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Story No. 93

The Three Golden Hairs of the Sun-King

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Roumania

A rich, mighty king once went hunting, and wandered himself in a great forest. Towards evening he came to a hut, in which lived a poor charcoal-burner. The king asked the poor man his way to the city.

The charcoal-burner answered, 'Sir, the way to the city you could not find by yourself, and to-day I cannot go with you for my wife lies sick, and this very night will bring a child into the world. Lie down here then in the side room, and to-morrow I will guide you to the city.'

The king took the offer, and lay down in the side room; but he could not close an eye for the moaning of the charcoal-burner's wife. Towards midnight she bore a beautiful boy, and now it was quiet in the hut. Yet still the king could not sleep. He got up from his couch, drew near the door, and looked through a chink into the room where the sick woman lay. He could see her sleeping in her bed; her man, fast asleep too, lay behind the stove; and in its cradle was the new-born child, with three ladies in white standing round it.

The king heard one say, 'I wish this boy a misfortune.' The second said, 'And I grant him a means to turn this misfortune to good.'

The third said, 'I will bring to pass his marriage with the daughter of the king who is now in the next room. At this very moment his wife is bringing into the world a girl of marvellous beauty.'

Thereupon the three ladies departed; and the king thought and thought how to destroy this boy. Early next morning the charcoal-burner came into the side room and said, weeping, to the king, 'My poor wife is dead. What can I do with the little child?'

The king answered, quite rejoiced, 'I am the king, and will care for the child. Only show me the way to the city, and I will send one of my servants to fetch the child.'

And so it was. The charcoal-burner guided his king to the city and was richly rewarded; and the king sent a servant back with secret instructions to fling the boy into the river and let him drown. When now the servant was returning from the forest with the child, he flung it, basket and all, into the river, and told the king, 'Most gracious king, I have done as thou hast commanded me.' The king rewarded him, and went now to his wife, who the night before had borne a girl of marvellous beauty.

The basket with the boy went floating about a long time on the water, and at last was seen by a fisherman who drew it out, and took the child home to his wife. They both rejoiced greatly at the sight of this pretty boy; and as they had no children they kept him and brought him up.

Twenty years went by; and the boy, whom his parents called Nameless, grew up a wonderfully pretty lad. Once the king passed the fisherman's hut, and saw the fair youngster. He entered the hut and asked the fisherman, 'Is this pretty youngster your son?'

'No,' said the fisherman, 'twenty years ago I fished him out of the water.'

Then the king was exceeding terrified, and said presently, I will write a letter to the queen, and this lad shall take it to her.'

So he wrote this letter: 'Dear wife, have this lad put forthwith to death, else he will undo us all.'

Nameless set out with the letter for the queen, but on his way to the city lost himself in a forest, and there met a lady in white who said to him, 'You have lost yourself. Come to my hut, and rest a bit; then I'll soon bring you to the queen.'

She led Nameless to her hut, and there he fell fast asleep. The old lady took the letter from his pocket, burnt it, and put another in its stead. When the lad awoke, to his great amazement he found himself in front of the king's house. So he went in to the queen and gave her the letter, in which stood written: 'Dear wife, at once call the pope, and let him plight this lad to our daughter. I wish him to marry her, else a great ill will befall us.'

The queen did as her husband, the king, desired. She bade call the pope, and Nameless and the king's fair daughter became man and wife. When the king came home and learnt of this wedding, he had the letter brought, and saw it was his own handwriting. Then he asked his son-in-law where he had been and whom he had spoken with; and when Nameless told him about the lady in white, the king knew that the fairy [Urme] had aided him. Nameless was not at all the son-in-law he wanted, and he sought to make away with him, so said, 'Go into the world and fetch me three golden hairs from the head of the Sun-King, then shall you be king along with me.'

Sorrowfully Nameless set out, for he loved his young wife, and she too loved him dearly. As he wandered on he came to a great black lake, and saw a white boat floating on the water. He cried to the old man in it, 'Boat ahoy! come and ferry me over.'

The old man answered, 'I will take you across if you'll promise to bring me word how to escape out of this boat, for only then can I die.'

Nameless promised, and the old man ferried him over the black water. Soon after Nameless came to a great city, where an old man asked him, 'Whither away?'

'To the Sun-King,' said Nameless.

'Couldn't be better. Come, I'll bring you to our king, who'll have something to say to you.'

The king, when Nameless stood before him, said, 'Twenty years ago there was in our city a spring whose water made every one that drank of it grow young. The spring has vanished, and only the Sun-King knows where it is gone to. You are journeying to him, so ask him where it is gone to, and bring us word.'

Nameless promised him to bring word on his return, and departed. Some days after he came to another city, and there another old man met him and asked, 'Whither away?'

'To the Sun-King,' said Nameless.

'That's capital. Come, I'll bring you to our king, who'll have something to say to you.'

When they came to the king, the king said, 'Twenty years ago a tree in this city bore golden apples; whoso ate of those apples grew strong and healthy, and died not. But now for twenty years this tree has put forth no more fruit, and only the Sun-King knows the reason why. So when you come to him, ask him about it, and bring us word.'

Nameless promised him to bring word on his return, and departed. Some days after he reached a great mountain, and there saw an old lady in white sitting in front of a beautiful house. She asked him, 'Whither away?'

'I seek the Sun-King,' said Nameless.

'Come in then,' said the old lady. 'I am the mother of the Sun-King, who daily flies out of this house as a little child, at mid-day becomes a man, and returns of an evening a greybeard.'

She brought Nameless into the house, and made him tell her his story. He told her of the man on the black lake, of the spring, and of the tree that used to bear golden apples.

Then said the old lady, 'I will ask my son all about that. But come, let me hide you; for if my son finds you here he'll burn you up.'

She hid Nameless in a great vessel of water, and bade him keep quiet. At evening the Sun-King came home, a feeble old man with golden head, and got victuals and drink from his mother. When he had eaten and drunk, he laid his golden head in his mother's lap and fell fast asleep. Then the old lady twitched out a golden hair, and he cried, 'Mother, why won't you let me sleep?'

The old lady answered, 'I saw in a dream a city with a tree which used to bear golden apples, and whoso ate of them grew well and healthy, and died not. For twenty years now the tree has put forth no more fruit, and the people know not what they ought to do.'

The Sun-King said, 'They should kill the serpent that gnaws at the root of the tree.'

Again he slept, and after a while his mother twitched out a second hair. Then cried the Sun-King, 'Mother, what's the meaning of this? why can't you let me sleep?'

The old lady answered, 'My dear son, I dreamed of a city with a spring, and whoso drank of it grew young again. Twenty years has this spring ceased to flow, and the people know not what they should do.'

The Sun-King said, 'A great toad is blocking the source of the spring. They should kill the toad, then the spring will flow as before.'

Again he slept, and after a while the old lady in white twitched out a third hair. Then cried the Sun-King, Mother, do let me sleep.'

The old lady answered, 'I saw in a dream a great black lake with an old man rowing about it in a boat, and he doesn't know how to escape from the boat, for only then can he die.'

The Sun-King said, 'Next time he takes any one over, let him hand him the oars and jump ashore himself; then the other must stop in the boat, and the old man can die.'

Again he slept.

Early next morning the Sun-King arose as a lovely child, and flew out of the window. The old lady gave Nameless the three hairs and said, 'Now go to your wife, and give the king the three hairs. I have done for you all that at your birth I promised my sisters. And now farewell.'

She kissed Nameless, and led him outside, and he started off homewards. When he came to the city where the spring had ceased to flow, he told the people to kill the great toad that blocked up the source. They looked, found the toad, and killed it; then the spring flowed again, and the king rewarded him richly. When Nameless came to the city where for twenty years the tree had ceased to bear golden apples, he told the people to kill the serpent that was gnawing the roots of the tree. The people dug down, found the serpent, and killed it. Then the tree again bore golden fruit, and the king rewarded him richly. When Nameless reached the black lake, the old man would not take him across. But Nameless said if he would he would tell him the secret then, so the old man took him across the black water. When he was out of the boat he told the old man to hand his oars to the next passenger and then jump ashore himself; so he would be free and at last could die, but the other would have to go rowing about on the lake.

Nameless soon got back home, and gave the king the three golden hairs; his wife rejoiced greatly, but her father was beside himself for rage. But when Nameless told of the spring and the golden apples, the king cried quite delighted, 'I too must drink of this spring; I too must eat of these golden apples.' He set out instantly, but when he reached the black lake, the old man handed him the oars and jumped ashore. And the king could not leave the boat, and had to stop there on the water. As he never came home, Nameless became king of the country, and lived henceforth with his beautiful bride in peace and prosperity.


Identical with Wratislaw's Bohemian story of 'The Three Golden Hairs of Grandfather Allknow' (Sixty Slavonic Folk-tales, pp. 16-25), and with Grimm's No. 29, 'The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs' (i. 119-125, 377-378), only the German tale opens defectively. Wlislocki's opening, however, meets us again in Bernhard Schmidt's 'Der Spruch der Moeren' (Griechische Märchen, No. 2, p. 67), where, as elsewhere, the part of the fairies is taken by the three Moirai or fates. The whole question of fairy mythology requires to be carefully restudied in the light of our copious stock of Greek and Indian folk-tales, of which Leyden and Grimm could know nothing. In his Deutsche Mythologie (i. 382) Grimm expresses himself as in doubt whether fata came to mean 'fairies' owing to Celtic or to Teutonic influences; probably fata was a conscious translation of the Greek moirai, and is an indication that the fairy mythology of Western Europe was largely, if not wholly, derived from Greek-speaking Levantine sources.


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