Faithful John

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Faithful John

     There was once upon a time an old king who was ill, and thought to
himself, "I am lying on what must be my deathbed." Then said he, "Tell
Faithful John to come to me." Faithful John was his favourite servant, and was
so called, because he had for his whole life long been so true to him. When
therefore he came beside the bed, the King said to him, "Most faithful John, I
feel my end approaching, and have no anxiety except about my son. He is still
of tender age, and cannot always know how to guide himself. If thou dost not
promise me to teach him everything that he ought to know, and to be his foster
- father, I cannot close my eyes in peace." Then answered Faithful John, "I
will not forsake him, and will serve him with fidelity, even if it should cost
me my life." On this, the old King said, "Now I die in comfort and peace."
Then he added, "After my death, thou shalt show him the whole castle: all the
chambers, halls, and vaults, and all the treasures which lie therein, but the
last chamber in the long gallery, in which is the picture of the princess of
the Golden Dwelling, shalt thou not show. If he sees that picture, he will
fall violently in love with her, and will drop down a in swoon, and go through
great danger for her sake, therefore thou must preserve him from that." And
when Faithful John had once more given his promise to the old King about this,
the King said no more, but laid his head on his pillow, and died.

     When the old King had been carried to his grave, Faithful John told the
young King all that he had promised his father on his deathbed, and said,
"This will I assuredly perform, and will be faithful to thee as I have been
faithful to him, even if it should cost me my life." When the mourning was
over, Faithful John said to him: "It is now time that thou shouldst see thine
inheritance. I will show thee thy father's palace." Then he took him about
everywhere, up and down, and let him see all the riches, and the magnificent
apartments, only there was one room which he did not open, that in which hung
the dangerous picture. The picture was, however, so placed that when the door
was opened you looked straight on it, and it was so admirably painted that it
seemed to breath and live, and there was nothing more charming or more
beautiful in the whole world. The young King, however, plainly remarked that
Faithful John always walked past this one door, and said, "Why dost thou never
open this one for me?" "There is something within it," he replied, "which
would terrify thee." But the King answered, "I have seen all the palace, and I
will know what is in this room also," and he went and tried to break open the
door by force. Then Faithful John held him back and said, "I promised thy
father before his death that thou shouldst not see that which is in this
chamber, it might bring the greatest misfortune on thee and on me." "Ah, no,"
replied the young King, "if I do not go in, it will be my certain destruction.
I should have no rest day or night until I had seen it with my own eyes. I
shall not leave the place now until thou hast unlocked the door."

     Then Faithful John saw that there was no help for it now, and with a
heavy heart and many sighs, sought out the key from the great bunch. When he
had opened the door, he went in first, and thought by standing before him he
could hide the portrait so that the King should not see it in front of him,
but what availed that? The King stood on tip-toe and saw it over his
shoulder. And when he saw the portrait of the maiden, which was so magnificent
and shone with gold and precious stones, he fell fainting on the ground.
Faithful John took him up, carried him to his bed, and sorrowfully thought,
"The misfortune has befallen us, Lord God, what will be the end of it?" Then
he strengthened him with wine, until he came to himself again. The first words
the King said, were, "Ah, the beautiful portrait! whose is it?" "That is the
princess of the Golden Dwelling," answered Faithful John. Then the King
continued, "My love for her is so great, that if all the leaves on all the
trees were tongues, they could not declare it. I will give my life to win her.
Thou art my most Faithful John, thou must help me."

     The faithful servant considered within himself for a long time how to set
about the matter, for it was difficult even to obtain a sight of the King's
daughter. At length he thought of a way, and said to the King, "Everything
which she has about her is of gold-tables, chairs, dishes, glasses, bowls,
and household furniture. Among thy treasures are five tons of gold; let one of
the goldsmiths of the kingdom work these up into all manner of vessels and
utensils, into all kinds of birds, wild beasts and strange animals, such as
may please her, and we will go there with them and try our luck."

     The King ordered all the goldsmiths to be brought to him, and they had to
work night and day until at last the most splendid things were prepared. When
everything was stowed on board a ship, Faithful John put on the dress of a
merchant, and the King was forced to do the same in order to make himself
quite unrecognizable. Then they sailed across the sea, and sailed on until
they came to the town wherein dwelt the princess of the Golden Dwelling.

     Faithful John bade the King stay behind on the ship, and wait for him.
"Perhaps I shall bring the princess with me," said he, "therefore see that
everything is in order; have the golden vessels set out and the whole ship
decorated." Then he gathered together in his apron all kinds of gold things,
went on shore and walked straight to the royal palace. When he entered the
courtyard of the palace, a beautiful girl was standing there by the well with
two golden buckets in her hand, drawing water with them. And when she was just
turning round to carry away the sparkling water she saw the stranger, and
asked who he was. So he answered, "I am a merchant," and opened his apron, and
let her look in. Then she cried, "Oh, what beautiful gold things!" and put her
pails down and looked at the golden wares one after the other. Then said the
girl, "The princess must see these, she has such great pleasure in golden
things, that she will buy all you have." She took him by the hand and led him
upstairs, for she was the waiting-maid. When the King's daughter saw the
wares, she was quite delighted and said, "They are so beautifully worked, that
I will buy them all of thee." But Faithful John said, "I am only the servant
of a rich merchant. The things I have here are not to be compared with those
my master has in his ship. They are the most beautiful and valuable things
that have ever been made in gold." She wanted to have everything brought to
her there, but he said, "There are so many of them that it would take a great
many days to do that, and so many rooms would be required to exhibit them,
that your house is not big enough." Then her curiosity and longing were still
more excited, until at last she said, "Conduct me to the ship, I will go there
myself, and behold the treasures of thy master."

     On this Faithful John was quite delighted, and led her to the ship, and
when the King saw her, he perceived that her beauty was even greater than the
picture had represented it to be, and thought no other than that his heart
would burst in twain. Then she got into the ship, and the King led her within.
Faithful John, however, remained behind with the pilot, and ordered the ship
to be pushed off, saying, "Set all sail, till it fly like a bird in air."
Within, however, the King showed her the golden vessels, every one of them,
also the wild beasts and strange animals. Many hours went by whilst she was
seeing everything, and in her delight she did not observe that the ship was
sailing away. After she had looked at the last, she thanked the merchant and
wanted to go home, but when she came to the side of the ship, she saw that it
was on the deep sea far from land, and hurrying onwards with all sail set.
"Ah," cried she in her alarm, "I am betrayed! I am carried away and have
fallen into the power of a merchant - I would die rather!" The King, however,
seized her hand, and said, "I am not a merchant. I am a king, and of no meaner
origin than thou art, and if I have carried thee away with subtlety, that has
come to pass because of my exceeding great love for thee. The first time that
I looked on thy portrait, I fell fainting to the ground." When the princess of
the Golden Dwelling heard that, she was comforted, and her heart was inclined
unto him, so that she willingly consented to be his wife.

     It happened, however, while they were sailing onwards over the deep sea,
that Faithful John, who was sitting on the fore part of the vessel, making
music, saw three ravens in the air, which came flying towards them. On this he
stopped playing and listened to what they were saying to each other, for that
he well understood. One cried, "Oh there he is carrying home the princess of
the Golden Dwelling." "Yes," replied the second, "but he has not got her yet."
Said the third, "But he has got her, she is sitting beside him in the ship."
Then the first began again, and cried, "What good will that do him? When they
reach land a chestnut horse will leap forward to meet him, and the prince will
want to mount it, but if he does that, it will run away with him, and rise up
into the air with him, and he will never see his maiden more." Spake the
second, "But is there no escape?"

     "Oh, yes, if any one else gets on it swiftly, and takes out the pistol,
which must be in its holster, and shoots the horse dead with it, the young
King is saved. But who knows that? And whosoever does know it, and tells it to
him, will be turned to stone from the toe to the knee." Then said the second,
"I know more than that; even if the horse be killed, the young King will still
not keep his bride. When they go into the castle together, a wrought bridal
garment will be lying there in a dish, and looking as if it were woven of gold
and silver; it is, however, nothing but sulphur and pitch, and if he put it
on, it will burn him to the very bone and marrow." Said the third, "Is there
no escape at all?"

     "Oh, yes," replied the second, "if any one with gloves on seizes the
garment and throws it into the fire and burns it, the young King will be
saved. But what avails that? Whosoever knows it and tells it to him, half his
body will become stone from the knee to the heart."

     Then said the third, "I know still more; even if the bridal garment be
burnt, the young King will still not have his bride. After the wedding, when
the dancing begins and the young Queen is dancing, she will suddenly turn pale
and fall down as if dead, and if some one does not lift her up and draw three
drops of blood from her right breast and spit them out again, she will die.
But if any one who knows that were to declare it, he would become stone from
the crown of his head to the sole of his foot." When the ravens had spoken of
this together they flew onwards, and Faithful John had well understood
everything but from that time forth he became quiet and sad, for if he
concealed what he had heard from his master, the latter would be unfortunate,
and if he discovered it to him, he himself must sacrifice his life. At length,
however, he said to himself, "I will save my master, even if it bring
destruction on myself."

     When therefore they came to shore, all happened as had been foretold by
the ravens, and a magnificent chestnut horse sprang forward. "Good," said the
King, "he shall carry me to my palace," and was about to mount it when
Faithful John got before him, jumped quickly on it, drew the pistol out of the
holster, and shot the horse. Then the other attendants of the King, who after
all were not very fond of Faithful John, cried, "How shameful to kill the
beautiful animal, that was to have carried the King to his palace!" But the
King said, "Hold your peace and leave him alone, he is my most faithful John,
who knows what may be the good of that!" They went into the palace, and in the
hall there stood a dish, and therein lay the bridal garment looking no
otherwise than as if it were made of gold and silver. The young King went
towards it and was about to take hold of it, but Faithful John pushed him
away, seized it with gloves on, carried it quickly to the fire and burnt it.
The other attendants again began to murmur, and said, "Behold, now he is even
burning the King's bridal garment!" But the young King said, "Who knows what
good he may have done, leave him alone, he is my most faithful John."

     And now the wedding was solemnized: the dance began, and the bride also
took part in it; then Faithful John was watchful and looked into her face, and
suddenly she turned pale and fell to the ground as if she were dead. On this
he ran hastily to her, lifted her up and bore her into a chamber - then he
laid her down, and knelt and sucked the three drops of blood from her right
breast, and spat them out. Immediately she breathed again and recovered
herself, but the young King had seen this, and being ignorant why Faithful
John had done it, was angry and cried, "Throw him into a dungeon." Next
morning Faithful John was condemned, and led to the gallows, and when he
stood on high, and was about to be executed, he said, "Every one who has to
die is permitted before his end to make one last speech; may I too claim the
right?" "Yes," answered the King, "it shall be granted unto thee." Then said
Faithful John, "I am unjustly condemned, and have always been true to thee,"
and related how he had hearkened to the conversation of the ravens when on the
sea, and how he had been obliged to do all these things in order to save his
master. Then cried the King, "Oh, my most Faithful John. Pardon, pardon -
bring him down." But as Faithful John spoke the last word he had fallen down
lifeless and become a stone.

     Thereupon the King and Queen suffered great anguish and the King said,
"Ah, how ill I have requited great fidelity!" and ordered the stone figure to
be taken up and placed in his bedroom beside his bed. And as often as he
looked on it he wept and said, "Ah, if I could bring thee to life again, my
most Faithful John." Some time passed and the Queen bore twins, two sons who
grew fast and were her delight. Once when the Queen was at church and the two
children were sitting playing beside their father, the latter full of grief
again looked at the stone figure, sighed and said, "Ah, if I could but bring
thee to life again, my most Faithful John." Then the stone began to speak and
said, "Thou canst bring me to life again if thou wilt use for that purpose
what is dearest to thee," Then cried the King, "I will give everything I have
in the world for thee." The stone continued, "If thou wilt cut off the heads
of thy two children with thine own hand, and sprinkle me with their blood, I
shall be restored to life."

     The King was terrified when he heard that he himself must kill his
dearest children, but he thought of Faithful John's great fidelity, and how he
had died for him, drew his sword, and with his own hand cut off the children's
heads. And when he had smeared the stone with their blood, life returned to
it, and Faithful John stood once more safe and healthy before him. He said to
the King, "Thy truth shall not go unrewarded," and took the heads of the
children, put them on again, and rubbed the wounds with their blood, on which
they became whole again immediately, and jumped about, and went on playing as
if nothing had happened. Then the King was full of joy, and when he saw the
Queen coming he hid Faithful John and the two children in a great cupboard.
When she entered, he said to her, "Hast thou been praying in the church?"
"Yes," answered she, "but I have constantly been thinking of Faithful John and
what misfortune has befallen him through us." Then said he, "Dear wife, we can
give him his life again, but it will cost us our two little sons, whom we must
sacrifice." The Queen turned pale, and her heart was full of terror, but she
said, "We owe it to him, for his great fidelity." Then the King was rejoiced
that she thought as he had thought, and went and opened the cupboard, and
brought forth Faithful John and the children, and said, "God be praised, he is
delivered, and we have our little sons again also," and told her how
everything had occurred. Then they dwelt together in much happiness until
their death.