The Blood Brothers

a European folktale
retold by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2012

Once upon a time a fisherman caught a fish that said to him, "If you will set me free, I will grant you any wish." Now more than anything else, the fisherman wanted to have a child with his wife, so he made this wish, and turned the fish loose.

Before swimming away, the fish said, "Cast your net again, and give your next catch to your wife to eat."

The fisherman did as he was told. His next cast netted him one little fish, which he took home with him. His wife ate the flesh. His dog ate the insides. And his horse ate the bones. Some time later his wife gave birth to twin boys; the dog had a litter of two pups; and the horse foaled with two colts.

The twin boys gave their parents much pleasure, but with time the older brother became restless, and wanted to seek his fortune abroad. He left a bottle of clear white wine with his younger twin, saying, "All will be well with me as long as the wine is white. But if it ever turns red, I will be in need of your help." With that he took leave of his brother and of his parents, mounted the older twin horse, and, accompanied by the older twin dog, set forth into the world.

After a long journey he came to a kingdom that was being ravished by a terrible dragon. The king had promised his daughter's hand in marriage to whatever man succeeded in killing the dragon. The twin tracked the dragon to its lair, then engaged him in battle. The fight was long and hard, but the brave twin finally prevailed, and the dragon lay dead at his feat. As proof that he had killed the beast, he cut out its tongue, then set out for the castle to claim the princess as his reward.

Now the king had a steward who happened to come upon the dead dragon soon after the twin left. He decided to claim the kill for himself, cut off the dragon's head, and took a shortcut to the castle.

The king was delighted to see the dragon's head, and he arranged for the wedding between the steward and the princess to take place immediately. The twin arrived just as the festivities were starting. Seeing that another man was unfairly claiming his prize, he said, "It is a strange dragon that has no tongue."

"Of course the dragon has a tongue," said the steward, opening the dragon's mouth. But the tongue was not there.

"The dragon had a tongue when I killed it," answered the twin, "and here it is." With this he produced the dragon's tongue. The king now saw that the steward had lied, and had him cast into a dark dungeon. The festivities continued, but this time with the twin as hero and bridegroom.

The twin and the princess lived happily for some time, but after a while he became restless again. He announced that he wanted to go hunting in a nearby forest, named the Forest of No Return. His young wife asked him not to go, but his spirit of adventure prevailed.

Soon after entering the Forest of No Return, the twin met an old woman, who, unknown to him, was a wicked witch. "Good day, young sir," she said. He began to return the greeting, but had scarcely opened his mouth when she cast a spell on him, turning him to stone.

Meanwhile, back at the fisherman's cottage, the younger twin examined the bottle of wine every day. Its clear white color let him know that his older brother was well. One day, however, the wine turned blood red, and the younger brother knew that his twin was in need. He took leave of his parents, mounted the younger twin horse, and, accompanied by the younger twin dog, set forth into the world to find his older brother.

After a long journey he came to the kingdom where his twin brother had killed the dragon. Everyone thought that he was their new prince, and he was escorted to the castle with honor.

"I thought that you would never come back from the Forest of No Return," said the princess tenderly. However, to her dismay and surprise, instead of returning her love, that night he laid his sword between them in their bed.

Early the next morning the younger twin set forth for the Forest of No Return. Soon after entering this forest, he met the old witch. "Good day, young sir," she said.

Sensing her evil design, he said not a word, but leaped on her and pinned her to the ground. Holding his sword to her neck, he shouted, "lead me to my brother, or die at once!" The witch, fearing for her life, led the young twin to his petrified brother. She anointed the stone with salve, and he returned to life.

Overjoyed, the two brothers made they way back toward the castle. On their way, each one told the other of his adventures. When it was the younger brother's turn to speak, he told of how the white wine had turned to blood red, how he had found his way to the castle, how he had slept with the princess.... He was not able finish his sentence. The older twin, hearing that his brother had slept with his wife, drew his sword and cut off his head.

When the older twin arrived at the castle, he was received by his wife with love. "At last you are yourself!" she said. "Not like the last time you were here, when you put a sword between us in bed."

The older twin now knew that he had unjustly killed his brother. He rushed back to the place where his body lay. Fortunately, he still had some of the witch's salve, and with it he anointed the dead man's wounds, placed the head back on the body, and brought his brother back to life. Together they returned to the castle, where they lived happily ever after.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised January 6, 2012.