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The Three Knots

2006-07-14 00:21

  There were once a man and a woman who had one son. From his earliest years the boy was drawn to water. He had only to come out of the house, and there he was by the pond and in danger of falling in and drowning. His mother punished him and his father never spared the rod, but nothing helped-the pond drew him as before and whatever came to hand he would at once throw in it. The mother would miss now a wooden spoon, now a mortar, now a hat, now a pair of shoes, and every time there they were floating in the pond, the boy playing at sailing boats with them. And when he was a little older he would climb into a wooden tub or a feeding-trough and sail round the pond. There was just no stopping him at all!

  So the mother and father decided, since they could do nothing to break him of these habits, to let him become a sailor. They took the boy to an old seaman and asked him to take him in training. The seaman agreed, and, when the boy had been with him for some time, brought him back to the mother and father and said:

  “I have taught your son everything I myself knew. He will make a fine sailor.”

  And he gave his pupil a piece of rope with three knots in it.

  “You now know what seas there are and what winds,” said he. “But knowing this is not enough; you must learn to govern them as well. If there is no wind and the sea is calm a sailor must have patience and wait till it begins to blow and the sails fill out. If the wind is raging and there is a storm at sea he needs strength and courage in order not to lose heart. You are a good lad and I've grown fond of you, so I'm giving you this piece of rope for a gift. So long as it is with you, you can sail the seas in any kind of weather without fear. If there is a calm, undo the first knot and a fair wind will start to blow. If you are pursued by pirates, undo the second knot and a storm will begin such as will force them to leave you alone. If the storm keeps up too long and you want it to subside, undo third knot and the sea will be calm again.”

  The youth began sailing the seas, and as fair winds followed him wherever he went he soon became knows as the Lucky Skipper.

  One day the Lucky Skipper cast anchor near the king's own city. Many ships were moored there at the time and they were making ready to put to sea when suddenly a dead calm fell. Not a ripple disturbed the water and, on land, not a leaf stirred on a tree, and willy-nilly all the ships had to remain in harbour. A day passed by, and a second day, and still there was no wind. The captains sat on their bridges and whistled, trying to bring on the wind, for what else was there to do, and they fumed and raged and cursed the calm.

  But more disheartened than any of the captains was the young prince of the realm, for he had to sail for the neighbouring kingdom soon or his bride-to-be, who awaited him there, would be given in marriage to another.

  A day went by, and the prince promised a sack of gold to the captain who would take him to his bride. A second day went by, and he promised him his lifelong friendship. A third day went by, and he promised him his father's whole kingdom. There was not a captain there but would have been glad enough to have the gold and the prince's friendship and his father's kingdom, but what could they do when there was no wind!

  On the fourth day the prince was on the verge of despair. He would not eat or drink, refused to wear any of his fine clothing and threatened to put an end to his life.

  Hearing about it, the Lucky Skipper felt sorry for the prince and offered to take him where he wanted to go. He undid the first knot on his piece of rope and at once a fair wind began to blow. The ship was soon out of harbour and going so fast that she left huge breakers in her wake.

  They arrived in the neighbouring kingdom just in time, for the bride's father had had it announced throughout that if the bridegroom failed to arrive by morning he would give his daughter in marriage to another.

  The prince and the princess were married, and so rich and gay was their wedding that the whole kingdom was drunk for half a year.

  The prince stayed with his wife in her land and became king in her father's stead, and he said that the Lucky Skipper could have his father's kingdom in reward for his services.

  The Lucky Skipper put to sea and sailed back again. He put into port, anchored his ship and went to pay the old king a visit and see how things were. It was in the palace that he first beheld the king's youngest daughter and knew that he never wanted to part with her again. The princess, too, liked the Lucky Skipper at sight and told him that she preferred him to all her other suitors. She was very beautiful and there had always been matchmakers milling about in the king's anteroom, but she had refused everyone, saying that she did not want to marry and leave her father alone.

  Now, however, she made her choice openly known, ad there was nothing the matchmakers from all the many lands and realms could do but go away. Only one man asked to be allowed to remain for a little while, and that was the ruler of an island kingdom who said that he hoped to meet another maid there and come to like her enough to marry her. So stay there he did, and none guessed that he had another and evil purpose in mind.

  When night came this man his attendants seized the beautiful princess and put her on board his ship, and they were soon under way and out in the open sea.

  The grief of the princess's father and that of her promised husband can well be imagined. But whereas the old king sat about and moped and shed tears the Lucky Skipper wasted no time and, all sails set, flew in pursuit.

  After some days he reached the island king's realm. Underwater rocks and reefs surrounded the island from all sides and there seemed to be no way of approaching it.

  Deciding to bide his time, the Lucky Skipper cast anchor some distance away. But at once all the island king's ships made sail and bore down upon him. They bristled with guns and grapnels, and the faces of the men on board were the most ferocious he had ever seen. The Lucky Skipper knew what to expect without being told. He took out the piece of rope that the old seaman had given him and undid two of the knots. At once a lashing wind broke loose, and waves, each higher than the one before, came sweeping in from all sides. Sails flapped madly, shrouds creaked, masts crashed down into the water, the sides of the enemy ships were cleft, rats scuttled about on the decks, and the men yelled and shrieked in terror. They would have been glad to get back to shore but could not! So fierce was the storm that the Lucky Skipper's ship, though held down by anchors, was flung about like a chip of wood.

  The Lucky Skipper waited a little while and then undid the third knot. The storm subsided. The Lucky Skipper looked round for the enemy ships but there was nothing on the now calm waters but some casks and boards. He made land, found his bride and sailed home with her.

  Soon after that they were married, and so much was eaten and drunk at their wedding that to this day some of the people who were present there go around picking their teeth and holding their heads. There was much dancing and singing and playing of games, and all who were not too lazy took part in the merry-making.

  At last it was all over, and the old king said to the Lucky Skipper:

  “Well, my son, you must sit on my throne and reign in my stead!”

  The Lucky Skipper thought this over.

  “What do I want to be king for!” said he at last. “I'm happy enough on my ship. Many are the kings and rulers I have seen and it's not a life I covet a king has got to fleece his subjects and war against his neighbours. No, I don't like it at all.”

  And off he made for his ship, and his young wife with him.

  Some time went by, and his wife presented the Lucky Skipper with a son, as fine a boy as his father had been, and they all lived very happily together till it was time for them to sail off on their last voyage.

  But we mustn't forget about the piece of rope with the three knots, for you will be wondering where it is.

  Well, like his father before him, the Lucky Skipper's son had taken to water like a duck and liked throwing all sorts of things in it-now it might be a pail that they missed on board, now a mop, now a life-belt, now an empty cask. And one day he came upon the piece of rope with the three knots and, of course, threw it overboard, too. So that was that!

  But, oh, wouldn't it be fun if one of us could find it!

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