Twigmuntus, Cowbelliantus, Perchnosius
ONCE upon a time there was a king who was so very
learned that no parson in the whole world could surpass
him; in fact, he was so learned that ordinary folks
could hardly understand what he said, nor could he understand
them either. But in order to have some one to talk
with he procured seven wise professors, who were not quite
so learned as himself, but who were just able to interpret his
learned sayings so that people could apprehend them, and who
could twist and turn about the talk of ordinary folk so that
it became sufficiently learned and complicated for the King
to understand it.
The King had no son, but he had a daughter, and in order
that she should be happily married, and the country governed
according to the fundamental principles of his learning, he
issued an edict that he who was so learned as to put the King
and his professors to silence should have his daughter and
half the kingdom there and then. But anyone who attempted
the task and did not succeed should lose his head for having
dared to exchange words with the King.
That was no joke; but the Princess was so fair and beautiful
that it was no joke to gaze at her either. And the King did
not keep her caged up, for anyone who wished could see her.
There came princes and counts and barons and parsons
and doctors and learned persons from all quarters of the
world; and no sooner did they see the Princess than they one
and all wanted to try their luck. But, however learned they
were, their learning never proved sufficient, and everyone of
them lost his head.
Over in a corner of the kingdom there lived a farmer who
had a son. This lad was not stupid; he was quick of apprehension
and sharp-witted, and he was not afraid of anything.
When the King's edict came to this out-of-the-way place,
and the parson had read it from the pulpit, the lad wanted
to try his luck. "He who nothing risks, nothing wins,"
thought the lad; and so he went to the parson and told him
that if he would give him lessons in the evenings, he would
work for this worship in the daytime, but he wanted to become
so learned that he could try a bout with the King and his
"Whoever means to compete with them must be able to do
something more than munch bread," said the parson.
"That may be," said the lad; "but I'll try my luck."
The parson thought, of course, that he was mad; but when
he could get such a clever hand to work for him only for his
keep, he thought he could not very well say no; and so the
lad got what he wanted.
He worked for the parson in the daytime, and the parson
read with him in the evening; and in this way they went on
for some time, but at last the lad grew tired of his books.
"I am not going to sit here and read and grind away, and
lose what few wits I have," he said; "and it won't be of much
help either, for if you are lucky things will come right of
themselves, and if you are not lucky you'll never make a silk
purse out of a sow's ear."
And with this he pitched the books on the shelf and went
All at once he came to a large forest, where the trees and
the bushes were so thick that it was with difficulty he could
get along. While he was thus pushing his way through, he
began wondering what he should say when he came to the
king's palace, and how best he could make use of the learning
he had picked up from the parson. All of a sudden the
twig of a tree struck him across his mouth, so that his teeth
"That is Twigmuntus," he said.
A little while after he came to a meadow where a cow was
standing bellowing so furiously that it almost deafened him.
"That is Cowbelliantus," he said.
He then came to a river; but as there was neither bridge
nor planks across it, he had to put his clothes on his head
and swim across.
While he was swimming a perch came and bit him on the
"That is Perchnosius," he said.
At last he came to the King's palace, where things did not
look at all pleasant, for there were men's heads stuck on long
stakes round about, and they grinned so horribly that they
were enough to frighten anyone out of his wits. But the lad
was not easily frightened.
"God's peace!" he said, and raised his cap. "There you
stick and grin at me; but who knows if I may not be keeping
you company before the day is over, and be grinning with you
at others? But if I happen to be alive, you shall not stick
there any longer gaping at people," he said.
So he went up to the palace and knocked at the gate.
The guard came out and asked what he wanted.
"I have come to try my luck with the Princess," said
"You?" said the guard, "well, you're a likely one, you are!
Have you lost your senses? There have been princes and
counts and barons and parsons and doctors and learned persons
here, and all of them have had to pay with their heads for
that pleasure; and yet you think you'll succeed!" he said.
"I should say it is no concern of yours," said the lad; "just
open the gate, and you'll see one who's not afraid of anything."
But the guard would not let him in.
"Do as I tell you," said the lad, "or there'll be a fine
But the guard would not.
The lad then seized him by the collar and flung him against
the wall so that it creaked; and then he walked straight in
to the King, who sat in his parlor with his seven professors
about him. Their faces were long and thin, and they looked
like puny, sickly persons about to die. They were sitting with
their heads on one side, meditating and staring at the floor.
Then one of them, who looked up, asked the lad in ordinary
language: "Who are you?"
"A suitor," said the lad.
"Do you want to try for the Princess's hand?"
"Well, that's about it!" said the lad.
"Have you lost your wits? There have been princes and
counts and barons and parsons and doctors and learned persons
here, and all of them have gone headless away; so you
had better turn about and get away while your head is on
your shoulders," he said.
"Don't trouble yourself on that account, but rather think
of the head on your own shoulders," said the lad. "You
look after yours, and I'll take care of mine! So just begin
and let me hear how much wit you have got, for I don't think
you look so very clever," he said.
The first professor then began a long harangue of gibberish;
and when he had finished the second went on; and then the
third; and in this way they continued till at length it was the
turn of the seventh. The lad did not understand a single word
of it all, but he didn't lose courage for all that. He only
nodded his approval to all of it.
When the last had finished his harangue he asked:
"Can you reply to that?"
"That's easy enough," said the lad. "Why, when I was in
my cradle and in my go-cart I could twist my mouth about
and prate and jabber like you," he said. "But since you are
so terribly learned, I'll put a question to you, and that shall
not be a long one:
"Twigmuntus, Cowbelliantus, Perchnosius? Can you give
me an answer to that?"
And now you should have seen how they stretched their
necks and strained their ears. They put on their spectacles
and began to look into their books and turn over the leaves.
But while they were searching and meditating, the lad put
his hands in his trousers pockets, and looked so frank and
fearless that they could not help admiring him, and wondering
that one who was so young could be so learned and yet
look just like other people.
"Well, how are you getting on?" said the lad. "Cannot
all your learning help you to open your mouths, so that I can
have an answer to my question?" he said.
Then they began to ponder and meditate, and then they
glanced at the ceiling, and then they stared at the walls, and
then they fixed their eyes upon the floor. But they could not
give him any answer, nor could the King himself, although he
was much more learned than all the others together. They
had to give it up, and the lad got the Princess and half the
kingdom. This he ruled in his own way, and if it did not fare
better, it did not fare worse for him than for the King with
all his fundamental principles.