The Mysterious Servant
There was once a rich merchant who had an only son. As he lay dying, he
said, "Matti, my boy, my end is approaching and there are two things I
want to say to you: The first is that I am leaving you all my wealth.
If you are careful you will have enough to suffice you for life. The
second thing I have to say is to beg you never to leave this, your
native village. At your birth there was a prophecy which declared that
if ever you left this village you would have to marry a woman with
horns. Now that I have warned you in time it will be your own fault if
ever you have to meet this fate."
The merchant died and Matti was left alone. He had never before wanted
to travel but now that he knew of the fate which would overtake him if
he did, he couldn't bear the thought of remaining forever a prisoner in
his native village.
"What is the use of riches," he asked himself, "if one cannot travel
over the broad world and see wonderful sights? Besides, if it's my fate
to marry a horned woman, I don't see why sitting quietly at home is
going to save me. No! I'm going to take my chances like a man and come
and go as I like!"
So he gathered his riches together, closed the old house where he had
been born, and started out into the bright world. He travelled many
days, meeting strange peoples and seeing strange sights. At last he
settled down in a large city and became a merchant like his father.
One afternoon as he was out walking, he saw a crowd of men dragging the
body of a dead man in the gutter. They were kicking and abusing the
dead body and calling it evil names.
Matti stopped them. "What is this you are doing?" he demanded. "Stop
abusing this poor dead body and bury it decently, or God will punish
"Let us alone!" the men cried. "He deserves all that we are giving him!
When he was alive he borrowed money from us all and then he died
without repaying us. Are we to have no satisfaction at all?"
With that they resumed their abuse of the dead body,
"Wait!" Matti cried. "Tell me what the dead man owed you and I will pay it!"
"He owed me ten gold coins!" said one.
"And me a hundred!" shouted another.
"And me five hundred!"
"And me a thousand!"
"Come all of you to my house," Matti said, "and I will pay you, but
only on condition that first you hand over the body to me and help me
give it a decent burial."
The men agreed. They helped Matti bury the dead man and then went home with him.
Each told Matti the amount the dead man owed him and, true to his promise, Matti paid them all.
When he had paid the last man he found that he had nothing left for
himself but nine silver coins. The dead man's debts had exhausted all
the wealth his father had left him.
"No matter!" Matti thought to himself. "My riches would have done me no
good if I had stood by and allowed a poor dead man to be abused. What
if I have nothing left? I'm young and strong and I can go out into the
world and make my livelihood somehow. I'll go home and have one last
look at my native village and then begin life anew."
So, dressed in shabby old clothes with nothing in his pockets but the
nine silver coins, Matti left the city where people were beginning to
know him as a merchant and started back to his native village.
He was soon met by a man who addressed him respectfully and asked to be engaged as his servant.
"My servant!" Matti repeated with a laugh. "My dear fellow, I'm too
poor to have a servant! All I have in the world by now are nine silver
"No matter," the man said. "Take me anyhow. I will serve you well and I think you won't regret our bargain."
So Matti agreed and they walked on together. The sun was hot and by the
middle of the afternoon Matti was feeling faint with hunger and fatigue.
"Master," the servant said, "I will run ahead to the next village and
order the landlord at the inn to prepare you a fine dinner. Come along
slowly and by the time you arrive, the dinner will be ready."
"But remember," Mattie warned him, "I have no money to pay for a fine dinner!"
"Trust me!" the servant said and off he hurried.
At the next village he hunted out the best inn and ordered the landlord
to prepare his finest dinner without delay. He was so particular that
everything should be the best that the landlord supposed his master
must be some great lord.
When Matti arrived on foot, tired and travel-stained and shabby, the landlord was amazed.
"It's fine lords we have nowadays!" he muttered scornfully, and he
wished he had not been in such haste to cook the best food in the
house. But it was cooked and ready to serve and so, with an ill grace,
he served it.
Matti and his man ate their fill of good cabbage soup and fish and fowl
tender and juicy. It quite enraged the landlord to see poor men with
such good appetites.
"They eat as if their pockets were lined with gold!" he muttered
angrily. "Well, let them eat while they can, for they'll lose their
appetites once they see the reckoning!"
When they finished eating, they rested and then called for the
reckoning. It was much more than it should have been but neither Matti
nor the servant objected.
"Like a good fellow," the servant said, "will you please to lend me your five litres measure."
"Like a good fellow, indeed!" the landlord muttered to himself. "Who
are you to call me like a good fellow, I'd like to know!" Nevertheless
he went out and got the measure.
"Now, master," the servant said, "give me three of your nine silver coins."
The servant threw the three silver coins into the measure, shook the
measure three times and lo! it was filled to the brim with silver
coins! The servant counted out the amount of the reckoning and handed
the rest of the money to his master. Then he and Matti went on their
way, leaving the landlord gaping after them with open mouth.
Day after day the servant paid the reckoning in the same way at the
various inns where they stopped till they reached at last Matti's
native village and the old house that still belonged to him.
They settled themselves there and one day the servant said to Matti,
"Now, master, you know your fate: for having left your native village
you know you are destined to marry a horned woman. You might as well do
it at once, for you'll have to do it sooner or later."
Mattie said, "Yes, and if I knew the whereabouts of the horned woman who is my fate I should marry her at once."
"In that case we'll lose no more time," the servant said. "The king has
three daughters, and all of them are horned. Let us go to the palace so
that you can ask the king to give you one of them as your bride. The
king will listen in friendly manner to what you ask of him, for there
are not many suitors for daughters with horns. He will try to make you
take the oldest. She has big horns and a hoarse voice. When she sees
you, she'll whisper: 'Take me! Take me!' But shake your head and
answer: *No! Not this one!' Then the king will send for his second
daughter. Her horns are not so big and her voice is so hoarse. She,
too, will whisper you: 'Take me! Take me!' But again shake your head
and answer: 'No! Not this one!' Be firm and the king will finally have
to send for his youngest daughter. Her horns are just soft little baby
horns and her voice is just a little husky. Take her, and soon all will
So Matti and the servant went to the palace and were granted an audience with the king.
"My master, Matti," the servant said, addressing the king, "wants to marry a wife with horns."
The king was interested at once. "As it happens, I have a daughter with horns," he said. "I'll have her come in."
He sent for his oldest daughter and very soon she appeared. Her horns
were long and thick. "Take me! Take me!" she whispered hoarsely as she
"See what a fine girl she is!" the king said, "and what well grown horns she has!"
But Matti shook his head. "Well, no, I don't think I want to marry this one."
"Of course you must follow the dictates of your heart," the king said
drily. "However, my second daughter also has horns. Maybe you'd like to
So the second daughter was called in. Her horns were not as large as
her sister's, and her voice was not as horse either. But Matti
remembered the servant's warning and refused to take her too. The king
seemed surprised and even annoyed that Matti should refuse his
daughters so glibly, but when he found that Matti was firm he said, "I
have got another daughter, my youngest. However, if I is horns you are
looking for, I don't believe you will be interested in her at all since
her horns are so small and soft that they are hardly noticeable at all.
However, as you are here you might as well have a look at her too."
The youngest princess was sent for, and at once Matti knew that she was
the one he wanted to marry. She wasn't all beautiful, but she was
gentle and modest. And when she passed Matti her cheeks flushed and she
wasn't able to whisper anything. But Matti felt very sure that if she
had whispered her voice would have been scarcely husky.
"This, king," he said, "is my choice! Let me marry your youngest daughter."
The king would have preferred to marry off the older princesses first,
for their horns were getting to be very troublesome, but as they all
had horns he was afraid to refuse Matti's offer. After a little talk he
gave Matti the youngest and in a short time they were married.
After the wedding feast the king led the young couple to the bridal
chamber and closed the door. In the meantime, Matti's servant had gone
out to the woods and cut some stout switches of birch. When the palace
was quiet and all were asleep, he crept softly into the bridal chamber
and, dragging the bride out of bed, he beat her unmercifully.
"Oh! Oh!" she cried in pain.
Her screams woke Matti. In fright he jumped out of bed and tried to stop the servant.
"Wait!" the servant said. "She is under an evil enchantment and I am
delivering her!" So he kept on beating her till he had drawn blood.
Then at once the horns fell from her head and there she stood a
beautiful young girl released from the evil enchantment that had
The servant handed her over to her husband who fell in love with her on sight and has loved her ever since.
"Now farewell, Matti," the servant said. "My work is done and you will
need me no longer. You have married a beautiful princess and the king
will soon make you his heir."
With these words the servant disappeared, and Matti was left alone with his lovely bride.