|The Demon With
The Three Golden Hairs
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|Once upon a time, a poor villager's son was born with a caul over his face, which to them meant he was going to be very lucky in his life. Great things were prophesied him, the village wise woman even foretold that someday, he would marry the daughter of the king and become king himself.
Now it happened that one day, the king himself rode throug this village on his way to find new hunting grounds. Nobody recognised him, and he liked this just fine. It was easier to learn the thoughts of his subjects this way. Upon asking the villagers if there was anything new and exciting going on, they told him, full of wonder, that in their midst was a boy-child who would someday be their king. This did not sit well at all with our present king; a man with darkness in his heart who did not shy from evil. After learning where this child lived, he made nice with his parents and asked them to leave the child with him, he would be better able to take care of him and prepare him for his destiny. The parents were loath to see their baby go, but the man bribed them with a lot of gold until they agreed that going with this rich man would ultimately be better for the boy. The king, however, ordered his servants to put the child in a box and release the box into the river. "That will free my daughter from the likes of him," he thought to himself. But the box didn't sink, it swam downstream, just like a little ship. Then it got tangled in the reeds, close to a mill, not far from the king's capital city. Expecting to find a fabulous treasure, one of the miller's apprentices pulled the box on land. Quite surprised he was to find a babe, a strapping boy, smiling up at him. What could he do but to take him to his master and mistress. How happy they were, as they had never been blessed with children of their own. They decided then and there to raise him as their own. They called him Gerard.
Fate has strange ways of finding its way, and as the boy had grown into a handsome youth, the king, out hunting again, happened by the mill and stopped to get fresh water for himself and his men. He asked the miller if this was his son, but was told how the child had come to the mill and how he and his wife had taken him in and raised him. The king put two and two together and asked the miller if the youth might not be allowed to take a letter to his wife, the queen, he'd reward him with two pieces of gold. That request was gladly granted. So the king wrote a letter to the queen in which she was ordered to have the messenger bringing this letter put to death, immediately.
But Gerard had never been far away from the mill and lost his way in the woods. When it got dark, he noticed a faint light a ways off and finally came to a handsome cottage. An old woman opened the door. He asked her for a place to rest for the night. "My poor boy," said the woman, "you have come to a robber's hideout, and when they get home and find a stranger, they will kill you." "I'm not afraid," replied Gerard, "I'm just too knackered to press on tonight," sat himself down on a bench, told her his story, and believing in his luck, was soon fast asleep. Shortly thereafter the robbers returned home and were about to pounce on the stranger as the old woman intervened and told them of his mission for the king. Curious, they opened the letter and read the fateful words. Being no friends to king or authority, they decided to play a trick of their own and were soon at work, with remarkable skill. Thus, when Gerard finally reached the queen, the letter she read told her to prepare a sumptious wedding for this young man and the princess, as they were to be married immediately. The princess herself was all smitten with the handsome youth, the wedding was held with all pomp and circumstance, and they were quite happy. For a while. Until the king returned. He had himself quite a fit, but as the queen showed him the letter, he had to admit grudgingly that even to him the document looked quite genuine.
Full of anger, he informed his son-in-law that life was not to be quite this easy. He ordered Gerard to bring him the three golden hairs that grew in
the beard of the demon, an otherworldly entity who had quite a devastating effect on the land and its inhabitants when he set his mind to it. It was rumoured that his powers lay in those three golden hairs. Once this was done, the king sneered at Gerard, his daughter could be happy with her low-born husband for all he cared. The youth, not wishing to lose his beloved princess, and knowing that luck was always on his side, soon was on his way.
The first city he came to, the guards would not let him pass until he told them what his trade was and well, everything he knew, basically. He told them "I know everything." "In that case," they replied, "please be so kind and tell us why the fountain in the marketplace that used to run with the finest wine has gone dry." "That's easy," replied the young man, "let me pass and I shall tell you on my way back." This they agreed to.
The next city, the same thing happened. He again answered the guards' questions with "I know everything." Whereupon they wanted to know why the tree in the marketplace, the one that used to bear golden apples, had suddenly started to wither and looked like it was about to die. After agreeing to give them the answer on his way back, they let him pass. Finally, he came to a huge lake which he knew he had to cross. The ferryman took him across and asked him pretty much the same questions as the city guards, and as payment for ferrying him across, the man wanted to know why in the world he had to spend his life ferrying people across the water, and was there a way he could get rid of his onerous burden. Again, the youth promised an answer on the way back. Not long after crossing the lake, he found the lair of the demon. The demon himself was not at home, just his old grandmother, who was actually quite a sweet old lady. "What in the world are you doing here?" she asked the youth, "don't you know the demon will tear you limb from limb and have you for his supper if he finds you here?" But Gerard replied that he could not return home without the three golden hairs from the demon's beard, lest he forfeit his wife. The old woman, who had it up to here with the demon's wicked ways at any rate, decided to teach him a lessen and help the young man in his quest. She turned Gerard into an ant and hid im in a fold of her skirts. "By the way," peeped the ant, "there's three questions I'd like to know the answer to if that isn't asking too much." He told the old woman what he wanted to know and the promised to see what she could do.
When the demon entered his lair, the first thing he did was sniff in all corners and throw things around, overturn benches and chairs and tear out drawers, because he insisted that he could smell the presence of a human. "Don't be daft," his grandmother told him, "why in the world would a human hang out in your lair? Is that all you can think about, human flesh?? Here I spend the whole bleedin' day, sweeping and cleaning and getting the place in order, only to have you come home, tear about and make a mess. Now stop it at once! Sit down, eat your supper and get some sleep, that will get these crazy notions out of your head." She poured him plenty of wine with his meal, and soon he sank down on the bech, his head in her lap, when she began to scratch his head and chin. He was almost purring before he started to snore up a storm. That's when the old woman took hold of one of the golden hairs, yanked it out and laid it on the bench next to her. "Neee-OUCH" screamed the demon, "what was that?" The woman apologised and told him she'd had a strange dream that made her yank on his beard. He wanted to know what she had dreamt, so she told him she had seen a fountain that normally gave the finest of wine, but it had gone dry, and the townspeople were very unhappy. "The fools," laughed the demon, "a huge frog is living under a rock at the bottom of the fountain. All they have to do is kill it and the wine will flow as before." And back to sleep he went. When the old woman pulled out the second hair, the previous scene pretty much repeated itself, again the woman claimed she had a strange dream, again the demon wanted to know what it was all about, so this time she told him about the tree, withering away and no more golden apples. "The fools," laughed the demon, "a mouse is gnawing on the roots. When they kill the mouse, the golden apples will grow as before."
And on to the last hair, an upset demon, an apologetic grandmother, a strange dream about a ferryman who didn't want to ferry anymore. "The fool," laughed the demon, "all the has to do is this: Next time there's a fare in his boat, he just puts his staff into the fare's hand. This will free him but the fare will be the new ferryman." After that, the old woman let him sleep without further interruption. She quietly reached into the folds of her skirts, took out the ant, turned him back into his former self, then handed him the three golden hairs. After she made sure he had heard the answers to his questions, he thanked her profusely and she sent him on his way.
When he came to the ferryman, he was asked right away if he had a solution. "Sure do," said the young man, "take me to the other side and I will tell you." And so it was done. He told the people with the sick tree about the mouse, whereupon they thanked him with a huge load of golden apples, two donkeyloads full. In the last city, he told the people about the toad in the fountain and when it had been found and killed, the wine began to flow again. In their happiness, the people richly rewarded him with so much gold and jewels that it took two donkeys to carry them away.
Finally, he reached his home and wife. After a happy reunion, he proudly handed her father the three golden hairs from the demon's beard. The king, however, was much more interested in the treasures his son-in-law had brought back from his quest. He demanded to know where he got them. "That's simple," replied Gerard, "the way to the demon's lair is barred by a huge lake. On the other side, the ground is just littered with as much treasure as you can possibly carry. All you have to do is pick it up. There's a ferryman who will be happy to take you across."
Greedy as ever, the king took off to gather for himself a mighty treasure. Of course he was never heard from again. Soon, Gerard was proclaimed king. He ruled wisely, and he and his queen lived and long and happy life.