little lamb to a good peasant woman and told her everything that he had seen and heard.

Now this peasant woman had been the wet nurse for the little sister, and she suspected at once who the little lamb was, and took him with her to a wise woman. The wise woman pronounced a blessing over the little lamb and the little fish, and they regained their human forms. After this she took them both to a little hut in a large forest, where they lived by themselves, contented and happy.

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Revised December 2, 2001.