The Wasp, The Winged Needle And The Spider
A Folk Tale from Brittany
Long ago there lived, at Leon in Brittany, two young noblemen so rich and so handsome that their own mother could discover no defect in them. Their names were Tonyk and Mylie.
Mylie, the elder, was sixteen, but Tonyk was only fourteen. Both were well educated, and Tonyk was of a pious disposition. He was always ready to help the poor and to forgive evil. Money stuck to his fingers no more than anger lingered in his heart.
Mylie, on the contrary, liked to give to people only what was strictly due them. He was a bargainer. It is sad to say, too, that if anyone offended him he never failed to take his vengeance if he could.
As their father was called to Heaven when they were still wearing petticoats, their mother brought them up. But now that they were older she thought it was time to send them to their uncle who lived in one of Brittany's farthest corners. Their father's brother would give them good advice as well as all his property later on when he, too, should be summoned into Paradise.
One fine morning their mother gave each of the brothers a new hat, silver-buckled shoes, a violet cloak, and a purse full of money. She told them it was now time to set out for their uncle's castle.
The two boys began their journey, delighted to think that at last they were to see something of the world. Their horses travelled quickly, and in a few days' time they were in another dukedom, in a country where grew trees and corn of different sorts than those at home.
Now it happened one morning as they were riding along the road that they saw a poor woman seated near a wayside cross, her face hidden in her apron.
Tonyk reined in his horse at once and asked, "Why do you grieve, good dame?"
The beggar woman sobbed and said, "I have lost my son who was all I had in the world, and now I am left on the charity of the Christian folk."
The boy's heart was touched, but Mylie who had moved on a few paces called back in mocking tones:
"Are you going to believe the story of the first old, sniffy, crone you come across? She is sitting there just to coax money out of people's purses."
"Brother, be quiet!" exclaimed Tonyk. "Your unkind words are making her weep more than ever. Do you not notice that she is about the age of our own mother?"
Then bending over the beggar Tonyk gave her his purse, saying, "I can give you only this small aid. But I shall pray that you be comforted in your grief."
The tattered beggar accepted the purse and said, "Since the young lord wishes to help the poor he will not refuse to accept this little gift in return: it is a walnut containing a wasp whose sting is made from a diamond."
Tonyk took the walnut and, thanking the old dame, went on his way with Mylie.
The two brothers soon reached the outskirts of a forest. There they saw a little child dressed only in thin rags. He was rummaging in a hollow tree and singing to himself a song more mournful than the music of the mass for the dead. He stopped every now and then to rub his ice-cold hands, chanting as he did so, "I am cold! I am cold!" and then again, "The wind is cold!"
Tears came to Tonyk's eyes, and he said to his brother, "Mylie, see how that little child is suffering from the wind."
"Oh, he is just the chilly sort, I suppose," answered Mylie, "I do not think the wind is cold."
"That is because you have on a velvet doublet, a cloth coat, and on top of all that your violet cloak, while this little child's clothes are but the winds themselves."
"You are right," laughed Mylie, "but he is only a peasant."
"Alas, brother," said Tonyk, "when I think that you might have been born in his place, my heart bleeds. I cannot bear to see him suffer."
So saying, he alighted from his horse and, calling the lad to him, asked what he was doing.
"I am looking for winged needles," said the child. "They are sleeping in the hollow trees."
"And what do you intend to do with your winged needles?" inquired Tonyk.
"When I have a great many I shall sell them in the town, and then I shall buy such warm clothes that it will seem to me that the sun is always shining."
"Have you found many?" asked the young lord.
"Only one," replied the child, showing Tonyk a tiny reed cage in which he had put a small blue dragon fly.
"Very well, I shall buy it," said Tonyk, throwing his own violet cloak around the child. "Wrap yourself in that, poor lad. And when you say your prayers, pray for my brother Mylie and for our mother."
The two brothers journeyed on again. At first Tonyk suffered from the wind and sadly missed his cloak. But after they had passed through the forest a softer breeze began to blow and the sun shone warmly.
At length they came to a meadow where there was a spring and near the spring was seated a bent and aged man with a beggar's knapsack upon his shoulder. As soon as he saw the two riders he called to them in an entreating voice.
Tonyk went to him. "What do you want, father?" he asked, taking off his hat out of respect for the beggar's snowy locks.
"Alas, my dear young lords," replied the beggar, "see my hair, how white it is! How wrinkled my cheeks! I am old and weak and my feet can carry me no longer. I shall die here if one of you will not consent to sell me his horse."
"Sell you one of our horses, old beggar!" cried Mylie disdainfully. "How can you pay for it?"
"Do you see this?" asked the beggar, holding up a hollow acorn for the brothers to behold. "It contains a spider that can weave a web stronger than steel chains. Give me one of your horses and in exchange I'll give you the spider in the acorn."
The elder brother burst out laughing.
"Did you ever hear of such stuff, Tonyk?" he asked, turning to his brother.
"The poor can offer only what they have," answered the younger brother gently.
Then dismounting Tonyk said to the beggar, "I shall give you my horse, old man. Not on account of the hollow acorn that you offer in exchange, but in memory of the saints in Heaven. Take the horse as if he were your own, and thank Heaven that we crossed your path today."
The old man murmured a blessing and, helped by the lad, he mounted the horse and disappeared across the meadow.
But Mylie could not forgive his brother this last act of generosity.
"You fool!" he burst out angrily. "Look at the state you are in now through your own silliness! No doubt You thought that when you gave everything away I would let you take half of my money, half of my cloak, and ride on my horse. But do not hope for that. I wish the lesson to be brought home to you. You will be more careful in the future when you realize the inconvenience of extravagance."
"Yes, this is indeed a lesson, brother," answered Tonyk gently. "And I shall take it to heart. But I have never thought of sharing your money, or your horse, or your cloak. Go your way and trouble not about me, and may the angels guard you."
Mylie said nothing in answer but rode off as quickly as his horse could trot whilst the younger brother continued his journey on foot.
Riding thus, and followed by his brother trudging in the dust, Mylie came to a gorge between two lofty mountains. It was called the Accursed Gully because a wicked ogre lived there, who was always on the alert for travellers who chanced to pass. He was as blind as a stone, but his hearing was so sharp that he could detect an earthworm hollowing out its hole.. His servants were two eagles he had trained, for he was a powerful magician. When he heard travellers approaching he would send the eagles to capture them. That is why people, when travelling through the gorge, carried their shoes in their hands, scarcely daring to draw breath.
But Mylie knew nothing of the ogre. Into the gorge he clattered, as bold as brass. At the ring of the horse's hoofs the giant awoke.
"Come hither, come hither, my fleet eagles," cried he. "Where do you tarry?"
The red eagle and the white eagle flapped quickly into the cave.
"My supper is riding by!" exclaimed the ogre. "Away and fetch it!
The two eagles darted off and plunged into the depths of the ravine. They seized Mylie by his velvet cloak and bore him aloft to the ogre's dwelling.
At that moment Tonyk reached the opening of the gorge, just in time to see his brother carried off by the two great birds. He pursued them shouting, but the eagles and Mylie soared into the clouds that covered the highest peak and were swallowed up from view.
The lad stood overcome with grief, staring at the rock that rose straight upward like a wall. Then he fell on his knees and prayed:
"O, Creator of the world, save my brother Mylie!"
At once he heard three shrill voices near him calling, "Let us help you! Let us help you!"
Tonyk turned around surprised.
"Who spoke to me?" he asked.
"We are in your jacket pocket," the voices answered.
Tonyk put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the acorn, the walnut, and the reed cage which held the dragon fly.
"Can you save Mylie?" he asked in astonishment.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" piped the tiny voices, each in a different key.
"But how will you manage that, you poor little nothings?" asked Tonyk.
"Open our prisons and you will see," they answered.
The boy did as they wished. The spider came out of the acorn and fell to weaving a web as shining and as strong as steel. Then he climbed on the back of the dragon fly, who had just come out of his little cage, and together they rose gently in the air. And as they rose the spider continued to weave his web. The threads were so spun that they formed a lengthening ladder. Tonyk at once began to climb, following the spider and the dragon fly, until he reached the top of the mountain. Then the wasp who had been shut up in the walnut shell flew before them. Thus they came to the ogre's cave.
It was a cavernous grotto hollowed out of the rock and looked to be as high as a church. In the middle sat the blind ogre. He was swaying to and fro like a poplar tree in a gale, singing a wild song of his own invention, and cutting slices of bacon with which to baste Mylie. Poor Mylie lay at the ogre's feet with legs and arms trussed like a chicken ready for the boiling. The two eagles were near by. One was winding up the turnspit and the other was blowing the fire with a mighty bellows.
The ogre was making such a noise with his song and he was so busy slicing the bacon that he did not hear Tonyk and his three little servants enter. But the red eagle noticed the boy, flew at him, and was about to catch him up in his claws when the wasp came to the rescue. It darted at the eagle and pierced his eyes with its diamond sting. The white eagle flew to the assistance of the red eagle, but he too was blinded by the wasp.
Now it was the ogre's turn. He had stopped his song when he heard the eagles shrieking, but the wasp flew at him and began to sting him mercilessly. The ogre bellowed like a bull and threw his arms about like a windmill, but he could not catch the wasp.
At last he fell with his face to earth to escape the fiery stings. Then the spider drew near. He wove a web over the fallen giant who now lay imprisoned and motionless.
In vain the ogre called to his eagles. They were beside themselves with pain, and moreover they did not wish to free their wicked master now that he was helpless. They intended to gain freedom for themselves after their long slavery.
They flew at the steel net and began to tear at the ogre through the meshes. Each peck of a beak carried away a piece of flesh and the birds stopped only when they had gotten to the ogre's bones. Then, as a magician's flesh is poison, the eagles died upon the spot.
Meanwhile Tonyk had undone his brother's bonds, and after having kissed' him with tears of joy he led him out of the ogre's cave to the edge of the great rock.
The winged needle and the wasp appeared once more. They were harnessed to the little reed cage, but it was now turned into a coach. They invited the two brothers to take a seat within it, and when the boys had entered the spider closed the door and climbed up behind, for he was now the groom. Then the team set off as swift as the wind.
Tonyk was entranced at riding thus, high above the meadows. Over the mountains, streams and villages they flew until at last they reached their uncle's castle.
The coach rolled on to the drawbridge where the brothers saw their two horses waiting for them. On the holster of the saddle of Tonyk's horse were hanging his purse and cloak. But the purse was larger than it had been before, and the cloak was spangled with diamonds.
Tonyk in great surprise turned to ask what all this meant, but the coach had vanished, and standing there, instead of the wasp, the winged needle, and the spider were three angels dazzling with light.
The two brothers, awestruck, fell on their knees. Then one of the angels, the most handsome and most beautifully robed, approached the younger brother, and, bending over him, said:
"Fear nothing, kind heart, you were given to our care that you might go safely on your journey and now that you have reached your goal we are going back to Paradise."
Spreading their lovely wings the three angels then soared up into the heavens, leaving Tonyk and Mylie to stare after them with wonder.
Sources And Further Reading
Sacred Texts Folk Tales of Brittany by Elsie Masson