Home News Vision ‘Salt, more precious than Gold’ — part 3

‘Salt, more precious than Gold’ — part 3

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Photo Courtesy of Joanna Horanin, The Blond Travels With its history and art that goes back to the medieval period, the Wieliczka salt mine was inscribed in the first UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978 as oldest salt mine in the world. The mine had been an industrial factor and professionally mined from the 13th to 20th centuries. However, salt had been mined on a local level going back thousands of years. The mine has hundreds of miles of galleries with works of art, underground chapels and statues sculpted in the salt. Legends and lore is infused with the history of the mine. The livelike carved statues of the mine are most likely the base of the story of the underground kingdom in the folktale about the salt prince.

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The old Slavic legend of King Pravoslav and his three daughters

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The story of King Pravoslav and his three daughters continues with the final part of the folktale that was published in the Vision section of the Roswell Daily Record on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. The story “Salt, more precious than Gold,” has many variations in Europe. This retelling combines four of the most popular versions that include a kingdom below the Earth that is made out of pure salt. Most likely, this kingdom was based on the oldest salt mine in the world, the Wieliczka salt mine in today’s Poland. The mine’s history goes back more than 6,000 years and features carved rooms, statues, chapels and ballrooms with chandeliers of salt. If you missed the first two parts of the story, look it up on rdrnews.com or on the Vision Facebook page.

In the first two parts of the story the youngest daughter of King Pravoslav, Marushka, had fallen in love with the Salt Prince who lived in an underground kingdom of salt. The king had declared that all of his three daughters had to choose their grooms. He would decide who the heir of his kingdom would be, depending on the answers of the grooms and his daughters. His daughters had to tell the king how much they loved him. Marushka compared her love to her father with her love for salt, because there couldn’t be life without salt. In a furious fit, the king belittles the value of salt. This brings a curse upon the land by the Salt King, who returns with his son to his kingdom. The old king banishes his daughter Marushka to the forest that makes up the border of his kingdom.

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Marushka sets off to find the entry to the Salt Kingdom, not knowing that the curse had turned all salt of the kingdom into gold and without salt, people and animals were getting sick.

Weeks passed and Marushka was beyond exhaustion, looking disheveled and her beautiful dress was in shreds. She had lived off of raw mushrooms and nuts while trying to find the entry to the Salt Kingdom and find out what happened to her prince. The dense forest seemed to never end. Finally, Marushka came upon a clearing and sat down in the middle. Looking up she could feel the warm soft rays of the sun. Birds were chirping, singing a soft lullaby for the princess who laid down to rest a while. She must have fallen asleep when the giggle of young girls woke her. When she opened her eyes she saw, instead of young girls, ethereal looking tiny nymphs hovering over her. Curious, the nymphs asked Marushka why she was sleeping in the midst of the clearing. When the nymphs heard about what happened to the princess and her prince, the nymphs offered to help. Twirling around her they told Marushka of a secret entrance to the underworld. They then guided Marushka to a cave opening that would take her down into the Salt Kingdom.

Darkness surrounded Marushka soon after she stepped into the damp cave and without light, she stumbled and fell several times. Still she didn’t give up. Holding on to the rough sides of the tunnel she continued walking deeper and deeper into the abyss until finally a tiny light showed her that she was on the right path. The closer she was getting the bigger the light became, until she reached a large room with torches. A large sparkling door was in front of her. Marushka prayed that this was the entrance to the Salt Kingdom.

Approaching the large door, Marushka pushed forward and opened the door.

Before she could even blink, large sentries grabbed the princess, hurting her arms in their forceful grips. The Salt Kingdom’s guards had caught the princess.

Marushka looked up to the guards and told them that she was their prince’s fiancée. Perhaps now everything would turn for the better, she hoped. But the guards weren’t impressed and started dragging her into the center of the Salt Kingdom and its palace.

Inside of the castle, the guards threw Marushka on the ground. In front of her was the angry Salt King. “How dare you,” the Salt King hissed. “Because of you my son is cursed.” “Please, let me see the prince. If I could only see him, I know everything will be fine,” Marushka begged the king.

A bitter laugh was the only reaction of the king. When the princess got to her feet, the king pushed her through a door next to his throne and followed behind her. Marushka looked around and then she saw him, her prince stood there, still in his regalia from the celebration, but he was no longer made of flesh and blood — he was turned into a pillar of salt.

“It’s all your fault,” the Salt King growled. “Because my son wanted to love.” Marushka fell down on her knees when she heard this and begged him to break the curse. But the king’s heart had turned hard like stone. No longer looking at her, he called for the guards and ordered them to throw Marushka into the labyrinth. The labyrinth was where enemies of the Salt Kingdom were put to be never seen again. Marushka found herself in the dark again, this time without hope. Devastated, the princess started walking, though she wasn’t caring anymore where she went. Suddenly, after turning another of the hundreds of corners in the labyrinth, Marushka stumbled upon an old man who was sitting at a fire. Carefully, Marushka approached him — after all, supposedly only criminals and evildoers got tossed into the labyrinth.

Lucky for her, the old man turned out to be kind and he invited her to sit down at his fire. With a curious twinkle in his eyes, the old man asked Marushka how she ended up in the darkness of the labyrinth. Marushka started to tell her tragic story and soon tears were rolling down her cheeks. The old man joined the princess in her sorrow. “I used to be the fencing instructor of the prince when he was 6 years old. One day he nicked himself on an open blade and his father banished me down here. I loved and still love the prince like my own son,” the old man said and sighed. Looking up into the sad face of Marushka, the old man continued, “I may not know how to break a curse, but I know a wise woman that lives above in the sunlight who may have the answer. To find her you must climb over three mountains.”

“But how can I find her when I am stuck in the labyrinth?” Marushka asked. “Follow me,” the old man said, grabbing a torch and igniting it on the fire. After twists and turns another deep cave with a steep incline appeared. “Just follow that incline and you will reach the surface,” the old man said. “Come with me,” the princess said, but the old man shook his head. “You are small enough to fit through the tighter spaces. I am too big and have to remain here.”

After thanking the old man, Marushka hurried up and sure enough, though it was a tight fit, she was able to squeeze through the opening that returned her to the world above.

Dusting herself off, Marushka followed the noise of a little brook where she washed herself and then drank her fill of the fresh water. Having some of her strength and spirit returned, she continued her quest to find help for the prince.

After many adversities and close calls when she almost fell down a ravine, Marushka finally reached the small house where the wise woman lived. It was nestled in a valley that was overshadowed by the third mountain she had climbed.

It was obvious that Marushka was being expected, because an old woman with thousands of wrinkles in her face was standing at the door. “I heard from the birds that you were coming to see me,” she said. “What do you seek?” The princess stuttered first, then she asked the old woman how to break the Salt Prince’s curse. After denying knowing the answer several times, the old woman finally said that there was only one way she knew. Taking the princess to a deep empty well, the old woman gave a bucket to Marushka. Her task was to fill the well with water from a nearby brook. Full of energy, the princess set out to do so, but every time she poured the water into the well it seeped away and the well remained empty. Marushka, however, did not give up and day after day, she tirelessly worked on filling the well. Nothing could distract her, not even a charming prince who appeared one day and offered her his heart and kingdom if she’d only marry him. Shooing him away, Marushka continued trying to fill the well.

Then one night, the princess sat next to the old women sighing. The old woman asked what was wrong, so Marushka told the old woman that she would give anything to see how her father was doing.

Smiling, the old woman told the princess to follow her. At night, the old woman said, anybody who would look in the well could see other places around the world. Marushka wasted no time, and looked down into the deep well. And really, after a minute she got a glimpse of her father and her people. Horrified she turned to the wise woman. “What happened?” The old woman told her about the curse upon the kingdom. After looking back into the well, Marushka witnessed in a kaleidoscope of pictures the devastation of people and animals. Even her father was seriously ill. Her sisters had ridden off with their husbands leaving the old king and their kingdom behind in its misery.

Seeing this, Marushka turned to the old woman and said, “How can I save my prince? How can I save my father and the kingdom, wise woman? Please, tell me. I’ll do anything.”

Instead of an answer, the old woman vanished right in front of Marushka’s eyes. In her stead stood the beautiful Salt Queen. “You have been faithful in your love for my son,” the queen said, giving the faithful princess a tender smile. “You have passed the test. I am going to help you break the curse that my husband set upon you and my son. Indeed, only you can break it.” Hugging the princess, the queen continued saying that Marushka would have to walk through the wilderness and through three valleys until she’d arrived at a large boulder. There she’d to touch the boulder with the salt rose she received from the prince. The boulder would open and inside a meadow would open up where thousands of salt roses grew. The Salt Queen continued, “Each rose carries one tear drop within its petals. You have to gather those in a jug because those are the tears of your people in the cursed kingdom. Then, Marushka, you have to return to the Salt Kingdom and pour those tears on the prince to lift the curse.”

Full of hope, Marushka set off and everything went exactly how the queen said — until the princess entered the Salt Kingdom, where the angry and bitter Salt King himself stopped her. This time, the Salt King denied her entry to the room where her prince was.

No matter how Marushka begged and pleaded, the Salt King did not budge. “What do you think you are, mortal?” the Salt King said. “Not even I can remove the curse, it is stronger than death.” Just when the king turned to command his guards to kill Marushka, the voice of the Salt Queen echoed through the throne room. “You, my husband, have put a dark cloud upon our kingdom with your senseless hate and anger. You are saying that you are master of your kingdom, but you are only a helpless father. You are not even able to free the most precious that this Earth has given you, your son. Only the most valuable and strongest thing in this world can help you and our son now.” “And, what is that?” the indignant king asked. Stepping out from the shadow, a simple answer was given by the queen, “Love.”

Guided by the queen, Marushka walked into the room where the prince was captured in salt as hard as stone. Following them were the members of the court and the Salt King himself.

Marushka gripped the rough jug with the collected tears in both of her hands and standing on her tiptoes she strained to reach the head of the prince. Then she poured the liquid on the prince while whispering, “Wake up my love, wake up from this terrible nightmare.” And the miracle happened. Slowly the salt melted away, leaving the prince in his human form. The curse was broken.

Touched, for the first time in his long immortal life, tears began flowing down the king’s cheek. “What is this?” he asked touching the liquid. “Tears, just regular tears,” the queen answered him.

Embracing his son and Marushka, the Salt King declared the day a holiday and ordered that the wedding would happen right then and there. He also freed the old fencing teacher from the labyrinth. The Salt King then announced that as of this day, the prince and princess would be the new Salt King and Salt Queen.

Meanwhile, above ground, in the small kingdom’s castle, the old king was sitting on his throne full of sorrow. His oldest daughters hadn’t even told him farewell when they left with their husbands. The king’s advisor had lost all respect and was taunting the king daily about his fickle oldest daughters saying, “They sure showed their great love, a love greater than gold, clothes and jewels.”

Suddenly, the king sat up. Wondering if he was imagining things, he stood up and walked slowly to the castle window to open it. The sound of hundreds of horses trotting was unmistakable. Then flags from glistening spears were the first sign that a heavily armed caravan was approaching the castle’s gates. Soldiers in shimmering armor and huge carts pulled by white oxen were pulling up. This must be a very important royal visit, the old king wondered. Unbeknownst to him, it was his daughter Marushka and her husband in a dazzling display, wearing bright sparkling clothes made out of salt that moved like waves. Gaining entry to the castle Marushka approached the old king, who didn’t recognize her. She reached out and put a bag of salt in her father’s shaking hand. “Is this real salt?” the old king asks. “Yes, and we bring enough for the entire kingdom,” Marushka said.

“What can I give you to reward you?” the old king said, still not recognizing his daughter. “Only that you love me like you love salt,” Marushka answered. Finally, her father recognized that his daughter was standing before him. With tears in his eyes, the old king finally understood. He understood that his daughter had truly loved him and that she had broken the curse.

Full of joy, the old king distributed the salt throughout the kingdom and with it he sent the invitation for everyone to come to the castle for another, much bigger celebration than ever before.

With the salt the people recovered from their ailments fast and a week later, everybody arrived at the castle.

Stepping out on the castle’s balcony were the old king, Marushka and her husband. In front of all of the kingdom’s citizens, the old king asked his daughter and son-in-law for forgiveness. Then he declared that Salt Queen Marushka and her Salt King would be the future queen and king of their little kingdom as well. “To commemorate this day, every guest from now on shall be greeted with bread and salt,” the old king declared.

The young couple would reign over both kingdoms, above and below, with care and love. The meadows were green, the forests full of wildlife and the people considered themselves as the happiest in the world, just as the Salt Prince had promised when he introduced himself to the king.

Marushka and her Salt King lived a long life and had many children. Because of the magic of the Salt Kingdom, they would not age and when it came time to leave their kingdom to their child, they returned to the Salt Kingdom where they lived happily ever after.

Today, thousands of years later, welcoming a guest or a new neighbor with bread and a little bag of salt is still tradition in villages throughout Europe. So who knows, there may be a “grain” of truth to the story.

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