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Folk-tales from Greece I

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This is the first in a two-volume edition containing twelve folk tales selected from the treasure-house of modern Greek tradition. Water nymphs, witches, animals with the power of speech and dragons spring to life from its pages, along with adventures and heroic deeds, human loves and weaknesses. These imaginary tales are set against the timeless background of the Greek countryside, with its Mediterranean light, its perfumes and its varied scenery. Stories which have been passed down to us by word of mouth, told by an older generation on long winter nights and beneath the stars in summer, they are aimed at people of all ages.

 

At the end of each volume is a tale preserved in the form it was first told in: two of the best-loved works of Greek demotic verse, translated into English but preserving the metre in which they were recited to their original audiences. The volumes are given an added dramatic dimension by prize-winning artist Fotini Stefanidi's vivid line illustrations.

Folk-tales from Greece I

 

Retold by Menelaos Stephanides
Illustrated by Photini Stefanidi
Translation: Bruce Walter
192 pages, paperback, pocket size 16,5 x 11,5 cm

Ages: 12 and up

ISBN-10: 9604250825, ISBN-13: 9789604250820

 

THE MARBLE PRINCESS

 

Once upon a time there lived a couple who had only one child. But what a child: a bold and spirited boy worth ten ordinary children.

 

All they had besides were two cows and a small field to graze them in. Yet what was the good of two poor cows, especially when their ribs showed through their hides? How much milk could they give? So how could their owners lead anything but a miserable existence?

 

Still, they could have lived rather better if they had let their cows onto the big meadow next door, which always produced plenty of grass and where no animal had ever grazed.

 

“Father,” said the boy one day, “why don’t we let our cows feed in the meadow next to ours?”

 

“Because, my child, that meadow belongs to the wicked giant, and all he ever thinks about is doing evil deeds.”

 

The boy, however, could not see why so much grass should go to waste, and why a poor couple’s cows should not graze there. “It’s not fair!” he would mutter. And just as his parents were good, kind-hearted people so, too, was the boy. And he was bold as well, so if it ever came to challenging the giant he would not hesitate a moment.

 

“Listen, father,” he said one day, “I think we should let our cows go into the giant’s meadow.”

 

“Are you mad, my son? All he wants is an excuse to knock our cottage down and take our meadow, just as he has done with all his other neighbours.”

 

“But, father, if that’s the sort of creature that he is, then we ought to fight him.”

 

“Oh dear,” muttered the poor man to himself, “my son is going crazy!”

 

And to make sure they didn’t run into any trouble he began to lead the cows to pasture on his own, always taking great care that they didn’t get into the giant’s meadow. The boy, who by now had reached fifteen, had one ambition in life: to put up such a fight against the wicked giant that he would no longer be able to do people any harm. But, as things were, his father wouldn’t give him a single chance to pasture the cows himself. One day, however, his father fell ill and had to stay at home to be cared for by his wife. Then, as there was no other solution, he told his son to go and pasture their two animals.

 

“But be very careful not to let them get into the giant’s meadow, for if they do, we’re lost.”

 

“All right, father,” replied the boy. He didn’t want to upset the sick old man, and so he didn’t allow the cows to stray.

 

The boy kept his word through all the days that followed, so when he got his health back, the father allowed him to go on taking out the cows.

 

But one evening, when the boy came home, the beasts had stomachs as enormous as balloons from eating so much grass.

 

‘How did they manage to find so much to eat?’ the father wondered. Suddenly his blood ran cold. “My boy, you didn’t let them get into the wicked giant’s meadow by any chance?”

 

“Yes,” replied the boy. “I let them in, and I intend to let them graze there every day.”

 

When he heard this, his father froze. “Are we going to quarrel with a giant like that? Are we seeking our own ruin?”

 

“I won’t let him do us any harm, father. Our troubles are over now. His are just beginning.”

 

‘Now our son has gone completely mad,’ said the poor man to himself. ‘But then, what sort of life is this we lead? What does it matter if fate overtakes us an hour earlier than was intended?’

 

So the boy set off again next day to pasture the cows in the forbidden meadow, and this time with his father’s blessing; but when he arrived the giant himself was standing there.

 

“What are you doing here, you miserable little worm?” he bellowed fiercely.

 

“I’m letting the cows eat here because there’s lots of grass.”

 

“And do you know who this meadow belongs to?”

 

“Yes, I do. But I brought them to feed here because otherwise the grass would go to waste.”

 

“How dare you speak to me like that! Don’t you realise who I am?”

 

“Yes, you’re the wicked giant who wouldn’t give a glass of water to his own guardian angel. But I’m not afraid of you!”

 

“Did you say you’re not afraid of me?”

 

“Yes. I’m not afraid of you.”

 

“What impudence! Very well, then, since you’re not afraid, come along with me. I’ll show you where I live, and then we’ll see if you’re afraid or not!”

 

“All right. Let’s go!”

 

They walked for some time through the giant’s meadows and his ploughlands until eventually they found themselves in front of a huge, lofty castle.

 

“This is where I live!” said the giant, bursting with pride, as the guards swung the heavy iron gates open.

 

They entered a wide courtyard, one half fenced off by metal bars, behind which paced a crowd of animals, from cats and dogs to wolves and lions.

 

“What are all those animals?” the young cowherd asked.

 

“Don’t ask. You’ll find out soon enough when you join them.”

 

They carried on and entered the castle.

 

“Would you like to see all the rooms? Have a good look, and you’ll realise just how much I’m worth. But it won’t do you any good, for in the end you’ll finish up just like all the rest.”

 

“I’m not going to finish up like anybody. But yes, I would like to see all the rooms.”

 

“Excellent. Take these keys and unlock them.” He handed him forty keys. “Explore at your leisure!” he invited in a mocking voice, and left him alone.

 

The boy opened the first door.

 

All he could see inside the room was a single pair of slippers. He put them on, and at once became so light that he could jump up and touch the ceiling without the slightest effort. If he had been outdoors, he could have hopped across the broadest river.

 

He recalled the giant’s words: ‘It won’t do you any good.’ “But it’s going to do me a lot of good!” exclaimed the bold youth and he popped the slippers into his bag.

 

He unlocked the second room and found a small sword with its scabbard. The sword was lying on a round table which was actually no more than a huge log. The boy touched the log with the point of the sword, at which it immediately split into two.

 

“So this is magic, too,” said the boy, and, sliding the sword into its sheath, he put it in his bag.

 

He unlocked the third room and found nothing but a cap. He put it on and immediately became invisible. He took it off and became visible once more. “This will be useful, too,” he said with a smile, and popped it into his bag.

 

He unlocked the next room. It was full of gold florins. He opened the next. It was heaped with diamonds. He opened another. It was piled with pearls. All the other rooms in turn were filled with similar riches. The boy was dazzled by the giant’s treasures, but he didn’t keep anything. ‘What I’ve already taken will be plenty for me,’ he said to himself.

 

Two rooms remained. He unlocked the first, and what did he see? On a bed carved with matchless craftsmanship there lay a girl as beautiful as any angel. At first the cowherd thought she was asleep, but he soon realised she had been turned into marble. His heart beat faster with admiration for her beauty, yet with pain as well, because he pitied her. But it also beat with anger against the wicked giant for doing this evil thing to her.

 

“I must release her – but how?” he cried. “Perhaps I will find a way when I see what secret is hidden in the final room – for if the giant has set a trap for me, that is where it will be. If I come out of this victorious, what happiness will follow! Everything will end joyfully. I shall release this beautiful maiden and, if she will have me, I will make her my wife!”

 

Very cautiously, the boy opened the last door. And there before him, with a welcoming smile, stood a tall, striking woman with slanting eyebrows over large dark eyes, and a chin jutting with pride and power. But at the back of the room, which was as vast as a great hall, on a lofty, throne-like seat, there sat the evil giant himself.

 

The woman, who was neither very young nor very old, was holding a rod in her hand. With a wordless gesture, she invited the young man to come forward. He knew at once that he was dealing with a witch, and only took a couple of short steps. She in turn took two and, with a honeyed smile, stretched out her wand to touch his head. But with one lightning movement the boy snatched the wand from her grasp and snapped it in two. That did the trick! The witch uttered a cry of terror and despair. But worst of all the wicked giant toppled headlong from his lofty throne, striking his head a fatal blow.

 

Now the young herdsman possessed such a kind heart that he felt pity even for the terrible giant, and he ran to his assistance while the witch, her proud wings clipped, cowered in a corner of the hall.

 

“I am past any help,” the giant groaned. “I know my time has come. I have been defeated, and you have escaped my clutches. You have not been turned into an animal like the others you saw down in the courtyard, creatures that were once all human beings. Now my castle, with all my riches, my guards and my servants, is yours. You have the forty keys. The last one also unlocks the outer gate. I wanted to do you harm, but now I shall help you instead. In the rear courtyard you will find a winged white horse which cannot only fly but also speak and prophesy. Make friends with it and it will help you more than you can possibly imagine. Use the slippers to jump with, the sword to cut whatever resists an ordinary blade and the cap to make yourself invisible. You have seen the marble maiden. You saw how beautiful she is! She is a princess who I kidnapped because I desired her for my wife but, who knows why, she would not even look at me. I believed that I could gradually win her round; but my longing for that loveliest of maidens aroused the envy of this jealous witch, and she turned her to marble. Pursue her now until she undoes the spell that turned the princess into stone and releases the people she transformed into animals.”

 

As soon as the witch heard the giant’s words, she slipped away. The young man immediately ran after her, but she turned into smoke and vanished. Only her voice could be heard: “I shall be in the Red Tower. You will never find me there – but even if you do, it will be the end of you.”

 

The young man at once returned to the giant. He found him surrounded by servants and guards who had rushed to assist their master. But they could do nothing. The wicked giant was dead.

 

Then they all bowed low to the young man and said:

 

“We are yours to command, new master!”

 

But the young herdsman had no time to lose. He hurried to the rear courtyard and found the horse, which neighed fiercely. The boy stroked its neck and spoke to it as though it were human:

 

“I want to save the marble princess. I want to rescue the people who have been turned into animals. You must help me to find the witch who has done all these wicked deeds and has now fled to the Red Tower. If you know where that is, and if you want to do some good, then take me there.”

 

This time the horse neighed gently and replied:

 

“I am the only creature who can tell you where the Red Tower is. Climb onto my back and I will take you there, for I can see you are doing this in a good cause. But it is not such a simple matter to capture this witch and make her obey you. So go into the stable and there, on a shelf, you will find a mirror, a penknife and a piece of cloth. These are all magic, and you will need them.” He then explained to him how these things would prove useful.

 

The young man went and fetched the things the horse had described and then climbed on its back, and the horse, opening out its huge white wings, soared into the sky.

 

After they had travelled quite a way, they saw a blue cloud up ahead.

 

“What is that cloud?” enquired the boy.

 

“That is no cloud. It is the Young Man of the Sea. Let’s go to meet him.”

 

“Greetings,” said the cowherd when they reached him.

 

“Welcome to you, young friend. You’re a fine strong lad, and so am I. But to be honest with you, we’re not in the same league as that young fellow who overcame the wicked giant.”

 

“And if you were to meet him, what would you wish to call him?”

 

“My brother!”

 

“Well, I am he – so let’s become brothers!”

 

They threw their arms around each other, kissed, and then, pricking their fingers, they marked each other with their blood, became brothers and journeyed on together.

 

After a while they reached a city. In the middle of this city, in a big square, a large crowd had gathered. The king was there with his twelve courtiers and they were all grouped around the ‘enchanted marble’, a huge lump of stone which was so enormous that even six men holding hands could not encircle it.

 

They were all begging God to cut the marble in two, because they believed that this was the only way to banish misfortune from their city. But God had other things on his mind, and the marble was so hard that no one who tried to cut it or break it could even make a scratch on its surface.

 

The young herdsman approached and read an inscription on the marble which said:

He who cuts me in two with one blow of his sword
Will bestow on the people a mighty reward.

 

Then the boy drew his magic sword and struck the marble, which instantly split in two and, marvellous to relate, filled the square with gold florins! There were so many that even after the people had helped themselves to all that they could carry off, as much again was still left for the king.

 

Everybody then joined in praise of the young man, and the king told him:

 

“You have done such a great favour to my people and to me that you deserve to take my daughter for your wife.”

 

“Thank you, your majesty, but let your daughter take my brother, the fine Young Man of the Sea, for I am promised to another, and he is as deserving as I am.”

 

The king agreed, and the Young Man of the Sea married the fair princess.

 

Before they went their separate ways, the young herdsman took out the magic mirror he had found in the stable and gave it to his new brother, saying:

 

“Take this mirror. If you see it cloud over, that will mean I have great need of you, and you must hurry to my aid.”

 

With these words he mounted the marvellous horse and they soared off into the sky to fly to the Red Tower.

 

After a while they saw a black cloud.

 

“Once again, what is that strange cloud?” asked the boy.

 

“That is no cloud,” the horse replied. “It is the Young Man of the Land. Let’s go to meet him.”

 

“Greetings,” the cowherd said as soon as they drew near.

 

“Welcome to you, young friend. I’m a fine strong lad, and so are you. But we’re not in the same league as that young fellow who overcame the wicked giant and split the enchanted marble in two with one blow of his sword,” said the Young Man of the Land.

 

“And if the two of you chanced to meet, what would you choose to call him?”

 

“My brother!”

 

“Well, I am he – so let’s become brothers!”

 

They threw their arms around each other, they kissed, they pricked their fingers and marked each other with their blood, they became brothers, and continued their journey together.

 

Soon they reached a large city which was divided in two by a great river.

 

“That is the ‘accursed river’,” said the horse. “They call it that because it is bewitched and every so often it bursts its banks and causes untold damage. It will stop wreaking havoc if it changes course, but this will only happen, they say, if someone can cross it in a single bound. And that, as you can see, is quite impossible.”

 

At that moment, they heard from down below town-criers proclaiming that the king would give his daughter to any man who could save the city from the accursed river.

 

“Let’s go down,” said the boy, “down there by the palace.”

 

They descended quickly and the young man made his way straight to the king.

 

“Long life to your majesty!” he said. “I can cross that river with a single bound.”

 

“I don’t believe it, but I should like to see you try, for wonders often happen. If you succeed, I shall give you not only my daughter but my throne as well.”

 

The king and his courtiers proceeded to the bank of the river, hoping for some kind of miracle.

 

Then the boy put on the magic slippers. He gave a great leap and the miracle occurred. The cowherd soared across the broad river. And then another miracle took place: the river began to boil and foam because now, instead of flowing towards the sea, it turned back in its course. As it flowed backwards, it swelled and swelled until it was strong enough to climb the mountain and then roll down the other side. And as it did so, the irresistible surge of its waters cut the mountain in two, creating a deep ravine. Through this ravine now flowed the river, which ceased to be accursed and became blessed, because it now watered a whole plain which had till then lain dry and bare.

 

Overcome with emotion, the king embraced the young man.

 

“Now you deserve my daughter and the whole of my kingdom,” he said, kissing him.

 

“No, your majesty,” replied the cowherd, whose mind was constantly upon the marble maiden. “But give your daughter to my brother, the Young Man of the Land, who is more deserving than I am. I cannot marry her.”

 

So it happened. And when the two brothers parted, the young man said:

 

“My brother, take this penknife. Leave it as it is, open. But if you ever see it closed, know that I have need of you and hurry to find me, wherever I may be.”

 

Then he mounted his winged horse and continued his journey toward the Red Tower to find the wicked witch.

 

Suddenly they saw in front of them a flame-coloured cloud.

 

“Once again, what is that fiery cloud?”

 

“That is no cloud. It is the Young Man of the Skies, the son of the Sun.”

 

“Greetings to you,” said the cowherd when they reached him.

 

“Welcome to you, young friend. You’re a fine strong lad, and so am I. But we’re not in the same league as that young fellow who overcame the wicked giant, who split the enchanted marble with one blow of his sword and who crossed the accursed river in a single bound.”

 

“And if the two of you were to meet, what would you wish to call him?”

 

“My brother!”

 

“Well, I am he – so let’s become brothers!”

 

Straightaway they embraced, kissed, pricked fingers and marked each other with their blood and became brothers.

 

Journeying on towards the Red Tower, they came to a large city. There the king was being driven out of his mind by grief. Every evening, when his daughter went to bed, she would disappear for the whole night, and nobody knew where she went. When she returned, she acted as if she were in a trance. She always managed to elude anyone who was ordered to keep a watch on her to find out what was happening. Now the king had sent out heralds to proclaim that whoever could find out where his daughter went at night might have her as his wife.

 

The cowherd learnt of this and went to the palace.

 

“Your majesty, I will discover where your daughter goes.”

 

“Lots of people have told me that, young man. Some of them I trusted. I gave them whatever assistance they needed, but nothing ever came of it. Tell me, though, what help you want from me so that you, too, may make your attempt.”

 

“I need nothing. Only allow me to sleep in her room.”

 

They placed another bed in the princess’s chamber, and the young herdsman went there to sleep.

 

The princess began to tease him:

 

“Are you the little chap who’s going to find out where I go at night?”

 

“I am indeed. And I am going to succeed!”

 

“Then let me tell you that I don’t go anywhere. It’s just an idea they have got hold of.”

 

“I hope so – because I’m so tired that I don’t want to lose my sleep.” And he yawned.

 

The girl lay down on her bed, the young man lay down on his and, after a little while, began to snore so convincingly that you would have sworn he really was asleep.

 

The princess was taken in by it and got out of bed. Walking on tiptoe, she dressed and left the room.

 

At once the young man got up, too, donned the magic cap, became invisible and followed her.

 

They reached a magic glade illuminated by thousands of stars which shed an unearthly brightness. Nereids of dazzling beauty were dancing there, and invisible sprites were singing. As soon as the princess arrived, a water-nymph tripped up to her to swathe her neck in pearls, but in her haste she dropped them. With one bound, the invisible young man ran up and snatched the pearls. The nereids searched for them, but when their efforts came to nothing, they brought her more. Then they all joined the dance together with the princess. At some point, while she was dancing with her arms outstretched, the invisible boy ran up, and before you could say ‘knife’, he grabbed her ring.

 

“My ring! I’ve lost my precious ring!” the princess cried out anxiously.

 

They searched for it but could find nothing. As for the young herdsman, he ran back to the palace, went to bed and fell asleep, without pretending this time.

 

At daybreak the princess also returned and when she saw him lying there she laughed mockingly.

 

When the young man woke up, he went straight to the king.

 

“I have seen where your daughter goes at night. But I want her to be present when I tell you.”

 

They went and summoned the princess and the young man began his story.

 

“Yesterday night, when I was lying in my bed and she was lying in hers, I pretended to fall asleep immediately. Indeed, I snored. Then she got up, dressed and left.”

 

“Lies, Father!” shouted the princess.

 

“I followed her. Don’t ask me how it was she didn’t notice me. I can prove what I’m saying. We walked a long way, she leading and I following behind, until we reached a magic glade in a forest lighted by hundreds and thousands of stars.”

 

“He’s a big liar, Father. Don’t listen to him!”

 

“There,” continued the young herdsman, “were dancing lovely water-nymphs with dresses woven from spiders’ webs and veils which billowed in the breeze, while the air was filled with the singing of unseen voices. As soon as the princess went to join the dance, a nereid ran to grace her neck with pearls, but she dropped them, and I, unseen by all, picked the pearls up.”

 

“How can you sit there and listen to such a story-teller?” demanded the king’s daughter.

 

“Look, here they are! Or don’t you recognise them?” he challenged the princess.

 

Her face turned scarlet when she saw the pearls.

 

“No, I don’t recognise them,” she mumbled, but with confusion written all over her face.

 

“After I had taken the pearls,” the young man continued, “they brought some more and put them on her. Then she joined the dance, but I again, without being seen by anyone, snatched the princess’s ring from her hand. Here it is. You must all recognise it.”

 

As soon as the princess saw the ring, she remained rooted to the spot. In despair, she struck her forehead repeatedly with her hand. And then it was as though she suddenly awakened from a deep slumber, as though she were returning from the world of dreams to reality. For at that moment, certain awful spells were broken which an evil witch had laid on her. She felt as if a burden had been lifted from her and, begging forgiveness from her mother and father, she burst into tears.

 

“You shouldn’t cry, my daughter, but rejoice because you have been cured of a terrible sickness. Here is the young man who has made you well. He must become your husband.”

 

“No, your majesty,” replied the young herdsman, “I cannot. My brother, the Young Man of the Skies, will take your daughter. He is more deserving than I am.”

 

And so it came about.

 

But on parting from his new brother, he gave him the magic cloth and said:

 

“Take this cloth, brother. If you see it becoming bloody you must hurry to my side, because I shall have urgent need of you.”

 

And when they had said their farewells, he mounted the winged horse and together they soared into the sky.

 

“Take me now, my horse, to the tower that you know of. Let’s go to seize the witch and force her to lift the spells from the marble princess and from the people she has turned into animals.”

 

Ever obedient, the marvellous horse flew swiftly towards the Red Tower, which could now be faintly seen on the horizon. Eventually they arrived. The young herdsman was dazzled by the sight of it. It was a huge structure whose battlements brushed the clouds. All around it was a lofty wall constructed from enormous stones like those which only a Cyclops could lift. The entrance consisted of two great iron doors bristling with sharp-pointed swords, so that from outside you could not approach.

 

But the young herdsman’s marvellous horse had no difficulty entering the tower. He soared over the wall, high above the heads of the guards.

 

Down below in the courtyard they saw lots of animals, just like the ones imprisoned in the giant’s castle. The young man realised that these, too, had been people once, and that if he failed in his purpose he would become a beast as well.

 

“Good little horse, now fly up to that tower there.”

 

The winged horse flew him straight to the place he pointed out. The young herdsman jumped down and, magic sword in hand, entered the tower. Lo and behold, in that very spot, swaying to and fro in a rocking chair, sat the terrible witch. Startled, she immediately leapt to her feet.

 

“Don’t move!” ordered the young fellow, who may have been short in stature, but was great in spirit. “Now you will do whatever I command you. For you must surely know that this sword in my hand is the very one which split the enchanted marble.”

 

The witch bowed her head, admitting her defeat.

 

“I will do whatever you command,” she said.

 

“Well done, that’s the idea. So let’s go first to release those people down there in the courtyard, that you turned into animals.”

 

They went down at once. The witch lifted the spells from the animals and they turned into people again.

 

“Now order the guards to open the doors and let the people go.”

 

What choice did she have? She did exactly as the young man told her.

 

“Now we’ll return to the horse,” he ordered.

 

Quickly they ascended to the terrace. The young cowherd set her on the horse’s back and mounted up behind her.

 

“My horse,” he commanded, “fly back now to the castle of the wicked giant.”

 

The horse spread its broad wings and soared straight into the sky. But a great journey lay ahead of them. After long hours of flying, they needed a rest to drink water and eat some food.

 

They landed in a city.

 

As bad luck would have it, the ruler of this city was a friend of the witch. Pretending to make the young man welcome, he managed secretly to remove the magic sword and hide it. As for the wicked witch, she succeeded in finding another place to conceal herself.

 

The young man was overcome with grief. Was the lovely maiden now doomed to lie like stone for ever in the castle of the wicked giant? And were the people the terrible witch had turned to animals in that same castle fated to remain imprisoned for ever in its courtyard? No, that must never be! Then he remembered his brothers – but would they realise what desperate need he had of them?

 

Confronted with this great emergency, however, the mirror in the keeping of the Young Man of the Sea grew cloudy; the penknife given to the Young Man of the Land closed of its own accord; while the cloth kept by the Young Man of the Skies grew red with blood. Thus each of them realised that his brother had great need of him and at once mounted his cloud. And even though they lived far apart from one another, in the end they all assembled in the place they had been summoned to.

 

“What has happened to you, brother? What evil has befallen you?”

 

“They have taken my sword, and the witch has escaped from me. If I do not find them both, neither will the marble maiden be released, nor will the wicked giant’s animals be restored to human shape again.”

 

Immediately, the Young Man of the Skies begged his father, the Sun, to cast his strong light on the secret hidden corners of the land and sea.

 

The Young Man of the Land ordered all the animals, including even the ants, to search everywhere for the stolen sword and the missing witch.

 

And the Young Man of the Sea commanded all the fish to hunt for the sword and the witch in every nook and cranny of the watery kingdom.

 

Good news soon came. A dolphin brought the cowherd’s sword up from the bottom of the sea, while shortly afterwards an ant arrived and revealed the hiding-place of the terrible witch.

 

So evil had no chance to prosper.

 

Taking up his sword again, the young man hastened to the spot revealed by the ant and found the witch. He seized her by the hair, threw her across the horse’s back, and they flew swiftly to the palace of the wicked giant.

 

As soon as they arrived and saw the animals, the boy ordered the witch to lift the spells from them. She had no choice but to undo the magic and they at once turned back into people who, with shouts of joy, thanked the young man who had rescued them.

 

“And now, forward!” commanded the herdsman, “forward to the chamber where the marble princess lies!”

 

“You’re a fine young man, and I admit you have defeated me,” said the witch. “For you I have released so many people, both here and at the Red Tower. So couldn’t you do me just one favour in return? Couldn’t that maiden who stole the wicked giant’s love from me be left to lie in marble for all time?”

 

“Delay a moment longer, and it will be the end of you!”

 

What else could the witch do? She accompanied the herdsman to the place where the beautiful princess lay. Stretching out her right hand, with a trembling finger she touched the marble maiden, muttering secret words which she alone had mastery of. And lo and behold, in a little while the maiden’s eyes began to flutter.

 

“It is done,” said the witch to the young herdsman. “Now say what other commands you have for me.”

 

“Remove yourself immediately from my sight and be gone for ever.” And as the witch vanished, the beautiful princess began to regain consciousness.

 

She opened her eyes completely and cast them about the room until her gaze fell on the handsome young man. She tried to rise, but did not have the strength. The herdsman took her hand and helped her.

 

“How long I have slept,” she yawned, “and oh! how heavily!”

 

“That was no sleep. A wicked witch had turned you into marble.”

 

“Her! Oh, I remember her. But I fear she will do me more harm. And if she cannot, then the giant, the wicked giant, will do me more harm still!”

 

“Fear no more. The wicked giant has been killed.”

 

“And the wicked witch has just this minute drowned in the river,” said the herdsman’s three brothers, appearing in the doorway.

 

“But how did I come to be saved?” asked the fair maiden.

 

As if she already knew the answer, she fixed her large bright eyes on the fine young man, the handsome and noble cowherd who had rescued her. And he, by way of reply, lifted her from the bed in his strong arms and drew her into his embrace. And there and then, in the presence of his brothers, whose faces shone with joy, he planted the kiss of love upon her lips.

 

The very next day, in that castle which now was theirs by right, a splendid wedding was celebrated, followed by a banquet which lasted nine whole days and nights. The young herdsman’s father and mother were there. There also were the princess’s royal parents, who thought they had lost their daughter for ever. There, too, were the bridegroom’s three new brothers, the fine Young Men of the Land, the Sea and the Skies. There as well were all the people the wicked witch had transformed into animals. And I myself was there – every evening I sat and entertained them with my finest stories.

 

The servants and the guards rushed to and fro, never quite managing to serve us all, but they were bursting with happiness and high spirits, because they had escaped the clutches of the terrible wicked giant and the even more terrible witch.

 

Mixing lies with what is true
That’s what folk-tales always do.
But, though magic has its season,
Give me the man who relies on reason!


Excerpted from "Folk-tales from Greece I" by Menelaos Stephanides
Copyright © by Dimitris Stefanidis. All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

The Water-nymph and the Veil

The Soothsayer

Beauty and the Swan

The Sad Nightingale

The Dress that Went into a Walnut

The Marble Princess

The Bridge at Arta

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