The Six Friends
Illustrated By: Jacob Below
MANY years ago, in a faraway country, there lived six young men who were very good friends. One was the son of a magician, one the son of a blacksmith, the third a son of a doctor, the fourth the son of a woodcarver, the fifth the son of a painter, and the sixth the son of a prince. All these six lads intended to follow the lives and the work of their fathers. But before settling down, they all desired to seek some great adventure.
"Let us go forth together," said they, "and travel into some strange country. Perhaps something wonderful may happen to us that will make us rich to the end of our days. Or at least we will have a good tale to tell our neighbors when we return and take up our fathers' work."
So on a certain day, very early in the morning, all six started out together. For several days they traveled, going far past the familiar lands in the country they knew. Yet no adventure whatsoever befell them.
At last they came to a small, round pond. Six streams emptied into the pond. The blacksmith's son said, "Friends, here are six streams, one for each of us to follow. How about if each of us goes our own way to see what adventure we may find?"
The other five agreed. "Listen," said the son of the magician, "let us each plant a small tree where the stream that we choose meets the pond. I will weave a spell on all the trees. If trouble comes to the one who planted the tree, the tree will wither away. That way, if one of us comes back and sees a tree withered, he can follow the stream and try to find the one who needs help."
"Here's another thought," said the doctor's son. "Let us all agree to return to this spot at the end of one year and a day. That way, we will be together at one time. If one of us is missing and his tree withered, we can all follow the stream together to try and find the one who's in trouble."
And so the six trees were planted. The magician's son went around from one tree to the next, weaving a magic spell about it so that it would wither and die if any trouble came to the one who had planted it. Then, with many handshakes and affection, the six friends parted. Each one disappeared up the bank of the stream he had selected.
Now we are going to follow the son of the prince. The underbrush along the bank of his stream was thick and heavy, so he needed to walk slowly. At last, however, the banks of the little river began to clear and widen. By sunset he found himself in an open meadow with an old broken well in the middle, and a dark forest beyond. He was tired and worn out with the long hard walk. So when he reached the well, he sat down beside it to rest and cool himself.
He had not been at the well long before he saw approaching him a tall and graceful young woman with a water pitcher on her shoulder.
Her hair was very long and black. The young woman was clothed in flowing white linen garments and she moved across the field barefooted, with a light, airy step. Marvelous to behold, wherever her foot pressed the soft earth, a white flower sprang into bloom, marking her course across the meadow in a trail of beauty.
While the prince's son was marveling at this, she drew up to the well and lowered her pitcher from her shoulder. He jumped up at once. Taking it from her hand, he offered to draw the water for her. She said not a word, but smiled. Her smile was so warm that he felt right away he would want to be with this young woman forever. When he had filled the pitcher, she set forth again across the meadow, seeming to invite him to follow her and to carry the pitcher. This he did gladly. Over the field and into the woods they went, into the deepening twilight.
At last they came to a little log hut with a candle shining in the window. As they approached it, the door was opened by an old man, white-haired, shriveled and bent, with an old, wrinkled woman beside him.
"Come in, daughter," said the aged man, motioning to the girl. "Have you brought the son of the prince?"
"That I have, Father," she replied. Her voice was as warm as her smile. The prince's son entered the little hut, wondering greatly about all of this.
At once, the old couple hurried about preparing and serving the prince a simple, hearty supper.
Meanwhile the young woman had disappeared into an inner room. When he finished eating, the old man said, "You are doubtless wondering, my son, about the lovely damsel who lives here with us, and whom you have followed this day to our humble door. But in truth, sir, we know very little about her ourselves. We do not even know where she comes from, though we have cherished and reared her as our own daughter for years.
"When she was a young girl we found her on our doorstep, a little laughing maid as lovely as ever the sun looked on. She was draped in the softest, richest fabrics. Joyfully we took her in, and she has lived with us happily ever since. Yet never has she said a word by which we might know whose child she was. A king's daughter she must be, or the child of some good spirit. Lately, she has spoken much of a change to come in her life, of a prince's son, and of many other things we did not understand. But our hearts have been sad, fearing that our girl would soon marry and separate from us who love her more than anything else in the whole world."
The prince's son eagerly interrupted the old man, saying, "I am indeed the son of a prince. And I know in my heart I have no other wish in life but to marry this wonderful maiden, the daughter you raised. I would live with her right here in this forest, in a house that I shall build myself near this hut."
"Ah," said the old man. "You must be the destined bridegroom, the son of a prince! For had it been otherwise our daughter never would have led you through the dark forest to our lonely home. Let our best wishes rest upon you."
And so it came about that the prince's son married the marvelous maiden of the woods and lived with her in peace and happiness in a little log house near her foster-parents' hut.
One warm afternoon, the two had strolled hand in hand down to the bank of a stream that ran through the forest. The water looked so very cool and refreshing that the maiden felt she must sit on the mossy bank and dabble her feet and her hands in it. Running her hands under the surface of the cool water, a ring slipped from her finger. Before she could rescue it, it was whisked downstream and out of sight. The poor girl cried out in dismay. She was beside herself in despair.
"Nay, now," her husband said, "truly a ring is not worth so much grief. My dearest, when I go again to my father's kingdom I will buy you a dozen rings more beautiful than the one you lost! Dry your eyes and think no more about it."
"That ring," said the girl in a choked voice, "is a magic one. Its loss will bring us both terrible trouble."
The ring was carried away for a long distance and finally washed ashore near the gardens of the Khan, the great ruler of the land. There a traveler found it. Seeing that it was a strange ring, perhaps from another land, the traveler took it at once to the Khan himself.
The monarch gazed long upon it.
Then calling his ministers about him, he said, "This trinket has magic power about it, of that I am sure. I believe that it belongs to a enchanting woman, perhaps the daughter of a king. Take it, therefore. Wherever the ring leads you, follow. If its owner indeed proves to be a marvelous damsel, as believe it does, take her prisoner and bring her at once to me, that she may serve as head over my household."
As soon as the Khan's advisor held the magic ring in his hand, he felt a strange power tugging at him. The ring seemed to draw him out of the palace gardens toward the bank of a stream, and then along the stream to the log hut in the woods. And so in a very short time, the Khan's advisor and all his soldiers and servants were standing before the door of the little house where the prince's son and his new wife had been living so happily together, and were shouting at them to come out at once. The two dared not disobey. And so the damsel was quickly seized and taken away to the Khan's palace.
The Khan was delighted with the young woman and paid not the slightest heed to her tears or pleadings to be allowed to return to her husband. She was made the head of the royal servants, and was set up to live in the palace within constant call of the Khan.
There seemed to be no possible hope of escape. Days passed by. Her sorrow and longing for her husband became ever greater instead of less, until she began to grow pale and thin, and those about her feared she would soon sicken and die. The Khan, too, noticed the change in her. He tried every means in his power to cheer her, but all in vain. At last he grew angry.
"It's all the fault of that husband of hers!" he cried. "He is the one who is making my favorite servant look so sickly and plain. Well, I know how to take care of that!
Calling the court executioner, he whispered a few words in his ear.
"There now," he said later to the damsel after the executioner had left, "when you know that your husband is dead and there is no use in wishing for him any longer, then perhaps you will forget him and learn to smile again."
In vain did the poor girl plead with the monarch for her husband's life! But the more she cried out and begged, the angrier and more determined the Khan became.
So the executioner set out with a number of soldiers. Finding the log hut in the woods, he dragged the prince's son away and took him to a meadow where there was a dry, deserted well. Down into the well the poor lad was thrown, and a great rock was rolled over the opening. There in the darkness he laid down to die, with no hope of rescue and no desire for life, anyway, if he could not live it with his dear wife.
Now it happened that the very next day was the year-and-a-day on which the six friends had agreed to meet by the little round pond with the six streams running into it. True to their promise, the other five gathered together and awaited the arrival of the prince's son. While they waited, they eagerly told one another all about the adventures they had. In this way, most of the day passed. When the prince's son still did not appear, the friends noticed that the tree which he had planted was drooping and withering.
"Our friend must be in danger or trouble!" said the doctor's son. "Let's lose no time in searching for him. Even now we may be too late to save him!" The others were alarmed and eager to start at once. But the magician's son held up his hand.
"One moment!" he said. "By my magic art I can learn exactly where our friend is. Then we can go straight to him without any further loss of time."
Bidding the others to sit down and wait, he drew a circle on the ground. Placing himself in the center of the circle, he began to recite all sorts of strange words and to draw figures and signs in the air. After awhile he erased the circle and announced to his friends that he knew the exact whereabouts of the prince's son at that moment.
"But we must hurry," he said, "for he is in great danger and will surely die unless we rescue him right away!"
So the five set out at a quick pace and traveled all night without rest. By early morning they had reached the well where the prince's son was imprisoned.
"But how shall we move away the rock?" they all cried in despair, seeing the huge boulder completely covering the mouth of the well.
"I know how to move it!" said the blacksmith's son. Taking the heavy iron hammer which he always carried in his belt, he fell to work upon the rock, knocking great chunks out of it until it was all broken to pieces.
When the mouth of the well was opened, they hastily lowered the doctor's son, who found the son of the prince lying there quite white and still and close to death.
"It is well they chose me to fetch him!" he muttered as he drew forth his bag of medicines. He poured some red liquid down the throat of his unconscious friend, who soon began to stir and then to sit up.
With great difficulty the two young men were hauled up to the mouth of the well. Once they were once safely out of it, the friends all embraced with heartfelt joy and affection. Then the prince's son told the tale of his adventure and its sorry ending. The other five were full of compassion for him and anger toward the wicked Khan.
Suddenly, the wood-carver's son spoke up. "I have an idea!" he said. "I can fashion a great wooden bird, large enough to carry a man, and I will fit it with wings, hinges and springs so that it can fly through the air!"
"And I," cried the painter's son, catching the idea at once, "will paint and decorate it with marvelously beautiful colors, so that it will look like a magnificent, magical bird!"
They were all much excited by this time and begged the wood-carver's son to tell them more.
"Why," said he, "the prince's son shall fly in my wonder bird to the palace of the Khan--"
"And," interrupted the painter's son, "when that wicked ruler sees the beauty and the color of it, he will believe it is a magical bird. He will go up to the roof to receive it, with all of his royal household, and then - and then -"
"You can snatch up your wife and carry her away!" they all shouted at once to the prince's son, who was trembling with joy and hope.
The wood-carver's son fell to work at once, and in no time at all had built a marvelous wooden bird, big and strong and powerful, with great broad wings that would carry it through the air at the touch of a spring. Then the painter's son got out his paints and decorated it with colors so rich and fair that it shone with beauty. The prince's son got into it as soon as it was ready. Amid the shouts of his friends, he pressed a button and flew high up into the air. Off he steered, straight for the Khan's royal dwelling.
Great was the excitement at the palace when the big colored bird was seen flying overhead. Everybody rushed about, asking what it might mean. The Khan was the most excited one of them all.
"It must be a magical being!" he cried, "for don't you see the gold on its wings? It must be delivering a special message for me! In truth, we must meet this noble bird in the proper way!" So he called together all his royal servants. Choosing his favorite servant, the maiden who was married to the prince's son, he bade her to go quickly to the roof and welcome the magical messenger as the bird landed.
The damsel hastened to obey and stood waiting and marveling as the great wooden monster drew near. Imagine her surprise when it came whirring to a standstill, revealing her own dear husband seated within it! In a flash he caught her up by the waist. Before the astonished Khan and his court could realize what was happening, the magical bird had soared into the air and was only a vanishing speck in the sky.
The prince's son and his lovely wife, whose ring, much to her delight, was magically restored to her finger, returned along with the five faithful companions to see her old foster-father and foster-mother from the hut in the woods. Then all of them together returned to the land where the six friends had been born. They visited each of their families, told one and all of their marvelous adventures, and there they settled and were happy and prosperous to the end of their days.
- Did a group of your friends ever join together to help you? What happened?
- Were you ever in a group of friends who joined together to help another friend? Tell what happened.