Emperor Aleodor, Aleodor Imparat, is a Romanian folktale gathered by Romanian folklorist and writer Petre Ispirescu in 1875 and translated into English in 19th by historian and linguist Robert Nisbet Bain.
Although rooted in the rich imagination of Romanian people, Emperor Aleodor follows the classical structure of a fairy tale. It begins with “once upon a time” and the events follow a certain order, while real characters, desires and circumstances blend with fantastic ones. The folktale ends on an optimistic note, with the main character learning a few valuable lessons, making new (unexpected) friends and defeating the villain.
I did very little to change Nisbet Bain’s skillful translation. I liked his choice of early modern English, I thought it gives Emperor Aleodor a charming old-fashioned patina. Petre Ispirescu wrote Aleodor Imparat in modern Romanian language, but, you see, for us, Romanians, having grown up with this story, it already speaks of childhood memories and of once upon a time.
Emperor Aleodor, a Romanian Folktale
Once upon a time, a long, long ago, for if it didn’t happen it couldn’t be told, when the poplars fruited apples and the willow tree sprouted wallflowers; when the bears wrestled one another through the strength of their tails; when wolves and lambs kissed one another; when one would put 99 iron shoes on the flea and then would thrust it into the glory of the sky only to return to Earth and tell us stories; when the fly would write on the wall, a bigger liar being the one who doesn’t believe what he is told… there lived an Emperor whose hair was already white, yet he never proved himself worthy of a son to bless himself with. The poor Emperor would have given anything to have had a little son of his own, even an unattractive one as other men did. But, alas, all his wishes were in vain.
At last, when he reached old age Fortune took pity on him and a darling of a boy was born to him, the like of which the world had never seen before. The Emperor named him Aleodor, and gathered east and west, north and south together to rejoice in his joy at the child’s christening.
The revels lasted three days and three nights, and all the guests who made merry there with the Emperor could think of nothing else for the rest of their lives.
The lad grew up as strong as an oak, as lovely as a rose, and as clever as a fox, while his father the Emperor drew nearer the edge of his grave with each passing day. And when the hour of his death arrived at last, he took the child on his knees and said to him:
“My darling son, behold for, at last, the Lord calls for me. The moment is at hand when I am to share the common lot of man. I foresee that thou wilt become a great man, and though I be dead my bones will rejoice in the tomb at thy noble deeds. As to the administration of this realm, I need tell thee nought, for thou, with thy wisdom, wilt know how it behoves a king to rule. One thing there is, nevertheless, that I must tell thee. Dost thou see that mountain over yonder? Beware of ever setting thy foot upon it, for ’twill be to thy hurt and harm. That mountain belongs to the ‘Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-rabbit,’ and whosoever ventures upon that mountain cannot escape unscathed.”
He had no sooner said these words than his throat rattled thrice, and he gave up the ghost. He departed to his place just like every other human soul that is born into the world as if he has never been since the world began.
Those of his household bewailed him, his great nobles bewailed him, his people bewailed him also, but eventually, they had to bury him.
Aleodor, from the moment that he ascended the throne of his father, ruled the land wisely like a mature statesman, though in age he was but a child. All the world delighted in his sway, and men thanked Heaven for allowing them to live in the days of such a prince.
All the time that was not taken up by affairs of State, Aleodor spent in the chase. But he always bore in mind the advice of his father, and took care not to exceed the bounds which had been set for him.
One day, however—how it came about I know not—but anyhow he fell into a brown study, and never noticed that he had overstepped the domains of the Half-man till, after taking a dozen steps or so onwards, he found himself face to face with the monster. That he was trespassing on the grounds of this lame and terrible creature did not trouble him over-much, it was the thought that he had transgressed the dying command of his dear father that grieved him.
“Ho, ho!” cried the hideous monster, “dost thou not know that every scoundrel who oversteps my bounds becomes my property?”
“Yes,” replied Aleodor, “but first I must tell thee that it was through want of thought and without wishing it that I have trodden on thy ground. Against thee I have no evil thoughts at all.”
“I thought you better than that,” replied the Half-man; “but I see that, like all cowards, thou dost think it best to make excuses.”
“Nay, so sure as God preserves me, I am no coward. I have told thee the simple truth; but if thou wouldst fight, I am ready. Choose thy weapons! Shall we slash with sabres, or slog with maces, or wrestle together?”
“Neither the one nor the other,” replied the monster. “One way only canst thou escape thy just punishment—thou must fetch me the daughter of the Green Emperor!”
Aleodor would very much have liked to have got out of the difficulty some other way, as neither the affairs of his State would allow him to take so long a journey, nor had he a guide to direct him. Nor this, nor the other one either. But how would the Half-man know of such? He merely held on to it, that Aleodor must fetch him the daughter of the Green Emperor if he wants to be rid of his pending punishment and keep his Soul Bone.
He, Aleodor, knowing in his heart that he did wrong, felt that if he would avoid the shame of being thought a robber and a trampler on the rights of others, he must indeed find the daughter of the Green Emperor. Besides, he also knew that of the devil-man one must escape at any cost, better yet, avoid at all costs. He wanted to escape with a whole skin if he could so, at last, he promised that he would do the service required of him.
Now Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-horse knew very well that, as a man of honour that he was, Aleodor would never depart from his plighted word, so he said to him: “Go now, in God’s name, and may good luck attend thee!”
~~~ end of part one~~~
Do return for part two of Emperor Aleodor, a Romanian folktale. Coming soon.
If you like stories from long ago you might enjoy my retelling of Jock of the Bushveld: Africa’s Best Loved Dog Hero.