Bar Shalmon found himself on the outskirts of the city, and cautiously he crept forward. To his intense relief, he saw that the first building was a synagogue. The door, however, was locked. Weary, sore, and weak with long fasting, Bar Shalmon sank down on the steps and sobbed like a child.

 

Something touched him on the arm. He looked up. By the light of the moon he saw a boy standing before him. Such a queer boy he was, too. He had cloven feet, and his coat, if it was a coat, seemed to be made in the shape of wings.

 

“Ivri Onochi,” said Bar Shalmon, “I am a Hebrew.”

 

“So am I,” said the boy. “Follow me.”

 

He walked in front with a strange hobble, and when they reached a house at the back of the synagogue, he leaped from the ground, spreading his coat wings as he did so, to a window about twenty feet from the ground. The next moment a door opened, and Bar Shalmon, to his surprise, saw that the boy had jumped straight through the window down to the door which he had unfastened from the inside. The boy motioned him to enter a room. He did so. An aged man, who he saw was a rabbi, rose to greet him.

 

“Peace be with you,” said the rabbi, and pointed to a seat. He clapped his hand and immediately a table with food appeared before Bar Shalmon. The latter was far too hungry to ask any questions just then, and the rabbi was silent, too, while he ate. When he had finished, the rabbi clapped his hands and the table vanished.

 

“Now tell me your story,” said the rabbi. Bar Shalmon did so.

 

“Alas! I am an unhappy man,” he concluded. “I have been punished for breaking my vow. Help me to return to my home. I will reward thee well, and will atone for my sin.”

 

“Thy story is indeed sad,” said the rabbi, gravely, “but thou knowest not the full extent of thy unfortunate plight. Art thou aware what land it is into which thou hast been cast?”

 

“No,” said Bar Shalmon, becoming afraid again.

 

“Know then,” said the rabbi, “thou art not in a land of human beings. Thou hast fallen into Ergetz, the land of demons, of djinns, and of fairies.”

 

“But art thou not a Jew?” asked Bar Shalmon, in astonishment.

 

“Truly,” replied the rabbi. “Even in this realm we have all manner of religions just as you mortals have.”

 

“What will happen to me?” asked Bar Shalmon, in a whisper.

 

“I know not,” replied the rabbi. “Few mortals come here, and mostly, I fear they are put to death. The demons love them not.”

 

“Woe, woe is me,” cried Bar Shalmon, “I am undone.”

 

“Weep not,” said the rabbi. “I, as a Jew, love not death by violence and torture, and will endeavor to save thee.”

 

“I thank thee,” cried Bar Shalmon.

 

“Let thy thanks wait,” said the rabbi, kindly. “There is human blood in my veins. My great-grandfather was a mortal who fell into this land and was not put to death. Being of mortal descent, I have been made rabbi. Perhaps thou wilt find favour here and be permitted to live and settle in this land.”

 

“But I desire to return home,” said Bar Shalmon.

 

The rabbi shook his head.

 

“Thou must sleep now,” he said.

 

He passed his hands over Bar Shalmon’s eyes and he fell into a profound slumber. When he awoke it was daylight, and the boy stood by his couch. He made a sign to Bar Shalmon to follow, and through an underground passage he conducted him into the synagogue and placed him near the rabbi.

 

“Thy presence has become known,” whispered the rabbi, and even as he spoke a great noise was heard. It was like the wild chattering of many high-pitched voices. Through all the windows and the doors a strange crowd poured into the synagogue. There were demons of all shapes and sizes. Some had big bodies with tiny heads, others huge heads and quaint little bodies. Some had great staring eyes, others had long wide mouths, and many had only one leg each. They surrounded Bar Shalmon with threatening gestures and noises. The rabbi ascended the pulpit.

 

The Fairy Princess of Ergetz from Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends

A strange crowd of demons of all shapes and sizes poured into the synagogue with threatening gestures.

 

“Silence!” he commanded, and immediately the noise ceased. “Ye who thirst for mortal blood, desecrate not this holy building wherein I am master. What ye have to say must wait until after the morning service.”

 

Silently and patiently they waited, sitting in all manner of queer places. Some of them perched on the backs of the seats, a few clung like great big flies to the pillars, others sat on the window-sills, and several of the tiniest hung from the rafters in the ceiling. As soon as the service was over, the clamor broke out anew.

 

“Give to us the perjurer,” screamed the demons. “He is not fit to live.”

 

With some difficulty, the rabbi stilled the tumult, and said:

 

“Listen unto me, ye demons and sprites of the land of Ergetz. This man has fallen into my hands, and I am responsible for him. Our king, Ashmedai, must know of his arrival. We must not condemn a man unheard. Let us petition the king to grant him a fair trial.”

 

After some demur, the demons agreed to this proposal, and they trooped out of the synagogue in the same peculiar manner in which they came.

 

Each was compelled to leave by the same door or window at which he entered.

 

Bar Shalmon was carried off to the palace of King Ashmedai, preceded and followed by a noisy crowd of demons and fairies. There seemed to be millions of them, all clattering and pointing at him. They hobbled and hopped over the ground, jumped into the air, sprang from housetop to housetop, made sudden appearances from holes in the ground and vanished through solid walls.

 

The palace was a vast building of white marble that seemed as delicate as lace work. It stood in a magnificent square where many beautiful fountains spouted jets of crystal water. King Ashmedai came forth on the balcony, and at his appearance all the demons and fairies became silent and went down on their knees.

 

“What will ye with me?” he cried, in a voice of thunder, and the rabbi approached and bowed before his majesty.

 

“A mortal, a Jew, has fallen into my hands,” he said, “and thy subjects crave for his blood. He is a perjurer, they say. Gracious majesty, I would petition for a trial.”

 

“What manner of mortal is he?” asked Ashmedai.

 

Bar Shalmon stepped forward.

 

“Jump up here so I may see thee,” commanded the king.

 

“Jump, jump,” cried the crowd.

 

“I cannot,” said Bar Shalmon, as he looked up at the balcony thirty feet above the ground. “Try,” said the rabbi.

 

Bar Shalmon did try, and found, the moment he lifted his feet from the ground, that he was standing on the balcony.

 

“Neatly done,” said the king. “I see thou art quick at learning.”

 

“So my teachers always said,” replied Bar Shalmon.

 

“A proper answer,” said the king. “Thou art, then, a scholar.”

 

“In my own land,” returned Bar Shalmon, “men said I was great among the learned.”

 

“So,” said the king. “And canst thou impart the wisdom of man and of the human world to others?”

 

“I can,” said Bar Shalmon.

 

“We shall see,” said the king. “I have a son with a desire for such knowledge. If thou canst make him acquainted with thy store of learning, thy life shall be spared. The petition for a trial is granted.”

 

The king waved his scepter and two slaves seized Bar Shalmon by the arms. He felt himself lifted from the balcony and carried swiftly through the air. Across the vast square the slaves flew with him, and when over the largest of the fountains they loosened their hold. Bar Shalmon thought he would fall into the fountain, but to his amazement he found himself standing on the roof of a building. By his side was the rabbi.

 

“Where are we?” asked Bar Shalmon. “I feel bewildered.”

 

“We are at the Court of Justice, one hundred miles from the palace,” replied the rabbi.

 

A door appeared before them. They stepped through, and found themselves in a beautiful hall. Three judges in red robes and purple wigs were seated on a platform, and an immense crowd filled the galleries in the same queer way as in the synagogue. Bar Shalmon was placed on a small platform in front of the judges. A tiny sprite, only about six inches high, stood on another small platform at his right hand and commenced to read from a scroll that seemed to have no ending. He read the whole account of Bar Shalmon’s life. Not one little event was missing.

 

“The charge against Bar Shalmon, the mortal,” the sprite concluded, “is that he has violated the solemn oath sworn at his father’s death-bed.”

 

Then the rabbi pleaded for him and declared that the oath was not binding because Bar Shalmon’s father had not informed him of his treasures abroad and could not therefore have been in his right senses. Further, he added, Bar Shalmon was a scholar and the king desired him to teach his wisdom to the crown prince.

 

The chief justice rose to pronounce sentence.

 

“Bar Shalmon,” he said, “rightly thou shouldst die for thy broken oath. It is a grievous sin. But there is the doubt that thy father may not have been in his right mind. Therefore, thy life shall be spared.”

 

Bar Shalmon expressed his thanks.

 

“When may I return to my home?” he asked. “Never,” replied the chief justice.

 

Bar Shalmon left the court, feeling very downhearted. He was safe now. The demons dared not molest him, but he longed to return to his home.

 

“How am I to get back to the palace?” he asked the rabbi. “Perhaps after I have imparted my learning to the crown prince, the king will allow me to return to my native land.”

 

“That I cannot say. Come, fly with me,” said the rabbi.

 

“Fly!”

 

“Yes; see thou hast wings.”

 

Bar Shalmon noticed that he was now wearing a garment just like all the demons. When he spread his arms, he found he could fly, and he sailed swiftly through the air to the palace. With these wings, he thought, he would be able to fly home.

 

“Think not that,” said the rabbi, who seemed to be able to read his thoughts, “for thy wings are useless beyond this land.”

 

Bar Shalmon found that it would be best for him to carry out his instructions for the present, and he set himself diligently to teach the crown prince. The prince was an apt pupil, and the two became great friends. King Ashmedai was delighted and made Bar Shalmon one of his favourites.

 

One day the king said to him: “I am about to leave the city for a while to undertake a campaign against a rebellious tribe of demons thousands of miles away. I must take the crown prince with me. I leave thee in charge of the palace.”

 

The king gave him a huge bunch of keys.

 

“These,” he said, “will admit into all but one of the thousand rooms in the palace. For that one there is no key, and thou must not enter it. Beware.”

 

For several days Bar Shalmon amused himself by examining the hundreds of rooms in the vast palace until one day he came to the door for which he had no key. He forgot the king’s warning and his promise to obey.

 

“Open this door for me,” he said to his attendants, but they replied that they could not.

 

“You must,” he said angrily, “burst it open.”

 

“We do not know how to burst open a door,” they said. “We are not mortal. If we were permitted to enter the room we should just walk through the walls.”

 

Bar Shalmon could not do this, so he put his shoulder to the door and it yielded quite easily.

 

A strange sight met his gaze. A beautiful woman, the most beautiful he had ever seen, was seated on a throne of gold, surrounded by fairy attendants who vanished the moment he entered.

 

“Who art thou?” asked Bar Shalmon, in great astonishment.

 

“The daughter of the king,” replied the princess, “and thy future wife.”

 

“Indeed! How know you that?” he asked.

 

“Thou hast broken thy promise to my father, the king, not to enter this room,” she replied. “Therefore, thou must die, unless–”

 

“Tell me quickly,” interrupted Bar Shalmon, turning pale, “how my life can be saved.”

 

“Thou must ask my father for my hand,” replied the princess. “Only by becoming my husband canst thou be saved.”

 

“But I have a wife and child in my native land,” said Bar Shalmon, sorely troubled.

 

“Thou hast now forfeited thy hopes of return,” said the princess, slowly. “Once more hast thou broken a promise. It seems to come easy to thee now.”

 

Bar Shalmon had no wish to die, and he waited, in fear and trembling for the king’s re-turn. Immediately he heard of King Ashmedai’s approach, he hastened to meet him and flung himself on the ground at his majesty’s feet.

 

“O King,” he cried, “I have seen thy daughter, the princess, and I desire to make her my wife.”

 

“I cannot refuse,” returned the king. “Such is our law–that he who first sees the princess must become her husband, or die. But, have a care, Bar Shalmon. Thou must swear to love and be faithful ever.”

 

“I swear,” said Bar Shalmon.

 

The wedding took place with much ceremony. The princess was attended by a thousand fairy bridesmaids, and the whole city was brilliantly decorated and illuminated until Bar Shalmon was almost blinded by the dazzling spectacle.

 

The rabbi performed the marriage ceremony, and Bar Shalmon had to swear an oath by word of mouth and in writing that he loved the princess and would never desert her. He was given a beautiful palace full of jewels as a dowry, and the wedding festivities lasted six months. All the fairies and demons invited them in turn; they had to attend banquets and parties and dances in grottoes and caves and in the depths of the fairy fountains in the square. Never before in Ergetz had there been such elaborate rejoicings.

 

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From: JEWISH FAIRY TALES AND LEGENDS

ISBN: 978-1-907256-14-1

http://www.abelapublishing.com/cg_jftl.html

 

A percentage of the profits will be donated to the CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKE APPEAL.

 

Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends

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