A widow with a daughter persuaded the daughter of a widower to persuade her father to marry the widow. Then she oppressed her stepdaughter. Finally, she sent her into the winter woods with orders to gather strawberries. There, she met three little men, who asked what had happened to her, asked her to share her food, and then asked her to sweep off their back step. When she went, they decided she would grow more beautiful every day, have gold fall from her mouth when she spoke, and marry a king. Also, while she swept, she found strawberries.
Her arrogant stepsister insisted on going after the strawberries. She was rude to the little men and refused to share her food. So they cursed her to grow uglier, have toads drop from her mouth, and die a miserable death. She never found strawberries.
The furious stepmother sent her stepdaughter to rinse yarn in the frozen river. A king saw her and took her off to marry her. They had a baby. The stepmother and her daughter came to the castle, threw the queen out of the window, and put the daughter in her place. The stepmother refused to let the king see her, and blamed the toads on her illness.
A scullion, however, saw a duck swim up and ask what happened in the castle. Then she became a woman again and nursed the baby. On her third visit, she told the scullion to tell the king to swing his sword three times over her while on the threshold. This brought her back to life.
At the baby's christened, the king asked the stepmother what punishment should be inflicted on someone who threw someone in the water. She said, "The wretch deserves nothing better than to be taken and put in a barrel stuck full of nails, and rolled down hill into the water." So the king had it done to her and her daughter.
- Back from the Dead: And all it took was for the king to brandish his sword three times over her.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Played straight. In fact, one of the heroine's rewards for her kindness is to grow more beautiful with each passing day.
- Curse: The stepsister has three of them laid upon her for her selfishness and laziness.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Being rolled downhill in a barrel stuck full of nails isn't pretty.
- Impossible Task: Gathering strawberries in the dead of winter.
- The Lost Woods: Where the little men live.
- No Name Given: None of the characters are referred to by name.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: They're...ducks.
- Pride: The stepsister.
- Rags to Royalty: The heroine.
- Rule of Three: Three visits from the heroine's ghost,three swings of the king's sword. Both of the girls also get three rewards or curses placed upon them. And, of course, the three little men themselves.
- Secret Test of Character: Speaking with the little men.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The heroine's father vanishes completely from the story after he's married the stepmother.
- Wicked Stepmother: Our villain.