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John the True

Origin: Scottish

Theme: The loyalty of a friend can overcome extreme difficulties.

john-the-trueThere was once a king. The king’s father had recently died and the son had been far away fighting battles. When he returned to his castle, his best friend since childhood handed him the keys to the castle.

“It is yours now, my King. You can explore your castle,” said John, bowing on one knee, bending his head down, and holding his hand up with keys.

“Get up, John. You are my oldest friend, my foster brother. Stand up and show me the rooms. You know more about the castle than I do. You were allowed to run free, but as the Prince I had to stay on my side of the castle. Let’s go. Let’s have fun,” laughed the King, as he grabbed John under the arms and pulled him up.

They ran from room to room in the enormous castle, trying keys. Finally they came to a room full of furniture and old paintings. One painting was on the wall. The King looked up at the painting and stopped cold.

“What are you staring at my King? You look like you have seen a ghost,” yelled John to get the King’s attention. The King startled and looked at John.

“Who is she, who is that beautiful princess with skin as white as snow, cheeks as red as blood and hair as black as ebony? She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, you must find her for me,” the King yelled looking like a wild man. His eyes were as big as saucers, and his hair stood on end as if he had been hit by lightning.

“Calm down, John. This is the Princess of the Golden Horde. You father has been in a war with her father for the past 20 years. In fact, that is where you have been fighting her father’s army. You could never marry her. Turn that picture around and face it to the wall,” John said as he patted the King on the shoulder. Then he took the painting off the wall and turned it.

Days passed, and the King could think of nothing but the Princess. He tried to forget her, but he was listless, stopped eating and would not get out of his bed. John could not stand watching him so he went to him and said.

“Be of good cheer, my King. I will go get her for you,” claimed John.

“But how can you do that? You told me that we were enemies and that I could never have her. I have decided to die. I am starving myself, since I can never live without her,” the King claimed as he sucked in his cheeks to look as if he was starving.

“I can’t stand to see you this way and I have an idea. Give me a ship and load it with furniture made of gold,” said John. So the King did what was asked. John was a tricky guy and he knew the way to a Princess’ heart. He sailed to the port of the Empire of the Golden Horde, but never let on that he was from the Kingdom of the Horde’s hated enemies. He pretended he was a merchant on his way to another kingdom with tribute for the King there. He had stopped at the Horde to pick up the supplies. Rumors had reached the King, Queen and their beautiful daughter with skin as white as snow, cheeks as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony about the ship containing furniture made of gold. One night the royal family came down to the dock to see the furniture.

John the True invited them over the gangway into the ship, and the Princess fell in love with a dressing table made of gold with crystal mirrors.

“Father, I must have this. Look how beautiful I look in this mirror. Make him sell this to you father,” the Princess pleaded.

“No this is not for sale. It is for a special purpose and I am not allowed to tell who it is for,” John said stoically.

That night the Princess came down with her maid to persuade John to sell the dressing table. As John saw her board the boat, he ran to the captain and told him to set sail as soon as the Princess went into the cabin.

“Please, please, Master John, will you sell me this dressing table? I will give you more gold than it is worth,” the Princess said, as she stood regally ready to command John to do her bidding.

“Well, it is this way. I have been told to find a very special woman. One whose skin is as white as snow, whose cheeks are as red as blood and whose hair is as black as ebony. Only then can I give the table to her,” claimed John looking out at the water, but watching the Princess carefully from the corner of his eye to see how she was reacting.

“Let’s go into the cabin and I will show you my reflection in the mirror,” the Princess explained emphatically. “I am the woman, you will see, I have snow white skin, red blood cheeks, and black ebony hair. You must give this to me.”

At that she ran below deck, John followed her and the ship set sail. In a little while, the Princess felt the motion of the ship as it rocked on the waves.

“What is happening? What! What! You’ve kidnapped me!” the Princess shrieked.

“Wait my Princess, you must listen for a bit, and then I will take you back if you want,” John responded and the Princess calmed down. “My king has fallen in love with you and he is such a wonderful man. He is now ill with sickness since he cannot have you. Please come back and see him and then decide if you can marry him,” John explained.

The Princess eyed the dressing table and the other gold furniture and decided to check this out.

They went on their voyage for over a month. On one long, sunny day, the Princess was resting on the deck watching the birds fly by. She noticed three ravens coming overhead. She saw them cawing overhead. John standing nearby was a huntsman and could understand the language of the birds.

“Caw, Caw, there is the princess. She thinks that she will go to the King and be married but it will not happen,” crowed the first Raven.

“Why not?” asked John.

“Well, when she first meets the King he will put her on his horse. But it is a wild horse and they will both be thrown off and die,” the Raven continued.

“But can’t this be prevented?” John asked.

“Only if someone cuts of the head of the horse. But if he tells anyone why he did it he will turn to stone up to his knees,” the Raven replied.

“Caw, caw, there is another danger. When the king drinks wine at his wedding feast, he will die because it will be poisoned. The only way to stop it is to throw the goblet from his mouth. But if the person who does this tells anyone, he will turn to stone to his heart,” explained the second Raven.

“Caw, caw, there is still another danger. On their wedding night a dragon will come into the bridal bedroom and kill both the King and the Princess. Someone must drive off the dragon, but if he tells anyone he will turn to stone from head to toe. Caw, caw,” called the third raven.

The ravens flew off. But John was deeply troubled and decided that he must save his King even if it meant that he would become a stone statue.

It came to pass just as the first raven had said. When the Princess arrived on shore, she immediately fell in love with the King. He reached down to put the Princess on his horse. Just as he did this, John rushed forward and cut off the horse’s head. The King’s guards tried to arrest John, but the king would not let them.

“Stop, this is my dear friend. He must have had some reason,” the King proclaimed.

Then the second raven’s prophecy was fulfilled. At the wedding dinner, the King brought a goblet to his lips, and John leapt to strike the cup to the ground. Again the King’s guards tried to arrest him, and again the King would not let them.

“Stop, this is my dear friend. He must have had some reason,” the King decried again.

Finally the third raven’s words were realized. Immediately after dinner, John walked quietly up the steps from the dining hall to the royal bedroom. He gently opened the door, and saw the dragon waiting just inside the window hidden by a curtain. He moved quickly to the curtain, drawing his sword and striking at the dragon’s heart. The dragon moved quickly too so that John did not kill the dragon. However the dragon was gravely wounded, he jumped from the window to fly away to his cave. John turned around towards the door with the sword in his hand, dripping blood.

“John what have you done? This is too much. I can’t trust you after this. Guards take him. He will be executed tomorrow,” the King cried, distraught to have to kill his foster brother.

Bowing on one knee with his head bent, John said, “Do you want me to explain all this?”

“Yes, of course, my dear foster brother. Help me make sense of this,” the King reached down and pulled up John.

As John began to explain, his feet turned to stone. Then as he explained more, he turned to stone through his heart. Then as he explained about the dragon, he turned to stone up through his head. His mouth was still open as he froze to stone at his last word.

The King and Queen placed John the True, now as a statute, in the courtyard in the plaza outside the palace. They had twin boys and the boys would march by the statue and salute John the True.

Then one night the Queen had a dream that if she would scrape the dragon’s blood off the floor of the bedroom and put it on the statute, then John the True would become a man again. She did just that, and the King’s foster brother was restored to life.

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