Apologies for lack of post on Sunday, was having a bit of a ‘bad hair’ weekend...
The Clever Girl – Hungary
Once upon a time there was a king who, in a fit of anger, ordered the people of one of his villages to skin the millstone of their mill. If they failed, farmers’ heads would be chopped off. But try as they might, the villagers could not fathom how to skin a millstone.
One of the villagers, a poor man, had a young daughter. Clever as she was beautiful, she finally asked her father, after three weeks, “My dear father, what ails you? You barely eat and you barely speak a word to anybody.”
“Ah, my daughter, have you not heard the cruel words of our king? We must skin the millstone in the yard of the mill or we will be punished, but there is no one who knows how to do this.”
“Do not fret, father. Go to the elder and tell him not to allow the villagers to gather again. Then take yourself to the king and tell him: ‘Your Majesty, my life and death are in your hands, and I have been sent to represent the village. We humbly ask that you have the blood of the millstone removed, for only then will we be able to skin it’.”
Filled with nervousness and foreboding, still the man did his daughter’s bidding, and went before the king.
The king said, “Well, you poor man. Who has given you this piece of advice? Confess it now or you will get fifty lashes.”
Without hesitation, for who would choose fifty lashes, the man said, “Your Majesty, it was my daughter who gave me this advice.”
“Is that so?” said the king. “You may thank your daughter for I will now pull the thorn out of the leg of the village, and push it into yours.” Turning to one of his courtiers, he said, “Bring me that pot.” He handed the man a pot that was cracked on one side. “Tell your daughter to mend this pot, but the patch must not be seen. If she cannot do it, I will have both your heads chopped off.”
The poor man took the cracked pot and returned home, full of sorrow. He said to his daughter, “See the calamity your words have brought us, my dear daughter. You have pulled the thorn out of the leg of the village and pushed it into ours. The king has sent you this pot …” He told her what the king had ordered.
But she did not seem at all worried. “Do not fret, father. Sit down. Eat and drink, then rest.”
When the poor man woke up after his rest, his daughter said, “Now, my father, take this cracked pot back to the king and tell him this: ‘Your Majesty, my daughter was brought up a motherless orphan, and she has never seen anybody patching a sack or shirt from the outside. If Your Majesty will be so kind as to have the pot turned inside out, she will mend it as you wish’.”
Filled with trepidation, the poor man went to the king and spoke his daughter’s words.
This time, the king turned away but only so no one would see him smile. “I see that your daughter has not had enough trouble. I will send her more.” He ordered three bunches of hemp to be given to the man. “Take these three bunches of hemp and tell your daughter to spin and weave undergarments for all my servants. If not, I will destroy you and your daughter, both.”
The poor man returned home with a heavy heart. “Oh, my dear daughter, now we have more trouble. The king has ordered that you use these three bunches of hemp to weave undergarments for his servants.”
Still calm, the young woman said, “Sit down, my father. Eat and drink, then rest.” While her father rested, she went to search in their back yard, and returned with two small pieces of wood, no bigger than pipe stems.
When her father was rested, she told him to go back to the king. “Tell him that since I am a motherless orphan, I do not have a loom. Ask him to make me a loom using these two pieces of wood, but it must be done in such a way that nothing should be added or taken away from them. If he makes it, then I will spin and weave the undergarments that he requires.”
This time when the poor man told the king what his daughter has said, the king laughed. “Tell me, poor man, how old is your daughter?”
“She is seventeen, Your Majesty.”
“Tell your daughter to come to me on such and such a day. She must not come on the road or by the road. She must not come on foot or on horseback. She should, yet should not greet me. And she should bring some presents, but she should also come without.”
Not sure whether to feel relieved or worried, the poor man returned home. “Well, my dear daughter, no longer do I have to go to the king. Now it is your turn to go.” And he told her the king’s strange request.
Unperturbed, the girl went into the village, where she knew a farmer who had a donkey. She asked him to lend it to her, and he did. Then she bought two doves and took them home, along with the donkey. Unlike her worried father, she eagerly awaited the day when she could start.
Finally the blessed day arrived. She started her journey on the back of the donkey, making sure to stay on the grassy path by the side of the road. In a basket on her back, she carried the two doves.
The king was waiting for her outside the palace. When she arrived, the king greeted her.
But she did not say a word, only got off the donkey and bowed to the king. The she said, “Your Majesty, as you requested, I did not come on the road or by the road. I did not come on foot or on horseback. But I have arrived. And I have brought you a present.” She opened up the basket, and the doves flew away. “But I have also come without.”
Even more impressed with her cleverness, the king invited the young woman into the palace. And, before long, had married her. After the wedding, the king said to his wife. “Now, my dear, you are my wife, and I order you not to give advice to anybody without my permission.”
“I do not intend to give advice to anybody,” she said.
And so they began their married lives together, and were happy and content.
It happened, one day, that two poor men from another of the king’s villages decided to go to the forest to gather wood. One had a cart, and the other had a pregnant mare. Because an icy wind was blowing, they turned away to face the back of the cart because they could not stand the wind blowing in their eyes.
Suddenly, the owner of the cart said, “We must stop for my cart has birthed a colt.”
“But my mare was pregnant so it must have come from her,” said the owner of the mare.
“But the colt came from under my cart.”
As they couldn’t agree, they turned back and went to see the king to have him settle their argument. But the king was away, so the queen asked them what the matter was.
The owner of the mare said, “Your Majesty, it is but a small thing. My friend here has a cart, and I have a mare. We were going to the forest when my friend told me to stop because his cart had birthed a colt. But I am sure the colt belongs to my mare. We could not decide, so have come to the king for justice.”
The queen shook her head. “Oh, you miserable men, quarrelling over such a thing. The world will laugh at you. Go home and tie the mare to the cart. If the colt suckles the cart, then it belongs to the cart, but if it suckles the mare, then it is the mare’s.”
Thanking the queen, the men returned home and tried it. When the colt suckled the mare, the man with the cart became angry and pulled the colt away, and pushed it under the cart. But the colt ran back to its mother.
When the king returned, the two men hurried to the palace, determined to get justice from their king. All they succeeded in doing was angering the king, who threatened to chop off the head of the cart owner if he ever insisted again that the colt belonged to his cart. But the king was also angry with his wife for she had given advice without his permission.
“Did you not tell me that you would refrain from giving advice to anybody without my permission? And now you have. Henceforth, you will no longer eat from the same table as I.”
“As you wish, my darling husband, but first allow me to make you a last dinner.”
After the queen made dinner for him, the king said, “After dinner, I will have six horses harnessed to a coach. Take whatever is most precious to you and leave, for you will not live with me any longer.”
“As you wish, my darling husband,” is all she said to him.
After dinner, the queen got into the coach, ready to leave. With her, she had that which was most precious to her – her husband, fast asleep for she had put sleeping powder into his drink.
They were miles from their home when the king suddenly woke up. He sat up and looked around. “Where are you taking me, wife?”
“I am only doing what you told me to do. You said I could take whatever is most precious to me and leave. I have nothing that is more precious to me than you, so I am taking you with me.”
Once again, the young woman had outdone the king, and he realised he could no longer deny the love he had for his clever wife. “Let us stop, my darling wife, and return home. I will no longer stop you advising those who seek your wisdom.”
They returned home, and the king gave a great feast, in honour of his clever and beautiful wife.
Yet another Hungarian tale that I like. Again, it was the woman’s cleverness that sparked the king’s interest, not her beauty; that came later. She didn't allow his unreasonable behaviour (I wonder, do royals behave more unreasonably than most?) to come between them. And I liked how she calmly took that which was most precious to her, never mind that he might have minded being taken like that :) As for those dolts … I know folk tales aren’t necessarily about the practical, day-to-day things, but still – the thought that the poor mare gave birth while still harnessed to the cart … the mind boggles!