A long while ago there lived a poor old couple, who had an only son. The old man and his wife worked very hard to nourish their child well and bring him up properly, hoping that he, in return, would take care of them in their old age.
When, however, the boy had grown up, he said to his parents, "I am a man now, and I intend to marry, so I wish you to go at once to the king and ask him to give me his daughter for wife." The astonished parents rebuked him, saying, "What can you be thinking of? We have only this poor hut to shelter us, and hardly bread enough to eat, and we dare not presume to go into the king's presence, much less can we venture to ask for his daughter to be your wife".
The son, however, insisted that they should do as he said, threatening that if they did not comply with his wishes he would leave them, and go away into the world. Seeing that he was really in earnest in what he said, the unhappy parents promised him they would go and ask for the king's daughter. Then the old mother made a wedding cake in her son's presence, and, when it was ready, she put it in a bag, took her staff in her hand, and went straight to the palace where the king lived. There the king's servants bade her come in, and led her into the hall where his Majesty was accustomed to receive the poor people who came to ask alms or to present petitions.
The poor old woman stood in the hall, confused and ashamed at her worn-out, shabby clothes, and looking as if she were made of stone, until the king said to her kindly, "What do you want from me, old mother?"
She dared not, however, tell his Majesty why she had come, so she stammered out in her confusion, "Nothing, your Majesty".
Then the king smiled a little and said, "Perhaps you come to ask alms?"
Then the old woman, much abashed, replied, "Yes, your Majesty, if you please!"
Thereupon the king called his servants and ordered them to give the old woman ten crowns, which they did. Having received this money, she thanked his Majesty, and returned home, saying to herself, "I dare say when my son sees all this money he will not think any more of going away from us".
In this thought, however, she was quite mistaken, for no sooner had she entered the hut than the son came to her and asked impatiently, "Well, mother, have you done as I asked you?"
At this she exclaimed, "Do give up, once for all, this silly fancy, my son. How could you expect me to ask the king for his daughter to be your wife? That would be a bold thing for a rich nobleman to do, how then can we think of such a thing? Anyhow, I dared not say one word to the king about it. But only look what a lot of money I have brought back. Now you can look for a wife suitable for you, and then you will forget the king's daughter".
When the young man heard his mother speak thus, he grew very angry, and said to her, "What do I want with the king's money? I don't want his money, but I do want his daughter! I see you are only playing with me, so I shall leave you. I will go away somewhere - anywhere - wherever my eyes lead me".
Then the poor old parents prayed and begged him not to go away from them, and leave them alone in their old age; but they could only quiet him by promising faithfully that the mother should go again next day to the king, and this time really ask him to give his daughter to her son for a wife.
In the morning, therefore, the old woman went again to the palace, and the servants showed her into the same hall she had been in before. The king, seeing her stand there, inquired, "What want you, my old woman, now?"
She was, however, so ashamed that she could hardly stammer, "Nothing, please, your Majesty".
The king, supposing that she came again to beg, ordered his servants to give her this time also ten crowns.
With this money the poor woman returned to her hut, where her son met her, asking, "Well, mother, this time I hope you have done what I asked you?" But she replied, "Now, my dear son, do leave the king's daughter in peace. How can you really think of such a thing? Even if she would marry you, where is the house to bring her to? So be quiet, and take this money which I have brought you".
At these words the son was more angry than before, and said sharply, "As I see you will not let me marry the king's daughter, I will leave you this moment and never come back again"; and, rushing out of the hut, he ran away. His parents hurried after him, and at length prevailed on him to return, by swearing to him that his mother should go again to the king next morning and really and in truth ask his Majesty this time for his daughter.
So the young man agreed to go back home and wait until the next day.
On the morrow the old woman, with a heavy heart, went to the palace, and was shown as before into the king's presence. Seeing her there for the third time, his Majesty asked her impatiently, "What do you want this time, old woman?" And she, trembling all over, said, "Please, your Majesty - nothing." Then the king exclaimed, "But it cannot be nothing. Something you must want, so tell me the truth at once, if you value your life!" Thereupon the old woman was forced to tell all the story to the king; how her son had a great desire to marry the princess, and so had forced her to come and ask the king to give her to him for wife.
When the king had heard everything, he said, "Well, after all, I shall say nothing against it if my daughter will consent to it." He then told his servants to lead the princess into his presence. When she came he told her all about the affair, and asked her, "Are you willing to marry the son of this old woman?"
The princess answered, "Why not? If only he learns first the trade that no one knows!" Thereupon the king bade his attendants give money to the poor woman, who now went back to her hut with a light heart.
The moment she entered, her son asked her, "Have you engaged her?" And she returned, "Do let me get my breath a little! Well, now I have really asked the king; but it is of no use, for the princess declares she will not marry you until you have learnt the trade that no one knows!"