The youngest brother wept over the body of his father, and then he covered the old man’s face and went to find the priest. The Priest came and the neighbours came. And they grieved for the old man, for he was a good-hearted and generous man, and all loved him.
When the old man was buried in the churchyard and the neighbours all gone home, the youngest brother sat by the fire, thinking of his father and feeling the silence of the great house all around. The silence got him thinking of his brothers, and that got him thinking of his father’s final words about the inheritance for his three sons. Curious to know about his brothers as much as about his own inheritance, the youngest brother took a lantern and climbed the stairs to the east-wing of the house.
He came to the first room and found an empty chest. He came to the second room and found there an empty chest. He came to the third room, and there he found a third chest.
Stepping curiously up to it, he lifted the lid. Inside, lying at the bottom was what looked like an egg. He took it carefully up in his hand, and it shone dully in the light from his lantern. It weighed heavy in his palm, and he carried it downstairs to his seat by the fire. Sitting in the light of the fire and looking at it curiously, he could see that it was a bronze egg.
“Why would my father leave me such a gift?” he wondered out loud. But he didn’t care, and he wrapped the egg lovingly in a cloth and stowed it into a pocket near his heart.
The next day, he set out to find his brothers. He walked and walked until he came to a river. On the edge of the river stood a little man—a dwarf, dressed in sack-cloth and peering at the youngest brother with beady eyes.
“You come seeking your brothers,” said the dwarf.
“Yes,” said the youngest brother. “And how did you know?”
The dwarf ignored the question. “If you give me the thing that lies closest to your heart, I will tell you where to find one of your brothers.”
The youngest had to think about it for a moment. The thing closest to his heart was the bronze egg given him by his father. He didn’t want to give up the egg, but he thought his father would want him to find his brothers. He drew the egg from his pocket and wordlessly handed it to the dwarf.
“Look in the river,” said the little man. “You will find both your brother and his inheritance.”
The youngest brother didn’t understand, but he stepped down to the bank of the river and began wading into the water. At a deeper point in the river, he found his brother held down by three great heavy sacks. The youngest brother dragged the body out of the river along with the sacks. He hailed a boy driving a donkey cart and took his brother home, making sure to give the boy a gold coin he took from one of the sacks.
The youngest son called the priest, but this time no one came to mourn with the youngest brother. He sat on by the fire until he fell asleep.
He had a dream as he slept, and he dreamed of his father. “You have done well, my son,” said his father. “You have brought back your brother, but now you must seek my eldest son. Bring him home to lie next to his brother.”
When the youngest son woke, he found his hand clutching the bronze egg. It was the strangest thing. But the youngest did not question his dream. He found his coat and he ventured into the night that was now lightening toward dawn.
The youngest brother had no idea where to look, but he followed the road until he came to a fork, where stood an old woman as though she waited for him.
“You seek your elder brother,” she said, in a voice that creaked like an old gate.
“Yes,” said the youngest brother. “He disappeared from our father’s deathbed two nights ago.”
“I can tell you what befell your brother, but you must give me that which lies nearest to your heart.”
The youngest brother thought at once of the bronze egg, and this time he did not hesitate. He took the egg from his breast pocket, and he handed it to the old woman, this time thinking for certain he would never see it again.
The old woman pocketed the egg at once. “If you follow this road into the forest, you will find both him and his inheritance. But you must be brave, for your brother has been murdered by a band of robbers. It is they who have his inheritance.” And with that, the old woman was gone.
“Robbers,” said the youngest brother to himself. “How am I to get back my father’s treasure from robbers?”
But he took a deep breath, and he followed the road until he came to a place overshadowed by trees. He left the road and walked into the forest.
It wasn’t long before he came upon a broken-down shack amongst the trees. The youngest stepped up to the door that hung crookedly, and he peered inside. There were the robbers, all asleep with their heads on their arms. And the youngest brother could see the empty cups and flagons scattered over the table.
They must have been celebrating their good fortune, thought the youngest brother. And he stepped quickly inside and found three great sacks that he knew must be his father’s treasure. He took up the sacks, and left as quietly as he had come.
As he drew close to the road, he found his brothers body. And then his heart sank, for his father had wanted him to return with his brother’s body.
He was about to abandoned the sacks when he heard the crunch and roll of wheels on the road. He peered out from the trees to see a man driving a cart with a high-stepping horse out in front. He begged the man to help him with his brother’s body.
The man, who was a merchant, had heard about bandits in that part of the forest, but he could see by the youngest brother’s face that he was an honest lad. He helped the youngest brother with the body of his brother. They tossed the sacks into the back, and then they drove back to town.
Once the merchant knew who the youngest brother was, he became much friendlier. “I knew your father, lad,” he said. “And I was sad to hear of his passing, and I will do all I can to help you in his memory.”
The youngest brother thanked the merchant, and when they came back to the front doors of his father’s house, the youngest brother handed the merchant a diamond from one of the sacks.
The merchant’s eyes widened. “You are as generous as your father,” he cried. “Bless you, young master.”
And after that it seemed the youngest brother was indeed blessed, although he didn’t feel it for some time to come. That afternoon, he buried the third family member in three days. The priest came once again, but no one else. And that evening, once again, the youngest brother found himself sitting and nodding by the fire.
He dreamed again that night, and his father came to him, smiling, and saying, “You are indeed my son. I give you my blessing, and I would only ask that you remain as selfless and generous in spirit as you have shown yourself these past days.” And then the dream faded, and the youngest slept deeply.
After that, the youngest brother set his mind to helping those in need. He learned to run his father’s farm and his father’s business so well that he was never short of gold.
He became as famous for his good deeds as his father. And when he fell in love with a pretty girl from the village, there was a wedding at the old house, and it was once again filled with laughter and merriment. And in the years to come, the youngest brother, who was now an important merchant farmer of the countryside, had sons and daughters of his own. And he loved them all, and the old house echoed with their talk and laughter.
And sometimes, during the long nights of winter, his children would climb over him as he and his pretty wife sat by the fire. They would beg him to tell them tales, to tell them about things past and things present, but their favourite of all was the story of the bronze egg.