A Story From: Serbia
Read Time: ["16 to 20mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.
O nce upon a time, many years ago, there was a king who ruled the country of Serbia. One day, the king went into his forest to hunt, but instead of the usual game he captured a wild man. This wild man was different from any human the king had ever seen. Certainly he was far taller and larger, and was completely covered with fur. He moved like a wild beast, and spoke only in grunts and snorts.
Proud of his rare catch, the king ordered the wild man to be taken to his castle, where he was locked up for safekeeping in the dungeon. This done, the king put out a proclamation that whosoever should dare to set the wild man free would surely be put to death.
It turns out that the dungeon where the creature was imprisoned was just below the bedroom of the king’s youngest son. Now the captured wild man cried and groaned all night long. Though at first the prince tried to close his ears to the pitiful cries coming from below, at last, just before dawn, he could stand it no longer. He crept down to the dungeon, opened the dungeon door and let the prisoner escape.
Next morning, the king and all the courtiers and servants were astonished to hear no more sounds of wailing coming from the dungeon. The king, suspecting something amiss, went down himself to see what had become of his captive. When he found the den empty, he flew into a great passion and fiercely demanded to know who had presumed to disobey his royal command.
All the courtiers were so terrified at the sight of the king’s anger that not one of them dared speak. However, the young prince, the king’s son, stepped forward and confessed that the pitiful crying of the poor creature had so moved his heart that he himself was the one who had opened the door. When the king heard this, it was his turn to feel sorry, for he found himself compelled to put his own son to death or make a mockery of his royal proclamation.
However, some of his old counselors, seeing how greatly the king was troubled, came and assured his Majesty that the proclamation would in reality be carried out if the prince, instead of being put to death, was simply banished.
The king was very glad to find a way of getting out of the dilemma. So he ordered his son to leave the country, and never to come back. At the same time he gave his son many letters of recommendation to the king of a very distant kingdom. He also directed one of the court servants to go with the young prince. Then the unhappy young prince and his servant started on their long journey.
After traveling some time, the young prince became very thirsty. Seeing a well not far off, he went up to it to have a drink. However, there happened to be no bucket at the well, nor anything in which to draw water, though the well was pretty full. Seeing this, the young prince said to his servant, “Hold me by my ankles, and let me down into the pit that I may drink. Then I shall hold you by your ankles and you may drink.” So saying, he bent over the well. The servant held his ankles and let him down as he was directed.
When the prince had quenched his thirst and wished to be pulled back, the servant said, “Well now, my good master, I could let go of you and you would fall and drown in the well. Or you can agree to change clothes and places with me. Agree that from now on, I will be the prince and you will be my servant. Then I will pull you back up.”
The king’s son, seeing that he had foolishly placed himself in the power of the servant, promised to do everything his servant asked, and begged only to be drawn up.
The servant then drew him up, and they changed clothes. The wicked servant dressed himself in his master’s fine clothes, mounted his master’s horse, and rode forward on the journey, while the unfortunate prince, disguised in his servant’s humble clothes, walked beside him.
In this way they went on until they came to the court of the king to which the exiled son had been recommended by his father.
Faithful to his promise, the unfortunate prince had no choice but to watch as the false servant was received at court with great honors as the son of a king. Meanwhile he was sent to the waiting room with the servants, and was treated by them with all familiarity as their equal in rank.
After having some time enjoyed to his heart’s content the luxuries and hospitalities the king lavished upon him, the false servant began to be afraid that his master’s patience might soon be wearied all the indignities he needed to endure. For what if, he worried, one day the real prince were tempted to forget his promise and proclaim himself the true prince? Filled with these fears, the wicked man thought of all possible ways he could do away with his betrayed master without any danger to himself.
One day, he thought of a way to do this.
Now you must know that the king at whose court this unhappy prince and the false servant were staying, kept in his gardens a great number of fierce wild animals fastened in large cages. One morning, as the pretend prince was walking in these gardens with the king, he said suddenly, “Your Majesty has a large number of very fine beasts, and I admire them very much. I think, however, it is a pity that you have to spend so much money on their food. Why not release them from their cages, send them to the forest with a capable servant, and let the beasts find their own food in the daytime? Your servant will have only to bring them back by nightfall.”
The king asked, “Do you really think, prince, that such a man exists who could bring back wild beasts after they were running free in the forest all day long?”
“Of course,” the imposter replied without hesitation. “Such a man is now in your Majesty’s court. I mean, of course, my own servant. Savage beasts are but pets to him, and he can easily control them to do his bidding. I dare say he may try to excuse himself and say the thing is impossible, but only threaten him that if he refuses to obey or fails to carry out your order, that he will lose his head. For my part, if he does disobey, I am willing enough that your Majesty should have him put to death, for he would certainly deserve that fate.”
When the king heard this, he summoned the disguised prince before him and said, “I hear that you can do wonders: that you are able to drive savage beasts out like cattle to find their own food in the forest, and you can bring them back safely at night into their cages. Therefore, I order you this morning to drive all my bears into the forest, and bring them all back again this evening. If you don’t do this, your head will pay for it; so beware!”
The unlucky prince answered, “I am not able to such a thing, so your Majesty might as well cut off my head right now.”
But the king would not listen to him, only saying, “We will wait until evening; then I shall surely have your head cut off unless you bring all my bears back safely to their cages.”
Nothing the poor prince could say would change the king’s order. The bears’ cages were opened, the great beasts wildly lunged out, and quickly they scattered into the forest and disappeared among the trees.
The prince followed them into the forest. He tried to follow the tracks of a few of the bears, but soon all of the tracks were lost in the leaves and he could not find even one. Finally, realizing the hopelessness of the situation, he sat down on a fallen tree. Thinking over his hard fortunes, he wept bitterly, for he saw no other prospect before him than to lose his head that night.
As he sat in despair, a creature in form like a man, but covered all over with thick hair, came out of a neighboring thicket, and asked him why he was crying. The prince told him all that had happened to him, and as all the bears had run away he expected to be beheaded when he returned without them that night. Finishing his story, the prince examined the kindly, large creature before him.
“You resemble someone I met before,” he said.
“Of course,” said the creature. “I am the wild man trapped by your father whom you set free from your father’s dungeon.”
“But you speak like a gentleman,” said the prince in wonder, “and besides, how did you ever find me here?”
“Never mind that,” said the wild man, “You freed me, and I will free you.” He gave the prince a little bell and said, “When you wish the bears to return, just ring it gently, and they will all come back and follow you quietly into their cages.” Having said this he went away.
When the sun began to go down, the prince rang the little bell gently. To his great joy, all the bears came dancing awkwardly round him, and let him lead them back to the gardens, following him like a flock of sheep. Pleased with his success, he took out a flute and played a litte tune as he walked before them. And so he was able to fasten them up again into their dens without the least trouble.
Everyone at court was astonished at this. The false servant was especially astonished, though he concealed his surprise. He said to the king, “Your Majesty sees now that I told you the truth. I am quite sure the man can manage your wolves just as well as the bears, if you only threaten him as before.”
Thereupon, the next morning the king called the poor prince, and ordered him to lead out the wolves that day to find their own food in the forest and to bring them back to their cages by nightfall. “Unless you do this,” said his Majesty as before, “you will surely lose your head.”
The prince pleaded vainly the impossibility of doing such a thing, but the king would not listen, saying only, “You may as well try, for whether you fail or simply refuse to obey me, you will certainly lose your head.”
So the prince was obliged to open the cages of the wolves, and the moment he did this, each and every wolf sprang past him into the thickets just as the bears had done. He then followed the tracks but in vain, then he went and sat down to bewail his ill-luck.
While he sat thus in misery, the wild man came out of the woods and asked him, just as he had done the day before, why he was crying. The prince told him, and the creature gave him another little bell. He said, “When you want the wolves to come back, just ring this bell, and they will all come and follow you.” Having said this, he went back into the woods, and left the prince alone.
Just before it grew dark, the prince rang his bell. To his great joy all the wolves came rushing up to him from all quarters of the forest, and followed him quietly back to the castle and into their cages.
Seeing this, the false prince was flabbergasted. Acting as if he knew his servant could easily accomplish such impossible tasks all along, he advised the king to release the birds also, and to threaten his supposed servant with the loss of his head if he failed to bring the entire flock back in the morning.
Accordingly, the next morning the king ordered the disguised prince to let out all the wild doves, and to bring them all safely to their cages before nightfall.
The instant the poor young man opened the cage doors the doves rose like a cloud into the air, and vanished over the tops of the trees.
“Surely,” thought the prince, “this task is beyond hope, for even if I had a magic little bell the doves will soon be far away and will never hear it.”
So the prince sat again on the fallen tree, and he could not help but bewail all his past misfortunes and present miserable fate.
Hardly had he begun to lament, however, before the same wild man came forth from the bushes and asked what fresh trouble had befallen him. The prince told him his sad story. Thereupon the creature gave him a third bell, saying, “When you wish the doves to return to their cages you have only to ring this little bell.” And so it indeed happened, for the moment the prince began ringing softly, all the doves appeared from the sky and flocked around him. He walked back to the palace gardens and led them into their different cages without the least trouble.
This time, a crowd had gathered to await the return of the amazing servant as word had spread of his wondrous talents. Leading the crowd in wait was the king himself.
When the last of the doves was secured, the king stepped before the young man and thundered, “Who are you, truly, that you are able to charm the wild beasts and the birds?”
“Because you, O King, have asked me for the truth, I have no choice but to oblige,” said the prince. “I will tell you everything.” The prince then related how he had offended the king, his father, and been exiled for life; how his false servant had betrayed him; and how the wild man he had set free had come to help him out of the fearful traps the wicked servant had set for him.
Hearing all this, the king was much amazed. Instantly, he ordered the exposed servant to be thrown into the dungeon. No one was more delighted at this turn of events than the king’s daughter, who had secretly fallen in love not with the visiting prince, whom everyone had expected her to marry, but with his handsome, kind, and mysterious servant. The king gladly granted permission for his daughter and the discovered prince to marry. For a wedding present, the prince asked the king to release all the beasts caged in the royal garden.
The prince lived with the princess very happily for many years after this. When the king, his father-in-law, died, he left to them both the kingdom and all of its treasures.
If You Like This Story You Will Love:
The story, "The Wild Man & the Prince" is based on the story, "One Good Turn Deserves Another," from Serbian Folk-Lore by Madam Csedomille Mijatovies (W. Isbister & Company, London, 1874), pp. 189-199.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy. ©1998. All rights reserved.
Another version of this story can be found in the story, "The Wild Dog and the King's Son", from the book Wonder Tales of Dogs and Cats by Frances Carpenter (Doubleday & Company, Inc., NY, 1955), pp. 235-244.