European: Seven-Headed Serpent

This story is part of the Lang's European Fairy Tales II unit. Story source: The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang, illustrated by H. J. Ford (1894).

Seven-Headed Serpent
(a Modern Greek tale)

Once upon a time, there was a king who determined to take a long voyage. He assembled his fleet and all the seamen and set out. They went straight on night and day until they came to an island which was covered with large trees, and under every tree lay a lion.

As soon as the King had landed his men, the lions all rose up together and tried to devour them. After a long battle, they managed to overcome the wild beasts, but the greater number of the men were killed. Those who remained alive now went on through the forest and found on the other side of it a beautiful garden, in which all the plants of the world flourished together.

There were also in the garden three springs: the first flowed with silver, the second with gold, and the third with pearls. The men unbuckled their knapsacks and filled them with those precious things.

In the middle of the garden they found a large lake, and when they reached the edge of it, the Lake began to speak and said to them, 'What men are you, and what brings you here? Are you come to visit our king?' But they were too much frightened to answer.

Then the Lake said, 'You do well to be afraid, for it is at your peril that you are come hither. Our king, who has seven heads, is now asleep, but in a few minutes he will wake up and come to me to take his bath! Woe to anyone who meets him in the garden, for it is impossible to escape from him. This is what you must do if you wish to save your lives. Take off your clothes and spread them on the path which leads from here to the castle. The King will then glide over something soft, which he likes very much, and he will be so pleased with that that he will not devour you. He will give you some punishment, but then he will let you go.'

The men did as the Lake advised them and waited for a time. At noon, the earth began to quake, and opened in many places, and out of the openings appeared lions, tigers, and other wild beasts which surrounded the castle, and thousands and thousands of beasts came out of the castle following their king, the Seven-headed Serpent.

The Serpent glided over the clothes which were spread for him, came to the Lake, and asked it who had strewed those soft things on the path. The Lake answered that it had been done by people who had come to do him homage. The King commanded that the men should be brought before him.

They came humbly on their knees and in a few words told him their story. Then he spoke to them with a mighty and terrible voice and said, 'Because you have dared to come here, I lay upon you the punishment. Every year you must bring me from among your people twelve youths and twelve maidens that I may devour them. If you do not do this, I will destroy your whole nation.'

Then he desired one of his beasts to show the men the way out of the garden and dismissed them. They then left the island and went back to their own country, where they related what had happened to them.

Soon the time came round when the king of the beasts would expect the youths and maidens to be brought to him. The King therefore issued a proclamation inviting twelve youths and twelve maidens to offer themselves up to save their country, and immediately many young people, far more than enough, hastened to do so. A new ship was built and set with black sails, and in it the youths and maidens who were appointed for the king of the beasts embarked and set out for his country.

When they arrived there, they went at once to the Lake, and this time the lions did not stir, nor did the springs flow, and neither did the Lake speak. So they waited then, and it was not long before the earth quaked even more terribly than the first time. The Seven-headed Serpent came without his train of beasts, saw his prey waiting for him, and devoured it at one mouthful. Then the ship's crew returned home, and the same thing happened yearly until many years had passed.

(700 words)

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