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  • Writer's pictureAnca

The Tale of the Pig

The story goes that, there once lived an old man and an old woman. The man was one hundred years old, and the woman about ninety. And they were gray as the winter and downcast as a rainy day because they did not have any children. And by God! How did they want one, as all day long they were all by themselves that the silence was ringing in their ears. And besides, they also did not have much else going on for them: a shack of a house, filled with old rags and pans. Lately, even neighbors did not come to visit, making the days even longer and more wretched.


pig farm in the moonlight
Pig farm in the moonlight

One day, with a deep sigh, the old woman turned to her man and said: 

“God help us, old man, since we live on this earth, nobody called us father or mother. It is a shame and a pity not to have a soul to take care for. There are no blessings in a childless house.”

“Well, it is but the will of God, old woman, and we shall accept it and carry on.“

“I see that, old man, but, you know,  a thought crossed my mind last night!”

“I will know when you tell me.”

“Listen, tomorrow, at the break of dawn, you should go out and shall any beast cross your path, be it human, serpent, be it what it be, take it home and we shall call it our child. And we will do good by it, to raise it, and love it, and call it our own.”

The old man, fed up of the loneliness and the emptiness of his days, got up the next morning and did just as his wife advised. 

And he walked, and walked,  over valleys and hills, until he saw in a puddle, a sow with twelve piglets, rolling in the mud and drying in the sun. The sow, as seeing the old man, started grunting and ran out of the mud puddle, with the piglets after her. Only one of them, looking frail and sickly, stuck in the mud, and unable to follow the others, stayed put. 

The old man, seeing the piglet, grabbed him and, muddy as it was, put it in his bag, and head home to his old woman. 

“Blessed be the Lord for letting me go home to my woman with this little creature, to bring her comfort in her old days. Who knows? It is the Lord or the devil that put that thought into her mind.”

And as he entered the house, he said: 

“Take a look at this handsome fellow that I found for you! It is your new son and the resemblance is uncanny! Now, pamper him and wash him as you know best, 'cause he had seen better times, poor fellow.”

“Old man, old man, you are mocking him, but he is also a creature of God, just as we are, and perhaps,...more innocent than us.”

And as she said it, she sprang like a young girl from her place,  got the bath ready and carefully soaped it, and scrubbed it, and washed it clean. With all that care and love that it saw, the little piglet cleaned up nicely and grew handsomely over the next few days and weeks.  And he became the pride and joy of the old couple. The old woman was proud as a peacock for her son. Should anyone tell her it was ugly or misbehaved, she would scowl at them as envious. There was yet one thing that ate at her soul, and proud as she was at the piglet, it was still not a creature that could call them: mother and father. 

One day, the old man was about to go in the village, at the market place and, as he was about to leave, the old woman instructed him to get some tasty treat for their son. 

At that, the old man mumbled to himself: "Your son is all you think about, we barely have bread and salt ourselves, but we spoil and fatten this one with goodies every time" but resigned, with a sigh, he agreed to get a little treat for the creature. 

As he came back home, the old woman welcomed him: 

“Hey, old man, what is new in the market?”

“Hey, hey, it is not good news, the emperor is looking to marry his daughter. “

“And how is this not good news, old man?”

“Oh, well, it is not as simple as that. The things that I have heard will make your hair stand on end. And if I told you all that I heard, it will make your skin crawl in horror.“

“My, oh, my, what can be so terrible, old man?”

“Well, the emperor announced, through his messengers, throughout the empire, that the one capable of building a golden bridge from his own house to the emperors palace,  a bridge covered in precious stones and exotic trees on both sides, trees with singing rare birds of many kinds, well, the one capable of doing that, shall get the girl! And half of the kingdom as dowry. But anyone that tries and does not succeed, shall lose his head on the spot! And they say that countless young men, princes and kings have tried their luck, but alas, without success. And the emperor stayed true to his word, and unmoved by their youth, cut their heads. The entire empire is mourning them . What do you say now? Could this possibly be good news? Even the emperor is ill of a bad heart. “

“Ay, old man, the illness of emperors is like our health! It is a true shame of the poor young men that lost their lives, it breaks my heart thinking of them and the pain of their poor mothers. Luckily, ours cannot speak and does not have the wit to get himself into such matters.”

“This is a blessing, I see, but what a grand thing and honor would befall the one that will succeed in making the bridge for the emperor and conquer  his girl. “

And this was how the old couple were talking while their piglet son, lied comfortably in his blanket by the stove. With his trunk in the air, he fixed his gaze on his adoptive parents and a voice could be heard from behind the stove: "Father! Mother! I will make the bridge!" Hearing this, the woman jumped up with joy at the voice of her son. But the old man, with a more suspicious disposition, thought it was the voice of the devil himself, coming to torment them, was looking in all the corners of the shack for who could have uttered the words. 

The piglet, however, getting up from his warm place, walked up to him and, in a clear voice, said: 

“Father, do not be alarmed, it is me, your son! Go now, and tell the emperor that I am going to make his bridge!”

Taken aback by this turn of events and hearing his piglet son voice, the only thing that it occurred to the old man to say was:

“And will you be able to do it, son?”

“About this, you should have no worries, father, you should just go to the emperor and tell him what I said.”

At these words, the old woman came to her senses and kissing her son, told him:

“My darling boy! Do not put your life in danger and risk to leave us alone and unconsoled with a broken heart.”

“Have no fear, mother, you shall see who I am and what I am capable of!”

There was nothing left to be said and the old man took his cane, combed his beard, left the house and took the path towards the palace of the emperor. Arriving at the palace, the guard stops him at the entrance: 

“What is your business, old man?”

“I came to see the emperor. My son promises to make the bridge for the emperor.“

Without further ado, the guard lead the old man in front of the emperor. At the sight of the old man, the emperor asked:

“What do you come to see me for, old chap?”

“May you live a long and happy life, your royal majesty! I come before you on behalf of my son, who, knowing that you have a daughter to marry, commits to build the bridge that your majesty requires.”

“If he is capable of such a deed, then let him do it. But hear this, old man, should he not succeed, he will share the fate of worthier and nobler men that have tried and failed. If you are serious, you will go now and bring your son in front of me and if you are not serious, do not dare show your face here.”

With the words of the emperor ringing in his ears, the old man rushed at home to tell his son what he had heard. And the piglet, hearing that the bet is on and the emperor is waiting for him, full of joy, sprang through the little shack, throwing pans and pots in his exuberant enthusiasm. In a final spring, he planted himself in front of his father and determined, he said:

“Let us go and see the emperor, father!”

At these words, his mother started to cry and whine that she will lose the only son she ever had, the joy of her days and the hope of her life. 

With his heart set and true to his word given to the emperor, the old man, took his cane and his courage, and set again towards the palace of the emperor, but this time, with his piglet son at his side:

“Let us go, son, and bring home a daughter for your mother and myself.”

Full of joy, the piglet darted under the table and scampered through the room, knocking down everything in his path, one last time. They barely made it to the gates of the palace, the old man in front, and his son grunting behind him, when the guards were rolling out laughing at the sight of the two. 

“What is this supposed to be old man”, said one of them through bursts of laughter. 

“Well, this is my son who will build the bridge of the emperor.”

“Man, oh, man, shame that you reached your old age but lost your mind. You must be fed up with living to try such a stunt on the emperor. “

“Ah, well, we all shall die once. And if this shall be my fate today, then let it be as it was written in my stars”, said the old man resigned.

The guards, seeing this, shrugged their shoulders but proceeded with announcing the two suitors to the emperor. 

In front of the emperor, the old man took a deep and respectful bow while his son rolled on his back in the soft carpet, then sprinting and grunting through the room, he buried his trunk under the veil of the throne. At the sight of these happenings, the emperor almost burst into laughter but, on a second thought, he took it as a great offense. 

“When you were last in my presence, you seemed a sensible man! Certainly not one walking around with pigs by his side! And what gave you the impression that you could ridicule me, of all people?”

“God forbid! your royal majesty that I should ever conceive of bringing you such offense! I am an old man and this is my son that I have told you the previous time, the son that will build the bridge your highness desires.”

“You get out of my sight, old man, and take your pig with you!  But hear this,  should he fail to make the bridge by the break of dawn next morning, off with both your heads!”

“With the will of the Almighty, your majesty, it shall be done and we shall be waiting for the princess at our house.”

And, this being said, the old man bowed deeply to the emperor, took his pig and headed home, accompanied by a group of soldiers, at the order of the emperor. Much laughter and gossip and unrest enveloped the palace after this extraordinary visit. 

Towards the evening, the old woman saw them arriving with the soldiers by their side and, full of worry, she started to cry and whine their wretched fate. 

Angry himself, the old man retorted:

“You have nothing to say about this, woman! It was your brilliant idea to go in search for children to raise. And here we are, guarded by soldiers in our own house, because your child wanted to see the emperor. And it seems that I have only until dawn to keep my head on my shoulders.“

The pig seemed,  however, undisturbed by the misery he caused and went about his piggly business, searching for food and grunting through the shack. After much unrest and fighting, the old couple also  went to bed. As the house went quiet and everyone went to sleep, the piglet darted towards one of the small windows in the roof, broke it, and taking a deep breath, he blew a jet of fire through his nostrils towards the palace of the emperor. And, what do you know! A magnificent bridge with all the trees and birds requested was left behind. The old shack became an even more splendid castle that the emperor had. 

And when the old couple woke up, they are wrapped in velvet and silk and their house was filled with every luxury known to man. The pig went on undisturbed, grunting and sprinting from closet to the bed and rolling in the soft carpets. 

As surprised as the old couple was, it was nothing to the bewilderment experienced by the emperor and his court, which was now in turmoil. In a hasty council, the good emperor decided that the best course of action would be to send his daughter to the pig, in marriage. 'Cause, he figured, if such a thing could be accomplished in a night, who can tell what would happen if he would not meet his obligation. 

As for a wedding, they did not do one, well, it was a piglet after all. The girl was pleased with the house and her in laws but when she gazed upon her betrothed, she shrugged and admitted resigned to herself: "If this is to be my fate, then let it be so!" 

And their days passed, with the piglet going about his business as any pig would but at night he would turn into a handsome prince. It did not take long for the emperor's daughter to get used and even pleased with her husband. 

After a while, the young empress, missing her old life, went to see her parents. As for her husband, the piglet, she left it at home, for what would she do with such a beast, in polite society. Her parents were happy to see her and she told them everything about her domestic life. Hearing what she had to say, her father, the emperor, advised: 

“My dear girl, whatever you do, do nothing to disobey your husband. He seems to be a powerful man that can accomplish inhuman things.”

But then, left alone with her mother, she got a completely different advice. 

“My dear girl, the mother said, what type of life is this that you cannot even go out with your husband! Take my advice and make sure there is always a fire burning in the room, and when he goes to sleep, take the pig skin and throw it in the fire!”

As she arrived home that day, she ordered a big fire to be lit in the bedroom. When her husband was in a deep sleep, she took the pig's skin and threw it in the fire. And, as it burnt to embers, a heavy smell filled the room,  waking her husband up. Seeing the burnt skin, with tears in his eyes, he shouted:

“You silly woman! What have you done! If you were taught by someone, that was a bad advice, and if you figured it out yourself, that was a terrible thing, because now we are both lost!”

No sooner had he said this, that an iron belt covered her belly. And in a desolate tone, he added:

“You should know this, that my name is Prince Charming, and only when I will put my hand over your belly, the baby that grows in you will be born. You will find me at the Monastery of Incense.” 

A terrible storm started and enveloped the entire house. And in that storm, Prince Charming rose in the sky and was gone. The magnificent bridge, as well as the palace, and all things in it vanished. In their place, the old shack was left. The old couple, seeing the misfortune that came upon their heads,  turned against their daughter in law and sent her away from their home.

The poor young empress, what was she to do: to stay with her in laws, she would hear  their incessant nagging, to go back to her parents, she would face the wrath of her father and the gossip of the courtiers. The only thing left to her was to go out into the world, in search of her husband. And she did just that, she walked on her own for one whole year until, in the middle of a forest, covered by plants and surrounded by bushes, she found a small  old house and knocked at the gate. The voice of an old woman came from inside the house:

“Who are you?”

“I am a lost traveler.”

“If you are a good person, you are welcome in my house, but if you are wicked, go away, cause I have a bitch with steel teeth that I will unleash upon you.”

“I am a good person.”

And without further ceremony, the old woman opened the gate to the young empress and let her in. 

- What kind of misfortune brought you to my door step, woman, that not even dragon birds come this way, let alone humans. 

Hearing this, the empress sighed heavily and said: 

“It is my own sins that put me on this path, auntie. I am in search of the Monastery of Incense and I do not know in which part of the world it is.”

“It seems that you did not completely run out of luck that you arrived at my doorstep. My name is Saint Wednesday, if you ever heard of me.“

“Of your name I have heard, auntie, but that you should be real in our world, never crossed my mind.”

“See? People complain even of their own luck!”

Then, Saint Wednesday shouted once and all the living creatures in her realm gathered. When she asked them about the Monastery of Incense, none of them knew what she was talking about. Disappointed, Saint Wednesday returned to her guest and admitted she could not tell her which way to go for the Monastery of Incense.  But in return she wanted her to have a golden spindle, saying: "It might come in handy sometime." . Before setting her on her journey, she gave the empress a glass of wine and a loaf of bread and pointed the way to her older sister, Saint Friday. 

And our heroine set again on a long journey. After another long year of walking through wild forests and deserted places, she finally arrived at the house of Saint Friday. And here she experienced the same kindness as with Saint Wednesday. She could not point her towards the Monastery of Incense but she did get another glass of wine and a loaf of bread. Before sending her on the journey, Saint Friday also gave her a golden spinning wheel which was spinning on its own and pointed her with kindness to her older sister, Saint Sunday. And from there, she walked again for an entire year, her journey even more desolate and lonesome than before. Being pregnant in her third year, the journey was even more difficult. Saint Sunday, feeling sorry for her guest, in the state of disarray and pregnant as she was, she also summoned all the living beings from her realm: water beings, air being and land beings and she asked them about the Monastery of Incense. And all of them answered as one, that they had never heard of such a place. Disappointed, Saint Sunday sighed and looking at her guest said: 

“It seems that you are under some sort of curse from God, my child, for here you are at the edge of the world. What you are looking for is a world unknown even by me and mine. And even if you wanted to go ahead, you would not be able to.”

As she said that, a limping lark approached the crowd and out of breath looked towards Saint Sunday: 

“You there!  Lark!  Do you, by any chance, know where one could find the Monastery of Incense?”

“But of course I know, mistress, how do you think I got myself blessed with this limp!”

“If this is indeed the case, lark, take this poor woman with you to this Monastery and advise her what she should do there. 

With servility, the lark bowed and conceded to bring our heroine to the Monastery of Incense. 

And this being arranged, Saint Sunday also gave the traveller a glass of wine and a loaf of bread to have for the long journey ahead. Moreover, she also gave her a golden platter with a golden hen and golden live chicken. 

They started their journey, with the lark up and the empress down, the empress up and the lark down and when the princess could not go either up or down, the lark carried her on its back.  And passed another long year over many countries, across seas and over mountains, through deserted places and jungles, where they encountered fantastic beasts with twenty four heads and basilisks with eyes that charm, and many other creatures which could in a moment of weakness swallow them whole. 

Finally, the two travelers, the empress and the lark, arrived at a cave, and going in, on the other side of the cave, was a heavenly place. The empress went again on the back of the lark who could barely move now after the journey they had. And pointing in the distance, the lark said: 

“Behold, mistress, the Monastery of Incense. Here is where Prince Charming, who you are looking for, resides. Does anything look familiar to you here?”

Then, the empress, marveling at the wonderful sights that were before her, noticed the magnificent bridge and the palace in which she and her prince have so shortly lived in. And tears were burning in her eyes. 

“Hold on, and do not rejoice prematurely, 'cause you are still a novice in these lands and you need to learn the way of the place.”

He pointed to a fountain and told her what to do within the next three days. She was to go there with the golden spindle, the golden spinning wheel and the golden platter with the hen and golden chicken which she had received from the three sisters: Saint Wednesday, Saint Friday and Saint Sunday. 

Soon after, the lark bid its goodbye, and in one go,  set on the journey back, for fear he should lose his other leg if he hanged around. The empress bid him goodbye, with tears in her eyes, while walking towards the fountain.

Sitting down by the fountain, she took out her golden spindle. A servant woman coming to the fountain and seeing such a marvel, went and told her mistress in the palace of the wondrous spindle which could spin a golden thread one hundred times thinner than a human hair. 

The mistress of this servant was a terrible hag of a witch of whom the devil himself was weary. One thing she was not able to do, and that was to read the mind of Prince Charming, her master. Hearing of the woman with the spindle, she immediately summoned her to the palace.

“I heard that you have an enchanted golden spindle. Won't you sell it to me? What is your price?”

“Well, a night in the sleeping chambers of the emperor.”

“I do not see why not. Give me the spindle and stay here until tonight when the emperor returns from his hunting trip.”

The witch, knowing the habit of the emperor, that he used to take a drink before going to bed, she spiked the drink with a sleeping potion. So, when the emperor went to bed, he instantly fell into a deep sleep. Seeing this, the old hag went after our heroine and brought her to the chamber. 

The sooner the witch left the chamber, the poor empress, kneeled by the bed and without holding her tears anymore she said: 

“Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Hold out your hand over this belt so that it breaks and your son can be finally born.”

So passed the entire night, with the miserable empress wailing her chant and the emperor fast asleep and unmoving. 

At the break of dawn, the witch came to take her away and she sent her unceremoniously out of the palace and the emperors domain. 

The next day, our poor traveler, sat down again at the fountain, this time,  with the golden spinning wheel. And again the servant coming to take water saw her and marveled at what she saw and the next instant left to tell her mistress the extraordinary sight that was even more impressive than the previous one. Things went again just as the first time, the witch bargained for the spinning wheel and drugged her master. So, our heroine found herself for the second time thrown out of the emperor chambers without having ever spoken to him. 

But the emperor also had a loyal man servant who had little trust in the old witch and, being suspicious of the old hag, decided to pay attention and to figure out what she was planning. In the third day, before going to hunt, as it was their habit, the servant told the emperor all that had happened over the past two nights. Hearing his account, the emperor's heart trembled, he lowered his eyes and weeped unconsolably. 

In the meanwhile, his miserable wife, was again at the fountain and she took out the hen with the golden chicks, her last sliver of hope. And, as in the previous days, the witch's servant came and seeing the miraculous golden hen and chicks, she did not even wait to take the water but immediately went to her mistress to tell her. 

As in the previous occasions, the old witch struck the same bargain.  Only now, the emperor knowing what was going on, pretended to drink the milk but instead tossed it away. Our traveler came for the last time in his chamber, and as on  previous occasions, kneeled by his bed and weeping implored him to have mercy on her and her unborn child, to put his hand over her belly so that the child can finally be born. 

The emperor, hearing her pleads, stretched out his hand and no sooner had he touched the circle, that her baby was instantly born. 

And then she went on and told him everything that she had gone through since they were separated from each other. Hearing her, the emperor woke up the entire court and judged the old witch that she should return all the goods taken by deception from his empress.   But he did not stop there and summoning the stables, ordered that the old hag be tied to a sterile mare alongside a sack of walnuts and as the walnuts would fall, pieces of the hag will fall until there was nothing left. 

And so did the emperor rid himself of the old witch, who in fact was the sow with the piglets from the beginning of the tale. She managed to charm him into a piglet, in the hope of him falling for one of her daughters. But we know how the story actually went. 

When Prince Charming first married, they did not have a wedding, but now that their troubles were behind them, they made a wedding worthy of legends. And they invited the parents of the empress and the old adoptive parents of Prince Charming. Their feast went on for three days and three night, and it might still go on even now if it did not already finish. 


The story is retold and translate after a Romanian folk tale, collected and published by Ion Creanga. 

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