Salt over Gold

Once upon time, there was a king who had three daughters. The king protected his daughters like the eyes in his head. When his limbs weakened and his head became white, he often thought about which of his three daughters should become the queen after his death. It was a difficult choice for him because they all were shapely and he loved each of them equally. At last it occurred to him to appoint that daughter, who loved him the most, to be the queen. He summoned his daughters and addressed them, „My daughters, as you can see, I am old, I do not know whether I will be with you much longer. Therefore, I want to appoint the one among you who will become the queen after my death. But before I do that I would like to know how much you love me.

Well now, my oldest daughter, tell me as the first, how much you love your father. „My father, I love you more than gold!“ answered the oldest daughter and she kissed her father’s hand.

„Well, now, my middle daughter, how much do you love your father?““Alas, my dear father, I love you like my green maiden wreath!“ said the middle daughter and hugged her father around his neck.

„That is fine! What about you, my youngest daughter? How much do you love me?““Daddy, I love you like salt!“ Maruška said as she looked at her father with a lovely smile.

„Eh, you, good for nothing, do you appreciate your father only as much as salt?“ shouted her older sisters at her. „Of course, I love him as much as salt!“ consented Maruška once more, and she looked at her father even more charmingly. But she could not gain any understanding from her father either. Her father became immensely angry. His youngest child appreciated her own father only as much as worthless salt-salt that is taken by everyone between their fingers and spilled. „Go, go away from my eyes!“ he shouted at her. „You don’t value me more than you value salt! When the time comes that salt will be worth more than gold, then you can come and become the queen.“

Maruška could not say a word because of her sorrow. How could her father misjudge her love in such a way? She was used to obeying her father’s orders without question and she knew that she would not be able to stay with her sisters in the house. She took her clothes and went away. She wandered through mountains and valleys aimlessly, and after some time, she came to a dark forest. Here, where she was, there she was, there was an old woman was standing in her way.

„Maruška, dear Maruška, tell me where you are going and why you are crying?“

„Ah, old lady, why should I talk to you? You can’t help me?“

„Eh, my dear maiden. Just tell me about your problem. Perhaps, you can get a piece of advice from me. Don’t you know that where there is grey hair, there is knowledge?“

Maruška told the old woman about her troubles. She just wanted to live to persuade her father that she loves him a lot. The old woman knew what Mary wanted to tell her because she was a clever woman, a prophetess. Therefore, she consented to everything that Maruška had told her and asked the young girl to serve her. Maruška was glad that she had found somebody to talk to about her troubles. With pleasure, she went with the old woman to her small cottage under the pines. What is available in the home that is offered; the old woman offered Maruška what she had and Maruška enjoyed the refreshments because she was both hungry and thirsty.

„And now,“ said the old woman, „you must go briskly to work. But do you know how to spin, spool and weave? Will you tend my flock of sheep and will you milk them too?“

„I don’t know how to do these things, but I will learn if you show me just once how to do it,“ said Maruška.

„Well, I’ll show you everything and when time finds its time it will come in handy for you.“

Maruška was very diligent, like a wasp into fruit, although she still did not know what it was like to live in poor people’s houses. She got used to everything. Rolled-up sleeves and a white apron suited her, just as if she were a capable maid.


During this time the other sisters lived very well. They spent time caressing their father, embracing him around his neck, pretending to show great love for him, because he gave them whatever they asked for. Day by day, the oldest sister wore more and more expensive dresses and, day by day, adorned herself with gold. The middle sister organized feasts and dances. They were both satisfied since they used their father’s wealth as they wanted. The king soon noticed that his oldest daughter loved gold more than her father. When the second daughter revealed to him that she would like to get married, he knew that her love would soon vanish also. The king thought about Maruška more than once, but what was he to do now? There was no news about her.

„Eh, what am I to do? She loved me as much as common salt,“ and he drove away his memory of her.

Once, there was to be a great feast at the castle. Perhaps the suitors were to visit the middle daughter. Suddenly, the cook came running breastlessly to the king. „My king,“ he stammered, „a great problem, there´s a great problem!“

„What is happening with you? Have you lost your common sense?“ asked the king.

„That is it, my king! My brain does not want to understand this! All the salt we had either became moist or disappeared as if it fell onto the ground. There is not a grain of salt any more. How shall I salt the food now?“

„You, fool, have other salt brought to you!“

„Where can I get other salt? The same happened in each house of your kingdom and there is no salt in the whole country!“

„Well now! Season the meals with something different or prepare such meals for which salt is not necessary!“ said the nervous king. The cook thought to himself that it had to be, since the king ordered it so. At first, he cooked meals without salt and then he cooked meals with what came to his mind, and at last, only sweet meals. Those were strange unsalted feasts. The guests left one after the other and new guests did not come. Why should anyone come when he could not receive even what the poorest man has- bread and salt and a good will. The king was annoyed! The daughters were stunned! Where was their golden time?

Of course, look! There was gold enough,but not a grain of salt even though they had sent messengers to the edge of the world for it. All the salt had disappeared. Gradually, people lost all their inclination for living. Everybody would have liked to have salt, just a little bit of salt on the tongue. Even the cattle suffered. Cows and sheep lost their milk because they did not have any salt. People moved about stunned and sickly. The king and his daughters looked like shadows and could not be recognized because of their diseases. It was God’s punishment for the whole country. The king proclaimed that whoever brought a grain of salt to him would get, as a reward, as much gold as his weight.

Now the king realized the kind of gift God´s salt was. He would suffer his misery, but he had great pangs of conscience, because of Maruška and the injustice he had done to her.

In the meantime, Maruška was very well. There was no work she could not learn or get used to. She did not know anything about misery. She knew nothing about what had happened in her father’s house and in her father’s country. But the clever old woman knew about everything, and also knew when the right time would come for situations to resolved. Therefore, she decided to talk to Maruška and she told her this: „My dear, I told you once that the right time would come when appropriate, even though much time might pass. Your time to return home has come.“

„Oh, my dear granny, how can I go home when my father does not want me?“asked Mary, as she burst into tears.

„Well, do not cry, my dear. Everything will be all right. Salt has become more expensive than gold in your country. You may already go to your father’s eyes.“

And then the old woman told Maruška everything that she had not known and added at the end, „You served me honestly, and, tell me now, what are you asking for your faithful service?“

„You advised me well, and you fed me well, granny. I thank you for everything. I´m asking for nothing special, just a handful of salt that I would like to bring as a present to my father.“

„Do you not ask for anything else? Do you not know, that I can carry out everything?“ asked the wise woman once more.

„I´m not asking for anything else, just for salt!“ answered Maruška.

„Well now! If you appreciate salt so much, never be lacking for it!“ said the prophetess for the last time. I will not give you anything more just this switch. When you once feel a breeze blowing at noon, follow it. You will go through three valleys and over three mountains. Then stop and hit the ground with the switch! Where you hit the ground, it will open up and you will go inside. What you find there will be yours. It will be your dowry.“

Maruška was grateful for everything. She accepted the golden switch and a pouch of salt and left sadly, truly sadly. She was always in good standing with the old woman. But she did not hope to part with her for a long time. She wanted to come to fetch her when she could arrange everything at home.

The old woman merely smiled at her and said, „My dear girl, remain as you are – good and honest- and you will live well forever. Do not worry about me in the least!“

Speaking, they came to the edge of the forest. And when Maruška wanted to thank the good old woman once more, she disappeared – where she disappeared, there she disappeared – but Maruška stood alone like a finger on her hand. She sighed after her father and hurried in the direction towards his castle.


She came to her home. Since she had not been seen for a long time, and since she wore a kerchief on her head, she was not recognized and was not allowed to go to the king.

„Oh, just let me inside,“ insisted Mary, „I´m bringing the king a special gift, more valuable than gold. Surely, he will become healthy from this medicine!“

The king was told about this and ordered that she be brought to him at once. When Maruška entered the king’s hall, she asked that she be given bread. The king ordered bread to be brought to her, but sighed deeply, „We have bread but no salt!“

„What we did not have, that we can have now!“ said Maruška, who cut off a slice of bread, unfolded her little pouch with salt, sprinkled the bread with it and presented it to the king.

„Salt,“ rejoiced the king. „Well, my dear, that is a precious gift. How can I reward you? Ask for what you want. You will get everything that you ask for!“

„I´m not asking for anything, father, just love me as you love the salt!“ Maruška said with a lovely voice such as she used before and took away the kerchief from her head.

The king nearly fainted with joy when he recognized his Maruška. He begged her not to complain about what had happened. She just embraced him and did not drop her eyes from him. What happened in the past, that happened well!

The news about the arrival of the king’s youngest daughter extended at once from the castle to the town. The news spread among people, that Maruška had brought salt. Everybody was joyful about that. Maruška’s sisters were also glad, not so much for their sister’s return, as for the salt that she had brought. They wanted to taste at least a little. Maruška forgot about the unfairness of her sisters and offered them a slice of bread with salt, too. Everybody who came to the castle received salt from her pouch. Her father admonished her that she should not give away all the salt, since it is said, „With the good only slowly.“. Maruška simply answered, „There is still enough salt here, father!“ And really, she could take as much as she wanted and there was still enough for everybody, as if salt would be in the pouch forever. Everyone recovered from their diseases as if they were in the sun!

The king’s disease disappeared, as if somebody took it away. Joyfully, he summoned the older advisors of the town and the whole country. Maruška was appointed the queen! At that moment, when Maruška was proclaimed queen under the high heavens, she felt a pleasant warm breeze blowing into her face. It was noon. At once, she told her father everything that the clever old woman ordered her to do.

She followed the breeze, and after she went through three valleys and over three mountains, she stopped and whipped the ground with the switch. When she whipped the ground, an opening appeared and Maruška went into the opening. Suddenly, she did not know how but she found herself there, nor how she came into a large hall which was like ice. The ceiling, the walls, and the floor – everything sparkled and glimmered as if sparks were thrown about. There were glittering galleries at the sides from which small male dwarfs came running with burning lamps to welcome Maruška. „Welcome, welcome, our queen. We have been waiting for you! Our mistress ordered us to show you around everywhere and to show you everything, because everything here is yours.“

The dwarfs warbled, waved with their lamps and turned around her. They crept up and down the walls like flies. The walls glittered like jewels. Maruška walked as if blinded by this beauty. The dwarfs showed her around halls and galleries where icicles, hanging from the ceiling, glittered like silver. They led her into the garden where red icy roses, marigolds and other flowers, which were astonishing, could be seen. The small men picked the nicest rose and handed it to their new queen. Maruška smelled it, but the rose had no a scent.

„What is this?“ asked the queen. „Indeed, I have never seen such beauty!“ „All of this is salt!“ the dwarfs replied.

„Really? Does salt grow here?“ wondered the queen. She thought to herself that it would be a pity to take the least amount of it from here. But the dwarfs guessed what she was thinking and called, „Take as much as you would like to. You will never take it all. You will never be lacking salt again!“

Maruška thanked the small men politely, took leave of them and left the cave. But the cave stayed opened behind her.

When she returned home, she showed her father the rose and told him everything that had happened. The king saw that the old clever woman from the cottage gave his daughter a richer dowry than he could have ever given her. But Maruška did not forget the old woman from the poor cottage either. She had a beautiful carriage harnessed, and together with her father, she went to look for the old woman. She did not want to part from her.

Maruška knew the way to the cottage well because she knew each path in the forest. Even though they crossed the forest a hundred times and looked for the clever old woman as for a poppy seed, there were no sign of the cottage and its inhabitant. Now they were certain as to what kind of old woman she was. All of their searching would be futile, so they returned home. There was no salt in the given pouch any more, but Maruška knew where salt grew. They took the salt, as they needed it, and still they have not taken all of it. To this day, they have never been lacking for salt.

This tale was told to Czech writer Božena Němcová by a servant in the spa of Sliač (Slovakia).

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Život Boženy Němcové
Galerie Julie Mezerové
Ateliér Julie Mezerové
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