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The Study Of Magic Under Difficulties

Category: Hungarian

Source: Fairy Tales From All Nations

In the island of Sicily, and in the fair and famous city of Messina,
dwelt a man, Lactantius by name, who was a great proficient in two
different arts. By day, and ostensibly to his fellow-citizens, he
carried on the trade of a tailor; but by night, and secretly, he
studied the art of necromancy. One evening, when he had locked himself
in his room, and was occupied with all kinds of magic works, as ill
luck would have it, a young man, one of his apprentices, came to the
door. Dionysius, such was his name, had returned to fetch from the
chamber of Lactantius something which he had forgotten. When he
perceived that the door was closed, but at the same time heard a noise
within, he crept gently up, peeped through the keyhole, and witnessed
his master's magic doings. Such delight did this give the young man,
that from that moment he thought of nothing but how he might secretly
learn his master's art. Needle, thimble, and shears thenceforth were
little troubled by him; he cared alone to learn that which no one
cared to teach him, and so from having been an industrious, attentive,
useful workman, he became careless, idle, and inattentive. Lactantius
perceiving this change in his apprentice, discharged him from his
service, and sent him back to his father, who was much grieved in

The father having repeatedly lectured his son, with tears besought him
to attend to his duty, and taking him back to the tailor, earnestly
begged him to receive his son once again, desiring him, should he
again neglect his business, to punish him severely.

Lactantius, out of kindness to the poor man, was soon persuaded; he
again received his pupil, and instructed him carefully every day in
cutting out and sewing. As, however, Dionysius would absolutely learn
nothing, his master gave him many a sound caning, so that the poor
apprentice, who received more blows than bread, was always black and
blue, all of which he bore with the greatest patience, so insensible
had he become to everything through the engrossing desire to learn
that secret art which he night after night watched his master carry
on, as he stood peeping through the keyhole.

Lactantius, who took him for the stupid lout he appeared to be, at
last gave himself no further trouble to conceal his witchcraft from
him, thinking that as he could not even learn the business of
tailoring, which is so easy, he would far less comprehend witchcraft,
which is really a puzzling art. He therefore no longer made a secret
of his practices to Dionysius, who now thought himself the most
fortunate of men, and who although others considered him such a
blockhead, in a very short time became such a proficient in the magic
art, that he understood more of it than his master.

One day, as the father was passing by Lactantius' house, not seeing
his son in the shop, he entered, and found that, instead of working
with the other apprentices, he was cleaning the house, and in short,
performing all the offices of a housemaid.

This so disturbed the good man, that he took his son home with him,
and thus lectured him: "Thou knowest, Dionysius, how much I have
expended on thee, in the hope that thou wouldst learn a useful
business, whereby one day to support thyself and me; but, alas! I have
sown my seed on the waters, for thou refusest to learn anything. Truly
this will be my death, for I am so poor I know not how to support
myself, nor have I any means of providing for thee. Therefore, I
beseech thee, my son, learn to support thyself in any respectable way
thou canst."

Having said this, the old man began to weep, when Dionysius, moved by
his distress, replied: "Dear father, I thank you a thousand times, and
from my heart, for all the trouble and anxiety you have had on my
account: but I beg you will not think, because I did not learn
tailoring, as you wished me, that I have therefore passed the time in
idleness. On the contrary, by night-watching and unwearied efforts, I
have learned an art which I hope hereafter to exercise so
efficaciously that you and I shall live all our days in peace and joy.
That you may not imagine that I say this merely to satisfy you for the
moment, I will at once give you a proof of what I affirm.

"To-morrow, by means of my secret art, I will transform myself into a
fine horse; saddle and bridle me, and lead me to the market, and sell
me. When you shall have made your bargain, go quietly home, your
pocket full of money, and you shall find me here again in the same
form which I now bear. Judge therefore whether or not I have learned
something useful, since in so short a time I can earn for you the
necessaries of life. Take especial heed, however, when you sell me,
not to part with my bridle; this, come what will, you must carefully
retain, else I shall not be able to return, and perhaps you may never
see me again."

The next morning Dionysius stripped himself in presence of his father,
and after anointing himself with a certain ointment, he murmured some
words, whereupon, to the inexpressible astonishment of the good old
man, in the place of his son, a fine powerful horse suddenly appeared,
which he immediately harnessed as his son had instructed him, and led
him to the market. As soon as the merchants and horse-dealers saw him,
they gathered round him, quite delighted with the beauty of the horse,
the action of whose limbs and whole body was so perfect, and who
showed such a fleetness and fire, that it was quite surprising. All
inquired if the horse were for sale, to which the old man replied in
the affirmative.

By accident, Lactantius was in the market, and as soon as he saw the
horse, and had narrowly examined him, he at once discovered that it
was a magic horse. He therefore withdrew unperceived from the crowd,
and hastened home, disguised himself as a merchant, and provided with
an ample sum of money, returned to the market, where he found the man
still with his horse. He approached the animal, and after attentively
observing him, recognised in him his apprentice, Dionysius. He then
asked the old man if he would sell him, and they soon concluded a
bargain. Lactantius paid him two hundred gold pieces; but as he took
him by the bridle to lead him away, the old man objected, saying that
he had sold the horse but not the bridle, which he must have back
again. Lactantius however contrived to talk him over, so that he
obtained the bridle as well as the horse, which he led home, and
fastening him to the stall, gave him for breakfast and supper so many
hundred blows, that the poor beast became nothing but skin and bones,
and excited the compassion of all who beheld him.

Lactantius had two daughters, who, when they saw their father's
barbarity, went daily into the stable to do what they could for the
poor horse. They caressed him, patted him, and treated him with all
possible kindness, and one day went so far as to lead him by the
halter to drink at the stream. The moment, however, the horse found
himself by the water, he threw himself into it, and transforming
himself into a little fish, he disappeared in the waves.

At this extraordinary occurrence the maidens stood speechless with
astonishment, and returning home, gave way to the deepest sorrow. Some
time after Lactantius returned, and went into the stable to administer
a little further chastisement to his horse, when to his great
astonishment he found him gone. Very indignant thereat, he went to his
daughters, and beheld them in tears. Without inquiring the cause, for
he knew full well the cause of their trouble, he said to them: "My
children, fear nothing, only tell me what has become of the horse, in
order that I may at once take measures concerning him."

The poor maidens composed themselves on hearing these words, and
related to him what had happened. When the father had heard the story,
he hastened to the river, transformed himself into a large fish,
dashed into the water, and as fast as his fins could carry him pursued
the little fish, intending to swallow him.

When the latter beheld the voracious fish, with its terrible teeth, he
was dreadfully alarmed at the thought of being swallowed by him, and
approaching the bank of the river, he left the water, and in the form
of a beautiful ruby, set in gold, he threw himself unseen into the
little basket which the king's daughter, who happened just then to be
amusing herself with picking up little pebbles on the sand, carried on
her arm.

As soon as the princess, who was called Violante, returned home, she
took her treasures out of the little basket, and perceived the ring
shining amongst the pebbles. Quite delighted, she placed it on her
finger, and could not desist from contemplating it.

At night, when the princess had retired to her sleeping apartment, the
ring suddenly changed into a handsome young man. He laid his hand on
the princess's mouth, who was about to scream aloud, then threw
himself at her feet and besought her forgiveness. He assured her he
was not there with any disrespectful purpose, but only to implore her
assistance, and then told her his misfortune, and the persecutions he
had to endure.

Violante, somewhat re-assured by the bright light of the lamp which
burned in her chamber, as also by the words of the young man, whom she
found very handsome and attractive, felt compassion for him, and
said: "Young man, thou art very bold in entering a place where thy
presence was not desired. But in consideration of thy misfortune, I
will forgive thee. Thy narration has awakened all my compassion, and I
will show thee that I am not made of marble, nor have a heart of
adamant. I am even resolved, so far as my honour will permit, to give
thee my entire protection."

The young man humbly returned thanks, and, when day dawned, again
transformed himself into the ring, which the princess placed amongst
her most costly jewels.

It happened just about that time, that the king fell dangerously ill,
and all his physicians declared his disease was incurable.

This came to the ears of Lactantius, who thereupon disguised himself
as a physician, went to the royal palace, and being introduced to the
king, inquired carefully respecting his symptoms, felt his pulse,
examined his countenance, and said: "Your majesty's disease is no
doubt an obstinate one, and very dangerous; but take courage: in a
short time I will restore you to health, for I possess a remedy by
which I can in a few days cure the severest and most dangerous illness
that exists."

"Master physician," replied the king, "if you restore me to health, I
promise to reward you so richly that you shall be content for the rest
of your life."

"My sovereign," rejoined the physician, "I desire neither rank,
honours, nor riches, but only request your majesty will grant me one

The king readily promised this, on condition that he should require
nothing that was impossible.

"I ask nothing more of your majesty than a ruby set in gold, which is
now in the possession of the princess your daughter."

When the king heard this modest request, he sent for his daughter, and
in presence of the physician, desired her to fetch her whole stock of
jewels. The princess obeyed, leaving out, however, the precious ring.
But when the physician had thoroughly examined them, he said the ruby
he wished for was not amongst them.

Violante, who valued her ruby above all the rest, affirmed that she
had no other jewels than those now before them; whereupon the king
said to the physician: "Retire now, and return to-morrow; I will
undertake that my daughter shall give me the ring."

When the physician was gone, the king called Violante, and inquired in
the gentlest manner, where was the beautiful ruby which the physician
wished for; saying that if she would give it to him, she should have
in its place a still more beautiful and precious one. But she
positively denied having it in her possession.

She no sooner returned to her apartment, than she locked herself in,
and began to weep bitterly at the thought of losing her poor ruby,
which she bathed with her tears, and kissed with the utmost

When the ruby felt the hot tears that fell from the princess's eyes,
and heard her deep sighs, it assumed the human form, and said to her:
"Princess, on whom my life hangs, I beseech you, do not thus
immoderately grieve at my misfortune. Let us rather devise some means
of rescue; for that physician who so zealously covets the possession
of me, is no other than my greatest foe Lactantius, who desires to
kill me. Therefore I implore you, do not give me into his hand, but
feign to be indignant, and dash me against the wall: leave the rest to
my care."

The following morning the physician again visited the king, who
informed him that his daughter still persisted that she did not
possess the ring. Lactantius much displeased, on hearing this,
however, positively asserted that the ruby was in the princess's

Thereupon the king again sent for the princess, and in the physician's
presence said to her: "Violante, thou knowest that I owe the
restoration of my health to this man's skill and care. He requires no
other recompense of me than that ring which he declares to be in thy
possession, and which thou dost assert thou hast not. I should have
thought thy love for me would have led thee not to give thy ruby
alone, but thy very life. I beseech thee, by the obedience thou owest
to me, by the affection I have borne thee, to withhold it from me no

The princess, on hearing her father's will so decidedly expressed,
returned to her room, collected all her jewels, amongst which she laid
the ruby, and taking them one by one in her hand, in the presence of
her father, showed them each in succession to the physician, who, the
moment he saw the ruby, would have laid his hand on it, saying:
"Princess, this is the ring I wish for, and which the king has
promised me."

But the princess, repelling him, said: "Stay, master, you shall have
it!" and holding the ring in her hand, exclaimed: "Then it is this
precious jewel, so infinitely dear to me, that you covet: I must
renounce this, for the loss of which I shall be inconsolable for life.
But I do not yield it willingly, but only because the king, my
father, requires it of me."

With these words she flung the ruby against the wall. As it fell to
the ground it instantly changed into a beautiful pomegranate, which
burst as it fell, and its seeds were scattered all over the room.

The physician as quickly became a cock, in order to swallow all the
seeds, and thus to destroy the unlucky Dionysius; but he had
miscalculated: one of the seeds had so concealed itself that the cock
could not discover it. The seed watched its opportunity, transformed
itself into a fox, who throwing himself on master cock, seized him by
the throat, and strangled and devoured him in the presence of the
astonished monarch and his daughter Violante. Dionysius then resumed
his human form, and related all to the king, who thought he could not
do better than immediately give him his daughter in marriage. They
lived long together in peace and happiness, and the good old father of
Dionysius became, instead of an indigent man, a rich and powerful one;
whilst, on the other hand, the cruelty of Lactantius had cost him his

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