Folktales, Legends, and Stories


The Power of a Woman's Reasoning


Once, it had to be a very long time ago, two men lived near each other in the village. One was a poor man and the other was rich. The poor man’s dwelling was as bare as a human palm and his only possession was a small pig. Being so poor, he had no fodder to feed it.

The rich man had ten pigs and he often fed them with barley. His pigs always had something in their trough. Because the two men lived so near each other, the poor man’s pig ran to the rich farmer’s herd many times a day and always caught some barley or guzzled something from the trough. This made the rich man very angry! He grabbed a club one day and hit the poor man’s pig on the head. The pig fell down in the dirt at that very instant and died.

The poor man went to the county judge to complain. The rich man defended himself and spoke about his loss and refused to pay for the pig. The county judge did not give his decision immediately.

“Well”, he said at last, “both of you were damaged! Compensation will be given to the one who gives me the right answer to this riddle. It must be solved by morning! What is the fattest, what is the fastest, and what is the cleanest in the world?”

Neither of the men knew the answer and went home sadly with long noses.

The rich man was welcomed by his wife. “Why are you coming as if you were scalded?”

“Ah, leave me in peace,” the man snapped back. “The judge gave us a riddle that not even a devil could answer! The one who gives the solution to the riddle will win the dispute.”

“What riddle?” she asked.

“What is the fattest, what is the fastest, and what is the cleanest in the world?”

“Why are you racking your brain over this, you fool? You could guess the solution at once. What could be fatter than our porker that we have been feeding for three years? What could be faster than our horses that we feed every day? And what could be cleaner than our well into which we throw over one hundred pounds of salt every year?”

“You are right, my dear wife!” the rich man called joyfully, His face beamed as if he had already won the court dispute, and as if the judge had patted him on his shoulder and acknowledged how clever he was.

When the poor man entered his house, his sixteen year old daughter welcomed him. She read her father’s eyes and could see that he was troubled.

“What is wrong, Father? It would be hell if you lost the argument!”

“I have not lost the argument yet, but I am not sure if I can win it,” responded the father. He then told the girl about the riddle.

“Do not worry, Father. I will think about it and find the answer by morning.” said the daughter.

The next morning, the girl awakened her father and whispered the solution in his ear. Pleased, the poor man went to the country judge. The rich man was already waiting and standing, the first in line with his answer to the riddle. You could see how the rich man retreated when he heard the judge’s remark that his answers were trivial and incorrect. He was not to come to his house with such trifles.

“Well, and what about you? What answer will you give me?” the judge asked the poor man.

“My noble lord, this is my answer. Our mother Earth is the fattest because all of us are living on her. The moon in the sky is the fastest because it rotates around the Earth. And the Sun is the cleanest because it always shines in the same purifying way.”

“You have the correct answer!” said the county judge as he patted the poor man on the shoulder. “Your wealthy neighbor did not have the right to kill your pig for a little barley.  You will get his fat porker that he has been feeding for three years.”

The rich man left silently. He had never dreamed of such shame, humiliation, and the loss of his porker.

Then the poor man thanked the judge for his decision. Before everyone left, the judge wanted to have a few words with the poor man. “You,” said the lord, “have not guessed the answers to these riddles yourself! Many clever people have already racked their brains about these riddles and guessed nothing. Tell me the name of the person who gave you the answers!”

The poor man had nothing to hide. He told the lord that his own daughter had thought about the riddles during the night, and in the morning, she had whispered the answers to him.

“Well, you have a clever daughter!” remarked the lord. “Take this handful of flax to her. It is the first flax that I have brought in from my fields. She should soak it, dry it, comb it, weave it, and spin it, and then whiten the cloth. She is to make a shirt for our wedding. If she does all of this, I will wed her! But if she does not, I will handle her like person who has intruded on my rights as a judge and who has forced me to change my decision. Now disappear!”

The poor man left hastily! He never wanted to return to this court. Is it possible to create a complete shirt for a lord from a handful of flax within three days? Has anybody ever heard of such a thing?

When he told his daughter everything, she was not worried. She broke a single branch from a tree and handed it to her father. “Take it, my father, and go to that lord again. I have this message for him. He is to make a spindle, a spinning wheel, and a loom, a complete spinning device, from this branch. If he finishes this task by morning, I will bring him the shirt in three days!”

The lord was now aware that he had met his match! Who knows how he did it, he prepared everything as she had requested. The girl sent him his wedding shirt on the third day!

“Well,” the county judge said to the poor man, “if your daughter is that clever, I will marry her. She must come in this way. Not at day and not at night, not walking, not in a carriage and not on a horse, along the road and not along the road, not wearing anything but still not unclothed. And she should bring me a present which is no present!”

What a message!

The father shook his head but his daughter comforted him. She urged him to leave this matter to her.

In the meantime, the lord stood by the window and longed to see the girl. He had heard that here was no comparison to her beauty far and wide.

On the third day, at dawn, when most people were still sleeping, the lord was already standing by the window. What did he see! A young girl was coming to his manor house. She was not coming at day nor at night because it was dawn! She was not walking, not coming by carriage and not on a horse because she was riding a billygoat! She was sitting on it but she was also touching the ground with her feet! The girl was going along the road and not along the road because the billygoat was walking on the shoulder of the road! She was wearing almost nothing but still, she was not unclothed because she was wearing a net and an apron! And there was something concealed in her lap! Surely the gift and not a gift. Awaiting that gift and non-gift impatiently, the judge sent his maids to her.

Beautiful as a rose, the girl entered the manor house and handed two pigeons to the lord. As the lord wanted to take them, she set them free. The pigeons flapped their wings and flew away through the open window. She had given him a gift and a non-gift at the same time! The lord had the pigeons but did not have them a minute later.

“Well, my dear,” said the lord, “we are now a couple! You are very clever and so am I. You must admit that I could not do my work if you interfere. Therefore, I admonish you, before our wedding that you are never allowed to interfere in my proceedings as a judge. If I note even the smallest influence of yours in anything, you will have to leave my house that same day.”

She agreed and they were married immediately.

Like a pair of pigeons, they lived happily together and she did not interfere in his judgments. But what was to happen, that happened.

One day, however, two wayfarers came to court. One drove a herd of horses and the other one drove a herd of bulls from the market. They spent the night in the same vicinity close to each other. During the night, a mare belonging to the horseman foaled. The foal walked among the bulls. The owner of the bulls found the foal and refused to give it back. The county judge decided to give the foal to the man with the bulls because that one might give him a bribe.

“Let the devils take this judgment away!” said the angry horseman under his breath. At that very moment, the judge’s wife met him in the yard.

“What has happened to you, good man?” she asked him.

“Well, look, madam. We have come here to look for the truth and here the truth looks like a bull has foaled and not a mare.” He told her his story.

“Do not worry, good man,” said the lady. “Just do as I tell you and everything will be all right. This afternoon, my husband will go for a walk in that meadow by the creek. You will take a scythe and a fishing net. When he comes to where you are, take your scythe and mow in the water. Then, jump on the bank and pretend that you are fishing on the grass. When my husband sees what you are doing, he will call you a simpleton. You will just say these words. “Well, Mr. County Judge, it is more likely that I will mow grass in water and catch fish on grass than a bull is to foal.”

“You will see that the foal will be yours,” she assured him. “But please, do not reveal that you have received this advice from me. If my husband finds out that I have interfered with his decision, I could no longer live in his manor house. You can see that I wish you well and I am looking for the truth.”

She said this and ran inside. At home, she acted so innocently as if she knew nothing about the matter.

In the evening, the judge went for a walk. And what did he see! The horseman was mowing in the water and fishing on the meadow.

“What are you doing here? Just the opposite of what people usually do, you simpleton!”

The man responded to him boldly. “You call me a simpleton in vain, Mr. County Judge. It would more likely happen that I would mow some grass in the water and catch some fish on the grass than your judgment could be carried out that a bull could have a foal.”

The truth dawned on the judge at once. He knew immediately who could have advised the horseman.

“You dared to turn my judgment upside down? This has not come from your head. Tell me right now who has told you to speak like that to me!”

“Well, Mr. County Judge, well, do not…”

“Why are you stuttering here? Tell me the truth or you will not get the foal otherwise. Did my wife advise you?”

The horseman did not know how to get out of his dilemma and admitted that it had been the judge’s wife who had hatched the plan.

“See!” said the lord. “Even if you had not told me, I would have known the result. Now go to the owner of the bulls and tell him to give you back the foal. That is my order! Will you know how to do it?”

“Yes, I will, my lord!” the horseman jumped for joy and ran to retrieve his foal.

The lord was discontent and furious! He would rather have experienced anything else but this situation. He loved his charming and clever wife more and more. But he had to keep his word and send her away. Coming back from his walk, the judge said to his wife, “Take from this manor house what you love most of all and leave my dwelling! I know what you have done!”

She did not argue. She merely asked if she could prepare the last dinner and that they would have one last dinner together. The judge agreed to that.

The dinner was delicious. Excellent wine was also served. The wife treated her husband again and again to another glass of wine ‘as for the last time’.  Soon, the judge looked at the very bottom of the jug which was now empty. He fell into such a deep sleep that anyone could have skinned him alive and he would not have awakened.

The lady had her servants prepare a carriage. She ordered them to put her husband into the carriage. She sat down next to him and ordered the coachman to go to her father’s house. At home, she jumped down from the carriage, prepared her peasant bed, and put her husband into it.

The next morning, the county judge awakened and rubbed his eyes. Had his lavish bed changed into a peasant one overnight?

His wife approached him and asked, “Have you slept well, my dear? See, you can sleep well even in a peasant bed. We will live well here. We can stay here forever.”

“What has happened? What have you done with me?”

“Have you forgotten, my dear, how you ordered me last night to leave your home? You allowed me to take what I appreciated most. I have taken you because I appreciate you the most!’

“Nobody is able to outwit a woman!” exclaimed the lord.

Everything turned out well. The lord and his wife returned to the manor house. The wife’s father went with them also. The lord rode home proudly with his very clever wife!

The tale was given by Adolf Reuss und Pavol Dobšinský from the Gemerská county and Eugen Vrahobor šparnensis from the Liptovská county.

It can be found in the book Pavol Dobšinský: Slovak Folktales. Complied by Jana Babirátová-Judinyová and edited by Jean Sofranko-Olexy and Frances X Luther. This book can be ordered though Slovak Heritage Society of NEPA. Click on name of book.