Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, there lived a young king who wished very much to marry, but could not decide where he had better look for a wife.
One evening as he was walking disguised through the streets of his capital, as it was his frequent custom to do, he stopped to listen near an open window where he heard three young girls chatting gaily together.
The girls were talking about a report which had been lately spread through the city, that the king intended soon to marry.
One of the girls exclaimed, "If the king would marry me I would give him a son who should be the greatest hero in the world".
The second girl said, "And if I were to be his wife I would present him with two sons at once. Two twins with golden hair".
And the third girl declared that were the king to marry her she would give him a daughter so beautiful that there should not be her equal in the whole wide world!
The young king listened to all this, and for some time thought over their words, and tried to make up his mind which of the three girls he should choose for his wife. At last he decided that he would marry the one who had said she would bring him twins with golden hair.
Having once settled this in his own mind, he ordered that all preparations for his marriage should be made forthwith, and shortly after, when all was ready, he married the second girl of the three.
Several months after his marriage, the young king, who was at war with one of the neighbouring princes, received tidings of the defeat of his army, and heard that his presence was immediately required in the camp. He accordingly left his capital and went to his army, leaving the young queen in his palace to the care of his stepmother.
Now the king's stepmother hated her daughter-in-law very much indeed, so when the golden-haired twins were born, the old queen contrived to steal them out of their cradle, and put in their place two ugly little dogs. She then caused the two beautiful golden-haired boys to be buried alive in an out-of-the-way spot in the palace gardens, and then sent word to the king that the young queen had given him two little dogs instead of the heirs he was hoping for. The wicked stepmother said in her letter to the king that she herself was not surprised at this, though she was very sorry for his disappointment. As to herself, she had a long time suspected the young queen of having too great a friendship for goblins and elves, and all kinds of evil spirits.
When the king received this letter, he fell into a frightful rage, because he had only married the young girl in order to have the golden-haired twins she had promised him as heirs to his throne.
So he sent word back to the old queen that his wife should be put at once into the dampest dungeon in the castle, an order which the wicked woman took good care to see carried out without delay. Accordingly the poor young queen was thrown into a miserably dark dungeon under the palace, and kept on bread and water.
Now there was only a very small hole in this prison - hardly large enough to let in light and air - yet the old queen managed to cause a great many people to pass by this hole, and whoever passed was ordered to spit at and abuse the unhappy young queen, calling out to her, "Are you really the queen? Are you the girl who cheated the king in order to be a queen? Where are your golden-haired twins? You cheated the king and your friends, and now the witches have cheated you!"
But the young king, though terribly angry and mortified at his great disappointment, was, at the same time, too sad and troubled to be willing to return to his palace. So he remained away for fully nine years. When he at last consented to return, the first thing he noticed in the palace gardens were two fine young trees, exactly the same size and the same shape.
These trees had both golden leaves and golden blossoms, and had grown up of themselves from the very spot where the stepmother of the king had buried the two golden-haired boys she had stolen from their cradle. The king admired these two trees exceedingly, and was never weary of looking at them. This, however, did not at all please the old queen, for she knew that the two young princes were buried just where the trees grew, and she always feared that by some means what she had done would come to the king's ears. She therefore pretended that she was very sick, and declared that she was sure she should die unless her stepson, the king, ordered the two golden-leaved trees to be cut down, and a bed made for her out of their wood.
As the king was not willing to be the cause of her death, he ordered that her wishes should be attended to, although he was exceedingly sorry to lose his favourite trees.
A bed was soon made from the two trees, and the seemingly sick old queen was laid on it as she desired. She was quite delighted that the golden-leaved trees had disappeared from the garden; but when midnight came she could not sleep a bit, for it seemed to her that she heard the boards of which her bed was made in conversation with each other!
At last it seemed to her that one board said, quite plainly, "How are you, my brother?" And the other board answered, "Thank you, I am very well; how are you?" "Oh, I am all right," returned the first board; "but I wonder how our poor mother is in her dark dungeon! Perhaps she is hungry and thirsty!"
The wicked old queen could not sleep a minute all night, after hearing this conversation between the boards of her new bed; so next morning she got up very early and went to see the king. She thanked him for attending to her wish, and said she already was much better, but she felt quite sure she would never recover thoroughly unless the boards of her new bed were cut up and thrown into a fire. The king was sorry to lose entirely even the boards made out of his two favourite trees, nevertheless he could not refuse to use the means pointed out for his stepmother's perfect recovery.