King Patch

This is the story of a hapless king and his faithful jackdaw, the second in my series of Hungarian fairy tale translations. The original story is Folton Folt Királyfrom a collection by Kolozsvári Grandpierre Emil. As always, the original is out of copyright. 

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Once upon a time, in a land where goats have copper horseshoes that never wear out, there lived a prince. This prince was kept on a very short leash by his father, the king. He had to sit at the lowest seat of the table and if he took a second helping of food, he was immediately reprimanded:

“You weren’t born a prince so as you can stuff yourself till you burst!”

If he wanted to quench his thirst with wine, his father grabbed the jug from him:

“You weren’t born a prince so as you can drink yourself silly!”

He disciplined his son worst of all on festivals and holidays. As the unhappy prince was not allowed to eat and drink as he pleased, he thought he would enjoy himself by joining in the dancing. But the king told him off straightaway:

“You weren’t born a prince so as you can jump around like a flea!”

Then the old king died and his son inherited the kingdom. He decided to make up for lost time. He ordered a hundred different dishes of roast meat, a hundred different dishes of soup, he had a hundred barrels of wine opened and he invited everyone he knew to visit him. The palace echoed day and night with the sound of their carousing. They soon started to call him the Jolly King. The guests came pouring in from all seven counties of the kingdom. If a man was hungry, the king asked him to sit at his table and eat his fill. If a man was thirsty, he no longer went to the inn, he headed straight to the king’s palace.

Soon these happy times came to a sad end. One day, the king woke to find that he had spent all his money on revelry. The butcher came and wanted payment for the meat, the wine merchant came and wanted payment for the wine, the musicians wanted payment too and the Jolly King could not pay anyone. At last, the bailiffs came and took everything, turning him out of his palace in only his shirt and britches. Before, he had innumerable friends. Now he could not find one.

The Jolly King was devastated. He still had his belt left to him, so he went into the woods with the intention of hanging himself. As he was looking for a suitable tree, he heard a heart-rending cry. He followed the sound and soon he found the complainant. It was a jackdaw with his foot trapped.

“I was hungry, I landed here and now I can’t leave, please free me!” said the good for nothing jackdaw.

The Jolly King climbed the tree, gently freed the bird’s foot and let him go. Then he continued looking at the trees, trying to see which one would be most suitable for hanging himself on. He came to a stream and his eyes landed on an alder tree. He thought the tree was reaching one of his branches towards him and calling out:

“Come, Jolly King, hang yourself on me.”

As he was trying to figure out how to tie his belt to the branch, once again he heard the sound of crying. Once again, it was the good for nothing jackdaw that cried.

“I was thirsty, I wanted to drink water, I fell into a trap, please free me!”

The Jolly King opened the trap and the good for nothing jackdaw flew off. Yet he could not have got far, as again the silence of the woods was shattered by his desperate cries. The Jolly King left the beckoning alder and ran to the jackdaw who was once again in trouble.

“What happened to you now?” he asked.

“I ate and drank my fill,” replied the jackdaw. “At this, I felt so merry, I started to dance. I fell over and I broke my leg. Please help me.”

The Jolly King found two sticks and bound up the jackdaw’s foot between them with dry grasses. He took care of the convalescent; he brought water for him from the stream and he fed him until his leg healed.

“I can see that not only do you like to eat, drink and be merry yourself, but you do not judge others for doing so either. You have saved my life. I will repay your good deed with good deeds. I will now help you.”

“How could you help me?” asked the Jolly King. “I don’t even have proper clothes to wear.”

“Stay here until I return,” said the good for nothing jackdaw bossily. Then he flew off with a great whirring of wings. He flew from village to village and whenever he saw a sparkling rag on a rubbish heap, he picked it up. When he thought he had collected enough bits of fabric, he blew on them and all the rags turned into a royal robe: but a royal robe made of patches. The jackdaw held the robe in his beak and returned to the Jolly King.

“You poor king,” the jackdaw said, when he saw that the king was shivering “put on this robe, then you won’t be cold anymore.”

The Jolly King obeyed and as soon as he put on his news clothes, he became a new man: King Patch.

“Well, you’ve got a royal robe,” said the jackdaw, “now we have to get you a kingdom.”

King Patch did not argue with him. He thought it would be better to be king again and rule a kingdom than to obey another king. They left without delay. As they travelled they asked everyone whether they knew of a kingdom without a king, but they could not find even one.

They travelled through many kingdoms and found that kings were very careful to hang on to their kingdoms. They crouched on their thrones full of worry, peering to their left and then right, watching out for enemies.

“We’ll have to find a king with a daughter,” said the good for nothing jackdaw.

They had travelled for seven years and seventy-seven days when they reached the lands of the Red King. The daughter of the Red King was famous for her beauty. The jackdaw told King Patch to wait for him at the edge of the woods while he flew to the Red King’s castle. There he somersaulted once, he somersaulted twice and, lo and behold, he transformed himself into a neat-looking manservant.

He then went in front of the king and said:

“King Patch sends his best regards to your majesty and is wondering if you could lend him the scales that you use to weigh your wheat and grains on, as he is travelling and wants to measures his gold, but forgot his scales at home.

“Tell King Patch” answered the Red King, “that I send him my best regards and would be glad to lend him a set of large scales.”

The jackdaw hid the scales under a bush, turned back into a bird and stole a gold coin from the windowsill of a rich merchant. He stuck this gold coin into a small crack at the side of the scales and then returned the scales to the Red King. The Red King immediately noticed the gold coin stuck to the scales.

“Well, well,” he thought, “this King Patch must be extraordinarily wealthy. He uses the scales I use to weigh my grain on to weigh his gold. He would make a good husband for my daughter.”

So he said to the jackdaw:

“Tell your master that I would like to invite him for lunch. Since he is traveling, it must have been a while since he ate at a royal table.”

It had indeed been a long time since King Patch could eat and drink as he wished. The Red King was amazed when he first saw his guest. He could barely believe his eyes when he saw the robe made of patches. He had never seen such a garment before. Soon, however, he felt satisfied, because he saw that all the patches were rich, royal patches.

The beautiful princess could not believe her eyes either. She didn’t even notice the patches, however. She was staring at their guest instead, because – I forgot to tell you this before, – King Patch was very, very good-looking. The princess was so enchanted by him, she could not eat a bite over lunch.

Afterward, the beautiful princess said to her father:

“Dear father, I have always been an obedient daughter to you. But I am so in love with King Patch, I will jump into the well if I cannot marry him.”

“You will marry him,” said the king and immediately asked King Patch if he was willing to take his daughter. He was willing enough, since he had also fallen in love with the princess. But all he had was willingness. He ran to the jackdaw to ask for advice on what he should do.

“Feel free to marry her,” said the jackdaw. “We will now get you all manner or livestock, horses, a castle and a rich kingdom. But in order to get them, the Red King needs to give you the giant coin he keeps under his mattress. Keep asking for it until he gives it to you as part of his daughter’s dowry. This is the only thing in the world that the iron teeth of the wicked witch will break on. When her teeth break, she will lose her power and you will get all her livestock, her palace and her kingdom. Be smart now, King Patch, because if you cannot get the giant coin, you will never have anything other than that patched robe you are wearing.”

A big wedding was held, where twelve bands of musicians played for twelve weeks. The revelry was so great that a dumb man shouted and a deaf man heard him, while the blind watched the lame dance. When the wedding was over the Red King said to King Patch:

“My dear son, as my daughter’s dowry I will give you twelve bands of soldiers, twelve hussars, twelve drummers, twelve trumpet players and twelve carriages to carry my daughter’s trousseau. Go and live happily ever after.”

King Patch shook his head:

“I will not move from this spot until you give me your giant coin as part of the dowry.”

The Red King tried to resist, but when his daughter started to plead with him, he took the giant coin from under his mattress and gave it to King Patch. The coin was indeed big, nearly as big as a pancake. The jackdaw put it away in his bag and said:

“Alright, follow me.”

The twelve bands of soldiers started to march and sing, the twelve drummers drummed, the twelve trumpet players played the trumpet. Thus they traveled along the road accompanied by an enormous din of music.

After a few days of traveling, the jackdaw – who rode ahead of the others, disguised as a manservant – spotted a herd of pigs. All the pigs had golden bristles.

“Whom does this herd of pigs belong to?” he asked the swineherd.

“The ‘orrible witch with the iron teeth,” said the swineherd.

“Whomever they belong to,” said the jackdaw, “when the army of musicians arrives and asks whom they belong to, tell them they are King Patch’s. If you don’t do as I say, they will cut you to pieces.”

The swineherd was frightened and when the army arrived and asked him whom the herd of pigs with golden bristles belonged to, he told them they belonged to King Patch. The queen was happy, as she loved all pigs, but loved golden-bristled pigs best of all, as they tasted the best.

In the meanwhile, the jackdaw spotted a herd of golden kettle. Even the calves had golden hair.

“Whom dies this herd belong to?” he asked the cowherd.

“The ‘orrible witch with the iron teeth,” said the cowherd.

“Whomever they belong to,” said the jackdaw, “when the army of musicians arrives and asks whom they belong to, tell them they are King Patch’s. If you don’t do as I say, they will cut you to pieces.””

The cowherd was very scared. The army of musicians arrived and the queen asked whom the herd belonged to.

“King Patch,” said the cowed cowherd.

At this, the queen’s joy redoubled. Her favourite breed of kettle was the golden one. Besides, she was happy to have married so well, seeing that her husband was such a rich man.

In the meanwhile, the jackdaw had reached a field full of golden horses.

“Whom do these horses belong to?” he asked the groom.

““The ‘orrible witch with the iron teeth,” said the groom.

“Whomever they belong to,” said the jackdaw, “when the army of musicians arrives and asks whom they belong to, tell them they are King Patch’s. If you don’t do as I say, they will cut you to pieces.”

The groom was no braver than the swineherd or the cowherd. In his fright he also told the queen that the golden horses belong to King Patch.

The beautiful queen was bursting with pride. She knew that she would lack neither bread nor salt her whole life, since her husband might just the richest king in the world.

The jackdaw could already see the palace of the witch with the iron teeth. It had three hundred and sixty-five windows and it was revolving terribly fast on a golden duck’s leg. The jackdaw saw that he could never enter the palace in human form. He somersaulted once, he somersaulted twice, and he turned back into a bird. He flew in the window, somersaulted again and was once again a manservant.

Then he went from room to room until he found the witch with the iron teeth. The ugly hag was sitting in front of a basket of gold and was happily munching on a coin.

“What are you doing here, where not even a bird can get in?” she asked the jackdaw.

“I am looking for you, mother,” said the jackdaw, “because I have brought you a gift to feast on.”

“You are lucky you brought me a gift,” said the hag, “otherwise I might have eaten you.”

The jackdaw reached into his knapsack and pulled out the Red King’s giant coin. The witch with the iron teeth thought the coin looked delicious. She bit into it, but even though her teeth were made of iron, they all broke and fell out. She choked on them and fell over dead. The jackdaw threw her body into the fireplace. She was so old and desiccated, she soon burned down to ashes.

At that instant the palace stopped spinning on its leg. The coach carrying King Patch and his wife rolled onto its forecourt accompanied by loud music. The twelve carts trundled in and the twelve bands marched up, followed by the twelve drummers, the twelve trumpet players and the twelve hussars.

The jackdaw said to his master:

“You have a royal robe, a beautiful wife, herds of swine, cattle and horses, a palace that stands on a golden duck’s leg and a kingdom. I will serve you no longer. I will turn back into a jackdaw; but make sure that you take good care of me.”

He did as he said he would and then perched on his master’s shoulders.

King Patch lived happily with his wife. He was doing so well, he had a new set of clothes made every week, but they were always made of patches, so no one would mistake him for another king. He looked after the jackdaw faithfully, treating him like royalty. In the end the queen became jealous of the jackdaw and decided to kill him.

One day the king went hunting and the queen was having lunch on her own. The jackdaw flew in and pooped on her dining table. At this, the queen was overcome with rage and stabbed the jackdaw with her knife, killing him instantly. Then she threw his body on the rubbish heap.

When the king came home from the hunt, he looked everywhere for the jackdaw, but could not find him. Finally, he asked the queen if she had seen his bird.

“It died,” the queen said. “I threw it on the rubbish heap.”

King Patch was inconsolable at the news. He found the jackdaw among the rubbish and started to cry when he saw him.

“My dear jackdaw, my best friend, I owe my life and my happiness to you and this is where you had to end up! I will have you buried in a marble coffin. I will have a silver bell erected over your grave and it will toll for you day and night.”

As the good for nothing jackdaw heard this, he changed his mind and came back from the dead.

“You are lucky, King Patch,” he said, “that you wanted to bury me in great pomp. In exchange for your faithfulness, I guarantee that you will be happy all your life. Farewell, you will never see me again. Only maybe, if you forget your lesson and turn back into the Jolly King again, I will return as an eagle and tear you into bits.”

With these words, the good for nothing jackdaw opened his wings and flew away forever. King Patch lived happily ever after with his wife and twelve children.


Traditional folk tale, translated from Hungarian by Zsuzsanna Chappell.
The original tale was collected by Kolozsvári Grandpierre Emil and is available copyright free here.
The translator owns the copyright of the translation.

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