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