The Serpent and the Peasant
Once this monarch saw a vision. In his dream, there hung from the ceiling in his house a fox suspended by the tail. He awoke; he could not see what the dream signified. He assembled his viziers, but they also could not divine what this dream presaged.
Then he said: 'Assemble all my kingdom together; perhaps some one may interpret it.' On the third day, all the people of his kingdom assembled in the king's palace. Among others came a poor peasant.
In one place, he had to travel along a footpath. The path on both sides was shut in by rocky mountains. When the peasant arrived there, he saw a serpent lying on the path, stretching its neck and putting out its tongue.
When the peasant went near, the serpent called out: 'Good day, where art thou going, peasant?'
The peasant told what was the matter.
The serpent said: 'Do not fear him; give me thy word that what the king gives thou wilt share with me, and I will teach thee.'
The peasant rejoiced, gave his word, and swore, saying: 'I will bring thee all that the king presents to me if thou wilt aid me in this matter.'
The serpent said: 'I shall divide it in halves; half will be thine — when thou seest the king, say: "The fox meant this: that in the kingdom there is cunning, hypocrisy, and treachery."'
The peasant went; he approached the king and told even what the serpent had taught. The king was very much pleased and gave great presents. The peasant did not return by that way so that he might not share with the serpent, but went by another path.
Some time passed by; the king saw another vision: in his dream, a naked sword hung suspended from the roof. The king this time sent a man quickly for the peasant and asked him to come. The peasant was very uneasy in mind. There was nothing for it; the peasant went by the same footpath as before.
He came to that place where he saw the serpent before, but now he saw the serpent there no more. He cried out: 'O serpent, come here one moment; I need thee.' He ceased not until the serpent came.
It said: 'What dost thou want? What distresses thee?'
The peasant answered: 'Thus and thus is the matter, and I should like some aid.'
The serpent replied: 'Go, tell the king that the naked sword means war — now enemies are intriguing within and without; he must prepare for battle and attack.'
The peasant thanked the serpent and went. He came and told the king even as the serpent had commanded. The king was pleased; he began to prepare for war and gave the peasant great presents.
Now the peasant went by that path where the serpent was waiting.
The serpent said: 'Now give me the half thou hast promised.'
The peasant replied: 'Half, certainly not! I shall give thee a black stone and a burning cinder.'
He drew out his sword and pursued it. The serpent retreated into a hole, but the peasant followed it and cut off its tail with his sword.
Some time passed, and the king again saw a vision. In this vision, a slain sheep was hanging from the roof. The king sent a man quickly for the peasant. The peasant was now very much afraid. And he said: 'How can I approach the king?'
Formerly the serpent had taught him, but now it could no longer do this, for its goodness he had wounded it with the sword.
Nevertheless, he went by that footpath. When he came to the place where the serpent had been, he cried out: 'O serpent, come here one moment; I want to ask thee something.'
The serpent came. The man told his grief.
The serpent said: 'If thou givest me half of what the king gives thee, I shall tell thee.' He promised and swore.
The serpent said: 'This is a sign that now everywhere peace falls on all; the people are become like quiet, gentle sheep.'
The peasant thanked it and went his way. When he came to the king, he spoke as the serpent had instructed him. The king was exceedingly pleased and gave him greater presents.
The peasant returned by the way where the serpent was waiting. He came to the serpent, divided everything he had received from the king, and said: 'Thou hast been patient with me, and now I will give thee even what was given me before by the king.' He humbly asked forgiveness for his former offences.
The serpent said: 'Be not grieved nor troubled; it certainly was not thy fault. The first time, when all the people were entirely deceitful and there was treachery and hypocrisy in the land, thou too wert a deceiver for, in spite of thy promise, thou wentest home by another way. The second time, when there was war everywhere, quarrels and assassination, thou, too, didst quarrel with me and cut off my tail. But now, when peace and love have fallen on all, thou bringest the gifts, and sharest all with me. Go, brother, may the peace of God rest with thee! I do not want thy wealth.'
And the serpent went away and cast itself into its hole.
Next: The Two Brothers