The Metal King
A German Folk -Tale
Once long ago there was a high mountain
rocks were veined with gold and silver and seamed
with iron. At times, from a huge rent in the
mountain-side, there shot out roaring, red flames,
and clouds of black smoke. And when the
village folk in the valley below saw this, they would
say: "Look! the Metal King is at his forge." For
they knew that in the gloomy heart of the mountain,
the Metal King and his Spirits of the Mines
wrought in gold and iron.
When the storm raged over the valley, the
Metal King left his cavern and riding on the wings
of the wind, with thundering shouts, hurled his
red-hot bolts into the valley, now killing the
peasants and their cattle, now burning houses and
But when the weather was soft and mild, and
the breezes blew gently about the mouth of his
cavern, the Metal King returned to his forge in
the depths of the mountain, and there shaped
ploughshares and many other implements of iron.
These he placed outside his cavern door, as gifts
to the poor peasants.
It happened, on a time, there lived in that
valley a lazy lad, who would neither till his fields
nor ply a trade. He was avaricious, but he longed
to win gold without mining, and wealth and fame
without labor. So it came to pass that he set
out one day to find the mountain treasure of the
Taking a lighted lantern in one hand, a hatchet
in the other, and a bundle of twigs under his
arm, he entered the dark cavern. The dampness
smote his cheek, bats flapped their wings in his
face. Shivering with fear and cold, he pressed
on through a long passage under an arched and
blackened roof. As he passed along he dropped
his twigs, one after another, so that they might
guide him aright when he returned.
He came at last to a place where the passage
branched off in two directions,--to the right and
to the left. Choosing the right-hand path, he
walked on and at length came to an iron door. He
struck it twice with his hammer. It flew open,
and a strong current of air rushing forth put out
"Come in! Come in!" shouted
a voice like the
rolling of thunder, and the cavern echoes gave
back the sounds.
Almost overcome by terror and shivering in
every limb, the lad entered. As he stepped forward
a dazzling light shone from the vaulted
roof upheld by massive columns, and across
the crystal side-walls flittered curious, shadowy
The Metal King, huge and fierce-eyed,
surrounded by the misshapen Spirits of the Mines,
sat upon a block of pure silver, with a pile of
shining gold lying before him.
"Come in, my friend!" he
shouted again, and
again the echoes rolled through the cavern.
"Come near, and sit beside
The lad advanced, pale and trembling, and
took his seat upon the silver block.
"Bring out more treasure," cried
King, and at his command the Mountain Spirits
fluttered away like dreams, only to return in a
moment and pile high before the wondering lad
bars of red gold, mounds of silver coin, and stacks
of precious jewels.
And when the lad saw all that wealth he felt
his heart burst with longing to grasp it, but when
he tried to put out his hand, he found that he
could not move his arm, nor could he lift his feet,
nor turn his head.
"Thou seest these riches," said
King - "they are but a handful compared with
those thou mayest gain if thou wilt work with us
in the mines. Hard is the service but rich the
reward! Only say the word, and for a year and
a day thou shalt be a Mountain Spirit."
"Nay," stammered the
lad, in great terror,
"nay, I came not to work. All I beg of thee is
one bar of gold and a handful of the jewels that
lie here. If they are mine I can dress better than
the village lads, and ride in my own coach!"
"Lazy, ungrateful wretch!" cried
King, rising from his seat, while his figure seemed
to tower until his head touched the cavern roof,
"wouldst thou seize without pay the treasures
gained through the hard labor of my Mountain
Spirits! Hence! Get thee gone to thy place!
Seek not here for unearned riches! Cast away thy
discontented disposition and thou shalt turn
stones into gold. Dig well thy garden and thy
fields, sow them and tend them diligently, search
the mountain-sides - and thou shalt gain through
thine industry mines of gold and silver!"
Scarcely had the Metal King spoken when
there was heard a screeching as of ravens, a
crying as of night owls, and a mighty storm wind
came rushing against the lad - and catching him
up it drove him forth along the dark passage, and
down the mountain-side, so that in a minute he
found himself on the steps of his own house.
And from that time on a strange change came
over the lad. He no longer idled and dreamed of
sudden wealth, but morning, noon, and evening
he labored diligently, sowing his fields, cultivating
his garden, and mining on the mountain-side.
Years came and went - all he touched prospered,
and he grew to be the richest man in that country -
but never again did he see the Metal King
or the Spirits of the Mines.