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WORLD FOLK TALES - CENTRAL EUROPE

Golden-Curls and How She Kept Silent
A Slovak Tale

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Caution: this tale may be too intense for children less than six years old.
Once upon a time, there was a very poor blacksmith whose worldly possessions were a tumbledown cottage, a wife, a troop of hungry children, and otherwise nothing but seven pence. So with these seven pence he bought himself a stout rope, and went into the forest to hang himself. He found a tall tree with a strong branch, threw the rope over it and began to tie a knot. Suddenly a lady all in black stood before him, as if she had risen up out of the ground. "Blacksmith, stop that at once," she commanded.

The blacksmith was so frightened that he untied the rope, and the woman immediately disappeared. As soon as she was gone, he began to tie the rope around the branch again.

But the lady in black reappeared at once, waved a threatening finger at him and snapped, "I told you to stop that, Blacksmith!"

Again the blacksmith untied the rope, and started to make his way home. But on the way he thought to himself, "There's nothing left for me at home but to die of hunger anyway. I think I'd rather hang myself."

So again he found a good tree for hanging himself, and tied the rope around a branch. But the lady in black was there at once, shaking with anger. "Why won't you listen to me, Blacksmith?" she asked.

"What else can I do?" sighed the blacksmith. "I and my family are going to starve anyway."

"You will not starve," answered the lady in black, "because I shall give you all the money you could possibly wish for. But in return, you must give me that thing which you have at home, and yet know not that you have."

The blacksmith could hardly believe his ears, or his eyes, when he saw the sack full of gold coins that the lady handed to him. He thanked her heartily and set off as fast as he could with the heavy sack.

"But don't forget your promise," called the lady in black after him. "That which you have at home, yet know not that you have, belongs to me. In seven years I shall come to claim it."

"I know everything there is in my house," laughed the blacksmith. "If there's anything there I don't know about you're welcome to it." And off he went.

When the blacksmith got home he counted the sack of gold coins into a great heap. The family was overjoyed. "Our little Golden-curls has brought us luck," laughed the blacksmith's wife, and she showed her husband a beautiful little baby girl with golden hair and a golden star on her forehead. It was the blacksmith's baby daughter, who had just been born that day. The blacksmith was shocked and saddened. So that was the thing he had at home, which he had not known about!

Well, the years passed and Golden-curls grew into a beautiful little girl, the joy and sorrow of her parents. On her seventh birthday, a black coach stopped outside the cottage and the lady in black stepped from it. "I have come for your little girl," she said, and led the girl to the coach. The parents and the other children begged her to relent, but the woman was not to be moved. The coachman cracked his whip and in a flash the carriage was gone.

They drove for a long, long time, through barren deserts and dark forests, until at last they reached a huge black castle. "This castle is yours," said the lady in black. "It has one hundred rooms, all of which you may enter freely, except the hundredth one. Do not enter that, or great evil will befall you. Remember! In seven years' time I shall visit you again." And with that, the lady in black drove away.

In exactly seven years to the day the lady in black returned in her carriage. "Have you been into the hundredth room?" was the first thing she asked.

"No, I haven't," replied Golden-curls honestly.

"You are a good, obedient girl. In seven years I shall return again, and if you have still obeyed me, I will make you the happiest of girls. But if you step inside that hundredth room, a fate more terrible than death will await you." With this threat the lady in black rode off again for another seven years.

The seven years passed quickly, and the day came for the lady in black to return. Golden-curls could hardly wait, for she was sure she would be rewarded in some marvelous way for her obedience. Then suddenly she heard strange and beautiful music. "Who can be playing so sweetly in my castle?" she wondered. Following the sounds up a twisting staircase, she came to the topmost room of the castle, the hundredth room, for that was where the music was playing. Without stopping to think she opened the door, and stood there staring, horrified at what she had done.

Inside, twelve men in black cowls were sitting around a great table, and a thirteenth man was standing looking down at her. "Golden-curls, Golden curls, what have you done?" he cried, and his voice echoed like thunder around the stone chamber.

Golden-curls was so terrified that her heart missed several beats. "Whatever can I do?" she wailed.

"You must never, never tell a soul what you have seen in this room. That is the only way you may find forgiveness for what you have done."

Golden-curls closed the heavy door and went downstairs. Almost at once she heard the lady in black's carriage rattling up. "What did you see in the hundredth room?" the woman snapped, for she knew at once what had happened.

Golden-curls shook her head and said nothing.

"Very well, if it's dumb you are then dumb you shall stay! From this moment on you will be able to speak to no one but me." And saying this the lady in black drove Golden-curls out of the castle.

Golden-curls walked until she could go no further. She came to a beautiful green meadow, lay down on the grass and cried herself to sleep.

Now it happened that the young king of that land, who was out hunting, passed by the meadow and saw Golden-curls lying there asleep. She was so beautiful that he as once fell in love with her, and he didn't mind at all that she couldn't speak. He took her to his palace, where a few days later they were married. And so Golden-curls became a queen.

She lived very happily at the castle, and before a year had passed a little boy was born to her, who also had golden hair and a golden star on his forehead. Everyone in the palace was delighted with their new prince.

But the very first night after the baby's birth, the terrible lady in black appeared at Golden-curls' bedside, and said in a cruel voice, "Tell me what you saw in the hundredth room, or I'll kill your little son."

Poor Golden-curls was terrified, but she remembered what the thirteenth man had said: she must keep silent. So she just shook her head.

Then the woman seized the little baby, strangled him, and rubbed his blood on Golden-curls lips, and vanished with the dead child.

In the morning everyone was horrified when they saw the blood on her face, and they wondered, "Surely she couldn't have eaten her own child?"

But the king did not accuse her and no one else dared to, and Golden-curls still could not speak.

Another year passed and a little girl was born to Golden-curls. She too had golden hair and a golden star on her forehead. Everyone at the palace was delighted, but they were frightened too, lest the same terrible thing should happen as last time. So the king set a strong guard around Golden-curls' room, but to no avail.

During the night the lady in black appeared again and said, "Tell me what you saw in the hundredth room, or I'll kill the girl too." Golden-curls was beside herself with grief, but she still only shook her head. The woman strangled the little girl, rubbed blood on Golden-curls' lips, and vanished carrying the dead child.

Next day the palace was thrown into dismay by the news, and the king in a rage gave orders for Golden-curls to be burned at the stake. She wept and wept, but no one now felt the least bit sorry for her.

As they were leading her out beyond the city, the black carriage appeared again, and the lady in black stepped out of it. "This is your last chance to tell me what you saw in the hundredth room," she cried. "Tell me, or they will most certainly burn you alive."

Golden-curls still just shook her head and said nothing.

The executioners tied Golden-curls to the stake and lit the fire beneath her. But just as the flames were starting to lick at her feet, the lady in black suddenly became dressed in white, and called out, "Put out the fire! Please, hurry!"

Everyone was astonished, but the executioners quickly doused the flames. The lady in white went to her carriage, and out of it climbed a little boy and girl, both with golden hair and golden stars on their foreheads.

She brought them to Golden-curls, saying, "By keeping silent so steadfastly, you have saved yourself, and you have also saved me, by delivering me from a terrible enchantment." With that she vanished.

Watching all this the king could hardly believe his eyes or ears, especially when Golden-curls finally spoke to him and told him the whole strange story. They rode straight back to the palace, and lived there long and happily together. The old blacksmith, his wife and all his children came to live with them, and all were blessed with the greatest happiness and good fortune.


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