Translator: Emily J. Harding
There was once a king so wise and clever that he understood the language of all animals. You shall hear how he gained this power.
One day an old woman came to the palace and said, “I wish to speak to his majesty, for I have something of great importance to tell him.” When admitted to his presence she presented him with a curious fish, saying, “Have it cooked for yourself, and when you have eaten it you will understand all that is said by the birds of the air, the animals that walk the earth, and the fishes that live under the waters.”
The king was delighted to know that which every one else was ignorant of, so he rewarded the old woman generously, and told a servant to cook the fish very carefully.
“But take care,” said the monarch, “that you do not taste it yourself, for if you do you will be killed.”
George, the servant, was astonished at such a threat, and wondered why his master was so anxious that no one else should eat any of the fish. Then examining it curiously he said, “Never in all my life have I seen such an odd-looking fish; it seems more like a reptile. Now where would be the harm if I did take some? Every cook tastes of the dishes he prepares.”
When it was fried he tasted a small piece, and while taking some of the sauce heard a buzzing in the air and a voice speaking in his ear.
“Let us taste a crumb: let us taste a little,” it said.
He looked round to see where the words came from, but there were only a few flies buzzing about in the kitchen. At the same moment some one out in the yard said in a harsh jerky voice, “Where are we going to settle? Where?”
And another answered, “In the miller’s barley-field; ho! for the miller’s field of barley.”
When George looked towards where this strange talk came he saw a gander flying at the head of a flock of geese.
“How lucky,” thought he; “now I know why my master set so much value on this fish and wished to eat it all himself.”
George had now no doubt that by tasting the fish he had learnt the language of animals, so after having taken a little more he served the king with the remainder as if nothing had happened.
When his majesty had dined he ordered George to saddle two horses and accompany him for a ride. They were soon off, the master in front, the servant behind.
While crossing a meadow George’s horse began to prance and caper, neighing out these words, “I say, brother, I feel so light and in such good spirits to-day that in one single bound I could leap over those mountains yonder.”
“I could do the same,” answered the king’s horse, “but I carry a feeble old man on my back; he would fall like a log and break his skull.”
“What does that matter to you? So much the better if he should break his head, for then, instead of being ridden by an old man you would probably be mounted by a young one.”
The servant laughed a good deal upon hearing this conversation between the horses, but he took care to do so on the quiet, lest the king should hear him. At that moment his majesty turned round, and, seeing a smile on the man’s face, asked the cause of it.
“Oh nothing, your majesty, only some nonsense that came into my head.”
The king said nothing, and asked no more questions, but he was suspicious, and distrusted both servant and horses; so he hastened back to the palace.
When there he said to George, “Give me some wine, but mind you only pour out enough to fill the glass, for if you put in one drop too much, so that it overflows, I shall certainly order my executioner to cut off your head.”