Filipino Popular Tales
The Charcoal-maker Who Became King
(Narrated by José R. Perez, a Tagalog living in Manila, who heard the story when a boy from his nurse.)
Once upon a time there lived a king who had one beautiful daughter. When she was old enough to be married, her father, as was the custom in ancient times, made a proclamation throughout his kingdom thus: “Whosoever shall be able to bring me ten car-loads of money for ten successive days shall have the hand of my beautiful daughter and also my crown. If, however, any one undertakes and fails, he shall be put to death.”
A boy, the only son of a poor charcoal-maker, heard this announcement in his little town. He hurried home to his mother, and said that he wanted to marry the beautiful princess and to be king of their country. The mother, however, paid no attention to what her foolish son had said, for she well knew that they had very little money.
The next day the boy, as usual, took his hatchet and went to the forest to cut wood. He started to cut down a very huge tree, which would take him several days to finish. While he was busy with his hatchet, he seemed to hear a voice saying, “Cut this tree no more. Dip your hand into the hole of the trunk, and you will find a purse which will give you all the money you wish.” At first he did not pay any attention to the voice, but finally he obeyed it. To his surprise, he got the purse, but found it empty. Disappointed, he angrily threw it away; but as the purse hit the ground, silver money rolled merrily out of it. The youth quickly gathered up the coins; then, picking up the purse, he started for home, filled with happiness.
When he reached the house, he spread petates1 over the floor of their little hut, called his mother, and began shaking the purse. The old woman was amazed and delighted when she saw dollars coming out in what seemed to be an inexhaustible stream. She did not ask her son where he had found the purse, but was now thoroughly convinced that he could marry the beautiful princess and be king afterwards.
The next morning she ordered her son to go to the palace to inform his Majesty that he would bring him the money he demanded in exchange for his daughter and his crown. The guard of the palace, however, thought that the youth was crazy; for he was poorly dressed and had rude manners. Therefore he refused to let him in. But their talk was overheard by the king, who ordered the guard to present the youth before him. The king read the announcement, emphasizing the part which said that in case of failure the contestant would be put to death. To this condition the charcoal-maker agreed. Then he asked the king to let him have a talk with his daughter. The meeting was granted, and the youth was extremely pleased with the beauty and vivacity of the princess.
After he had bidden her good-by, he told the king to send the cars with him to get the first ten car-loads of money. The cars were sent with guards. The drivers and the guards of the convoy were astonished when they saw the poor charcoal-maker fill the ten cars with bright new silver dollars. The princess, too, at first was very much pleased with such a large sum of money.
Five days went by, and the youth had not failed to send the amount of money required. “Five days more, and I shall surely be married!” said the princess to herself. “Married? Yes, married life is like music without words. But will it be in my case? My future husband is ugly, unrefined, and of low descent. But—he is rich. Yes, rich; but what are riches if I am going to be wretched? No, I will not marry him for all the world. I will play a trick on him.”
The next day the guard informed her that the riches of the young man were inexhaustible, for the purse from which he got his money seemed to be magical. When she heard this, she commanded the guard to tell the young man that she wished to see him alone. Filled with joy because of this sign of her favor, the youth hastened to the palace, conducted by the guard. The princess entertained him regally, and tried all sorts of tricks to get possession of the magical purse. At last she succeeded in inducing him to go to sleep. While he was unconscious, the deceitful princess stole the purse and left him alone in the chamber.
When he awoke, he saw that the princess had deserted him and that his purse was gone. “Surely I am doomed to die if I don’t leave this kingdom at once,” said he to himself. “My purse is gone, and I cannot now fulfil my contract.” He at once hurried home, told his parents to abandon their home and town, and he himself started on a journey for another kingdom. After much travelling, he reached mountainous places, and had eaten but little for many a day.
By good luck he came across a tree heavily laden with fruits. The tree was strange to him; but the delicious appearance of its fruit, and his hunger, tempted him to try some. While he was eating, he was terrified to find that two horns had appeared on his forehead. He tried his best to pull them off, but in vain. The next day he saw another tree, whose fruit appeared even more tempting. He climbed it, picked some fruits, and ate them. To his surprise, his horns immediately fell off. He wrapped some of this fruit up in his handkerchief, and then went back to find the tree whose fruit he had eaten the day before. He again ate some of its fruit, and again two horns grew out of his head. Then he ate some of the other kind, and the horns fell off. Confident now that he had a means of recovering his purse, he gathered some of the horn-producing fruits, wrapped them in his shirt, and started home. By this time he had been travelling for nearly two years, and his face had so changed that he could not be recognized by his own parents, or by his town-mates who had been hired by the king to search for him for execution.
When he reached his town, he decided to place himself in the king’s palace as a helper of the royal cook. As he was willing to work without pay, he easily came to terms with the cook. One of the conditions of their agreement was that the cook would tell him whatever the king or the king’s family were talking about. After a few months the charcoal-maker proved himself to be an excellent cook. In fact, he was now doing all the cooking in the palace; for the chief cook spent most of his time somewhere else, coming home only at meal times.
Now comes the fun of the story. One day while the cook was gone, the youth ground up the two kinds of fruit. He mixed the kind that produced horns with the king’s food: the other kind, which caused the horns to fall off, he mixed with water and put into a jar. The cook arrived, and everything was ready. The table was prepared, and the king and his family were called to eat. The queen and the king and the beautiful princess, who were used to wearing golden crowns set with diamonds and other precious stones, were then to be seen with sharp ugly horns on their heads. When the king discovered that they all had horns, he summoned the cook at once, and asked, “What kind of food did you give us?”
“The same food that your Highness ate a week ago,” replied the cook, who was terrified to see the royal family with horns.
“Cook, go and find a doctor. Don’t tell him or any one else that we have horns. Tell the doctor that the king wants him to perform an operation,” ordered the king.
The cook set out immediately to find a doctor; but he was intercepted by the charcoal-maker, who was eager to hear the king’s order. “Where are you going? Say, cook, why are you in such a hurry? What is the matter?”
“Don’t bother me!” said the cook. “I am going to find a doctor. The king and his family have horns on their heads, and I am ordered to find a doctor who can take them off.”
“I can make those horns fall off. You needn’t bother to find a doctor. Here, try some of this food, cook!” said the helper, giving him some of the same food he had prepared for the king. The cook tried it, and it was good; but, to his alarm, he felt two horns on his head. To prevent rumors from reaching the ears of the king, the youth then gave the cook a glass of the water he had prepared, and the horns fell off. While the charcoal-maker was playing this trick on the cook, he related the story of his magical purse, and how he had lost it.
“Change your clothes, then, and get ready, and I will present you to the king as the doctor,” said the cook.
The helper then dressed himself just like a doctor of surgery, and was conducted by the cook into the king’s presence.
“Doctor, I want you to do all you can, and use the best of your wisdom, to take off these horns from our heads. But before doing it, promise me first that you will not unfold the matter to the people; for my queen, my daughter, and I would rather die than be known to have lived with horns. If you succeed in taking them off, you shall inherit one-half of my kingdom and have the hand of my fair daughter,” said the king.
“I do promise. But listen, O king! In order to get rid of those horns, you must undergo the severest treatment, which may cause your death,” replied the doctor.
“It is no matter. If we should die, we would rather die hornless than live with horns,” said the king.
After the agreement was written out, the doctor ordered the treatment. The king and the queen were to be whipped until they bled, while the princess was to dance with the doctor until she became exhausted. These were the remedies given by the doctor.
While the king and queen were being whipped, the doctor who, we must remember, was the cook’s helper—went to the kitchen to get the jar of water which he had prepared. The cruel servants who were scourging the king and the queen took much delight in their task, and did not quit until the king and queen were almost lifeless. The doctor forgot the royal couple while he was dancing with the princess, and found them just about to die. He succeeded, however, in giving them some of the fruit-water he had made ready, and the horns fell off. The princess, exhausted, also asked for a drink when she stopped dancing, and the horns fell off her head too.
A few days afterwards the king and the queen died, and the doctor succeeded to the throne, with the beautiful princess as his wife. Then the doctor told her that he was the poor charcoal-maker who had owned the magic purse that she had stolen from him. As soon as he was seated on the throne, he made his friend the cook one of his courtiers. Although the new king was uneducated and unrefined, he welcomed all wise men to his palace as his counsellors, and his kingdom prospered as it had never done under its previous rulers.