Thursday, March 21, 2013

A King Matyas tale for the masses

So here is my telling of a folktale that is very popular in Hungary.

King Matyas (Matthias) I ruled over the Hungarian Kingdom in the 15th century. He was a Renaissance king who did not only fight against the Turkish empire with his famous Black Army, but also built a library, embraced Renaissance culture, and introduced its music, literature and fashion to the kingdom.
There are hundreds of folktales about King Matyas. Most of them talk about how he would disguise himself as a traveling student or a poor man and go from town to town, seeing the affairs of his subjects with his own eyes, and dispensing a trickter's justice. This following tale is one of the most famous ones:

King Matyas and the Mayor of Gyevi

One day King Matyas and one of his advisers was out in plain clothes, hunting, when they realized that night was about to fall and they were not going to make it back to the castle on time. The adviser suggested staying the night in the nearby town of Gyevi, and the King agreed with the idea.

The two travelers walked into town just as the moon was creeping up on the sky. Some of the local women were outside their houses, peering at them curiously.

"There must be a lot of rain where these men come from" one giggled "I have never seen a man so tall and handsome!"

Before the king could smile and give thanks for the compliment, an old man cut in:

"Except for the mayor!"

Well, that was strange, but the King shrugged it off and walked over to a spacious building nearby. Outside the door a group of men were sharing an evening smoke from their pipes.

"Good evening, brothers! Is this the inn?"

"It is."

"Do they serve white bread inside?"

"Not even cardinals eat the like."

"Except for the mayor."

"How about red wine?"

"Not even the Turkish sultan drinks wine like that."

"Except for the mayor!"

The adviser was about to inquire why the mayor has to be exempt from everything, but the king dragged him inside to eat. Once their hunger was satisfied, the King sat back in his chair, smiling at the innkeeper.

"Not even the king in Buda has eaten a meal like this today!" he chuckled.

"May it serve you well, master" the innkeeper bowed, and then realized he forgot something, and added in a hurry "...except for the mayor."

"I am not taking the mayor out of anything!"

"Yes you are, master, yes you are!" the innkeeper shook his head, alarmed.

"What a strange place this town is, may the devil take it!"

"Except for the mayor!"

"May the devil take the mayor first!"

At that point a fat, round little man stood up from a table in the corner and marched over to the King.

"It is the law in Gyevi that the mayor shall be exempt from everything!"

"Who made this law?"

"The mayor!"

"I want a word with that mayor!"

"You are looking at him."

The King looked at the fat little man.

"Well, as I said before, may the devil take you, sir."

And that was that. The mayor ordered the two travelers to be thrown into jail. But he was curious what kind of people they were, because they looked a little bit too good, so he decided to spy on them. All he could see, however, was the two of them sitting in their cell, writing something on a piece of paper, and chuckling to themselves.

In the morning, however, when the mayor woke up, there was a commotion outside his house: soldiers and guards dressed in bright colors surrounded the two travelers who had been let out of jail under the king's orders.

As the mayor appeared, the taller of the two unrolled a scroll of paper and started reading.

"His Royal Highness Kign Matyas embraces the people of Gyevi into his heart! Except for the mayor! They are all decent people and not idiots! Except for the mayor! He orders that no one should be paying taxes anymore! Except for the mayor! They shall eat from silver plates with golden spoons! Except for the mayor! They shall be given ten gold pieces as a parting gift! Except for the mayor!"

Matyas grinned at the mayor.

"See? I learned your law well after all!"

And with that, the King rolled up the paper, and rode away with his guards. The mayor covered his face in shame, ran away, and was never seen again.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I know so little about Hungarian folklore & am grateful to now know about King Matyas & this delightful tale.