Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Frog Prince

Once upon a time there was a king who had three daughters. In his courtyard there was a well with wonderful clear water. One hot summer day the oldest daughter went down and drew herself a glassful, but when she held it to the sun, she saw that it was cloudy. This seemed strange to her, and she was about to pour it back when a frog appeared in the water, stuck his head into the air, then jumped out onto the well's edge, saying:

If you will be my sweetheart dear,
Then I will give you water clear.

"Ugh! Who wants to be the sweetheart of an ugly frog!" exclaimed the princess and ran away. She told her sisters about the amazing frog down at the well who was making the water cloudy. The second one was curious, so she too went down and drew herself a glassful, but it was so cloudy that she could not drink it. Once again the frog appeared at the well's edge and said:

If you will be my sweetheart dear,
Then I will give you water clear.

"Not I!" said the princess, and ran away. Finally the third sister came and drew a glassful, but it was no better than before. The frog also said to her:

If you will be my sweetheart dear,
Then I will give you water clear.

"Why not! I'll be your sweetheart. Just give me some clean water," she said, while thinking, "There's no harm in this. You can promise him anything, for a stupid frog can never be your sweetheart."

The frog sprang back into the water, and when she drew another glassful it was so clear that the sun glistened in it with joy. She drank all she wanted and then took some up to her sisters, saying, "Why were you so stupid as to be afraid of a frog?"

The princess did not think anything more about it until that evening after she had gone to bed. Before she fell asleep she heard something scratching at the door and a voice singing:

Open up! Open up!
Youngest daughter of the king.
Remember that you promised me
While I was sitting in the well,
That you would be my sweetheart dear,
If I would give you water clear.

"Ugh! That's my boyfriend the frog," said the princess. "I promised, so I will have to open the door for him." She got up, opened the door a crack, and went back to bed. The frog hopped after her, then hopped onto her bed where he lay at her feet until the night was over and the morning dawned. Then he jumped down and disappeared out the door.

The next evening, when the princess once more had just gone to bed, he scratched and sang again at the door. The princess let him in, and he again lay at her feet until daylight came. He came again on the third evening, as on the two previous ones. "This is the last time that I'll let you in," said the princess. "It will not happen again in the future." Then the frog jumped under her pillow, and the princess fell asleep. She awoke in the morning, thinking that the frog would hop away once again, but now a beautiful young prince was standing before her.

He told her that he had been an enchanted frog and that she had broken the spell by promising to be his sweetheart. Then they both went to the king who gave them his blessing, and they were married. The two other sisters were angry with themselves that they had not taken the frog for their sweetheart.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Bremen Town Musicians

A man had a donkey, who for long years had untiringly carried sacks to the mill, but whose strength was now failing, so that he was becoming less and less able to work. Then his master thought that he would no longer feed him, but the donkey noticed that it was not a good wind that was blowing and ran away, setting forth on the road to Bremen, where he thought he could become a town musician. When he had gone a little way he found a hunting dog lying in the road, who was panting like one who had run himself tired.

"Why are you panting so, Grab-Hold?" asked the donkey.

"Oh," said the dog, "because I am old and am getting weaker every day and can no longer go hunting, my master wanted to kill me, so I ran off; but now how should I earn my bread?"

"Do you know what," said the donkey, "I am going to Bremen and am going to become a town musician there. Come along and take up music too. I'll play the lute, and you can beat the drums."

The dog was satisfied with that, and they went further. It didn't take long, before they came to a cat sitting by the side of the road and making a face like three days of rainy weather. "What has crossed you, old Beard-Licker?" said the donkey.

"Oh," answered the cat, "who can be cheerful when his neck is at risk? I am getting on in years, and my teeth are getting dull, so I would rather sit behind the stove and purr than to chase around after mice. Therefore my mistress wanted to drown me, but I took off. Now good advice is scarce. Where should I go?"

"Come with us to Bremen. After all, you understand night music. You can become a town musician there." The cat agreed and went along.

Then the three refugees came to a farmyard, and the rooster of the house was sitting on the gate crying with all his might.

"Your cries pierce one's marrow and bone," said the donkey. "What are you up to?"

"I just prophesied good weather," said the rooster, "because it is Our Dear Lady's Day, when she washes the Christ Child's shirts and wants to dry them; but because Sunday guests are coming tomorrow, the lady of the house has no mercy and told the cook that she wants to eat me tomorrow in the soup, so I am supposed to let them cut off my head this evening. Now I am going to cry at the top of my voice as long as I can."

"Hey now, Red-Head," said the donkey, "instead come away with us. We're going to Bremen. You can always find something better than death. You have a good voice, and when we make music together, it will be very pleasing."

The rooster was happy with the proposal, and all four went off together. However, they could not reach the city of Bremen in one day, and in the evening they came into a forest, where they would spend the night. The donkey and the dog lay down under a big tree, but the cat and the rooster took to the branches. The rooster flew right to the top, where it was safest for him. Before falling asleep he looked around once again in all four directions, and he thought that he saw a little spark burning in the distance. He hollered to his companions, that there must be a house not too far away, for a light was shining.

The donkey said, "Then we must get up and go there, because the lodging here is poor." The dog said that he could do well with a few bones with a little meat on them. Thus they set forth toward the place where the light was, and they soon saw it glistening more brightly, and it became larger and larger, until they came to the front of a brightly lit robbers' house.

The donkey, the largest of them, approached the window and looked in.

"What do you see, Gray-Horse?" asked the rooster.

"What do I see?" answered the donkey. "A table set with good things to eat and drink, and robbers sitting there enjoying themselves."

"That would be something for us," said the rooster.

"Ee-ah, ee-ah, oh, if we were there!" said the donkey.

Then the animals discussed how they might drive the robbers away, and at last they came upon a plan. The donkey was to stand with his front feet on the window, the dog to jump on the donkey's back, the cat to climb onto the dog, and finally the rooster would fly up and sit on the cat's head. When they had done that, at a signal they began to make their music all together. The donkey brayed, the dog barked, the cat meowed and the rooster crowed. Then they crashed through the window into the room, shattering the panes.

The robbers jumped up at the terrible bellowing, thinking that a ghost was coming in, and fled in great fear out into the woods. Then the four companions seated themselves at the table and freely partook of the leftovers, eating as if they would get nothing more for four weeks.

When the four minstrels were finished, they put out the light and looked for a place to sleep, each according to his nature and his desire. The donkey lay down on the manure pile, the dog behind the door, the cat on the hearth next to the warm ashes, and the rooster sat on the beam of the roof. Because they were tired from their long journey, they soon fell asleep.

When midnight had passed and the robbers saw from the distance that the light was no longer burning in the house, and everything appeared to be quiet, the captain said, "We shouldn't have let ourselves be chased off," and he told one of them to go back and investigate the house. The one they sent found everything still, and went into the kitchen to strike a light. He mistook the cat's glowing, fiery eyes for live coals, and held a sulfur match next to them, so that it would catch fire. But the cat didn't think this was funny and jumped into his face, spitting, and scratching.

He was terribly frightened and ran toward the back door, but the dog, who was lying there, jumped up and bit him in the leg. When he ran across the yard past the manure pile, the donkey gave him a healthy blow with his hind foot, and the rooster, who had been awakened from his sleep by the noise and was now alert, cried down from the beam, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Then the robber ran as fast as he could back to his captain and said, "Oh, there is a horrible witch sitting in the house, she blew at me and scratched my face with her long fingers. And there is a man with a knife standing in front of the door, and he stabbed me in the leg. And a black monster is lying in the yard, and it struck at me with a wooden club. And the judge is sitting up there on the roof, and he was calling out, 'Bring the rascal here.' Then I did what I could to get away."

From that time forth, the robbers did not dare go back into the house. However, the four Bremen Musicians liked it so well there, that they never left it again. And the person who just told that, his mouth is still warm.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Gold Colt and the Fire Dragon Shirt

There once lived a landlord who loved money as he loved his own life. In his eyes the smallest coin seemed as large as a millstone. He was always on the lookout for some new way of making money and was very mean to his peasant tenants. They all called him "Skinflint."

One year a long spell of drought devastated the area, ruining the entire crop. The peasants, who were used to living from year to year, and never had a reserve of grain to fall back on, were reduced to eating bark and roots to survive, and now even these were all consumed. Starvation drove them to ask for a loan of grain from Skinflint, whose granaries, big and small, were filled to overflowing. Although the grain was sprouting and the flour was swarming with maggots, he was such a miser that he wouldn't part with a single speck of either. His peasants went away seething with anger and resentment, and resolved to find some way to teach him a lesson.

They put their heads together and came up with rather a good plan. They collected together a few tiny silver ingots and also managed to procure a scraggy little horse. They stuffed the silver up the horse's behind and bunged it up with a wad of cotton floss. Then they selected one of their number, a peasant whose gift of gab had earned him the nickname "Bigmouth" and who was credited with the power of talking the dead out of their graves. They sent him to Skinflint with the horse. Seeing them enter, Skinflint flew into a rage. His whiskers bristled.

He glowered at Bigmouth, pointing at him angrily and shouting, "You damn fool! You have fouled my courtyard enough. Get out of my sight!"

"Please keep your voice down, Master," said Bigmouth with a cunning smile. "If you frighten my horse and make him bolt, you'd have to sell everything you've got to make good the damage."

"There you go, Bigmouth, bragging again!" said Skinflint. "What can this scraggy little horse of yours possibly be worth?"

To which Bigmouth replied, "Oh, nothing, except that when he moves his bowels silver and gold come out."

In an instant Skinflint's anger evaporated and he hastened to ask, "Where did you get hold of this beast?"

"I dreamt a dream the night before last," began Bigmouth. "I met a white-bearded old man who said to me, 'Bigmouth, the colt who used to carry gold and silver ingots for the God of Wealth has been demoted and sent down to Earth. Go to the northeast and catch him. When he moves his bowels, silver and gold come out. If you catch him, you'll make a fortune.' Then the old man gave me a push and I woke up. I didn't take it seriously, thinking it to be nothing but a dream. I turned over and fell asleep again. However, as soon as I closed my eyes, the old man reappeared and urged me to hurry up. 'The horse will fall into another's hands if you delay!' he said, and gave me another push which woke me up again. I put on my clothes and ran out. In the northeast I saw a ball of fire. When I ran over, sure enough, there was the colt, grazing contentedly. So I led him home. The following day, I set up an incense burner and as soon as I lit the incense, the colt began to produce silver ingots from its behind."

"Did it really?" asked Skinflint eagerly.

Bigmouth replied, "There's an old proverb which says, 'The proof of the pudding is in the eating.' If you don't believe me, allow me to arrange a demonstration."

He asked Skinflint to set up a burner and light some incense. Meanwhile, he himself held a plate below the horse's behind. He secretly pulled out the wad of cotton and the tiny silver ingots fell jingling onto the plate. On seeing the horse perform like this, Skinflint asked avidly, "How much does he produce a day?"

"Three or four taels a day for us less lucky folk," replied Bigmouth. "But the old man in my dream said that if he meets a really lucky person he produces thirty or forty."

Skinflint thought to himself, "I must be one of those. Supposing I get the horse, he is bound to produce at least twenty taels a day. That means six hundred taels a month and seven thousand two hundred taels a year."

The longer his sums became, the fonder he grew of the horse. He decided that he must buy him, and talked it over with Bigmouth.

At first Bigmouth pretended to be unwilling. Skinflint tried again and again to persuade him and promised to pay any price he asked. In the end Bigmouth sighed and said, "Oh well, so be it. My luck is evidently worse than yours. I'll sell. But I don't want silver or gold, just give me thirty bushels of grain."

Skinflint considered the price very cheap and readily agreed. They made the exchange then and there.

Bigmouth hurried back with the grain and distributed it among his fellow peasants. They were all very happy to have it. Skinflint, for his part, felt even happier to have the horse, and just couldn't stop chuckling to himself. He was afraid of losing the horse, however, and tried to tie him up in a great many places, but none of them seemed safe enough. Finally, he tied him up in his own living room. He laid a red carpet on the floor and set up an incense burner. The whole family watched the colt in eager anticipation, expecting him any minute to start producing silver and gold.

They waited till midnight. Suddenly the horse opened his hind legs. Skinflint sensed that he was about to "produce." He quickly brought over a lacquered tray and held it right below the horse's behind. He waited for ages, but nothing happened. Skinflint was so anxious by now that he lifted the horse's tail, bent down and peered upwards to keep an eye on further developments. There was a sudden "splash," and before Skinflint could do anything about it, the horse had splattered him all over his face. The "liquid gold" ran down the back of his head and down his neck, covering his whole body. The stench was so vile that Skinflint started jumping and shouting and then felt nauseous and began to vomit again and again. Next the horse urinated in great quantity, ruining the lovely red carpet. The whole room stunk to high heaven. Skinflint realized that he had been cheated, and in a fit of rage, he killed the horse.

The following morning, first thing, he sent some of his hired thugs to track down Bigmouth. But the peasants had already hidden him away. Skinflint's men searched for him high and low but always came back empty handed, to his fury and exasperation. There was nothing he could do except send out spies and wait.

In the twinkling of an eye, it was winter. One day Bigmouth failed to hide properly and was caught by one of Skinflint's henchmen. When he came face to face with his foe, Skinflint gnashed his teeth with rage and without saying a word, had Bigmouth locked up in his mill. He had him stripped of all his padded clothes and left him with nothing but a cotton shirt, hoping to freeze him to death. It was the very coldest season of the year. Outside, snow was falling and a bitter wind was blowing. Bigmouth sat huddled up in a corner, trembling with cold. As the cold was becoming unbearable, an idea suddenly occurred to him. He stood up at once, heaved a millstone up off the ground and began walking back and forth with it in his arms. He soon warmed up and started sweating. He passed the entire night in this way, walking around with the millstone and occasionally stopping for a rest.

Early next morning Skinflint thought Bigmouth must surely be dead. But when he unlocked the mill door, to his great surprise, he found Bigmouth squatting there in a halo of steam, his whole body in a muck of sweat. Bigmouth stood up at once and begged him, "Master, take pity on me! Quick, lend me a fan! Or I shall die of heat!"

"How come you are so hot?" asked the dumbfounded Skinflint.

"This shirt of mine is a priceless heirloom," Bigmouth explained. "It's called the Fire Dragon Shirt. The colder the weather, the greater the heat it gives off."

"When did you get hold of it?"

"Originally it was the pelt cast off by the Lord Fire Dragon. Then the Queen of the Western Heaven wove it into a shirt. Later on it somehow fell into the possession of my ancestors and became a family heirloom. It has been passed down from generation to generation until finally it came into my hands."

Seeing how unbearably hot he was, Skinflint swallowed the whole story. He was now set on getting hold of this Fire Dragon Shirt and had completely forgotten the episode of the gold colt. He insisted on bartering his fox-fur gown for the shirt. Bigmouth absolutely refused at first, but when Skinflint added fifty taels of silver to the price, he said with a sigh, "Alas, what a worthless son am I, to have thus lost my family's treasured heirloom!"

Having said this, he took off his shirt and put on Skinflint's fox-fur gown. Then he pocketed the fifty taels of silver and strode away.

Skinflint's joy knew no bounds. Several days later his father-in-law's birthday came round. In order to show off his new acquisition, he went to convey his birthday greetings wearing nothing but the Fire Dragon Shirt. In the middle of the journey, a fierce wind came up and it began to snow. Skinflint felt unbearably cold. The place was far from village or inn, and there was no shelter of any sort to be found. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a tree by the roadside, half of which had burnt away in a fire. It was hollow in the middle and the space was wide enough for a person to stand up in. Skinflint hurried over and hid inside. Shortly afterwards his whole body became numb with cold, and soon he died.

Several days later the family found his body. They knew that he had been cheated again by Bigmouth, and sent men to seize him.

"My precious shirt burns whenever it comes into contact with kindling, grass or timber," explained Bigmouth. "The master must have been burned to death in this way. I am not to blame. I never told him to hide inside a tree. If you look, you will see that half of the tree has been burnt away."

When the family examined the tree and saw that it was indeed as Bigmouth had described, they had no choice but to set him free.