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The Young Man Who Would Have His Eyes Opened

from The Violet Fairy Book





Once upon a time there lived a youth who was never happy unless
he was prying into something that other people knew nothing
about. After he had learned to understand the language of birds
and beasts, he discovered accidentally that a great deal took
place under cover of night which mortal eyes never saw. From
that moment he felt he could not rest till these hidden secrets
were laid bare to him, and he spent his whole time wandering from
one wizard to another, begging them to open his eyes, but found
none to help him. At length he reached an old magician called
Mana, whose learning was greater than that of the rest, and who
could tell him all he wanted to know. But when the old man had
listened attentively to him, he said, warningly:

'My son, do not follow after empty knowledge, which will not
bring you happiness, but rather evil. Much is hidden from the
eyes of men, because did they know everything their hearts would
no longer be at peace. Knowledge kills joy, therefore think well
what you are doing, or some day you will repent. But if you will
not take my advice, then truly I can show you the secrets of the
night. Only you will need more than a man's courage to bear the
sight.'

He stopped and looked at the young man, who nodded his head, and
then the wizard continued, 'To-morrow night you must go to the
place where, once in seven years, the serpent-king gives a great
feast to his whole court. In front of him stands a golden bowl
filled with goats' milk, and if you can manage to dip a piece of
bread in this milk, and eat it before you are obliged to fly, you
will understand all the secrets of the night that are hidden from
other men. It is lucky for you that the serpent-king's feast
happens to fall this year, otherwise you would have had long to
wait for it. But take care to be quick and bold, or it will be
the worse for you.'

The young man thanked the wizard for his counsel, and went his
way firmly resolved to carry out his purpose, even if he paid for
it with his life; and when night came he set out for a wide,
lonely moor, where the serpent-king held his feast. With
sharpened eyes, he looked eagerly all round him, but could see
nothing but a multitude of small hillocks, that lay motionless
under the moonlight. He crouched behind a bush for some time,
till he felt that midnight could not be far off, when suddenly
there arose in the middle of the moor a brilliant glow, as if a
star was shining over one of the hillocks. At the same moment
all the hillocks began to writhe and to crawl, and from each one
came hundreds of serpents and made straight for the glow, where
they knew they should find their king. When they reached the
hillock where he dwelt, which was higher and broader than the
rest, and had a bright light hanging over the top, they coiled
themselves up and waited. The whirr and confusion from all the
serpent-houses were so great that the youth did not dare to
advance one step, but remained where he was, watching intently
all that went on; but at last he began to take courage, and moved
on softly step by step.

What he saw was creepier than creepy, and surpassed all he had
ever dreamt of. Thousands of snakes, big and little and of every
colour, were gathered together in one great cluster round a huge
serpent, whose body was as thick as a beam, and which had on its
head a golden crown, from which the light sprang. Their hissings
and darting tongues so terrified the young man that his heart
sank, and he felt he should never have courage to push on to
certain death, when suddenly he caught sight of the golden bowl
in front of the serpent-king, and knew that if he lost this
chance it would never come back. So, with his hair standing on
end and his blood frozen in his veins, he crept forwards. Oh!
what a noise and a whirr rose afresh among the serpents.
Thousands of heads were reared, and tongues were stretched out to
sting the intruder to death, but happily for him their bodies
were so closely entwined one in the other that they could not
disentangle themselves quickly. Like lightning he seized a bit
of bread, dipped it in the bowl, and put it in his mouth, then
dashed away as if fire was pursuing him. On he flew as if a
whole army of foes were at his heels, and he seemed to hear the
noise of their approach growing nearer and nearer. At length his
breath failed him, and he threw himself almost senseless on the
turf. While he lay there dreadful dreams haunted him. He
thought that the serpent-king with the fiery crown had twined
himself round him, and was crushing out his life. With a loud
shriek he sprang up to do battle with his enemy, when he saw that
it was rays of the sun which had wakened him. He rubbed his eyes
and looked all round, but nothing could he see of the foes of the
past night, and the moor where he had run into such danger must
be at least a mile away. But it was no dream that he had run
hard and far, or that he had drunk of the magic goats' milk. And
when he felt his limbs, and found them whole, his joy was great
that he had come through such perils with a sound skin.

After the fatigues and terrors of the night, he lay still till
mid-day, but he made up his mind he would go that very evening
into the forest to try what the goats' milk could really do for
him, and if he would now be able to understand all that had been
a mystery to him. And once in the forest his doubts were set at
rest, for he saw what no mortal eyes had ever seen before.
Beneath the trees were golden pavilions, with flags of silver all
brightly lighted up. He was still wondering why the pavilions
were there, when a noise was heard among the trees, as if the
wind had suddenly got up, and on all sides beautiful maidens
stepped from the trees into the bright light of the moon. These
were the wood-nymphs, daughters of the earth-mother, who came
every night to hold their dances, in the forest. The young man,
watching from his hiding place, wished he had a hundred eyes in
his head, for two were not nearly enough for the sight before
him, the dances lasting till the first streaks of dawn. Then a
silvery veil seemed to be drawn over the ladies, and they
vanished from sight. But the young man remained where he was
till the sun was high in the heavens, and then went home.

He felt that day to be endless, and counted the minutes till
night should come, and he might return to the forest. But when
at last he got there he found neither pavilions nor nymphs, and
though he went back many nights after he never saw them again.
Still, he thought about them night and day, and ceased to care
about anything else in the world, and was sick to the end of his
life with longing for that beautiful vision. And that was the
way he learned that the wizard had spoken truly when he said,
'Blindness is man's highest good.'

[Ehstnische Marchen.]





Next: The Boys With The Golden Stars

Previous: The Headless Dwarfs



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