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YASHPEH
International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 69


The Red King and the Witch

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Roumania

It was the Red King, and he bought ten ducats' worth of victuals. He cooked them, and he put them in a press. And he locked the press, and from night to night posted people to guard the victuals.

In the morning, when he looked, he found the platters bare; he did not find anything in them. Then the king said, 'I will give the half of my kingdom to whoever shall be found to guard the press, that the victuals may not go amissing from it.'

The king had three sons. Then the eldest thought within himself, 'God! What, give half the kingdom to a stranger! It were better for me to watch. Be it unto me according to God's will.'

He went to his father. 'Father, all hail. What, give the kingdom to a stranger! It were better for me to watch.'

And his father said to him, 'As God will, only don't be frightened by what you may see.'

Then he said, 'Be it unto me according to God's will.'

And he went and lay down in the palace. And he put his head on the pillow, and remained with his head on the pillow till towards dawn. And a warm sleepy breeze came and lulled him to slumber. And his little sister arose. And she turned a somersault, and her nails became like an axe and her teeth like a shovel. And she opened the cupboard and ate up everything. Then she became a child again and returned to her place in the cradle, for she was a babe at the breast. The lad arose and told his father that he had seen nothing. His father looked in the press, found the platters bare – no victuals, no anything. His father said, 'It would take a better man than you, and even he might do nothing.'

His middle son also said, 'Father, all hail. I am going to watch to-night.'

'Go, dear, only play the man.'

'Be it unto me according to God's will.'

And he went into the palace and put his head on a pillow. And at ten o'clock came a warm breeze and sleep seized him. Up rose his sister and unwound herself from her swaddling-bands and turned a somersault, and her teeth became like a shovel and her nails like an axe. And she went to the press and opened it, and ate off the platters what she found. She ate it all, and turned a somersault again and went back to her place in the cradle. Day broke and the lad arose, and his father asked him and said, 'It would take a better man than you, and even he might do nought for me if he were as poor a creature as you.'

The youngest son arose. 'Father, all hail. Give me also leave to watch the cupboard by night.'

'Go, dear, only don't be frightened with what you see.'

'Be it unto me according to God's will,' said the lad.

And he went and took four needles and lay down with his head on the pillow; and he stuck the four needles in four places. When sleep seized him he knocked his head against a needle, so he stayed awake until ten o'clock. And his sister arose from her cradle, and he saw. And she turned a somersault, and he was watching her. And her teeth became like a shovel and her nails like an axe. And she went to the press and ate up everything. She left the platters bare. And she turned a somersault, and became tiny again as she was; went to her cradle. The lad, when he saw that, trembled with fear; it seemed to him ten years till daybreak. And he arose and went to his father. 'Father, all hail.'

Then his father asked him, 'Didst see anything, Peterkin?'

'What did I see? what did I not see? Give me money and a horse, a horse fit to carry the money, for I am away to marry me.'

His father gave him a couple of sacks of ducats, and he put them on his horse. The lad went and made a hole on the border of the city. He made a chest of stone, and put all the money there and buried it. He placed a stone cross above and departed. And he journeyed eight years and came to the queen of all the birds that fly.

And the queen of the birds asked him, 'Whither away, Peterkin?'

'Thither, where there is neither death nor old age, to marry me.'

The queen said to him, 'Here is neither death nor old age.'

Then Peterkin said to her, 'How comes it that here is neither death nor old age?'

Then she said to him, 'When I whittle away the wood of all this forest, then death will come and take me and old age.'

Then Peterkin said, One day and one morning death will come and old age, and take me.'

And he departed further, and journeyed on eight years and arrived at a palace of copper. And a maiden came forth from that palace and took him and kissed him. She said, 'I have waited long for thee.'

She took the horse and put him in the stable, and the lad spent the night there. He arose in the morning and placed his saddle on the horse.

Then the maiden began to weep, and asked him, 'Whither away, Peterkin?'

'Thither, where there is neither death nor old age.'

Then the maiden said to him, 'Here is neither death nor old age.'

Then he asked her, 'How comes it that here is neither death nor old age?'

Why, when these mountains are levelled, and these forests, then death will come.'

This is no place for me,' said the lad to her. And he departed further.

Then what said his horse to him? 'Master, whip me four times, and twice yourself, for you are come to the Plain of Regret. And Regret will seize you and cast you down, horse and all. So spur your horse, escape, and tarry not.'

He came to a hut. In that hut he beholds a lad, as it were ten years old, who asked him, What seekest thou, Peterkin, here?'

I seek the place where there is neither death nor old age.'

The lad said, 'Here is neither death nor old age. I am the Wind.'

Then Peterkin said, 'Never, never will I go from here.' And he dwelt there a hundred years and grew no older.

There the lad dwelt, and he went out to hunt in the Mountains of Gold and Silver, and he could scarce carry home the game.

Then what said the Wind to him? 'Peterkin, go unto all the Mountains of Gold and unto the Mountains of Silver; but go not to the Mountain of Regret or to the Valley of Grief.'

He heeded not, but went to the Mountain of Regret and the Valley of Grief. And Grief cast him down; he wept till his eyes were full.

And he went to the Wind. 'I am going home to my father, I will not stay longer.'

'Go not, for your father is dead, and brothers you have no more left at home. A million years. have come and gone since then. The spot is not known where your father's palace stood. They have planted melons on it; it is but an hour since I passed that way.'

But the lad departed thence, and arrived at the maiden's whose was the palace of copper. Only one stick remained, and she cut it and grew old. As he knocked at the door, the stick fell and she died. He buried her, and departed thence. And he came to the queen of the birds in the great forest. Only one branch remained, and that was all but through.

When she saw him she said, 'Peterkin, thou art quite young.'

Then he said to her, 'Dost thou remember telling me to tarry here?'

As she pressed and broke through the branch, she, too, fell and died.

He came where his father's palace stood and looked about him. There was no palace, no anything. And he fell to marvelling: 'God, Thou art mighty!' He only recognised his father's well, and went to it. His sister, the witch, when she saw him, said to him, 'I have waited long for you, dog.' She rushed at him to devour him, but he made the sign of the cross and she perished.

And he departed thence, and came on an old man with his beard down to his belt. 'Father, where is the palace of the Red King? I am his son.'

'What is this,' said the old man, 'thou tellest me, that thou art his son? My father's father has told me of the Red King. His very city is no more. Dost thou not see it is vanished? And dost thou tell me that thou art the Red King's son?'

'It is not twenty years, old man, since I departed from my father, and dost thou tell me that thou knowest not my father?' (It was a million years since he had left his home.) 'Follow me if thou dost not believe me.'

And he went to the cross of stone; only a palm's breadth was out of the ground. And it took him two days to get at the chest of money. When he had lifted the chest out and opened it, Death sat in one corner groaning, and Old Age groaning in another corner.

Then what said Old Age? 'Lay hold of him, Death.'

'Lay hold of him yourself.'

Old Age laid hold of him in front, and Death laid hold of him behind.

The old man took and buried him decently, and planted the cross near him. And the old man took the money and also the horse.

Comments:

In these days, when one is called upon to admire Maeterlinck and not for the world to admire Scott's Marmion, it is hard to know what is really good and what bad. Else this story of 'The Red King and the Witch' to me seems the finest folk-tale that we have. It is like Albert Dürer's 'Knight,' it is like the csárdás of some great Gypsy maestro. But is it original? Well, that's the question. There are several non-Gypsy stories that offer most striking analogies. There is Ralston's 'The Witch and the Sun's Sister' (pp. 170-175, from the Ukraine), and there is Ralston's 'The Norka' (pp. 73-80, from the Chernigof government). Then there is Wratislaw's 'Transmigration of the Soul' (pp. 161-162, Little Russian), of a baby that gobbles up victuals. And there are Grimm's No. 57 and Hahn's No. 65. From these it would not be difficult to patch together a story that should almost exactly parallel our Gypsy one; but not one of them, I feel certain, can rightly be deemed its original.

Abstract:

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