In a time now forgotten there lived a miller who had fallen on hard times. One day as the miller was out cutting wood in the forest, a strange man appeared and offered to make a deal with him.
“I see you are suffering,” the stranger said. “That need not be. I will fill your mill with gold coins, furnish you with a fine manor, and richly clothe your family. All I ask in return is that you give me what stands behind your mill. I will come for it in three years.”
The miller thought about this and decided that since all that stood behind his mill was an old apple tree, he would accept the stranger’s offer.
The deal was made and the miller returned home to find everything just as the stranger had promised. When he told his wife about the bargain, however, he realized his folly.
“Husband,” she said, “it is true that we need no longer worry about having food to eat, a beautiful house to live in, or fine clothes to wear to church. But you have been deceived. Our daughter has been sweeping behind the mill all morning. Surely this man you met was the Devil and he will come for our daughter.”
Heartbroken, the miller and his wife called their daughter in from her sweeping and told her of her horrible fate. The daughter spent the next three years living piously, taking no husband, and dedicating herself to prayer. When the time arrived for the Devil to come for her she bathed, walked out into the yard, and drew a circle around herself with salt. When the Devil appeared and tried to take her, he was thrown back by an unseen force. Furious, he instructed the miller and his wife to keep the girl from bathing until he returned, for as long as she was clean he could not touch her.
Time went by and the girl did as she was told. When the Devil returned to take her, he was pleased to find the girl filthy. The girl, mortified by her fate, began to sob and her tears quickly washed her clean. The Devil was furious.
“You must cut off her hands, else I cannot take her,” the Devil told the miller. “And if you do not do as I say, you will lose everything you have, including your life.”
Horrified but too afraid to disobey, the miller sharpened his blade and approached his daughter. He began to explain himself to her and beg her forgiveness but she interrupted.
“Father,” she said, “I am your daughter and I will submit to your will.”
The miller cried as he picked up his axe but he swung it hard and chopped off his daughter’s hands. The Devil grinned but the girl began to cry and her tears fell down her arms and washed her bloody stumps clean. When the Devil attempted to approach her, he was again thrown back by an unseen force. Realizing that he had lost, the Devil left in a fit of fury.
The miller and his wife were relieved and told their daughter they would care for her every need for as long as they lived. And of course she would inherit all their wealth and property when they died. The maiden felt that she had to go out into the world and depend on the generosity of strangers. She asked her parents to wrap her wounded stumps and bind her arms behind her back. Saddened but obedient, the miller and his wife did so and then bade farewell to their daughter as she walked off into the forest.
The maiden walked and walked until she was so weary from hunger she nearly fainted. At this moment she saw an orchard filled with fruit trees that were laden with ripe fruits of all sorts. Then she saw that the orchard was surrounded by a moat and there was no way across. The maiden knelt and prayed and almost instantly there appeared an spirit, all glowing white. The spirit made a path through the water and the maiden walked into the orchard. Without hands she was unable to reach up and pick any of the fruit but the trees themselves lowered their branches so she could eat of their fruit. The maiden did not know that she was eating in a King’s orchard, nor did she know she was being watched by the King’s orchard-keeper.
The following day the King walked through his orchard and noticed that several fruit were missing from his trees. When he confronted his orchard-keeper about the missing fruit he was told about the strange maiden who had wandered into the orchard. The King listened with interest as he was told of how a spirit had accompanied the handless maiden and how the branches of the trees had bent low to offer their fruit to her. Intrigued by the story, the Kind decided to hide himself in the orchard that night in the event that the maiden should return.
Late that very night the King spied the maiden entering his orchard with the help of the spirit. As she ate fruit from a lowered branch of one of the trees, the King crept up on her. As he approached her he saw that her clothes were ragged, her white skin covered with dirt, and her arms ended in stumps bound in cloth. He felt both curiosity and compassion for this wandering maiden.
After watching her for a few moments he finally spoke. “Young maiden, are you of this world or the spirit world?”
The maiden turned to the King and replied, “I was once of this world but I have been forsaken by all and now wander the world dependent on the kindness of strangers.”
The King was so touched by the maiden’s plight, and the bravery with which she endured it, that he fell in love with her and offered her his hand in marriage. The maiden accepted and they were married at once. As a wedding gift to his new Queen, the King had a pair of beautiful hands crafted out of the most exquisite silver.
It so happened that not long after their marriage the King was called away to fight a war. He left his Queen in the care of his mother and instructed her to send a message to him if his wife gave birth to a child.
A few months passed and the young Queen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. The King’s mother send a message to the King telling him the joyous news. On the way to the King, the messenger fell asleep and while he slept the Devil came and switched the message. The message the King received said the Queen had given birth to a hideous monster. The King was saddened by the news but sent the messenger back with instructions to care for the Queen and their child. Once again the messenger fell asleep before reaching his destination. And once again the Devil came and switched the message.
The message the King’s mother received instructed her to kill the Queen and her child. The King’s mother was horrified and decided to send another message. The messenger fell asleep again, both on his way to the King and on the way back to the King’s mother. Each time the Devil came and switched the messages. The message he returned to the King’s mother instructed her to kill the Queen and baby, and to keep the eyes and tongue so that when he returned he would know his wishes had been carried out.
The King’s mother could not understand why her son would want his wife and child killed and she feared for their safety. She sacrificed a doe and kept the eyes and tongue. Then she sent the young Queen off into the forest with her new son. It was a sorrowful parting for both the King’s mother and the Queen.
The Queen wandered through the forest until the spirit who had helped her before appeared and led her to an inn. A woman appeared at the door and greeted the Queen by name. The Queen was given a room and was told to rest. The Queen lived at the inn for seven years and during this time she grew new hands. First, they grew in as tiny baby hands but as time passed they continued to grow until they were the hands of a grown woman. When her own hands began to grow back, the Queen placed the silver hands in a chest.
Not long after the Queen was forced to leave the castle, the King returned from the war. When he asked his mother where the Queen was she showed him the tongue and eyes she’d taken from the doe. The King was devastated when she told him that these were the tongue and eyes of the Queen he’d ordered her to kill.
“I didn’t order you to kill them,” he said.
The King’s mother showed him the message she’d received from him. When he read it he realized that some mischief had occurred. Relieved that her son had not ordered the murders of his wife and child, his mother revealed to him that the tongue and eyes were those of a doe and that his wife and child had been sent out into the forest.
Vowing to neither eat not drink until he found the Queen and their child, the King set out at once. For seven years he searched and for seven years he did not touch food or water. Finally, as the seventh year came to an end, he came to a small inn within the depths of a great forest. He was led inside and given a bed in which to rest. When he awoke he saw that a beautiful woman stood over him, and next to her stood a boy not more than seven years old. He recognized the woman as the Queen but also saw that she had hands. Suspicious he asked her who she was.
“Do you not recognize your own wife?” she asked.
“My wife was handless,” he replied, “and you are not.”
The Queen led him to a chest and from within she took out the silver hands the King had given her when they were married.
“Over the last seven years,” the Queen explained, “I have worked hard and been well cared for. As a result, my hands have grown back. And here, my husband, is your son.”
The King rejoiced and embraced his wife and son with great happiness. After partaking in a wonderful feast at the inn, the couple and their son returned to their kingdom and lived long, fulfilling lives. The King and Queen had many more children and the Devil never made trouble for them again.