[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Celtic Fairy Tales (2) unit. Story source: More Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs with illustrations by John D. Batten (1895).
The Ridere of Riddles
Then it struck the queen that it was not her son who would come into the kingdom, and she set it before her that she would poison the eldest son. And so she sent advice to the cooks that they should put poison in the drink of the heir, but as luck was in it, the youngest brother heard them, and he told his brother not to take the draught, nor to drink it at all, and so he did. But the queen wondered that the lad was not dead, and she thought that there was not enough of poison in the drink, and she asked the cook to put in more on the second night. It was thus they did, and when the cook made up the drink, she said that be would not be long alive after this draught. But his brother heard this also, and told him likewise.
The eldest thought he would put the draught into a little bottle, and he said to his brother, "If I stay in this house, I have no doubt she will do for me some way or other, and the quicker I leave the house the better. I will take the world for my pillow, and there is no knowing what fortune will be on me."
His brother said that he would go with him, and they took themselves off to the stable, and they put saddles on two horses, and they took their soles out of that.
They had not gone very far from the house when the eldest one said, "There is no knowing if poison was in the drink at all, though we went away. Try it in the horse's ear and we shall see." The horse did not go far before he fell.
"That was only a rattle-bones of a horse anyway," said the eldest one, and they got up together on the other horse, and so they went forwards.
"But," said he, "I can scarce believe that there is any poison in the drink; let's try it on this horse." That he did, and they went not far when the horse fell cold dead.
They thought they'd take the hide off him, and that it would keep them warm at night which was close at hand. In the morning when they woke, they saw twelve ravens come and light on the carcase of the horse, and they were not long there when they fell down dead.
They went and lifted the ravens, and they took them with them, and the first town they reached, they gave the ravens to a baker, and they asked him to make a dozen pies of the ravens. They took the pies with them, and they went forward on their journey.
About the mouth of night, and when they were in a great thick wood, there came four and twenty robbers who bade them to deliver up their purses, but they said that they had no purse, but only a little food which they were carrying with them.
"Good is even meat!" said the robbers, and they began to eat it, but had not eaten much when they fell hither and thither, all stone dead. When they saw that the robbers were dead, they ransacked their pockets and got much gold and silver. They went forward till they reached the Knight of Riddles.
The house of the Knight of Riddles was in the finest place in that country, and if his house was pretty, his daughter was prettier, and she had twelve maidens with her only less fair than she. Her like was not on the surface of the world, altogether so handsome was she, and no one would get her to marry but the man who could put a question to her father that he could not solve. The brothers thought that they would go and try to put a question to him, and the youngest was to stand in place of gillie to the elder brother.
They reached the house of the Knight of Riddles and this was the question they put to him: "One killed two, and two killed twelve, and twelve killed four and twenty, and two got out of it," and they were to be kept in great majesty and high honour till he should solve the riddle.