A Latvian fairy tale, this version was published in ‘Fairy Tales from the Soviet Union’ in 1986.
Once upon a time there was a little house on the seashore, and in it lived a poor fisherman. All that his large family had to eat was the fish he caught in the sea.
Then it came to pass that for eight days in a row his nets caught nothing but mud and seaweed. They all went hungry. On the ninth day the fisherman went out to sea with the first rays of the sun. But on this day too his nets did not bring in a single fish. The poor man was in despair. How could he return home empty-handed to his starving children? And the sun was already low in the sky.
Suddenly out of nowhere a boat came sailing towards him. A big one at that, for he could see nine men in it. They called to him:
“Hey, fisherman! Got a good catch?”
“I’ll say! Not a single fish in nine days,” he replied and then froze in horror.
For the boat had sailed closer, and now he could see that instead of nine men in it there was only one with nine heads.
“And you won’t catch another fish until you give me your first-born son to work for me,” said the Nine-Headed Monster. “You ‘II starve to death and your children with
The fisherman was so dismayed he could not utter a word.
“Do not fear for your son,” said the Nine-Headed Monster. “I shall give him light work, feed him all he desires, and pay him for his labours. And the fish will swim into your
nets. I shall wait for you tomorrow at sunset by Big Rock. Do as I say, you will not regret it.” So saying he sailed away.
The fisherman returned home and told them everything. They looked at the first-born son, who said:
“Alright, Father, take me to him tomorrow, the Nine-Headed Monster. We can’t all starve to death. And I’m not afraid of him anyway.”
As the rim of the sun began to rise out of the sea, the fisherman came to Big Rock with his son. The Nine-Headed Monster was already there. He put the lad in his boat and
The fisherman gazed after them, but saw nothing, for his eyes were blinded with tears. He had given away his first-born son for a strange monster to take to the ends of the earth. Yet how could he have refused when there was naught to eat.
The Nine-Headed Monster sailed on and on until they saw a mountain towering out to the sea. They sailed up to it. The Nine-Headed Monster got out of the boat and disappeared.
The lad waited and waited for him. The sun rose high in the sky, then began to sink down lower and lower, but still the Nine-Headed Monster did not return.
The lad climbed out of the boat and drew it up onto the shore.
Not knowing where to go, he made his way up to the mountain. In the mountain was a hole. He looked in and something seemed to be shining inside, a long way off.
The lad went through the opening along a passage that grew higher and wider until at last he came to some copper gates. He stopped and gave a light knock on the gates. Not a sound. He knocked a bit louder, but there was still not a sound.
Then he struck the gates with all his might.
They opened, and out came a fair maid.
“Where are you from, bold youth?” she asked.
“I am looking for my master. The Nine-Headed Monster has hired me to work for him. Do you, perchance, know where he is?”
“He is here. He has been fast asleep since morning.”
“It was this morning that he brought me here. I have been waiting for him ever since. He went off without saying anything. And now it is nearly night-time…”
“Well, you’re a patient one and no mistake. I’ll bet you’re hungry, eh? Come with me and I’ll feed you.”
The maid fed him and asked:
“Do you fear the Nine-Headed Monster?”
“No, I do not.”
“Do you think you can please him?”
“I do not know. But I shall try.”
The maid took a liking to the lad.
“You cannot please the nine-Headed Monster,” she said to him. “But I can help you to outwit and vanquish him, if you do exactly as I say.”
“I will do exactly as you say. I am no coward.”
“Listen, then. The Nine-Headed Monster will soon awake. He will try to send you off to work, but you must say you only agreed to work in the day. At night your eyes go blind and you cannot see. He will threaten you, but you must stand firm. Do not gin· way. He will thrash you, but you be patient and keep quiet. Don’t utter a single word. Will you stick it out to the bitter end?”
“Well, if you do stick it out, I shall tell yo uwhat to do next.”
Everything happened as the maid had foretold.
The Nine-Headed Monster awoke and tried to send the lad off to work. The lad said he could not see at night. He could only work in the day-time. The Nine-Headed Monster got angry and began to push and threaten him. But the lad remained firm. “I can’t see at night. I agreed to work in the day.”
Then the Nine-Headed Monster fell upon him and began to thrash him mercilessly.
The lad bore it all in silence.
The Nine-Headed Monster went on thrashing him, but the lad did not utter a sound. He bit his lip and suffered in silence.
At last the Nine-Headed Monster got tired of thrashing thelad, flung him aside and spat angrily. “I didn’t hear a sound from you, damn you! Are you made of stone?” Then he spat again and went to sleep.
As soon as the Nine-Headed Monster started snoring, the maid appeared.
“You stuck it out,” she said. “Well done!”
But the lad could not move a limb. He just lay where the Nine-Headed Monster had flung him.
The maid knelt by his side and began to rub ointment into his wounds and scratches. Suddenly the lad felt the pain disappear like magic, leaving him bigger and stronger than before. He marvelled at this.
“Do not be surprised,” the maid said to him. “The Nine-Headed Monster’s strength has flown into you. All the strength that he used up on thrashing you is now yours. So eat and sleep now. You. must gain much more strength before you can get the better of the Nine-Headed Monster. Tonight he will thrash you again. But remember: you must not make a sound.”
That night the same thing happened. The Nine-Headed Monster told the lad to go to work, but the lad said:
“I agreed to work in the day, master. I can’t work at night. I can’t see anything.”
Hearing this the Nine-Headed Monster began to thrash him with all his might.
The lad gritted his teeth and bore it in silence.
The Nine-Headed Monster thrashed him hard and long. At last he got tired and spat again.
“Still didn’t make a sound, damn him!” he said.
The he cursed and went to bed.
As soon as she heard him snoring, the maid appeared. She healed the lad’s wounds with her ointment. And as soon as the pain had gone, he felt twice as strong as yesterday.
But the maid said to him:
“No, you need to be even stronger. You will have to suffer it again.”
The third night the Nine-Headed Monster thrashed the lad even harder.
The lad bore it in silence, and just as he thought he could endure it no longer, the Nine-Headed Monster flung him aside. He was at the end of his strength and gnashed his teerth furiously.
“He still hasn’t made a sound, curse him!”
The Nine-Headed Monster went off and lay down to sleep.
The maid appeared and with her ointment healed all his wounds, scratches and bruises.
The the lad said to her:
“I am three times as strong as I was yesterday.”
The maid was overjoyed.
“Good,” she said. “Ihave got a sharp sword for you and this ointment. Take the sword and cut off the Monster’s nine foul heads. Only hurry. Don’t give him time to get his strength back. And remember that if he breathes fire on you, you must pour this ointment on the flames and hack away with all your might. Do not rest or falter until you have cut off all his heads.”
The lad seized the sword, rushed off to the Nine-Headed Monster and straightway cut off three of his heads.
The Nine-Headed Monster was so enraged that he began to breathe fire on the lad.
But, slippery as an eel, the lad dodged the flames and poured ointment on them.
They fought like this hard and long, until at last the Nine-Headed Monster began to grow weak. Then the lad summoned up all his strength and cut off the remaining heads one by one.
When the last head fell, the mountain shook, everything collapsed and on the spot where the mountain had stood a splendid city appeared.
Then the maid came up to the lad and said:
“If I am dear to you, be king in this town.”
“You are a good and fair maid. I fell in love with you at first sight. But who are you?”
“I am the Sea King’s daughter,” said the maid. “My father was killed by the Nine-Headed Monster, who put a spell on our kingdom and kept me captive. Now the reign of the Nine-Headed Monster is ended, and we can celebrate our wedding this very day.”
“No,” said the lad. “I must invite my relatives to my wedding. And my good friends must dance at it too.”
“Be it as you say,” the maid agreed. “Invite them all. Here is my ring. Twist it three times around your finger and it will take you wherever you like in a trice. Only be sure not to boast about me, or it will be the worse for you.”
The lad put the ring on his finger, twisted it three times and found himself at home. His father and mother were beside themselves with joy! They had given up all hope of ever seeing him alive, and r\ow here he was out of the blue, big and strong and handsome. He told his mother and father all, invited them to the wedding and went to summon his friends and relations.
As he went past a rich man’s house, the rich man happened to be walking in his yard. He saw the lad and for want of anything better to do began asking him questions.
“Where have you been all this time? Haven’t seen you for ages.”
“I sailed off to seek my fortune,” the lad replied, eager to be on his way.
“And did you find it?” the rich man continued.
“Yes, I did. I’m going to invite my friends and relations to my wedding.”
“And who might the bride be?”
“A good maid.”
“And is she pretty?”
“I wouldn’t know what to say to that, sir.”
“Is she as pretty as my eldest daughter perhaps?”
“Oh, no, sir.”
“Then is she perhaps as fair as my second daughter?”
“Then perhaps she s as beautiful as my youngest daughter?”
At this the lad flew into a rage and said:
“Stop going on at me about your daughters, sir. They’re not a patch on my bride. She’s a thousand times fairer than they! “
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the ring disappeared.
He went on his way, weeping bitterly.
How was he to get back to his bride now? How could he find her?
Trudging along the road towards him came an old woman, bent almost double under the weight of the bundle of firewood on her back.
The lad took pity on her.
“Let me give you a hand, granny,” he said, taking the bundle from her shoulder.
Now she was no ordinary old woman, but Old Mother Laima herself, who brings good folk happiness.
Old Mother Laima stopped and asked:
“Why are you crying, my son?”
The lad told her everything.
Then Old Mother Laima said to him:
“Why didn’t you listen to your bride? She gave you some good advice.”
“But I wasn’t boasting, granny. I lost my temper, that’s why I said it. I didn’t like him talking about my bride like that.”
“Very well, then. Take this shoe, put it on and go to the Moon. Ask her the way to the enchanted mountain-city.”
Only then did the lad realize how fortunate he had been.
He hurried to the Moon and asked her the way. But the Moon said:
“I only go out at night. I don’t know the way. You’d better ask the Sun.”
The lad hurried to the Sun and said:
“Please show me the way to the enchanted mountain-city. My bride is waiting for me there. Please help me.”
“I don’t know the way,” said the Sun. “Go and ask the Father of the Winds. Perhaps he can help you. The winds fly everywhere. They know every nook and cranny.”
So he hurried off to the Father of the Winds and asked him the way.
The Father of the Winds listened to his story, then picked up twelve reed-pipes and blew them. Eleven winds raced up at once, all except the twelfth wind-the north wind.
Then the Father of the Winds blew once more, so loudly that the mountains shook and the trees bowed to the ground.
Some time passed. The Father of the Winds was about to blow again and had lifted the pipe to his lips, when Ziemelis, the north wind, came racing up.
“Why were you such a long time?”
“Sorry, Father. What do you want? I was far away by the enchanted mountain.”
“That’s exactly what I want. Show this lad the way there.”
“But he’d never keep up with me, Father! “
“Don’t talk rubbish. He’s wearing Old Mother Laima’s magic shoe.”
So off flew Ziemelis with the lad following him. He kept up all the way, even stepping on the wind’s heels, and they reached the enchanted mountain in a trice.
When the lad saw his beautiful Sea Princess he was beside himself with joy.
He married her that very day and they are still living together happily.
But he has never boasted again, not even in a fit of temper.