A Latvian tale, this version is taken from the 1938 anthology Wonder Tales from Baltic Wizards by Frances Jenkins Olcott.
In the Land where on Midsummer Night, the St. John’s Fires blaze up, and the girls dance at the Flower Feast, adorned with garlands of wheat-ears and blue cornflowers, in that Land, I say, Witches fly about at the midnight hour.
There were once two brothers, who wished to go out into the world to try their luck. They thrust the blades of their knives into the trunk of a mighty fir tree, and made this compact: Whichever one of them should return first, he was to look at the blade of the other’s knife. If bright, then his brother was alive.
They separated, and each went his own way.
The younger lad wandered through many strange lands, without gaining anything, and returned sadly to his home. When he reached the fir tree, he saw that the knife-blade of his brother was bright, so his brother was alive. Because darkness was drawing near, the lad decided to pass the night under the fir.
It was St. John’s Night. After he had slept a few hours, about midnight, a rustling and a chattering woke him. He looked up and saw a flock of Magpies noisily settling on top of the fir. For a while he listened to their chatter, till it seemed to him that he could gradually understand what they said.
“Do you know any news, Sister?” said the first Magpie. “Not far from here, towards the west, stands a great and beautiful city. It has an abundance of everything. It lacks only water. This lack can easily be supplied. Upon the plain near the city, stands a huge Linden. If any one digs at its foot, a whole stream of water will gush up.”
“Yes–yes–but have you heard my news?” said the second Magpie. “Not far from that city, to the east, is a high mountain, in which are treasures of all kinds. No one knows how to win his way into the mountain. And yet it is so easy! One needs only on the morning of St. George’s Day, to plow three furrows round the mountain, and it will open. Then its treasures will belong to the plowman.”
And so on, till each Magpie told her news! Then the birds grew restless, flapped their wings, and flew away. The lad under the tree perceived that they were no ordinary Magpies, but Witches who on St. John’s Night fly about and tell each other the news.
Day began to dawn, and the lad was up and away to find the city described by the Witch. It was not long before he found himself in its beautiful streets. He stepped into a house and asked for a drink of water.
“You are certainly a stranger,” was the answer given him, “if you do not know our need. We have an abundance of everything, only water is lacking. So we suffer a burning thirst!”
The lad then betook himself to the marketplace, and asked the people:
“What will you give me, if I produce water for you?”
The councilmen offered him a great reward, followed the lad to the huge Linden outside the city. At its foot, he had a deep pit dug. Instantly a powerful jet of water shot upward, and began to roar loudly. Then a stream of fresh clear water gushed toward the city and into it, destroying walls and houses.
Workmen soon checked the fury of the released water, and made a channel for it. The greatest joy reigned among the people, and the lad was given honors and money.
The lad remained for some time in the city, enjoying himself. But he still thought about what the second Witch had said. Taking a horse and plow, he set out to seek the mountain.
Soon he reached it, and on the morning of St. George’s Day, he plowed three furrows round it. Immediately the mountain opened, and displayed a countless rich treasure–silver, gold, precious stones, in heaps and piles. Now was the poor lad become richer than the richest man on earth, and could lead a real, carefree life.
One day, when he was driving for pleasure along the highway in his magnificent coach drawn by six spans of horses, he met a poor wanderer leading along a colt. This wanderer was the elder brother, who had gained nothing in foreign parts except this colt. The rich one, when he recognized his brother, had the coach stopped, and asked:
“How do you come here? What has happened to you? What have you gained?”
The poor man looked sorrowfully at the colt, and said:
“This is all that I have gained in foreign parts.”
Then the rich one related to him, that after he himself had wandered about for nearly a year as poor as a mouse, the Witched in the fir-top had told each other news. Things had gone well with him since then!
The elder brother listened carefully, and thought to himself, “If this one, who is younger and stupider than I, can win such Luck, why cannot I, who am wiser and older, win much more? I shall certainly get much more treasure than he did.”
Then in shame and rage he slew the colt. After that he set out on his way. On St. John’s Night, he came to the same fir tree, and lay own under it as if to sleep.
About midnight, as before, the flock of Magpies came flying up chattering and flapping their wings, and settled in the treetop. Then the birds began to talk.
“Do you know, Sister,” said one, “what my news is this year? What we told a year ago about the water-poor city and the treasure-rich mountain, some one must have listened to. For a lad has given water to the city, and has taken its treasure from the mountain. We must be more careful. After this we must look under the trees. Perhaps there is a listener here now!”
And with frightful chattering, the whole flock of Magpies flew down to earth. There they found the elder brother.
That was the end of him!