The Magic Ring
ONCE 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,
"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 me
"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
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 neck.
"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 Martin.
"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," replied
"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
"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 advantage."
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 choose."
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 saw him she called to him:
"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 touch 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 night."
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 built 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 he said:
"My child, I had almost given up the hope of ever seeing
you again. Where have you been all these years?"
"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
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 errand."
"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 reached
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 a-wooing."
"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 a 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 woman, saying:
"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 a
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
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 and cried.
"Never fear, little mother," answered Martin. "Trust me,
and you will see all will be well. You may go to sleep with a
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 ordered.
Next morning when the King awoke and looked out of his
window, to his amazement he beheld a magnificent castle, just
opposite his own palace, and joined to it by a bridge of pure
At each side of the bridge trees were growing, from whose
branches hung golden and silver apples, 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 it.
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 hut.
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 having 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 starvation.
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 return."
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
"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 kingdom."
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 hole 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 riddles,
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 do.
"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
came 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 possession.