A Hungarian folktale, Janko Raven (Holló Jankó), tells the story of a boy from a poor family that went on to earn his living at the king’s court. The story is one of charity and perseverance and can be summed up with the proverb One good turn deserves another. Similarly to Nikita the Tanner, this boy too, refuses the king’s offerings, with one exception: the gold he had bargained for in the begining.
For this particular story I’ve also found a video adaptation, that I’ve linked below.
When the boy grew up, he said to his parents:
“Well mother and father, I think it’s time I went and earned some money.”
As his parents had no objections, Janko Raven set on. When he crossed the village border he saw a troop of ants crossing from one field to another. Reeling at the rear was a little ant who fell into a hole and couldn’t come out. Taking pitty, Janko bent down to help her.
“Thank you for your kindness” said the ant. “Here, take this whistle and whenever you’re in trouble just blow it and I’ll come to help you”.
Janko pocketed the whistle and continued on his way. By nightfall he arrived at a huge forest where he found a small house and a white-haired old man.
“Good evening, grandfather” said Janko.
“Good evening, son. What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for a place where I could earn some money and bed for the night.”
The old man let Janko sleep in his place that night. Then in the morning he said:
“Well son, at the other end of the forest you’ll find a wide pasture and beyond that the sea and a huge mountain. On top of the mountain there lays a castle made of solid gold. That’s where the king lives. Go to him. He will give you work.”
Janko thanked the old man for his advice and the bed and went on his way. Just as he reached the edge of the forest, a flock of ravens flew up before him. Walking on he noticed one of the ravens flapping in the grass, unable to fly away. His feathers were wet by the morning dew that he was unable to fly away.
Taking pity on the bird, Janko gathered it up and stroke its feathers until they were completely dry.
“One good turn deserves another, Janko Raven. Here, take this whistle, and whenever you’re in trouble, just blow it and I’ll come to help you”.
Janko soon reached the sea at the foot of the mountain. As he stood there he saw a tiny fish struggling helplessly on the shore. Taking pity on the poor animal, Janko put the fish back into the sea. When the little fish recovered, he said:
“One good turn deserves another. I will give you a whistle to add to the other two I know you have. Whenever you’re in trouble, just blow it and I’ll help you.”
So Janko pocketed this whistle too, and began to climb the mountain.
When Janko reached the castle, the king asked;
“Well lad, what can I do for you?”
“I’ve come to enter into your service, your majesty”
The king said:
“Good. In my kingdom three days count as one full year and the pay is three hundred gold coins, but if you fail to carry out my orders, you will die a thousand deaths. Is it a deal?”
“Yes, it’s a deal.”
On the first day, at sunset, the king summoned Janko and said:
“Go into the farmyard where you’ll find three stacks of millet. By morning, pick out all the millet seeds and stack the millet and the straws separatedly. If you fail, you shall die.”
Janko was frightened almost out of his wits. Then he remembered the whistle given to him by the ants.
Suddenly, millions and millions of ants were swarming around his feet.
“What is the matter dear friend?”
“Oh, I’m in great trouble.” And Janko told the ants what the king had ordered him to do.
“Have no fear, said the ant king: we’ll get started and by morning, we’ll have the millet and the straw in two separate stacks.”
That was exactly what happened by the time the sun rose.
“I see you have carried out my orders” said the king. “You may have the day off, but come to me again, in the evening.”
That evening the king said:
“My three daughters are strolling in front of the castle. Go down and make sure no harm comes to them. If you fail, you shall die a thousand deaths.”
So Janko sat down to guard the three princesses, but he was so tired that he soon fell asleep.
The three princesses changed into ravens and flew away. When he woke up, he found that they were gone. Frightened almost out of his wits he remembered the whistle given to him by the ravens.
The birds appeared out of nowhere and asked:
“What can we do for you dear friend?”
“I’m in great trouble. The king told me to look after his three daughters, but I fell asleep and they’ve disappeared.”
“Have no fear” said the raven king. “Just sit on my back and take hold of this three halters, and off we go to find them!”
Janko climbed on to the ravens back and they flew up into the sky. When they flew behind the moon they found the three princesses sitting side by side in the shape of three ravens.
Jano threw a halter around each of their necks and took them back to the castle.
On the eve of the third day, the king summoned Janko once more:
“Find me the golden ring I lost in the sea or you’ll die a thousand deaths.”
Janko saw that the king meant what he said. So he went to the sea shore where he blew the whistle given to him by the tiny fish. Almost at once, the sea in front of him was teeming with fish.
“What can we do for you, dear friend?”
Janko told him what the king had said.
“Have no fear” said the fish king. “We’ll find the ring”. But as dawn began to break, they still hadn’t found it.
As a last resort, they looked for it in the stomach of a big fish. Sure enough, the ring was there.
“So, my lad, you have served your time well” said the king. “In return, I shall give you one of my daughters in marriage, half my kingdom and three carts, full of gold.”
But Janko didn’t want to marry any of the princesses. Nor did he want to have the kingdom. All he asked for were the three carts full of gold, which he took back to his parents. And together, they lived happily ever after on cheese pies and doughnuts.
The video is from the TV Series “Long Ago and Far Away,” hosted by James Earl Jones on PBS in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Narrated by Tammy Grimes.