Once upon a time that was no time, in the days when the servants of Allah were many and the misery of man was great, there lived a poor woman who had three sons and one daughter. The youngest son was half-witted, and used to roll about all day in the warm ashes.
One day the two elder brothers went out to plough, and said to their mother: "Boil us something, and send our sister out with it into the field." - Now the three-faced devil had pitched his tent close to this field, and in order that the girl might not come near them he determined to persuade her to go all round about instead of straight to them.
The mother cooked the dinner and the girl went into the field with it, but the devil contrived to make her lose her road, so that she wandered further and further away from the place where she wanted to go. At last, when her poor head was quite confused, the devil's wife appeared before her and asked the terrified girl what she meant by trespassing there. Then she talked her over and persuaded her to come home with her, that she might hide her from the vengeance of the devil, her husband.
But the three-faced devil had got home before them, and when they arrived the old woman told the girl to make haste and get something ready to eat while her maid-servant stirred up the fire. But scarcely had she begun to get the dish ready than the devil crept stealthily up behind her, opened his mouth wide, and swallowed the girl whole, clothes and all.
Meanwhile her brothers were waiting in the field for their dinner, but neither the damsel nor the victuals appeared. Afternoon came and went and evening too, and then the lads went home, and when they heard from their mother that their sister had gone to seek them early in the morning they suspected what had happened - their little sister must have fallen into the hands of the devil. The two elder brothers did not think twice about it, but the elder of them set off at once to seek his sister.
He went on and on, puffing at his chibook, sniffing the perfume of flowers and drinking coffee, till he came to an oven by the wayside. By the oven sat an old man, who asked the youth on what errand he was bent. The youth told him of his sister's case, and said he was going in search of the three-faced devil, and would not be content till he had killed him. - " Thou wilt never be able to slay the devil," said the man, "till thou hast eaten of bread that has been baked in this oven." - The youth thought this no very difficult matter, took the loaves out of the oven, but scarcely had he bitten a piece out of one of them than the oven, the man, and the loaves all disappeared before his eyes, and the bit he had taken swelled within him so that he nearly burst.
The youth hadn't gone two steps further on when he saw on the highway a large cauldron, and the cauldron was full of wine. A man was sitting in front of the cauldron, and he asked him the way, and told him the tale of the devil. "Thou wilt never be able to cope with the devil," said the man, "if thou dost not drink of this wine." The youth drank, but: "Woe betide my stomach, woe betide my bowels!" for so plagued was he that he could not have stood upright if he had not seen two bridges before him. One of these bridges was of wood and the other was of iron, and beyond the two bridges were two apple-trees, and one bore unripe bitter apples and the other sweet ripe ones.
The three-faced devil was waiting on the road to see which bridge he would choose, the wooden or the iron one, and which apples he would eat, the sour or the sweet ones. The youth went along the iron bridge, lest the wooden one might break down, and plucked the sweet apples, because the green ones were bitter. That was just what the devil wanted him to do, and he at once sent his mother to meet the youth and entice him into his house as he had done his sister, and it was not long before he also found his way into the devil's belly.
And next in order, the middling brother, not wishing to be behind-hand, also went in search of his kinsmen. He also could not eat of the bread his inside also was plagued by the wine, he went across the iron bridge and ate of the sweet apples, and so he also found his way into the devil's belly. Only the youngest brother who lay among the ashes remained. His mother besought him not to forsake her in her old age. If the others had gone he at least could remain and comfort her, she said. But the youth would not listen. "I will not rest," said Cinderer, "till I have found the three lost ones, my two brothers and my sister, and slain the devil." Then he rose from his chimney corner, and no sooner had he shaken the ashes from off him than such a tempest arose that all the labourers at work in the fields left their ploughs where they stood, and ran off as far as their eyes could see. Then the youngest son gathered together the ploughshares and bade a blacksmith make a lance of them, but a lance of such a kind as would fly into the air and come back again to the hand that hurled it without breaking its iron point. The smith made the lance, and the youth hurled it. Up into the air flew the lance, but when it came down again on to the tip of his little finger it broke to pieces. Then the youth shook himself still more violently in the ashes, and again the labourers in the field fled away before the terrible tempest which immediately arose, and the youth gathered together a still greater multitude of ploughshares and took them to the smith. The smith made a second lance, and that also flew up into the air and broke to pieces when it came down again. Then the youth shook himself in the ashes a third time, and such a hurricane arose that there was scarce a ploughshare in the whole country-side that was not carried away. It was only with great difficulty that the smith could make the third lance, but when that came down on the youth's finger it did not break in pieces like the others. "This will do pretty well," said the youth, and catching up the lance he went forth into the wide world.