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The Fairies' Well






Source: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars

Tale, tale, mate; a black little bird flew on the tree; it broke one of
its legs; a new cloak, a shabby old cloak; it put it on.

Well, to commence! there was in the world a king, who was called the
"Green King," and who had three daughters. He did not like them at all;
he would have very much preferred if they had been boys. He continually
scolded and abused them, and one day, in a fit of passion, the words
slipped from his lips: "What is the good of all these wenches? I wish
the devil would come and fetch them all three!" The devil wasn't slow;
he took the king at his word and ran away with all three girls at once.
The king's fondest wish was hereafter fulfilled; his wife bore him three
sons, and he was very fond of them.

But the king grew old; his hair turned quite grey. So his sons set out
for the fairies' well to fetch their father some youth-giving water.
They wandered along till they came to a small road-side inn, where they
had something to eat and drink, and gave their horses hay and corn. They
tippled for some time, until the two elder princes got jolly, and
commenced to dance in true style. The youngest one every now and then
reminded them that it was time to continue the journey, but they would
not listen to him. "Don't talk so much," they said, "if you are so very
anxious to be off you had better leave us and go alone."

So the youngest saddled his horse and left his two brothers. He
travelled along until all of a sudden he discovered that he had lost his
way and found himself in a vast forest. In wandering hither and thither,
he came to a small hut in which an old hermit dwelt. He at once went to
it, knocked and entered, and greeted the old man, saying, "May the Lord
grant you a happy good day, my father."

"The Lord bless you, my son! where are you going?"

"Well, old father, I intend to go to the fairies' well for some
youth-giving water, if I can the way thither."

"May the Lord help you, my son! I don't believe that you will be able to
get there unaided, because it is a difficult journey. But I will tell
you something. I have a piebald horse, that will carry you without
mishap to the fairies' well. I will let you have it if you promise to
bring me back some youth-giving water."

"I will bring you some with pleasure, old father. You are quite welcome
to it."

"Very well, my son! Get on the piebald, and be off in the name of
Heaven!"

The piebald horse was led out and saddled, the prince mounted, and in
another second they were high up in the air, like birds, because the
piebald was a magic horse that at all times grazed on the silken meadow,
the meadow of the fairies. On they travelled, till all at once the
piebald said:

"I say, dear master, I suppose you know that once you had three sisters,
and that all three were carried off by the devil. We will go and pay a
visit to the eldest. It is true, your brother-in-law is at this moment
out rabbiting, but he will be back soon if I go to fetch him. He will
ask you to bring him, also, some youth-giving water. I'll tell you what
to do. He has a plaid which has the power of making the wearer
invisible. If you put it on, nobody on this earth can see you. If he
will give you that plaid you can promise him as much water as he likes;
a whole tub full, if he wants it."

When they reached the house, the prince walked in; and the piebald horse
immediately hurried off to the fields, and began to drive the devil so
that his eyes sparkled. As the devil ran homewards, he passed a pair of
gallows with a man hanging upon them; he lifted off the corpse, and ran
away with it. Having arrived at home, he called from the yard through
the window: "Take this, wife! half of him roasted, the other half
boiled, for my meal. Be sure to have him ready by the time I get
inside." Thereupon he pitched the dead man through the window; the meal
was ready in a minute and the devil walked in, sat down and ate him.
Having finished, he happened to look towards the oven and caught sight
of the prince.

"Halloo! is it you, brother-in-law? Why did you not speak? What a pity
that I did not notice you sooner? You are just too late; you could have
had a bit or two of my bonne-bouche."

"Thank you, brother-in-law. I don't care for your dainties."

"Well, then get him some wine, wife! perhaps he will have some of that?"

The wife brought in the wine and placed it on the table, and the two set
to drinking.

"May I ask, what are you looking for in this strange part of the world?"
inquired the devil.

"I am going to the fairies' well for some youth-giving water."

"Look here, my good man, I am a bit of a smart fellow myself, something
better than you, and still I could not accomplish that journey. I can
get to within about fourteen miles of the place, but even there the heat
is so great that it shrivels me up like bacon-rind."

"Well, I will go all the same, if Heaven will help me!"

"And I will give you as much gold and silver as you can carry, if you
will bring me back a gourdful of that water."

"I'll bring you back some, but for nothing less than for the plaid
hanging on that peg. If you will give that to me you shall have the
water."

At first the devil would not part with the plaid on any account; but the
prince begged so hard that the devil at last yielded.

"Well, brother-in-law! This is such a plaid, that if you put it on
nobody can see you."

The prince was just going when the devil asked him, "Have you any money
for the journey, brother?"

"I had a little, but I have spent it all."

"Then you had better have some more." Whereupon he emptied a whole
dishful of copper coins into the prince's bag. The prince went out into
the yard and shook the bridle; the piebald horse at once appeared, and
the prince mounted. The devil no sooner caught sight of the piebald than
he exclaimed, addressing the prince, "Oh, you rascally fellow! Then you
travel on that villainous creature--the persecutor and murderer of our
kinsfolk? Give me back at once my plaid and my gourd, I don't want any
of your youth-giving water!"

But the prince was not such a fool as to give him back the plaid. In a
minute the piebald was high up in the air and flew off like a bird. They
travelled along until the horse again spoke and said, "Well then, dear
master, we will now go and look up your second sister. True, your
brother-in-law is out rabbiting, but he will soon be back if I go for
him. He, too, will offer you all sorts of things in return for getting
him some youth-giving water. Don't ask for anything else but for a ring
on the window sill, which has this virtue, that it will squeeze your
finger and wake you in case of need."

The prince went into the house and the piebald fetched the devil.
Everything happened as at the previous house. The devil had his meal,
recognised his brother-in-law, sent for wine, and asked the prince:

"Well, what are you doing in this neighbourhood?"

"I am going to the fairies' well for some youth-giving water."

"You don't mean that! You have undertaken a very difficult task. I am as
good a man as a hundred of your stamp put together, and still I can't go
there. The heat there is so great that it would shrivel me up like
bacon-rind at a distance of fourteen miles. They boil lead there as we
boil water here."

"Still I intend to go, by the help of Heaven."

"Very well, brother-in-law. I will give you so much treasure that you
can fill several wagons with it, if you will bring me a gourd full of
that youth-giving water."

"I don't want anything, brother-in-law, but that ring in the window
yonder."

"Of what use would it be to you?"

"Oh! I don't know; let me have it."

So after a good deal of pressing the devil gave him the ring and said:

"Well, brother-in-law, this is such a ring that it will squeeze your
finger and wake you, no matter how sound you may be asleep."

By this time the prince had already reached the courtyard, and was ready
to start, when the devil stopped him and said:

"Stop a bit, brother-in-law, have you any money for the journey?"

"I had a little, but it is all gone," replied the prince.

"Then you had better have some." Whereupon the devil emptied a dishful
of silver money into the prince's bag. The prince then shook the bridle
and the piebald horse at once appeared, which nearly frightened the
devil into a fit.

"Oh, you rascally fellow!" he exclaimed. "Then you are in league with
the persecutor of our kinsfolk? Stop! Give me back that ring and gourd
at once. I don't want any of your youth-giving water!"

But the Green Prince took no notice of the devil's shouting and flew
away on his piebald like a bird. They had been travelling for some
distance when the horse said: "We shall now go to see your youngest
sister. Her husband, too, is out at present rabbiting, but I shall fetch
him in, in no time. He, also, will beseech you to get him some
youth-giving water, but don't you yield, no matter how much wealth he
promises you, until he gives you his sword that hangs on the wall. It is
such a weapon that at your command it will slay the populations of seven
countries."

In the meantime they reached the house. The Green Prince walked in and
the piebald went to look for the third devil. Everything happened as on
the two previous occasions, and the devil asked his wife to send him in
three casks of wine, and they commenced drinking. All of a sudden the
devil asked, "Where are you going?"

"I am going to the fairies' well for some youth-giving water. My father
has grown very old and requires some of the water to give him back his
youth."

The devil replied that it was impossible to get there on account of the
great heat. To which the prince said, that he was determined to go, no
matter what might happen.

"Very well," continued the devil. "I will give you as much gold and
silver as your heart can wish or your mouth name if you will bring me
back a gourd full of the water."

"The gold is of no use to me; I have plenty of it at home; as much as I
need. But if you will give me that sword on the wall, I will bring you
some water from the fairies' well, with pleasure."

"Of what use would that sword be to you? You can't do anything with it."

"No matter. Let me have it."

The devil, at first, would not part with the sword; but, at last, he
gave in. The Green Prince went into the yard, and was about to start,
when the devil asked:

"Brother-in-law, have you any money left for the journey?"

"I had some; but it's nearly gone."

"Then you had better have some." And with this the devil put a plateful
of gold coins into the prince's bag. The latter shook the bridle and his
piebald appeared. The devil was very much alarmed at the sight, and
exclaimed: "You rascal, then you associate with our arch-persecutor. Let
me have back my sword and the gourd, I don't want any of your water."
But the prince did not listen to him; in fact he had no time to heed the
devil's words even if he had any intention of doing so, as he was
already high up in the air, and the piebald now questioned him: "How
shall we go, dear master? shall we fly as fast as the whirlwind, or like
a flash of thought?" "Just as you please, my dear horse."

And the piebald flew away, with the prince on its back, in the direction
of the fairies' well. Soon they reached their goal, and alighted on the
ground, whereupon the horse said: "Well, my dear master, we have reached
our destination. Put on the plaid that the first devil gave you and walk
into the fairy queen's palace. The queen has just sat down to supper.
Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. Don't be afraid, nobody will know that
you are there. In the meantime I will go into the silken meadow and
graze with the horses of the fairy over night. I shall return in the
morning and we will then fill our gourd."

And so it happened. The Green Prince put on the plaid and walked into
the fairy queen's dining-room, sat down and supped, and for every glass
of wine consumed by the fairy he drank two. The supper over they enjoyed
themselves. Suddenly the fairy queen felt a sensation as if she were
touched by a man, although she could not see anybody. She thereupon
exclaimed to her fairies: "Fairies, fairies, keep the bellows going
under the boiling lead. Some calamity will befall us to-night."

In the morning the piebald appeared before the castle; the Green Prince
was still fast asleep, but luckily the ring squeezed his finger and he
awoke and so was saved. He lost no time in going down to his horse.

"I am glad to tell you, my dear master, that all is well. They have not
yet been able to see you. Let us go and get the water at once. This is
how you must proceed. Stick the gourd on the point of your sword and
then dip it under. But, be careful; the gourd must touch the water
before my feet get wet, or else we must pay with our lives for our
audacity."

The Green Prince did as he was told. He stuck the gourd on the point of
the sword and dipped it into the well, before the piebald's hoofs
touched the surface of the water.

"Well, my dear master, this has gone off without mishap. Let us at once
go and liberate your sisters." First they visited the youngest. The
Green Prince put on the plaid, and brought her away unnoticed. Then he
rescued the second princess; and at last the eldest, by the aid of his
plaid. And their diabolic husbands never noticed that they had been
stolen. Having thus liberated his three sisters, he returned without
delay to the hermit's hut.

"Well done, my son! Have you brought back any youth-giving water?"
exclaimed the hermit, as he saw the prince approaching in the distance.

"To be sure, old father; I have brought plenty."

With these words the Green Prince approached the hermit, and allowed
just one drop of the magic water drop on to the old man's hand; and oh,
wonder! immediately a change came over him, and the old man instantly
became young, and looked like a lad of sixteen.

"Well, my son; you have not made your journey in vain. You have secured
the prize that you have striven for; and I shall always be deeply
grateful to you until the end of my days. I won't take back the piebald
from you, as I have another one exactly like it hidden away somewhere.
True, it is only a little foal; but it will grow, and will then be good
enough for me."

Then they parted, and the prince bent his way homewards. Having arrived
at home he allowed a drop of the magic water drop on to his father's
hand, and the old king immediately became a youth of sixteen. And he not
only got younger, but also grew handsomer; and a hundred times better
looking than he ever was before.

But the Green Prince had been away for such a length of time on his
journey to the fairies' well that not even his father could remember
him. The king had completely forgotten that the prince was ever born.
What was he to do? Nobody knew him at his father's palace, or would
recognise him as his father's son; so he conceived the strange idea of
accepting a situation as swineherd in his father's service. He found
stables for the piebald in a cellar at the end of the town.

While he tended his father's pigs, and went through his duties as
swineherd, the fairies travelled all over the world and searched every
nook and corner for the father of the child of their queen. Among other
places they also came to the town of the Green King, and declared that
it was their intention to examine every prince, as the person for whom
they searched could only be a prince. The Green King then suddenly

remembered that he had once another son but did not know his
whereabouts. Something or other, however, recalled to his mind the
swineherd, so he at once took pen and paper and wrote a note to the
swineherd. The purport of the writing was that the king was the real
father of the swineherd, and that the prince should come home with the
least possible delay. The Green King sealed the letter and handed it to
a gipsy with strict instructions to at once deliver it to the swineherd.
The gipsy went, and the swineherd read the note and handed it back to
the messenger, saying:

"My good man, take the note back. They have sent you on a fool's errand.
I am not the son of the Green King."

The gipsy took the letter back in great anger. The swineherd, again, ran
as fast as his legs would carry him to the stables in the cellar at the
outskirts of the town, saddled his piebald, and rode ventre a terre to
the centre of the town, and pulled up in front of the king's palace.
There was such a sight to be seen. A great number of wonderfully pretty
fairies had congregated, and were fanning the fire under a huge cauldron
of boiling lead, which emitted such a heat that nobody could approach.
The eldest prince came out and was about to try his fortune; he was
gorgeously dressed, his garments glittering like a mass of gold. As he
approached the cauldron full of boiling lead, a pretty fairy called out
to him:

"Son of the Green King! are you the father of the child of the queen of
fairies?"

"I am."

"Then jump into this seething mass of boiling lead."

He jumped in and was burnt, shrivelling up to the size of a crab-apple.

"You won't do," said the fairy.

Then the second prince stepped forth; his dress, too, was one mass of
sparkling gold. As he approached the cauldron a fairy exclaimed:

"Son of the Green King! are you the father of the child of the queen of
fairies?"

"I am."

"Then jump into this seething mass of boiling lead."

He jumped in and fared no better than his elder brother.

Now the swineherd rode forth on his piebald horse. His clothes were one
mass of dirt and grease. To him, too, the fairy called out:

"Are you the father of the child of the queen of fairies?"

"I am."

"Then jump into this seething mass of boiling lead like the rest."

And, behold! he spurred the piebald horse, pulled tight the bridle, and
again slackened it. The piebald shot up into the air like an arrow; and,
having reached a good height, it came down with the swineherd on its
back in one bold swoop, and jumped into the cauldron full of boiling
lead without a single hair of him getting hurt. Seeing this, the fairies
at once lifted him out, tore his dirty clothes from him, and dressed him
up in garments becoming a king.

He married the queen of fairies and a sumptuous wedding-feast was
celebrated.

This is the end of my tale.





Next: The Crow's Nest

Previous: Snake Skin



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