The Seven-headed Serpent

: The Yellow Fairy Book

'Die Siebenkopfige Schlange,' from Schmidt's Griechische


Once upon a time there was a king who determined to take a long

voyage. He assembled his fleet and all the seamen, and set out.

They went straight on night and day, until they came to an island

which was covered with large trees, and under every tree lay a

lion. As soon as the King had landed his men, the lions all rose

ogether and tried to devour them. After a long battle they

managed to overcome the wild beasts, but the greater number of

the men were killed. Those who remained alive now went on

through the forest and found on the other side of it a beautiful

garden, in which all the plants of the world flourished together.

There were also in the garden three springs: the first flowed

with silver, the second with gold, and the third with pearls.

The men unbuckled their knapsacks and filled them with those

precious things. In the middle of the garden they found a large

lake, and when they reached the edge of it the Lake began to

speak, and said to them, 'What men are you, and what brings you

here? Are you come to visit our king?' But they were too much

frightened to answer.

Then the Lake said, 'You do well to be afraid, for it is at your

peril that you are come hither. Our king, who has seven heads,

is now asleep, but in a few minutes he will wake up and come to

me to take his bath! Woe to anyone who meets him in the garden,

for it is impossible to escape from him. This is what you must

do if you wish to save your lives. Take off your clothes and

spread them on the path which leads from here to the castle. The

King will then glide over something soft, which he likes very

much, and he will be so pleased with that that he will not devour

you. He will give you some punishment, but then he will let you


The men did as the Lake advised them, and waited for a time. At

noon the earth began to quake, and opened in many places, and out

of the openings appeared lions, tigers, and other wild beasts,

which surrounded the castle, and thousands and thousands of

beasts came out of the castle following their king, the

Seven-headed Serpent. The Serpent glided over the clothes which

were spread for him, came to the Lake, and asked it who had

strewed those soft things on the path? The Lake answered that it

had been done by people who had come to do him homage. The King

commanded that the men should be brought before him. They came

humbly on their knees, and in a few words told him their story.

Then he spoke to them with a mighty and terrible voice, and said,

'Because you have dared to come here, I lay upon you the

punishment. Every year you must bring me from among your people

twelve youths and twelve maidens, that I may devour them. If you

do not do this, I will destroy your whole nation.'

Then he desired one of his beasts to show the men the way out of

the garden, and dismissed them. They then left the island and

went back to their own country, where they related what had

happened to them. Soon the time came round when the king of the

beasts would expect the youths and maidens to be brought to him.

The King therefore issued a proclamation inviting twelve youths

and twelve maidens to offer themselves up to save their country;

and immediately many young people, far more than enough, hastened

to do so. A new ship was built, and set with black sails, and in

it the youths and maidens who were appointed for the king of the

beasts embarked and set out for his country. When they arrived

there they went at once to the Lake, and this time the lions did

not stir, nor did the springs flow, and neither did the Lake

speak. So they waited then, and it was not long before the earth

quaked even more terribly than the first time. The Seven-headed

Serpent came without his train of beasts, saw his prey waiting

for him, and devoured it at one mouthful. Then the ship's crew

returned home, and the same thing happened yearly until many

years had passed.

Now the King of this unhappy country was growing old, and so was

the Queen, and they had no children. One day the Queen was

sitting at the window weeping bitterly because she was childless,

and knew that the crown would therefore pass to strangers after

the King's death. Suddenly a little old woman appeared before

her, holding an apple in her hand, and said, 'Why do you weep, my

Queen, and what makes you so unhappy?'

'Alas, good mother,' answered the Queen, 'I am unhappy because I

have no children.'

'Is that what vexes you?' said the old woman. 'Listen to me. I

am a nun from the Spinning Convent, and my mother when she

died left me this apple. Whoever eats this apple shall have a