Grimm’s Grimmest – The Three Snake Leaves
The son asks for his father’s blessing to leave, saying that he is a burden to his father.
With great sorrow, the son leaves his home, taking service in the king’s army.
Coming before the enemy when his leader falls, the youth steps forward as a leader among his men and conquers the enemy. When the king learns that the victory is owed to the youth, he is raised above all others, given treasures, and made the first in the kingdom.
The king’s daughter is as beautiful as she is strange. She makes a vow that she will take no one as her lord and husband who does not promise to let himself be buried alive with her if she died first. And she will do the same.
This oath frightens away all suitors, but the youth is so charmed by her beauty that he cares for nothing and asks for her hand. His love for her is so great that he does not mind the danger of being buried alive, so the king consents to the wedding.
They live now for a while happy and contented, but the young queen falls severely ill. No physician can save her, and the young king remembers the promise he made to be buried alive if she died first.
Horrified, the young king has no escape with sentries at all the gates. He is taken down to the royal vault with the corpse of his wife, bolted and locked in. And he sits there with his limited food and drink, death drawing nearer daily.
He sits dazed, watching a snake creep out of the corner of the vault and approach the dead body of his wife. Believing the snake plans to gnaw on the corpse, he chops the snake into three pieces.
After some time, a second snake slithers out of the hole, seeing the other lying in pieces on the floor. It goes back, returning with three green leaves within its mouth.
The snake takes the three pieces of the snake, arranging them as they fitted and placing one of the leaves on each wound. Immediately the severed parts join together, the snake moving and living once more. Both of the snakes hasten away.
The leaves are left on lying on the ground. The young king wonders if the leaves will have the same effect on human beings, picking up the leaves and placing one of them on her mouth and the two others on her eyes.
Blood stirs in her veins, coloring her pale face. She draws a breath, opening her eyes. He nurses her back to health, giving her food and drink while telling her all of what has happened. Calling out to the sentries, the king is called down and opens the door.
The young king takes the three snake leaves with him, giving them to a servant and telling him to keep them safe because who knows how they may serve them once again. A change takes place in his wife, all love for her husband has gone out of her heart since her revival.
After some time, the young king wishes to make a journey over the sea to visit his old father. On board, she forgets her love and fidelity that he has shown her and conceives a wicked inclination for the skipper.
When the young king sleeps, the young queen and the skipper seize him and throw him overboard and into the sea. When the shameful deed is done, she tells the skipper that they will return home and convince her father that he will marry her and make him the heir to his crown.
But the faithful servant witnesses all that had happened, sailing on a little boat from the ship to retrieve his master. He fishes the deady body out of the sea and revives the young king with the three snake leaves he carries.
They both row back home day and night, reaching the king before the others. Astonished to see them alone, the king asks what has happened. After learning what his daughter has done, he ushers them into a secret chamber away from everyone.
Soon afterward the great ship sails in, the young queen appearing before the king with a troubled expression. She tells her father that her husband became suddenly ill and died. The king reveals her supposed dead husband.
Upon seeing her husband, the woman falls to her knees and begs for mercy. But the king will hear nothing because her husband was willing to die alongside her and she killed him in his sleep, receiving the punishment she deserves.
She is placed in a boat pierced with holes alongside her accomplice. Sent out to sea, they soon sink under the waves.
The Three Snake Leaves is about a man willing to sacrifice himself, leaving his father so he is no longer a burden, battling an enemy against all odds in war, and promising to love a woman in spite of her death and his consequential burial.
He is honorable and self-sacrificing, and she does not stand by a single oath that he held to through fear and horror. Her fate is deserved. So many of these Grimm fairytales focus on violent justice, but it is justice nonetheless.