The Red-Bellied Serpent
They came to a barren plain in the midst of which was a big mountain and on the top of the mountain there was such a beautiful castle that he couldn’t take his eyes off it. He said: “Look, little snake, I see a castle over there.”“That is my father’s castle, take me to it.” And that is what happened. They came to the castle-he knocked at the door and a voice from inside beckoned him to enter. The young shepherd went in and, God Almighty, what a fright he had when he saw a terrible, huge snake sitting at the table! It was as wide as the hide of a belt and had a diamond crown on its head. It sat there, watching.Then suddenly it called out: “What do you want?”The young shepherd said: “Your Majesty, with your permission, I brought your son home.”He took the little snake from his bosom and held it up.Said the snake: “Is it true that this man brought you home?”“It is true. Not only did he bring me home, but he saved me from death. It is thanks to him,” said the little snake, “ that I am alive.”“Well, son, then come and sit beside me at the table and eat and drink as much as you can fit under your skin!”Having feasted him, the king said: “What do you wish as a reward for having brought my son back?”“Nothing else, Your Majesty, just teach me the language of animals.” [Mrs. Palkó’s daughter, Erzsi:] Oh, you left something out, mother! It was
the littler snake who taught him.Said the king: “What good will it do to you to understand the language of animals? Wouldn’t it serve you better if I gave you a plateful of gold?”“Well, Your Majesty, I could use that too,” he said, “ but I’d rather learn the language of animals.”“Son,” said the king, “I’ll give you two platefuls of gold-it will be more valuable to you.”“Thank you, Your Majesty, but please teach me the language of animals instead!” The snake answered: “All right, son, it is all the same to me. If that is your wish, I’ll grant it.”The snake moved away from the table and breathed on the lad. That was all it did. “You may leave now.”The lad thanked the snake for its gift and left.He began thinking again how stupid it was of him not to want anything. Wouldn’t he have been better off with two platefuls of gold? He said to himself: With two platefuls of gold I could have become a squire and could have had the bailiff’s daughter. But now it is too late. This is the way it is.