Santhalan Bedtime Stories   
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Introduction. The tale of the “boy who was good for nothing” is known all over Sarvonia. It provides a mythological account of how humans learned to keep malise (honeybees) in hives, so as to collect a regular harvest of honey. Among scholars of mythology, the tale is famous for the prominent role played by the hiveling, a creature who summons a swarm of insects to form a temporary body for itself. - It is not thought polite to tell this story in the company of nobility, as its morality is suspected of being slyly subversive to the feudal social order.

nce upon a time there was a boy who was good for nothing. While his brothers ploughed the fields, he sat on a tree with a straw in his mouth, and sang with the birds. While they sowed the grain, he swam in the river and played with the fishes. While they reaped the corn, he played hide and seek in the grass with the butterflies. One day his father said to him: “If you don’t learn to work, things will turn out badly for you. Get yourself a trade, son.”

So the boy who was good for nothing took his hat and his walking stick, and left his father and his brothers. Down the road he walked, past Lonesome Mountain, until he came to a village. There he saw a blacksmith swinging his hammer. The boy spoke to him and said: “I am good for nothing. Take me on as your apprentice.” The blacksmith said: “That I will do. If you get up early every morning and work hard, you shall learn to be a blacksmith.”

So the boy became an apprentice blacksmith. On his first day, he had to work the bellows to fan the fire, while the blacksmith heated a piece of iron that was to become a sword. But the boy saw a bee that had lost its way and was whirring about the hot smithy, unable to find the door to the outside. The boy put down the bellows, caught the bee in his hat, and carried it into the open air. There he released it. When he went back into the smithy, the fire that the boy had left unfanned had gone out, and the blacksmith scolded him: “Boy, you are good for nothing. Take your hat and your walking stick, and leave.”

So the boy left the village. Down the road he walked, past Sorrowful Mountain, until he came to a city. There he saw a merchant at a market stall, selling carpets. The boy spoke to him and said: “I am good for nothing. Take me on as your apprentice.” The merchant said: “That I will do. If you value every san and work hard, you shall learn to be a merchant.”

So the boy became an apprentice merchant. On his first day, he had to stand at the market stall and guard the wares, while the merchant ballyhooed and haggled and counted the money. But the boy saw a bee that had fallen into a puddle and was about to drown. He scooped the bee up with his hand, held it into the wind so that its wings could dry, and let it fly off. When he went back to the merchant’s stall, a thief had stolen one of the carpets. The merchant scolded the boy and said: “Boy, you are good for nothing. Take your hat and your walking stick, and leave.”

So the boy left the city. Down the road he walked, past Hopeless Mountain, until he came to a forest. He walked between the trees, until he came to a hut. He knocked, and a wizard opened the door. The boy said: “I am good for nothing. Take me on as your apprentice.” The wizard said: “That I will do. If you learn to sit in a tree and do nothing, you shall learn to be a wizard.” The boy said: “I already can sit in a tree and do nothing.” “Oh really?” said the wizard. “Show me.”

So the boy climbed a tree and sat on a branch. Soon a bird sat down next to him and began to sing. The boy listened, and did nothing.

Just under the tree was a little brook. Fish were jumping out of the water, wanting to play. The boy watched, and did nothing.

Next, a little butterfly came fluttering and hid behind a leaf. The boy thought of the butterfly, and did nothing.

Finally, a bee buzzed around the boy’s head. He closed his eyes, and did nothing. Suddenly, the buzzing stopped. The boy opened his eyes and saw that the bee had been caught in a spider’s web. The spider had already felt the vibrations in the threads caused by the bee’s struggle, and was scuttling towards its victim. The boy reached out with his finger and tore the web, so as to free the bee. But its tiny legs and its wings had got so entangled in the sticky threads that it was unable to fly. It fell all the way to the ground and lay lifeless.

The wizard had watched everything from below the tree. He asked: “Do you think spiders should not eat? This bee’s life was lost before you tried to save it. The spider will now repair its net and catch another creature. It is what spiders do. You can try and stop her, but if you do, you will do more harm than good.”

The boy hung his head and said: “I know what you are going to say. I am good for nothing. I will take my hat and my walking stick, and leave this forest.” The wizard replied: “If that is what you want. But let me tell you: you are really very good for nothing indeed. With a bit of practice, you can become a master. So keep it up! And take this. Use it wisely.”

With these words, the wizard suddenly disappeared into thin air, and on the branch, next to where the boy was sitting, there appeared a little jar. The boy opened it, and found that it was filled with a sticky golden treacle. He stuck his finger into the treacle and tasted it. It was sweeter than anything he had ever known.

So the boy took the jar and climbed down from the tree. He looked at the place where the wizard’s hut had been, but the hut had disappeard. Where it had stood, there grew a large redberry bush. It was in full bloom, and a hundred bees buzzed around its small white flowers. The boy marvelled at how this could be, but wherever he looked, he could not find either the hut or the wizard. Eventually, he gave up his search. He drank a bit of water from the brook, and went along his way with his hat, his walking stick, and his jar of golden treacle.

So the boy left the forest and walked along the road past Brooding Mountain, until he came to a town. Overlooking it, on top of a hill, stood a large castle. The boy walked into the town and soon saw a girl sitting by the road. Sitting in a circle around her were a dozen little fuzzles. When the boy approached, the fuzzles scurried away. Only one fuzzle remained, for the girl was holding it in her hand.

“What are you doing?” asked the boy.

“This fuzzle has a broken leg. I am giving it a splint.”

“Aha. And who lives up there in the castle on the hill?”

“The king lives there with his daughter, the princess.”

“I have here a golden treacle. Try it. It is sweeter than anything you have ever tasted.”

The girl dunked her finger into the jar and tasted the treacle.

“It is very good. Thank you,” she said.

“It’s a food fit for kings and princesses, don’t you think?” the boy asked.

The girl shrugged her shoulders, and said nothing. Then she resumed her work, healing the fuzzle.

So the boy went along his way, through the town and up the hill towards the castle. At the castle’s gate stood a guard who said: “Halt, stranger. None is allowed to enter, unless he is a doctor who can heal the king.” The boy asked: “What is the king’s illness?” The guard answered: “The king is suffering from boredom, because he has got everything he wants.” The boy said: “I can heal the king.”

So the guard led the boy into the castle and brought him before the king. The king sat on a big throne in the middle of a vast empty hall, and sighed. He talked to himself: “Shall I summon my soldiers and go to war? No, that is boring, I have already conquered thirty-three kingdoms. Shall I go on a hunt, pierce a stag with an arrow and hang its antlers on my wall? No, that is boring, I have already got fifty-five antlers hanging on my walls. Shall I call my musicians and ask them to play for me? No, that is boring, I have already heard all of their seventy-seven songs.”

The boy said to the king: “Oh king, I have here with me a new kind of food that is sweeter than anything you have ever tasted.” The boy handed the king the jar with the golden treacle. The king dunked his finger into it and tasted it. His eyes lit up. “This is sweeter than anything I have ever tasted,” he said. He dunked two fingers into the jar, and tasted again. He dunked his whole hand so that it was covered in sweet treacle. His tongue licked it off greedily, and the king had hardly swallowed before his hand went deep into the jar again. So he went on and on, until the jar was empty.

“Wonderful,” said the king. “Bring me ninety-nine barrels of this!”

The boy replied: “Oh king, I do not have ninety-nine barrels. I had only that little jar, and now it is empty.”

“What,” thundered the king. “First you whet my appetite, then you refuse to satisfy it? Bring me ninety-nine barrels of this treacle tonight. If you don’t, I shall have my guard chop off your head. If you do, I shall give you my cook for a wife. I can’t give you my daughter, you see, for she must marry a prince, and you are none. So go. I shall send one hundred and eleven of my soldiers to help you.”

So the boy left the castle, followed by the king’s one hundred and eleven soldiers. He didn’t know where to get ninety-nine barrels of treacle from. With shaky legs he walked down the hill and into the town. The one hundred and eleven soldiers marched behind. When they had reached the end of the town, the boy saw Brooding Mountain in the distance, and behind it the forest, and he thought: “Maybe if I find the wizard, he will be able to help me.”

Where the boy and the soldiers stood, the road wound its way through a barren field. The boy thought that if he walked over the field, he could cut the way short and reach the forest sooner. So he left the road, making straight for the forest. But he had only walked a few steps when he saw the girl that had earlier healed the fuzzle. She was playing in the sand. When she saw the boy and the king’s army marching towards her, she jumped up, spread her arms and barred their way. “You can’t pass here!” she said.

The boy asked: “Why not?”

The girl said: “There are myrmex hills in this field, and if your soldiers march over them, they will destroy them, and many myrmex will die.”

The boy said: “I wish I was a myrmex and could hide in an myrmex hill.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the girl.

So the boy told her his story: how he had left his father and his brothers, how he had failed at every trade he had tried, how he had met the wizard, who gave him the jar of golden treacle, how the king had eaten it all and had demanded ninety-nine barrels of it by tomorrow. He told her that he would marry the king’s cook if he succeeded, but that he would be killed if he failed. He ended by saying that he had decided to try and find the wizard once again.

The girl said: “I think I have met the same wizard once. Go into the forest and look for a meadow where a thousand flowers grow. It is there you will find him.”

“Thank you,” said the boy. “Tell me only one more thing, girl: what is your name?”

“My name is Honey.”

So the boy and the one hundred and eleven soldiers turned around. They didn’t step on any myrmex hills, but left the barren field, and walked on the winding road past Brooding Mountain. When they reached the first trees, the boy noticed a humming sound that came from deep inside the forest. He walked towards it – the soldiers always close behind – and soon he came to a clearing. There, a thousand flowers grew, and the air was buzzing with bees who danced around the blossoms. The boy stepped into the meadow. The soldiers followed him, fanning out into the clearing. They all wanted to behold the beauty of the blossoms. But since there were one hundred and eleven soldiers, and all wore heavy soldier’s boots, they ended up trampling most of the flowers.

At that, all the bees flew up at once, like a sea suddenly rising. The soldiers thought the bees were about to sting them, and waved their arms in defence. The bees, however, did not attack. They formed a dense cloud, swirling around one another in ever tighter circles and serpentines and spirals. Soon they didn’t look like a swarm of bees anymore, but like a single animal. The boy and the soldiers stared as the swarm-being moved and shifted and wriggled, and took on ever more intricate form, until it began to look like a giant human face that hovered in the air above them. And the boy saw that it was the face of the wizard – the very same wizard who had given him the jar of golden treacle.

The soldiers were frightened. They huddled together into a battle formation. They drew and brandished their swords. On a shout from their captain, barely audible above the deafening buzzing of a thousand bees, they charged at the giant face. The boy cried “Stop!” at the top of his voice, but the soldiers didn’t hear him. They swung and stabbed and hurled their swords.

But the soldiers did not harm a single bee. Wherever their swords tried to hit, a part of the face dissolved, and a cloud of bees rose up high above the soldiers’ heads. For a while, the cloud would swirl and whirl and buzz; but soon it would sink back down toward where it had come from, replacing the earlobe, the chin, or the lock of hair that had temporarily been missing.

Throughout this fight, the face maintained the same expression. It was thoughtful, and maybe a little sad. The face looked down at the boy. It did not open its mouth, but the longer the boy stood and awed, the more he thought that he heard something amid the buzzing of the bees. He thought that it was like the voice of the wizard. Or maybe it was like a windharp. Or maybe it was as if someone was singing. The longer he listened, the clearer the singing became. After a while, he could make out words:

You are one, and we are many.
Life is but a summer short.
Buttercup and fairypenny,
Tulip, daisy, sneezlewort.

We are sad and we are merry.
We work all day, all day we sing.
Meldar tree and vinterberry,
Forget-me-not and fairywing.

We are one, and you are many.
In thousand pieces is your soul.
Bluebell, sweetmalve, meadowjenny,
Primrose, violet, fairypole.

Will you ever solve your riddle?
Life is but a giddy dance.
Daffodil and fairyfiddle,
Dragonweed and fancychance.

You are one, and we are many.
Life is but a summer short.
Buttercup and fairypenny,
Tulip, daisy, sneezlewort.

The boy cried: “Please, do you have any more of that golden treacle? The king has commanded me to bring him ninety-nine barrels of it. If I don’t, he will have my head chopped off.” The buzzing went on, but there were no more words. Instead, the face’s right eye winked at the boy.

When the eyelid rose, a single bee detached itself from the iris of the eye. This bee flew straight towards the boy, and circled around his head three times. Then it flew off, leaving the meadow and entering the thick forest. The boy looked back at the wizard’s face. Again, it winked. So the boy made up his mind, and followed the bee. Behind him, he could still hear the buzzing of the bee-face, and the angry shouts of the soldiers, who were too busy fighting to notice where he went.

The bee flew ahead, and the boy walked behind. The further they went, the darker the forest became. Very soon, the boy followed the bee more by listening to its buzzing, then by trying to spot its tiny body. Suddenly, the buzzing stopped. The bee had sat down on a flower. This flower grew out of a crack in a big rock. In that rock, the boy saw, there was a cave. And in the cave, there stood ninety-nine wooden barrels. The boy examined them. He found that every single one was filled with golden treacle. He could hardly believe his luck.

But when he looked up, he found that he was all alone. The bee that had led him here was gone, and he was now so deep in the forest that he couldn’t hear the buzzing of the bee face anymore. Nor was there any sign of the soldiers.

He couldn’t carry all those barrels on his own, so he retraced his steps, back to the trampled meadow. There he found the soldiers. Their faces and hands were swollen and red all over. They were groaning and howling and wailing. When the boy asked them what had happened, they said: “We attacked the bee face, until it finally dissolved. A huge swarm of bees hung over us. It was then that we noticed that you were gone. We went into the forest looking for you. We couldn’t find you, but there were bees everywhere.

“We thought they had bewitched you. As everyone knows, bees are ruled by queens that don’t leave their nests all summer. So we thought if we attack the nests, the bees would be forced to release you. We went into the forest with our swords and hacked to pieces all the bees’ nests we could find. But the bees turned upon us, and they stung us mercilessly.”

The soldiers stamped their feet in their pain, crushing under their boots the dead bodies of many bees who had stung them and then fallen to the ground. But although hundreds of bees had died, there were still thousands left. They were buzzing above the soldiers’ heads. The boy asked: “And did you find any queen bees?” “No,” they replied. “We don’t know where they have gone.” The boy turned away from the soldiers, and called to the bees: “Thank you! I have to hurry now to save my life. I shall not forget what you have done for me. I promise!”

Then the boy bid the soldiers to follow him and led them to the cave with the ninety-nine barrels of golden treacle. Ninety-nine soldiers lifted one barrel each on their shoulders. Then they all marched off through the forest. The twelve soldiers who didn’t carry any barrel acted as guards, and shook their swords at any bee that they saw flying past.

It was almost dark by the time they returned to the castle. When the boy entered the throne room, the king sat there. Behind the throne stood his daughter, the princess.

The king asked: “And have you brought me my ninety-nine barrels of golden treacle?”

“Yes,” said the boy. He made a sign, upon which the soldiers marched into the hall and put their loads before the king.

“Fabulous!” the king exclaimed. He opened the first barrel, and immediately began eating, by dunking his hand into the sticky golden treacle. Soon he had emptied the whole barrel. But he didn’t stop at that. While the boy, the soldiers and the princess looked on, the king emptied the second barrel and the third barrel and the fourth. His face grew red, his belly swelled, and he farted and belched. But he didn’t stop eating. He emptied the fifth and the sixth and the seventh barrel, and still he went on. After he had licked the last drop of treacle out of the twenty-first barrel, the king was so heavy that he couldn’t stand up anymore. So he commanded a soldier to take the twenty-second barrel and pour the treacle into his open mouth. The soldier did so, and the king swallowed all. When the barrel was empty, the king gave a long sigh. He closed his eyes, swayed as he sat, and fell over backwards.

Suddenly, loud buzzing filled the air. Thousands and thousands of bees came flying through the windows. They formed a dense swarm that hovered under the ceiling of the large throne hall. The bees swirled and whirled around one another, and soon the swarm descended to the floor and assumed the shape of a giant spider, as big as a dragon. The spider, on its eight legs, walked over to the king. None of the soldiers dared to interfere. She picked up the king in her fangs, and carried his lifeless body through the door and out of the castle into the night. The princess, the soldiers and the boy who was good for nothing listened as the buzzing of the bees gradually fainted, until it lost itself in the distance. Then, for a moment, the throne room was completely still.

It was the princess who spoke first. “A great tragedy has befallen our kingdom,” she said. To the boy she added: “I must grieve for my father now. Please do me the honour to be my guest in this castle tonight. Tomorrow I shall be ready to speak to you.”

A guard led the boy out of the throne hall and through a long corridor toward a chamber twice as big as the hut that he had lived in with his father and his brothers, before he had left to find himself a trade. When he went to look out of the window, he found that it was barred. He lay down on the bed, which was softer than any bed he had ever slept in. Outside the door, he heard the guard march up and down. The boy did not sleep a wink that night.

In the morning, the guard led the boy back to the throne hall. The twenty-two empty barrels were still standing exactly where the king had left them. So did the seventy-seven remaining barrels, which were still full of golden treacle.

The princess was sitting on the throne. She wore a beautiful golden robe. In her right hand, she held a little spoon, with which she had just tried a little of the golden treacle. She said: “I am grieved to see my father dead. But he brought his death upon himself. It was his greed that killed him. Since I lost my mother many years ago, and I was their only child, I shall now be queen in this castle. I know that my father had promised you the cook for a wife. But I also know what is right and proper. A boy of such talents, who grants the impossible wish of a king on penalty of death, must marry the king’s daughter.”

The boy answered: “Oh queen, I appreciate your kindness. But forgive me if I say that I do not wish to marry you.”

“Ah no?” said the queen. She was not pleased at all. “Do you prefer to marry the cook?”

“Oh queen, I wish to marry neither you nor the cook.”

“And why not?”

“Oh queen, I lost my heart somewhere along the way to the forest, and I believe I must go and find it.”

“Think carefully, boy. If you marry me, you shall be my king and we shall rule over this realm, as well as over the thirty-three others my father has conquered.”

“Oh queen, I do not want to rule over this realm, nor over thirty-three others.”

“So what do you want as a reward for your deed? I shall not debase myself by remaining in your debt.”

“I want nothing but the empty barrels in which I brought the golden treacle.”

At that, the queen laughed. “Your wish shall be granted. I am glad now that you refused my hand. I thought you were a powerful wizard. Now I see that you are a fool, and good for nothing.”

The boy bowed, and turned to leave. Just before he reached the throne hall’s door, the queen called after him. Her words were slightly blurred, for she had resumed eating from the golden treacle with her spoon, and her mouth was full. She said: “Tell me. What is the name of this marvellous golden treacle?”

The boy replied: “It is called honey.”

Then he left the castle, and went down the hill into the town. Soon he came upon the girl, who sat in the sand. A snake was slithering around her arm.

When she saw the boy, she asked: “So? Have you found the wizard?”

“Yes,” said the boy.

“And have you brought the king ninety-nine barrels of golden treacle?”


“So you will marry the king’s cook?”


“And why not?”

“Because I want to marry someone else.”

“And who would that be?”

“I want to marry a girl who has a thousand friends.”

“Ah. But do you know if she wants to marry you?”

“Try me.”

“Then tell me: what do you give someone who already has everything?”


“But do you have nothing?”

“I’ve got plenty of it. It’s the only thing I’m good for.”

“What is your name, then?”

“My name is Bumble.”

“Bumble and Honey? That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Honey and Bumble. It doesn’t sound bad at all.”

The Hiveling

View picture in full size Picture description. And there was a buzzing coming from all sides, and insect after insect came together to form a humanoid form - the Hiveling creature... Picture drawn by Seeker.

So Honey and Bumble went into the forest and built a hut, near the cave where the boy had found the barrels of honey. The next day, the queen’s soldiers came and delivered the ninety-nine empty barrels; because in the meantime, the queen and her maids and the cook and the guard and the one hundred and eleven soldiers had eaten all the treacle from the seventy-seven barrels that the king had left over.

Out of these empty barrels, Bumble and Honey built ninety-nine new nests for the bees of the forest and their queens. When their work was done, Honey took Bumble’s hands, and they began to dance. Soon a thousand bees came flying from all corners of the forest and joined them. They swirled and whirled and danced around one another in a hundred thick clouds. There was one queen bee in each of them. And every cloud of bees formed the shape of a man or a woman, and these were the wedding guests. But one cloud became the wizard of the forest, and he gave to Bumble and Honey candles made of bee’s wax for their wedding gift. Then they all danced, Bumble and Honey and the wizard and the wedding guests made of bees. The bees’ buzzing filled the forest. It was like fiddles and flutes and drums, and it was sweeter than the sweetest music you have ever heard.

The next day, the bees moved into their new homes. Soon new flowers grew in the meadow that the soldiers had trampled, and the bees rejoiced. Honey and Bumble looked after them, and after their nests and their meadows. In return, the bees gave them three barrels full of the sweetest golden honey every year. The first barrel Bumble would carry to the castle to sell to the queen. The second barrel Honey would carry to the town to give to the children to share. But the third barrel they would keep for themselves. They would eat a little bit each day, so that it would last them the whole year.


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Bedtime Story written by Shabakuk Zeborius Anfang View Profile