The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/The Three Lemons

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For other English-language translations of this work, see The Three Citrons.


(From the "Slovenish of North Hungary:" J. Rimarski's Slovenckje Povesti, i. 37.)

THERE was once upon a time an old king who had an only son. This son he one day summoned before him, and spoke to him thus: "My son, you see that my head has become white; ere long I shall close my eyes, and I do not yet know in what condition I shall leave you. Take a wife, my son! Let me bless you in good time, before I close my eyes." The son made no reply, but became lost in thought. He would gladly with all his heart have fulfilled his father's wish, but there was no damsel in whom his heart could take delight.

Once upon a time when he was sitting in the garden, and just considering what to do, all of a sudden an old woman appeared before him. Where she came, there she came. "Go to the glass hill, pluck the three lemons, and you will have a wife in whom your heart will take delight," said she; and as she had appeared, so she disappeared. Like a bright flash darted these words through the prince's soul. At that moment he determined, come what might, to seek the glass hill and pluck the three lemons. He made known his determination to his father, and his father gave him for the journey a horse, arms and armour, and his fatherly blessing.

Through forest-covered mountains, through desert plains, went our prince on his pilgrimage for a very very great distance, but there was nothing to be seen, nothing to be heard of the glass hill and the three lemons. Once, quite wearied out with his long journey, he threw himself down in the cool shade of a broad lime-tree. As he threw himself down his father's sword, which he wore at his side, clanged against the ground, and a dozen ravens began croaking at the top of the tree. Frightened by the clang of the sword, they rose on their wings and flew into the air above the lofty tree. "Hem! till now I haven't seen a living creature for a long while," said the prince to himself, springing from the ground. "I will go in the direction in which the ravens have flown; maybe some hope will disclose itself to me."

He went on, he went on anew for three whole days and three nights, till at last a lofty castle displayed itself to him at a distance. "Praise be to God! I shall not at any rate come to human beings," cried he, and proceeded further.

The castle was of pure lead; round it flew the twelve ravens, and in front of it stood an old woman: it was Jezibaba[1] leaning on a long leaden staff. "Ah I my son; whither have you come? Here there is neither bird nor insect to be seen, much less a human being," said Jezibaba to the prince. "Flee, if life is dear to you; for if my son comes he will devour you." "Ah! not so, old mother! not so!" entreated the prince. "I have come to you for counsel as to whether you cannot let me have some information about the glass hill and the three lemons." "I have never heard of the glass hill; but stay! when my son comes home, maybe he will be able to let you have the information. But I will now conceal you somewhat; you will hide yourself under the besom, and wait there concealed till I call you."

The mountains echoed, the castle quaked, and Jezibaba whispered to the prince that her son was coming. "Foh! foh! there's a smell of human flesh. I am going to eat it!" shouted Jezibaba's son, while still in the doorway, and thumped on the ground with a huge leaden club, so that the whole castle quaked. "Ah! not so, my son! not so!" said Jezibaba, soothing him. "There has come a handsome youth, who wants to consult you about something." "Well, if he wants to consult me, let him come here." "Yes, indeed, my son, he shall come, but only on condition that you promise to do nothing to him." "Well, I'll do nothing to him, only let him come."

The prince was trembling like an aspen under the besom, for he saw before him through the twigs an ogre, up to whose knees he did not reach. Happily his life was safeguarded when Jezibaba bade him come out from under the besom. "Well, you beetle, why are you afraid?" shouted the giant. "Whence are you? what do you want?" "What do I want?" replied the prince. "I've long been wandering in these mountains, and can't find that which I am seeking; now I've come to ask you whether you can't give me information about the glass hill and the three lemons." Jezibaba's son wrinkled his brow, but after a while said in a somewhat gentler voice, "There's nothing to be seen here of the glass hill; but go to my brother in the silver castle, maybe he'll be able to tell you something. But stay! I won't let you go away hungry. Mother! here with the dumplings." Old Jezibaba set a large dish upon the table, and her gigantic son sat down to it. "Come and eat!" shouted he to the prince. The prince took the first dumpling, and began to bite, but two of his teeth broke, for they were dumplings of lead. "Well, why don't you eat? Maybe you don't like them?" inquired Jezibaba's son. "Yes, they are good; but I don't want any just now." "Well, if yon don't want any now, pocket some, and go your way." The good prince, would he, nould he, was obliged to put some of the leaden dumplings into his pocket. He then took leave, and proceeded further.

On he went, and on he went for three whole days and three nights, and the further he went the deeper he wandered into a thickly wooded and gloomy range of mountains. Before him it was desolate, behind him it was desolate; there was not a single living creature to be seen. All wearied from his long journey, he threw himself on the ground. The clang of his silver-mounted sword spread far and wide. Above him four-and-twenty ravens, frightened by the clash of his sword, began to croak, arising on their wings, flew into the air. "A good sign!" cried the prince. "I will go in the direction in which the birds have flown."

And on he went in that direction; on he went as fast as his feet could carry him, till all at once a lofty castle displayed itself to him! He was still far from the castle, and already the walls were glistening in his eyes, for the castle was of pure silver. In front of the castle stood an old woman, bent with age, leaning on a long, silver staff, and this was Jezibaba. "Ah! my son! How is it that you have come here? Here there is neither bird nor insect, much less a human being," cried Jezibaba to the prince: "if life is dear to you, flee away! for if my son comes, he will devour you." "Nay, old mother! he will hardly eat me; I bring him a greeting from his brother in the leaden castle." "Well, if you bring a greeting from the leaden castle, then come into the parlour, my son, and tell me what you are seeking." "What I am seeking, old mother? For ever so long a time I've been seeking the glass hill and the three lemons, and cannot find them: now I've come to inquire whether you can't give me information about them." "I know nothing about the glass hill; but stay I when my son comes, maybe he will be able to give you the information. Hide yourself under the bed, and don't make yourself known without I call you."

The mountains echoed with a mighty voice, the castle quaked, and the prince knew that Jezibaba's son was coming home. "Foh! foh I there's a smell of human flesh, I'm going to eat it," roared a horrible ogre, already in the doorway, and thumped upon the ground with a silver club, so that the whole castle quaked. "Ah! not so, my son, not so; but a handsome youth has come, and has brought you a greeting from your brother in the leaden castle." "Well, if he's been at my brother's, and if he has done nothing to him, let him have no fear of me either; let him come out." The prince sprang out from under the bed, went up to him—looking beside him as if he had placed himself under a very tall pine. "Well, beetle! have you been at my brother's?" "Indeed I have; and here I've still the dumplings which he gave me for the journey." "Well, I believe you; now tell me what it is you want?" "What I want? I am come to ask you whether you can't give me information about the glass hill and the three lemons?" "Hem! I've heard formerly about it, but I don't know how to direct you. Meanwhile, do you know what? Go to my brother in the golden castle, he will direct you. But stay! I won't let you go away hungry. Mother! here with the dumplings!" Jezibaba brought the dumplings on a large silver dish, and set them on the table. "Eat!" shouted her son. The prince, seeing that they were silver dumplings, said that he didn't want to eat just then, but would take some for his journey, if he would give him them. "Take as many as you like, and greet my brother and aunt." The prince took the dumplings, thanked him courteously, and proceeded further.

Three days had already passed since he quitted the silver castle, wandering continuously through densely wooded mountains, not knowing which way to go, whether to the right hand or to the left. All wearied out, he threw himself down under a wide-spreading beach, to take a little breath. His silver-mounted sword clanged on the ground, and the sound spread far and wide. "Krr, krr, krr!" croaked a flock of ravens, over the traveller, scared by the clash of his sword, and flew into the air. "Praise be to God! the golden castle won't be far off now," cried the prince, and proceeded, encouraged, onwards, in the direction in which the ravens showed him the road. Scarcely had he come out of the valley on to a small hill when he saw a beautiful and wide meadow, and in the midst of the meadow stood a golden castle, just as if he were gazing at the sun, and before the gate of the castle stood an old, bent Jezibaba, leaning on a golden staff. "Ah! my son! what do you seek for here?" cried she to the prince: "here there is neither bird nor insect to be seen, much less a human being. If your life is dear to you, flee; for, if my son comes, he will devour you." "Nay, old mother! he'll hardly eat me," replied he; "I bring him a greeting from his brother in the silver castle." "Well, if you bring him a greeting from the silver castle, come into the parlour, and tell me what has brought you to us." "What has brought me to you, old mother? I have long been wandering in this mountain-range, and haven't been able to find out where is the glass hill and the three lemons; I was directed to you, because, haply, you might be able to give me information about it." "Where is the glass hill? I cannot tell you that; but stay! when my son comes, he will counsel you which way you must go, and what you must do. Hide yourself under the table, and stay there till I call you."

The mountains echoed, the castle quaked, and Jezibaba's son stepped into the parlour. "Foh! foh! there's a smell of human flesh; I'm going to eat it!" shouted he while still in the doorway, and thumped with a golden club upon the ground, so that the whole castle quaked. "Gently, my son! gently!" said Jezibaba, soothing him; "there is a handsome youth come, who brings you a greeting from your brother in the silver castle. If you will do nothing to him, I will call him at once." "Well, if my brother has done nothing to him, neither will I do anything to him." The prince came out from under the table and placed himself beside him, looking in comparison as if he had placed himself beside a lofty tower, and showed him the silver dumplings in token that he had really been at the silver castle. "Well, tell me, you beetle, what you want?" shouted the monstrous ogre. "If I can counsel you, counsel you I will. Don't fear!" Then the prince explained to him the aim of his long journey, and begged him to advise him which way to go to the glass hill, and what ho must do to obtain the three lemons. "Do you see that black knoll that looms yonder?" said he, pointing with his golden club. "That is the glass hill. On the top of the hill stands a tree, and on the tree hang three lemons, whose scent spreads seven miles round. You will go up the glass hill, kneel under the tree, and hold up your hands. If the lemons are destined for you they will fall off into your hands of themselves; but if they are not destined for you, you will not pluck them whatever you do. When you are on your return, and are hungry or thirsty, cut one of the lemons into halves, and you will eat and drink your fill. And now go, and God be with you! But stay! I won't let you go hungry. Mother, here with the dumplings!" Jezibaba set a large golden dish on the table. "Eat!" said her son to the prince; "or, if you don't want to do so now, put some into your pocket; you will eat them on the road." The prince had no desire to eat, but put some into his pocket, saying that he would eat them on the road. He then thanked him courteously for his hospitality and counsel, and proceeded further.

Swiftly he paced from hill into dale, from dale on to a fresh hill, and never stopped till he was beneath the glass hill itself. There he stopped as if turned to stone. The hill was high and smooth; there wasn't a single crack in it. On the top spread the branches of a wondrous tree, and on the tree swung three lemons, whose scent was so powerful that the prince almost fainted. "God help me! Now as it shall be, so it will be. Now that I'm once here I will at any rate make the attempt," thought he to himself, and began to climb up the smooth glass; but scarcely had he ascended a few fathoms when his foot slipped, and he himself pop down the hill, so that he didn't know where he was, what he was, till he found himself on the ground at the bottom. Wearied out, he began to throw away the dumplings, thinking that their weight was a hindrance to him. He threw way the first, and lo! the dumpling fixed itself on the glass hill. He threw a second and a third, and saw before him three steps, on which he could stand with safety. The prince was overjoyed. He kept throwing the dumplings before him, and in every case steps formed themselves from them for him. First he threw the leaden ones, then the silver, and then the golden ones. By the thus constructed steps he ascended higher and higher, till he happily attained the topmost ridge of the glass hill. Here he knelt down under the tree and held up his hands, and lo! the three beautiful lemons flew down of themselves into the palms of his hands. The tree disappeared, the glass hill crashed and vanished, and when the prince came to himself there was no tree, no hill, but a wide plain lay extended before him.

He commenced his return homeward with delight. He neither ate nor drank, nor saw nor heard for very joy; but when the third day came a vacuum began to make itself felt in his stomach. He was so hungry that he would gladly have then and there betaken himself to the leaden dumplings, if his pocket hadn't been empty. His pocket was empty, and all around was just as bare as the palm of his hand. Then he took a lemon out of his pocket and cut it into halves—and what came to pass? Out of the lemon sprang a beautiful damsel with no more covering on than his thumb, made a reverence before him, and cried out, "Have you made ready for me to eat? Have you made ready for me to drink? Have you made pretty dresses ready for me?" "I have nothing, beautiful creature, for you to eat, nothing for you to drink, nothing for you to put on," said the prince in a sorrowful voice, and the beautiful damsel clapped her white hands thrice before him, made a reverence, and vanished.

"Aha! now I know what sort of lemons these are," said the prince. "Stay! I won't cut them up so lightly." From the cut one he ate and drank to his satisfaction, and thus refreshed proceeded onwards.

But on the third day a hunger three times worse than the preceding assailed him. "God help me!" said he; "I have still one remaining over. I'll cut it up." He then took out the second lemon, cut it in halves, and lo! a damsel still more beautiful than the preceding one placed herself before him just as God created her. "Have you made ready for me to eat? Have you made ready for me to drink? Have you made pretty dresses ready for me?" "I have not, dear soul; I have not," and the beautiful damsel clapped her hands thrice before him, made a reverence, and vanished.

Now he had only one lemon remaining. He took it in his hand, and said, "I will not cut you open save in my father's house," and therewith proceeded onwards. On the third day he saw after long absence his native town. He did not know himself how he got there, when he found himself at once in his father's castle. Years of joy bedewed his old father's cheeks. "Welcome, my son! welcome, a hundred times!" he cried, and fell upon his neck. The prince related how it had gone with him on his journey, and the members of the household how anxiously they had waited for him.

On the next day a grand entertainment was prepared. Lords and ladies were invited from all quarters, and beautiful dresses, embroidered with gold and studded with pearls, were got ready. The lords and ladies assembled, took their seats at the tables, and waited expectantly to see what would happen. Then the prince took out the last lemon, cut it in halves, and out of the lemon sprang a lady thrice as beautiful as had been the preceding ones. "Have you made ready for me to eat? Have you made ready for me to drink? Have you got pretty dresses ready for me?" "I have, my dear soul, got everything ready for you," answered the prince, and presented the handsome dresses to her. The beautiful damsel put on the beautiful clothes, and all rejoiced at her extraordinary beauty. Ere long the betrothal took place, and after the betrothal a magnificent wedding.

Now was fulfilled the old king's wish: he blessed his son, resigned the kingdom into his hands, and ere long died.

The first thing that occurred to the new king after his father's death was a war which a neighbouring king excited against him. Now he was constrained for the first time to part from his hard-earned wife. Lest, therefore, anything should happen to her in his absence he caused a throne to be erected for her in a garden beside a lake, which no one could ascend save the person to whom she let down a silken cord, and drew that person up to her.

Not far from the royal castle lived an old woman, the same that had given the prince the counsel about the three lemons. She had as servant a gipsy whom she was in the habit of sending to the lake for water. She knew very well that the young king had obtained a wife, and it annoyed her excessively that he had not invited her to the wedding, nay, had not even thanked her for her good advice. One day she sent her maidservant to the lake for water. She went, drew water, and saw the beautiful image in the water. Under the impression that this was her own reflection, she banged her pitcher on the ground, so that it flew into a thousand pieces. "Are you worthy," said she, "that so beautiful a person as myself should carry water for an old witch like you?" As she uttered this she looked up, and lo! it wasn't her own reflection that she saw in the water, but that of the beautiful queen. Ashamed, she picked up the pieces and returned home. The old woman, who knew beforehand what had occurred, went out to meet her with a fresh pitcher, and asked her servant for appearance sake what had happened to her. The servant related all as it had occurred. "Well, that's nothing," said the old woman; "but do you know what? Go you once more to the lake, and ask the lady to let down the silken cord and draw you up, promising to comb and dress her hair. If she draws you up, you will comb her hair, and when she falls asleep stick this pin into her head. Then dress yourself in her clothes, and sit there as queen."

It was not necessary to use much persuasion to the gipsy. She took the pin, took the pitcher, and returned to the lake. She drew water, and looked at the beautiful queen. "Dear me, and how beautiful you are! Ah! you are beautiful!" she screamed, and looked with coaxing gestures into her eyes. "Yes," said she; "but you would be a hundred times more beautiful if you would let me comb and dress your hair. In truth, I would so twine those golden locks that your lord could not help being delighted." And thus she jibbered and she coaxed till the queen let down the silken cord and drew her up.

The nasty gipsy combed, separated, and plaited the golden hair, till the beautiful queen fell nicely asleep. Then the gipsy drew out the pin, and stuck it into the sleeping queen's head. At that moment a beautiful white dove flew off the golden throne, and not a vestige remained of the lovely queen, save her handsome clothes, in which the gipsy speedily dressed herself, took her seat in the place where the queen sat before, and gazed into the lake; but the beautiful reflection displayed itself no more in the lake, for even in the queen's clothes the gipsy nevertheless remained a gipsy.

The young king was successful in overcoming his enemies, and made peace with them. Scarcely had he returned to the town, when he went to the garden to seek his delight, and to see whether anything had happened to her. But who shall express his astonishment and horror when, instead of his beautiful queen, he beheld a sorry gipsy. "Ah I my dear, my dear one, how you have altered!" sighed he; and tears bedewed his cheeks. "I have altered, my beloved! I have altered; for anxiety for you has tortured me," answered the gipsy, and wanted to fall upon his neck, but the king turned away from her and departed in anger. From that time forth he had no settled abode, no rest; he knew neither day nor night, but merely mourned over the lost beauty of his wife, and nothing could comfort him.

Thus, agitated and melancholy, he was walking one day in the garden. Here, as he roamed about at haphazard, a beautiful white dove flew on to his hand from a high tree, and looked with mournful gaze into his bloodshot eyes. "Ah, my dove! why are you so sad? has your mate been transformed like my beautiful wife?" said the young king, talking to it, and caressingly stroking its head and back. But, feeling a kind of protuberance on its head, he blew the feathers apart, and beheld the head of a pin! Touched with compassion, the king extracted the pin; that instant the beautiful mourning dove was changed into his beautiful wife. She narrated to him all that had happened to her, and how it had happened; how the gipsy had deluded her, and how she had struck the pin into her head. The king immediately caused the gipsy and the old woman to be apprehended and burnt without further ado.

From that time nothing interfered with his happiness neither the might of his enemies nor the spite of wicked people; he lived with his beautiful wife in peace and love: he reigned prosperously, and is reigning yet, if he be yet alive.

(Rev.) A. H. Wratislaw.

26, Market Place, Rugby.

  1. Jezibaba represents winter.