The Magicians' Gifts by Juliana Horatia Ewing
There was once a king in whose dominions lived no less than three magicians.
When the king's eldest son was christened, the king invited the three magicians to the christening feast, and to make the compliment the greater, he asked one of them to stand godfather. But the other two, who were not asked to be godfathers, were so angry at what they held to be a slight, that they only waited to see how they might best revenge themselves upon the infant prince.
When the moment came for presenting the christening gifts, the godfather magician advanced to the cradle and said, "My gift is this: Whatever he wishes for he shall have. And only I who give shall be able to recall this gift." For he perceived the jealousy of the other magicians, and knew that, if possible, they would undo what he did. But the second magician muttered in his beard, "And yet I will change it to a curse." And coming up to the cradle, he said, "The wishes that he has thus obtained he shall not be able to revoke or change."
Then the third magician grumbled beneath his black robe, "If he were very wise and prudent he might yet be happy. But I will secure his punishment." So he also drew near to the cradle, and said, "For my part, I give him a hasty temper."
After which, the two dissatisfied magicians withdrew together, saying, "Should we permit ourselves to be slighted for nothing?"
But the king and his courtiers were not at all disturbed.
"My son has only to be sure of what he wants," said the king, "and then, I suppose, he will not desire to recall his wishes."
And the courtiers added, "If a prince may not have a hasty temper, who may, we should like to know?"
And everybody laughed, except the godfather magician, who went out sighing and shaking his head, and was seen no more.
Whilst the king's son was yet a child, the gift of the godfather magician began to take effect. There was nothing so rare and precious that he could not obtain it, or so difficult that it could not be accomplished by his mere wish. But, on the other hand, no matter how inconsiderately he spoke, or how often he changed his mind, what he had once wished must remain as he had wished it, in spite of himself; and as he often wished for things that were bad for him, and oftener still wished for a thing one day and regretted it the next, his power was the source of quite as much pain as pleasure to him. Then his temper was so hot, that he was apt hastily to wish ill to those who offended him, and afterwards bitterly to regret the mischief that he could not undo. Thus, one after another, the king appointed his trustiest counsellors to the charge of his son, who, sooner or later, in the discharge of their duty, were sure to be obliged to thwart him; on which the impatient prince would cry, "I wish you were at the bottom of the sea with your rules and regulations;" and the counsellors disappeared accordingly, and returned no more.
When there was not a wise man left at court, and the king himself lived in daily dread of being the next victim, he said, "Only one thing remains to be done: to find the godfather magician, and persuade him to withdraw his gift."
So the king offered rewards, and sent out messengers in every direction, but the magician was not to be found. At last, one day he met a blind beggar, who said to him, "Three nights ago I dreamed that I went by the narrowest of seven roads to seek what you are looking for, and was successful."
When the king returned home, he asked his courtiers, "Where are there seven roads lying near to each other, some broad, and some narrow?" And one of them replied, "Twenty-one miles to the west of the palace is a four-cross road, where three field-paths also diverge."
To this place the king made his way, and taking the narrowest of the field-paths, went on and on till it led him straight into a cave, where an old woman sat over a fire.
"Does a magician live here?" asked the king.
"No one lives here but myself," said the old woman. "But as I am a wise woman I may be able to help you if you need it."
The king then told her of his perplexities, and how he was desirous of finding the magician, to persuade him to recall his gift.
"He could not recall the other gifts," said the wise woman. "Therefore it is better that the prince should be taught to use his power prudently and to control his temper. And since all the persons capable of guiding him have disappeared, I will return with you and take charge of him myself. Over me he will have no power."
To this the king consented, and they returned together to the palace, where the wise woman became guardian to the prince, and she fulfilled her duties so well that he became much more discreet and self-controlled. Only at times his violent temper got the better of him, and led him to wish what he afterwards vainly regretted.
Thus all went well till the prince became a man, when, though he had great affection for her, he felt ashamed of having an old woman for his counsellor, and he said, "I certainly wish that I had a faithful and discreet adviser of my own age and sex."
On that very day a young nobleman offered himself as companion to the prince, and as he was a young man of great ability, he was accepted: whereupon the old woman took her departure, and was never seen again.
The young nobleman performed his part so well that the prince became deeply attached to him, and submitted in every way to his counsels. But at last a day came when, being in a rage, the advice of his friend irritated him, and he cried hastily, "Will you drive me mad with your long sermons? I wish you would hold your tongue for ever." On which the young nobleman became dumb, and so remained. For he was not, as the wise woman had been, independent of the prince's power.
The prince's grief and remorse knew no bounds. "Am I not under a curse?" said he. "Truly I ought to be cast out from human society, and sent to live with wild beasts in a wilderness. I only bring evil upon those I love best&emdash;indeed, there is no hope for me unless I can find my godfather, and make him recall this fatal gift."
So the prince mounted his horse, and, accompanied by his dumb friend, who still remained faithful to him, he set forth to find the magician. They took no followers, except the prince's dog, a noble hound, who was so quick of hearing that he understood all that was said to him, and was, next to the young nobleman, the wisest person at court.
"Mark well, my dog," said the prince to him, "we stay nowhere till we find my godfather, and when we find him we go no further. I rely on your sagacity to help us."
The dog licked the prince's hand, and then trotted so resolutely down a certain road that the two friends allowed him to lead them and followed close behind.
They travelled in this way to the edge of the king's dominions, only halting for needful rest and refreshment. At last the dog led them through a wood, and towards evening they found themselves in the depths of the forest, with no sign of any shelter for the night. Presently they heard a little bell, such as is rung for prayer, and the dog ran down a side path and led them straight to a kind of grotto, at the door of which stood an aged hermit.
"Does a magician live here?" asked the prince.
"No one lives here but myself," said the hermit, "but I am old, and have meditated much. My advice is at your service if you need it."
The prince then related his history, and how he was now seeking the magician godfather, to rid himself of his gift.
"And yet that will not cure your temper," said the hermit. "It were better that you employed yourself in learning to control that, and to use your power prudently."
"No, no," replied the prince; "I must find the magician."
And when the hermit pressed his advice, he cried, "Provoke me not, good father, or I may be base enough to wish you ill; and the evil I do I cannot undo."
And he departed, followed by his friend, and calling his dog. But the dog seated himself at the hermit's feet, and would not move. Again and again the prince called him, but he only whined and wagged his tail, and refused to move. Coaxing and scolding were both in vain, and when at last the prince tried to drag him off by force, the dog growled.
"Base brute!" cried the prince, flinging him from him in a transport of rage. "How have I been so deceived in you? I wish you were hanged!" And even as he spoke the dog vanished, and as the prince turned his head he saw the poor beast's body dangling from a tree above him. The sight overwhelmed him, and he began bitterly to lament his cruelty.
"Will no one hang me also," he cried, "and rid the world of such a monster?"
"It is easier to die repenting than to live amending," said the hermit; "yet is the latter course the better one. Wherefore abide with me, my son, and learn in solitude those lessons of self-government without which no man is fit to rule others."
"It is impossible," said the prince. "These fits of passion are as a madness that comes upon me, and they are beyond cure. It only remains to find my godfather, that he may make me less baneful to others by taking away the power I abuse." And raising the body of the dog tenderly in his arms, he laid it before him on his horse, and rode away, the dumb nobleman following him.
They now entered the dominions of another king, and in due time arrived at the capital. The prince presented himself to the king, and asked if he had a magician in his kingdom.
"Not to my knowledge," replied the king. "But I have a remarkably wise daughter, and if you want counsel she may be able to help you."
The princess accordingly was sent for, and she was so beautiful, as well as witty, that the prince fell in love with her, and begged the king to give her to him to wife. The king, of course, was unable to refuse what the prince wished, and the wedding was celebrated without delay; and by the advice of his wife the prince placed the body of his faithful dog in a glass coffin, and kept it near him, that he might constantly be reminded of the evil results of giving way to his anger.
For a time all went well. At first the prince never said a harsh word to his wife; but by and by familiarity made him less careful, and one day she said something that offended him, and he fell into a violent rage. As he went storming up and down, the princess wrung her hands, and cried, "Ah, my dear husband, I beg of you to be careful what you say to me. You say you loved your dog, and yet you know where he lies."
"I know that I wish you were with him, with your prating!" cried the prince, in a fury; and the words were scarcely out of his mouth when the princess vanished from his side, and when he ran to the glass coffin, there she lay, pale and lifeless, with her head upon the body of the hound.
The prince was now beside himself with remorse and misery, and when the dumb nobleman made signs that they should pursue their search for the magician, he only cried, "Too late! too late!"
But after a while he said, "I will return to the hermit, and pass the rest of my miserable life in solitude and penance. And you, dear friend, go back to my father."
But the dumb nobleman shook his head, and could not be persuaded to leave the prince. Then they took the glass coffin on their shoulders, and on foot, and weeping as they went, they retraced their steps to the forest.
For some time the prince remained with the hermit, and submitted himself to his direction. Then the hermit bade him return to his father, and he obeyed.
Every day the prince stood by the glass coffin, and beat his breast and cried, "Behold, murderer, the fruits of anger!" And he tried hard to overcome the violence of his temper. When he lost heart he remembered a saying of the hermit: "Patience had far to go, but she was crowned at last." And after a while the prince became as gentle as he had before been violent. And the king and all the court rejoiced at the change; but the prince remained sad at heart, thinking of the princess.
One day he was sitting alone, when a man approached him, dressed in a long black robe.
"Good-day, godson," said he.
"Who calls me godson?" said the prince.
"The magician you have so long sought," said the godfather. "I have come to reclaim my gift."
"What cruelty led you to bestow it upon me?" asked the prince.
"The king, your father, would have been dissatisfied with any ordinary present from me," said the magician, "forgetting that the responsibilities of common gifts, and very limited power, are more than enough for most men to deal with. But I have not neglected you. I was the wise woman who brought you up. Again, I was the hermit, as your dog was sage enough to discover. I am come now to reclaim what has caused you such suffering."
"Alas!" cried the prince, "why is your kindness so tardy? If you have not forgotten me, why have you withheld this benefit till it is too late for my happiness? My friend is dumb, my wife is dead, my dog is hanged. When wishes cannot reach these, do you think it matters to me what I may command?"
"Softly, prince," said the magician; "I had a reason for the delay. But for these bitter lessons you would still be the slave of the violent temper which you have conquered, and which, as it was no gift of mine, I could not remove. Moreover, when the spell which made all things bend to your wish is taken away, its effects also are undone. Godson! I recall my gift."
As the magician spoke the glass sides of the coffin melted into the air, and the princess sprang up, and threw herself into her husband's arms. The dog also rose, stretched himself, and wagged his tail. The dumb nobleman ran to tell the good news to the king, and all the counsellors came back in a long train from the bottom of the sea, and set about the affairs of state as if nothing had happened.
The old king welcomed his children with open arms, and they all lived happily to the end of their days.