The Golden-haired Twins
Source: Hero Tales And Legends Of The Serbians
Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, there lived a young king
who wished very much to marry, but could not decide where he had
better look for a wife.
One evening as he was walking disguised through the streets of his
capital, as it was his frequent custom to do, he stopped to listen
near an open window where he heard three young girls chatting gaily
The girls were talking about a report which had been lately spread
through the city, that the king intended soon to marry.
One of the girls exclaimed: "If the king would marry me I would give
him a son who should be the greatest hero in the world."
The second girl said: "And if I were to be his wife I would present
him with two sons at once--the twins with golden hair."
And the third girl declared that were the king to marry her, she
would give him a daughter so beautiful that there should not be her
equal in the whole wide world!
The young king listened to all this, and for some time thought over
their words, and tried to make up his mind which of the three girls
he should choose for a wife. At last he decided that he would marry
the one who had said she would bring him twins with golden hair.
Having once settled this in his own mind, he ordered that all
preparations for his marriage should be made forthwith, and shortly
after, when all was ready, he married the second girl of the three.
Several months after his marriage the young king, who was at war
with one of the neighbouring princes, received tidings of the defeat
of his army, and heard that his presence was immediately required
in the camp. He accordingly left his capital and went to his army,
leaving the young queen in his palace to the care of his stepmother.
Now the king's stepmother hated her daughter-in-law very much indeed,
so when the young queen was near her confinement, the old queen told
her that it was always customary in the royal family for the heirs
to the throne to be born in a garret.
The young queen (who knew nothing about the customs in royal families
except what she had learnt from hearing or seeing since her marriage
to the king) believed implicitly what her mother-in-law told her,
although she thought it a great pity to leave her splendid apartments
and go up into a miserable attic.
Now when the golden-haired twins were born, the old queen contrived to
steal them out of their cradle, and put in their place two ugly little
dogs. She then caused the two beautiful golden-haired boys to be buried
alive in an out-of-the-way spot in the palace gardens, and then sent
word to the king that the young queen had given him two little dogs
instead of the heirs he was hoping for. The wicked stepmother said in
her letter to the king that she herself was not surprised at this,
though she was very sorry for his disappointment. As to herself,
she had a long time suspected the young queen of having too great a
friendship for goblins and elves, and all kinds of evil spirits.
When the king received this letter, he fell into a frightful rage,
because he had only married the young girl in order to have the
golden-haired twins she had promised him as heirs to his throne.
So he sent word back to the old queen that his wife should be put at
once into the dampest dungeon in the castle, an order which the wicked
woman took good care to see carried out without delay. Accordingly
the poor young queen was thrown into a miserably dark dungeon under
the palace, and kept on bread and water.
The Plight of the Young Queen
Now there was only a very small hole in this prison--hardly enough
to let in light and air--yet the old queen managed to cause a great
many people to pass by this hole, and whoever passed was ordered
to spit at and abuse the unhappy young queen, calling out to her,
"Are you really the queen? Are you the girl who cheated the king in
order to be a queen? Where are your golden-haired twins? You cheated
the king and your friends, and now the witches have cheated you!"
But the young king, though terribly angry and mortified at his
great disappointment, was, at the same time, too sad and troubled
to be willing to return to his palace. So he remained away for fully
nine years. When he at last consented to return, the first thing he
noticed in the palace gardens were two fine young trees, exactly the
same size and the same shape.
These trees had both golden leaves and golden blossoms, and had grown
up of themselves from the very spot where the stepmother of the king
had buried the two golden-haired boys she had stolen from their cradle.
The king admired these two trees exceedingly, and was never weary of
looking at them. This, however, did not at all please the old queen,
for she knew that the two young princes were buried just where the
trees grew, and she always feared that by some means what she had done
would come to the king's ears. She therefore pretended that she was
very sick, and declared that she was sure she should die unless her
stepson, the king, ordered the two golden-leaved trees to be cut down,
and a bed made for her out of their wood.
As the king was not willing to be the cause of her death, he ordered
that her wishes should be attended to, notwithstanding he was
exceedingly sorry to lose his favourite trees.
A bed was soon made from the two trees, and the seemingly sick old
queen was laid on it as she desired. She was quite delighted that the
golden-leaved trees had disappeared from the garden; but when midnight
came, she could not sleep a bit, for it seemed to her that she heard
the boards of which her bed was made in conversation with each other!
At last it seemed to her, that one board said, quite plainly, "How
are you, my brother?" And the other board answered: "Thank you,
I am very well; how are you?"
"Oh, I am all right," returned the first board; "but I wonder how our
poor mother is in her dark dungeon! Perhaps she is hungry and thirsty!"
The wicked old queen could not sleep a minute all night, after hearing
this conversation between the boards of her new bed; so next morning
she got up very early and went to see the king. She thanked him for
attending to her wish, and said she already was much better, but she
felt quite sure she would never recover thoroughly unless the boards
of her new bed were cut up and thrown into a fire. The king was sorry
to lose entirely even the boards made out of his two favourite trees,
nevertheless he could not refuse to use the means pointed out for
his step-mother's perfect recovery.
So the new bed was cut to pieces and thrown into the fire. But whilst
the boards were blazing and crackling, two sparks from the fire flew
into the courtyard, and in the next moment two beautiful lambs with
golden fleeces and golden horns were seen gambolling about the yard.
The king admired them greatly, and made many inquiries who had sent
them there, and to whom they belonged. He even sent the public
crier many times through the city, calling on the owners of the
golden-fleeced lambs to appear and claim them; but no one came,
so at length he thought he might fairly take them as his own property.
The king took very great care of these two beautiful lambs, and
every day directed that they should be well fed and attended to;
this, however, did not at all please his stepmother. She could not
endure even to look on the lambs with their golden fleeces and golden
horns, for they always reminded her of the golden-haired twins. So,
in a little while she pretended again to be dangerously sick, and
declared she felt sure that she should soon die unless the two lambs
were killed and cooked for her.
The king was even fonder of his golden-fleeced lambs than he had been
of the golden-leaved trees, but he could not long resist the tears
and prayers of the old queen, especially as she seemed to be very
ill. Accordingly, the lambs were killed, and a servant was ordered to
carry their golden fleeces down to the river and to wash the blood
well out of them. But whilst the servant held them under the water,
they slipped, in some way or other, out of his fingers, and floated
down the stream, which just at that place flowed very rapidly. Now
it happened that a hunter was passing near the river a little lower
down, and, as he chanced to look in the water, he saw something
strange in it. So he stepped into the stream, and soon fished out
a small box which he carried to his house, and there opened it. To
his unspeakably great surprise, he found in the box two golden-haired
boys. Now the hunter had no children of his own; he therefore adopted
the twins he had fished out of the river, and brought them up just
as if they had been his own sons. When the twins were grown up into
handsome young men, one of them said to his foster-father, "Make
us two suits of beggar's clothes, and let us go and wander a little
about the world!" The hunter, however, replied and said: "No, I will
have a fine suit made for each of you, such as is fitting for two such
noble-looking young men." But as the twins begged hard that he should
not spend his money uselessly in buying fine clothes, telling him that
they wished to travel about as beggars, the hunter--who always liked
to do as his two handsome foster-sons wished--did as they desired,
and ordered two suit of clothes, like those worn by beggars, to be
prepared for them. The two sons then dressed themselves up as beggars,
and as well as they could hid their beautiful golden locks, and then
set out to see the world. They took with them a goussle and cymbal,
and maintained themselves with their singing and playing.
The King's Sons
They had wandered about in this way some time when one day they came to
the king's palace. As the afternoon was already pretty far advanced,
the young musicians begged to allowed to pass the night in one of
the out-buildings belonging to the court, as they were poor men, and
quite strangers in the city. The old queen, however, who happened to
be just then in the courtyard, saw them, and hearing their request
said sharply that beggars could not be permitted to enter any part
of the king's palace. The two travellers said they had hoped to pay
for their night's lodging by their songs and music, as one of them
played and sung to the goussle, and the other to the cymbal.
The old queen, however, was not moved by this, but insisted on their
going away at once. Happily for the two brothers, the king himself
came out into the courtyard just as his stepmother angrily ordered them
to go away, and at once directed his servants to find a place for the
musicians to sleep in, and ordered them to provide the brothers with
a good supper. After they had supped, the king commanded them to be
brought before him that he might judge of their skill as musicians,
and that their singing might help him to pass the time more pleasantly.
Accordingly, after the two young men had taken the refreshment
provided for them, the servants took them into the king's presence,
and they began to sing this ballad:--
"The pretty bird, the swallow, built her nest with care in the palace
of the king. In the nest she reared up happily two of her little
ones. A black, ugly-looking bird, however came to the swallow's nest to
mar her happiness and to kill her two little ones. And the ugly black
bird succeeded in destroying the happiness of the poor little swallow;
the little ones, however, although yet weak and unfledged were saved,
and, when they were grown up and able to fly, they came to look at
the palace where their mother, the pretty swallow, had built her nest."
This strange song the two minstrels sung so very sweetly that the
king was quite charmed, and asked them the meaning of the words.
Whereupon the two meanly dressed young men took off their hats, so that
the rich tresses of their golden hair fell down over their shoulders,
and the light glanced so brightly upon it that the whole hall was
illuminated by the shining. They then stepped forward together,
and told the king all that had happened to them and to their mother,
and convinced him that they were really his own sons.
The king was exceedingly angry when he heard all the cruel things his
stepmother had done, and he gave orders that she should be burnt to
death. He then went with the two golden-haired princes to the miserable
dungeon wherein his unfortunate wife had been confined so many years,
and brought her once more into her beautiful palace. There, looking on
her golden-haired sons, and seeing how much the king, their father,
loved them, she soon forgot all her long years of misery. As to the
king, he felt that he could never do enough to make amends for all
the misfortunes his queen had lived through, and all the dangers to
which his twin sons had been exposed. He felt that he had too easily
believed the stories of the old queen, because he would not trouble
himself to inquire more particularly into the truth or falsehood of
the strange things she had told him.
After all this mortification, and trouble, and misery, everything
came right at last. So the king and his wife, with their golden-haired
twins, lived together long and happily.
Next: Some Serbian Popular Anecdotes
Previous: The Trade That No One Knows