Some people grow old gracefully, while others fight and scratch the whole way. Andy's wife, refusing to give in to the looks of growing old, goes out and buys a new line of expensive cosmetics guaranteed to make her look years younger. After ... Read more of How old am I? at Free Jokes.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Nix Naught Nothing

from English Fairy Tales





Once upon a time there lived a King and a Queen who didn't differ much
from all the other kings and queens who have lived since Time began. But
they had no children, and this made them very sad indeed. Now it so
happened that the King had to go and fight battles in a far country, and
he was away for many long months. And, lo and behold! while he was away
the Queen at long last bore him a little son. As you may imagine, she
was fair delighted, and thought how pleased the King would be when he
came home and found that his dearest wish had been fulfilled. And all
the courtiers were fine and pleased too, and set about at once to
arrange a grand festival for the naming of the little Prince. But the
Queen said, "No! The child shall have no name till his father gives it
to him. Till then we will call him 'Nix! Naught! Nothing!' because his
father knows nothing about him!"

So little Prince Nix Naught Nothing grew into a strong, hearty little
lad; for his father did not come back for a long time, and did not even
know that he had a son.

But at long last he turned his face homewards. Now, on the way, he came
to a big rushing river which neither he nor his army could cross, for it
was flood-time and the water was full of dangerous whirlpools, where
nixies and water-wraiths lived, always ready to drown men.

So they were stopped, until a huge giant appeared, who could take the
river, whirlpool and all, in his stride; and he said kindly, "I'll carry
you all over, if you like." Now, though the giant smiled and was very
polite, the King knew enough of the ways of giants to think it wiser to
have a hard and fast bargain. So he said, quite curt, "What's your pay?"

"Pay?" echoed the giant, with a grin, "what do you take me for? Give me
Nix Naught Nothing, and I'll do the job with a glad heart."

Now the King felt just a trifle ashamed at the giant's generosity; so he
said, "Certainly, certainly. I'll give you nix naught nothing and my
thanks into the bargain."

So the giant carried them safely over the stream and past the
whirlpools, and the King hastened homewards. If he was glad to see his
dear wife, the Queen, you may imagine how he felt when she showed him
his young son, tall and strong for his age.

"And what's your name, young sir?" he asked of the child fast clasped in
his arms.

"Nix Naught Nothing," answered the boy; "that's what they call me till
my father gives me a name."

Well! the King nearly dropped the child, he was so horrified. "What
have I done?" he cried. "I promised to give nix naught nothing to the
giant who carried us over the whirlpools where the nixies and
water-wraiths live."

At this the Queen wept and wailed; but being a clever woman she thought
out a plan whereby to save her son. So she said to her husband the King,
"If the giant comes to claim his promise, we will give him the
hen-wife's youngest boy. She has so many she will not mind if we give
her a crown piece, and the giant will never know the difference."

Now sure enough the very next morning the giant appeared to claim Nix
Naught Nothing, and they dressed up the hen-wife's boy in the Prince's
clothes and wept and wailed when the giant, fine and satisfied, carried
his prize off on his back. But after a while he came to a big stone and
sat down to ease his shoulders. And he fell a-dozing. Now, when he woke,
he started up in a fluster, and called out:

"Hodge, Hodge, on my shoulders! Say
What d'ye make the time o' day?"

And the hen-wife's little boy replied:

"Time that my mother the hen-wife takes
The eggs for the wise Queen's breakfast cakes!"

Then the giant saw at once the trick that had been played on him, and he
threw the hen-wife's boy on the ground, so that his head hit on the
stone and he was killed.

Then the giant strode back to the palace in a tower of a temper, and
demanded "Nix Naught Nothing." So this time they dressed up the
gardener's boy, and wept and wailed when the giant, fine and satisfied,
carried his prize off on his back. Then the same thing happened. The
giant grew weary of his burden, and sate down on the big stone to rest.
So he fell a-dozing, woke with a start, and called out:

"Hodge, Hodge, on my shoulders! Say
What d'ye make the time o' day?"

And the gardener's boy replied:

"Time that my father the gardener took
Greens for the wise Queen's dinner to cook!"

So the giant saw at once that a second trick had been played on him and
became quite mad with rage. He flung the boy from him so that he was
killed, and then strode back to the palace, where he cried with fury:
"Give me what you promised to give, Nix Naught Nothing, or I will
destroy you all, root and branch."

So then they saw they must give up the dear little Prince, and this time
they really wept and wailed as the giant carried off the boy on his
back. And this time, after the giant had had his rest at the big stone,
and had woke up and called:

"Hodge, Hodge, on my shoulders! Say
What d'ye make the time o' day?"

the little Prince replied:

"Time for the King my father to call,
'Let supper be served in the banqueting hall.'"

Then the giant laughed with glee and rubbed his hands saying, "I've got
the right one at last." So he took Nix Naught Nothing to his own house
under the whirlpools; for the giant was really a great Magician who
could take any form he chose. And the reason he wanted a little prince
so badly was that he had lost his wife, and had only one little daughter
who needed a playmate sorely. So Nix Naught Nothing and the Magician's
daughter grew up together, and every year made them fonder and fonder of
each other, until she promised to marry him.

Now the Magician had no notion that his daughter should marry just an
ordinary human prince, the like of whom he had eaten a thousand times,
so he sought some way in which he could quietly get rid of Nix Naught
Nothing. So he said one day, "I have work for you, Nix Naught Nothing!
There is a stable hard by which is seven miles long, and seven miles
broad, and it has not been cleaned for seven years. By to-morrow evening
you must have cleaned it, or I will have you for my supper."

Well, before dawn, Nix Naught Nothing set to work at his task; but, as
fast as he cleared the muck, it just fell back again. So by
breakfast-time he was in a terrible sweat; yet not one whit nearer the
end of his job was he. Now the Magician's daughter, coming to bring him
his breakfast, found him so distraught and distracted that he could
scarce speak to her.

"We'll soon set that to rights," she said. So she just clapped her hands
and called:

"Beasts and birds o' each degree,
Clean me this stable for love o' me."

And, lo and behold! in a minute the beasts of the fields came trooping,
and the sky was just dark with the wings of birds, and they carried away
the muck, and the stable was clean as a new pin before the evening.

Now when the Magician saw this, he grew hot and angry, and he guessed it
was his daughter's magic that had wrought the miracle. So he said:
"Shame on the wit that helped you; but I have a harder job for you
to-morrow. Yonder is a lake seven miles long, seven miles broad, and
seven miles deep. Drain it by nightfall, so that not one drop remains,
or, of a certainty, I eat you for supper."

So once again Nix Naught Nothing rose before dawn, and began his task;
but though he baled out the water without ceasing, it ever ran back, so
that though he sweated and laboured, by breakfast-time he was no nearer
the end of his job.

But when the Magician's daughter came with his breakfast she only
laughed and said, "I'll soon mend that!" Then she clapped her hands and
called:

"Oh! all ye fish of river and sea,
Drink me this water for love of me!"

And, lo and behold! the lake was thick with fishes. And they drank and
drank, till not one drop remained.

Now when the Magician returned in the morning and saw this he was as
angry as angry. And he knew it was his daughter's magic, so he said:
"Double shame on the wit that helped you! Yet it betters you not, for I
will give you a yet harder task than the last. If you do that, you may
have my daughter. See you, yonder is a tree, seven miles high, and no
branch to it till the top, and there on the fork is a nest with some
eggs in it. Bring those eggs down without breaking one or, sure as fate,
I'll eat you for my supper."

Then the Magician's daughter was very sad; for with all her magic she
could think of no way of helping her lover to fetch the eggs and bring
them down unbroken. So she sate with Nix Naught Nothing underneath the
tree, and thought, and thought, and thought; until an idea came to her,
and she clapped her hands and cried:

"Fingers of mine, for love of me,
Help my true lover to climb the tree."

Then her fingers dropped off her hands one by one and ranged themselves
like the steps of a ladder up the tree; but they were not quite enough
of them to reach the top, so she cried again:

"Oh! toes of mine, for love o' me,
Help my true lover to climb the tree."

Then her toes began to drop off one by one and range themselves like the
rungs of a ladder; but when the toes of one foot had gone to their
places the ladder was tall enough. So Nix Naught Nothing climbed up it,
reached the nest, and got the seven eggs. Now, as he was coming down
with the last, he was so overjoyed at having finished his task, that he
turned to see if the Magician's daughter was overjoyed too: and lo! the
seventh egg slipped from his hand and fell

Crash!

"Quick! Quick!" cried the Magician's daughter, who, as you will observe,
always had her wits about her. "There is nothing for it now but to fly
at once. But first I must have my magic flask, or I shall be unable to
help. It is in my room and the door is locked. Put your fingers, since I
have none, in my pocket, take the key, unlock the door, get the flask,
and follow me fast. I shall go slower than you, for I have no toes on
one foot!"

So Nix Naught Nothing did as he was bid, and soon caught up the
Magician's daughter. But alas! they could not run very fast, so ere long
the Magician, who had once again taken a giant's form in order to have a
long stride, could be seen behind them. Nearer and nearer he came until
he was just going to seize Nix Naught Nothing, when the Magician's
daughter cried: "Put your fingers, since I have none, into my hair, take
my comb and throw it down." So Nix Naught Nothing did as he was bid,
and, lo and behold! out of every one of the comb-prongs there sprang up
a prickly briar, which grew so fast that the Magician found himself in
the middle of a thorn hedge! You may guess how angry and scratched he
was before he tore his way out. So Nix Naught Nothing and his sweetheart
had time for a good start; but the Magician's daughter could not run
fast because she had lost her toes on one foot! Therefore the Magician
in giant form soon caught them up, and he was just about to grip Nix
Naught Nothing when the Magician's daughter cried: "Put your fingers,
since I have none, to my breast. Take out my veil-dagger and throw it
down."

So he did as he was bid, and in a moment the dagger had grown to
thousands and thousands of sharp razors, criss-cross on the ground, and
the Magician giant was howling with pain as he trod among them. You may
guess how he danced and stumbled and how long it took for him to pick
his way through as if he were walking on eggs!

So Nix Naught Nothing and his sweetheart were nearly out of sight ere
the giant could start again; yet it wasn't long before he was like to
catch them up; for the Magician's daughter, you see, could not run fast
because she had lost her toes on one foot! She did what she could, but
it was no use. So just as the giant was reaching out a hand to lay hold
of Nix Naught Nothing she cried breathlessly:

"There's nothing left but the magic flask. Take it out and sprinkle some
of what it holds on the ground."

And Nix Naught Nothing did as he was bid; but in his hurry he nearly
emptied the flask altogether; and so the big, big wave of water which
instantly welled up, swept him off his feet, and would have carried him
away, had not the Magician's daughter's loosened veil caught him and
held him fast. But the wave grew, and grew, and grew behind them, until
it reached the giant's waist; then it grew and grew until it reached
his shoulders; and it grew and grew until it swept over his head: a
great big sea-wave full of little fishes and crabs and sea-snails and
all sorts of strange creatures.

So that was the last of the Magician giant. But the poor little
Magician's daughter was so weary that, after a time she couldn't move a
step further, and she said to her lover, "Yonder are lights burning. Go
and see if you can find a night's lodging: I will climb this tree by the
pool where I shall be safe, and by the time you return I shall be
rested."

Now, by chance, it happened that the lights they saw were the lights of
the castle where Nix Naught Nothing's father and mother, the King and
Queen, lived (though of course, he did not know this); so, as he walked
towards the castle, he came upon the hen-wife's cottage and asked for a
night's lodging.

"Who are you?" asked the hen-wife suspiciously.

"I am Nix Naught Nothing," replied the young man.

Now the hen-wife still grieved over her boy who had been killed, so she
instantly resolved to be revenged.

"I cannot give you a night's lodging," she said, "but you shall have a
drink of milk, for you look weary. Then you can go on to the castle and
beg for a bed there."

So she gave him a cup of milk; but, being a witch-woman, she put a
potion to it so that the very moment he saw his father and mother he
should fall fast asleep, and none should be able to waken him so he
would be no use to anybody, and would not recognize his father and
mother.

Now the King and Queen had never ceased grieving for their lost son.
They were always very kind to wandering young men, and when they heard
that one was begging a night's lodging, they went down to the hall to
see him. And lo, the moment Nix Naught Nothing caught sight of his
father and mother, there he was on the floor fast asleep, and none could
waken him! He did not recognize his father and mother nor they did not
recognize him.

But Prince Nix Naught Nothing had grown into a very handsome young man,
so they pitied him very much, and when none, do what they would, could
waken him, the King said, "A maiden will likely take more trouble to
waken him than others, seeing how handsome he is. Send forth a
proclamation that if any maiden in my realm can waken this young man,
she shall have him in marriage, and a handsome dowry to boot."

So the proclamation was sent forth, and all the pretty maidens of the
realm came to try their luck, but they had no success.

Now the gardener whose boy had been killed by the giant had a daughter
who was very ugly indeed--so ugly that she thought it no use to try her
luck, and went about her work as usual. So she took her pitcher to the
pool to fill it. Now the Magician's daughter was still hiding in the
tree waiting for her lover to return. Thus it came to pass that the
gardener's ugly daughter, bending down to fill her pitcher in the pool,
saw a beautiful shadow in the water, and thought it was her own!

"If I am as pretty as that," she cried, "I'll draw water no longer!"

So she threw down her pitcher, and went straight to the castle to see if
she hadn't a chance of the handsome stranger and the handsome dowry. But
of course she hadn't; though at the sight of Nix Naught Nothing she fell
so much in love with him, that, knowing the hen-wife to be a witch, she
went straight to her, and offered all her savings for a charm by which
she could awaken the sleeper.

Now when the hen-wife witch heard her tale, she thought it would be a
rare revenge to marry the King and Queen's long-lost son to a gardener's
ugly daughter; so she straightway took the girl's savings and gave her a
charm by which she could unspell the Prince or spell him again at her
pleasure.

So away went the gardener's daughter to the castle, and sure enough, no
sooner had she sung her charm, than Nix Naught Nothing awoke.

"I am going to marry you, my charmer," she said coaxingly; but Nix
Naught Nothing said he would prefer sleep. So she thought it wiser to
put him to sleep again till the marriage feast was ready and she had got
her fine clothes. So she spelled him asleep again.

Now the gardener had, of course, to draw the water himself, since his
daughter would not work. And he took the pitcher to the pool; and he
also saw the Magician's daughter's shadow in the water; but he did not
think the face was his own, for, see you, he had a beard!

Then he looked up and saw the lady in the tree.

She, poor thing, was half dead with sorrow, and hunger, and fatigue,
so, being a kind man, he took her to his house and gave her food. And he
told her that that very day his daughter was to marry a handsome young
stranger at the castle, and to get a handsome dowry to boot from the
King and Queen, in memory of their son, Nix Naught Nothing, who had been
carried off by a giant when he was a little boy.

Then the Magician's daughter felt sure that something had happened to
her lover; so she went to the castle, and there she found him fast
asleep in a chair.

But she could not waken him, for, see you, her magic had gone from her
with the magic flask which Nix Naught Nothing had emptied.

So, though she put her fingerless hands on his and wept and sang:

"I cleaned the stable for love o' thee,
I laved the lake and I clomb the tree,
Wilt thou not waken for love o' me?"

he never stirred nor woke.

Now one of the old servants there, seeing how she wept, took pity on her
and said, "She that is to marry the young man will be back ere long, and
unspell him for the wedding. Hide yourself and listen to her charm."

So the Magician's daughter hid herself, and, by and by, in comes the
gardener's daughter in her fine wedding-dress, and begins to sing her
charm. But the Magician's daughter didn't wait for her to finish it; for
the moment Nix Naught Nothing opened his eyes, she rushed out of her
hiding-place, and put her fingerless hands in his.

Then Nix Naught Nothing remembered everything. He remembered the castle,
he remembered his father and mother, he remembered the Magician's
daughter and all that she had done for him.

Then he drew out the magic flask and said, "Surely, surely there must be
enough magic in it to mend your hands." And there was. There were just
fourteen drops left, ten for the fingers and four for the toes; but
there was not one for the little toe, so it could not be brought back.
Of course, after that there was great rejoicing, and Prince Nix Naught
Nothing and the Magician's daughter were married and lived happy ever
after, even though she only had four toes on one foot. As for the
hen-wife witch, she was burnt, and so the gardener's daughter got back
her earnings; but she was not happy, because her shadow in the water was
ugly again.





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Previous: The Three Little Pigs



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