[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the African Stories (Lang) unit. Story source: The Violet Fairy Book by Andrew Lang and illustrated by H. J. Ford (1901).
(see previous page for audio)Then suddenly the thought darted into his head, 'This scorpion must have come from somewhere! Perhaps there is a hole. I will go and look for it,' and he felt all round the walls of the pit till he found a very little hole in the roof of the pit, with a tiny glimmer of light at the far end of it. Then his heart felt glad, and he took out his knife and dug and dug, till the little hole became a big one, and he could wriggle himself through. And when he had got outside, he saw a large open space in front of him and a path leading out of it.
He went along the path, on and on, till he reached a large house with a golden door standing open. Inside was a great hall, and in the middle of the hall a throne set with precious stones and a sofa spread with the softest cushions. And he went in, and lay down on it, and fell fast asleep, for he had wandered far.
By-and-by there was a sound of people coming through the courtyard, and the measured tramp of soldiers. This was the King of the Snakes coming in state to his palace.
They entered the hall, but all stopped in surprise at finding a man lying on the king's own bed. The soldiers wished to kill him at once, but the king said, 'Leave him alone, put me on a chair,' and the soldiers who were carrying him knelt on the floor, and he slid from their shoulders on to a chair. When he was comfortably seated, he turned to his soldiers and bade them wake the stranger gently. And they woke him, and he sat up and saw many snakes all round him, and one of them very beautiful, decked in royal robes.
'Who are you?' asked Hassebu.
'My name is Hassebu, but whence I come I know not, nor whither I go.'
'Then stay for a little with me,' said the king, and he bade his soldiers bring water from the spring and fruits from the forest, and to set them before the guest.
For some days Hassebu rested and feasted in the palace of the King of the Snakes, and then he began to long for his mother and his own country. So he said to the King of the Snakes, 'Send me home, I pray.'
But the King of the Snakes answered, 'When you go home, you will do me evil!'
'I will do you no evil,' replied Hassebu; 'send me home, I pray.'
But the king said, 'I know it. If I send you home, you will come back and kill me. I dare not do it.' But Hassebu begged so hard that at last the king said, 'Swear that when you get home you will not go to bathe where many people are gathered.' And Hassebu swore, and the king ordered his soldiers to take Hassebu in sight of his native city. Then he went straight to his mother's house, and the heart of his mother was glad.
Now the Sultan of the city was very ill, and all the wise men said that the only thing to cure him was the flesh of the King of the Snakes, and that the only man who could get it was a man with a strange mark on his chest. So the Vizir had set people to watch at the public baths to see if such a man came there.
For three days Hassebu remembered his promise to the King of the Snakes and did not go near the baths; then came a morning so hot he could hardly breathe, and he forgot all about it.
The moment he had slipped off his robe, he was taken before the Vizir, who said to him, 'Lead us to the place where the King of the Snakes lives.'
'I do not know it!' answered he, but the Vizir did not believe him, and had him bound and beaten till his back was all torn.
Then Hassebu cried, 'Loose me that I may take you.'
They went together a long, long way, till they reached the palace of the King of the Snakes.
And Hassebu said to the King: 'It was not I: look at my back and you will see how they drove me to it.'
'Who has beaten you like this?' asked the King.
'It was the Vizir,' replied Hassebu.
'Then I am already dead,' said the King sadly, 'but you must carry me there yourself.'
So Hassebu carried him. And on the way the King said, 'When I arrive, I shall be killed, and my flesh will be cooked. But take some of the water that I am boiled in and put it in a bottle and lay it on one side. The Vizir will tell you to drink it, but be careful not to do so. Then take some more of the water, and drink it, and you will become a great physician, and the third supply you will give to the Sultan. And when the Vizir comes to you and asks, "Did you drink what I gave you?" you must answer, "I did, and this is for you," and he will drink it and die! and your soul will rest.'
And they went their way into the town, and all happened as the King of the Snakes had said.
And the Sultan loved Hassebu, who became a great physician and cured many sick people. But he was always sorry for the poor King of the Snakes.
Next: The Heart of a Monkey