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Slovak Legends - The Three Golden Hairs of Grandfather Know All

Slovak Folk Tales - There once lived a King who lost his way while hunting. A charcoal-burner invited the King to stay the night in his small thatched cottage. While there, a son was born to the charcoal-burner's wife. I can't sleep in this drafty hayloft, (peeking through the floorboards at the room below) Who is that old woman with a lighted taper bending over the baby?, read the full story at

Slovak Fairy Tales in English

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There was once a king who took great delight in searching. 1 day he followed a stag a great distance into the forest. He went on and on and on till he lost his way. Night fell and the king by happy chance came upon a clearing in which a charcoal-burner had a cottage. The king asked the charcoal-burner to lead him from the forest and offered to pay him handsomely.

"I'd be glad to go with you," the charcoal-burner said, "but my wife is expecting the birth of a child and I cannot leave her. Lie down on some hay in the garret and tomorrow I'll be your guide."

The king had to take this arrangement. He climbed into the garret and lay down on the floor. Shortly afterwards a son was born into the charcoal-burner.

At midnight the king noticed a peculiar light in the room underneath him. He peeped through a chink in the boards and saw that the charcoal-burner asleep, his wife lying in a dead faint, and three old women, all in white, standing on the baby, each holding a lighted taper in her hand.

The first old girl said: "My gift to this boy is that he shall encounter great dangers."

The next said: "My gift to him is that he shall go safely through them all, and live long."

The third man said: "And I give him for wife the baby daughter born this night to the king who lies upstairs on the straw."

The 3 old women blew out their tapers and all was quiet. They were the Fates.

The king felt as though a sword was thrust into his heart. He lay awake till morning trying to think out some plan where he could thwart the will of the 3 old Fates.

When day broke the kid began to cry and the charcoal-burner woke up. Then he noticed that his wife had died during the nighttime.

"Ah, my poor motherless child," he cried, "what shall I do with you now?"

The charcoal-burner was thrilled with this offer and the king went away promising to ship at once for the infant.

A few days later when he attained his palace he was satisfied with the joyful news that a gorgeous little baby daughter was born to him. He asked the time of her arrival, and of course it was on the very night when he saw that the Fates. Instead of being happy at the safe arrival of the infant princess, the king cried.

Then he called one of his stewards and explained to him: "Go into the forest in a direction that I shall tell you. Give him this money and get from him a little child. Do as I say or I shall have you drowned."

The steward went, discovered the charcoal-burner, and required the kid. He put it into a basket and carried it away. As he was crossing a wide river he dropped the basket into the water.

"Goodnight to you, little son-in-law that nobody wanted!" The king said when he noticed what the steward had done.

He assumed of course that the baby was drowned. Nevertheless, it was not. Its little basket floated in the water like a cradle, and the baby slept as though the lake were singing it a lullaby. It floated down with the current past a fisherman's cabin. The fisherman saw it, got into his ship, and went after it. When he discovered what the basket contained that he was overjoyed. At once he carried the infant to his wife and stated:

The river has given him to us."

The fisherman's wife was thrilled and brought up the child as her own. They named him Plavachek, so just a small boy that has come floating to the water.

The river flowed on and the days went by and Plavachek grew from a baby to a boy and then into a handsome youth, the handsomest by much in the whole countryside.

One day the king happened to ride that manner unattended. It was hot and he was hungry. He beckoned to the fisherman to get him a drink of refreshing water. Plavachek brought it to him.

"You have a fine lad," he said to the fisherman. "Is he your son?"

"He is, yet he isn't," the fisherman replied. "Just twenty years ago a little baby in a basket floated down the river. We took him in and he has been ours ever since."

A mist rose before the king's eyes and that he went deathly pale, for he understood at once that Plavachek was the kid that he had arranged drowned.

Shortly he recovered himself and jumping out of his horse said: "I need a messenger to send to my palace and I have no one with me.

"Your majesty has but to command," the fisherman said, "and Plavachek will go."

The king sat down and wrote a letter to the queen. That is what he said:

Let him be dispatched before I return.

He folded the letter, made it stable, and sealed it with his own signet.

Plavachek took the letter and began out with it simultaneously. He had to go through a deep woods where he missed the path and lost his way. He struggled on through underbrush and thicket till it started to grow dim. Then he met an old woman who said to him:

"I'm carrying this letter to the king's palace and I've lost my way.

"You can't get there today," the old woman said. Spend the night with me.

Plavachek allowed himself to be persuaded and now he saw before him a pretty small home that seemed at that moment to have sprung from the floor.

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During the night time while Plavachek was asleep, the little old woman took the letter out of his pocket and put into a different that read as follows:

"Have the young man who delivers this letter married to our daughter at once.

The next day Plavachek delivered the letter and as soon as the queen examine it, she gave orders at once for the wedding. Both she and her daughter had been much taken with the handsome childhood and gazed at him with tender eyes. As for Plavachek he fell instantly in love with the princess and was delighted to marry her.

A few days after the wedding that the king returned and when he discovered what had happened he flew into a violent rage at the queen.

Here is your letter."

The king took the letter and examined it carefully. The handwriting, the seal, the paper--all were his own.

He predicted his son-in-law and questioned him.

Plavachek related how he had lost his way in the woods and spent the night with his godmother.

"What does your godmother look like?" The king asked.

In the description the king realized her as the exact same old woman who had promised that the princess into the charcoal-burner's son twenty decades before.

He seemed in Plavachek thoughtfully and at last said:

He thought to himself that this could be an impossible undertaking and so would be a good way to get rid of an undesirable son-in-law.

Plavachek took leave of his bride and started off. He didn't know which way to go. Who'd know? Everybody spoke about older Grandfather Knowitall, but nobody seemed to know where to find him. Nevertheless Plavachek had a Fate to get a godmother, therefore it was not possible that he would overlook the right road.

He traveled long and far, moving over wooded hills and desert plains and crossing deep rivers. He came at last into some black sea.

There he saw a ship and an old ferryman.

"God bless you, old ferryman!" He explained.

Where are you going?"

"Oho! I have long been hunting for just such a messenger as you! For twenty years I have been ferrying people across this black sea and nobody has come to relieve me.

Plavachek promised and the boatman took him around.

Plavachek traveled on until he came to a great city which was in a state of decay. Before the town he met an old man who had a team in his hands, but even with the staff he could barely crawl.

Plavachek said.

Where are you going?"

"I am going to old Grandfather Knowitall to get three of his golden hairs."

"Indeed! I must lead you at once to the king."

So he took him to the king and the king said: "Ah, so you are going on an errand to Grandfather Knowitall! If any one ate one of those apples, no matter how aged he was, he'd become young again. But, alas, for twenty years now our tree has borne no fruit. If you promise to ask Grandfather Knowitall if there is any help for us, I will reward you handsomely."

Plavachek gave the king his promise and the king bid him godspeed.

Plavachek traveled on until he reached another wonderful city which was half in ruins. Not far from the city a man was burying his father, and tears as large as snacks were rolling down his cheek.

"God bless you, mournful grave-digger!" Plavachek explained.

"May God grant that prayer, kind traveler! Where are you going?"

"I'm going to old Grandfather Knowitall to get three of his golden hairs."

"To Grandfather Knowitall! What a pity you didn't come sooner! Our king has been waiting for just such a messenger as you! I must lead you to him."

So he took Plavachek into the king and the king said to him: "So you're going on an errand to Grandfather Knowitall. We have a well here that used to flow with the water of life. If any one drank of it, no matter how sick he was, he would get well. Nay, if he were already dead, this water, sprinkled upon him, would bring him back to life. But, alas, for twenty years now the well has gone dry. If you promise to ask Grandfather Knowitall if there is help for us, I will reward you handsomely."

Plavachek gave the king his guarantee and also the king bid him godspeed.

After that Plavachek traveled long and far into the black forest. Deep in the woods he came upon a broad green meadow filled with lovely flowers and in its center a golden palace glittering as though it had been on fire. This was the palace of Grandfather Knowitall.

Plavachek entered and found nobody there but an old lady who sat spinning into a corner.

"Welcome, Plavachek," she explained. "I am delighted to see you again."

He looked at the old woman and noticed that she had been his godmother with whom he'd spent the night after he was carrying the letter to the palace.

"What has brought you here, Plavachek?" she asked.

"The king, godmother. He says I can't be his son-in-law for nothing. I have to give a dowry. So he has sent me to old Grandfather Knowitall to get three of his golden hairs."

The old woman smiled and said: "Do you know who Grandfather Knowitall is? Why, he's the bright Sun who goes everywhere and sees everything. I am his mother. In the morning he's a little lad, at noon he's a grown man, and in the evening an old grandfather. I will get you three of the golden hairs from his golden head, for I must not be a godmother for nothing! But, my lad, you mustn't remain where you are. My son is kind, but if he comes home hungry he might want to roast you and eat you for his supper. There's an empty tub over there and I'll just cover you with it."

Plavachek begged his godmother to get from Grandfather Knowitall the answers to the three questions he had promised to inquire.

"I will," said the old woman, "and do you listen carefully to what he says."

Suddenly there was the rushing sound of a mighty wind outside and the Sun, an old grandfather with a gold head, flew in by the western window. He sniffed the air suspiciously.

"Phew! Phew!" He cried. "I smell human flesh! Have you any one here, mother?"

"Star of the day, whom could I have here without your seeing him? The truth is you've been flying all day long over God's world and your nose is filled with the smell of human flesh. That's why you still smell it when you come home in the evening."

The old man said nothing more and sat down to his supper.

After dinner he laid his head to the older girl's lap and fell sound asleep. The older woman pulled out a gold hair and threw it on the floor. It twanged such as the string of a violin.

"What is it, mother?" The old guy said. "What is it?"

"Nothing, my boy, nothing. I was asleep and had a wonderful dream."

"What dream did you dream about, mother?"

"I dreamt about a city where they had a well of living water. If any one drank of it, no matter how sick he was, he would get well. Nay, if he were already dead, this water, sprinkled on him, would bring him back to life. For the last twenty years the well has gone dry. Is there anything to be done to make it flow again?"

"Yes. There's a frog sitting on the spring that feeds the well. Let them kill the frog and clean out the well and the water will flow as before."

When he dropped asleep again the old girl pulled out another gold hair and drove it around the floor.

"What is it, mother?"

"Nothing, my boy, nothing. I was asleep again and I had a wonderful dream. I dreamt of a city where they had an apple-tree that bore apples of youth. If any one ate one of those apples, no matter how aged he was, he'd become young again. But for twenty years the tree has borne no fruit. Can anything be done about it?"

"Yes. In the roots of the tree there is a snake that takes its strength. Let them kill the snake and transplant the tree. Then it will bear fruit as before."

He dropped again and the old woman pulled out a third golden hair.

"Why won't you let me sleep, mother?" He whined, and started to sit back.

"Lie still, my boy, lie still. I didn't intend to wake you, but a heavy sleep fell upon me and I had another wonderful dream. I dreamt of a boatman on the black sea. For twenty years he has been ferrying that boat and no one has offered to relieve him. When will he be relieved?"

"Ah, but that boatman is the son of a stupid mother! Why doesn't he thrust the oar into the hand of some one else and jump ashore himself?" Then another man would need to be ferryman in his or her place. But today let me be silent. I must get up early tomorrow and go and dry the tears that the king's daughter sheds every night because of her husband, the charcoal-burner's son, whom the king has delivered to receive three of my gold hairs."

In the morning there was again the rushing sound of a mighty wind outside and a beautiful golden child--no longer an old man--awoke on his mother's lap. It was the glorious Sun. He bade his mother farewell and flew out by an eastern window.

The old woman turned over the tub and said to Plavachek: "Here are the three golden hairs to you. In addition you have Grandfather Knowitall's responses to your three questions. Now good-by. As you will need me no longer, you won't ever see me again."

Plavachek thanked his godmother most gratefully and departed.

When he reached the first city the king asked him what news he brought.

"Good news!" Plavachek said. "Have the well cleaned out and kill the frog which sits on its own spring. If you do that the water will flow again as it used to."

The king ordered this to be done at once and when he saw the water beginning to bubble up and flow again, he made Plavachek a present of twelve horses, white as swans, laden with as much gold and silver as they could carry.

When Plavachek came to the second city and the king of that city asked him what news he brought, he said:

"Good news! Have the apple tree awakened. At its roots you'll find a snake. Kill the snake and replant the tree. Subsequently it will bear fruit as it used to."

The king had this done at once and during the night the tree burst into bloom and bore great quantities of fruit. The king was delighted and made Plavachek a present of twelve horses, black as ravens, laden with as much riches as they could carry.

Plavachek traveled on and when he came to the black sea, the boatman asked him had he the answer to his question.

"Yes, I have," said Plavachek, "however, you have to ferry me over until I tell you."

The boatman wanted to hear the answer at once, but Plavachek was firm. So the old man ferried him across with his twelve white horses and his twelve black horses.

When Plavachek was safely landed, he said: "The next man who comes to be ferried over, thrust the oar into his hands and do you jump ashore. Then another man will need to be boatman in your place."

Plavachek traveled home to the palace. The king could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw the three golden hairs of Grandfather Knowitall. The princess wept again, not for sorrow this time but for joy at her bridegroom's return.

"But, Plavachek," the king gasped, "where did you get these beautiful horses and all these wealth?"

"I earned them," said Plavachek proudly. Then he related how he helped one king who had a tree of the apples of youth and another king who had a well of the water of life.

"Apples of childhood! Water of life!" the king kept repeating softly to himself. "If I ate a few of these apples I must become young again! If I had been dead the water of life would restore me!"

He lost no time in starting out in quest of the apples of youth and the water of life. And would you know, he hasn't come back yet!

So Plavachek, the charcoal-burner's son, became the king's son-in-law since the old Fate foretold.

As for the king, well, I fear he is still ferrying that boat across the dark sea!


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