Source: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars
There was once, I don't know where, there was in the world an old king;
one of whose eyes always wept, and the other always smiled. He had three
sons. The youngest was twelve, the eldest twenty, and the middle one
sixteen. These three sons got talking together one spring morning about
different things: the eldest of his sweetheart, the middle one of his
saddle-horse, and the youngest one of his birds. Their conversation at
last turned upon more serious matters, and they wished to know why their
father's one eye always wept and why the other always smiled; so they
decided to go and ask him the reason at once. The father was at
luncheon. The eldest son knocked; and, after greeting his father, kissed
his hand, and asked him why the one eye always wept and the other always
smiled? The father looked very angrily at his son, and beckoned him to
go. The boy became very frightened at seeing his father grow angry so
suddenly, and ran away. Just as he ran through the door he heard a noise
at his heels, and found that his father had thrown his knife and fork
after him. The terrified lad brought the disappointing news to his
brothers. "Then I'll ask him, if no one else will," said the middle son,
who, for his chivalrous deeds, was his father's favourite. The king
still sat at lunch, and the second son, like his elder brother, also
asked his father why one eye always wept, whilst the other always
smiled. The father then threw knife and fork after him, and the fork
stuck fast in the heel of the lad's shoe. The lad was very frightened,
and told his brothers what had happened, at which they were much
disappointed, as they had every confidence in him. "It is of no use your
going," said the second eldest to the youngest, "because our royal
father dislikes you on account of your bird-catching habits."
But still the little boy went in, and in a trembling but confident voice
asked his father why one eye always wept, whilst the other always
smiled. The king, who had just finished his lunch, no sooner heard the
boy's question than he threw his knives and forks at him, and the blade
of one knife lodged in the boy's thigh, so that the blood spurted out;
but the little boy was not frightened, and, amid his tears, drew the
knife out from his thigh, and having wiped it, took it back to his
father, and repeated his question. The father lovingly stroked the
little fellow's hair and bade him sit on a low chair, and told him the
secret, saying: "One eye always laughs because you three boys are very
handsome children; and when I die you will make three brave kings for
any three countries. My other eye always weeps because once upon a time
I had a beautiful pelican, whose song was so charming, that whosoever
heard it was at once transformed into a youth seventeen years of age.
That bird was stolen from me by two men dressed in black. That is the
reason why one eye always weeps, and why my soul is vexed within me."
The little fellow kissed his father's hand and hurried off to his
brothers, who received him with a mocking smile, but soon felt ashamed
of themselves, when the child, with his wounded thigh, brought the reply
to their question. "We will try to console our father, and make him
young again," said the three brothers all together; "We will endeavour
to find that pelican, if it be yet alive, whether it be on land or sea."
Having thus spoken, they at once got ready for the journey.
The eldest and the middle sons went to their father's stables, saddled
the finest horses, and put a great deal of treasure in their
sabretaches, and set forth: so that the youngest son was left without a
horse, as his elder brothers had taken away the horses that would have
When they came to the end of the village, an old beggar met them, and
asked them for a coin or a bit of bread: the two elder lads took no
notice of him, but galloped on, the beggar shouting mocking words after
them. The youngest lad arrived half an hour later, and shared half his
cake with the beggar. "As you have helped me, prince," said the beggar,
"I will help you. I know where you are going, and what you are seeking.
You would need the lives of three men if you went on foot, or on the
back of an ordinary horse, for the church in which your pelican sings
now is beyond the Operencian Sea. The saddle-horse which can go there
must have been brought up on dragon's milk, to prevent its hoofs being
worn away on the long journey; but for a good deed you may expect a good
one in return. You have helped me, and I will help you, with my advice
at least, and that is all a poor beggar can offer. Five miles from this
bridge where we stand lives an old witch who has two horses. If you
serve her for a year (her year has three days) she will give you as much
money as you ask for; but if you do not serve your whole year she will
chop off your head. The man has not yet been found who can serve her a
whole year, for her horses are her two daughters, and so soon as the
groom falls asleep, they either disappear into the clouds or the sea; or
slip under ground, and do not reappear until the groom's head is
impaled. But I trust that you will be able to take care of them. Take
this whistle; it has three holes. If you open the first hole the King of
the Gnats will appear at your command; if the second, the King of the
Fishes; if the third, the King of the Mice. Take great care of this
whistle, and when you have done your year, don't ask for money, cattle,
clothes, lands, or suchlike things (the old witch will offer you all
these), but ask for the half-rotten foal which lies buried seven fathoms
deep in the dung-heap. There is a hen-coop, and on the top of it a
saddle and a bridle; put these on the foal just after you have dug it
out. It will be too weak to walk, therefore you must take it on your
back, and carry it to the end of the village. There you will find a
bridge. Place it under the bridge, in the water, for one hour, and then
wash it. I won't tell you any more."
The same evening, just after the cows had been driven home, the lad was
to be seen sitting on the threshold of the witch's door. The old witch
was at the same hour driving her horses home from the field. Sometimes
they jumped about on the ground; sometimes they flew in the air; but the
old witch was after them everywhere, riding a-straddle on a saddled
mopstick. "Good evening, my dear old mother," said the lad, in a
confidential voice. "Good fortune has brought you, my dear son,"
commenced the witch, "it's lucky that you called me your mother, for
see! there are ninety-nine human heads impaled, and yours would have
been the hundredth. What's your errand, my dear son?" "I'm looking for a
situation, my dear old mother!" "Good fortune has brought you, my dear
son; the year lasts three days with me, and during that time you will
have to take care of my two horses. Your wages will be whatever you ask,
and as much as you desire. But if you don't take care of those two
horses, you must die!" "The Lord will help me." "Come in to supper, for
you will have to take the horses out into the Silken Meadow for the
night." The prince went in, and after supper the witch poured a sleeping
draught into the new groom's drinking-cup. Supper over the prince went
into the stables and stroked the horses. He then prepared two halters
from a piece of rope that the beggar had given him, threw them over
their heads, and jumped on the back of the finer horse. The horse, which
had become quite tame with the unusual halter, walked along peaceably
with the prince on its back, to the great surprise of the witch. "Well,
that fellow must know a thing or two!" sighed the old witch as she
looked after him, and slammed the door behind her. As soon as the prince
arrived in the Silken Meadow with the horses a heavy sleep seized him,
and he slept soundly all night. The sun was high in the heavens when he
woke, rubbing his sleepy eyes, and began to call for his horses, which
would not come. He was in great despair until, fumbling in his pockets,
he found the little whistle, which he immediately blew, leaving the
first hole open. The King of the Gnats appeared! "We wait your orders,"
said a huge gnat: "speak and tell us what you require. If it be anything
in the air we will find it for you." "I had to take care of two horses,
and I cannot find them. If I do not take them home, death will be my
doom." Gnats went flying forth in all directions at their king's
singing, and in less than half an hour two griffins alighted in front of
the lad. He struck them on the heads with a halter, and they became
horses, and the little groom went home in great joy. "So you have
brought them home safely, my son; your breakfast is ready; eat it and
then go to sleep. By-and-by your dinner will be ready. You have nothing
else to do to-day." So saying, the old witch gave her horses a sound
thrashing with a peel, and then, giving them some burning cinders to
eat, went back to the house, and, sitting in a corner, threaded beads
In the evening the old woman again mixed some sleeping draught into the
little groom's drink, making it stronger than before. He took out his
horses, and when he had gone a little way on the road he fell off the
saddle, and slept till noon the next day. When he awoke his horses were
gone, and so he blew his whistle, leaving the second hole open, and the
King of the Fishes appeared. "We wait your orders," said a mighty whale;
"speak and tell us. If it is to be found in or above the ocean we will
find it." "I had to guard two horses, and I can't find them anywhere,
and if I don't take them back I must die." Fishes swam forth in every
river and sea at the command of their king, and in an hour they drove a
big pike to shore, which had two little gold fish in its inside. The
whale ordered a sword-fish to rip open the pike's belly. The little lad
struck the gold fishes on the head with his halter, and they became
horses once more. Late in the afternoon the little groom arrived in the
courtyard with the horses. "Go inside, my son, and have something to
eat, you have nothing more to do until the evening," said the witch, who
then thrashed her horses with a huge poker, and, having given them some
burning cinders to eat, hobbled back into the house and began to count
her gold coins. The prince had to spend another night with the horses;
and in the evening the old witch went to the horses, and, having scolded
them well, declared that if they would not hide themselves properly this
time she would punish them horribly. She gave her little groom drink
until he was half drunk, and also three pillows which were stuffed with
owl's feathers, which would make him sleep sounder. And he did go to
sleep until the midday sun awoke him next day in the Silken Meadow. But
the little whistle again came to his aid; he opened the lowest hole and
blew the whistle, and the King of all the Mice appeared. "We wait your
orders," said a rat with a big moustache. "Whatever is to be found on
earth or under its crust we will bring to you, if you order us to do
so." "I had to guard two horses and can't find any trace of them; if I
don't take them home I must die." The mice came forth from every wall
and every hole in the ground at the squeak of their king. After an hour
and a half they drove two rats from a granary to the lad, who struck
them on the head with his halter, and changed them back into his horses.
On his arrival at home the witch said to the prince, "So you have
guarded them well, my dear son. Your year of service is over. Ask what
you like. Here are three keys, one of which opens a cellar where there
are vats full of gold and silver, take as much as you like. The second
key opens a wardrobe, from which you may choose either royal dresses, or
if you like magic garments, which will change into anything you like.
The third key opens the stables, where you will find horses with golden
or silver hair; take which you like best, and as many as you like, it is
all the same to me." The prince looked at the treasures, clothes, and
horses, but chose none of them, and returned the keys, looking very
"My father the king has horses, costly garments, and gold; I have no
need for any of these things."
"Ask, then, whatever you like; ask my life, because whosoever has served
a year with me well deserves his wages."
"I don't want your life or your death, my dear old mother; but under
your dung-heap there lies buried seven fathoms deep a wretched foal, and
on the top of your hen-coop there's a worn-out old saddle very much
soiled. These are the things I want; give them to me."
"You're in league with the devil, my dear son, take care that you don't
get into hell."
The witch tried to put him off, and made all manner of excuses, but at
last she brought a golden spade and traced a triangle on the dung-heap
which pointed to where, without fail, the wretched foal was to be found.
The prince dug without ceasing for seven days and seven nights, and on
the dawn which followed the eighth night the ground began to move under
his spade and the Tatos foal showed its hoofs. The prince dug it out,
scraped the dirt from it, and, having fetched the saddle from the
hen-coop, put it on the foal; and having taken leave of his witch
mistress he took the foal on his back and carried it as far as the
bridge. While the foal was soaking in the water the old beggar appeared
on the bridge and received a piece of bread from the prince.
"Prince, when you sit on your horse's back," said the beggar, "take care
of yourself. It will carry you through clouds and over waters; it knows
well the way to the country where the pelican lives, so let it go
wherever it pleases. When you arrive at the shore of the Operencian Sea
leave your horse there, for you will have to walk three hundred miles
further. On your way go into every house and make inquiries. A man who
knows how to use his tongue can get far, and one question is worth more
than a hundred bad guesses. On the shore of the Operencian Sea there are
two trees, one on this side and one on the opposite shore; you cannot
get over the sea unless you climb the trees when they kiss each other,
and this only happens twice a year, at the end of the summer and at the
beginning of spring. More I will not tell you. Good-bye."
Their conversation had lasted a whole hour, and behold! the wretched
foal had become such a beautiful horse with golden hair and three legs,
that one could not find another to match it.
The little prince got into the saddle, which had also become gold, and
rode leisurely over the bridge. At the other end his steed spoke thus:
"I shall now be able to see, my little master, whether we can start at
once;" and thereupon darted into the clouds; from thence to the moon;
from thence to the sun; and from the sun to the "hen and chickens" (the
Pleiades); and from thence back to the bridge.
"I have lived for many a thousand years, but such a rider as you has not
sat on my back before." And again it darted off over seven times seven
countries, and in half an hour the prince reached his brothers, who had
been galloping for the last three days and three nights. They rode
together for a little while when the eldest thus spoke: "My younger
brothers, if we all three keep together we shall never be able to find
the pelican. The road divides into three branches here. Let each of us
go into a different country, and let us mark this finger-post, and in
one year's time meet here again. Should blood ooze out of the post it
will be a sign that the brother who is absent is in misery or captivity;
but if milk flow out of it, then he is well." This proposal was
accepted. The two eldest took the roads on the right and the youngest
the one on the left. But the two eldest were wicked. They did not look
for the pelican but got into bad habits and spent their time in making
love to young ladies. They did not trouble themselves very much about
their father's rejuvenescence. The youngest prince went on steadily and
covered a thousand miles a day; till at last he reached the Operencian
Sea. The two trees which stood on its shores were just then kissing each
other. The prince slackened the girth of his horse, jumped on the tree,
ran along its upper branches, which touched the tree on the other side
of the sea, and in an hour gained the opposite shore. He had left his
horse in a silken meadow, the grass standing as high as the horse's
knees. His horse neighed after him and urged him to make haste.
On the opposite shore of the sea there was a golden forest. He had a
small hand-adze with him and with it he notched the stems of the trees
so that he might not miss his road upon his return. Beyond the golden
forest there stood a small cottage where an aged woman a hundred years
"Good day, my dear old mother."
"Good fortune has brought you, my dear son. What are you doing here,
whither not even a bird ever comes? What do you want here, my dear son?"
"I am trying to find the pelican, my dear old mother."
"Well, my son, I do not know where it is, but I have heard of it. Go a
hundred miles beyond yonder silver forest, and ask my grandmother. If
she does not know anything about it, nobody does. On your way back with
your bird come and see me, my dear son, and I will give you a present.
Life is worth living."
The old woman sent her cat with the prince, which accompanied him as far
as the right road, mewed once, and turned back. The wandering prince,
after a journey which lasted for weeks, got through the silver forest
and found a cottage where the old woman lived, who was so much bent from
age that her nose touched the ground.
"Good evening, my grandmother."
"Good fortune has brought you, my dear son. What are you doing here,
whither not even a bird ever comes? What do you want, my dear son?"
"I seek the pelican, my dear mother, whose song makes old people young
again. The Jesuits have stolen it from my father."
"Well, my son, I know nothing of it. But fifty miles beyond yonder
copper-forest lives my mother, and if she knows nothing about your bird,
then nobody does. On your way back with the bird call upon me, my dear
son, and I will give you a good present for your trouble. Life is still
very pleasant, even to me."
The prince again continued his journey in company with a red cock, which
took him as far as the right road. There it crowed once, and flew back.
After a journey of days and weeks the prince discovered on the borders
of the copper-forest a little cottage, in which the old woman sat, whose
eyelids were quite covered with moss. "Good day, my dear old mother!"
"Good fortune has brought you, my dear son. What do you want?"
"I am looking for the pelican." "You are on the right spot, my dear son.
Though I have never seen it; because when it was brought hither I could
use my legs no longer. Step across the threshold, and within a gun-shot
you will see an old tumble-down church; the pelican is kept in there.
By the side of the church there is a beautiful mansion, in it live the
two old Jesuits who brought the bird from some foreign land; but the
bird will not sing to them. Go and tell them that you think you will be
able to make the bird sing, as perhaps it will sing to you as you come
from a foreign land."
The prince, however, didn't dare to go to see the friars, but waited for
the evening or the morning bell to be rung, and then stole into the
church. He had to wait for seven days, and still he did not succeed in
hearing the pelican sing, as on each occasion a deep sleep overcame
him. The two friars had become youths of seventeen years of age during
the last two days.
No one knew why the bird did sing on the third day. On this day, the
prince, as soon as he had stepped into the church, made his nose bleed,
and this kept him awake, and he heard the bird's song, and saw the
friars caper round the cage and throw sugar into it. The prince hid
himself under a chair, and when every one had retired to rest after
evening prayers he let the bird out of its cage, hid it under his cloak,
and went back to the first old woman and made her young again. The old
woman jumped with delight, and gave him as much gold and silver as he
liked. In a few weeks he got back to the other old women who lived in
the gold and silver forests, and they regaled him in a royal manner.
When he reached the sea-shore the two trees were kissing again, so he
ran across them with the bird and appeared by the side of his horse,
which had eaten so much of the fine grass that it had become so fat that
the girth had quite cut into its belly. He made the horse young too, and
sat on its back, and in a short time returned to the post where he had
left his brothers. Lo! blood was flowing on that side on which his
brothers had gone. His sensitive heart was quite overcome with sorrow,
because his brothers were either in danger or misery. So he went on the
same road on which the poor fellows had departed. He had not gone more
than a couple of miles before he came to an inn. Adjoining the inn was a
garden, where his two brothers were working in irons, because they had
squandered their all, including their horses, and had got into debt for
drink. After scolding the innkeeper the little prince bought his
brothers off and repurchased their horses.
They then started home all together, and he related all his adventures,
and how he had got possession of the favorite pelican. At last they came
to the outskirts of a forest about three miles from home, and at this
place the two elder brothers attacked him from behind, cut off his hands
and feet, took his little bird from him, and hurried home in order to
lengthen their father's life by means of the song of the dear bird that
had been brought back from so far off. The poor little prince began to
cry bitterly with pain and fear. His cries were heard by a swine-herd
who was tending his herd in the same forest in which the wicked brothers
had maimed the little prince.
The swine-herd picked up the poor boy without hands and feet and carried
him to his hut. "He will do to take care of the hut," said the
swine-herd, "poor wretch!" In the evening, the little crippled boy
related all about his brothers' cruelty, and the poor swine-herd's heart
was filled with pity for the boy's misfortune. Next morning just as he
was going to look after his hogs the little prince called him back with
fearful screams, and to his surprise he saw something that looked like a
human skull wriggle out of the ground. He quickly knocked off the top of
the skull with his hatchet, and the remainder slipped back into the
ground. From the part cut off, blood flowed on to the ground. Somehow or
other his maimed finger came in contact with the mud formed out of the
blood and the dust and to his astonishment it was healed. Great was the
simple swine-herd's joy! He rubbed the boy's stumps with the mud, and
lo! his hands and feet grew again!
As soon as the news had spread in the royal town that the pelican had
come back all the old men gathered together and many brought presents to
the princes, and took out their horses and dragged their carriage along
the streets. At ten o'clock the next morning the church was crowded, and
the pelican was reinstalled in its old place. The organ began to play
but the bird would not sing. The king had it proclaimed through the
length and breadth of his kingdom that any one who could make the
pelican sing should have half his realm. The swine-herd heard the news
and told it to his helpmate. "Take me, my brother, under your cloak,"
said the little prince, "as I do not wish my brothers to see me, lest
they kill me. Let us then go into the town, and, as you are very old, I
will induce the pelican to sing and make you young." So they set off
together and the swine-herd sent word into the crowded meeting that he
had confidence in the Lord, and thought he would be able to make the
bird sing. The people crowded round the swine-herd, who had a handsome,
well-built boy hidden under his cloak. They conducted him into the
church, where he at once took off his great cloak, and no sooner did the
pelican see its liberator than it at once began to sing most
beautifully, and all the old men who were there assembled in great
numbers became seventeen years old. The king recognised his son and made
him tell all about his journey. When he came to the incident of the
savage attack by his brothers the people began to hiss and groan, and
resolved to draw and quarter the two villains, to tie them to horses'
tails, drag them over the town, and hang them on the four corners of the
fortress. The resolution was at once carried into effect. In vain did
the kind-hearted lad beg for their lives. They had to die. The old king
gave half of the realm to the young prince. The swine-herd was dressed
up in velvet and purple, and they all are alive to this day, if they
have not died since.
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