Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Wonderful Frog

There was once, I don't know where, a man who had three daughters. One day the father thus spoke to the eldest girl, "Go, my daughter, and fetch me, some fresh water from the well."

The girl went, but when she came to the well a huge frog called out to her from the bottom, that he would not allow her to draw water in her jug until she threw him down the gold ring on her finger.

"Nothing else? Is that all you want?" replied the girl. "I won't give away my rings to such an ugly creature as you." And she returned as she came with the empty pitchers.

So the father sent the second girl, and she fared as the first; the frog would not let her have any water, as she refused to throw down her gold ring. Her father gave his two elder daughters a good scolding, and then thus addressed the youngest, "You go, Betsie, my dear, you have always been a clever girl. I'm sure you will be able to get some water, and will not allow your father to suffer thirst. So, shame your sisters!"

Betsie picked up the pitchers and went, but the frog again refused the water unless she threw her ring down; but she, as she was very fond of her father, threw the ring in as demanded, and returned home with full pitchers to her father's great delight.

In the evening, as soon as darkness set in, the frog crawled out of the well, and thus commenced to shout in front of Betsie's father's door, "Father-in-law! Father-in-law! I should like something to eat."

The man got angry, and called out to his daughters; "Give something in a broken plate to that ugly frog to gnaw."

"Father-in-law! Father-in-law! This won't do for me; I want some roast meat on a tin plate," retorted the frog.

"Give him something on a tin plate then, or else he will cast a spell on us," said the father.

The frog began to eat heartily, and, having had enough, again commenced to croak: "Father-in-law! Father- in-law! I want something to drink."

"Give him some slops in a broken pot," said the father.

"Father-in-law! Father-in-law! I won't have this; I want some wine in a nice tumbler."

"Give him some wine then," angrily called out the father.

He guzzled up his wine and began again, "Father-in-law! Father-in-law! I would like to go to sleep."

"Throw him some rags in a corner," was the reply.

"Father-in-law! Father-in-law! I won't have that; I want a silk bed," croaked the frog. This was also given to him; but no sooner has he gone to bed than again he began to croak, "Father-in-law! Father-in-law! I want a girl, indeed."

"Go, my daughter, and lie by the side of him," said the father to the eldest.

"Father-in-law! Father-in law! I don't want that, I want another."

The father sent the second girl, but the frog again croaked: "Father-in-law! Father-in-law! I don't want that, Betsie is the girl I want."

"Go, my Betsie," said the father, quite disheartened, "else this confounded monster will cast a spell on us."

So Betsie went to bed with the frog, but her father thoughtfully left a lamp burning on the top of the oven; noticing which, the frog crawled out of bed and blew the lamp out. The father lighted it again, but the frog put it out as before, and so it happened a third time. The father saw that the frog would not yield, and was therefore obliged to leave his dear little Betsie in the dark by the side of the ugly frog, and felt great anxiety about her.

In the morning, when the father and the two elder girls got up, they opened their eyes and mouths wide in astonishment, because the frog had disappeared, and by the side of Betsie they found a handsome Magyar lad, with auburn locks, in a beautiful costume, with gold braid and buttons and gold spurs on his boots. The handsome lad asked for Betsie's hand, and, having received the father's consent, they hastened to celebrate the wedding, so that christening might not follow the wedding too soon.

The two elder sisters looked with invidious eyes on Betsie, as they also were very much smitten with the handsome lad. Betsie was very happy after, so happy that if anyone doubt it he can satisfy himself with his own eyes. If she is still alive, let him go and look for her, and try to find her in this big world.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Small-Tooth Dog

Once upon a time there was a merchant who traveled about the world a great deal. On one of his journeys thieves attacked him, and they would have taken both his life and his money if a large dog had not come to his rescue and driven the thieves away.

When the dog had driven the thieves away he took the merchant to his house, which was a very handsome one, and dressed his wounds and nursed him till he was well.

As soon as he was able to travel the merchant began his journey home, but before starting he told the dog how grateful he was for his kindness, and asked him what reward he could offer in return, and he said he would not refuse to give the most precious thing he had.

And so the merchant said to the dog, "Will you accept a fish I have that can speak twelve languages?"

"No," said the dog, "I will not."

"Or a goose that lays golden eggs?"

"No," said the dog, "I will not."

"Or a mirror in which you can see what anybody is thinking about?"

"No," said the dog, "I will not."

"Then what will you have?" said the merchant.

"I will have none of such presents," said the dog; "but let me fetch your daughter, and bring her to my house."

When the merchant heard this he was grieved, but what he had promised had to be done, so he said to the dog, "You can come and fetch my daughter after I have been home for a week."

So at the end of the week, the dog came to the merchant's house to fetch his daughter, but when he got there he stayed outside the door, and would not go in.

But the merchant's daughter did as her father told her, and came out of the house dressed for a journey and ready to go with the dog.

When the dog saw her he looked pleased, and said, "Jump on my back, and I will take you away to my house."

So she mounted on the dog's back, and away they went at a great pace, until they reached the dog's house, which was many miles off.

But after she had been a month at the dog's house she began to mope and cry.

"What are you crying for?" said the dog.

"Because I want to go back to my father," she said.

The dog said, "If you will promise me that you will not stay there more than three days I will take you there. But first of all," said he, "what do you call me?"

"A great, foul, small-tooth dog," said she.

"Then," said he, "I will not let you go."

But she cried so pitifully that he promised again to take her home.

"But before we start," he said, "tell me what you call me."

"Oh," she said, "your name is Sweet-as-a-Honeycomb."

"Jump on my back," said he, "and I'll take you home."

So he trotted away with her on his back for forty miles, when they came to a stile.

"And what do you call me?" said he, before they got over the stile.

Thinking she was safe on her way, the girl said, "A great, foul, small-tooth dog."

But when she said this, he did not jump over the stile, but turned right round again at once, and galloped back to his own house with the girl on his back.

Another week went by, and again the girl wept so bitterly that the dog promised to take her to her father's house.

So the girl got on the dog's back again, and they reached the first stile, as before, and the dog stopped and said, "And what do you call me?"

"Sweet-as-a-Honeycomb," she replied.

So the dog leaped over the stile, and they went on for twenty miles until they came to another stile.

"And what do you call me?" said the dog with a wag of his tail.

She was thinking more of her father and her own house than of the dog, so she answered, "A great, foul, small-tooth dog."

Then the dog was in a great rage, and he turned right round about, and galloped back to his own house as before.

After she had cried for another week, the dog promised again to take her back to her father's house. So she mounted upon his back once more, and when they got to the first stile, the dog said, "And what do you call me?"

"Sweet-as-a-Honeycomb," she said.

So the dog jumped over the stile, and away they went -- for now the girl made up her mind to say the most loving things she could think of -- until they reached her father's house.

When they got to the door of the merchant's house, the dog said, "And what do you call me?"

Just at that moment the girl forgot the loving things she meant to say and began, "A great --," but the dog began to turn, and she got fast hold of the door latch, and was going to say "foul," when she saw how grieved the dog looked and remembered how good and patient he had been with her, so she said, "Sweeter-than-a-Honeycomb."

When she had said this she thought the dog would have been content and have galloped away, but instead of that he suddenly stood upon his hind legs, and with his forelegs he pulled off his dog's head and tossed it high in the air. His hairy coat dropped off, and there stood the handsomest young man in the world, with the finest and smallest teeth you ever saw.

Of course they were married, and lived together happily.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Wooden Horse

A carpenter and a blacksmith had an argument. Each of them insisted that he was more skilful than the other. Who was actually the more skilful of the two? They disputed this question for a long time without reaching any conclusion. Finally they agreed, "Let's go to the king and ask him to be the judge."

So they came to the king who asked them, "What have you come for?"

"I am a carpenter," said the one. "And my handiwork is more ingenious than the handiwork of any other carpenter in the world. But he said that I cannot match him in skill."

The blacksmith said, "Whoever sees my work praises it. But he insists that my skill is inferior to his."

"We want Your Majesty to be our judge and tell us whose skill is truly superior," the two pleaded. This put the king in a difficult position. "How can I form a judgement without seeing a single thing you have made?" said he. "I'll give you ten days. In that time you must each make a sample of your work and bring it here."

The two went home and each set his hand to his task. Ten days later, they came to the king again. The blacksmith brought with him a huge iron fish. "What can this do?" asked the king.

The blacksmith told him, "This iron fish of mine can float in the sea loaded with a hundred thousand sacks of grain."

These words made the king laugh inwardly. "This fellow is bound to come out the loser," he said to himself. "Such heavy iron will definitely sink when put in the water. How can it possibly float? But anyway, they may as well put a hundred thousand sacks of grain into the thing and see what happens." On his orders, the iron fish was launched. Strangely enough, it moved through the water with speed and without the least trace of clumsiness. It caused quite a sensation among the spectators. The king was most impressed and even promised the blacksmith an official post. Later he actually made him beadle of one of his districts.

The carpenter came with a wooden horse slung over his shoulder. When he saw it, the king pulled a long face, "Surely this is a child's toy? How can it compare with the iron fish?"

"Oh, it's even better than the iron fish," said the carpenter. "It has twenty-six screws on it. When you loosen the first screw, the wooden horse will fly into the sky; when you loosen the second screw, it will accelerate. If you loosen all the twenty-six screws, it will fly more quickly than any bird and take you around the world."

The young prince happened to be present while they were talking about this. His curiosity was greatly aroused when he heard that the wooden horse could fly. How he wished he could fly up into the sky and have a look at the world! He turned to the king and asked him to let him have a ride. The king said, "No, it's out of the question. Are you even sure that it can really fly? What if it rises into the sky and then falls to the ground?"

"Don't worry," said the carpenter. "There is no chance of that ever happening."

The little prince kept pestering his father. Since the king doted on him and had never refused him anything, he got his way in the end. "But you can only try it out," said the king. "You must fly slowly and only loosen the first screw." Agreeing to this, the little prince mounted the horse. He loosened the first screw, and sure enough, the wooden horse rose into the air. He looked down and saw everything beneath him moving further away: the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the towns, the crowds of people. He was so delighted that he loosened one screw after another. The wooden horse flew faster and faster and soon crowds, trees, towns were all out of sight. As he flew, the little prince became hungry. He looked down and saw another city beneath him. He tightened the screws one by one. The wooden horse slowed down and gradually landed. The little prince had a meal and put up for the night at an inn. What fun! To arrive like this, in the twinkling of an eye, in a new town, a town he had never seen before!

The next day the little prince went sight-seeing. Having strolled along several streets, he found himself in a square filled with people gazing up into the sky. "There must be something fascinating up there in the sky," he thought. He elbowed his way into the crowd and looked up, but there was nothing to be seen.

"What are you looking at?" he asked a man beside him. The man gave him a scrutinizing glance and replied, "Our king has a princess. No one in the world can match her in beauty. The king loves her so much that he will not let anybody look at her. The princess used to live in the palace, but the king thought that she was not safe enough there, so he has had a mansion built in the sky and the princess lives there all by herself. Every day, when the court is dismissed, the king goes up to see her. He has been there for quite a long while and is expected to return at any moment. That's why everyone is here, waiting for him."

This sounded quite strange to the little prince.

"Surely it's impossible to build a palace in the sky?"

"The palace was built by an immortal, and only the king can go there," said the man.

The little prince bore these words in mind. That night he mounted his wooden horse and flew up into the sky, where sure enough, a magnificent palace greeted his eyes. He flew directly to the door, dismounted from his horse and walked in. Seeing a man come in, the princess at first took him for her father. When she discovered her mistake, she thought he must be a god come down from heaven and hurriedly stood up to greet him. "What a lovely young lady!" thought the prince. "What a handsome young man!" thought the princess. They fell in love at first sight and without knowing what they were doing, they walked up to each other and embraced.

The following morning the little prince returned to the inn on his horse, and later that day, the king came to the palace in the sky as usual. The first thing he did was to weigh the princess. He used to do this every day, for he knew that a woman would put on weight if she had touched a man. As he weighed her that day, he found the princess two pounds heavier than usual. He flew into a rage, he scowled and his beard stood on end. People were very puzzled that day because the king returned to his palace rather early. Seeing that he was in a bad mood, his courtiers came forward to ask what was troubling him. The king told them what had happened. "Who else can go up there but me?" he asked, and then added, "You must find me a way to arrest this man."

One of his courtiers made a suggestion, "We have four mighty warriors in our kingdom. Your Majesty can send them up to stand at the foot of the four walls of the palace. When the man turns up, they wil1 he sure to catch him." The king thought this an excellent idea. That evening he personally took the warriors up and showed them where to hide and keep watch. When everything was set, the king went down to his palace. But, unfortunately for his plans, the warriors were inveterate sleepy heads and soon fell asleep at their posts. The little prince came again and stayed with impunity until dawn.

When the king arrived and weighed the princess, he discovered that she had put on weight again. He was speechless with rage.

He called in another courtier for consultation. The courtier said, "Why not apply a coat of paint to the bed and chairs of the princess? Then tomorrow we can search the city and whoever has paint on his clothes is our man." The king followed his advice and had the princess' bed, chairs and all her other furniture painted. In the evening the little prince came again. On his way back, he noticed that his clothes were badly stained with paint, so he took them off and threw them away.

It so happened that in the town there lived a poor old man who got up before dawn every day and went from door to door waking people to go to mosque. While he was on his rounds that day, something dropped from the sky. He picked it up and found it to be a set of very fine clothes. "I have been serving Allah all my life and this must be my reward!" the old man thought to himself and took the clothes home.

That evening, when the whole town came to the mosque to pray, the king secretly sent his men to search for the suspect. The old man who was happily wearing his "reward from Allah" soon got into trouble. In the middle of the service, he was arrested and brought to the king. "Why are your clothes stained with paint?" the king questioned him. The old man answered, "I picked these clothes up off the ground and they were like this when I found them." The king didn't believe his story and sent him to prison to be interrogated under torture. Without much trouble, they managed to extract some sort of confession from him, and he was sentenced to death by hanging.

The whole town was abuzz with this affair, and everyone was curious to know what this man was like who had succeeded in getting into the palace in the sky. When they saw this old man being led to the scaffold, no one thought he could possibly have done it. They began to talk about the case, and all felt that he must have been falsely accused. When the news reached the ears of the little prince, his conscience drove him to intervene. Carrying the wooden horse under his arm, he dashed to the execution ground where the noose had already been tied around the man's neck.

"Don't hang him! He is innocent!" shouted the prince. "It is I who went to the palace in the sky. The paint-stained clothes are mine. If you want to hang someone, hang me and let him go!"

The king, who was watching from a distance, saw the execution come to a halt and sent someone to ask what had happened. The hangman told him, "A young man has just come forward and confessed the crime. Which of them should be hanged?"

"Hang the one who has pleaded guilty," ordered the king. So the old man was released and went home, thanking his lucky stars for this narrow escape. The little prince, meanwhile, just as the hangman came over to bind him for the hanging, mounted his wooden horse, loosened the screws and rose into the air before everyone's eyes. Seeing that all his men could not even deal with this one youth, the king fainted with rage.

The little prince arrived at the palace in the sky and said to the princess, "Our love is so deep that we can never part. Now that we have been detected by your father, I am sure he won't allow me to stay here any longer. There is only one way out. Come home with me. I know my father will like you."

The princess agreed and said, "Wherever you go, I will go too." The two hurried out of the palace in the sky and flew away on the wooden horse. They had been flying for a long time when the princess suddenly cried out, "I forgot to bring the two precious stones my mother gave me when I was a little girl. Let me go back and get them. I should like to give them to your parents at our wedding."

"We are already a long way from the palace," said the little prince. "Let's not bother with them now." But the princess insisted on going back, and in the end, the little prince had to give in. He tightened the screws and the wooden horse landed.

The prince said, "I'll wait for you here. Go to the palace on the wooden horse and come back as soon as you have collected the precious stones." The princess mounted the wooden horse and flew away.

Meanwhile, the king, who had been brought round by his courtiers, feared the worst for his daughter. He hurried up to the palace in the sky and, just as expected, found the place empty. He was at his wits' end when suddenly the princess arrived on the wooden horse. His men captured her and took her down to his palace, where they locked her up in an empty room. The wooden horse also fell into the hands of the king, but he had no idea how to use it and just stored it in another empty room.

Long before all this, there had been another king who, hearing of the beauty of the princess, had asked for her hand for his own son, only to be rejected by the princess' father. After this affair, however, it suited him to marry her to someone who lived a long way away, and he sent a message to this king, saying, "My daughter has reached the age of marriage, and I am therefore willing to marry her to your son. This will make our two families closely related and will bring an enduring peace to our two kingdoms. Please let your son come and take his bride."

But let us leave aside the king and his daughter and turn once more to the little prince.

He waited for a long time, but there was no sign of the princess. Looking around, he found himself in a boundless stretch of desert with towering sand dunes in every direction. The sand was blowing in the wind, the scorching sun was directly over head and there was not so much as a single blade of grass to be seen. Time passed, and he became hungry and thirsty. But when he rose to his feet and went in search of water, there was not a drop to be found. "I may be able to see something from the top of those dunes," he thought, but as he climbed, the shifting sand buried his feet, making every step a struggle. With great difficulty he finally reached the top. As he raised his head to look around, the sand underneath gave way like melting ice in spring. He slipped over and downward and when he came to a stop, he saw before him a lush orchard filled with all kinds of fruit trees. The ripe fruits, red and green, hung heavy on the trees. His mouth watered. He ran in, picked several peaches and began gobbling them up. He ate his fill of the sweet, juicy fruits and then fell asleep against a tree.

When he woke up, he felt his chin and found his whole face covered with a growth of beard. As he was wondering what had happened, he felt hungry again but did not dare to eat any more peaches. He suspected them of being the cause of his beard. Then he saw a pear tree. Pulling down a branch, he picked a few large succulent pears. The more he ate, the more delicious they tasted. When he was sated with the pears, he fell asleep again and did not wake till dusk. Stretching himself, he bumped his head against a tree. His head seemed heavier than usual and when he felt it, he discovered that he had grown a pair of thick horns and his chin was covered with a snowy white beard more than a foot long. "How terrible I look!" thought the little prince. "Even if the princess returns, she will never recognize me and will never love me again. What can I do?" The more he thought the more wretched he felt, and he burst into tears. After a while, exhausted with weeping, he fell into a deep sleep.

He dreamed that an old man came to see him. "My child, why are you so sad?" he asked, stroking the little prince's head. When the little prince told him what had happened, the old man said, "Don't worry. Go and pick up some of the dried peaches and pears that have fallen under the trees and eat them, then your beard and your horns will disappear. Leave quickly! This place is inhabited by demons. They are now asleep. When they awake, they will devour you."

The words startled the little prince from sleep. He rubbed his eyes. A cool breeze was blowing, carrying away with it the heat of the desert. Following the advice of the old man in his dream, he gathered a handful of dry peaches and a handful of dry pears and chewed them slowly. Sure enough, when he finished eating and felt his chin and head again, the beard and the horns had vanished. He pondered for a while. Then, breaking some willow twigs, he wove a basket and filled half of it with dry peaches and pears and half with fresh. He hurried from the demon's orchard.

He wanted to go home, but had no idea in which direction home lay. "The important thing is just to keep going!" he thought to himself. Everywhere he went, it was desert with no sign of human habitation. He had only the dry peaches and pears to allay his hunger and the vast desert to sleep on. He walked like this for seven days and nights and saw not even a bird, let alone a human being.

Finally he reached a highway. Breathing a sigh of relief, he sat down by the roadside to rest.

Presently he saw a man driving a donkey along the road. From him the little prince learnt that his home lay to the east, while the kingdom of the princess lay to the west. "How can I go home now, having lost both the princess and the wooden horse?" he thought to himself. So he chose to go west along the road. As he was walking, he heard the sound of men shouting orders. A great cortege caught up with him. The men were in full armor, the horses likewise; it was a most impressive sight.

In the middle was a carriage intricately inlaid with gold, with glass windows on all four sides. Four elaborately caparisoned horses led the way. The little prince had stepped aside to watch, but to his surprise the carriage came to a halt in front of him and a man came up and asked him, "What are you selling?"

"Nothing," replied the little prince.

But the man pointed to his basket and said, "Aren't these peaches and pears? After a hard day's journey, our prince is thirsty and hungry. Please be so good as to sell us some of your fruit."

"This fruit is not for sale," said the little prince. "It is food for my journey. Can't you see that there is not even a blade of grass to be found on this road? Where can I find food to eat if I sell this to you?"

Meanwhile the prince inside the carriage was shouting to his men to hurry up. "Pay whatever he asks!" he cried, handing them out an ingot of gold.

"Where are you going?" inquired the little prince.

"Our master is on his way to his wedding," answered the men. "His bride is the princess in the town ahead." So saying, he pointed to the west. The little prince was shaken by the news, but he managed to maintain an unruffled appearance. After he had asked some more detailed questions and was sure that the bride was none other than the princess he loved, he accepted the gold, chose two especially red peaches and two especially big pears from his basket and handed them to the men.

The prince inside the carriage was delighted to have the fruit and devoured it ravenously. The cortege then continued on its way, and with the rocking of the carriage, the prince gradually fell asleep. When he awoke, he gave a great start and began crying out loud. His escort gathered around him to inquire what the matter was. When they looked inside the carriage, they saw no prince but a monster with a white beard on its chin and two horns on its head. They were panic stricken. The whole cortege came to a halt to wait for the fruit seller.

After a short while, when the little prince caught up with them, they stopped him and asked, "What kind of fruit did you sell our master?"

"Fruit that grows on trees."

"But why does he have a beard on his face and horns on his head after eating your fruit?"

The little prince saw the strange-looking creature in the carriage and felt inwardly delighted, but he concealed his feeling and calmly said in reply, "I've been eating them every day. Why has nothing happened to me?" There was nothing the courtiers could say to this.

How could the prince marry the princess now that he looked like a monster? They put their heads together to find a way out. "We'd better turn back," one of them suggested. "They'll definitely drive us out if we go." But the prince would rather die than go back.

Finally, his father's favorite courtier came up with an idea. "We must find a handsome young man and disguise him as the prince. If the princess falls for it and we manage to get her back to our kingdom, she'll be at our mercy." This plan was generally acclaimed and they began to look around for a likely candidate. In the end they agreed that the fruit-seller was the most handsome young man present, and they asked him to do the job.

Pretending to be coy, he said, "This is your affair. See to it yourself. I have my own business to attend to." The courtiers begged him again and again, offering him five golden ingots as reward.

"That's not enough," said the little prince.

"Seven then," said the courtiers. They told him to sit upright in the carriage, like a real prince. Their own master, the prince with the horns, was told to ride on a horse. They bound his head in a piece of cloth, put a veil over his face and advised him that once they were in the capital, he should hide indoors and not on any account let anyone see him. When everything was satisfactorily arranged, the cortege continued on its way. They arrived to find the king waiting for them outside the town gates. Seeing so handsome a son-in-law and so many betrothal gifts, the king was overjoyed. At the same time, he was very concerned that the marriage might be ruined if his daughter's story became known, so preparations for a four-day wedding banquet got under way immediately. The old were entertained outside while the young were asked to stay inside to wait on the prince and princess. The king's whole purpose was to keep the guests so busy that they would have no time to learn his shameful secret.

Throughout the first three days of the wedding, the princess did nothing but weep and kept her face veiled. She wouldn't even raise her head to look at the bridegroom for her heart was set on another -- the little prince, the only man she truly loved. When the fourth day came, the king was still worried and sent a trusted old woman to spy on the bridegroom and see whether he really loved the princess. That evening, at the banquet in the palace, the little prince sat beside the princess.

When no one was looking, he told her in a whisper, "It's me! I've come back!"

The princess immediately put aside her veil and glanced at him. "Heavens!" she thought to herself. "Is this a dream? What could be in father's mind to bring him back to me like this?"

Afraid that the princess might reveal his secret, the little prince whispered the whole story to her, telling her to act as if she knew nothing. While they were dancing together, they discussed how to escape. The little prince's idea was that after the wedding, when she was supposed to leave with him, she should ask her father for the wooden horse. She must tell him that she would never leave without it. "No matter how he threatens you, don't be afraid."

The old woman came to the king and reported, "The young couple are very fond of one another, Your Majesty. They have been dancing and singing together the whole evening." This pleased the king greatly.

The next day many distinguished guests gathered in front of the palace, waiting to see the princess off. The prince's men were also ready with their horses. But inside the palace the princess was still clinging onto her father and pestering him with her request for the wooden horse In a rage the king called in the hangman to threaten her with death, but the princess was not in the least afraid, saying that if she couldn't have the wooden horse, she would die.

The king was at his wits' end. When the distinguished guests, tired of waiting, came in to ask the reason for the delay, the king said to them, "The naughty thing! She is behaving just like a child. She has a wooden horse which she desperately wants to take with her."

Hearing this, the guests burst out laughing. "A toy! Why not let her take it with her?" The king felt too embarrassed to say anything. He took out the wooden horse and gave it to her and amid much pomp and ceremony the cortege left the capital.

The journey took them several days. During this time their escort attended to them with great devotion, never giving them one minute to themselves, which made it impossible for them to escape. As they were approaching their destination, the young couple became desperate. At the last moment, the little prince thought of a new ruse. He told the princess, "When we arrive at the palace gates, you must say that you will get out of the carriage on one condition only: they are to bring you seven plates piled high with gold. You must then scatter the gold on the ground for the people to pick up."

The princess followed his instructions carefully. As soon as she scattered the gold about, people stampeded to get it. Seizing this opportunity, the little prince helped the princess onto the wooden horse, loosened one screw, and in the twinkling of an eye they were up in the air. There was no mishap on their journey, and they landed safe and sound in the prince's home.

The king, the little prince's father, had been missing his lost son day and night. He blamed his disappearance on the carpenter and was about to put this unfortunate man to death. The carpenter had been nailed to the end of a bridge for three days and nights. The little prince, when he returned, saw the king and said to him, "Father, the carpenter's wooden horse has been of great service. Without it I would not have been able to see so many countries, find such a beautiful bride and come back to you again safe and sound. You should give the carpenter a handsome reward." The king listened with great shame and felt compelled to tell his son what he had done to the carpenter. He sent his men to the bridge at once. They found the carpenter still alive, untied him and brought him back to the palace.

The little prince personally took good care of the carpenter until his wounds were healed. Then he gave him a large sum of money to enable him to perfect his craft. The little prince and the princess held a second wedding, and in the course of time the prince succeeded to the throne.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Tiger King's Skin Cloak

(A Mongolian Story)

Long, long ago there lived in the Land of the Khans a poor Alad [a serf or a herdsman in the days of feudalism]. His wife bore three children, but unfortunately they all died. No further children were born to the couple and they lived a solitary and wretched life.

Then unexpectedly one winter's day the Alad's wife gave birth to a boy. The couple were overjoyed, but, they began to wonder how they were going to raise their child. Except for a cow and two mountain goats they had nothing of any value. What were they to do?

Though distressed they nevertheless went outside their tent to milk the cow for the baby.

The child grew not by the day but by the hour. Before evening he had grown taller and sturdier than a man. Husband and wife were both astonished and delighted. They named their boy Ku-nan, which means Ancient South.

On the very first day Ku-nan ate up a whole goat. On the next day he ate up the other one. The old couple were filled with dismay. One more day, they thought, and even the cow will be done for! And then what will we have to live on?

On the third day Ku-nan said to his mother, "Ah-Ma, we are so poor and we have only a cow left. Let me go and find some work to do. I'm afraid I'll fall ill if I stay at home any longer."

She looked at her son's tall and robust figure and, taking his big hand in her, said in a tearful voice, "My son, what work can you do? Hai! You may perhaps go to the Khan. He may have some work for you." Ku-nan pondered for a while, then agreed.

After taking leave of his parents, he fared forth on an empty stomach. Half way he met with a hungry wolf. As soon as it saw him it jumped on him, but Ku-nan immediately tackled it and killed it. He then skinned it and, making himself a bonfire, roasted the meat and ate it. Having done so, he continued on his way and at dusk reached the Khan's yurt.

The sly old Khan thought of testing Ku-nan's strength. He had a whole cow roasted and invited the lad to eat it. Ku-nan not only ate up all the meat, but gnawed the bones clean, too. The Khan then kept him in his yurt as his personal attendant and bodyguard.

Ku-nan often went with the Khan deep into the forest to hunt, and every time they came home with a full bag. One day, when the two of them, together with some of the Khan's servants, went hunting in the deep reaches of the forest, a huge tiger suddenly leaped out upon them. The Khan was so frightened he broke into a cold sweat. Without a thought for Ku-nan's safety he whipped his horse into a gallop and tore off down the mountain. The Khan's servants fled helter-skelter, covering their heads with their hands. But Ku-nan did not stir. As the tiger sprang upon him he calmly dodged to one side, grabbed one of its hind legs, and swung the beast against a big tree. There was a crash, and the tree leaves fluttered to the ground. The tiger lay motionless on the ground with its stomach ripped open. Ku-nan put the carcass on his back and strode off after the Khan.

When the Khan reached his yurt, he was still in such a state of fright he could not dismount from his horse. Luckily his servants, who had taken to their heels when the tiger appeared, came to his aid and lifted him off his horse. At this moment Ku-nan arrived. When the Khan saw the tiger on Ku-nan's back he panicked. He rushed into his yurt and barred the door. "Hurry! All of you," he bawled. "Defend the door! Don't let the tiger in!" Later when he heard it was a dead tiger Ku-nan had brought, he mustered his courage and came out of his hiding place. Foaming with rage he cursed Ku-nan, using all the foul words he knew, and took the tiger's skin into his yurt.

Once the Khan had the tiger's skin as a mattress, he decided he wanted a cloak made of the Tiger King's skin. Thus he commanded Ku-nan to catch the Tiger King within three days. If he were to fail in his mission the Khan would have him executed. Ku-nan felt very dejected. Where was he to find the Tiger King? It was said that the Tiger King lived in a remote cave in the Northern Mountains, and that there were lots of tigers there in the vicinity. But no one had even been known to reach the place.

The skies grew dark, and Ku-nan returned home feeling very unhappy. He told his parents of what had happened. The old couple were in a quandary. If they were to prevent him from going, they were afraid the Khan would really put their son to death. But if they were to let him go, who could guarantee his safety?

Husband and wife sat facing each other and wept. They made such a to-do that Ku-nan found it hard to come to any decision. Suddenly an old Alad came into their shabby little cottage.

"My lad," he addressed Ku-nan, "don't be downcast. The Tiger King is afraid of a brave man. As long as you keep your native land and your dear ones in mind, you'll be able to overcome any hardship. Go, my lad. I'll give you a dappled pony to ride on. Good luck to you!" The old Alad lightly kissed Ku-nan on his forehead and disappeared. When Ku-nan went outside he saw a dappled pony neighing in his direction.

The skies gradually grew light, and Ku-nan bade his parents goodbye. Taking his bow, arrow-bag and dagger, he mounted his charge and set off on his mission. At first the pony trotted along at a normal pace, but later it broke into a canter, and then a gallop. Faster and faster it went, so fast that Ku-nan could only see the yurts along the road in a blur. After a while the beast slackened its speed. Just then Ku-nan saw near a yurt a wolf just about to attack a little girl. In the nick of time he slipped an arrow into his bow, and let fly. The wolf instantly fell dead on the ground with the arrow in its head.

An old woman ran out from the yurt. When she realized that Ku-nan had saved her grand-daughter's life, she invited him in for a bowl of milk-tea. Before his departure she gave him a sheep-bone and said, "Take it, lad, it'll be of some use to you in the future."

With her gift in hand, Ku-nan vaulted upon his pony and continued his way northwards. As he trotted along the road he found his way blocked by a broad river. Suddenly the water rose and formed great billows. A huge turtle emerged and swam to the river bank. "My lad," it croaked, "you had better turn back. You'll never get across this river."

"Oh, surely," replied Ku-nan. "All difficulties can be overcome."

"Oh, well then, brave lad," the turtle said, "please help me. My left eye aches so badly, I want to have it taken out and replaced with a new one. Please, help me, take it out for me."

"All right, I'll help you."

As soon as Ku-nan looked in his hands. The eye had turned into a pearl! A glowing, flawless precious pearl. After looking at it Ku-nan's eye-sight became very sharp, he could even see a group of yurts in the far distance. Ku-nan then remounted his pony. As though understanding its master's intention, the beast plunged into the water. What a miracle! No sooner had the water touched the precious pearl than it divided to form a transparent wall on either side, leaving a dry path through the center. Ku-nan rode across to the opposite bank of the river without further difficulty. The water then flowed its usual course as if nothing had ever happened.

Ku-nan soon reached the yurts he had seen in the distance. An old shepherd was softly weeping there. He was a pitiful sight. Having dismounted from his pony, Ku-nan addressed him. "Grandpa, what makes you so sad?" he asked. "Please tell me, perhaps I can be of some help to you."

The old shepherd wiped his eyes and sighed. "Young man, even if I tell you, I'm afraid you won't be able to help me. Yesterday my only daughter was carried off by the Tiger King. I don't know whether she's alive or dead now...." The old man again broke into heart-rending sobs.

"Grandpa, don't lose heart," Ku-nan consoled him. "I'm sure your daughter isn't dead. I'm looking for that Tiger King. I'll go there and rescue her."

The old shepherd cheered up. He invited Ku-nan into his tent to have some tea. After his tea, Ku-nan thanked the old man and left.

Before dark Ku-nan arrived at the place where the Tiger King lived. From afar he could see a stone cave up on the mountain. At the entrance were more than ten tigers on guard. As Ku-nan neared the cave, he fished the sheep-bone out of his pocket and threw it to the tigers. He then entered and found the shepherd's daughter. She told him that the tiger King had been out since early morning, and that he had not yet returned, but probably would soon. She thought of hiding Ku-nan, but he refused, suggesting that he first rescue her and take her home. She agreed, and the two of them rode the dappled pony out of the cave. The tigers outside were still fighting over the bone. Ku-nan flourished his whip, and the pony dashed down the mountain like a whirlwind.

Suddenly a gust of wild wind blew from the north. Riding on a yellow cloud, an ogre with the head of a tiger and the body of a man, all covered with golden hair, came chasing down. Ku-nan turned round and let fly an arrow, which pierced the ogre's left eye. The Tiger King roared furiously. He reached out a huge paw and yanked Ku-nan off his charge. Then with a single blow he drove him waist-deep into the ground. Ku-nan instantly wriggled out. With one stroke he smote the ogre neck-deep into the ground, and, without waiting for him to free himself, he swiftly unsheathed his dagger and thrust the blade deep into the ogre's pate. Ku-nan thus ended the Tiger King's life.

He pulled the carcass out of the ground and, dragging it by one leg, caught up with his pony. He and the girl then returned to her home. When the old shepherd saw that Ku-nan had rescued his daughter, he was very happy, and gave him her hand in marriage.

Ku-nan stayed the night in their yurt and, when day grew light, again set off with his wife on their pony. But just as they were preparing to leave they heard a howling wind approaching from the north. Ku-nan turned to look and saw ten or so tigers coming in hot pursuit. They were those he had left fighting over the sheep-bone the day before. Ku-nan hurriedly sent his wife into the yurt. He shot an arrow and killed the tiger in the lead. Then he unsheathed his dagger and strode forward to meet them.

A furious combat ensued. In one breath he slayed seven or eight of them, but the remaining three attacked him with even redoubled fierceness. Ku-nan felt himself utterly exhausted. Just as he was on the point of collapse, the old shepherd, at the head of about ten young lads, rushed to the rescue. They brought with them poles for breaking in horses. They helped Ku-nan catch the three tigers and thus relieved him from danger. He thanked them for their help and gave them all the tigers he had slain. Taking his wife he remounted his pony and proceeded home.

When the Khan saw that Ku-nan had slain the Tiger King and had brought home a beautiful wife besides, he felt very happy and at the same time envious. He ordered Ku-nan's wife to make him a cloak out of the Tiger King's skin, and not to miss a single hair of the pelt. Ku-nan's wife did as the Khan bade her and let her husband take the cloak to him.

When the Khan saw the cloak he was extremely pleased. He thought of showing himself off in his domain in all his majesty. He wanted everybody to know that he, the Khan, possessed a precious cloak made of the Tiger King's skin.

A platform was erected in front of the Khan's yurt. He invited the officials from all over the land of the Khans to eat and drink and carouse. A little way across stood a great multitude of people who had come from every corner of the land to see the Khan's Tiger King cloak.

After a while amidst the blare of music the Khan ambled across the platform with a self-satisfied air. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, and a well-dressed servant climbed up, bearing a yellow bundle. He opened it up and took out the glistening golden colored cloak made of the Tiger King's skin. He paraded it for everyone to see, then helped the Khan to put it on. No sooner had the Khan put on the cloak than he turned into a fierce motley-colored tiger. It made a deafening roar and bounded off the platform and attacked the throng, biting and wounding many people. The officials were so scared they leaped onto their horses and made off for all they were worth.

At that moment Ku-nan fortunately arrived on the scene. When he saw a tiger chasing people and mauling them, he was horrified. He thought of shooting the beast with his arrow, but unluckily he had left his arrow-bag at home; even the dagger was not at his girdle. As he was fumbling helplessly, the tiger suddenly charged in his direction. He stood his ground and waited till the beast had come within reach. Then with the swiftness of an eagle he grabbed its tail, jerked it into the air and in a single breath smote it ten times upon the ground. The tiger lay bruised, maimed and bleeding and soon died. Because the beast was formerly the Khan, people went to bury it.

From then on Ku-nan went out hunting every day, riding his dapple pony, and on his return he would share his kill with poor Alads around the neighborhood. Besides, he often cured the poor of their eye diseases with his precious pearl: as soon as old people looked at it, their dim sight would become clear; as soon as the blind rolled it round the orbit of their eyes, they would be able to see. Thanks to his help the poor Alads began to sing their joyful songs again and their lives became very pleasant.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Toad-Bridegroom

Long ago there lived a poor fisherman in a certain village. One day he went fishing in the lake as usual, but found he could not catch as many fish as he was accustomed to. And on each of the following days he found his catch growing smaller and smaller. He tried new baits, and bought new hooks, but all to no avail. At last even the water of the lake began to disappear, until in the end it became too shallow for fishing.

One afternoon in the late summer the bottom of the lake was exposed to view, and a big toad came out from it. The fisherman immediately thought that it must have eaten up all the fish and angrily cursed the samzog or three families of the frog, its parents, brothers, wife and children, for it is popularly believed that the toad is a relative of the frog. Then the toad spoke to him gently, rolling its eyes, "Do not be angry, for one day I shall bring you good fortune. I wish to live in your house, so please let me go with you." But the fisherman was annoyed that a toad should make such a request and hastened home without it.

That evening the toad came to his house. His wife, who had already heard about it from her husband, received it kindly, and made a bed for it in a corner of the kitchen. Then she brought it worms and scraps to eat. The couple had no children of their own, and decided to keep the toad as a pet. It grew to be as big as a boy, and they came to love it as if it were their son.

Nearby there lived a rich man who had three daughters. One day the toad told the fisherman and his wife that it would like to marry one of the three daughters. They were most alarmed at this most unreasonable request and earnestly advised it to forget such an impossible ambition. "It is utterly absurd," they said. "How can poor people like us propose marriage to such a great family? And you are not even a human being."

So the toad replied, "I don't care what the rank of the family is. The parents may object, but yet one of the daughters may be willing to accept me. Who knows? Please go and ask, and let me know what answer you receive."

So the fisherman's wife went and called on the mistress of the rich man's house and told her what her toad-son had asked. The lady was greatly displeased and went and told her husband. He was furiously angry at such a preposterous suggestion and ordered his servant to beat the toad's foster-mother. So the poor woman returned home and told the toad of her painful experience.

"I'm very sorry that you have been treated like that, Mother," the toad said to her, "but don't let it worry you too much. Just wait and see what will happen." Then he went out and caught a hawk and brought it home. Late that night he tied a lighted lantern to its foot, and crept stealthily to the rich man's house. He tied a long string to the hawk's foot and then climbed a tall persimmon tree which stood by the house. Then he held the end of the string in his hand and released the hawk to fly over the house.

As it flew into the air he solemnly declared in a loud voice, "The master of this house shall listen to my words, for I have been dispatched by the Heavenly King. To-day you rejected a proposal of marriage, and now you shall be punished for your arrogance. I shall give you one day to reconsider your decision. I advise you to accept the toad's proposal, for if you do not, you, your brothers, and your children shall be utterly destroyed."

The people in the house were startled by this nocturnal proclamation from the sky, and they opened the windows to see what was going on. When they looked up into the sky they saw a dim light hovering overhead. The master of the house went out into the garden and kneeled humbly on the ground looking up into the sky. Then the toad let go of the string he held in his hand, and the hawk soared skywards with the lantern still tied to its foot. The rich man was now convinced that what he had heard was spoken by a messenger from Heaven, and at once resolved to consent to the toad's marriage to one of his daughters.

Next morning the rich man went and called on the toad's foster parents, and apologized humbly for his discourteous refusal on the previous day. He said now that he would gladly accept the toad as his son-in-law. Then he returned home and asked his eldest daughter to marry the toad, but she rushed from the room in fury and humiliation. Then he called his second daughter, and suggested that she be the toad's wife, but she too rushed from the room without a word. So he called his youngest daughter and explained to her that if she refused she would place the whole family in a most difficult position indeed, so stern had been the warning from Heaven. But the youngest daughter agreed to marry the toad without the slightest hesitation.

The wedding took place on the following day, and a great crowd of guests attended consumed by curiosity at such an unusual happening. That night, when they retired, the toad asked his bride to bring him a pair of scissors. She went and got a pair, and then he asked her to cut the skin off his back. This strange request startled her greatly, but he insisted that she do so without delay, and so she made a long cut in his back. Then, lo and behold, there stepped forth from the skin a handsome young man.

In the morning the bridegroom put on his toad skin again, so that nobody noticed any difference. Her two sisters sneered contemptuously at the bride with her repulsive husband, but she took no notice of them. At noon all the men of the household went out on horseback with bows and arrows to hunt. The toad accompanied them on foot and unarmed. But the party had no success in the hunt and had to return empty-handed.

The bridegroom stripped off his toad skin and became a man when they had gone, and waved his hand in the air. Then a white haired old man appeared and he bade him bring one hundred deer. When the deer came he drove them homeward, once more wearing his toad skin. Everyone was most surprised to see all the deer, and then he suddenly stripped off the toad skin and revealed himself as a handsome young man, at which their astonishment knew no bounds. Then he released all the deer and rose up to Heaven, carrying his bride on his back and his parents on his arms.