Fairy tales for the Yuletide season!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

German Fairy Tale of King Thrushbeard


King Thrushbeard

There once lived a king whose daughter was beautiful beyond measure. But the girl was so proud and arrogant that no suitor was good enough for her. She haughtily rejected one gallant after the next, but what is worse, she ridiculed them. One day the king gave an enormous feast and invited all the eligible young men from far and wide. He lined them up in rows according to their rank and circumstance. First came the kings, then the dukes, counts, earls, barons and finally all the noblemen. When the king’s daughter was led through the ranks, she found fault with each and every one. He was too fat: “What a wine barrel!” she said. The other was too tall: “Long and slack, has no back!” The third was too short: “Short and fat, has no knack!” The fourth was too pallid: “Pale as death!” The fifth was too ruddy: “Red as a beetroot!” The sixth did not stand straight enough “Green wood, dried behind the oven!”

And so the princess found something wrong with each suitor, but she especially poked fun at a goodly king with a crooked chin, who stood at the very front of the line. “Oh,” she cried and laughed. “He has a chin just like the thrush has a beak!” And from that moment on he was called Thrushbeard. But when her father, the old king, saw that his daughter only mocked and scorned her assembled admirers, he was filled with rage. He swore she would marry the first beggar who crossed the threshold.

A few days later, a street musician stopped below the window to sing and earn a few alms. When the king heard him he said “Let him come in.” The musician entered wearing his dirty, dilapidated clothing, sang for the king and his daughter, and when he had finished, asked for a small token. The king replied “Your song pleased me so well, that I will give you my daughter as wife!”

The king’s daughter was terrified, but her father spoke: “I have sworn an oath to give you to the first beggar and I shall keep my word.”

It was no use to argue, the priest was called and she had to marry the street musician on the spot. When it was done, the king said “Now it is no longer fitting that you, as a beggar’s wife, should remain any longer in my castle. You must move out with your husband.”

The beggar led her by the hand and she had to leave with him on foot. When they reached a huge forest she asked:

“Oh, to whom belongs the pretty wood?”
“It belongs to King Thrushbeard;
Had you only taken him, this would now be yours.”
“I, poor maid so delicate and tender,
Had I only taken King Thrushbeard!”

Then they came to a meadow, there she asked again:

“Oh, to whom belongs the pretty green field?”
“It belongs to King Thrushbeard:
Had you only taken him, this would now be yours.”
“I, poor maid so delicate and tender,
Had I only taken King Thrushbeard!”

Then they came to a big city, there she asked again:

“Oh, to whom belongs the pretty big city?”
“It belongs to King Thrushbeard;
Had you only taken him, this would now be yours.”
“I, poor maid so delicate and tender,
Had I only taken King Thrushbeard!”

“I don’t like it,” the street musician said, “that you are always wishing for another husband. Am I not good enough for you?” Finally they arrived at a small hut and the maiden spoke:

“Ach God! The house is so small,
To whom does this miserable tiny hut belong?”

The street musician replied: “This house is mine and yours, where we shall live together.”

She had to bend over to squeeze through the low door.

“Where are the servants?” the king’s daughter asked.

“What servants!” replied the beggar. “You must do for yourself what you want done. Make a fire immediately and put on some water so that you can cook my dinner; I am very tired.”

The king’s daughter didn’t know anything about making a fire and cooking. The beggar had to do it himself because things were going so badly. When they had eaten their meager fare, they went to bed immediately. But in the morning, he woke her very early because she had to tend the house. They lived a few days like this and finally had eaten their entire larder.

The husband spoke: “Wife, we can’t go on like this! We eat everything and earn nothing. You shall weave baskets.” He went out, cut willow branches and brought them home. She began to weave but the harsh willow cut her delicate hands until they were quite sore. “I see that this won’t work,” the husband said, “you should spin instead. Maybe you can do that better.”

She sat down and tried spinning, but the hard threads soon cut into her soft fingers, so that the blood ran down. “You see,” her husband said, “you aren’t good for any work! I made a poor bargain with you! Now I will try to start a business with pots and utensils. You shall sit at the market and sell the wares.”

Oh, she thought, if people from my father’s kingdom come to the market and see me sitting and selling goods, they will laugh at me!”

But it didn’t help. She had to bend if she didn’t want to die of hunger. The first time, things went well. People liked to buy goods from the woman because she was pretty and so they paid what she asked. Many even gave her money and left the pots behind. Now husband and wife could live from their earnings as long as it lasted. The husband bought more new utensils. The wife sat down at a corner of the market and set up her wares and began to sell. Suddenly a drunk Hussar raced through the market and rode directly into her pottery. Everything was smashed into a thousand bits. She began to cry and was so terrified, she did not know what to do. “Ach, what shall happen to me!” she cried, “What will my husband say?”

She ran home and told him of the misfortune. “Who is so dumb as to sit in the corner of the market selling wares?” the husband said. “Stop crying, I see that you are not good for any ordinary work. I have gone to our king’s castle and asked if they need a kitchen maid. They promised me they would take you and you will get a free dinner there.”

Now the king’s daughter had to become a kitchen maid, had to help the cook and do the most undesirable work. She filled her pockets with a pot-full of food and brought home what was left over. That is how they fed themselves.

Now it happened that the eldest of the king’s daughters was to marry. The poor wife went to the ballroom door and wanted to catch a glimpse of all the finery. When all the lights were lit, people entered the room, each one more beautiful than the last. Everything was illuminated in splendor and grandeur. It was with heavy heart that she remembered her fate. She cursed the pride and arrogance that had brought her so low and had pushed her into such poverty. From the exquisite dishes that were carried in and out, a pleasant aroma drifted over to her and a servant threw her a few crumbs. She was just about to take them home when all at once the king’s son entered. He was dressed in satin and silk and had a gold chain around his neck. And when he saw the beautiful woman standing by the door, he took her by the hand and wanted to dance with her. But she declined and recoiled because she saw it was King Thrushbeard. He had been her suitor before but she had rejected him with disdain. Her protestations did not help; he pulled her into the ballroom. The belt on which her bags were strung fell open so that the soup ran out and the crumbs floated all around. When the people saw it, they broke out in laughter and mocked her. She was so ashamed, she would rather have been lying a thousand fathoms below the ground. Jumping toward the door, she attempted fleeing. But standing at the stairs was a man who caught her and brought her back. And when she looked into his face, she saw it was King Thrushbeard. He spoke to her gently: “Fear not, I am one and the same as the musician. I lived with you in the miserable little hut. For you I have disguised myself, and the Hussar, who rode through your pottery, that was also me. This all happened to bend your proud heart and punish you for your arrogance, and the scorn you heaped upon me.”

The princess cried bitterly and said: “I have done great injustice and am not worth being your wife.”

But he replied “Console yourself, the hard days are over. Now we shall celebrate our wedding.”

The chambermaids arrived and dressed the maid in the finest of clothes. Her father and the entire court arrived and wished her much happiness in her marriage to King Thrushbeard. Now the real joy began. I wish you and I had been there.


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1 comment:

M.M.E. said...

I always love this fairy tale. I'm so happy to find this blog! I'm an illustrator of fairy tales so I always love finding others who love the stories I find so inspiring.