The Child of Fortune
The following story was taken from many sources: "The Griffin"
"The Devil's Three Gold Hairs" from Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales,
and from quotes from an article, "A Child of Good Fortune" by Nan Runde (Parabola, Volume 24, No. 4, pages 41-).
In a poor village far from anywhere, on the darkest night of the year, a child was born. The wise woman of that village had only to take one look at him to know he was a child of promise and good fortune.
"This boy will marry the King's daughter when he becomes nineteen," she told the boy's parents, "and will wear the crown himself in time."
The king, who had a wicked heart, passed through the village, disguised as a merchant. Hearing the villagers talk of nothing else but the child of good fortune, the King asked to see the child.
"A wonderful destiny is prophesied for him," the boy's mother boasted. "The lad's going to marry the Princess and become King himself someday!"
"Not if I can help it, he won't," muttered the King under his breath, but he masked his anger with a smile. Seeing that the boy's parents were poor, he offered them gold and promised to provide their child an upbringing befitting his destiny.
At first they refused, but when the stranger mentioned that if their child was born to be lucky, everything must turn out for the best with him. Holding the prophecy in their hearts, they felt sure that all would be well, and they let him go.
All the King knew was that the boy had to die. He placed the child in a box, and rode away with it for a long distance, till he came to a deep water, into which he three the box containing the child, saying to himself as he rode away, "From this unwelcome suitor have I saved my daughter."
The box did not sink, but floated gently down the river for a spell, finally snagging on the waterwheel of a mill where an old childless couple lived. They adopted him and loved him as their own. They brought him up carefully, and he grew to manhood clever and virtuous.
Years later, the king, again disguised as a merchant, was wandering through the land, and was overtaken by a thunderstorm. He stopped by the mill for shelter, and heard the story of the boy's founding, and who was, by now, nineteen.
The King raised his eyebrows, but he did not reveal what he knew. "I have an errand for the boy," said the King, "if he is man enough to undertake it."
"I'll go," said the boy, eager for adventure.
The King penned a letter to the Queen, containing these words:
As soon as the boy who brings this letter arrives, let him be killed, and I shall expect to see him dead and buried when I come back.
He sealed the letter and handed it to the boy. "Deliver this letter to my wife, the Queen without delay," he commanded. The child of good fortune took the letter and set out for the castle.
His path went through a dark forest and as darkness fell, he saw a glimmering light, which he walked to, and found a small hut. He entered and saw an old woman sitting by the fire, quote alone. As soon as she saw him, she said, "Where do you come from, and what do you want?"
"I am come from the mill," he replied, "and I am carrying a letter to the wife of the King, and, as I have lost my way, I should like very much to stay here during the night."
"You poor young man," she replied, "you are in a den of robbers, and when they come home, they may kill you."
"They may come when they like," said the youth, "I am not afraid, but I am so tired that I cannot go a step further." Then he stretched himself on a bench and fell asleep.
The robbers return home, and asked angrily what that youth was lying there for.
"Ah," said the old woman, "he is an innocent child who has lost himself in the woods, and I took him in out of compassion."
Rifling through the boy's knapsack, the robbers finds the King's letter, and read it discovering the boy's fate.
"Poor wretch," one of the robbers said, "I'll wager he doesn't know the King means to have him killed for his pains." Though they had intended to kill the boy, much better mischief came to mind. Their chief wrote a new letter; this time instructing the Queen to wed the bearer of the letter to the Princess at once. The robbers then affixed the seal on the new letter to make it look authentic.
The next morning, the robbers pointed the road for him to take, and sent him on his way. When the boy arrived at the castle to present the letter, the Princess saw him and fell passionately in love, as he was very handsome and amiable. The Queen, on the other hand, looked at the boy in disbelief.
"But the letter has the royal seal, Your Majesty," said her servant. But the Queen was not convinced.
"What did this man, who gave you this letter, look like?" she asked the boy. When he described the disguised King in great detail, she finally consented and ordered a grand marriage feast, and had the Princess married at once to the fortunate youth.
The King returned to the castle the day after the wedding, and upon hearing the news, flew into a rage. "You shall not have my daughter through such deception. You must prove your worth. Fetch me three golden hairs from the beard of the Ogre Mage at the tops of the Misty Mountain.
"I'll go," said the boy, eager for adventure. "If I get eaten, that's that."
His way led him to a large city, and as he stood at the gate and asked admission, a watchman said to him, "What trade do you follow, and how much do you know?"
"I know everything," he replied.
"Then you can do us a favor," answered the watchman, "if you can tell why our master's fountain, from which sweat wine flowed, is now dry, and never gives us even water now."
"I will tell you when I come back," he said, "only wait till then."
He traveled on still further, and came by and by to another town, where the watchman also asked him what trade he followed, and how much he knew. "I know everything," he replied.
"Then," said the watchman, "you can do us a favor, if you can tell us why a tree in our town, which used to make golden flowers and bear golden apples at the same time, but now only produces leaves."
"I will tell you when I come back," he said, "only wait till then."
At the base of the mountain where the Ogre lived, a dark river flowed. A small boat sat on the shore and the ferryman waited with the oars in his hands. The boy stepped into the boat, and the ferryman pushed off for the far shore.
"Why do struggle against the current for every passenger?" the boy asked.
"The very day that I entered this boat to seek the riches on the other side, the oars attached themselves to my hands and will not release themselves," the ferryman said as he paddled the boy across.
On the other side of the river was the tall mountain where the top was always shrouded in mist, and this is where the Ogre Mage lived. The boy followed the trail up to the tops of the mountain until he saw the hidden castle where the ogre lived. There was nothing else to do but knock, so that is what he did.
The door opened on the face of an ancient woman. Her skin was green as the evergreen in the forest and her hair was as gray as the mist around the mountain, and her eyes were as black as the raven.
"What is it you seek young fool?" the old woman asked.
"I need three golden hairs from the ogre's head," the boy said and proceeded to recount his story. The old woman was touched by his honesty and innocence.
"That is asking a great deal," she replied, "for if the master comes home and finds you here, he will have no mercy on you. However if you will trust me, I will try to help you."
Then she turned him into an ant, and said, "Creep into the folds of my gown, there you will be safe."
"Yes," he replied, "that is all very good, but I have three things besides that I want to know. First, why a well, from which formerly flowed with wine, should be dry now. Secondly, why a tree that once bore golden flowers and golden apples at the same time now only produces leaves. And, thirdly, why a ferryman, is obliged to row forward and back every day, without every leaving off."
"These are difficult questions," said the old woman, "but keep still and quiet, and when the ogre comes in, pay attention to what he says, while I pull the golden hairs from his head."
Late in the evening, when the Ogre came home, and as soon as he entered, he declared that the air was not clear. "I smell the flesh of man," he roared, "and I am sure that there is some one here." So he peeped into all the corners, and searched everywhere, but could find nothing.
Then the old woman scolded him well, and said, "Just as I have been sweeping, and dusting, and putting everything in order, then you come home and give me all the work to do over again. You have always the smell of something in your nose."
"Yes, Grandmother, now I'm hungry. Make me some to eat." the old woman made a huge meal and the ogre ate it all.
"Grandmother, I'm tired. Fix my bed so I can sleep," the ogre yelled. The old woman did and the ogre laid down.
"Grandmother, I'm uncomfortable. Come here and let me put my head on your lap." he said, and the old woman stroked his head until he fell into a deep sleep. As soon as she heard him snoring, the old woman pulled one golden hair from his head.
"Ouch!" he cried, suddenly awake. "What are you doing?"
"Oh!" she said, "Who knows? I just dreamed such a strange dream. I don't know what it means."
"What dream?" he asked.
"I dreamed of a fountain that flowed with wine but then went dry. I wonder why?"
"That's easy to say," said the ogre. "A toad has made its home beneath a stone in the fountain. If someone were to kill the toad, wine would flow again." With that, he shut his eyes and was soon snoring again, whereupon the old woman plucked another golden hair.
"Hey!" cried the ogre, jolted awake again. "What's going on?"
"Oh!" she said, "Who knows? I just dreamed such a weird dream, and I don't know what it means."
"What is the dream?"
"I dreamed of a tree that used to make golden flowers and bear golden apples at the same time, but it quit, and no one knows why."
"That's simple," said the ogre. "A mouse has been gnawing on the roots. Remove the mouse, and the tree will be restored." Afterwards, he shut his eyes and the old woman combed his hair until he was soon snoring again, whereupon the old woman plucked yet another golden hair.
"Hey!" cried the ogre, jolted awake again. "What was that?"
"Oh!" she said, "I just dreamed yet another strange dream, and it bothers me that I caught hold of your hair."
"Tell me the dream."
"I dreamed of a man doomed to ferry people across a dark river, and is never free," she said.
"Oh the stupid fellow," the ogre said. "he can very easily ask any person who wants to be ferried over to take the oar in his hand, and he will be free at once."
Then the ogre laid his head down once more, and since the old woman had pulled out the three golden hairs, and got answers to all the three questions, she let the old fellow rest and sleep in peace till the morning dawned.
As soon as he had gone out the next day, the old woman took the ant from the folds of her dress and restored the lucky youth to his former shape. "Here are the three golden hairs for which you wished," and said she, "Did you hear all the answers to your three questions?"
"Yes," he replied, "every word, and I will not forget them."
After thanking the old woman for her kindness, he turned his steps homeward, full of joy that everything had succeeded so well.
After the ferryman again took the boy across the river, the youth gave the ferryman the advice from the Ogre, that the next person who came and wished to be ferried over should have the oar placed in his hand, and from that moment he would have to take the place of the ferryman.
Then the young man journeyed on till he came to the town where the unfruitful tree grew, and where the watchman was waiting for his answer. To him the young man repeated what he had heard from the Ogre.
The watchman thanked him, and gave him in return for his advice, two donkeys laden with gold, which were led after him. He very soon arrived at the city which contained the dried-up fountain. The sentinel came forward to receive his answer.
Said the youth, "Under a stone in the fountain sits a toad; it must be searched for and removed, then will wine again flow from it." To show how thankful he was for the advice, the sentinel also ordered two donkeys laden with gold to be sent after him.
At length, the child of fortune reached home with his riches, and his wife was overjoyed at seeing him again, and hearing how well he had succeeded in his undertaking.
When the boy produced the three golden hairs, there was no longer anything the King could do but let him in, and to tell the truth, at the sight of all that gold, he didn't mind so much having a peasant for a son-in-law. He asked the boy how he won his treasure.
"I crossed the river in a ferryboat, and on the opposite shore I found the gold lying in the sand."
"Can I find some if I go?" asked the King eagerly, "Yes, as much as you please," replied he. "There is a ferryman there who will row you over, and you can fill a sack in no time."
His thoughts full of gold, the King left the next morning, without bothering to tell anyone. When he came to the river, he demanded to be ferried across at once. As soon as the boat touched the far shore, the ferryman thrust the oar into the King's hand and leaped out of the boat, free. As for the King, for all I know he is still rowing that boat back and forth across the river.