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Estonian Folk Tale
Retold by Matthias Aisan
Translated by Irina Zheleznova
Illustrated by Jaan Tammsaar
Once upon a time some men out hunting for mushrooms in the forest found one that was bigger than any they had ever seen before. They began pulling it out of the ground, and lo! — a little old man sprang out from under it. No larger than a finger he was and had a beard that trailed over the ground. The little old man rushed away but the men ran after him. They caught him and asked who he was.
“I am king of all the mushrooms growing in this forest,” said the little old man.
The men did not know what to do. They thought and they thought and could think of nothing better than to give the little old man for a gift to their king. This they did and the king rewarded them generously and ordered the little old man to be locked up in the cellar. “I shall hold a big feast,” said the king to himself, “and show my guests what funny little bearded old men live under the mushrooms in my forest. Meanwhile, he must stay under lock and key.”
Now, the king had a young son. One day the boy was in the courtyard playing with a golden egg and he happened to send it rolling through a window straight into the cellar. The little old man saw the egg and snatched it up.
“Give me back my egg!” the boy called to him.
But the little old man called back:
“I won’t! Come and get it yourself.”
“How can I do that? The door is locked,” the boy said.
“That’s nothing. The keys are in the palace. Go and fetch them.”
The boy did as he was told, and when he had brought the keys, unlocked the door and came down into the cellar. The little old man gave him the golden egg and himself whisked between the young prince’s legs and out of the door and vanished.
The prince, who had not noticed this, now decided to take a good look at the little old man before locking him up again. He gazed round him, and finding the little old man gone, was badly frightened. Locking the door quickly, he took the keys back to the palace and never breathed a word about what had happened to anyone.
The day of the feast arrived and there were many people from all parts of the kingdom who came to attend it. A big crowd gathered round the palace, for everyone had heard that the king had a surprise in store for his guests.
The king now sent a servant of his to fetch the little old man. The servant returned empty-handed, but when he said that the little old man was not in the cellar, the king refused to believe him and himself climbed down into it.
However, what isn’t there, isn’t there, and though the king felt ashamed at having called together his guests for nothing, he could not conceal from them that the little old man had vanished. He told them that he had got out of the cellar through a mouse-hole, and this they all believed and were very sorry indeed not to have seen him.
Many years passed, and the young prince grew to manhood. Once at dinner the talk turned on the little old man, and the prince confessed that he had sent his golden egg rolling into the cellar and that that was how the little old man had managed to escape.
The king was very angry. He would not listen to anyone, not even to the queen, and drove the prince out of the palace. But he ordered a general to go along with him for company, for he knew that it was easier for two people to roam the world together and take care of themselves.
The prince and the general set off on their way, they walked and they walked and they came to a forest. It was very hot, and the prince felt thirsty, but where were they to get water? They walked on a little further, and there before them was a deep well.
Said the general:
“I’ll let you down into the well on a rope if you like, and when you have drunk your fill. I’ll pull you out again.”
To this the prince agreed, and the general let him down into the well, but when he had drunk his fill, he did not pull him out as he had promised.
“I’ll pull you out again on one condition — that from now on you will be the general and I will be the prince,” he cried.
What was the prince to do? If he refused, the general would lease him in the well. There was nothing for it but to agree.
The general pulled the prince out of the well and they went on again.
They came to the king of a strange kingdom and asked him if he would take them into his service. And all the time they did as they had agreed, the general calling himself a prince and the prince calling himself a general.
The king invited the sham prince to live in the palace with him and he made the real one his chief groom. The grooms drove the horses to pasture, and the prince went with them, for it was his job to watch over them.
They came to the forest, the prince sat down on a rock, he thought of his sad plight, and the tears poured from his eyes. All of a sudden who should be there before him but the little old man who he had let out of the cellar all those many years ago.
“Why so sad?” asked the little old man.
“There is no reason for me to be happy,” said the prince. “My father drove me out of the palace for having let you escape and now the general has taken over my title. He tells everyone that he is a prince, and I am forced to pasture horses.”
“Don’t you grieve, everything will turn out for the best,” the little old man said. “Come with me to my eldest daughter’s palace.”
Now, this made the prince very curious.
“Who are you, then?” he asked.
“I am the King of the Mushrooms,” said the little old man.
And he led the prince to his eldest daughter’s palace. The palace and everything in it was made of copper, and it was truly a place to fill one with wonder! So happy did the prince feel there that he did not notice how the hours passed.
“It is time for you to leave us,” said the King of the Mushrooms, “but, as is our custom, we will give you a farewell gift. Ho there! Bring in a copper horse! ”
A copper horse was led in, and so spirited was he that it took four men to hold him.
“This is my present to you,” said the King of the Mushrooms.
The prince was frightened.
“What will I do with him? Why, it takes four men to hold him! ” he said.
“Here are four bottles of my magic potion. Drink it if you want to be strong! ” said the King of the Mushrooms.
The prince drank the potion and at once felt so strong that he feared the copper horse no longer.
The King of the Mushrooms brought out a copper pipe.
“Here is a pipe for you,” he said. “Take good care of it. If you lose it you will lose your horse as well. And now put on the copper armour that is under the saddle.”
The prince put on the armour, sprang on the copper horse’s back and rode off at a gallop.
On the following day he went to the forest again to graze the horses, and lo! —there was the King of the Mushrooms before him.
“You will have to pay my middle daughter a visit today,” said he.
The prince sprang on the copper horse’s back and made off at a gallop for the middle daughter’s palace. Now, the middle daughter’s palace was a silver one and everything in it was of silver. The time passed quickly, and the King of the Mushrooms had a silver horse brought in and given to the prince as a farewell gift. Eight men held the horse and it was almost more than they could do, so the prince felt that he could not cope with him.
The King of the Mushrooms told the prince to drink eight bottles of his magic potion and to take the silver armour from under the saddle. This the prince did, and he put the armour which sparkled and shone, so well was it furbished. And now the King of the Mushrooms brought out a silver pipe from his pocket.
“Take good care of it or you’ll lose your horse,” said he.
On the third day the prince went to visit the youngest daughter of the King of the Mushrooms who lived in a palace of gold. There the King of the Mushrooms gave him a golden horse for a present, and as it took twelve men to hold him, the prince had to drink twelve bottles of the magic potion before he grew strong enough to cope with him. The King of the Mushrooms then gave him a golden pipe, and turning to his daughter, said:
“You too must give our guest something.”
The youngest daughter brought a golden egg and gave it to the prince, who thanked her, got on his golden horse and galloped away.
He came back to his grooms and on the following day went to sec the king in whose service he was. And as he came toward the palace, he met the king’s youngest daughter who was weeping loudly.
“What has happened? Why are you crying?” the prince asked.
“How can I help it! ” the princess said. “Tomorrow a dragon is going to crawl out of the sea and eat me up. If they don’t give me to him he will raze the whole kingdom to the ground.”
The prince took pity on the princess. On the following day, when the king’s soldiers had lined up by the side of the sea and the princess arrived and stood waiting for the dragon, he went to the forest and blew upon his copper pipe. At once the copper horse appeared before him, and the prince put on his copper armour, sprang on the horse’s back and made off at a gallop for the sea.
Meanwhile the dragon had crawled out of the sea on his four paws, and seeing the people gathered on the shore, gave out a bellow of laughter.
“Is there anyone among you brave enough to fight me?” he asked.
No one replied, and they all stood there in silence when who should come riding up to them on his copper horse but the prince!
“Who are you going to fight for?” asked the dragon.
“For the princess and for myself,” the prince replied.
“How are you going to fight — on horseback or on foot?” asked the dragon again.
“On horseback,” the prince said. “After all, you have four legs, too, like my horse.”
The dragon decided to use cunning. He moved away at first, but then turned round very suddenly and came running back, thinking to swallow the prince together with his horse.
But this was not to be! The prince came at him, smote off his head with a single wave of his sword, threw his body inter the sea and galloped off to the forest. But not a word did he say to his grooms, just as if nothing had happened.
On the following day the prince went to see the king again, and there, coming out of the palace and weeping loudly was the king’s youngest daughter.
“What has happened?” asked the prince. “Why are you crying?”
“Tomorrow a six-headed dragon is going to crawl out of the sea and cat up my middle sister,” the princess said. “How I wish I could find the brave man who saved me, for I know he would save my sister too! ”
The prince went back to the forest, and on the following morning he blew upon his silver pipe, and at once the silver horse appeared before him. The prince put on his silver armour, sprang on the horse’s back and galloped away. He rode up to the sea and waited for the six-headed dragon to appear.
All of a sudden the sea boiled up, and the six-headed dragon crawled out of the water and challenged the bravest among the men gathered there to battle. But they all ran away and only the prince on his silver horse made straight for him.
“That’s right, my son, come closer! ” called the dragon. “It will be all the better for me, for I will eat up both you and your horse!
And the dragon opened wide his jaws.
But the prince’s sword flashed, and all of the dragon’s six heads rolled down on to the sand like ordinary heads of cabbage.
The prince went back to the forest just as if nothing had happened, let his silver horse go free and lay down for a sleep.
On the following day he went to see the king, and as he was coming toward the palace, met the princess who was in tears again.
“What has happened?” asked the prince.
“Tomorrow a twelve-headed dragon is going to crawl out of the sea and eat up my eldest sister,” the princess said. “How I wish I could find the brave man who saved me and my middle sister! ”
The prince took pity on the princess, and when morning came he blew upon his golden pipe. The golden horse appeared before him, and the prince put on his golden armour, sprang on the horse’s back and made off at a gallop for the sea.
The eldest princess was already on the shore waiting for the twelve-headed dragon, and the king, his men beside him, was there too, for he wanted to see how his daughter would fare.
After a time there came the most fearful noise, the sea began to seethe and to boil, and the twelve-headed dragon thrust all his twelve heads out of the water and then crawled out all of him on to the shore. The king’s men ran away in fright, the king took to his heels, and only the prince on his golden horse made straight for the dragon. The dragon saw him and began to mock and to jeer at him.
“That’s right, my son, come closer!” he cried. “It will be all the better for me, for I will eat up both you and your horse!”
And thinking to swallow the prince, he opened wide his jaws. But the prince waved his sword, and six of the dragon’s heads rolled to the ground like ordinary heads of cabbage. At this the dragon flew into a rage and began thrashing the prince and his horse with his tail. Smoke poured from the dragon’s mouth and steam from his nostrils, and he was about to swallow the prince when the prince looked back and saw the King of the Mushrooms standing there beside a large rock.
“Make haste and crack the golden egg!” said he to the prince.
The prince took the golden egg from his pocket and broke it in two, and at once a whole host of warriors poured out of it and attacked the dragon.
The dragon stood gaping at them, and the prince made good use of this and with one stroke of his sword smote off his six remaining heads. The dragon dropped dead, the prince took out the golden egg, broken though it was, and all the warriors poured back into it.
The dead dragon was left on the beach, and the prince galloped off to the forest and slept there for three days and three nights on end just as if nothing had happened. On the fourth day he felt someone shaking him, and when he opened his eyes, he saw the King of the Mushrooms standing beside him.
“Get up quickly and go to the king,” said the King of the Mushrooms. “That knave of a general of yours is in the palace, demanding that the princess be given him in marriage. He says that it was he who killed the three dragons.”
The prince jumped up and blew upon his copper pipe, the copper horse appeared, and the prince put on his copper armour and made off at a gallop for the palace. And he was there just in time to hear the general boasting about how he had vanquished the three dragons. The king’s youngest daughter saw the prince and was overjoyed.
“Look, Father, there is the man who saved me!” she cried.
But the prince turned his copper horse round and rode off to the forest. There he blew upon his silver pipe, got off the copper horse and on the silver one and rode back again to the king’s palace.
“Look, Father, there is the man who saved me!” the king’s middle daughter cried.
But the prince turned round his horse and rode back to the forest. There he blew upon his golden pipe, and getting off his silver horse and on the golden one, made for the king’s palace again.
“Look, Father, there is the man who saved me!” the king’s eldest daughter cried.
The prince was about to ride back to the forest again, but the king stopped him and said that he wanted to reward him for having saved his daughters.
“There is a prince from a faraway land here who says that he saved my daughters,” said the king. “I don’t know why they all insist that you were the one who did it.”
“The man who is passing himself off as a prince is only a general of mine,” the prince said.
The king was much surprised.
“Then you are the prince?” said he. “Well, then, you shall be richly rewarded for your bravery. And you can marry one of my daughters besides. Just choose the one you like best.”
But the prince rode off to the forest without waiting for his reward, and the king came back to the palace and drove out the general.
The prince now made straight for the golden palace where lived the youngest daughter of the King of the Mushrooms, she who had given him the golden egg. They were married then and there and lived together happily ever after. But as for the King of the Mushrooms, from that day on no one laid eyes on him again.Author: Estonian Folk Tale; illustrated by Tammsaar J.
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