The Golden-headed Fish

: The Olive Fairy Book

Once upon a time there lived in Egypt a king who lost his sight from a

bad illness. Of course he was very unhappy, and became more so as

months passed, and all the best doctors in the land were unable to

cure him. The poor man grew so thin from misery that everyone thought

he was going to die, and the prince, his only son, thought so too.

Great was therefore the rejoicing through Egypt when a traveller

ived in a boat down the river Nile, and after questioning the

people as to the reason of their downcast looks, declared that he was

court physician to the king of a far country, and would, if allowed,

examine the eyes of the blind man. He was at once admitted into the

royal presence, and after a few minutes of careful study announced

that the case, though very serious, was not quite hopeless.

'Somewhere in the Great Sea,' he said, 'there exists a Golden-headed

Fish. If you can manage to catch this creature, bring it to me, and I

will prepare an ointment from its blood which will restore your sight.

For a hundred days I will wait here, but if at the end of that time

the fish should still be uncaught I must return to my own master.'

The next morning the young prince set forth in quest of the fish,

taking with him a hundred men, each man carrying a net. Quite a little

fleet of boats was awaiting them and in these they sailed to the

middle of the Great Sea. During three months they laboured diligently

from sunrise to sunset, but though they caught large multitudes of

fishes, not one of them had a golden head.

'It is quite useless now,' said the prince on the very last night.

'Even if we find it this evening, the hundred days will be over in an

hour, and long before we could reach the Egyptian capital the doctor

will be on his way home. Still, I will go out again, and cast the net

once more myself.' And so he did, and at the very moment that the

hundred days were up, he drew in the net with the Golden-headed Fish

entangled in its meshes.

'Success has come, but, as happens often, it is too late,' murmured

the young man, who had studied in the schools of philosophy; 'but, all

the same, put the fish in that vessel full of water, and we will take

it back to show my father that we have done what we could.' But when

he drew near the fish it looked up at him with such piteous eyes that

he could not make up his mind to condemn it to death. For he knew well

that, though the doctors of his own country were ignorant of the

secret of the ointment, they would do all in their power to extract

something from the fish's blood. So he picked up the prize of so much

labour, and threw it back into the sea, and then began his journey

back to the palace. When at last he reached it he found the king in a

high fever, caused by his disappointment, and he refused to believe

the story told him by his son.

'Your head shall pay for it! Your head shall pay for it!' cried he;

and bade the courtiers instantly summon the executioner to the palace.

But of course somebody ran at once to the queen, and told her of the

king's order, and she put common clothes on the prince, and filled his

pockets with gold, and hurried him on board a ship which was sailing

that night for a distant island.

'Your father will repent some day, and then he will be thankful to

know you are alive,' said she. 'But one last counsel will I give you,

and that is, take no man into your service who desires to be paid

every month.'

The young prince thought this advice rather odd. If the servant had to

be paid anyhow, he did not understand what difference it could make

whether it was by the year or by the month. However, he had many times

proved that his mother was wiser than he, so he promised obedience.

* * * * *

After a voyage of several weeks, he arrived at the island of which his

mother had spoken. It was full of hills and woods and flowers, and

beautiful white houses stood everywhere in gardens.

'What a charming spot to live in,' thought the prince. And he lost no

time in buying one of the prettiest of the dwellings.

Then servants came pressing to offer their services; but as they all

declared that they must have payment at the end of every month, the

young man, who remembered his mother's words, declined to have

anything to say to them. At length, one morning, an Arab appeared and

begged that the prince would engage him.

'And what wages do you ask?' inquired the prince, when he had

questioned the new-comer and found him suitable.

'I do not want money,' answered the Arab; 'at the end of a year you

can see what my services are worth to you, and can pay me in any way

you like.' And the young man was pleased, and took the Arab for his


Now, although no one would have guessed it from the look of the side

of the island where the prince had landed, the other part was a

complete desert, owing to the ravages of a horrible monster which came

up from the sea, and devoured all the corn and cattle. The governor

had sent bands of soldiers to lie in wait for the creature in order to

kill it; but, somehow, no one ever happened to be awake at the moment

that the ravages were committed. It was in vain that the sleepy

soldiers were always punished severely--the same thing invariably

occurred next time; and at last heralds were sent throughout the

island to offer a great reward to the man who could slay the monster.

As soon as the Arab heard the news, he went straight to the governor's


'If my master can succeed in killing the monster, what reward will you

give him?' asked he.

'My daughter and anything besides that he chooses,' answered the

governor. But the Arab shook his head.

'Give him your daughter and keep your wealth,' said he; 'but,

henceforward, let her share in your gains, whatever they are.'

'It is well,' replied the governor; and ordered a deed to be prepared,

which was signed by both of them.

That night the Arab stole down to the shore to watch, but, before he

set out, he rubbed himself all over with some oil which made his skin

smart so badly that there was no chance of his going to sleep as the

soldiers had done. Then he hid himself behind a large rock and waited.

By-and-by a swell seemed to rise on the water, and, a few minutes

later, a hideous monster--part bird, part beast, and part

serpent--stepped noiselessly on to the rocks. It walked stealthily up

towards the fields, but the Arab was ready for it, and, as it passed,

plunged his dagger into the soft part behind the ear. The creature

staggered and gave a loud cry, and then rolled over dead, with its

feet in the sea.

The Arab watched for a little while, in order to make sure that there

was no life left in his enemy, but as the huge body remained quite

still, he quitted his hiding-place, and cut off the ears of his foe.

These he carried to his master, bidding him show them to the governor,

and declare that he himself, and no other, had killed the monster.

'But it was you, and not I, who slew him,' objected the prince.

'Never mind; do as I bid you. I have a reason for it,' answered the

Arab. And though the young man did not like taking credit for what he

had never done, at length he gave in.

The governor was so delighted at the news that he begged the prince to

take his daughter to wife that very day; but the prince refused,

saying that all he desired was a ship which would carry him to see the

world. Of course this was granted him at once, and when he and his

faithful Arab embarked they found, heaped up in the vessel, stores of

diamonds and precious stones, which the grateful governor had secretly

placed there.

So they sailed, and they sailed, and they sailed; and at length they

reached the shores of a great kingdom. Leaving the prince on board,

the Arab went into the town to find out what sort of a place it was.

After some hours he returned, saying that he heard that the king's

daughter was the most beautiful princess in the world, and that the

prince would do well to ask for her hand.

Nothing loth, the prince listened to this advice, and taking some of

the finest necklaces in his hand, he mounted a splendid horse which

the Arab had bought for him, and rode up to the palace, closely

followed by his faithful attendant.

The strange king happened to be in a good humour, and they were

readily admitted to his presence. Laying down his offerings on the

steps of the throne, he prayed the king to grant him his daughter in


The monarch listened to him in silence; but answered, after a pause:

'Young man, I will give you my daughter to wife, if that is your wish;

but first I must tell you that she has already gone through the

marriage ceremony with a hundred and ninety young men, and not one of

them lived for twelve hours after. So think, while there is yet


The prince did think, and was so frightened that he very nearly went

back to his ship without any more words. But just as he was about to

withdraw his proposal the Arab whispered:

'Fear nothing, but take her.'

'The luck must change some time,' he said, at last; 'and who would not

risk his head for the hand of such a peerless princess?'

'As you will,' replied the king. 'Then I will give orders that the

marriage shall be celebrated to-night.'

And so it was done; and after the ceremony the bride and bridegroom

retired to their own apartments to sup by themselves, for such was the

custom of the country. The moon shone bright, and the prince walked to

the window to look out upon the river and upon the distant hills, when

his gaze suddenly fell on a silken shroud neatly laid out on a couch,

with his name embroidered in gold thread across the front; for this

also was the pleasure of the king.

Horrified at the spectacle, he turned his head away, and this time his

glance rested on a group of men, digging busily beneath the window. It

was a strange hour for any one to be at work, and what was the hole

for? It was a curious shape, so long and narrow, almost like---- Ah!

yes, that was what it was! It was his grave that they were digging!

The shock of the discovery rendered him speechless, yet he stood

fascinated and unable to move. At this moment a small black snake

darted from the mouth of the princess, who was seated at the table,

and wriggled quickly towards him. But the Arab was watching for

something of the sort to happen, and seizing the serpent with some

pincers that he held in one hand, he cut off its head with a sharp


The king could hardly believe his eyes when, early the next morning,

his new son-in-law craved an audience of his Majesty.

'What, you?' he cried, as the young man entered.

'Yes, I. Why not?' asked the bridegroom, who thought it best to

pretend not to know anything that had occurred. 'You remember, I told

you that the luck must turn at last, and so it has. But I came to ask

whether you would be so kind as to bid the gardeners fill up a great

hole right underneath my window, which spoils the view.'

'Oh! certainly, yes; of course it shall be done!' stammered the king.

'Is there anything else?'

'No, nothing, thank you,' replied the prince, as he bowed and


Now, from the moment that the Arab cut off the snake's head, the

spell, or whatever it was, seemed to have been taken off the princess,

and she lived very happily with her husband. The days passed swiftly

in hunting in the forests, or sailing on the broad river that flowed

past the palace, and when night fell she would sing to her harp, or

the prince would tell her tales of his own country.

One evening a man in a strange garb, with a face burnt brown by the

sun, arrived at court. He asked to see the bridegroom, and falling on

his face announced that he was a messenger sent by the queen of Egypt,

proclaiming him king in succession to his father, who was dead.

'Her Majesty begs you will set out without delay, and your bride also,

as the affairs of the kingdom are somewhat in disorder,' ended the


Then the young man hastened to seek an audience of his father-in-law,

who was delighted to find that his daughter's husband was not merely

the governor of a province, as he had supposed, but the king of a

powerful country. He at once ordered a splendid ship to be made ready,

and in a week's time rode down to the harbour, to bid farewell to the

young couple.

In spite of her grief for the dead king, the queen was overjoyed to

welcome her son home, and commanded the palace to be hung with

splendid stuffs to do honour to the bride. The people expected great

things from their new sovereign, for they had suffered much from the

harsh rule of the old one, and crowds presented themselves every

morning with petitions in their hands, which they hoped to persuade

the king to grant. Truly, he had enough to keep him busy; but he was

very happy for all that, till, one night, the Arab came to him, and

begged permission to return to his own land.

Filled with dismay the young man said: 'Leave me! Do you really wish

to leave me?' Sadly the Arab bowed his head.

'No, my master; never could I wish to leave you! But I have received a

summons, and I dare not disobey it.'

The king was silent, trying to choke down the grief he felt at the

thought of losing his faithful servant.

'Well, I must not try to keep you,' he faltered out at last. 'That

would be a poor return for all that you have done for me! Everything I

have is yours; take what you will, for without you I should long ago

have been dead!'

'And without you, I should long ago have been dead,' answered the

Arab. 'I am the Golden-headed Fish.'

(Adapted from Contes Armeniens. Par Frederic Macler, Paris. Ernest

Leroux, Editeur.)