A long time ago, an old man lived in a hut in the woods with his grandson, whom he loved very dearly. Near the hut was a small clump of trees where some blackbirds lived. The lad loved to practice with his bow and arrow, and he wanted to shoot the birds as target practice, but the old man told him on no account was he to do so.
One day, when the boy was sixteen, and his grandfather had gone to look for firewood, he took his bow and arrow, aimed carefully, and shot the mother blackbird in the wing. She flew off in a kind of zig-zag, and the boy gave chase, stopping every now and then to loose off another arrow.
But the bird, although injured, kept flying, and led him further and further into the woods, until he was thoroughly lost. He tried various paths but instead of leading him home, they either took him round in circles, or further into the woods.
Eventually, night fell, and he lay down on a clump of grass in a clearing, exhausted. The boy only woke up when the woods were filled with the howling of wolves. He reached for his bow and arrow while peering through the moonlit clearing. A moment later he heard somebody crashing through the undergrowth as they ran towards him. Then a man appeared out of the trees, hotly pursued by a grey wolf.
Just as the shaggy, loping wolf was about to take off from its hind legs and pounce on the man, the boy let fire the arrow and shot it through the heart. It fell down dead, and the man collapsed at the boy’s feet, gasping for breath. When he was recovered enough to speak, he said:
“I thank you for saving my life from that evil spirit who had taken on the form of a gray wolf. Come back to my home for I have many wonderful things, and I would like to give one of them to you as a reward.”
The boy was relieved to find another human being who could help him. He gladly followed the strange man, who led him to a large house on the other side of the woods. A servant showed him to a room with a four-poster bed with rich covers and deep pillows. He lay down and fell into a deep sleep for at least a day.
Because he was so lost, he had no choice but to follow the strange man who led him to a large house on the other side of the woods.
When he awoke, he was not certain if his strange adventure had happened in a dream. He decided to get dressed and look around the place he had come to.
He wandered through many wonderful rooms, all of them empty of people, but furnished with richly carved tables, wonderful embroidered curtains, and gold and silver plates and bowls. Eventually he went outside the house and looked around the stables, hoping to find some sign of human life. He called out, “Hello! Is anyone here?”
“Of course I’m here. You’re looking straight at me,” said a voice.
“Who said that?” asked the boy.
“Why, I did,” said the voice. And only then did the boy realise that the words had been spoken by a beautiful white horse with a black star on her forehead.
“Er, forgive me,” said the boy. “I’ve not come across an animal who could speak before.”
“Well that,” said the mare, “was because you were not sensitive to magic. But now you have slept in a magician’s house, you are able to see and hear how the world really is. So do as I say. Saddle me up, and ride off with me. I will show you many more wonders.”
The boy did not want to steal a horse, but he also did not think it wise to disobey an animal with magical powers. He did as he was told, and rode the horse out of the grounds of the house, and onto the lane.
“Can you take me home?” he asked.
“Your grandfather will scold you if I do,” replied the horse. “My advice is that we go to the big city and make your fortune first, and we can explain things to your grandfather afterwards.”
“That sounds like a good plan to me,” replied the boy. And off they trotted in the direction of the big city. As the boy had not ridden on a horse before, the trotting was rather bumpy for him, but he soon worked out how to rise up and down in the stirrups as they went along.
The magic horse led the boy right up to the gates of the king’s palace. “What’s your business here?” demanded one of the guards. “We’ve come to show the king something he hasn’t seen before,” replied the horse, and the guards were so amazed, and fearful of the great magic they had just experienced, that they let the boy and his horse pass through.
They rode straight into the great hall where the king was holding council with his closest advisers.
“How dare you ride your horse in here!” exclaimed the king, fearful for his precious Persian carpet on which the horse was standing.
The boy climbed down from the saddle and went down on one knee. “Your Majesty,” he said. “Behold the great wonder of a talking horse.”
For a moment, the hall fell silent, and the boy could only hear his own heart beating. Surely the horse would not let him down by not speaking at a moment like this?” He glanced up at his companion. “Well go on, say something,” he said.
“Your Majesty,” said the horse at length. “We are powerful magicians, and we are at your service.”
The king’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “I have heard the tale that Caligula, emperor of Rome, kept one of his horses as his closest advisor, and promoted him to consul, but this is a marvel I had not expected. I shall buy you. Name your price, young lad! I shall pay anything you want for your horse up to one twentieth of my kingdom.”
“Shouldn’t that be half your kingdom for a wonder such as I?” asked the horse.“But it’s all by the by because I am not for sale. Should your Majesty be pleased to show me to the stables, and provide me with fresh water, tasty bran, and clean soft hey, I shall make sure that all of your other horses are as young, strong and beautiful as I am.”
Now it happened that the king had several favourite horses which he had jousted on long ago, which had now grown old and had lost their strength. He was curious to see what would happen if they shared a stable with this remarkable animal, and so he agreed with all that she asked.
He summoned the groom who looked after the royal horses and told him to show the horse, and the boy visitor to the stables, and to provide them both with fresh hay and water and oatmeal. The boy was too humble and shy to ask for better lodgings, and besides, thought it was safest to stay close by to his magical companion.
They slept that night in the stables, and in the morning, the other horses had regained the strength and beauty of their youth. When the king paid a visit in the mid morning, he was delighted, and declared that the horse and the boy could stay in his stables as long as they wished.
Now the groom was jealous of the boy who owned this remarkable horse. He feared he might soon take his job! He decided to set him up for a fall, and so told the king that the boy was very boastful, and now claimed that he could find the king’s most favourite horse of all, the one he had ridden into war as a young man, and which some three years ago had wandered off into the woods, never to be seen again.
The king was delighted to hear this. He summoned the boy and his talking horse to the throne room, and ordered them to go and find his favourite horse.
When they were outside, the boy said, “Now we’re for it. That horse obviously went off to die ages ago.”
“Don’t be such a gloom-monger,” replied the magical horse. “You need to start any enterprise with a positive attitude. Saddle me up, and we’ll go and look for him.”
The horse led the boy to a magical spring in the woods, and they waited by its cool, sparkling waters for half a day, until, just as he had expected, the king’s missing horse turned up for a drink.
“Come on,”said the boy. “The king’s promised to give you a nice stable in your old age. Let’s go home.”
The king’s old horse neighed, and agreed to follow them back to the palace. On their return, the king was more surprised and delighted than ever, and the groom was even more envious and worried than before. He resolved to fix up the boy again, and this time make sure that he made a good and proper job of it.
So the next morning, he reported to the king that the boy had grown even more boastful and arrogant, and claimed that he could find the Queen, who six months ago had vanished altogether, and nobody knew where on earth she had disappeared to.
“He claims that, does he?” said the king. “Well he better not be making an empty boast, or he’ll be for it.” And the groom thought to himself:
“Well now, I reckon I’ve got him this time for sure.”
The king summoned the boy and the magical horse once again. The boy knelt before the throne in the great hall, and the king stood up and said:
“Well now Sonny, you’ve proved yourself to be a pretty smart young fellow when it comes to anything to do with horses. But my eyes and ears in the stables inform me that you’re getting a high opinion of yourself. You’ve been saying you could find the lost queen. Don’t deny it, that’s what I’ve heard from reliable sources. You better be as good as your word, or you’ll be for it. Go now, and bring her back to me, or else.”
The boy was trembling as he left the hall, but the horse said to him:
“What did I tell you before? Do not give up before you’ve even tried to succeed. You must begin any enterprise with hope in your heart.”
The boy cheered up when he heard these words, because the horse had not let him down before. He saddled up his friend, and they went in search of the river that began as the magic spring in the woods. When they reached the banks of the river, the horse said:
“Hop to the ground, and I will show you something more wonderful than anything you’ve ever seen yet.”
The boy did as he was told, and the horse jumped into the river with a huge splash. For a moment or two, the animal disappeared beneath the surface, and then, in her place, the head of a beautiful woman with long golden hair emerged. The woman swam to the shore, and emerged from the water, and the boy, averting his eyes, wrapped her in his cloak. She said to him:
“If you’re not completely dim witted, you will have realised by now that I am the Queen. The king wanted to be rid of me, so
that he could marry a princess from another kingdom, and win a rich dowry and make a great diplomatic treaty. He gave the task of making me disappear to the magician, who turned me into a mare. I had to escape from the magician to free myself from the spell, and you have helped me to do that.”
The boy and the beautiful queen walked back to the Big City and the Great Palace and marched straight into the Great Hall where the king was sitting on his throne with his advisors. When the king saw his queen he was astonished and declared.
“The magician has betrayed me! I ordered him to get rid of the Queen forever, and now she is standing here before me!”
And the Queen replied: “Do not blame the magician. He did not mean to let me go. I escaped from his stables with the help of this kind boy. But while I was prisoner in the magician’s house, I learnt some powerful magic, and now you shall see what I can do.”
She pointed at the king and his throne started to lift up from the ground. The king tried to jump free, but he was stuck to the seat. The throne flew with the king as its unwilling passenger, first leaving the Great Hall, and then circling around the palace, and then heading for the clouds. That was the last that anyone ever saw of him.
The following day, a royal messenger appeared outside the boy’s grandfathers hut in the woods. He blew on a loud trumpet and a somewhat shocked old man came out to see what the noise was about. The messenger handed him a scroll bearing a royal seal. When the old man unfolded the parchment, he stared at the words for a minute or so, before humbly asking the messenger to read the message out loud for him.
Said the messenger:
“Her Majesty the Queen requests the pleasure of your presence at her daughter’s wedding to your son.”
And as you might expect, they all lived happily ever after.
And that was ‘The Magician’s Horse’, a horsey fairytale.