Snow White and Rose Red and how many women adore that overall gentle fairy tale. I've also received many requests for other fairy tales in which sisters are friends and work together without any true rivalry. It's easy enough to find girl/boy sibling pairs (Hansel and Gretel, Brother and Sister for example) but loving sister pairs are pretty rare. I recently discovered one I had not read before and decided to share it here. It's a tale from northern India and has shades of many European tales in it. I won't list them but let you discover them for yourself...
Lal Badshah, The Red King; or, The Two Little Princesses
THERE was once a king, not Lal Badshah, but another, whose wife died, leaving him with two beautiful little daughters.
After a time, as he had no son to be his heir, his vizier said to him: “O king, it is right that you should marry again, so that your people may not be left without a prince to rule over them hereafter.” With this advice the king complied, and he brought to his palace a second wife. But she was of a morose and cruel disposition. She hated the two little princesses, and starved them, and, in short, she acted the stepmother to the life.
These little girls, in their unhappiness, used to go out hand-in-hand, and sit and pray by their dead mother’s grave; and to their simple minds it did not seem at all strange that, when they had said their prayers, they should find by the grave a dish of food, which they always partook of. Day by day at their mother’s grave they found a meal, and they said that God had sent it to them.
But the stepmother had a cat, and this cat took it into her head to follow the princesses whenever they went to the grave, and the princesses took notice of her and fed her with scraps.
One day the queen was eyeing the children, and thinking to herself: “I give them only bran bread, and very little of that; how is it they are so fat?” Then the cat, who divined her thoughts, said: “The princesses visit their mother’s grave every day, and their mother feeds them. That is the reason they look so plump.”
When the queen heard this, she turned so sick with spite and vexation that in a day or two she had to take to her bed. But she pretended to be worse than she was, and at last she persuaded the king that she was at the point of death.
The king was greatly concerned, and said to her: “Can nothing be done for you?” This was just what the wicked woman wanted; so she answered: “I shall never recover until you have dug up the bones of your former wife and scattered them over the earth.”
The king was very sorry, but to save her life he consented to do it, and his first wife’s bones were taken up and scattered, and the stepmother then became quite well again all at once.
The two little girls now conferred together as to what they should do next. “What now?” asked the little one of the elder. Her sister answered: “We must trust in God. What is to be is to be, and our destiny must be fulfilled.”
Now, though their mother’s bones had been taken away, these two children continued their visits to the grave as before. Soon they observed a beautiful tree growing out of it, which bore delicious fruit; and, as they constantly ate of it, they were never hungry. One day, however, the cat followed them again, and when they saw her coming, the elder said: “Hide your fruit!”
“Nay,” said the younger; “let me give her one plum.”
“If you do,” said the other, “she will know, and will tell the queen.”
So they hid their fruit, but one plum fell to the ground by accident; and when the cat saw it, she pounced upon it, and, putting it in her ear, took it away to show it to the queen.
Then this wretched queen fell sick again, and, going through the same pretence as before, she said to the foolish king: “I shall never be well until you cut down the tree which grows out of your first wife’s grave and throw it into the fire.”
The king therefore gave his orders, and the tree was removed root and branch, and they made a fire and burnt it up.
The queen, however, was not satisfied even then. Her hatred of the princesses increased, and she could no longer bear the sight of them: so, with first one reason and then another, she persuaded her husband to take them far away into the desert or into the forest, and to abandon them to their fate.
Early in the morning the king set out with his two little girls, and when he came to a lonely spot, he said to them: “Children, gather the pretty flowers and play and amuse yourselves, while I go down to that brook and wash my turban.” Even kings were not above doing for themselves in those days, but this time the king only spoke to deceive.
Going to the brook, he set up an empty jar on the top of a long stick, and put a cloth over it, and the blowing of the wind made the side of the jar knock and knock against the stick, so that the children, when at intervals they heard the sound of the jar, believed it was their father who was washing his turban on the stones, after the manner of the country. At last, however, the day wore away, and it began to get late. Then they sought the brook to rejoin their father, but he, alas, was nowhere to be seen, and they called and called his name in vain.
The little girls were so distressed to find themselves forsaken and alone in the middle of the wilderness that they sat down and cried for a good hour. “Oh, what now shall we do?” cried the younger one. Looking up, they saw a lofty rock towering over the trees, and they climbed to the top of it, and gazed all round. Then they saw some smoke rising up far in the distance, and, descending, they set out in the twilight to seek for it.
Before very long they arrived in front of a gloomy castle, where they found an old woman of great stature sitting before the door and blinking at the stars. She was an ogress, but she had the heart of a human being; and when she saw the children, she, being a woman, felt pity for them, and said: “Poor things! my son is a man-eater, and when he comes home he will eat you both up!”
“Oh, hide us somewhere!” cried they.
Then the ogress took them up and turned them both into flies, and, when she had stuck pins into them, she fastened them to the wall.
Hardly had she done so, when, with a great roar, the ogre returned from the jungle. “Oh, oh,” cried he:
“I smell man’s flesh,
I smell man’s blood!”
“My son,” said his mother, “there is no man here. There is no one but you and me only.”
Then he sat down to his hog’s flesh and his wine, and fell fast asleep.
In the morning early, after the ogre had gone out as usual, the old ogress pulled out the pins, and turned the children into their proper shapes. “Get away,” said she, “as fast as you can; you will be getting me into trouble, too.”
Right glad were the children to escape from that dreadful place, and they hastened away as fast as they could run. At last they came, towards evening, to a most pleasant spot, where there was an immense tree full of shade. In this tree they both passed the night, feeling thankful that they were safe from wild beasts and ogres.
The next day the elder sister remained in the tree sewing with silk, but the younger got down and went into the forest and collected some deer, which willingly followed her everywhere. So the two sisters lived on deer’s milk and berries, and, as each had her own occupation, they passed a pleasant time.
One day the elder gave the younger sister a flower, and said to her: “Sister, you go out every day, and while you are away something might happen. When this flower fades you will know that I am in trouble, and when I drop my needle I shall know that you are in trouble.”
Some time after this it happened that a king, named Lal Badshah, with all his retinue, came out hunting in that very forest, but after a long day’s chase he succeeded in shooting only a single partridge. As he was hungry, he said to his minister, “Vizier, go—see, there is smoke!—cook this partridge for me, and bring it back.”
So the vizier took the partridge and began to cook it over the fire, to which he was easily guided by the smoke. But it was the fire of the two princesses, the younger of whom was still in the forest. As the vizier was cooking the partridge he happened to look up, and he saw the elder sister in the tree. The sight of her so astonished him that, instead of attending to his duty, he kept staring at her, wondering who and what she could be, and so the partridge got burnt.
When the vizier perceived that the bird was spoilt, he began to mutter in great distress, being quite in despair, fearing the king’s anger. Then the princess said to him: “Why are you crying?”
“Because,” answered he, “I have burnt the king’s partridge.”
“If you will make a solemn promise of secrecy,” said she, “I will help you.”
The vizier faithfully promised, and the princess, descending, made up a delicious dish of partridge and deer’s milk, and sent it to the king.
The king was quite delighted, and he said to his minister: “Vizier, who cooked this partridge?”
“I cooked it,” answered he.
“Who cooked this partridge?” repeated the king.
“I cooked it,” repeated the vizier.
“Who cooked this partridge?” once more cried the king.
“I cooked it,” once more replied the vizier.
“Bury him alive!” screamed the king.
Some of the guard came forward, and, digging a great hole, they thrust in the unlucky vizier, and began to throw the earth over him. When he was buried as high as the neck, the king asked him once more: “Who cooked this partridge?” and still the vizier answered: “I cooked it.”
“This is a very obstinate fellow,” said the king. “In with the earth!”
When he was buried to the mouth, the king for the last time asked him: “Who cooked this partridge?”
“Take me out, take me out,” cried the vizier,” and I will confess.”
So he was released from his grave, and then he told the king the whole story.
Lal Badshah was astonished beyond measure when he heard that a beautiful young princess was living in a tree. Nor was it long before he visited her, when he was so struck with her great beauty and refined manners that he married her there and then, and carried her off on his horse.
The poor girl would have been better pleased if she had been allowed to remain in the tree, and, as she thought of her absent sister, she became very sorrowful. Fortunately, she had a bag of mustard-seed, which she took with her, and as she rode along she dropped the seed on the ground to mark the way.
The younger sister was some distance off, when she suddenly observed that her flower began to fade. So she hastened back as fast as she could; but she was too late: her sister had gone. “Alas!” cried she, “what new misfortune is this? Where can my sister be?” She then noticed the mustard-seed, and perceived that it was a track leading into the forest. Instantly she decided to follow it, and, with her deer gambolling about her, she at once set out.
The track led her to a fine city, where she heard that her sister was now the most favoured queen in the king’s palace. Resolving to remain in that place, in the hope that she might some day be able to communicate with her, the younger sister made herself a little wicker cabin on an ancient mound, past which flowed a brook, just outside of the city gates. Here she dwelt, by day taking out her deer to graze, and by night sleeping with them in the cabin.
The elder sister, however, though she was so beloved by the king, was hated by all her rivals. They were jealous of her power and of her superior beauty. And when, in the course of time, the poor queen had a baby, they stole it and threw it out of the city, close to the old mound, and instead of it they placed by her bed a basket of charcoal. Having done this, they went to the king, and said: “This new queen of yours has been brought to bed. But, instead of a baby, she has given birth to a basket of charcoal.” Naturally, the king was very angry, and he ordered his young wife to be cast into a dungeon.
It so happened that the poor little outcast infant was rescued by its aunt, the younger sister, and as the story of the queen’s disgrace was soon bruited abroad, she easily recognised the child as the king’s. So she took to it, showering on it the greatest affection, and nursing it with deer’s milk.
Some time elapsed, and the child had grown into a handsome little lad of four or five years, when the aunt observed that the king frequently rode out past the mound, and that he sometimes stopped to water his horse at the brook. So she made for the little prince a wooden horse as a plaything, and she told him to look out for the king. “Whenever,” said she, “the king stops to water his horse, do you water your horse, too, and say: ‘Drink, O horse!’”
The child was quite charmed with his new toy, and already imagined himself a gallant knight charging his enemies. When the king came to the brook, as usual he stopped to give his horse some water, and the prince, seeing him, pranced down to the brook, too, and cried: “Drink, O horse!”
“Silly boy,” said the king to him, “can a wooden horse drink?”
In the evening the child reported all this to his aunt—how the king had come, and what he had said. “Tomorrow,” said she, “you must do exactly the same thing, and to the king’s question you are to answer, ‘But, O king, did a woman ever give birth to a basket of charcoal?’”
The next day Lal Badshah was again watering his horse at the brook, and by his side the little prince was watering his, saying: “Drink, O horse!”
“Foolish boy,” said the king, “how can a wooden horse drink water?”
“And, O king,” answered the child, “how can a woman bring forth a basket of charcoal?”
This answer quite startled the king. “Now, what can be the meaning of this?” he said; and, noticing that the little boy entered the wicker cabin, he approached it, and, dismounting, went behind it to listen. He then heard the aunt saying: “Did you repeat to the king what I told you?” And the boy answered, “Yes,” and related all that had happened. Then said the aunt: “Lal Badshah can by no means be a wise king, or else from your answer he would have, guessed the truth.”
On hearing these words, the king approached the door, and the aunt at once rose up to pay him respect. “This boy of yours,” said he, “has just given me a most mysterious answer. What does it mean?”
So the aunt told him the whole history of her life and of her sister’s life, and revealed to him the secret of the boy’s birth. Never was the king so pleased in the whole course of his life. He acknowledged his son as heir to his empire, he restored his injured queen to her position and rank, and he amply provided for her younger sister. And so, after many misfortunes, the two sisters, who loved each other so truly, were united once more, and lived happily ever after.
Swynnerton, Charles. Indian Nights’ Entertainment: or, Folk-tales from the Upper Indus. London: Elliot Stock, 1892.
The illustrations--these are just a few--were uncredited except for being "by native hands."