When People told themselves their past with stories,
explained their present with stories,
foretold the future with stories,
the best place by the fire was kept for ...

~The Top and Ball

A whipping top and a little ball lay together in a box, among other toys, and the top said to the ball, “Shall we be married, as we live in the same box?”

But the ball, which wore a dress of morocco leather, and thought as much of herself as any other young lady, would not even condescend to reply.

The next day came the little boy to whom the playthings belonged, and he painted the top red and yellow, and drove a brass-headed nail into the middle, so that while the top was spinning round it looked splendid.


“Look at me,” said the top to the ball. “What do you say now? Shall we be engaged to each other? We should suit so well; you spring, and I dance. No one could be happier than we should be.”

“Indeed! do you think so? Perhaps you do not know that my father and mother were morocco slippers, and that I have a Spanish cork in my body.”

“Yes; but I am made of mahogany,” said the top. “The major himself turned me. He has a turning lathe of his own, and it is a great amusement to him.”

“Can I believe it?” asked the ball.

“May I never be whipped again,” said the top, “if I am not telling you the truth.”

“You certainly know how to speak for yourself very well,” said the ball; “but I cannot accept your proposal. I am almost engaged to a swallow. Every time I fly up in the air, he puts his head out of the nest, and says, ‘Will you?’ and I have said, ‘Yes,’ to myself silently, and that is as good as being half engaged; but I will promise never to forget you.”

“Much good that will be to me,” said the top; and they spoke to each other no more.

Next day the ball was taken out by the boy. The top saw it flying high in the air, like a bird, till it would go quite out of sight.
Each time it came back, as it touched the earth, it gave a higher leap than before, either because it longed to fly upwards, or from having a Spanish cork in its body. But the ninth time it rose in the air, it remained away, and did not return. The boy searched everywhere for it, but he searched in vain, for it could not be found; it was gone.

“I know very well where she is,” sighed the top; “she is in the swallow’s nest, and has married the swallow.”

The more the top thought of this, the more he longed for the ball. His love increased the more, just because he could not get her; and that she should have been won by another, was the worst of all. The top still twirled about and hummed, but he continued to think of the ball; and the more he thought of her, the more beautiful she seemed to his fancy.

Thus several years passed by, and his love became quite old.
The top, also, was no longer young; but there came a day when he looked handsomer than ever; for he was gilded all over.
He was now a golden top, and whirled and danced about till he hummed quite loud, and was something worth looking at;
but one day he leaped too high, and then he, also, was gone.
They searched everywhere, even in the cellar, but he was nowhere to be found. Where could he be? He had jumped into
the dust-bin, where all sorts of rubbish were lying: cabbage-stalks, dust, and rain-droppings that had fallen down from the gutter under the roof.

“Now I am in a nice place,” said he; “my gilding will soon be washed off here. Oh dear, what a set of rabble I have got amongst!” And then he glanced at a curious round thing like an old apple, which lay near a long, leafless cabbage-stalk.
It was, however, not an apple, but an old ball, which had lain for years in the gutter, and was soaked through with water.

“Thank goodness, here comes one of my own class, with whom
I can talk,” said the ball, examining the gilded top. “I am made of morocco,” she said. “I was sewn together by a young lady,
and I have a Spanish cork in my body; but no one would think it, to look at me now. I was once engaged to a swallow; but I fell in here from the gutter under the roof, and I have lain here more than five years, and have been thoroughly drenched. Believe me, it is a long time for a young maiden.”

The top said nothing, but he thought of his old love; and the more she said, the more clear it became to him that this was the same ball.

The servant then came to clean out the dust-bin.

“Ah,” she exclaimed, “here is a gilt top.” So the top was brought again to notice and honor, but nothing more was heard of the little ball. He spoke not a word about his old love; for that soon died away. When the beloved object has lain for five years in a gutter, and has been drenched through, no one cares to know her again on meeting her in a dust-bin.

by Hans Christian Andersen

~The Wise Little Girl

Once upon a time in the immense Russian steppe, lay a little village where nearly all the inhabitants bred horses.
It was the month of October, when a big livestock market
was held yearly in the main town. Two brothers, one rich and the other one poor, set off for market. The rich man rode a stallion, and the poor brother a young mare. 
At dusk, they stopped beside an empty hut and tethered their horses outside, before going to sleep themselves on two
heaps of straw. Great was their surprise, when, next morning
they saw three horses outside, instead of two. Well, to be exact the newcomer was not really a horse. It was a foal, to which the mare had given birth during the night. Soon it had the strength to struggle to its feet, and after a drink of its mother's milk, the foal staggered its first few steps. The stallion greeted it with a cheerful whinny, and when the two brothers set eyes on it for the first time, the foal was standing beside the stallion. 

"It belongs to me!" exclaimed Dimitri, the rich brother, the minute he saw it. "It's my stallion's foal." Ivan, the poor brother, began to laugh.
"Whoever heard of a stallion having a foal? It was born to my mare!" 
"No, that's not true! It was standing close to the stallion,
so it's the stallion's foal. And therefore it's mine!" The brothers started to quarrel, then they decided to go to town and bring
the matter before the judges. Still arguing, they headed for
the big square where the courtroom stood. But what they
didn't know was that it was a special day, the day when, once a year, the Emperor himself administered the law.
He himself received all who came seeking justice.
The brothers were ushered into his presence, and they told him all about the dispute.
Of course, the Emperor knew perfectly well who was the owner of the foal. He was on the point of proclaiming in favor of the poor brother, when suddenly Ivan developed an unfortunate twitch in his eye. The Emperor was greatly annoyed by this familiarity
by a humble peasant, and decided to punish Ivan for his disrespect. After listening to both sides of the story, he declared
it was difficult, indeed impossible, to say exactly who was the foal's rightful owner. And being in the mood for a spot of fun, and since he loved posing riddles and solving them as well, to the amusement of his counselors, he exclaimed.
"I can't judge which of you should have the foal, so it will be awarded to whichever of you solves the following four riddles: what is the fastest thing in the world? What is the fattest?
What's the softest and what is the most precious?
I command you to return to the palace in a week's time
with your answers!" Dimitri started to puzzle over the answers as soon as he left the courtroom. When he reached home, however, he realized he had nobody to help him.
"Well, I'll just have to seek help, for if I can't solve these riddles, I'll lose the foal!" Then he remembered a woman, one of his neighbors, to whom he had once lent a silver ducat.
That had been some time ago, and with the interest, the neighbor now owed him three ducats. And since she had a reputation for being quick-witted, but also very astute, he decided to ask her advice, in exchange for canceling part of her debt.
But the woman was not slow to show how astute she really was, and promptly demanded that the whole debt be wiped out in exchange for the answers.
"The fastest thing in the world is my husband's bay horse,"
she said. "Nothing can beat it! The fattest is our pig! Such a huge beast has never been seen! The softest is the quilt I made for the bed, using my own goose's feathers. It's the envy of all my friends. The most precious thing in the world is my three-month old nephew. There isn't a more handsome child. I wouldn't exchange him for all the gold on earth, and that makes him the most precious thing on earth!"
Dimitri was rather doubtful about the woman's answers being correct. On the other hand, he had to take some kind of solution back to the Emperor. And he guessed, quite rightly, that if he didn't, he would be punished.
In the meantime, Ivan, who was a widower, had gone back to the humble cottage where he lived with his small daughter.
Only seven years old, the little girl was often left alone, and as a result, was thoughtful and very clever for her age.
The poor man took the little girl into his confidence, for like his brother, he knew he would never be able to find the answers by himself. The child sat in silence for a moment, then firmly said.
"Tell the Emperor that the fastest thing in the world is the cold north wind in winter. The fattest is the soil in our fields whose crops give life to men and animals alike, the softest thing is a child's caress and the most precious is honesty." 

The day came when the two brothers were to return before the Emperor. They were led into his presence. The Emperor was curious to hear what they had to say, but he roared with laughter at Dimitri's foolish answers. However, when it was Ivan's turn to speak, a frown spread over the Emperor's face. The poor brother's wise replies made him squirm, especially the last one, about 
honesty, the most precious thing of all. The Emperor knew perfectly well that he had been dishonest in his dealings with the poor brother, for he had denied him justice. But he could not bear to admit it in front of his own counselors, so he angrily demanded:
"Who gave you these answers?" Ivan told the Emperor that it was his small daughter. Still annoyed, the great man said. 
"You shall be rewarded for having such a wise and clever daughter. You shall be awarded the foal that your brother claimed, together with a hundred silver ducats... But... but..."
and the Emperor winked at his counselors. 
"You will come before me in seven days' time, bringing your daughter. And since she's so clever, she must appear before me neither naked nor dressed, neither on foot nor on horseback, neither bearing gifts nor empty-handed. And if she does this,
you will have your reward. If not, you'll have your head chopped off for your impudence!"
The onlookers began to laugh, knowing that the poor man would never to able to fulfill the Emperor's conditions. Ivan went home in despair, his eyes brimming with tears. But when he had told his daughter what had happened, she calmly said.
"Tomorrow, go and catch a hare and a partridge. Both must be alive! You'll have the foal and the hundred silver ducats!
Leave it to me!" Ivan did as his daughter said. He had no idea
what the two creatures were for, but he trusted in his
daughter's wisdom.
On the day of the audience with the Emperor, the palace was thronged with bystanders, waiting for Ivan and his small
daughter to arrive. At last, the little girl appeared, draped in a fishing net, riding the hare and holding the partridge in her hand. She was neither naked nor dressed, on foot or on horseback. Scowling, the Emperor told her.
"I said neither bearing gifts nor empty-handed!" At these words, the little girl held out the partridge. The Emperor stretched out his hand to grasp it, but the bird fluttered into the air.
The third condition had been fulfilled. In spite of himself, the Emperor could not help admiring the little girl who had so cleverly passed such a test, and in a gentler voice, he said.
"Is your father terribly poor, and does he desperately need the foal." 
"Oh, yes!" replied the little girl. "We live on the hares he catches in the rivers and the fish he picks from the trees!" 
"Aha!" cried the Emperor triumphantly. "So you're not as clever as you seem to be! Whoever heard of hares in the river and fish in the trees! To which the little girl swiftly replied. 
"And whoever heard of a stallion having a foal?" At that, both Emperor and Court burst into peals of laughter. Ivan was immediately given his hundred silver ducats and the foal, and the Emperor proclaimed.
"Only in my kingdom could such a wise little girl be born!"

By The Brothers Grimm