Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

Hunting Princes, The

ONCE there was a king whose only thought and only pleasure was hunting; he brought up his sons to the same ideas, and so they were called the Hunting Princes. They had hunted all over the six snow-capped mountains in their father's realm; there was a seventh, however, called the Black Mountain, and, although they were continually asking their father to allow them to hunt there, he would not give them permission. In the course of time the king died, and his sons could scarcely wait till the end of the funeral ceremonies before they rushed off to hunt in the Black Mountain, leaving the government in the hands of an old duke. They wandered about several days on the mountain, but could not find so much as a single bird, so they decided to separate, and that each of them should go to one of the three great clefts in the mountain, thinking that perhaps luck would serve them better in this way. They also agreed that whoever shot an arrow uselessly should be slapped in the face. They started off, each on his way. Suddenly the youngest one saw a raven and something shining in its beak, that, he thought, was in all probability a rich jewel. He shot, and a piece of steel fell from the raven's beak, while the bird flew away unhurt. The twang of the bow was heard all over the mountain, and the two elder brothers came forward to see what he had done; when they saw that he had shot uselessly they slapped his face and went back to their places. When they had gone the youngest suddenly saw a falcon sitting on the top of the rock. This he thought was of value, so he shot, but the arrow stuck in a piece of pointed rock which projected under the falcon's feet, and the bird flew away; as it flew a piece of rock fell to the ground which he discovered to be real flint. His elder brothers came, and slapped his face for again shooting in so foolish a manner. No sooner had they gone and the day was drawing to an end than he discovered a squirrel just as it was running into its hole in a tree; so he thought its flesh would be good to eat; he shot, but the squirrel escaped into a hollow of the tree, and the arrow struck what appeared to be a large fungus, knocking a piece off, which he found to be a fine piece of tinder. The elder brothers came and gave him a sound thrashing which he took very quietly, and after this they did not separate. As it was getting dark and they were wandering on together a fine roebuck darted across their path; all three shot, and it fell. On they went till they came to a beautiful meadow by the side of a spring, where they found a copper trough all ready for them. They sat down, skinned and washed the roebuck, got all ready for a good supper, but they had no fire. "You slapped my face three times because I was wasting my arrows," said the youngest; "if you will allow me to return those slaps I will make you a good fire." The elder brothers consented, but the younger waived his claim and said to them, "You see, when you don't need a thing you think it valueless; see now, the steel, flint, and tinder you despised will make us the fire you need." With that he made the fire. They spitted a large piece of venison and had an excellent huntsman's supper. After supper they held a consultation as to who was to be the guard, as they had decided not to sleep without a guard. It was arranged that they should take the duty in turns, and that death was to be the punishment of any negligence of duty. The first night the elder brother watched and the two youngest slept. All passed well till midnight, when all at once in the direction of the town of the Black Sorrow, which lay behind the Black Mountain, a dragon came with three heads, a flame three yards long protruding from its mouth. The dragon lived in the Black Lake, which lay beyond the town of the Black Sorrow, with two of his brothers, one with five heads and the other with seven, and they were sworn enemies to the town of the Black Sorrow. These dragons always used to come to this spring to drink at midnight, and for that reason no man or beast could walk there, because whatever the dragons found there they slew. As soon as the dragon caught sight of the princes he rushed at them to devour them, but he who was keeping guard stood up against him and slew him, and dragged his body into a copse near. The blood streamed forth in such torrents that it put the fire out, all save a single spark, which the guarding prince fanned up, and by the next morning there was a fire such as it did one good to see. They hunted all day, returning at night, when the middle prince was guard. At midnight the dragon with the five heads came; the prince slew him, and his blood as it rushed out put the fire entirely out save one tiny spark, which the prince managed to fan into a good fire by the morning.

               On the third night the youngest prince had to wrestle with the dragon with seven heads. He vanquished it and killed it. This time there was so much blood that the fire was completely extinguished. When he was about to relight it he found that he had lost his flint. What was to be done? He began to look about him, and see if he could find any means of relighting the fire. He climbed up into a very high tree, and from it he saw in a country three days' journey off, on a hill, a fire of some sort glimmering: so off he went; and as he was going he met Midnight, who tried to pass him unseen; but the prince saw him, and cried out, "Here! stop; wait for me on this spot till I return." But Midnight would not stop; so the prince caught him, and fastened him with a stout strap to a thick oak-tree, remarking, "Now, I know you will wait for me!" He went on some four or five hours longer, when he met Dawn: he asked him, too, to wait for him, and as he would not he tied him to a tree like Midnight, and went further and further. Time did not go on, for it was stopped. At last he arrived at the fire, and found there were twenty-four robbers round a huge wood fire roasting a bullock. But he was afraid to go near, so he stuck a piece of tinder on the end of his arrow, and shot it through the flames. Fortunately the tinder caught fire, but as he went to look for it the dry leaves crackled under his feet, and the robbers seized him. Some of the robbers belonged to his father's kingdom, and, as they had a grudge against the father, they decided to kill the prince. One said, "Let's roast him on a spit"; another proposed to dig a hole and bury him; but the chief of the robbers said, "Don't let us kill the lad, let's take him with us as he may be very useful to us. You all know that we are about to kidnap the daughter of the king of the town of the Black Sorrow, and we intend to sack his palace, but we have no means of getting at the iron cock at the top of the spire because when we go near it begins at once to crow, and the watchman sees us; let us take this lad with us, and let him shoot off the iron cock, for we all know what a capital marksman he is; and if he succeeds we will let him go." To this the robbers kindly consented, as they saw they would by this means gain more than if they killed him. So they started off, taking the prince with them, till they came close to the fortress guarding the town of the Black Sorrow. They then sent the prince in advance that he might shoot off the iron cock; this he did. Then said the chief of the robbers, "Let's help him up to the battlements, and then he will pull us up, let us down on the other side, and keep guard for us while we are at work, and he shall have part of the spoil, and then we will let him go." But the dog-soul of the chief was false, for his plan was, that, having finished all, he would hand the prince over to the robbers. This the prince had discovered from some whisperings he had heard among them. He soon found a way out of the difficulty. As he was letting them down one by one, he cut off their heads, and sent them headless into the fortress, together with their chief. Finding himself all alone, and no one to fear, he went to the king's palace: in the first apartment he found the king asleep; in the second the queen; in the third the three princesses. At the head of each one there was a candle burning; that the prince moved in each case to their feet, and none of them noticed him, except the youngest princess, who awoke, and was greatly frightened at finding a man in her bedroom; but when the prince told her who he was, and what he had done, she got up, dressed, and took the young prince into a side-chamber and gave him plenty to eat and drink, treated him kindly, and accepted him as her lover, and gave him a ring and a handkerchief as a sign of their betrothal. The prince then took leave of his love, and went to where the robbers lay, cut off the tips of their noses and ears, and bound them up in the handkerchief, left the fortress, got the fire, released Midnight and Dawn, arrived at their resting-place, made a good fire by morning, so that all the blood was dried up.

               At daybreak in the town of the Black Sorrow, Knight Red, as he was inspecting the sentries, came across the headless robbers. As soon as he saw them he cut bits off their mutilated noses and ears, and started for the town, walking up and down, and telling everybody with great pride what a hero he was, and how that last night he had killed the twenty-four robbers who for such a length of time had been the terror of the town of the Black Sorrow. His valour soon came to the ears of the king, who ordered the Red Knight to appear before him: here he boasted of his valour, and produced his handkerchief and the pieces cut from the robbers. The king believed all that he said, and was so overjoyed at the good news that he gave him permission to choose which of the princesses he pleased for his wife, adding that he would also give him a share of the kingdom. The Red Knight, however, made a mistake, for he chose the youngest daughter, who knew all about the whole affair, and was already engaged to the youngest prince. The king told his daughter he was going to give her as a wife.

               To this she said, "Very well, father, but to whomsoever you intend to give me he must be a worthy man, and he must give proofs that he has rendered great service to our town." To this the king replied, "Who could be able or who has been able to render greater services to the town than this man, who has killed the twenty-four robbers?" The girl answered, "You are right, father; whoever did that I will be his wife." "Well done, my daughter, you are quite right in carrying out my wish; prepare for your marriage, because I have found the man who saved our town from this great danger." The young girl began to get ready with great joy, for she knew nothing of the doings of the Red Knight, and only saw what was going to happen when all was ready, the altar-table laid, and the priest called, when lo! in walked the Red Knight as her bridegroom, a man whom she had always detested, so that she could not bear even to look at him. She rushed out and ran to her room, where she fell weeping on her pillow. Everyone was there, and all was ready, but she would not come; her father went in search of her, and she told him how she had met the youngest of the Hunting Princes the night before, and requested her father to send a royal messenger into the deserted meadow, where the dragons of the Black Lake went to drink at the copper trough, and to invite to the wedding the three princes who were staying there; and asked her father not to press her to marry the Red Knight till their arrival; on such conditions she would go among the guests. Her father promised this, and sent the messenger in great haste to the copper trough, and the young girl went among the guests. The feast was going on in as sumptuous a manner as possible. The messenger came to the copper trough, and hid himself behind a bush at the skirts of an open place, and as he listened to the conversation of the princes he knew that he had come to the right place; he hastened to give them the invitation from the king of the town of the Black Sorrow to the wedding of his youngest daughter.

               The princes soon got ready, especially the youngest one, who, when he heard that his fiancée was to be married, would have been there in the twinkling of an eye if he had been able. When the princes arrived in the courtyard the twelve pillows under the Red Knight began to move, as he sat on them at the head of the table. When the youngest prince stepped upon the first step of the stairs, one pillow slipped out from under the Red Knight, and as he mounted each step another pillow fled, till as they crossed the threshold even the chair upon which he sat fell, and down dropped the Red Knight upon the floor.

               The youngest Hunting Prince told them the whole story, how his elder brothers had slain the dragons with three and five heads, and he the one with seven heads; he also told them especially all about the robbers, and how he met the king's daughter, how he had walked through all their bedrooms and changed the candles from their head to their feet; he also produced the ring and the handkerchief, and placed upon the table the nose and ear-tips he had cut off the robbers.

               They tallied with those the Red Knight had shown, and it was apparent to everybody which had been cut off first.

               Everyone believed the prince and saw that the Red Knight was false. For his trickery he was sentenced to be tied to a horse's tail and dragged through the streets of the whole town, then quartered and nailed to the four corners of the town.

               The three Hunting Princes married the three daughters of the king of the town of the Black Sorrow. The youngest prince married the youngest princess, to whom he was engaged before, and he became the heir-apparent in the town of Black Sorrow, and the other two divided their father's realm.

               May they be your guests to-morrow!


Kriza, iii.

                Steel, flint, and tinder, form to this day the "Smoker's companion" in the rural districts of Hungary, although matches were invented more than half a century ago by a Hungarian.

               Page 39. The youngest son in the Finnish story, "Ihmeellinen Sauwa," (The Wonderful Stick,) S. ja T. i. p. 158, is told to shoot at an oak, and if he hits it (which he does) he would find his mother who had been carried off one day whilst walking in the garden years before.

               For other versions see "A Year Hence" in Gaal, vol. ii.; also "The Three Princes" in the present vol. p. 110, and "The Prince who tied the Dawn" in another collection of Erdélyi, entitled "Magyar Népmesék."

               Dragons [14] appear at every turn in folk-lore, and therefore we can give but a short selection of comparisons out of the countless hosts of legends and tales. "At Lueska there is a dark cavern called the Dragon's Den, which was the terror of the country, and its legend is an interesting example of how old folk-tales are modified, as time rolls on; in this case, the burghers of the town can't tell what to do, and a little dwarf tinker declares he can kill the monster, but that he will claim as his reward the hand of the burgomaster's daughter. The burgomaster is mightily indignant, but is obliged to give way to the force of popular opinion; and is surprised to find his daughter quite willing to make the sacrifice for the sake of her neighbours. The tinker confesses and communicates. He then sets off and gathers a herb called dragon's bane--a powerful narcotic--and makes a strong infusion of it. With this he sets out, driving two calves before him, and taking some of his tools, and his fire-pan full of hot embers. The dragon soon scents the cattle, and rushing out devours them. Meanwhile, the tinker views all from a tree. Soon the dragon rolls over and falls asleep. The tinker then pours a goatskin full of his infusion over the monster's head, who falls into a deep sleep. Down comes the tinker and settles him, cuts off his head, and carries it in triumph to the town, where the joyous crowd carry him shoulder-high to the burgomaster's. There the tinker declares that he will not accept the maiden's hand unless she accepts him freely and willingly. The young girl, won by his magnanimous conduct, declares he has won her heart. Whereat he flings off his disguise, and lo! the lord of Csicso, who confesses that he has long loved the beautiful maid. General happiness and joy. Curtain!" Pictures of Hungarian Life, p. 28.

               Cf. "Grendel" in the "Lay of Beowulf"; "The Lambton Worm," in Surtees' History of Durham, ii. p. 173; Hardwick's Traditions, p. 40, and Henderson's Folk-Lore of Northern Counties, F.L.S., under "Worms." Nork, Mythologie der Volksagen, says, the dragon was sacred to Wodin, and that its image was placed over houses, &c. to keep away evil influences.

               In Tales from Hofer's Land, "The Three Black Dogs," p. 214, the dogs kill the dragon, and Jössl marries the princess; in "Zovanin Senza Paura," p. 348, fearless Johnny kills the dragon that has taken possession of the fountains.

               Baring Gould's Curious Myths. "St. George," and Brady's Clavis Calendaria, vol. i. p. 310.

               In Denton's Serbian Folk-Lore, "True-steel," p. 146, an alligator replaces the dragon; the incidents are very like those in the Magyar tale, but the tale is longer, beginning with three sisters, as well as the brothers. The sisters are carried off, much the same as in the Russian story "Marya-Morevna" (Ralston, p. 85); and, in seeking for the sisters, the Magyar incidents come in. The story continues to tell of the youngest son's entering the forbidden chamber, and letting loose a man, True-steel, who was confined there (cf. Payne's Arabian Nights, vol. i. p. 141, "Story of the Third Calender"), who runs away with his wife. His labours to regain her occupy the rest of the tale. True-steel is killed in the end, by the secret of his strength being destroyed, as in "Punchkin."

               The tying up of Midnight and Dawn is a piece of primitive science that in one shape or other is to be found in many stories. Cf. Lapp stories, where "Evening Red," and the "Sun's Sister" are girls; Friis, No. 44; and in No. 45 Ashiepattle goes for a golden lasso, and has to go till the sunlight ceases; and then till the moonlight ceases; and then till starlight ceases. When he arrives in the regions of darkness he finds the golden lasso. The tale appears to be imperfect, and no use is made of the lasso. Guns and cannons appear beyond the land of the moonlight!

               The Finnish "Leppäpölkky" tells how Alder Block goes to a castle, and is told "that a wicked one cursed the sunlight, and so a snake with nine heads has taken it; and when the snake goes to the sea, he takes the sun with him. When he is in the country it is day, when he is in the sea it is night. A wicked one has cursed the moonshine, and a snake with six heads has taken the moonshine. When he is on the land, it is light; but when he is in the sea, it is dark. The wicked one has also cursed the dawn, because it began to shine too soon, and he could not sleep; so the snake with three heads has taken the dawn. When he is on the land we have dawn, but when he is at sea we have no dawn." The heroes in turn destroy the snakes; and dawn, the moon, and the sun escape; and as each shines over the land, the people pray for blessings on the man's head, who has delivered the dawn, moon, and sun. This appears to be pretty clearly an attempt of early man to describe natural phenomena. The story goes on to tell how the king offered his daughters to the heroes, but they declined them, only asking for a little corn.

               There is a most interesting myth of Dawn and Twilight, well worthy of notice, in the Esthonian "Koit ja Ämarik" (Dawn and Twilight). In old times a mother had two daughters named Videvik (twilight) and Ämarik (evening twilight). Both were charming and beautiful in appearance, and in behaviour just as the song says:

"Pea valge, pôsld punased     
Sitik mustad silmakulmud."
"Eyes white, cheeks red,     
Eyebrows black as a dung beetle."

                When the sun went to its Creator (set), the elder sister came from the plough with two oxen, and led them, as an intelligent being ought, to the river's brink to drink. But, just as now, beauty is the first thing among girls, and the good-looking ones often gaze into the looking-glass. So, also, did she, the handsome Videvik. She let her oxen be oxen, and went to the river's edge; and lo! there on the silver looking-glass of the water lay reflected the eyebrows black as dung beetles, and the charming gold-coloured cheeks, and her heart was glad. The moon, who in accord with the Creator's command and ordinance, was going to light the land, in place of the sun, who had sunk to rest, forgot to attend to his duty, and threw himself, like an arrow, with loving desire into the earth's deep bosom, down to the bottom of the river; and there, mouth to mouth, and lip to lip, he sealed his betrothal to Videvik with a kiss, and claimed her as his bride. But, during this he had quite forgotten his duties; and, see! deep darkness covered the land whilst he lay on Videvik's bosom. Then occurred a sad misfortune. The forest robber, Wolf, who now had all his own way, as no one could see him, tore one of Videvik's oxen, which had gone to the forest to feed, and seized it as food for himself. Although the shrill nightingale was heard, and its clear song from the forest rang through the darkness:

"Lazy girl! lazy girl! the long night! the striped ox!     
To the furrows! to the furrows! fetch the whip! fetch the nag!             
          Tsät! Tsät!"
"Laisk tüdruk, laisk tüdruk, ööpik! kiriküüt!     
Raule, raule, too püts, too püts!             
          Tsät! Tsät!"

                Yet Videvik heard not: she forgot all but love. Blind, deaf, and without understanding is love. Of the five senses but feeling is left! When Videvik at last woke from her love, and saw the Wolf's deed, she wept bitterly, and her tears became a sea. The innocent tears did not fall unobserved by Vana-isa (the old father). He stepped down from his golden heaven to punish the evil-doers, and to set a watch over those who had broken his commands. He scolded the wicked Wolf, and the Moon received Videvik to wife. To this day Videvik's mild face shines by the Moon's side, longingly looking at the water where she tasted for the first time her husband's love. Then Vana-isa said, "In order that there may be no more carelessness about the light, and lest darkness grows in power, I command you, guardians, go each one to your place. And you, Moon and Videvik, take charge of the light by night. Koit and Ämarik I put daylight into your hands. Do your duty honestly. Daughter Ämarik in your care I place the setting sun. See that in the evening every spark be put out, so that no accident happen, and that all men be in peace! And you my son Koit take care when you light the new light of the new day that every place has its light." Both the Sun's servants honestly attended to their duty, so that he was never missing, even for a single day, from the heavens. The short summer nights now drew near, when Koit and Ämarik stretched hand and mouth to each other: the time when the whole world rejoices, and the little birds make the forests ring with their songs in their own language; when plants begin to bloom, and shoot forth in their beauty; when Vana-isa stepped down from his golden throne to keep Lijon's festival. He found all in order, and rejoiced greatly over his creation, and said to Koit and Ämarik, "I am pleased with your watchfulness, and wish you continued happiness! You may now become man and wife." But they both replied together, "Father, perplex us not. We are satisfied as we are, and wish to remain lovers: for in this we have found a happiness which never grows old, but is ever young." Vana-isa granted their wish, and returned to his golden heaven.

               Cf. Castrén, Finsk Mytologi, p. 66, and "Kalevala," Run. 17, line 478. The Rev. Dr. Taylor kindly points out Dr. Donner's observation in his Lieder der Lappen, p. 55: "Diese Anschauung ist doch bekanntlich auch unter den arischen Völkern vielfach verbreitet."

               For the discovery of the hero by his shooting, and the rest of the incidents of the story, cf. Grimm, ii. "The Skilful Huntsman," p. 103, and notes, p. 412: and the marshal in "The Two Brothers," Grimm, i. p. 252. In the Lapp. Friis, No. 18, the Vesle boy compels the nobles who go out shooting with him to give him the rings they had received from the princesses they are betrothed to, before he will give them some ptarmigan he had shot, and which they are anxious to have, as they had been unsuccessful in their search for game; and this in order to prevent false boasting on the part of the nobles, as we find in other variants. Juanillo, in the Spanish tale, makes each of his brothers give him a golden pear, and then one of their ears; and next insists upon branding them on the shoulder, as if they were his slaves: and so in the end proves their treacherous conduct; see Patrañas, "Simple Johnny," p. 38.

               In "Gutten, Havfruen, og Ridder Rød," from Lyngen, Friis, p. 131, Knight Red [15] acts the part of a traitor, and is shown to be so by the hero, who exhibits part of a ring, the other part of which the princess has, and which they broke when the lad entered the princess' tower to fetch the king's sword, which was hidden there. The reward for bringing it to the battle-field being the princess' hand.

               See also Ritter Red in "Shortshanks," and the "Big Bird Dan," pp. 155, 443, in Dasent's Tales from the Norse.

               In a Russian tale (Afanassieff, vi. 52), Ivan, by the help of his animals, kills the twelve-headed serpent that is killing all his people, and then goes to sleep on the princess's knees. A water-carrier passing cuts off Ivan's head, and presents himself as the hero. The beasts return, and find a crow upon Ivan's body, which they spare on condition that it brings the water of life and death. (This incident occurs in the Finnish "Golden Bird" a raven coming with its young ones to eat the corpse.) Ivan is resuscitated, and the water-carrier punished. Gubernatis, vol. i. 216. Dogs restore the dead hero to life in the story of "John and the Amulet." Folk-Lore Record, 1884, p. 197. The candle at the princesses' heads suggests the Indian stories which tell of sticks placed at the head or feet, and whilst they are there the girl cannot move. Stokes, pp. 54, 186.


[14] Wagner's Asgard, p. 208. Roman intruders are called "the Roman dragon, the bane of Asgard." Wagner's Epics and Romances, "the Nibelung," p. 3; "the Dragonstone," p. 243. Henderson's Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties, p. 283.

[15] Professor Ebers says: "Red was the colour of Seth and Typhon. The Evil One is named the Red, as, for instance, in the papyrus of Ebers red-haired men were typhonic." See "Uarda," note on p. 58. Red-haired people are still in some parts looked on as unlucky to meet when going to sea, or as "first foot." See also Black's Folk-Medicine, pp. 111-113. According to a Magyar jingle:

"A red dog; a red nag; a red man; none is good!"

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Hunting Princes, The
Tale Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Book Title: Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Publisher: Elliot Stock
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1889
Country of Origin: Hungary

Back to Top