The Pelican

: 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

suited him.

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

until noon.

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

old lived.

"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.