The Greatest Loafer of Them All

A Lithuanian fairy tale, this version is from Tales of The Amber Sea, compiled and translated by Irina Zheleznova in 1974.

Once there lived a king whose only daughter, though fair and of a marriageable age, was still husbandless and in danger of remaining an old maid. Many suitors, rich and not so rich, brave and not so brave, learned men and fools,, came to plead for the princess’s hand but not one could please the king. A strange man was this king: in winter he rode about in a cart and summer, in a sledge; he wore his clothes back to front, walked backward instead of forward, and his beard, so they said, grew not on his chin but on his forehead.

Now, the king had envoys sent out far and wide to seek a husband for his daughter saying that he would only give her in marriage and leave his kingdom, too, to the laziest man that could be found.

Three years pased, and the first envoy came back.

The king sat there taking snuff and stroking the beard on his forehead and he asked the envoy what he had seen and what he had heard.

“I have walked the length and breadth of many a land and seen many cities and many people, too, Your Majesty,” said the envoy, “but nowhere did I meet anyone so lazy as Stepas Dilde.”

“Who is this Stepas Dilde? Tell me about him!” said the king sternly. For, you see, he was a true king, and kings are wont to be stern.

“He is a most remarkable man, Your Majesty. I met him by the wayside, and he had one leg stuck in a pool of mud and the other raised over a bridge. I asked him what he was waiting for and he said in reply that he had been standing like that for over two months because he was too lazy to pull his leg out of the mud.”

“A true loafer!” the king agreed, and he gestured to his scribes to jot down the man’s name in their books.

In the meantime the second envoy had also returned.

“I have crossed many mountains and rivers during my travels, Your Majesty,” said he, “and met many people, but I particularly remember one of them, a man so lazy that I am sure you will find no one more suitable to be your son-in-law.”

“Tell me about him!” said the king, sneezing loudly.

“Well, Your Majesty, he lives in a village and has grown himself such a long beard and whiskers that they have cloaked the whole village like rain clouds. In one of his whiskers a stork has made a nest and in the other, a family of ants have built a huge ant-hill. I asked him why he had let his whiskers and beard grow to such a length but he was too lazy to reply. Nearby lay a rusty razor which he has never touched. The people there told me that he has not shaved for twenty-four years.”

“A droll fellow”” said the king, and asked after some hesitation: “Does he ever scratch his beard or is he too lazy to do even that much?”

“No, he’s not, Your Majesty,” the envoy replied. “All he does is scratch. Also, now and again he picks up a pebbles and flings it at the crows who like to perch on his whiskers.”

The king smiled and waved his hand, bidding his scribes put down in their books the second envoy’s story.

Meanwhile the third envoy had arrived and was awaiting his turn in the royal anteroom. He was ushered into the king’s presence, and, after bowing to the king and lauding his wisdom, said:

“I have seen so many interesting things during my travels, Your Majesty, that it would be enough to fill ten books and more. But nothing and no one struck me so much as a man I met a loafer who hasn’t his equal on earth and who, I feel sure, is truly worthy of becoming your son-in-law.”

“Out with it, then, and tell us about him!” said the king, brightening.

“So lazy is this man, Your Majesty, that he has not been out of his house in fourteen years. All he does is sit at the table and offer advice to his family. Once, just as I had arrived, his house caught fire but he did not so much as stir. His clothes began to smoulder and his moustache and beard to burn and still he kept hoping that the fire would die out of itself. In the end, they dragged him out from the table by force. A good thing, too, or he would have burnt to death like a rat!”

“A rare case. Let him be crowned with the Wreath of the Grand Loafer!” the king exclaimed, and, hearing that the fourth envoy had returned, bade his servants show him in.

Having prostrated himself before the king and kissed the hem of his long mantle, the fourth envoy wiped his face and proceeded to tell his story.

“O Your Royal Majesty, O Wisdom and Goodness!” he began. “You can put me fetters and let me be torn by wild beasts if you have heard anything to equal that which I am about to tell you. I crossed many seas and traversed many mountains during my travels and I saw just about everything there is to see, but nothing and no one left me so shaken as the great loafer of the Land of Idlers.”

“What is he famed for?” asked the king, winding one of his long red whiskers round his finger.

“For lying under the same tree in his kitchen garden for sixteen years and watching for a turnip or carrot to grow up in front of his nose. All about him and even on his nose and forehead little yellow turnips have sprung up, but, being too lazy to move a finger, he never touches them. He eats nothing except for an apple or a plum that happens to drop in his mouth and is as thing and dry as a lath.”

“Does that kind of life please him?” asked the king.

“Very much, Your Majesty! I had a long talk with him and it seems he has a sweet tooth. He kept saying how much he’d have liked an apple or a pear to grow up under his nose, or better still, in his mouth.”

“A rare loafer, indeed!” agreed the king. “And a learned and patient one as well. I wonder what my last envoy will have to tell me.”

The king had just gestured to his scribes to put down the fourth envoy’s story when the fifth envoy burst into the throne-room.

“You look excited, my man,” said the king. “I supposed you have seen many wonders. Come, then, tell us about them!”

“O great and mighty king!” the man began. “I have seen what your other envoys have seen but I doubt that they have seen what it has fallen to my lot to see. After three years of travels and adventures and many narrow escapes from death, I arrived in a certain land and there learned of the existence of a loafer like no other. Some think him dead, some, living, some believe him to be a saint and some don’t know what to believe. I have seen this loafer with my own eyes. He sits on a hillock, and swallows nest under his chin and behind his ears. He has not stirred for seventy years. He has stopped up his ears with wax, for he is too lazy to use them, and has thrust out his tongue and tied a large stone to its tip because he is too lazy to talk. He eats nothing at all and lives on air, for he is too lazy to stretch out his hand for the food even when it is brought him. About ten years ago he was seen to move his lips and that was when those around him decided that he was alive.”

“The very man to be my son-in-law!” cried the king, and, rewarding his envoys, especially the last one, richly, he ordered the wedding to be held without delay and the guests invited, and himself set out is his best cart to fetch the greatest loafer of them all.

The loafer married the princess and, in due time, became king. They say that he made a most excellent king, for after a few years of his reign his subjects turned into even greater loafers than he was himself.

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