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Snake Skin

Source: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars

Far, very far, there was once, I do not know where, even beyond the
frozen Operencian Sea, a poplar-tree, on the top of which there was a
very old, tattered petticoat. In the tucks of this old petticoat I found
the following tale. Whosoever listens to it will not see the kingdom of

There was in the world a poor man and this poor man had twelve sons. The
man was so poor that sometimes he had not even enough wood to make a
fire with. So he had frequently to go into the forest and would pick up
there what he could find. One day, as he could not come across anything
else, he was just getting ready to cut up a huge tree-stump, and, in
fact, had already driven his axe into it, when an immense,
dread-inspiring serpent, as big as a grown-up lad, crept out of the
stump. The poor man began to ponder whether to leave it or to take it
home with him; it might bring him luck or turn out a disastrous venture.
At last he made up his mind that after all was said and done he would
take it home with him. And so it happened, he picked up the creature and
carried it home. His wife was not a little astonished at seeing him
arrive with his burden, and said, "What on earth induced you, master, to
bring that ugly creature home? It will frighten all the children to

"No fear, wife," replied the man; "they won't be afraid of it; on the
contrary, they will be glad to have it to play with."

As it was just meal-time, the poor woman dished out the food and placed
it on the table. The twelve children were soon seated and busily engaged
with their spoons, when suddenly the serpent began to talk from
underneath the table, and said, "Mother, dear, let me have some of that

They were all not a little astonished at hearing a serpent talk; and the
woman ladled out a plateful of soup and placed it under the bench. The
snake crept to the plate and in another minute had drunk up the soup,
and said: "I say, father, will you go into the larder and fetch me a
loaf of bread?"

"Alas! my son," replied the poor man, "it is long--very long--since
there was any bread in the larder. I was wealthy then; but now the very
walls of the larder are coming down."

"Just try, father, and fetch me a loaf from there."

"What's the good of my going, when there is nothing to be found there?"

"Just go and see."

After a good deal of pressing the poor man went to the larder when--oh,
joy!--he was nearly blinded by the sight of the mass of gold, silver,
and other treasure; it glittered on all sides. Moreover, bacon and hams
were hanging from the roof, casks filled with honey, milk, &c., standing
on the floor; the bins were full of flour; in a word, there were to be
seen all imaginable things to bake and roast. The poor man rushed back
and fetched the family to see the miracle, and they were all astounded,
but did not dare to touch anything.

Then the serpent again spoke and said "Listen to me, mother dear. Go up
to the king and ask him to give me his daughter in marriage."

"Oh, my dear son, how can you ask me to do that? You must know that the
king is a great man, and he would not even listen to a pauper like

"Just go and try."

So the poor woman went to the king's palace, knocked at the door, and,
entering, greeted the king, and said: "May the Lord grant you a happy
good day, gracious king!"

"May the Lord grant the same to you, my good woman. What have you
brought? What can I do for you?"

"Hum! most gracious king, I hardly dare to speak ... but still I will
tell you.... My son has sent me to request your majesty to give him your
youngest daughter in marriage."

"I will grant him the request, good woman, on one condition. If your son
will fill with gold a sack of the size of a full-grown man, and send it
here, he can have the princess at any minute."

The poor woman was greatly pleased at hearing this; returned home and
delivered the message.

"That can easily be done, dear mother. Let's have a wagon, and the king
shall have the gold to a grain."

And so it happened. They borrowed a wagon of the king, the serpent
filled a sack of the required size full of gold, and put a heap of gold
and diamonds loose in the wagon besides. The king was not a little
astonished, and exclaimed, "Well! upon my word, although I am a king I
do not possess so much gold as this lad." And the princess was
accordingly given away.

It happened that the two elder princesses were also to be married
shortly, and orders were issued by the king that the wedding of his
youngest daughter should take place at the same time. The state carriage
was therefore wheeled out of the shed, six fine horses were put to it,
the youngest princess sat in it and drove straight to the poor man's
cottage to fetch her bridegroom. But the poor girl very nearly jumped
out of the coach when she saw the snake approaching. But the snake tried
to allay her fears and said, "Don't shrink from me, I am your
bridegroom," and with this crept into the carriage. The bride--poor
thing, what could she do?--put her arm round the snake and covered him
with her shawl, as she did not wish to let the whole town know her
misfortune. Then they drove to church. The priest threw up his arms in
amazement when he saw the bridegroom approach the altar. From church
they drove to the castle. There kings, princes, dukes, barons, and
deputy-lieutenants of the counties were assembled at the festival and
enjoying themselves; they were all dancing their legs off in true Magyar
style, and very nearly kicked out the sides of the dancing-room, when
suddenly the youngest princess entered, followed by her bridegroom, who
crept everywhere after her. The king upon seeing this grew very angry,
and exclaimed, "Get out of my sight! A girl who will marry such a
husband does not deserve to stay under the same roof with me, and I will
take care that you two do not remain here. Body-guards, conduct this
woman with her snake-husband down into the poultry-yard, and lock them
up in the darkest poultry-house among the geese. Let them stay there,
and don't allow them to come here to shock my guests with their

And so it happened. The poor couple were locked up with the geese; there
they were left crying and weeping, and lived in great sorrow until the
day when the curse expired, and the snake--who was a bewitched
prince--became a very handsome young man, whose very hair was of pure
gold. And, as you may imagine, great was the bride's joy when she saw
the change.

"I say, love," spoke her prince, "I will go home to my father's and
fetch some clothes and other things; in the meantime, stay here; don't
be afraid. I shall be back ere long without fail."

Then the prince shook himself and became a white pigeon, and flew away.
Having arrived at his father's place he said to his parent, "My dear
father, let me have back my former horse, my saddle, sword, gun, and all
my other goods and chattels. The power of the curse has now passed away,
and I have taken a wife to myself."

"The horse is in the stables, my son, and all your other things are up
in the loft."

The prince led out his horse, fetched down his things from the loft, put
on his rich uniform all glittering with gold, mounted his charger, and
flew up into the air. He was yet at a good distance from the castle
where the festivities were still going on, when all the loveliest
princesses turned out and crowded the balconies to see who the great
swell was whom they saw coming. He did not pass under the crossbeam of
the gate, but flew over it like a bird. He tied his charger to a tree in
the yard, and then entered the castle and walked among the dancers. The
dance was immediately stopped, everybody gazed upon him and admired him,
and tried to get into his favour. For amusement several of the guests
did various tricks; at last his turn came, and by Jove! he did show them
things that made the guests open their mouths and eyes in astonishment.
He could transform himself into a wild duck, a pigeon, a quail, and so
on, into anything one could conceive of.

After the conjuring was over he went into the poultry-yard to fetch his
bride. He made her a hundred times prettier than she already was, and
dressed her up in rich garments of pure silver and gold. The assembled
guests were very sorry that the handsome youth in rich attire, who had
shown them such amusing and clever tricks, had so soon left them.

All at once the king remembered the newly-married couple and thought he
would go to see what the young folks were doing in the poultry-yard. He
sent down a few of his friends, who were nearly overpowered by the shine
and glitter on looking into the poultry-house. They at once unlocked the
door, and led the bride and bridegroom into their royal father's
presence. When they entered the castle, every one was struck with wonder
at discovering that the bridegroom was no one else than the youth who
had amused them shortly before.

Then the bridegroom walked up to the king and said: "Gracious majesty,
my father and king, for the past twelve years I lay under a curse and
was compelled to wear a serpent's skin. When I entered, not long ago,
your castle in my former plight, I was the laughing-stock of everybody,
all present mocked me. But now, as my time of curse has passed, let me
see the man who can put himself against me."

"There is, indeed, nobody, no man living," replied the king.

The bridegroom then led off his bride to the dance, and celebrated such
a fine wedding, that it was talked of over seven countries.

Next: The Fairies' Well

Previous: The Lover's Ghost

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