Once upon a time there was a wise king. His wisdom was known to all, and he seemed to know even the most secret things. Every night, after the table was cleared from dinner and no one remained but the King, a trusty servant brought him one more covered dish. No one knew what was under the cover, not even the servant, and the King never took off the cover until he was quite alone.
One day, the servant, overcome with curiosity, brought the dish to his room after the King was finished. He carefully locked the door and set the dish upon the table. Under the cover there was a white snake lying on the dish. The servant could not help himself from cutting off a small piece and taking a taste. As soon as the flesh touched his tongue, the servant heard strange whispering outside his window. When he went to listen, he noticed that there were sparrows outside. The birds were chatting and spoke of what they had seen in the woods and fields. Consuming the snake conveyed the power to understand the speech of animals.
On that very day, the Queen lost her most beautiful ring. She suspected the trusty servant, for he was allowed everywhere. The servant was brought before the King and warned that if he could not point out the thief before the sun rose tomorrow that he would be considered guilty and put to death. The servant declared his innocence but the King was unmoving.
The servant went to the courtyard, fretting and fearing for his life. Nearby were some ducks, who were sitting quietly together and chatting. The servant listened to the ducks and their conversation.
“Something is heavy in my stomach,” said one of the ducks sorrowfully, “in my haste to eat this morning, I swallowed a ring from under the Queen’s window. It is most uncomfortable.” No sooner had the duck finished this declaration than the trusty servant grasped her about the neck and carried her to the cook to be slaughtered.
“Please kill this fine duck,” said the servant to the cook.
“Certainly,” said the cook, “for this fine duck is nice and fat and ready for roasting.” The cook chopped off the duck’s head. As Cook prepared the duck for dressing, the Queen’s ring was found inside.
The King, who saw the servant’s innocence, wished to make amends for his error in accusing the servant. Though the King promised the best place in the court and all that the servant could wish for, the servant wanted only a horse and some money for traveling.
His request was granted, and the servant soon set off to see the world. One day, this young man came upon a pond where there were three fish caught in the reeds. He heard the fish moaning and crying piteously that they were dying a miserable death. The youth, who was a kind man at heart, got off his horse and freed the fish from the reeds. The fish were ecstatic, and called, “We will remember you and repay you if we can!”
The young man rode on and after some time he heard a voice near the ground.
“Why can’t people and their clumsy beasts be more careful? They trod on my people! This horse, with his heavy hooves, has stepped on my people without mercy!” cried the Ant King. Hearing this, the young man turned his horse onto a side path to avoid the ants. the Ant King saw and called, “We will remember you, and repay you if we can!”
The servant followed the side path into a wood, where there were two old ravens standing beside their nest. The ravens were throwing out their young ones, exclaiming, “Out! Out! We cannot find food for you any longer, you are big enough to provide for yourselves!”
The young ravens flopped on the ground, where they lamented, “Oh! Whatever should we do? We cannot yet fly, so how can we eat? We will lie here and starve!”
The young man, hearing this, dismounted. He drew his sword and swiftly killed his horse so the young ravens could eat it for food. They hopped over and cried, “Thank you! We will remember you and repay you if we can!”
The young man continued on his way, this time by walking. After a long while, he came across a large bustling city. The crowds were noisy and thick, but the youth saw a man ride through the streets on horseback calling, “The King’s daughter wants a husband, but whomever wishes for her hand must perform a difficult feat or forfeit his life!”
Many had already attempted this task in vain, but when the young man saw the King’s daughter he was overwhelmed by her beauty. Forgetting all danger, he went to the King to declare himself a suitor.
The youth was led to the sea, and a gold ring was thrown into the water. The King ordered the young man, “Fetch me the gold ring from the bottom of the sea. If you some up again without it, you will be thrown in again, and again until you perish.” The spectators were sad for the handsome young man, and went away to leave him alone by the sea.
The youth stood on the shore thinking. Suddenly, he saw three fish swimming toward him. They were the fish he’d saved from the reeds. The middle fish carried a mussel in his mouth, which he laid at the feet of the youth. The fish swam away as the youth picked up the mussel and opened it, only to find a gold ring lying inside the shell. The youth happily returned to the King to deliver the gold ring.
The princess, who was proud as well as beautiful, saw that the young man was not her equal in birth. She turned up her nose and set him another task. The princess went into the garden with ten sacks full of millet seed which she spread upon the grass. “You have until sunrise tomorrow morning to pick up every grain. Not a single grain can be missing,” the princess informed the youth.
The young man sat in the garden thinking but could conceive of nothing to help him in his predicament. When the sun rose, the youth was shocked to see ten bags of millet standing full. The Ant King had come with his subjects and helped in the night. The multitudes of ants returned all the seed to the sacks. Not a single grain was missing.
The King’s daughter came to the garden and was shocked to see that the task was complete. Still proud, she declared, “Though you have completed both tasks set for you, you shall not be my husband until you bring an apple from the Tree of Life.”
The Youth set out at once, although he did not know the location of this tree. He had no hope of finding it, but still went on and on in search. After wandering through three kingdoms, one evening he came to a wood where he lay down under a tree to sleep. Before his eyes could shut, a golden apple fell from the rustling branches into his hand. Amazed, he looked up and saw three ravens. They said, “you saved us from starving when we were young. We’re grown now, and heard of your quest. We flew over the sea to the end of the world, where the Tree of Life grows. We have brought you and apple from that tree.” The youth thanked the ravens and joyfully set off on his return.
The young man brought the golden apple to the King’s beautiful daughter, who had no more excuses. She cut the Golden Apple in two and they ate it together. Her heart filled with love, and they lived happily ever after.
I like the moral of this tale: good deeds will be returned.
Although I have to say, if this guy could listen to animals, how cruel is it that he KILLED HIS HORSE? You’d think that he’d be able to hear the horse too!!
Also, finally a beautiful princess who isn’t perfect! (Though I’m glad she does get over her pride eventually).