The white snake


A serpente branca

A long time ago there lived a king who was famed for his wisdom through all the land. Nothing was hidden from him, and it seemed as if news of the most secret things was brought to him through the air. But he had a strange custom; every day after dinner, when the table was cleared, and no one else was present, a trusty servant had to bring him one more dish. It was covered, however, and even the servant did not know what was in it, neither did anyone know, for the King never took off the cover to eat of it until he was quite alone. This had gone on for a long time, when one day the servant, who took away the dish, was overcome with such curiosity that he could not help carrying the dish into his room. When he had carefully locked the door, he lifted up the cover, and saw a white snake lying on the dish. But when he saw it he could not deny himself the pleasure of tasting it, so he cut off a little bit and put it into his mouth. No sooner had it touched his tongue than he heard a strange whispering of little voices outside his window. He went and listened, and then noticed that it was the sparrows who were chattering together, and telling one another of all kinds of things which they had seen in the fields and woods. Eating the snake had given him power of understanding the language of animals.

Now it so happened that on this very day the Queen lost her most beautiful ring, and suspicion of having stolen it fell upon this trusty servant, who was allowed to go everywhere. The King ordered the man to be brought before him, and threatened with angry words that unless he could before the morrow point out the thief, he himself should be looked upon as guilty and executed. In vain he declared his innocence; he was dismissed with no better answer. In his trouble and fear he went down into the courtyard and took thought how to help himself out of his trouble. Now some ducks were sitting together quietly by a brook and taking their rest; and, whilst they were making their feathers smooth with their bills, they were having a confidential conversation together. The servant stood by and listened. They were telling one another of all the places where they had been waddling about all the morning, and what good food they had found, and one said in a pitiful tone, "Something lies heavy on my stomach; as I was eating in haste I swallowed a ring which lay under the Queen's window." The servant at once seized her by the neck, carried her to the kitchen, and said to the cook, "Here is a fine duck; pray, kill her." - "Yes," said the cook, and weighed her in his hand; "she has spared no trouble to fatten herself, and has been waiting to be roasted long enough." So he cut off her head, and as she was being dressed for the spit, the Queen's ring was found inside her. The servant could now easily prove his innocence; and the King, to make amends for the wrong, allowed him to ask a favour, and promised him the best place in the court that he could wish for.

The servant refused everything, and only asked for a horse and some money for travelling, as he had a mind to see the world and go about a little. When his request was granted he set out on his way, and one day came to a pond, where he saw three fishes caught in the reeds and gasping for water. Now, though it is said that fishes are dumb, he heard them lamenting that they must perish so miserably, and, as he had a kind heart, he got off his horse and put the three prisoners back into the water. They quivered with delight, put out their heads, and cried to him, "We will remember you and repay you for saving us!" He rode on, and after a while it seemed to him that he heard a voice in the sand at his feet. He listened, and heard an ant-king complain, "Why cannot folks, with their clumsy beasts, keep off our bodies? That stupid horse, with his heavy hoofs, has been treading down my people without mercy!" So he turned on to a side path and the ant-king cried out to him, 'We will remember you - one good turn deserves another!" The path led him into a wood, and here he saw two old ravens standing by their nest, and throwing out their young ones. "Out with you, you idle, good-for-nothing creatures!" cried they; "we cannot find food for you any longer; you are big enough, and can provide for yourselves." But the poor young ravens lay upon the ground, flapping their wings, and crying, "Oh, what helpless chicks we are! We must shift for ourselves, and yet we cannot fly! What can we do, but lie here and starve?" So the good young fellow alighted and killed his horse with his sword, and gave it to them for food. Then they came hopping up to it, satisfied their hunger, and cried, "We will remember you - one good turn deserves another!"

And now he had to use his own legs, and when he had walked a long way, he came to a large city. There was a great noise and crowd in the streets, and a man rode up on horseback, crying aloud, "The King's daughter wants a husband; but whoever sues for her hand must perform a hard task, and if he does not succeed he will forfeit his life." Many had already made the attempt, but in vain; nevertheless when the youth saw the King's daughter he was so overcome by her great beauty that he forgot all danger, went before the King, and declared himself a suitor.

So he was led out to the sea, and a gold ring was thrown into it, in his sight; then the King ordered him to fetch this ring up from the bottom of the sea, and added, "If you come up again without it you will be thrown in again and again until you perish amid the waves." All the people grieved for the handsome youth; then they went away, leaving him alone by the sea. He stood on the shore and considered what he should do, when suddenly he saw three fishes come swimming towards him, and they were the very fishes whose lives he had saved. The one in the middle held a mussel in its mouth, which it laid on the shore at the youth's feet, and when he had taken it up and opened it, there lay the gold ring in the shell. Full of joy he took it to the King, and expected that he would grant him the promised reward. But when the proud princess perceived that he was not her equal in birth, she scorned him, and required him first to perform another task. She went down into the garden and strewed with her own hands ten sacks-full of millet-seed on the grass; then she said, "To-morrow morning before sunrise these must be picked up, and not a single grain be wanting." The youth sat down in the garden and considered how it might be possible to perform this task, but he could think of nothing, and there he sat sorrowfully awaiting the break of day, when he should be led to death. But as soon as the first rays of the sun shone into the garden he saw all the ten sacks standing side by side, quite full, and not a single grain was missing. The ant-king had come in the night with thousands and thousands of ants, and the grateful creatures had by great industry picked up all the millet-seed and gathered them into the sacks. Presently the King's daughter herself came down into the garden, and was amazed to see that the young man had done the task she had given him. But she could not yet conquer her proud heart, and said, "Although he has performed both the tasks, he shall not be my husband until he has brought me an apple from the Tree of Life." The youth did not know where the Tree of Life stood, but he set out, and would have gone on for ever, as long as his legs would carry him, though he had no hope of finding it. After he had wandered through three kingdoms, he came one evening to a wood, and lay down under a tree to sleep. But he heard a rustling in the branches, and a golden apple fell into his hand. At the same time three ravens flew down to him, perched themselves upon his knee, and said, "We are the three young ravens whom you saved from starving; when we had grown big, and heard that you were seeking the Golden Apple, we flew over the sea to the end of the world, where the Tree of Life stands, and have brought you the apple." The youth, full of joy, set out homewards, and took the Golden Apple to the King's beautiful daughter, who had no more excuses left to make. They cut the Apple of Life in two and ate it together; and then her heart became full of love for him, and they lived in undisturbed happiness to a great age.
Ha muito, muito tempo, houve um rei famoso em todo o país pela sua sabedoria. Nada ignorava e parecia que as notícias das coisas mais secretas lhe chegavam através do espaço.
Esse rei tinha, porém, um hábito esquisito: todos os dias, uma vez terminadas as refeições, e ninguém mais se achando presente, um criado muito fiel devia trazer- lhe ainda uma sopeira coberta. O próprio criado não sabia o que continha, ninguém o sabia, porquanto o rei só a destapava quando estava completamente só.
Isso durava há bastante tempo, até que um dia, não resistindo à curiosidade, o criado, ao levar de volta a sopeira, carregou-a para o quarto. Fechou, cuidadosamente, a porta, levantou a tampa e viu dentro uma serpente branca. Não pôde furtar-se ao desejo de prová-la e cortou um pedacinho, levando-o à boca; mas, apenas lhe tocou a língua, ouviu através da janela um estranho sussurro de vozinhas sutis. Chegou à janela e pôs-se a escutar; percebeu que eram dois pardais que conversavam entre si, contando tudo o que tinham visto nos campos e bosques. O pedaço de serpente que provara dera- -lhe a faculdade de entender a linguagem dos animais.
Ora, aconteceu que, justamente nesse dia, desapareceu o mais bonito anel da rainha. As suspeitas de furto recaíram sobre o criado fiel, que tinha entrada em todos os aposentos do palácio. O rei chamou-o à sua presença e repreendeu-o severamente, ameaçando condená-lo como ladrão se até ao dia seguinte não indicasse o verdadeiro autor do furto. De nada adiantaram os protestos de inocência; a posição dele era bastante precária.
Amedrontado e aflito, dirigiu-se ao pátio, cogitando na maneira de sair daquela situação. Perto do regato que por lá serpeava, repousavam tranquilamente algumas patas, deitadas uma junto da outra; alisavam-se as penas com o bico e tagarelavam misteriosamente. O criado deteve-se a ouvi-las; cada qual contava onde estivera pela manhã e que ótimos quitutes havia encontrado. Uma delas, aborrecida, contou:
- Algo me pesa no estômago. Esta manhã encontrei um anel debaixo da janela da rainha e, na pressa com que estava comendo, enguli-o.
Imediatamente o criado pegou-a pelo pescoço e levou-a à cozinha, dizendo ao cozinheiro:
- Mata que esta está bem gorda.
O cozinheiro ergueu-a com a mão a fim de calcular o peso e disse:
- Realmente, esta não perdeu tempo em engordar e já está na hora de ser assada!
Cortou-lhe a cabeça, e, quando foi aberta, encontrou- se o anel da rainha em seu estômago. Assim, o criado pôde facilmente demonstrar sua inocência. O rei, então, querando reparar a injustiça cometida, autorizou-o a fazer um pedido e, ao mesmo tempo, ofereceu-lhe o mais alto cargo do reino.
O criado recusou tudo, pedindo somente um cavalo e dinheiro suficiente para viajar, pois tinha vontade de conhecer o mundo. O pedido foi atendido e ele pôs-se a caminho. Um dia, passando perto de uma lagoa, viu três peixes enredados nos juncos e que arquejavam fora da água. Embora se diga que os peixes sejam mudos, ele ouviu distintamente que se lamentavam por terem de morrer tão tristemente, e, como era de bom coração, desceu do cavalo e recolocou os três prisioneiros dentro da água. Eles voltaram a nadar alegremente e, pondo a cabeça para fora, disseram:
- Havemos de nos lembrar e te recompensaremos por nos teres salvo!
Ele prosseguiu o caminho e, pouco depois, pareceu-lhe ouvir uma voz sob os pés, saindo da areia. Deteve-se a escutar e ouviu o rei das formigas queixar-se:
- Oh, se os homens passassem ao largo com suas descuidadas montarias! Esse estúpido cavalo, com os pesados cascos, espezinhou sem piedade meu pobre povo!
Ele então desviou o cavalo para um caminho pedregoso e o rei das formigas disse-lhe:
- Havemos de nos lembrar e te recompensaremos!
A estrada, por onde seguia, conduziu-o a uma floresta; aí viu dois corvos, pai e mãe, que estavam atirando fora do ninho os filhotes!
- Fora, - gritavam, - fora daqui seus mandriões; não podemos mais alimentar-vos; fora, já estais suficientemente crescidos para sustentar-vos sozinhos.
Os pobres filhotes jaziam por terra, batendo as asas e gritando:
- Ai de nós, pobres infelizes! Temos de nos manter sozinhos e ainda nem sabemos voar! não nos resta senão morrer aqui de fome!
O bom criado, então, desceu do cavalo e matou-o com a espada; depois entregou-o aos filhotes dos corvos para que se alimentassem. Estes acorreram saltitando, e após terem comido à vontade, disseram:
- Havemos de nos lembrar e te recompensaremos.
Agora não lhe restava outro recurso senão servir-se das próprias pernas. Anda e anda e anda, chegando afinal a uma grande cidade. As ruas estavam apinhadas de gente que fazia barulho ensurdecedor; nisso viu chegar um arauto a cavalo, anunciando que a filha do rei desejava casar-se, mas, quem aspirasse à mão dela, deveria antes executar uma tarefa extremamente difícil e se não o conseguisse seria morto. Muitos já haviam tentado e sacrificaram inutilmente a própria vida.
Quando o jovem viu a princesa, ficou tão fascinado com sua beleza que esqueceu todo e qualquer perigo e apresentou-se ao rei como pretendente.
Logo foi conduzido à beira mar onde, em sua presença, atiraram um anel de ouro à água. O rei ordenou que o pescasse do fundo do mar, acrescentando:
- Se voltares à tona sem o anel, serás mergulhado de novo, até morreres afogado.
Todo mundo lastimava a sorte do belo jovem. Ele ficou sozinho junto ao mar, pensando no que lhe cumpria fazer quando, de repente, viu surgirem três peixes que vinham nadando em sua direção; eram exatamente os mesmos que havia salvo durante sua viagem. O que vinha no meio trazia na boca uma concha, que depositou na areia, aos pés do jovem; este recolheu-a e, ao abri-la, encontrou dentro dela o anel de ouro.
Agradeceu aos peixes e, radiante de alegria, correu para levar o anel ao rei, esperando obter a prometida recompensa.
A orgulhosa princesa, quando soube que ele não era de sangue real, desprezou-o, exigindo que executasse outra tarefa. Descendo ao jardim, ela espalhou com as próprias mãos dez sacos de milho no meio da grama, e disse:
- Se quiser casar comigo, terá que catar todo esse milho, sem que falte um só grão, até amanhã cedo, antes de raiar o sol.
O jovem sentou-se preocupado no jardim e meditava, sem atinar na maneira de levar a termo aquela difícil tarefa. Desanimado e triste, contava ser condenado à morte assim que amanhecesse. Mas, quando os primeiros raios do sol iluminaram o jardim viu os dez sacos enfileirados, todos cheios, não faltando sequer um grãozinho de milho. O rei das formigas havia chegado durante a noite com milhões de súditos, e os insetozinhos, reconhecidos e zelosos, cataram todos os grãozinhos e encheram os dez sacos.
A princesa desceu ao jardim e, pessoalmente, constatou, com grande assombro, que o jovem cumprira o que lhe tinha sido imposto. Ainda assim, não conseguiu vencer o orgulho que lhe dominava o coração.
- Embora tenha executado as duas tarefas, - disse ela, - não o desposarei a não ser que me traga uma maçã da árvore da vida.
O jovem ignorava completamente onde se encontrava a árvore da vida, contudo pôs-se a caminho disposto a andar enquanto Iho permitissem as pernas, sem esperança, porém, de encontrar a tal árvore.
Havia já percorrido três reinos quando, um dia, ao entardecer, chegou a uma floresta. Muito cansado, sentou-se debaixo de uma árvore, tencionando dormir aí. De repente, ouviu um roçagar por entre os galhos e uma maçã de ouro veio cair-lhe na mão. No mesmo instante, desceram voando três corvos; pousaram-lhe sobre os joelhos, dizendo:
- Somos os três pequenos corvos que livraste de morrer de fome. Agora já crescemos e viemos a saber que andavas à procura da maçã de ouro, senão terias que morrer. Então atravessamos o mar, voando até aos confins do mundo, onde se encontra a árvore da vida, e de lá te trouxemos a maçã.
O jovem agradeceu muito e, radiante de alegria, retomou o caminho rumo ao palácio, levando a maçã à princesa.
Dividiram pelo meio a maçã da vida e comeram-na juntos; assim o coração da princesa encheu-se de amor pelo jovem.
Casaram-se e viveram bem felizes até idade muito avançada.

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