Georgian Folk Tales, by Marjory Wardrop , at sacred-texts.com
THERE was once a thief called the Big Thief. Now this Big Thief went into a town to steal. When he had gone some little distance he met an unknown man. 'God give thee victory! 1 Mayst thou be victorious!' 1 said they one to another. 'Who art thou, and what is thy trade?' inquired the Big Thief. 'My trade is thieving, and my name is Little Thief,' said the unknown. 'I, too, am a thief, so let us join partnership.' He agreed, and they became partners.
And they went on together to steal. On the way, the Big Thief said to the Little Thief: 'Now give me a proof of thy skill in thieving.' But the latter said: 'Thou art the Big Thief, thou must show me thy skill; what can I do compared with thee?' The Big Thief consented.
They saw, just at that moment, a pigeon sitting on a plane tree. The Big Thief said: 'Now you shall see me pull out the tail of that pigeon on the plane tree without its knowledge.' Having said this, he went up the tree.
When he had gone about half way, the Little Thief silently stole under the plane tree, climbed up, and while the Big Thief pulled out the tail of the pigeon, the Little Thief took off his companion's drawers, and promptly descended the tree.
When the Big Thief came down and proudly showed the pigeon's tail, the Little Thief thrust his hand into his pocket and showed him the drawers. When the Big Thief saw this, he was struck with amazement, and said: 'Although
[paragraph continues] I am famous I do not think thou art at all inferior to me.' They had tried each other's skill, and went on.
On the way, the Little Thief enquired of the Big Thief: 'What shall we steal to-night?' 'Let us go to-night and break into the king's treasury,' said the Big Thief. 'Very well,' agreed his comrade, and they set out for the town.
At nightfall, when the tread of people's feet had ceased, the thieves took two bags, and went to break into the king's treasury. The Little Thief said: Climb thou into the treasury, gather up the money, 'I shall fill the bags, then we can take them up, and make off.' The Big Thief would not consent. 'No,' said he; 'thou art the smaller, go inside, and I shall stay here.' He insisted until he gained his point.
At last the Little Thief got in, and collected the money. The Big Thief stayed outside and filled the bags. When the two bags were full, he made a sign, the Little Thief came out of the treasury, they took the bags and went home.
Next morning the king went into his treasury. He looked in and saw what had happened. Then he called his council together, and made his complaint. They planned and planned, and at last thought of the following scheme. They took a big barrel, filled it with pitch, and placed it at the entrance to the treasury.
The thieves knew nothing of this. When night came again, they returned to steal. The Little Thief said: 'Yesterday I went into the treasury, to-day it is thy turn, I will watch for thee.' The Big Thief consented. He went into the treasury, and suddenly was caught fast. The Little Thief pulled hard, but his companion could not get away; nothing but his head was visible; he was up to the neck in
pitch. When day dawned, the Little Thief saw that nothing could be done, so he took his dagger and cut off his comrade's head. Then he hid it in a place where no human being could possibly find a trace of it.
He went home and told his late companion's wife. He warned her to be very careful, and not to go out, for if it was discovered that they were interested in the dead man, they would most certainly be seized and killed.
When day dawned, they told the king: 'A thief is caught in the trap, but he has no head.' The king went himself; and saw that in truth the thief had no head, and he was amazed. How could a headless man thieve? Then he commanded them, saying: 'Take his body and put it in the market place, with sentinels to guard it. Whoever passes by and weeps at the sight of it will be guilty, because it will be a sign of pity for the thief; bring such persons to me immediately.'
When the Little Thief heard this, he went home, and instructed his companion's wife how to act. 'Take good care not to go out, lest they discover thee'; and he told her what orders the king had given. The Big Thief's wife could not bear this, and entreated him to let her go, saying: 'I will stand far away and weep quietly, no one will recognise me.' 'Very well, but be careful. Take a water jug with thee as if to carry water, and when near thy husband's body, strike thy foot against a stone, break the jar, and then sit down and weep as if thou art mourning for the broken pitcher.'
The woman did exactly as she was told. She took the jar on her shoulder and went for water. When she came near the place where her husband's body was lying, she struck her foot on a stone, let the jar fall, and it broke.
[paragraph continues] Then she sat down by the fragments and began to weep bitterly, apparently for the pitcher, but really for her husband. When she had wailed enough she rose and went away. The sentinels were amazed: 'What a miserable woman to cry thus for a broken pitcher!'
Night came on. The sentinels returned to the palace with the body of the thief, and said to the king: 'We saw no one who wept except one woman, who struck her foot against a stone and broke her water jar, and for this she cried bitterly.' The king was very angry, for he saw the trick the woman had played. He was enraged because they had not seized her and brought her to him, but had let her escape. Then the king ordered the sentinels' heads to be cut off.
As this ruse had not succeeded, the king thought of another. He sent the thief's corpse outside the town, and left it thee. Perhaps the right person will see it and come to steal it. Sentinels were posted, and told that if any one came to steal the corpse they should seize him and bring him.
On hearing this news the Little Thief drove an ass before him into a neighbouring village. There he had some cakes baked and turkeys and fowls roasted, put them in the saddle bag, and hung it on the ass. Then he bought some of the best wine and went on his way. He came to the place where the sentinels were posted, and cried out: 'Do you not want a guest? I have come from afar, and must stay here to-night; I fear some one may steal the ass. Let us have a good supper.' The mention of supper delighted the sentinels. They sat down and began to eat. The Little Thief poured them out wine. The sentinels drank, but the thief did not drink a drop.
When they had eaten well, he said to them: 'I am going to sleep. As I am sleepy, you may watch the ass and see that no one steals him, lest if he be lost I accuse you to the king.' 'Lie down and make thyself easy. This ass of thine is not so attractive that thou needst fear for him,' said the sentinels. The Little Thief lay down and pretended to go to sleep, but he kept a sharp look out. A short time afterwards the sentinels lay in a deep sleep, they slept as if they were dead.
Then the Little Thief arose and lifted the body of his late companion on his back. He brought forward his ass, put the corpse on it, and turned its head towards home. He himself lay down again and fell asleep.
The ass was accustomed to find his way home, he lowered his head as if meditating, went straight home and knocked against the door. The Big Thief's wife came and took down the dead body, put it on a couch and wept. When her heart was solaced by tears, she buried him in the earth under the couch.
When morning came, the sentries awoke and roused their false host. The Little Thief looked round and called his ass. He saw that it was not there, and set up a fearful howl: 'I will go and accuse you to the king.' The sentinels were terrified, and completely lost their heads when they saw that the corpse was gone. They drew money from their pockets, and offered it to silence their noisy host. This was what he wanted; he had not only stolen the body but gained some money.
The sentinels went to the king. When he heard their tale he was extremely irritated, and ordered their heads to be cut off.
This new plan having failed, he thought of another. A
street was strewed with money; sentinels were placed here and there, and ordered to seize any passer-by who gathered up the money, for he would be the thief's master and companion.
The Little Thief heard this news with joy. He got a pair of boots tarred, and went out with them under his arm.
When he came to the street that was strewed with money he sat down, took off his boots, and put on the newly-tarred boots. Then he walked along the street boldly, singing a song. When he had got to the end of the street, he took off the money that had stuck to his tarred boots, made a hole in the earth and poured it in. Then he walked back to the other end of the street, cleaned his boots again and buried the money. He did this the whole day, and by the evening he had picked up almost half of the money.
The sentinels gathered up what was left, went to the king, and said: 'No one has taken the money, but a man was walking in the street from morning till night.' The king was enraged that they had not taken this man, and ordered the sentinels to be beheaded.
Then he assembled his counsellors and asked their advice. Now the king had a hind, if they were to let this animal loose it would fall on its knees before the house of him who was guilty against the king. And the viziers said: 'Let the hind go, and it will fall on its knees in front of the house of the thief.'
The king took this advice, and they let the hind loose. It raced along the streets, and fell on its knees just in front of the Little Thief's house.
In the morning, when the Little Thief awoke, he looked out of his window, and saw the king's hind kneeling in front of his house. He had heard of this hind before, so, when
he saw it, he knew what it meant. He went outside, seized hold of the hind and drew it in; he killed it and skinned it, then he hid the skin carefully, and kept the flesh in the house.
The king was mad with rage when they sought his hind and could not find it. He assembled his viziers, and told the story of the lost hind. The viziers' resources were at an end now, they could think of no other trap for the thief.
But there appeared, from no one knows where, an old woman. She approached the king and said: 'What wilt thou give me if I find the lost hind?' 'Whatever thou askest me,' said the king. 'Then give me my freedom.' I shall not only give thee thy freedom, but shall raise thee to the rank of princess,' replied the king. The old woman rose and went forth to seek the hind.
She wandered till at last she came to the Little Thief's house. The Little Thief was not at home, and she saw the Big Thief's wife. She said: 'Daughter, if thou hast a piece of hind's flesh do not grudge it to me, it will cure a sick one of his illness.' The thief's wife did not know of the cunning of the old woman, went into her house, and brought out a piece of hind's flesh. The old woman was joyful, and did not wait. She rose and went away.
When she had gone a little way, she met the Little Thief, who said: 'What is that, old dame?' 'A piece of hind's flesh, as a remedy for my trouble! The woman in that house gave it to me,' said the beldam. The Little Thief understood her; he saw through her cunning, and said: 'What is the use of this morsel of flesh? Come with me and I can give thee a whole dishful. Thou canst eat and give to thy friends; it will be of service to thee.' The old woman's head swam with pleasure. She turned
back and went with the Little Thief. Whenever the deceitful old woman was enticed into the house, he drew out his dagger and cut off her head. Then he took her body, and buried it also under the couch. The king waited for news, but the old woman never came.
Some time passed by, but still the old woman did not come, and the king was enraged. He assembled his counsellors, and said: 'What is the use of all this? Is there no way of trapping this thief?' The viziers said: This fellow is so brave, and such a clever thief, that we cannot entrap him.'
Then the king rose up and said: 'Let the thief come to me. I shall not harm him, but shall give him my daughter to wife. He is so clever that I cannot take him by trickery.'
When the Little Thief heard this he came to the king and said: 'I am that thief, and I am come to do your majesty's will.' The king could not break his word, so he gave him his daughter in marriage.
A neighbouring monarch heard this story. Every day he wrote irritating letters to the thief's father-in-law, the king, saying: 'Are you not ashamed to have anything to do with a low thief, to marry him to your daughter, and call him son-in-law? . . .' The king was very much annoyed at these scornful reproaches, and at last fell ill, being able to bear them no longer.
Then the king's son-in-law came to him and said: 'What is the matter? Why art thou ill?' His father-in-law told him everything, and he replied: 'Why distress thyself? Give me a few days' leave, and I shall show thee a sight. Only on such and such a day prepare a grand festival, and I shall be here.' He fixed a date, and went away.
He travelled on until he came to the kingdom of the mocking monarch, and he went into a house and rested. The next day he saw a tailor and said: 'I want a robe cut out of pieces of skin; it must be all of different colours, and I want little bells put in it.' When the tailor had finished the garment, the thief gave him money and sent him away.
Then he clad himself in the robe, took a glittering, naked sword in his hand, and went to the palace. The porters did not want to let him in, but the thief said: 'I am Michael Gabriel, sent from God? I am commanded to take the souls of your king and queen to Paradise, and if you trouble me I shall take your souls too, and shall send them into hell.' He moved towards one of them, and the bells began to ring. The porters' hearts were fearful, and they hid themselves.
The thief went in to the king. When he saw the man he became pale. Michael Gabriel said: 'I give you a term of three days. In these three days put all your affairs in order; appoint your successor. Strip off everything, put yourselves in coffins, and set the keys on the top. In three days I shall come again, lock the coffins, and take them away with me.' When he had said this he went away, returned to the house, took off the robe of skins, and waited three days.
On the third day he clothed himself as before, and went again to the palace. The king and queen had stripped off everything, and were in the coffins waiting. He called out: 'When you get to Paradise you will hear a noise, then the coffins will open, and your eyes will view a glorious scene.' He took the keys, locked both the coffins, took them on his back, and carried them out.
He put them on his ass, went behind it, and called gently, 'Gee-up!' On the appointed day he came to the court of his father-in-law, who had invited the whole of his kingdom and many neighbouring princes to a great feast. The thief came, and, as he lifted the coffins off the ass, beautiful music was heard.
The thief opened the coffins, and the king and queen jumped out naked and began to dance. The people saw their stupidity, and were ready to die with laughing. Then the king came, clothed them in royal robes, and said: 'Now you can go back to your own country, and rule your kingdom, but do not mock me any more.' After this the king loved his son-in-law very much, and, when he died, left him the kingdom.
88:1 The usual greeting between Georgians.