by Anna Buxton

Traditional Bulgarian fairy tale from the area of Pirdop 

Once upon a time, a husband and a wife lived in a town. They were very rich, but had no children. They were very sad about this.

One afternoon, the wife sat embroidering by a window in their rich house, near the road and kept an eye on the passers-by. She noticed that an apple-seller, pushing a cart with baskets of lovely looking apples, was walking under her window. She stopped the man and asked what the price of the apples was. He said, “I sell each apple for three gold coins, madam.”

The wife was quite surprised. “Goodness, what are those apples - why are they so expensive?! Are they different than the ordinary apples?”

The apple-seller replied, “Ah, madam, they give children to couples, who do not have any! However, you need to be warned, that all the money the couple may have, however rich they are, will disappear, until the child grows up!”

The wife thought this was all very strange, but took out three gold coins and bought an apple. When her husband came back home, in the evening, she told him about the apple-seller and his goods, showed him the apple and asked him whether he wanted to try it. As they both wanted to have a child, they decided to share it – they cut it in two and had one half each.

In some time, the wife realised she was pregnant and nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy little boy. When the child grew up - at the age of eight, he started school. At the same time, however, his father’s riches started to diminish with every year. When he was eighteen years old, and had one more year to finish school, his father lost everything. He had no money to support his family and even to buy textbooks for his son’s education. It was impossible for him to borrow money, either.

Seeing, that his father was unable to support him, the boy took his fate in his own hands. He asked his school friends to borrow their books; he begged and worked for food. He also asked for and received help from his teachers in all sorts of different ways. So, he succeeded in completing his education. His classmates and teachers considered him very intelligent and clever.

However, his mother and father had been quite ill. They had no money for doctors and medicines and so they both died and he found himself an orphan. He did not have any relatives living in the town, to keep an eye on him or advise him, either.

As this town had very sad memories for him, he decided to go to a different city and look for employment there. He packed a bag with some personal belongings and in the morning, locked the house and started to walk towards the next town.

He walked for the whole day and by the evening, he reached the town. He was very tired and hungry, when he noticed a pub on the other side of the road. He went in and asked the landlord, if he could sleep in the pub. The man agreed and took him upstairs to the attic. Then, he offered him some soup for supper.

During the night, both the landlord and his wife had a strange dream. They saw a woman, who told them “The boy, who spent the night in your pub, could be of great use to you! Hire him to serve you and you won’t regret it!”

When they got up, they asked the boy to have a bite of breakfast with them and started asking him questions – where did he come from; was he looking for a job, etc. The boy admitted that he was completely broke and was indeed looking for a job. They were quite pleased to hear this and offered him the chance to stay and work for them. Then they asked him what pay he expected.

“As much, or as little you want to give me” - was his reply.

So the boy stayed to help out in the pub. Some time passed, and on a hot and sticky summer’s day, he asked the Landlord and his wife if he could go to the near-by river. He wanted to wash his clothes, swim and if lucky, catch some fish. Permission was given, so he filled his bag, took his fishing line and off he went to the river.

He enjoyed washing and while his clothes were drying, he swam in the river in the summer sunshine. When he became tired, he thought he would try his luck with the fishing line. He threw it quite a few times, but to no avail “What a wasted effort it was, to carry this fishing line all the way here!” he murmured under his breath.

He decided to go back home, picked up his clothes, put on his tunic and started walking. Just before leaving, he thought “May be I should cast the line one last time - you never know!?” He did so and, lo and behold, when he pulled it out, he saw a large silver fish hanging on the hook!

Delighted, he unhooked it, took his stuff again and started walking home.

Approaching the town, he met an old man, who stopped him.

“Hey, boy, how much will you sell me this fish for?”

The boy answered “Give me as much as you want, grandpa!”

The old man took out a 1,000 silver pieces and exchanged them for the fish.

When he went home, the boy told the landlord and his wife about the strange old man and the fish and gave them the money.

The summer was passing slowly and the boy thought to himself, “Maybe I should go and have another wash and swim, before the water in the river gets colder? I may try my luck with the fishing rod, as well – I was quite lucky in the end, wasn’t I?”

So, a few days later, he picked up his clothes and his fishing line and went to the river. Exactly the same thing happened – in the same order. He caught a fish in the end and met the old man just before he entered the town. He sold the fish to him and was happy to take the money to the landlord and his wife.

Autumn was now approaching and the boy had a premonition – “If I don’t go to the river now, it will be too late to go again!” So, he went to the river again and after washing his body and clothes in the cool water, he started casting the line. But, for nearly half a day, nothing happened. When the light started to disappear, he thought he’d had enough and started going home. He walked on gloomily but, just before the road separated from the river, he had an idea. “So far, I have always been lucky at the very last moment - when I least expected to be! Why don’t I cast the line now!?”

And indeed, he caught a very large fish! He unhooked it and started walking home. Just outside the town, he met the same old man again, who had bought the previous two fishes.

“How much do you want for the fish, lad?”

“Well, this time I am not selling it at all!”

“I will be prepared to pay not 1,000 silver pieces, but 2,000” offered the old man.

“Just let me be! Not 1,000 or 2,000, if you give me all your riches, I will still not sell it to you!”

The old man departed disappointed and the lad carried on walking home.

When he went home, he told the landlord and his wife that he could have taken a lot of money for this fish, but he did not sell it. He wanted to cook the fish for them. He placed it on the kitchen surface and started to clean it. As he did so, he found a small silver cup in it. “Well, well, well,” he murmured, “What have we got here!?” He took the cup and filled it with water to rinse the sink, but when he poured it out, the water had turned to gold!?! The lad was amazed. So, he carried on taking water in the cup and poured the gold in a little heap. He went to tell the landlord and his wife. They could not believe their eyes, but were very happy about this unexpected source of gold.

The landlord and his wife had only one fifteen year’s old daughter. When they were convinced that the lad was very good and honest, they wondered whether they should not marry him to their daughter. On the next day, their daughter had a name day and they thought that might be a good occasion to invite him to be their son-in-law.

They cooked and prepared for the whole of the previous day and on the day itself, many friends and relatives visited to congratulate the girl and bring their presents. In the evening, when all the guests had gone, they brought food to the table and sat down to eat. They had already agreed to invite the lad to be their son-in-law. So when they started eating, the mistress turned to her husband and asked him: “Why don’t you invite this lad here to become our son-in-law? We are so used to him, and he is used to us, and we like him, don’t we? Why don’t we marry him to our beloved daughter Sevda? We don’t have other children and I think our girl likes him – aren’t they so suitable for each other?”

The master thought for a little time and said. “Yes, I agree with this idea, I like the lad like my own son. Let us ask him what he thinks about this and whether he and our girl love each other and want to get married. Then all our property will be theirs one day.”

When it was the boy’s turn to speak, he asked them to let him think it over for a day or two, before answering. He thought the proposition over during the first day, but concluded that he did not want to marry their daughter. On the second day, he asked the landlord and his wife to let him go to his birth place of for a few days and that he would give them an answer on his return. So, he took his silver cup, went to his native town and never came back!

In his home town, went to his old house and the first thing he did was to take his cup out, to put water in it and to tuned into gold. He then sold the heap of gold and bought himself some rich clothes. He also purchased a horse, a saddle and some stirrups. He decided to cover the saddle and the stirrups with gold, so that his horse shone like the sun.

So, on the next morning, he dressed splendidly and rode out of town on his horse. As he was riding out of town, all people were looking at him and wondering - who might he be?

When he left the town, he was met by a magnificent coach. In it rode two ladies, one was elderly and the other was young and very beautiful. The coach slowed, the ladies looked him over from head to toe and then the coach sped away. He turned and followed it. The coach stopped close to the town and the ladies got out. It appeared that they were visiting another old lady, who sat on a large, green chair. The visitors asked the second granny, if she knew who this young man was, who passed by recently, with the all the gold on his saddle and stirrups. The second granny admitted she had no idea.

A while later, the young man called on the second granny and asked her who those two women were, who’d got out of the carriage and spoken to her.

“Ah, that was the king’s daughter and the elderly lady was her aunt.” She added that they had asked about him. He took out five gold coins and gave them to the granny, then jumped on his horse and rode away.

When he reached the capital city, he found a tremendous hustle and bustle in its streets. He realised that they were mustering new recruits for the king’s army. Our lad signed up and soon received his uniform and started his training.

In time, our lad decided that he wanted to become an officer. He needed to learn more and he was ready to pay for extra training. As he was very willing and quite intelligent, he soon passed the necessary exams and was promoted.

One day, an invitation arrived, asking all officers to dress in their best clothes and attend the king’s name day party in the palace. Our lad decided to have a sword, made of gold and all the decorative elements of his uniform were also made out of gold. On the next day, at the name day party, everyone looked at him in wonder – most of all the king!

When the party was over, the king decided he wanted to talk to this officer. They spoke for a long time and king liked the young man so much, that he offered him a post as one of his body-guards. This meant the he would spend a lot of time in the palace and with the king’s family.

Soon he and the princess fell in love. He bought her many presents and they went for secret walks. He hinted that he would like her to fulfil his wish…., but she was not willing. Soon, she wanted to know what the origin of his wealth was and he told her about his cup. He even showed it to her, and demonstrated how the water turned into gold. She was surprised and wanted to know where this cup came from. He told her the whole story. Then he added “If you sleep with me, I will let you have it!” The princess hesitated, she walked up and down the palace rooms for quite some time, deliberating this proposal, but finally, she came and gave herself to him. Then she received the cup.

However, in several months, she realised that she was pregnant! When the king learned about it, he wanted to kill her, but was stopped by the queen. Finally, he called all his ministers and senior staff, to help him decide what to do with his daughter – how to punish her. Some suggested that she should be hanged; others, that she should be put in prison; a third group wanted to cover her in tar and to burn her.

The young body-guard, knowing that he was the cause of her state, suggested the following: “Instead of hanging, killing and burning her, I suggest, that the best thing to do, will be to make a wooden box, and seal it so it’s completely water-tight.. Then we can give her some water and food and a key to lock herself from the inside and float the box in the sea. If she is lucky enough to land on a beach, she can open the box and find a way to survive. If her luck was to sink at the bottom of the sea, then this punishment would be enough for her.”

Everyone thought his suggestion was the most suitable and the king ordered the box to be made. They fastened it securely and, tarred it on the outside to make it water-tight. Finally the princess got into it and locked it from the inside. The box was taken to the sea and her father said to her. “With this punishment, I give you the chance to live, if you are lucky! If the water takes you to a seashore, then get out and find a way to survive! I forgive you!” – And he pushed to box further into the water.

The terrified princess sat in the box and prayed to God to save her and her baby from sinking. After several days, the waves landed her box onto a beach. When she heard the waves breaking on the beach, she unlocked the box and stepped out onto the hard ground. Then she kneeled to thank God for her salvation.

She started walking on the beach, until she reached a small town on the seacoast. She found a hidden place behind a dune and took her silver cup. She started filling it with sea water and it turned into a heap of gold. She took the gold into a bag and then sold it. With the money, she bought a large plot of land, close to the sea shore and then hired a builder, who had a group of people working for him. Soon they managed to build her a romantic palace, surrounded by fountains, lakes and gardens. Not long after that, her child was born - it was a boy!

On one sunny day, when she was sitting by a window in her palace, with her baby in her hands, she thought about her lover. She wondered how he was, what he was doing…. She looked at the road again and her eyes concentrated on a horseman, coming up it, who rode like a soldier. Then she thought that he looked very much like her lover. She ordered the servants to invite this man into the palace. He came in and she was still not sure, so she asked him who he was and where he was going.

He told her that he worked for the king, in a kingdom for a long time, how he and the king’s daughter fell in love and how he told her, that if she slept with him, he would give her his silver cup, which turned water into gold. And how the princess became pregnant, but when the king learned about this, he placed his daughter in a wooden box, which was floated on the sea. How he was sacked from his position in the palace and how he started to search for her on the sea coast. The princess could barely wait for him to complete his story to tell him: “I am the same woman, thrown into a box and floated on the high seas. With the silver cup you gave me, I built this palace, so everything here belongs to both of us! And here is your son, whom I only gave birth to recently!

The young man shed tears of joy for finding his beloved and his son. He looked around the palace and the gardens and wanted to live peacefully with his family in it forever. Soon they became known as the richest couple in the city.

This city became quite famous, as many people, attracted by its beautiful position and the trade in it, came to live there. Many attractive buildings were erected and the city became large and prosperous. One day the young couple decided to invite the king and queen to come to the city and visit them.

When he received the impressive invitation, the king said: “Well, this city has been praised to me by so many people, may be it is time to go and see it all with my eyes!”

Before the king and queen arrived on the royal coach, the young couple covered the whole approach road on which they were going to travel with gold. They waited for the royal couple at the end of the city. When the king and queen reached the golden section of the road, they asked each other “How did this come about and how could anyone have so much gold to cover the road with it?!”

Having met them, the young couple took the king and queen to their palace. They invited them to stay there for several days. The king and queen did not seem to recognise their daughter and the young couple decided to trick them.

The daughter hid her hair under a hat, put on male attire and stuck on some moustaches, which made her look like her lover. She was sitting in this disguise in a room, when one day the queen walked in. She sat down and they started taking to each other. Eventually, the queen asked: “How come you, young people, are so rich?”

Her daughter looked at her, smiled and putting her hand in her pocket took out the silver cup. “It comes from this here cup. Come and see.” She took the queen to the small fountain in the corner of the room and started to fill the cup with water and empty the gold out of it in a pile.

The queen had never seen anything like this. She said “Why don’t you give me this cup, I will give you whatever you want for it!”

“I will give it to you, if you sleep with me – there is nothing else I want!” was her daughter’s answer.

“Let me think about it!” said the queen. She quickly left the room and went to the king. She told him about the cup and also told him that the only way to get it from the “young man” was to sleep with him. The king thought about it for some time.

“Well, it’s not a big idea, is it?! Sleep with him, so that we can get the cup – no one else has a cup like this, do they!?”

The queen returned to the room, where the young man was still sitting and started to take her clothes off, in order to sleep with him. The “young man” – her daughter, also took her male attire off to remain in female clothes underneath, removed the false moustaches and let her hair down. Then she turned to the queen with a smile. ”Mother, I am your daughter - the same, whom you sent to the high seas in a box, but fate saved me! When I lived with you, I loved this man, who gave me this cup against my honour. He is now talking next door to my father. And there you are - you are much older, with so much experience and you make the same mistake as me, but I was so young and inexperienced at the time!”

After those words, the queen fainted from shock. When she came back, she asked forgiveness from her daughter on her knees. Her daughter then opened the door and called her father and her lover. Only then did the king recognise his daughter and also felt unwell. Both parents kneeled in front of the young couple and asked for their forgiveness. They admitted that they were wrong and that they had sinned.

After this memorable visit to the town, the two couples returned to the king’s palace and organised a wedding ceremony for the young couple. Shortly after his, the king and queen retired and passed the kingdom into the hands of the young couple. So, at the end, the poor boy, the bodyguard, became the son-in law of the king and inherited his kingdom!


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