Three brothers once upon a time went out into the neighbouring forest to choose some trees fit for building. Before going, however, they told their mother not to forget to send their sister into the wood after them with their dinners. The mother sent the girl as she had been told to do; but as the girl was on her way a giant met her in the wood, and carried her off to a cave, where he lived.
All day long the brothers waited, expecting their sister, and wondering why their mother had forgotten to send them food. At length, after remaining two days in the forest, and becoming anxious and angry at the delay, they went home. When they arrived there they asked their mother why she had not sent their sister with their food, as she had promised to do; she replied that she had sent the girl three days ago, and had been wondering greatly why she had not come back.
When the three brothers heard this they were exceedingly troubled, and the eldest said, "I will go back into the forest and look for my sister." Accordingly he went. After wandering about some time he came to a shepherdess, who was minding a flock of sheep. He asked her anxiously if she had seen his sister in the wood, or whether she could tell him anything about her. The shepherdess replied that she had indeed seen a girl carrying food, but a giant had met her and carried her off to his cave. Then the young man asked her to tell him the way to the giant's cave, which she did. The cave was hidden in a deep ravine. The brother at once went down, and called aloud on his sister by name. In a short time the girl came to the mouth of the cave, and, seeing her eldest brother, invited him to come in. This he did, and was exceedingly surprised to see that the seeming cave was in reality a magnificent palace. Whilst he stood there talking to his sister and inquiring how she liked her new home, he heard a loud whirring in the air overhead, and, immediately afterwards, saw a heavy mace fall on the ground just in front of the cave. Greatly terrified and astonished, he asked his sister what this meant, and she told him not to be afraid, for it was only the way the giant let her know of his return three hours before he came, that she might begin to prepare his supper.
When it grew dark the giant came home, and was at once aware that a stranger was in his place. In reply to his angry questions, his wife told him it was "only her brother, who had come to visit them." When the giant heard this he went to the mouth of the cave, and, calling a shepherd, ordered him to kill the largest sheep in his flock and roast it.
When the meat was ready the giant called his brother-in-law and said, as he cut the sheep in two equal parts, "My dear brother-in-law, listen well to what I say; if you eat your half of the meat sooner than I eat mine, I will give you leave to kill me; but if I eat my half quicker than you eat yours, I shall certainly kill you".
Thereupon the poor brother-in-law began to shake all over with fright; and, fearing the worst, tried to eat as fast as he could. But he had hardly swallowed three mouthfuls before the giant finished his share of the sheep, and killed him, according to his threat.
For some time the other two brothers and their old mother waited impatiently to see if the elder brother would come back. At last, hearing nothing either of the brother or of the sister, the second son said, "I will go and look after them." So he went into the same forest where his brother had gone, and, meeting there the same shepherdess minding her sheep, he inquired if she had seen his brother or sister. The shepherdess answered him as she had answered the elder brother, and he, too, asked the way to the giant's cave, and, on being told, went down the ravine until he reached the place. There he called on his sister by name, and she came out and invited him to enter the cave. This he did, and shared the fate of his brother; for, being unable to eat his part of the sheep as quickly as the giant ate his, he also was killed.
Not long after the third brother went forth the same road, to look after his two elder brothers and sister, and having found the giant's cave, was likewise invited to eat half a sheep, or be put to death. He, however, failed like his brothers had done before him, and, being unable to eat his part of the sheep as quickly as the giant ate his, he was also killed.
Now the parents, being alone in their house, prayed that God would give them another son, even were he no bigger than a peppercorn. As they prayed so it came to pass, and not very long after a little boy was born to them, who was so extremely small that they christened him "Peppercorn".
When the boy was old enough he went out to play with other boys; and one day, in a quarrel, one of these said to him, "May you share the fate of your elder brothers." Hearing this, Peppercorn ran off home at once, and asked his mother what these words meant. So the mother was forced to tell him how his three brothers had gone into the forest to look after their lost sister, and had never come back again. As soon as he heard this, Peppercorn began to search the house for pieces of old iron, and, having found some scraps, carried them off in the evening to a blacksmith, that with them he might make him a mace. Next morning Peppercorn went to the smith to ask for his mace, which the man gave him, saying at the same time, "Now pay me for making it." To this Peppercorn replied, "First let me see if it is strong enough"; and he threw it up in the air and held his head so that the mace might fall upon it. As soon as the mace struck his head, it broke into pieces; and Peppercorn, seeing how badly it was made, fell into a passion and killed the smith. Then he gathered up the pieces of iron and went off to look for a better workman. He soon found another blacksmith who was willing to make him a mace, but demanded a ducat for the work. Peppercorn said he would willingly pay the ducat if the smith made him a really strong, serviceable mace. So next morning he went to ask if it was ready, and the smith said "Yes; but you must first pay me the ducat, and then I will give it you." Peppercorn, however, answered, "The ducat is ready in my pocket, but I must first see if the mace is good before I pay for it." Thereupon he caught it, flung it up in the air, and held his head under it as it fell. As soon as the mace struck his head it broke into pieces; and he, again falling into a great passion, killed this smith also.