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Convent Gnothi

from The Yellow Fairy Book





The Queen gave money to the old woman, and bought the apple from
her. Then she peeled it, ate it, and threw the rind out of the
window, and it so happened that a mare that was running loose in
the court below ate up the rind. After a time the Queen had a
little boy, and the mare also had a male foal. The boy and the
foal grew up together and loved each other like brothers. In
course of time the King died, and so did the Queen, and their
son, who was now nineteen years old, was left alone. One day,
when he and his horse were talking together, the Horse said to
him, 'Listen to me, for I love you and wish for your good and
that of the country. If you go on every year sending twelve
youths and twelve maidens to the King of the Beasts, your country
will very soon be ruined. Mount upon my back: I will take you to
a woman who can direct you how to kill the Seven-headed Serpent.'

Then the youth mounted his horse, who carried him far away to a
mountain which was hollow, for in its side was a great
underground cavern. In the cavern sat an old woman spinning.
This was the cloister of the nuns, and the old woman was the
Abbess. They all spent their time in spinning, and that is why
the convent has this name. All round the walls of the cavern
there were beds cut out of the solid rock, upon which the nuns
slept, and in the middle a light was burning. It was the duty of
the nuns to watch the light in turns, that it might never go out,
and if anyone of them let it go out the others put her to death.

As soon as the King's son saw the old Abbess spinning he threw
himself at her feet and entreated her to tell him how he could
kill the Seven-headed Serpent.

She made the youth rise, embraced him, and said, 'Know, my son,
that it is I who sent the nun to your mother and caused you to be
born, and with you the horse, with whose help you will be able to
free the world from the monster. I will tell you what you have
to do. Load your horse with cotton, and go by a secret passage
which I will show you, which is hidden from the wild beasts, to
the Serpent's palace. You will find the King asleep upon his
bed, which is all hung round with bells, and over his bed you
will see a sword hanging. With this sword only it is possible to
kill the Serpent, because even if its blade breaks a new one will
grow again for every head the monster has. Thus you will be able
to cut off all his seven heads. And this you must also do in
order to deceive the King: you must slip into his bed-chamber
very softly, and stop up all the bells which are round his bed
with cotton. Then take down the sword gently, and quickly give
the monster a blow on his tail with it. This will make him waken
up, and if he catches sight of you he will seize you. But you
must quickly cut off his first head, and then wait till the next
one comes up. Then strike it off also, and so go on till you
have cut off all his seven heads.'

The old Abbess then gave the Prince her blessing, and he set out
upon his enterprise, arrived at the Serpent's castle by following
the secret passage which she had shown him, and by carefully
attending to all her directions he happily succeeded in killing
the monster. As soon as the wild beasts heard of their king's
death, they all hastened to the castle, but the youth had long
since mounted his horse and was already far out of their reach.
They pursued him as fast as they could, but they found it
impossible to overtake him, and he reached home in safety. Thus
he freed his country from this terrible oppression.



THE GRATEFUL BEASTS

From the Hungarian. Kletke.

There was once upon a time a man and woman who had three
fine-looking sons, but they were so poor that they had hardly
enough food for themselves, let alone their children. So the
sons determined to set out into the world and to try their luck.
Before starting their mother gave them each a loaf of bread and
her blessing, and having taken a tender farewell of her and their
father the three set forth on their travels.

The youngest of the three brothers, whose name was Ferko, was a
beautiful youth, with a splendid figure, blue eyes, fair hair,
and a complexion like milk and roses. His two brothers were as
jealous of him as they could be, for they thought that with his
good looks he would be sure to be more fortunate than they would
ever be.

One day all the three were sitting resting under a tree, for the
sun was hot and they were tired of walking. Ferko fell fast
asleep, but the other two remained awake, and the eldest said to
the second brother, 'What do you say to doing our brother Ferko
some harm? He is so beautiful that everyone takes a fancy to
him, which is more than they do to us. If we could only get him
out of the way we might succeed better.'

'I quite agree with you,' answered the second brother, 'and my
advice is to eat up his loaf of bread, and then to refuse to give
him a bit of ours until he has promised to let us put out his
eyes or break his legs.'

His eldest brother was delighted with this proposal, and the two
wicked wretches seized Ferko's loaf and ate it all up, while the
poor boy was still asleep.

When he did awake he felt very hungry and turned to eat his
bread, but his brothers cried out, 'You ate your loaf in your
sleep, you glutton, and you may starve as long as you like, but
you won't get a scrap of ours.'

Ferko was at a loss to understand how he could have eaten in his
sleep, but he said nothing, and fasted all that day and the next
night. But on the following morning he was so hungry that he
burst into tears, and implored his brothers to give him a little
bit of their bread. Then the cruel creatures laughed, and
repeated what they had said the day before; but when Ferko
continued to beg and beseech them, the eldest said at last, 'If
you will let us put out one of your eyes and break one of your
legs, then we will give you a bit of our bread.'

At these words poor Ferko wept more bitterly than before, and
bore the torments of hunger till the sun was high in the heavens;
then he could stand it no longer, and he consented to allow his
left eye to be put out and his left leg to be broken. When this
was done he stretched out his hand eagerly for the piece of
bread, but his brothers gave him such a tiny scrap that the
starving youth finished it in a moment and besought them for a
second bit.

But the more Ferko wept and told his brothers that he was dying
of hunger, the more they laughed and scolded him for his greed.
So he endured the pangs of starvation all that day, but when
night came his endurance gave way, and he let his right eye be
put out and his right leg broken for a second piece of bread.

After his brothers had thus successfully maimed and disfigured
him for life, they left him groaning on the ground and continued
their journey without him.

Poor Ferko ate up the scrap of bread they had left him and wept
bitterly, but no one heard him or came to his help. Night came
on, and the poor blind youth had no eyes to close, and could only
crawl along the ground, not knowing in the least where he was
going. But when the sun was once more high in the heavens, Ferko
felt the blazing heat scorch him, and sought for some cool shady
place to rest his aching limbs. He climbed to the top of a hill
and lay down in the grass, and as he thought under the shadow of
a big tree. But it was no tree he leant against, but a gallows
on which two ravens were seated. The one was saying to the other
as the weary youth lay down, 'Is there anything the least
wonderful or remarkable about this neighbourhood?'

'I should just think there was,' replied the other; 'many things
that don't exist anywhere else in the world. There is a lake
down there below us, and anyone who bathes in it, though he were
at death's door, becomes sound and well on the spot, and those
who wash their eyes with the dew on this hill become as
sharp-sighted as the eagle, even if they have been blind from
their youth.'

'Well,' answered the first raven, 'my eyes are in no want of this
healing bath, for, Heaven be praised, they are as good as ever
they were; but my wing has been very feeble and weak ever since
it was shot by an arrow many years ago, so let us fly at once to
the lake that I may be restored to health and strength again.'
And so they flew away.

Their words rejoiced Ferko's heart, and he waited impatiently
till evening should come and he could rub the precious dew on his
sightless eyes.

At last it began to grow dusk, and the sun sank behind the
mountains; gradually it became cooler on the hill, and the grass
grew wet with dew. Then Ferko buried his face in the ground till
his eyes were damp with dewdrops, and in a moment he saw clearer
than he had ever done in his life before. The moon was shining
brightly, and lighted him to the lake where he could bathe his
poor broken legs.

Then Ferko crawled to the edge of the lake and dipped his limbs
in the water. No sooner had he done so than his legs felt as
sound and strong as they had been before, and Ferko thanked the
kind fate that had led him to the hill where he had overheard the
ravens' conversation. He filled a bottle with the healing water,
and then continued his journey in the best of spirits.

He had not gone far before he met a wolf, who was limping
disconsolately along on three legs, and who on perceiving Ferko
began to howl dismally.

'My good friend,' said the youth, 'be of good cheer, for I can
soon heal your leg,' and with these words he poured some of the
precious water over the wolf's paw, and in a minute the animal
was springing about sound and well on all fours. The grateful
creature thanked his benefactor warmly, and promised Ferko to do
him a good turn if he should ever need it.

Ferko continued his way till he came to a ploughed field. Here
he noticed a little mouse creeping wearily along on its hind
paws, for its front paws had both been broken in a trap.

Ferko felt so sorry for the little beast that he spoke to it in
the most friendly manner, and washed its small paws with the
healing water. In a moment the mouse was sound and whole, and
after thanking the kind physician it scampered away over the
ploughed furrows.

Ferko again proceeded on his journey, but he hadn't gone far
before a queen bee flew against him, trailing one wing behind
her, which had been cruelly torn in two by a big bird. Ferko
was no less willing to help her than he had been to help the wolf
and the mouse, so he poured some healing drops over the wounded
wing. On the spot the queen bee was cured, and turning to Ferko
she said, 'I am most grateful for your kindness, and shall reward
you some day.' And with these words she flew away humming,
gaily.

Then Ferko wandered on for many a long day, and at length reached
a strange kingdom. Here, he thought to himself, he might as well
go straight to the palace and offer his services to the King of
the country, for he had heard that the King's daughter was as
beautiful as the day.

So he went to the royal palace, and as he entered the door the
first people he saw were his two brothers who had so shamefully
ill-treated him. They had managed to obtain places in the King's
service, and when they recognised Ferko with his eyes and legs
sound and well they were frightened to death, for they feared he
would tell the King of their conduct, and that they would be
hung.

No sooner had Ferko entered the palace than all eyes were turned
on the handsome youth, and the King's daughter herself was lost
in admiration, for she had never seen anyone so handsome in her
life before. His brothers noticed this, and envy and jealousy
were added to their fear, so much so that they determined once
more to destroy him. They went to the King and told him that
Ferko was a wicked magician, who had come to the palace with the
intention of carrying off the Princess.

Then the King had Ferko brought before him, and said, 'You are
accused of being a magician who wishes to rob me of my daughter,
and I condemn you to death; but if you can fulfil three tasks
which I shall set you to do your life shall be spared, on
condition you leave the country; but if you cannot perform what I
demand you shall be hung on the nearest tree.'

And turning to the two wicked brothers he said, 'Suggest
something for him to do; no matter how difficult, he must succeed
in it or die.'

They did not think long, but replied, 'Let him build your Majesty
in one day a more beautiful palace than this, and if he fails in
the attempt let him be hung.'

The King was pleased with this proposal, and commanded Ferko to
set to work on the following day. The two brothers were
delighted, for they thought they had now got rid of Ferko for
ever. The poor youth himself was heart-broken, and cursed the
hour he had crossed the boundary of the King's domain. As he was
wandering disconsolately about the meadows round the palace,
wondering how he could escape being put to death, a little bee
flew past, and settling on his shoulder whispered in his ear,
'What is troubling you, my kind benefactor? Can I be of any help
to you? I am the bee whose wing you healed, and would like to
show my gratitude in some way.'

Ferko recognised the queen bee, and said, 'Alas! how could you
help me? for I have been set to do a task which no one in the
whole world could do, let him be ever such a genius! To-morrow I
must build a palace more beautiful than the King's, and it must
be finished before evening.'

'Is that all?' answered the bee, 'then you may comfort yourself;
for before the sun goes down to-morrow night a palace shall be
built unlike any that King has dwelt in before. Just stay here
till I come again and tell you that it is finished.' Having said
this she flew merrily away, and Ferko, reassured by her words,
lay down on the grass and slept peacefully till the next morning.

Early on the following day the whole town was on its feet, and
everyone wondered how and where the stranger would build the
wonderful palace. The Princess alone was silent and sorrowful,
and had cried all night till her pillow was wet, so much did she
take the fate of the beautiful youth to heart.

Ferko spent the whole day in the meadows waiting the return of
the bee. And when evening was come the queen bee flew by, and
perching on his shoulder she said, 'The wonderful palace is
ready. Be of good cheer, and lead the King to the hill just
outside the city walls.' And humming gaily she flew away again.

Ferko went at once to the King and told him the palace was
finished. The whole court went out to see the wonder, and their
astonishment was great at the sight which met their eyes. A
splendid palace reared itself on the hill just outside the walls
of the city, made of the most exquisite flowers that ever grew in
mortal garden. The roof was all of crimson roses, the windows of
lilies, the walls of white carnations, the floors of glowing
auriculas and violets, the doors of gorgeous tulips and narcissi
with sunflowers for knockers, and all round hyacinths and other
sweet-smelling flowers bloomed in masses, so that the air was
perfumed far and near and enchanted all who were present.

This splendid palace had been built by the grateful queen bee,
who had summoned all the other bees in the kingdom to help her.

The King's amazement knew no bounds, and the Princess's eyes
beamed with delight as she turned them from the wonderful
building on the delighted Ferko. But the two brothers had grown
quite green with envy, and only declared the more that Ferko was
nothing but a wicked magician.

The King, although he had been surprised and astonished at the
way his commands had been carried out, was very vexed that the
stranger should escape with his life, and turning to the two
brothers he said, 'He has certainly accomplished the first task,
with the aid no doubt of his diabolical magic; but what shall we
give him to do now? Let us make it as difficult as possible, and
if he fails he shall die.'

Then the eldest brother replied, 'The corn has all been cut, but
it has not yet been put into barns; let the knave collect all the
grain in the kingdom into one big heap before to-morrow night,
and if as much as a stalk of corn is left let him be put to
death.

The Princess grew white with terror when she heard these words;
but Ferko felt much more cheerful than he had done the first
time, and wandered out into the meadows again, wondering how he
was to get out of the difficulty. But he could think of no way
of escape. The sun sank to rest and night came on, when a little
mouse started out of the grass at Ferko's feet, and said to him,
'I'm delighted to see you, my kind benefactor; but why are you
looking so sad? Can I be of any help to you, and thus repay your
great kindness to me?'

Then Ferko recognised the mouse whose front paws he had healed,
and replied, 'Alas I how can you help me in a matter that is
beyond any human power! Before to-morrow night all the grain in
the kingdom has to be gathered into one big heap, and if as much
as a stalk of corn is wanting I must pay for it with my life.'

'Is that all?' answered the mouse; 'that needn't distress you
much. Just trust in me, and before the sun sets again you shall
hear that your task is done.' And with these words the little
creature scampered away into the fields.

Ferko, who never doubted that the mouse would be as good as its
word, lay down comforted on the soft grass and slept soundly till
next morning. The day passed slowly, and with the evening came
the little mouse and said, 'Now there is not a single stalk of
corn left in any field; they are all collected in one big heap on
the hill out there.'

Then Ferko went joyfully to the King and told him that all he
demanded had been done. And the whole Court went out to see the
wonder, and were no less astonished than they had been the first
time. For in a heap higher than the King's palace lay all the
grain of the country, and not a single stalk of corn had been
left behind in any of the fields. And how had all this been
done? The little mouse had summoned every other mouse in the
land to its help, and together they had collected all the grain
in the kingdom.

The King could not hide his amazement, but at the same time his
wrath increased, and he was more ready than ever to believe the
two brothers, who kept on repeating that Ferko was nothing more
nor less than a wicked magician. Only the beautiful Princess
rejoiced over Ferko's success, and looked on him with friendly
glances, which the youth returned.

The more the cruel King gazed on the wonder before him, the more
angry he became, for he could not, in the face of his promise,
put the stranger to death. He turned once more to the two
brothers and said, 'His diabolical magic has helped him again,
but now what third task shall we set him to do? No matter how
impossible it is, he must do it or die.'

The eldest answered quickly, 'Let him drive all the wolves of the
kingdom on to this hill before to-morrow night. If he does this
he may go free; if not he shall be hung as you have said.'

At these words the Princess burst into tears, and when the King
saw this he ordered her to be shut up in a high tower and
carefully guarded till the dangerous magician should either have
left the kingdom or been hung on the nearest tree.

Ferko wandered out into the fields again, and sat down on the
stump of a tree wondering what he should do next. Suddenly a big
wolf ran up to him, and standing still said, 'I'm very glad to
see you again, my kind benefactor. What are you thinking about
all alone by yourself? If I can help you in any way only say the
word, for I would like to give you a proof of my gratitude.'

Ferko at once recognised the wolf whose broken leg he had healed,
and told him what he had to do the following day if he wished to
escape with his life. 'But how in the world,' he added, 'am I to
collect all the wolves of the kingdom on to that hill over
there?'

'If that's all you want done,' answered the wolf, 'you needn't
worry yourself. I'll undertake the task, and you'll hear from me
again before sunset to-morrow. Keep your spirits up.' And with
these words he trotted quickly away.

Then the youth rejoiced greatly, for now he felt that his life
was safe; but he grew very sad when he thought of the beautiful
Princess, and that he would never see her again if he left the
country. He lay down once more on the grass and soon fell fast
asleep.

All the next day he spent wandering about the fields, and toward
evening the wolf came running to him in a great hurry and said,
'I have collected together all the wolves in the kingdom, and
they are waiting for you in the wood. Go quickly to the King,
and tell him to go to the hill that he may see the wonder you
have done with his own eyes. Then return at once to me and get
on my back, and I will help you to drive all the wolves
together.'

Then Ferko went straight to the palace and told the King that he
was ready to perform the third task if he would come to the hill
and see it done. Ferko himself returned to the fields, and
mounting on the wolf's back he rode to the wood close by.

Quick as lightning the wolf flew round the wood, and in a minute
many hundred wolves rose up before him, increasing in number
every moment, till they could be counted by thousands. He drove
them all before him on to the hill, where the King and his whole
Court and Ferko's two brothers were standing. Only the lovely
Princess was not present, for she was shut up in her tower
weeping bitterly.

The wicked brothers stamped and foamed with rage when they saw
the failure of their wicked designs. But the King was overcome
by a sudden terror when he saw the enormous pack of wolves
approaching nearer and nearer, and calling out to Ferko he said,
'Enough, enough, we don't want any more.'

But the wolf on whose back Ferko sat, said to its rider, 'Go on!
go on!' and at the same moment many more wolves ran up the hill,
howling horribly and showing their white teeth.

The King in his terror called out, 'Stop a moment; I will give
you half my kingdom if you will drive all the wolves away.' But
Ferko pretended not to hear, and drove some more thousands before
him, so that everyone quaked with horror and fear.

Then the King raised his voice again and called out, 'Stop! you
shall have my whole kingdom, if you will only drive these wolves
back to the places they came from.'

But the wolf kept on encouraging Ferko, and said, 'Go on! go
on!' So he led the wolves on, till at last they fell on the King
and on the wicked brothers, and ate them and the whole Court up
in a moment.

Then Ferko went straight to the palace and set the Princess free,
and on the same day he married her and was crowned King of the
country. And the wolves all went peacefully back to their own
homes, and Ferko and his bride lived for many years in peace and
happiness together, and were much beloved by great and small in
the land.





Next: The Giants And The Herd-boy

Previous: The Seven-headed Serpent



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