The Green Serpent

There was in a certain country a king who had a son and a wife, who was the queen, and the son was 9 years old. The boy’s father went hunting one day with all his nobles, and in the course of the hunt some of them went off one way and others in another, from which it came about that the king met a green serpent, almost the size of a tuna fish, which came straight towards him, menacing him.

The king said,  “Don’t kill me, green serpent. If you’d like I’ll take you home with me and see you’re well looked after.”

The serpent accepted this offer, and lowered itself to the ground again. And so the king picked it up, put it on the horse in front of him, and carried it back to the palace, to the great pleasure of the green serpent, and without any of the nobles taking part in the hunt seeing what had happened.

When the king reached the palace he asked the queen to have a room prepared for the serpent. The king put it in the room and having sent for a carpenter he ordered him to saw off the bottom of the door in such a way it would take a plate on which they could give the serpent food. Then the king locked the door and handed the key to the queen, telling her,

  “Be warned that whoever lets the serpent escape will be hung.”

The queen, to free herself from worry, put the key in the pocket of her dress. It happened that the little boy who was called Alty was playing inside the palace with his spinning top, and the top flipped and then slipped under the hole at the bottom of the door to the serpent’s room, coming to a stop next to it.

The little prince laid his head down by the hole and said,

 “Won’t you give me back my spinning top, green serpent?”

The serpent replied,  “Open the door and then I’ll give you the top back again.”

The boy replied that his father had said that anyone who opened the door would be hung. The serpent said, “Open the door, you won’t die.”

The boy said, “I don’t know where the key is.”

The serpent replied, “It’s in the pocket of the dress of your mother, the queen.

Go and sit on her knee and give her some hugs and kisses, and you’ll be able to take the key without her knowing.”

That was just what the little prince did, and, giving his mother many hugs and kisses, he succeeded in taking the key from her pocket. Then he rushed back to the room where the serpent was, opened the door, and the serpent jumped out of the room, telling the boy that if he should ever find himself in difficulties he should call out its name, “Green Serpent”.

Then the little boy, by means of the same cuddles as before, succeeded in putting the key back in his mother’s pocket without her being aware of it. The serpent fled and the boy went back to playing with his spinning top.

The king was out hunting, and, while all his nobles had killed many beasts, the king hadn’t caught a single animal. Because of this the nobles made great fun of him

and the king responded,

“I already caught the most valuable prize and took it back to the palace.”

The nobles doubted the truth of what he said . They all returned to the palace, and as the green serpent could not be found the nobles told the king that what he had boasted was untrue. The king became very angry and asked the queen who had opened the door for the serpent. The queen said no-one had, and the king began to threaten heaven and earth alike.

In this bad temper he came upon his son playing with his top, and asked him who had opened the door for the serpent.

 “I did,” the boy said.

 “But how could you,” the queen asked, “when I have the key in my pocket?”

Then the boy told her what had happened, and reminded her of the cuddles he had used to take the key from her.

 “Yes, I remember,” she said, “but I didn’t know you’d taken the key.”

Then the king ordered his son to be hung. The queen asked the king to have their son hung far away from the palace so she would not have to ear hear his screams.

The boy went off with two hangmen to the gallows. On the way he pleaded with them to let him go, since God would kill him when it was His will. The hangmen replied that they would only set him free if he promised not to return to the palace.

The boy agreed. Then the hangmen let him go and he set off down a by-road, travelling for three days and three nights without seeing any house where he could eat and rest.

In the end he came upon the house of a farmer who had a wife and three daughters.

The boy was so hungry he was more dead than alive and he asked the farmer for lodging. His request was granted. As the boy had charming manners the three daughters liked him very much, and so the boy said to them that if they wished he would stay there and guard their hens, even though he was a prince who had just lost his way.

He stayed in the farmer’s house until he reached the age of eighteen. Then he asked the farmer to settle up with him as he was going to leave. The farmer said that he would give him nothing except for a bed and one of his daughters as wife. The boy replied that he didn’t want to get married and went away empty-handed.

The prince came to a country where a king lived in a palace. Going to the palace garden, he met the cook at the backdoor and asked him if he needed a servant to help him. The cook replied:

 “You can stay and help me, I’m short of a boy.”

Now in that land there were three giants, and they used to come one at a time,

in search of a pretty girl to eat; so that the poor folk were by now protesting that not just their daughters but those of the king, too, should suffer. The king had no option but to agree to this, lots being drawn between his three daughters. The lot fell to the king’s eldest daughter. There was great lamenting at this, and the boy prince, who was working in the kitchen, asked his boss, the cook, the reason for the lamentations.

 “Some giants come every day to look for girls to eat and now it’s the turn of the king, our master, to give the eldest of his daughters.”

The next morning the king ordered a throne to be set up in the main square and for his unfortunate daughter to be placed there. She dressed in black and put on a black veil, and made her way surrounded by her weeping family to the square, seating herself on the throne beside her father to await the giant. The king had posted his infantry and cavalry ready to kill the giant. The boy prince asked his boss, the cook, if he could go and watch the scene, and the cook agreed, ordering him not to stay away too long. The boy set off, but as soon as he was behind a hedge, he said,

 “Come to my aid, my green serpent.”

The green serpent immediately appeared and the boy asked it to give him a horse, princely clothing, a sword and the courage to kill the giant. The serpent gave him what he’d asked for. Then the boy prince, equipped and on horseback, made his way to the main square, and saluted the king and the princess. At that moment the giant appeared carrying a huge iron club. He surveyed the throng of people gathered in the square and said,

 “Is no-one going to stop me carrying off the princess?”

The boy prince answered,

 “I am the one who will defend her life.”

 “What, a mosquito like you?!” the giant replied.

 “Even if the whole lot of you challenged me, I’d not be afraid, because I’m so brave.”

The boy prince answered,

 “I come alone.”

The giant replied, “Let me lay my club down on the ground, because two fingers will be enough to kill you.”

As the giant was putting his club down on the ground, the boy jumped forward and with one stroke of his sword he split the giant’s head in two. The boy immediately disappeared and went to hand back to the green serpent everything he had received from him, returning afterwards to the palace kitchen.

The cook said to him, “You’ve been away a long time.”

 “I got delayed,” replied the boy, “I was watching a finely adorned youth kill the giant.”

Just then the king arrived back at the palace accompanied by his daughter, to great celebrations.

At dinner the father said, “Who could that youth be, dressed like a prince, who did us such a great service?”

Hardly had he said this than another giant sent word demanding the king hand over his second daughter to him. This giant seemed to be annoyed by the death of his brother.

The same thing happened. The boy prince once again asked for the help of the green serpent. This time the boy appeared dressed in white, riding a horse of the same colour. The second giant appeared and he too was killed by the boy.

The next day the third giant appeared to demand the king’s third daughter. He too was killed by the boy. Now on this occasion the king had advised his troops to try and capture the boy when he had conquered the giant. To carry out this order one of the soldiers wounded the boy in the leg with a spear, which stuck in the boy’s leg. The boy vanished and made his way to the palace garden, where he pulled out the spear and hid it under a stone.

A dog licked his wound, and the boy bandaged it with a red handkerchief. The king’s eldest daughter, who was at a palace window, saw the wound and fainted. When the king arrived back with his youngest daughter and found his eldest daughter unconscious he was very upset. The king promised publicly that if the saviour of his daughters was a bachelor he would give him one of the daughters as a wife, and if he was already married he would give him a large reward. No-one came forward.

Three months later a man dressed as a military officer presented himself, saying that it was he who had killed the giants, and even showing the wound in his leg. The king replied, “You are a liar, because this wound is very recent, and the other would have healed by now.”

The eldest daughter of the king, who had been mute ever since she fainted, made signs asking what the man was doing there. Her sisters replied that he was claiming to be their saviour. Just then the boy prince went past with a dish in his hand.

and immediately the mute woman spoke, saying:

 “He is the one who saved us. Make him show his leg.”

The boy fled, but the king followed him and caught him beside the stone under which the spear was hidden. Everything became clear, the impostor was arrested, and the boy went off to summon the green serpent. The latter had by then already been disenchanted, as the three giants were dead. The green serpent, who was now a king, gave the boy a white horse and he himself mounted a chestnut horse, and with two chests full of money, they presented themselves to the king and the three princesses.

Everyone was very happy, and the boy married the king’s youngest daughter.

Then the king, who had previously been a green serpent, went back to his own kingdom, and the boy told his father-in-law the story of his life. He immediately wrote to the boy’s father, but the latter had died. The boy’s mother, as soon as she found out that her son was alive, boarded a fine ship and came to see her son, being welcomed with great celebrations and music.


Oliveira 1905 II, 7-13, #220, O Bicho Verde [The Green Serpent]. Algarve, Castro Marim; Oliveira 2002 II, 9-13

Tale type nº  AaTh 502, The Wild Man


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