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Story No. 78

The Seer

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Roumania, Bukovina, Ukraine

They say that there was an emperor, and he had three sons. And he gave a ball; all Bukowina came to it. And a mist descended, and there came a dragon, and caught up the empress, and carried her into the forests to a mountain, and set her down on the earth. There in the earth was a palace. Now after the ball the men departed home.

And the youngest son was a seer; and his elder brothers said he was mad. Said the youngest, 'Let us go after our mother, and seek for her in Bukowina.' The three set out, and they came to a place where three roads met. And the youngest said, 'Brothers, which road will you go?'

And the eldest said, 'I will keep straight on.'

And the middle one went to the right, and the youngest to the left. The eldest one went into the towns, and the middle one into the villages, and the youngest into the forests. They had gone a bit when the youngest turned back and cried, 'Come here. How are we to know who has found our mother? Let us buy three trumpets, and whoever finds her must straightway blow a blast, and we shall hear him, and return home.'

The youngest went into the forests. And he was hungry, and he found an apple-tree with apples, and he ate an apple, and two horns grew. And he said, 'What God has given me I will bear.' And he went onward, and crossed a stream, and the flesh fell away from him. And he kept saying,' What God has given me I will bear. Thanks be to God.' And he went further, and found another apple-tree. And he said, 'I will eat one more apple, even though two more horns should grow.' When he ate it the horns dropped off. And he went further, and again found a stream. And he said, 'God, the flesh has fallen from me, now will my bones waste away; but even though they do, yet will I go.' And he crossed the stream; his flesh grew fairer than ever. And he went up into a mountain. There was a rock of stone in a spot bare of trees. And he reached out his hand, and moved it aside, and saw a hole in the earth. He put the rock back in its place, and went back and began to wind his horn.

His brothers heard him and came. 'Have you found my mother?'

'I have; come with me.'

And they went to the mountain to the rock of stone.

'Remove this rock from its place.'

'But we cannot.'

'Come, I will remove it.'

He put his little finger on it, and moved it aside [Cf. the very curious ' Story of Lelha' in Campbell's Santal Folk-tales, p. 80: – Boots, the youngest brother, presses his three brothers 'to attempt the removal of the stone, so they and others to the number of fifty tried their strength, but the stone remained immovable. Then Lelha said, "Stand by, and allow me to try." So putting to his hand, he easily removed it, and revealed the entrance to the mansion of the Indarpuri Kurt.'] 'Hah!' said he, 'here is our mother. Who will let himself down?' And they said, 'Not I.'

The youngest said, 'Come with me into the forest, and we will strip off bark and make a rope.'

They did so, and they made a basket.

I will lower myself down, and when I jerk the rope haul me up.'

So he let himself down, and came to house No. 1. There he found an emperor's daughter, whom the dragon had brought and kept prisoner.

And she said, 'Why are you here? The dragon will kill you when he comes.'

And he asked her, 'Didn't the dragon bring an old lady here?'

And she said, 'I know not, but go to No. 2; there is my middle sister.'

He went to her; she too said, 'Why are you here? The dragon will kill you when he comes.'

And he asked, 'Didn't he bring an old lady?'

And she said, 'I know not, but go to No. 3; there is my youngest sister.'

She said, 'Why are you here? The dragon will kill you when he comes.'

And he asked, 'Didn't he bring an old lady here?' And she said, 'He did, to No. 4.'

He went to his mother, and she said, 'Why are you here? The dragon will kill you when he comes.'

And he said, 'Fear not, come with me.' And he led her, and put her in the basket, and said to her, 'Tell my brothers they've got to pull up three maidens.' He jerked the rope, and they hauled their mother up. He put the eldest girl in the basket, and they hauled her up; then the middle one, jerked the rope, and they hauled her up. And while they are hauling, he made the youngest swear that she will not marry 'till I come.' She swore that she will not marry till he comes; he put her also in the basket, jerked the rope, and they hauled her up.

And he found a stone, and put it in the basket, and jerked the rope. 'If they haul up the stone, they will also haul up me.' And they hauled it half-way up, and the rope broke, and they left him to perish, for they thought he was in the basket. And he began to weep. And he went into the palace where the dragon dwelt, and pulled out a box, and found a rusty ring. And he is cleaning it; out of it came a lord, and said, 'What do you want, master?'

'Carry me out into the world.'

And he took him up on his shoulders, and carried him out. And he took two pails of water. When he washed himself with one, his face was changed; and when with the other, it became as it was before. And he brought him to a tailor in his father's city.

And he washed himself with the water, and his face was changed. And he went to that tailor; and that tailor was in his father's employment. And he hired himself as a prentice to the tailor for a twelvemonth, just to watch the baby in another room. The tailor had twelve prentices. And the tailor did not recognise him, nor his brothers.

The eldest brother proposed to the youngest sister, whom the seer had saved from the dragon. And she said, 'No, I have sworn not to marry until my own one comes.' The middle son also proposed; she said, 'I will not, until my own one comes.'

So the eldest son married the eldest girl; the middle son married the middle girl; and they called the tailor to make them wedding garments, and gave him cloth.

And the emperor's son said, 'Give it me to make.'

'No, I won't, you wouldn't fit him properly.'

'Give it me. I'll pay the damage if I don't sew it right.'

The tailor gave it him, and he rubbed the ring. Out came a little lord, and said, 'What do you want, master?'

'Take this cloth, and go to my eldest brother, and take his measure, so that it mayn't be too wide, or too narrow, but just an exact fit. And sew it so that the thread mayn't show.'

And he sewed it so that one couldn't tell where the seam came. And in the morning he brought them to the tailor.

'Carry them to them.'

And when they saw them, they asked the tailor, 'Who made these clothes? For you never made so well before.'

'I've a new prentice made them.'

'Since the youngest would not have us, we'll give her to him, that he may work for us.'

They went and got married. After the wedding they called the prentice, called too the maiden, and bade her go to him.

She said, 'I will not,' for she did not know him.

The emperor's eldest son caught hold of her to thrash her.

She said, 'Go to him I will not.'

'You've got to.'

'Though you cut my throat, I won't.'

Said the youngest son, 'I'll tell you what, Prince, let me go with her into a side-room and talk with her.'

He took her aside, and washed himself with the other water, and his face became as it was. She knew him [Cf. Hahn, i. 140, lines 4-7].

'Come, now I'll have you.'

He washed himself again with the first water, and his face was changed once more, and he went back to the emperor. And he asked her, 'Will you have him?'

'I will.'

'The wedding is to be in twelve days.'

And they called the old tailor, and commanded him, 'In twelve days' time be ready for the wedding.' And they departed home.

Six days are gone, and he takes no manner of trouble, but goes meanly as ever. Now ten are gone, and only two remain. The tailor called the bridegroom. 'And what shall we do, for there's nothing ready for the wedding?'

'Ah! don't fret, and fear not: God will provide.'

Now but one day remained; and he, the bridegroom, went forth, and rubbed the ring. And out came a little lord and asked him, 'What do you want, master?'

'In a day's time make me a three-story palace, and let it turn with the sun on a screw, and let the roof be of glass, and let there be water and fish there; the fish swimming and sporting in the roof, so that the lords may look at the roof, and marvel what magnificence is this. And let there he victuals and golden dishes and silver spoons, and one cup being drained and one cup filled.'

That day it was ready.

'And let me have a carriage and six horses, and a hundred soldiers for outriders, and two hundred on either side.'

On the morrow he started for the wedding, he from one place, and she from another; and they went to the church and were married, and came home. His brothers came and his father, and a heap of lords. And they drink and eat, and all kept looking at the roof.

When they had eaten and drunk, he asked the lords, What they would do to him who seeks to slay his brother?'

His brothers heard. 'Such a one merits death.'

Then he washed himself with the other water, and his face became as it was. Thus his brothers knew him. And he said, 'Good day to you, brothers. You fancied I had perished. You have pronounced your own doom. Come out with me, and toss your swords up in the air. If you acted fairly by me, it will fall before you, but if unfairly, it will fall on your head.'

The three of them tossed up their swords, and that of the youngest fell before him, but theirs both fell on their head, and they died.


'The Seer' belongs to the same group as Miklosich's 'Mare's Son' (No. 20), Grimm's 'Strong Hans,' and Cosquin's 'Jean de l’Ours.' Its first half is largely identical with that of Ralston's 'Koshchei the Dauntless' (pp. 100-103), its latter half more closely with that of Ralston's 'The Norka' (pp. 75-80). There also the prince engages himself to a tailor: but, whilst in our Gypsy version the change in his appearance is satisfactorily accounted for, the Russian says merely, 'So much the worse for wear was he, so thoroughly had he altered in appearance, that nobody would have suspected him of being a prince.' The striking parallel with No. 120 of the Gesta Romanorum has been noticed in the Introduction; minor points of resemblance may be glanced at here. The mist that descends, and the carrying off of the empress, may be matched from Hahn, ii. 49, and Dietrich's Russische Volksmärchen (Leip. 1831), No. 5. For the cross-roads, compare Hahn, ii. 50, and the Welsh-Gypsy story of 'An Old King and his Three Sons' (No. 55), where likewise the younger of three sons goes to the left. Figs causing horns to grow occur in Hahn, i. 257 (cf. also Grimm, ii. 421-422; and De Gubernatis' Zool. Myth. i. 182). The box with the little lord belongs to the Aladdin cycle (cf. Welsh-Gypsy story, 'Jack and his Golden Snuffbox, No. 54; Grimm, ii. 258; and Clouston, i. 314-346). For the engagement to court-tailor as apprentice, cf. Grimm, ii. 388; for washing the face, Grimm, ii. 145; for pronouncing one's own doom, Grimm, i. 59; and for the concluding ordeal the close of our No. 20, p. 79. In a Lesbian story, 'Les trois Fils du Roi' (Georgeakis and Pineau's Folk-lore de Lesbos, No. 7, p. 41, the hero also turns tailor, the youngest maiden having given him three nuts containing three superb dresses.


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