47. The Past Never Passes
A king was unmarried for a long time. He wanted to marry only the most beautiful woman of his kingdom. So he waited.
Once a beautiful gypsy woman came walking through the streets of his capital, telling fortunes. The king had never seen so much beauty in one person. The only thing that was wrong with her in the king's eyes was that she was slim, even thin. He thought, poor thing, she has lived a wandering beggar's life and she hasn't had enough food to eat. If she married him and lived in a palace, and got fed by the best cooks, she would fill out and flourish. Then there would be no one equal to her in beauty, not even in the world of gods, he thought.
He sent for her. Through his ministers, he proposed marriage to her, and married her in a splendid ceremony.
But the gypsy queen didn't put on weight and round out her angles as the king expected her to. Instead, she lost weight day by day and seemed to pine away. A month after the wedding, she was thin as a reed. In two months, she was thinner than a reed. The third month, everyone wondered if she would live. The king, in his anxiety, called in the doctors, who examined her and said there was nothing wrong with her. When he was making himself sick with worry, the minister said, “If you won't get angry with me, I'll tell you something that might help.”
“Her Majesty, if you'll remember, begged for food and ate leftovers till she came to the palace. So I suggest that you change her food. Don't serve her royal dinners. Leave food, the kind she likes, in various places in the palace, in cupboards and windowsills and ledges. Leave broken bread, rice, and fried vegetables. Let her find it on her own. She'll eat better and will flourish. She has to get used to a palace.”
The king was willing to try anything, even this unusual remedy, for the queen's illness. Arrangements were made according to the minister's advice. The queen began to find a piece of bread in a hole, a handful of vegetables on a windowledge. So she ate piecemeal as she had always done. In a week, her body rounded out and seemed even to emit rays of light.
The king was happy and said, “The past—its smells are never lost, are they?”
[NKTT, but cf. Motif D 551, Transformation by eating.]