chapter  13
12 Pages

András Kerekes

Once upon a time, beyond seven times seven lands, there lived a man. He had a beau­tiful young son. The boy attended school; he was very smart, and his parents had high hopes for him to complete his education. Indeed, he took his studies very seriously.One day when he came home from school, his mother said to him: “Go, my son, ask your father to come in for the midday meal!”As the boy went out to call his father, a flock of sparrows flew into the court­yard and began to chirp. The boy burst out laughing. He laughed out loud.His father said to him: “What were you laughing at, my son?”He said: “Father, I can’t tell you what I was laughing at, for if I do, I’ll die.” “Why would you die? Of course you won’t, my son. Go on, tell me what you were laughing at.”“Father, believe me, if I tell you I’ll die.”“Look, my son, many boys told their fathers everything and kept no secrets, yet I haven’t heard of a single one dying for it. You won’t die either.”“Please, father, believe me, I’d die. I can’t tell you, no matter what you do tome.” “Well,” he said, “never mind, son, it doesn’t matter. Did I send you to school and raise you so that you keep things from me-things of this sort?”“Father,” he said, “I won’t tell you. I see that this troubles you, but I won’t tell you for I’d suffer for it badly.”His father fell silent. They ate their midday meal and the next morning they rose early. The old man harnessed two horses to the carriage:“Son,” he said, “get dressed and climb into the carriage. You’ll see what will happen!”He didn’t even tell his wife where he wanted to take the boy. They climbed into the carriage and took off. They drove out to the paved road, I mean the highway, and near that highway was a dried-up well.He made the boy shed his clothes until he was stark naked and said to him: “Well, my son, you kept a secret from me, you didn’t tell me what you were laughing at-here is where you’ll die.”“Father, you wouldn’t murder me, would you? I committed no offense againstyou.” “No,” he said, “you withheld from me what you were laughing at-you wouldn’t obey me.”He stripped the boy of his clothes and threw him stark naked into the dried-up well. The well was caved in. But water had seeped up from the bottom, and it had rained so water was standing knee-high, muddy water in which leeches had bred. There were leeches in abundance and nesting wasps, too. As soon as he cast the boy in the well, the wasps landed on him, and the leeches stuck to his legs. He screamed his heart out, but the man didn’t care-he went home. He left the boy clamoring for him to come back and help, but to no avail. A while later a carriage came down the highway An

important gentleman was returning from a big fair. As he drove by he heard the scream­ ing. “Coachman,” he said, “stop the horses; we must see what the crying is all about.” Well, he brought the horses to a halt, jumped off the carriage and went in the direction of the sound. He couldn’t see the boy’s body; it was entirely covered with wasps; leeches clung to his legs and were biting him, sucking his blood.The coachman turned around and said: “Milord, Sir, come and see what a beau­ tiful boy is in the well. He can’t get out.”The squire walked over and looked.He said: “We must help him somehow. Surely he fell in and his parents don’t know where he is. How can we get him out?”The boy was submerged in water, unable to climb out.Said the squire: “Take the reins off the horses, lower them into the well and let him hold on to them.”The boy clasped the reins and they pulled him up.The squire asked him: “How did you get here, my son?”“My father threw me in.”“Why? What sin did you commit for your father to do this to his own child?” “I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t know my sin,” he said, “but I know he was angry with me. He was irate and this was his revenge.”“Why was he angry?”“Because I understand the language of the birds,” he said, “and I didn’t tell him what they were saying. He became furious because I wasn’t allowed to tell him.”“Well now, son,” he said, “come with me-I’ll take you to my house. I have a son who is your age-you’ll go to school together.”The boy was overjoyed that he was saved from all the suffering and rescued from the well.“I just bought a set of clothes for my son at the fair-I believe they’d fit youI’ll give them to you.”They set forth. He sat the boy in the carriage, and they went in search of some water to wash the mud off his body. They came to a fishpond, stopped and washed him thoroughly. He was such a beautiful boy that the squire couldn’t stop rejoicing over him. He said: “How beautiful they are, the two boys! They are the same size, the same age.”He asked the boy how old he was, and he told him.“My son is exactly the same age.”Well, he took the boy with him. As they were driving, suddenly two crows alighted on the side of the road and began to caw.The squire said to him: “Tell us, my son, what are these birds saying?”“I’ll tell you,” he said. “The crows are saying that soon we’ll reach an oak tree on

the side of the road, a big oak tree. The squire will want to stop in its shade to feed the horses, but it won’t be good if he stops there, for lightning will soon strike the tree and we’ll all perish. I am telling you, Milord, Sir, don’t stop there, go on farther.”Said the squire: “Look, son, I don’t see any darkness in the sky-there are no clouds. When the weather is so clear there usually is no lightning. Often it strikes later.” “Still,” he said, “if you heed my words you’ll be lucky; if not, we’ll all perish. As you wish.”They reached the tree. The squire had thought it over and decided that it was better to go on, so they continued. They were barely beyond gunshot from there when a tiny cloud appeared in the sky and began to spread and spread. Then the rain came; it poured so hard that it was dreadful. Lightning struck-it felled the tree and split it to pieces. “You see, Sir, if we had been there, we would have been struck.”“God bless you, my son! You saved us from death. You are a good boy.”From then on he was even more fond of the child.They drove on. Then, once again, a flock of crows alighted on the road and began to chirp.Said the squire: “Now tell me, son, what did the sparrows say?”“Well, Sir, they said that here you would have to go straight ahead, for that road would lead you straight home. But you mustn’t go that way,” he said, “for the road narrows and two carriages cannot stay clear of one another, nor can they turn around, so narrow is the road. There are ditches on either side-it is impossible to get out of each other’s way. And there, on that narrow road, a tree has toppled over and is blocking the way. You can’t get through there with the carriage. But when you come to a point where another road leads off, a country road, turn into it,” he said, “it’ll take you back to the highway farther on. Just be sure to avoid the narrow road, you can’t travel on it with the carriage.”“Look,” said the squire, “I came through there with the carriage a little while ago. Nothing was wrong, there was no tree blocking the way.”So they drove on and soon they came to the tree. It was there, as the boy had said. A big tree had toppled and was lying across the road. They tried to get through, every which way, but to no avail. The horses couldn’t get across, nor could the carriage be pulled through. They wanted to turn around but were unable to do that either-the road was too narrow, and there were deep ditches on both sides. They had no choice but to dismantle the carriage. They hauled it on their backs piece by piece and pushed it over to the other side of the tree. Then they led the horses across, reassembled the carriage and continued on their way.“Well, son, I didn’t listen to you and we paid for it. But never mind, from now on I won’t oppose you, I’ll do whatever you say.”They drove on. All of a sudden two crows settled on the road and began scrab­bling about in the horse manure, strewing it all around. They cawed as crows were in

the habit of doing.Said the squire: “Tell me, my son, what are these crows saying?”“Sir, they are saying that we should hurry. Drive as fast as you can, for your mansion was plundered last night. Burglars got to it, and all they left intact are the four corners of the mansion. If you hurry and get there quickly,” he said, “you’ll be able to recover the loss, but if you delay, they’ll haul everything away. Whatever they took, they didn’t take far; they stashed it in the back of the garden, under the heap of cornstalks. Although they hid their loot for now, the crows say that they want to carry it away tonight.”“Well,” thought the squire, “I didn’t listen to you before and we had a difficult journey I’ll heed your words this time and drive the horses faster.”He tightened his grip on the reins and began driving the horses so hard that they were covered in sweat by the time they got home. The woman was in tears when she came out to meet her husband:“Come quickly, a great calamity happened in the mansion. Last night burglars broke in and robbed us,” she said.He leaped off the carriage and left everything. The servants unharnessed the horses and led them into the stable. He ran to the back, to the place the boy had mentioned. He searched the stack of cornstalks and found everything; the burglars had hid it all out there.“Thank God, it is all here!”They carried his belongings inside.“Well, son, I was fond of you before, but now you have become like my very own. I’ll buy you what I buy for my son, you’ll wear clothes like him, you’ll eat like him, and I’ll have you educated together with him, the same way.”They were happy. The next day they took the boy to school. They dressed him in the clothes he had bought for his son. The boy was so beautiful, even more beautiful than his own. And the two boys liked one another. They went off to school.Then the woman said to her husband: “Tell me, where did you find this clever little boy?”“Oh, if you knew where I found him,” he said, “and from what fate did I save him!” “Well, tell me!”“His father had cast him into a dried-up well. But if the well had been really dry, he could have climbed out. It was caved in, rain had gathered in it and water had seeped up from the bottom. Poor thing, he stood in water. So many leeches stuck to him that his legs appeared all black. His body was covered with them and bloody all over. He was crying bitterly and screaming. We heard him as we came down the road, went over to him and saved him from death. I brought him with me so he’ll become our son, too. We’ll raise him in the name of God. He is a clever boy-you can tell from the way he speaks.”