Once upon a time there reigned a king in Colchester who was valiant, strong, wise, and famous throughout the land as a good ruler. But in the midst of his glory his dear queen died, leaving him with a daughter to look after. This maiden was renowned for her beauty, kindness, and grace.
Now strange things happen—the king of Colchester heard of a lady who had immense riches, and he had a mind to marry her, although she was old, ugly, hook-nosed, and ill-tempered. Furthermore, she possessed a daughter as ugly as herself. None could give the reason why, but only a few weeks after the death of his dear queen, the king brought this loathly bride to court, and married her with great pomp and festivities. Now the very first thing she did was to poison the king’s mind against his own beautiful, kind, daughter, of whom, naturally, the ugly queen and her ugly daughter were jealous.
Now when the young princess found that even her father had turned against her, she grew weary of court life and longed to get away from it. So one day, happening to meet the king alone in the garden, she went down on her knees and begged and prayed him to give her some help and let her go out into the world to seek her fortune. To this the king agreed, and he told his consort to fit the girl out for her enterprise in proper fashion. But the jealous woman gave her only a canvas bag of brown bread and hard cheese, with a bottle of small beer.
Though this was but a pitiful dowry for a king’s daughter, the princess was too proud to complain, so she took it, returned her thanks, and set off on her journey through woods and forests, by rivers and lakes, over mountain and valley.
At last she came to a cave, at the mouth of which, on a stone, sat an old, old man with a white beard.
“Good day,” he said, “Where are you going?”
“Reverend father,” replied she, “I’m going to seek my fortune.”
“And what have you for a dowry, fair damsel,” said he, “in your bag and bottle?”
“Bread and cheese and small beer, father,” said she, smiling. “Will it please you to partake of either?”
“With all my heart,” said he, and when she pulled out her provisions he ate them nearly all. But once again she made no complaint, but bade him eat what he needed.