THE MAGIC RING
NCE upon a time there lived an old couple who had one son
called Martin. Now, when the old man's time had come
he stretched himself out on his bed and died. Though
all his life long he had toiled and moiled, he only
left his widow and son two hundred florins. The old
woman determined to put by the money for a rainy day,
but, alas! the rainy day was close at hand, for their
meal was all consumed, and who is prepared to face
starvation with two hundred florins at their disposal?
So the old woman counted out one hundred florins, and
giving them to Martin, told him to go into the town and
lay in a store of meal for a year.
So Martin started off for the town. When he reached
the meat market he found the whole place in turmoil and
a great noise of angry voices and barking of dogs.
Mixing in the crowd, he noticed a stag hound which the
butchers had caught and tied to a post, and which was
being flogged in a merciless manner. Overcome with
pity, Martin spoke to the butchers, saying:
"Friends, why are you beating the poor dog so cruelly?"
"We have every right to beat him," they replied. "He
has just devoured a newly killed pig."
"Leave off beating him," said Martin, "and sell him to
 "If you choose to buy him," answered the butchers
derisively; "but for such a treasure we won't take a
penny less than one hundred florins."
"A hundred!" exclaimed Martin. "Well, so be it, if you
will not take less"; and taking the money out of his
pocket he handed it over in exchange for the dog, whose
name was Schurka.
When Martin got home his mother met him with the
"Well, what have you bought?"
"Schurka, the dog," replied Martin, pointing to his new
possession. Whereupon his mother became very angry and
abused him roundly. He ought to be ashamed of himself,
when there was scarcely a handful of meal in the house,
to have spent the money on a useless brute like that.
On the following day she sent him back to the town,
saying: "Here, take our last one hundred florins and
buy provisions with them. I have just emptied the last
grains of meal out of the chest and baked a bannock;
but it won't last over to-morrow."
Just as Martin was entering the town he met a
rough-looking peasant who was dragging a cat after him
by a string which was fastened around the poor beast's
"Stop!" cried Martin. "Where are you dragging that
"I mean to drown it," was the answer.
"What harm has the poor beast done?" said Martin.
"It has just killed a goose," replied the peasant.
"Don't drown it—sell it to me instead," begged
"Not for one hundred florins," was the answer.
"Surely for one hundred florins you'll sell it?" said
Martin. "See! Here is the money." And so saying he
handed him the one hundred florins, which the peasant
pocketed, and Martin took possession of the cat, which
was called Waska.
When he reached his home his mother greeted him with
"Well, what have you brought back?"
 "I have brought this cat, Waska," answered Martin.
"And what besides?"
"I had no money over to buy anything else with,"
"You useless ne'er-do-weel!" exclaimed his mother in a
great passion. "Leave the house at once and go and beg
your bread among strangers." And as Martin did not
dare to contradict her, he called Schurka and Waska and
started off with them to the nearest village in search
of work. On the way he met a rich peasant, who asked
him where he was going.
"I want to get work as a day laborer," he answered.
"Come along with me, then. But I must tell you I
engage my laborers without wages. If you serve me
faithfully for a year I promise you it shall be to your
So Martin consented, and for a year he worked
diligently and served his master faithfully, not
sparing himself in any way. When the day of reckoning
had come the peasant led him into a barn, and pointing
to two full sacks said: "Take whichever of these you
Martin examined the contents of the sacks, and seeing
that one was full of silver and the other of sand, he
said to himself: "There must be some trick about this.
I had better take the sand." And throwing the sack
over his shoulders he started out into the world in
search of fresh work. On and on he walked, and at last
he reached a great gloomy wood. In the middle of the
wood he came upon a meadow, where a fire was burning,
and in the midst of the fire, surrounded by flames, was
a lovely damsel, more beautiful than anything that
Martin had ever seen, and when she way him she called
"Martin, if you would win happiness save my life.
Extinguish the flames with the sand that you earned in
payment of your faithful service."
"Truly," thought Martin to himself, "it would be more
sensible to save a fellow-being's life with this sand
than to drag it about on one's back, seeing what a
weight it is." And forthwith he lowered the sack from
his shoulders and emptied its
 contents on the flames, and instantly the fire was
extinguished; but at the same moment lo and behold! The
lovely damsel turned into a serpent and darting upon
him coiled itself around his neck and whispered
lovingly in his ear:
"Do not be afraid of me, Martin. I love you and will
go with you through the world. But first you must
follow me boldly into my father's kingdom, underneath
the earth; and when we get there, remember
this—he will offer you gold and silver and
dazzling gems, but do not tough them. Ask him,
instead, for the ring which he wears on his little
finger, for in that ring lies a magic power. You have
only to throw it from one hand to the other, and at
once twelve young men will appear who will do your
bidding, no matter how difficult it is, in a single
So they started on their way, and after much wandering
they reached a spot where a great rock rose straight up
in the middle of the road. Instantly the serpent
uncoiled itself from his neck, and as it touched the
damp earth it resumed the shape of the lovely damsel.
Pointing to the rock, she showed him an opening just
big enough for a man to wriggle through. Passing into
it, they entered a long underground passage which led
out on to a wide field above which spread a blue sky.
In the middle of the field stood a magnificent castle
build out of porphyry, with a roof of gold and with
glittering battlements. And his beautiful guide told
him that this was the palace in which her father lived
and reigned over his kingdom in the underworld.
Together they entered the palace and were received by
the King with great kindness. Turning to his daughter
"My child, I had almost given up the hope of ever
seeing you again. Where have you been all these
"My father," she replied, "I owe my life to this youth,
who saved me from a terrible death."
Upon which the King turned to Martin with a gracious
smile, saying: "I will reward your courage by granting
you whatever your heart desires. Take as much gold,
silver, and precious stones as you choose."
 "I thank you, mighty King, for your gracious offer,"
answered Martin, "but I do not covet either gold,
silver, or precious stones; yet if you will grant me a
favor, give me, I beg, the ring from off the little
finger of your royal hand. Every time my eye falls on
it I shall think of your gracious majesty, and when I
marry I shall present it to my bride."
So the King took the ring from his finger and gave it
to Martin, saying: "Take it, good youth; but with it I
make one condition—you are never to confide to
anyone that this is a magic ring. If you do, you will
straightway bring misfortune on yourself."
Martin took the ring, and having thanked the King he
set out on the same road by which he had come down into
the underworld. When he had regained the upper air he
started for his old home, and having found his mother
still living in the old house where he had left her,
they settled down together very happily. So uneventful
was their life that it almost seemed as if it would go
on in this way always without let or hindrance. But
one day it suddenly came into his mind that he would
like to get married, and, moreover, that he would
choose a very grand wife—a king's daughter, in
short. But as he did not trust himself as a wooer, he
determined to send his old mother on the mission.
"You must go to the King," he said to her, "and demand
the hand of his lovely daughter in marriage for me."
"What are you thinking of, my son?" answered the old
woman, aghast at the idea. "Why cannot you marry some
one in your own rank? That would be far more fitting
than to send a poor old woman like me a-wooing to the
King's court for the hand of a princess. Why, it is as
much as our heads are worth. Neither my life nor yours
would be worth anything if I went on such a fool's
"Never fear, little mother," answered Martin. "Trust
me; all will be well. But see that you do not come
back without an answer of some kind."
And so, obedient to her son's behest, the old woman
hobbled off to the palace, and without being hindered
 the courtyard and began to mount the flight of steps
leading to the royal presence chamber. At the head of
the landing rows of courtiers were collected in
magnificent attire, who stared at the queer old figure,
and called to her and explained to her with every kind
of sign that it was strictly forbidden to mount those
steps. But their stern words and forbidding gestures
made no impression whatever on the old woman, and she
resolutely continued to climb the stairs, bent on
carrying out her son's orders. Upon this some of the
courtiers seized her by the arms and held her back by
sheer force, at which she set up such a yell that the
King himself heard it and stepped out on to the balcony
to see what was the matter. When he beheld the old
woman flinging her arms wildly about and heard her
scream that she would not leave the place till she had
laid her case before the King, he ordered that she
should be brought into his presence. And forthwith she
was conducted into the golden presence chamber, where,
leaning back among cushions of royal purple, the King
sat, surrounded by his counselors and courtiers.
Courtesying low, the old woman stood silent before him.
"Well, my good old dame, what can I do for you?" asked
"I have come," replied Martin's mother—"and your
majesty must not be angry with me—I have come
"Is the woman out of her mind?" said the King, with an
But Martin's mother answered boldly: "If the King will
only listen patiently to me and give me a
straightforward answer, he will see that I am not out
of my mind. You, O King, have a lovely daughter to
give in marriage. I have a son—a wooer—as
clever as youth and as good a son-in-law as you will
find in your whole kingdom. There is nothing that he
cannot do. Now tell me, O King, plump and plain, will
you give your daughter to my son as wife?"
The King listened to the end of the old woman's strange
request, but every moment his face grew blacker and his
features sterner, till all at once he thought to
himself: "Is it worth
 while that I, the King, should be angry with this poor
old fool?" And all the courtiers and counselors were
amazed when they saw the hard lines around his mouth
and the frown on his brow grow smooth, and heard the
mild but mocking tones in which he answered the old
"If your son is as wonderfully clever as you say, and
if there is nothing in the world that he cannot do, let
him build a magnificent castle, just opposite my palace
windows, in twenty-four hours. The palaces must be
joined together by bridge of pure crystal. On each
side of the bridge there must be growing trees, having
golden and silver apples and with birds of paradise
among the branches. At the right of the bridge there
must be a church with five golden cupolas. In this
church your son shall be wedded to my daughter, and we
will keep the wedding festivities in the new castle.
But if he fails to execute this my royal command, then,
as a just but mild monarch, I shall give orders that
you and he be taken and first dipped in tar and then in
feathers, and you shall be executed in the market place
for the entertainment of my courtiers."
And a smile played around the King's lips as he
finished speaking, and his courtiers and counselors
shook with laughter when they thought of the old
woman's folly, and praised the King's wise device and
said to each other: "What a joke it will be when we
see the pair of them tarred and feathered! The son is
just as able to grow a beard on the palm of his hand as
to execute such a task in twenty-four hours."
Now, the poor old woman was mortally afraid, and in a
trembling voice she asked:
"Is that really your royal will, O King? Must I take
this order to my poor son?"
"Yes, old dame; such is my command. If your son
carries out my order he shall be rewarded with my
daughter; but if he fails, away to the tar barrel and
the stake with you both!"
On her way home the poor old woman shed bitter tears,
and when she saw Martin she told him what the King had
said, and sobbed out:
 "Didn't I tell you, my son, that you should marry some
one of your own rank? It would have been better for us
this day if you had. As I told you, my going to court
has been as much as our lives are worth, and now we
will both be tarred and feathered and burned in the
public market place. It is terrible!" And she moaned
"Never fear, little mother," answered Martin. "Trust
me, and you will see all will be well. You may go to
sleep with a quiet mind."
And stepping to the front of the hut Martin threw his
ring from the palm of one hand into the other, upon
which twelve youths instantly appeared and demanded
what he wanted them to do. Then he told them the
King's commands and they answered that by next morning
all should be accomplished exactly as the King had
Next morning when the King awoke and looked out of his
window, to his amazement he behold a magnificent
castle, just opposite his own palace, and joined to it
by a bridge of pure crystal.
As each side of the bridge trees were growing, from
whose branches hung golden and silver applies, among
which birds of paradise perched. At the right,
gleaming in the sun, were the five golden cupolas of a
splendid church, whose bells rang out as if they would
summon people from all corners of the earth to come and
behold the wonder. Now, though the King would much
rather have seen his future son-in-law tarred,
feathered, and burned at the stake, he remembered his
royal oath and had to make the best of a bad business.
So he took heart of grace and made Martin a duke, and
gave his daughter a rich dowry, and prepared the
grandest wedding feast that had ever been seen, so that
to this day the old people in the country still talk of
After the wedding Martin and his royal bride went to
dwell in the magnificent new palace, and here Martin
lived in the greatest comfort and luxury, such luxury
as he had never imagined. But though he was as happy
as the day was long and as merry as a grig, the King's
daughter fretted all day,
 thinking of the indignity that had been done her in
making her marry Martin, the poor widow's son, instead
of a rich young prince from a foreign country. So
unhappy was she that she spent all her time wondering
how she should get rid of her undesirable husband. And
first she determined to learn the secret of his power,
and with flattering, caressing words she tried to coax
him to tell her how he was so clever that there was
nothing in the world that he could not do. At first he
would tell her nothing; but once, when he was in a
yielding mood, she approached him with a winning smile
on her lovely face, and speaking flattering words to
him she gave him a potion to drink, with a sweet,
strong taste. And when he had drunk it Martin's lips
were unsealed, and he told her that all his power lay
in the magic ring that he wore on his finger, and he
described to her how to use it, and still speaking he
fell into a deep sleep. And when she saw that the
potion had worked and that he was sound asleep, the
Princess took the magic ring from his finger, and going
into the courtyard she threw it from the palm of one
hand into the other. On the instant the twelve youths
appeared and asked her what she commanded them to do.
Then she told them that by the next morning they were
to do away with the castle and the bridge and the
church, and put in their stead the humble hut in which
Martin used to live with his mother, and that while he
slept her husband was to be carried to his old lowly
room; and that they were to bear her away to the utmost
ends of the earth, where an old king lived who would
make her welcome in his palace and surround her with
the state that befitted a royal princess.
"You shall be obeyed," answered the twelve youths at
the same moment. And lo and behold! The following
morning when the King woke and looked out of his window
he beheld to his amazement that the palace, bridge,
church, and trees had all vanished, and there was
nothing in their place but a bare, miserable-looking
Immediately the King sent for his son-in-law and
commanded him to explain what had happened. But Martin
 looked at his royal father-in-law and answered never a
word. Then the King was very angry, and calling a
council together, he charged Martin with laving been
guilty of witchcraft, and of having deceived the King,
and having made away with the Princess; and he was
condemned to imprisonment in a high stone tower, with
neither meat nor drink, till he should die of
Then, in the hour of his dire necessity, his old
friends Schurka (the dog) and Waska (the
cat) remembered how Martin had once saved them
from a cruel death; and they took counsel together as
to how they should help him. And Schurka growled and
was of opinion that he would like to tear everyone in
pieces; but Waska purred meditatively, scratched the
back of her ear with a velvet paw, and remained lost in
thought. At the end of a few minutes she had made up
her mind, and turning to Schurka, said: "Let us go
together into the town, and the moment we meet a baker
you must make a rush between his legs and upset the
tray from off his head. I will lay hold of the rolls
and will carry them off to our master." No sooner said
than done. Together the two faithful creatures trotted
off into the town, and very soon they met a baker
bearing a tray on his head and looking around on all
sides while he cried:
"Fresh rolls, sweet cake,
Fancy bread of every kind,
Come and buy, come and take,
Sure you'll find it to your mind."
At that moment Schurka made a rush between his
legs—the baker stumbled, the tray was upset, the
rolls fell to the ground, and while the man angrily
pursued Schurka, Waska managed to drag the rolls out of
sight behind a bush. And when a moment later Schurka
joined her, they set off at full tilt to the stone
tower where Martin was a prisoner, taking the rolls
with them. Waska, being very agile, climbed up by the
outside to the grated window and called in an anxious
 "Are you alive, master?"
"Scarcely alive—almost starved to death,"
answered Martin in a weak voice. "I little thought it
would come to this, that I should die of hunger."
"Never fear, dear master. Schurka and I will look
after you," said Waska, and in another moment she had
climbed down and brought him back a roll, and then
another and another till she had brought him the whole
tray load. Upon which she said: "Dear master, Schurka
and I are going off to a distant kingdom at the utmost
ends of the earth to fetch you back your magic ring.
You must be careful that the rolls last till our
And Waska took leave of her beloved master and set off
with Schurka on their journey. On and on they
traveled, looking always to right and left for traces
of the Princess, following up every track, making
inquiries of every cat and dog they met, listening to
the talk of every wayfarer they passed; and at last
they heard that the kingdom at the utmost ends of the
earth, where the twelve youths had borne the Princess,
was not very far off. And one day they reached that
distant kingdom, and going at once to the palace they
began to make friends with all the dogs and cats in the
place and to question them about the Princess and the
magic ring; but no one could tell them much about
either. Now, one day it chanced that Waska had gone
down to the palace cellar to hunt for mice and rats,
and seeing an especially fat, well-fed mouse, she
pounced upon it, buried her claws in its soft fur, and
was just going to gobble it up when she was stopped by
the pleading tones of the little creature, saying: "If
you will only spare my life I will be of great service
to you. I will do everything in my power for you; for
I am the king of the mice, and if I perish the whole
race will die out."
"So be it," said Waska. "I will spare your life, but
in return you must do something for me. In this castle
there lives a princess, the wicked wife of my dear
master. She has stolen away his magic ring. You must
get it away from her at
 whatever cost. Do you hear? Till you have done this I
won't take my claws out of your fur."
"Good!" replied the mouse. "I will do what you ask."
And so saying he summoned all the mice in his kingdom
together. A countless number of mice, small and big,
brown and gray, assembled and formed a circle around
their king, who was a prisoner under Waska's claws.
Turning to them he said: "Dear and faithful subjects,
whoever among you will steal the magic ring from the
strange Princess will release me from a cruel death,
and I shall honor him above all the other mice in the
Instantly a tiny mouse stepped forward and said: "I
often creep about the Princess's bedroom at night, and
I have noticed that she has a ring which she treasures
as the apple of her eye. All day she wears it on her
finger, and at night she keeps it in her mouth. I will
undertake, sire, to steal away the ring for you."
And the tiny mouse tripped away into the bedroom of the
Princess and waited for nightfall; then, when the
Princess had fallen asleep, it crept up on to her bed
and gnawed a hold in the pillow, through which it
dragged, one by one, little down feathers and threw
them under the Princess's nose. And the fluff flew
into the Princess's nose and into her mouth, and
starting up she sneezed and coughed, and the ring fell
out of her mouth on to the coverlet. In a flash the
tiny mouse had seized it and brought it to Waska as a
ransom for the king of the mice. Thereupon Waska and
Schurka started off and traveled night and day till
they reached the stone tower where Martin was
imprisoned; and the cat climbed up the window and
called out to him:
"Martin, dear master, are you still alive?"
"Ah! Waska, my faithful little cat, is that you?"
replied a weak voice. "I am dying of hunger. For
three days I have not tasted food."
"Be of good heart, dear master," replied Waska. "From
this day forth, you will know nothing but happiness and
prosperity. If this were a moment to trouble you with
 I would make you guess what Schurka and I have brought
you back. Only think, we have found you your ring!"
At these words Martin's joy knew no bounds, and he
stroked her fondly and she rubbed up against him and
purred happily, while below Schurka bounded in the air
and barked joyfully. Then Martin took the ring and
threw it from one hand into the other, and instantly
the twelve youths appeared and asked what they were to
"Fetch me first something to eat and drink as quickly
as possible; and after that bring musicians hither and
let us have music all day long."
Now, when the people in the town and palace heard music
coming from the tower they were filled with amazement,
and come to the King with the news that witchcraft must
be going on in Martin's tower, for instead of dying of
starvation he was seemingly making merry to the sound
of music and to the clatter of plates and glass and
knives and forks; and the music was so enchantingly
sweet that all the passers-by stood still to listen to
it. On this the King sent at once a messenger to
Starvation Tower, and he was so astonished with what he
saw that he remained rooted to the spot. Then the King
sent his chief counselors, and they too were transfixed
with wonder. At last the King came himself, and he
likewise was spellbound by the beauty of the music.
Then Martin summoned the twelve youths and said to
them: "Build up my castle again and join it to the
King's palace with a crystal bridge. Do not forget the
trees with the golden and silver apples and with the
birds of paradise in the branches, and put back the
church with the five cupolas, and let the bells ring
out, summoning the people from the four corners of the
kingdom. And one thing more—bring back my
faithless wife and lead her into the women's chamber."
And it was all done as he commanded, and leaving
Starvation Tower he took the King, his father-in-law,
by the arm and led him into the new palace, where the
Princess sat in fear and trembling awaiting her death.
And Martin spoke to the King, saying: "King and royal
father, I have suffered
 much at the hands of your daughter. What punishment
shall be dealt to her?"
then the mild King answered: "Beloved Prince and
son-in-law, if you love me, let your anger be turned to
grace—forgive my daughter and restore her to your
heart and favor."
And Martin's heart was softened and he forgave his
wife, and they lived happily together ever after. And
his old mother came and lived with them, and he never
parted with Schurka and Waska; and I need hardly tell
you that he never again let the ring out of his