The gold headed fish


9 min

Tale from India.

Once upon a time there was a king of Egypt who suddenly fell ill. He lost his sight and his health became so poor that he could not get out of bed. He gathered the wise men of the land around him and they all agreed on the appropriate remedy: The golden-headed fish must be found and the king must be given a taste of its flesh. The king's only son, the prince, immediately set out to sea to search for this marvelous fish. For three months, the prince and his men pulled up one strange fish after another, but none of them were golden headed. On the last evening before they were to go home, on the hundredth day of searching, it happened that the prince cast out his net one last time and in his net the golden-headed fish was caught! The prince lifted the fish in his arms to put it in a tub of water, but when he looked into the fish's large, sad eyes, he could no longer carry out his mission. Instead, he spared the fish and let it dive back into the sea.

So he returned home empty-handed, knowing full well that his father would be angry with him. But he probably hadn't expected how angry he would get. The old king was completely enraged and called for the royal executioner. “Your head will pay for this! Your head will pay for this!” he screamed. But while this was happening a servant had rushed to the queen and told her of the king's anger. The queen fetched her son, dressed him in ordinary clothes, and filled his pockets with silver and gold. Then she hurried off to the harbor and put her son on a ship bound for a distant island.

“Listen to me, my son!” she said. “One day your father will regret his decision and wish you were with him again. Then he will be grateful that I saved your life. One last piece of advice from me: Never take a man into your service who wants payment at the end of every month!” This the prince thought was strange advice. But he knew that his mother was an unusually wise woman and therefore committed it to memory. After several weeks at sea, the ship reached an island covered in lush forests and colorful flowers. Here and there were small villages of white houses. The prince was immediately captivated by the island and bought himself a house to live in. He then began to search for a suitable servant. All who came to him declared that they wanted wages at the end of each month, but as the prince was determined to obey his mother's advice, he employed none of them.

One day a stranger from far away Arabia came to his house and sought the position of a servant. When the prince asked what the man wanted as a salary, he replied: "I don't want money. At the end of the year you can see what my services have been worth and then you can reward me as you see fit." Then the prince understood that the stranger was the kind of servant his mother meant and he hired him on the spot.

At the back of the verdant island lay a desolate desert created by a hideous monster crawling out of the sea every day and scorching the ground with its rancid breath. In addition, the beast devoured all livestock and crops that came within its reach. The governor who ruled the island sent soldiers there every day to fight off the beast, but for some reason they could never stay awake when the monster appeared. Finally, the governor promised his beautiful daughter to anyone who could rid them of the monster. As soon as the prince's servants heard of this, he went to the governor's palace. "If my lord kills the monster, how do you intend to reward him" he asked the governor. "He will have my daughter and everything else he can ask that is in my power to give," replied the governor. "Then we will write a contract on this," demanded the servant, and so it happened.

That night the prince's servant slipped away alone to the deserted beach at the back of the island. He had anointed himself with an oil that itched something really creepy and that way he stayed awake when the monster came crawling out of the sea. It was a nasty animal, which seemed to have features of both snake and bird. But the servant was not afraid of it, but crept up to the monster and gave it a sharp stab behind one of its ears. This was apparently the monster's most vulnerable spot, for it let out a loud wail and rolled over dead on its back. The servant cut off the beast's ears and some of its fangs before heading home. The next morning he told the prince what had happened and asked him to take the trophies from the monster to the governor and say that it was he who defeated the beast. "Never in my life!" said the prince. "You killed it and I refuse to take the credit!" "Do as I ask you," replied the servant. “There is a good reason for this. Trust me and everything will work out for both of us.” At last the prince gave in and went to the governor, who was greatly delighted by the story the young man had to tell. But when the governor went to fetch his daughter, the prince instead asked him for a fast ship that could take him and his servants out into the world.

The governor was glad not to have to marry off his daughter yet, and with pleasure arranged the ship for the prince, and many precious stones and jewels in the traveling coffers to go with it. The prince and his servants sailed away—and sailed and sailed until they came to a great kingdom.

The servant went ashore to find out among the people what sort of place they had come to. Soon he could return with exciting news. It turned out that the king was looking for a suitable husband for his daughter and that no less than a hundred young men had already married her, but then disappeared after the wedding night. The prince was attracted by this mystery and immediately sought out the king to explain his interest as a prospective son-in-law. It was becoming difficult to find interested men in the country and the king was therefore happy when the prince appeared. Already that evening he arranged a wedding between the prince and the princess and when the festivities were over the young people went to the princess's room. It was a beautiful evening and the prince sat down to look out over the palace gardens in the moonlight. In a deserted part of the gardens, two men were digging an oblong pit. It took the prince a moment to realize that it was his grave they were digging! No one expected him to survive either. He could not understand what could happen. The prince looked at the beautiful princess who leaned against a pile of pillows and now dozed off quietly. But suddenly she opened her mouth and a black poisonous snake coiled out! The reptile sped towards the prince, who now understood what had happened to all the other suitors. But just then the door swung open and the prince's servant came rushing in. With his dagger he cut off the snake's head and at the same time as the beast was killed the princess woke up. She declared that she had fallen victim to an evil curse, which compelled her to end all her suitors in this gruesome manner. But now that the snake was dead, this evil sorcery was lifted.

Now the prince settled down with his wife and they lived in the stately palace. But then one day a messenger came with a letter from Egypt. It was the prince's mother who told him that his father had now passed away, but before his death had made the prince heir to the entire country. After so long on the run, the prince could think of nothing better than to return home. So he took his swift ship and set sail for Egypt with the princess and his servant. In the middle of the sea, the servant came up to him and said: "Now it is time for me to say goodbye, for the year has passed and my service with you is finished." The prince was dismayed at the thought of losing his servant, who had also become his best friend, but he asked the man what he now wanted as wages. “Nothing,” the man replied, “for you have already given me life as a gift the day you released me back into the sea. For I am the golden-headed fish, the king of all fishes, and I have merely paid the debt of gratitude I owe you.” With these words the servant jumped overboard, but before he could get into the water his skin had become scaly and his arms and legs into fins. Like a glint of sunlight in the water, the golden-headed fish glimmered before disappearing into the depths of the sea.

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