An English Translation of Romanian Fairy Tale: Like Salt in Food, by Petre Ispirescu
An English Translation of Romanian Fairy Tale: Like Salt in Food, by Petre Ispirescu
For the Neverland issue, our Contributing Editor, Alina Bojescu, has translated a Romanian fairy tale that she grew up with. So get comfortable and dig in for a taste of nineteenth century Eastern European culture.
Like Salt in Food, by Petre Ispirescu
Once upon a time, there lived a king who was the father of three girls. Their mother had passed away a long time ago, so what remained of the king’s love was solely for his daughters. The princesses loved him just as much and as they grew older, they took notice of how hard their father was always working to pass on his wisdom to them and to protect them. This is why they were always trying to make him forget the pain that had been following him since their mother’s death.
One day, out of the blue, the king asked his eldest daughter the following:
“My dear girl, how much do you love me?”
“How much? I love you like honey!” the girl replied after a short pause, thinking that the sweetest thing in the world would be the perfect answer.
Pleased with her answer, the king addressed the same question to his middle child, who replied:
“I love you like sugar, father!” This was what seemed the right answer to her mind, so this was what she chose to answer.
The second answer pleased the king, too. There was no doubt that the girls were a couple of flatterers, who knew how to show love much greater than they felt. But the king was happy with their answers, as he thought that there could be no sweeter love than honey and sugar. As he looked at his third and youngest daughter, he noticed she seemed a bit more nervous than her sisters.
“What about you, my daughter. How much do you love me?”
“Like salt in my food, father!” she replied happily, but lowered her face right away, embarrassed after having been paid attention to.
Upon hearing her reply, her older sisters started laughing and looked away. The king frowned, clearly displeased with the answer.
“How dare you say such a thing? Did you not hear your sisters, who chose sweet, loving words? Why did you not follow their example, so that you could show me how much you love your father? Is this how you show your gratitude for raising and teaching you? Be gone from my kingdom, and take your salt with you!”
The youngest was sad and ashamed, looking down at the ground instead of meeting her father’s eyes. “I apologise, father. I did not think that my love for you was better or worse than my sisters’…”
“You dare disrespect your sisters as well!?” her father boomed, waving a dismissive hand. “You must go away so that I never have to hear of you again!”
That had silenced the youngest and left her crying.
The older sisters tried to console the youngest, but it was no use – they were using sweet but empty words. Seeing this, the youngest had no choice but to put all of her hopes in God and take her leave. She took a few old clothes with her and started roaming from village to village, until she reached another kingdom.
She found herself at the castle’s gate, where the steward’s wife took notice of her. The young princess begged the woman for a job, saying that she was a poor orphan. She was in luck – the woman’s help had just left the kingdom so, after a long, hard look at the young girl, she finally accepted. The young princess asked for no pay unless the steward’s wife was truly pleased with her work.
The steward’s wife was glad to have someone so honest and hardworking in her employment, so she gave the young woman a list of chores along with a set of keys. The girl was quick to find her way around, cleaning every pantry and storage room she had a key to. After the steward’s wife found that the young girl was also skilled at cooking, she was named responsible for the castle’s food provisions. Luckily, being a former princess helped her be responsible and fair in her new role.
The young princess was so shy and responsible that she never spoke badly of the kingdom to any passing travellers, minding her own business every time people were gossiping in her presence. In turn, everyone else respected her for that. She had become so loved at the palace, that the queen requested to see her one day; and the young princess had been so polite and lovely that the queen had taken a liking to her.
And so the queen decided to take the young girl under her wing.
Wherever the queen went, the young girl followed, and when the queen was working, so was she. Everything the young girl made was beautiful and every word she said was wise. The queen and the young girl had become inseparable, as the woman loved her like her own daughter.
The king was bewildered by the fondness the queen had for the young woman. The queen and king of this land also had a son of their own that they loved dearly. His father and mother cherished him the way a flower cherishes the sun. But when the time to fight in a battle came, the king had taken him by his side to teach him the reality of war. Unfortunately, with no idea as to how or why, the son was injured in battle.
The queen had been so heartbroken that she would personally stay by his bedside every night, trying to nurse him back to health. But whenever she felt too tired to stand, she would ask her young protégé to take over and care for her son.
The prince found that the young woman’s kind and sincere words and her humility had awakened a new feeling inside of him, and he loved her like a sister. Above everything, she would care for his wounds so well that every touch had a soothing effect on him.
One afternoon, after he had recovered considerably, he was talking to his mother.
“Mother, I think I would like to get married.”
“Very well, my son, very well. Better to get married when you are young, before the world can ruin you. Mother will look for a princess for you, someone kind and of good family.”
“I have already found her, mother.”
“Oh? And who is she? Do I know her?”
“Do not be upset when I tell you this, mother, but my heart is set on your protégé. I love her like my own soul. Out of all the daughters of kings and boyars I have seen, I have not liked any of them the way I like her. She has stolen my heart!”
While his mother had been surprised in the beginning, she realised that her son had set his mind on this. As she knew that the young woman was kind, sensible, and above all, humble, honest and hardworking, the two of them took up the proposal to the king. The king found it hard to refuse, as his wife and son begged and begged until he gave in. And so the two were to be married.
As soon as the preparations for the wedding began, the young princess begged her in-laws to invite the neighbouring king, without revealing that she was his daughter. The king and queen easily accepted.
On the wedding day, all those invited were present. The party had lasted all day, just the way it is expected in a royal wedding! And in the evening, the table was laid out for all the guests, with drinks, pies and all other sorts of wonderful dishes. The bride herself had told all the cooks what to prepare, but she took it upon herself to prepare one portion of every single course. After the food was done, she ordered a faithful maid to only place the food she had made in front of the king she had invited, and not anyone else, as her head was on the line. And so the maid had done as told.
As the table was set, the guests followed and started feasting on the wonderful food. But one of them could not take his eyes off of the bride. It was the bride’s father, who thought he might be confusing the princess with his own child – but he kept it to himself. It seemed that all the unhappiness the princess had been through had already changed her in her father’s eyes.
Finally, the king decided to follow the guests’ example and feast as well, but after taking one or two bites, he stopped eating altogether. The maid that was bringing his food would lift the untouched plates shortly after.
He was shocked to see that everyone else was enjoying the food that tasted bland to him, as if nothing was wrong. Out of curiosity, he turned to the person sitting on his right to ask about the food, to which the man replied that he had never tasted anything as delicious. The man sitting on his left said the same, so he took the liberty of tasting some of their food – it was so good, and his hunger so great, that he wanted to go back to his meal. But who could eat the food being brought to him?
He tried to be patient, because he was embarrassed enough to nibble from the food being brought to him. Finally, the king lost his patience and stood up, announcing in a booming voice:
“Did you call me to your son’s wedding to mock me?”
“How can you say such a thing? As you can see, we are treating you the same as every other king!”
“How can I believe that when everyone else’s food is much better than mine?”
Hearing this, the prince’s father called forth the servants responsible for the king’s food in order to find someone to punish.
The truth was that the bride had cooked all of her father’s food without any salt, adding honey and sugar instead. Even the salt shaker before him was filled with sugar, so no matter how much the king had been adding to his food to make it savoury, the food was only getting sweeter, more poisonous.
That was when the bride finally stood up and looked over at her father-in-law.
“I was the one who cooked the king’s meal, because he is my father. I have two other sisters and one day, our father asked us how much we loved him. My older sisters said that they loved him like sugar and honey, but I replied that I loved him like salt in my food. I believed that there was no greater love than that. However, my answer infuriated my father, who chased me away from home. This is how I finally prove to him that you can live without sugar or honey, but not without salt. Hopefully, your wisdom will allow you to judge if I am right.”
Everyone at the table started whispering, and through the noise it could be heard that a lot of them were on the bride’s side.
The king lowered his head, admitting that he was never able to appreciate his daughter’s soul and wisdom, and finally apologised to her. The girl kissed his hand and apologised for the food as well. And so the party picked up again and it was such a joyous celebration that everyone in the neighbouring countries heard about it. It could not be told whether the bride’s father was enjoying the party or not, but one thing was certain: the bride’s father-in-law was happy and proud to have such a wise and hardworking young woman in his family.
Translated by Alina Bojescu,
Visuals in order: Gaspar Serrano – Mănăstirea Suceviţa România, Danube Delta Collections (and last), Pieter Bruegel – The Peasant Dance, rolandia.eu website, Henri Matisse – Le Rêve ou la Dormeuse and La Blouse Roumaine, Amedeo Preziosi, Stavropoleos – Fusion of Horizons, Dimitra Stasinopoulou, Madalina Gaceanu and Val Munteanu