The King with a Horse’s Ears
A Legend from Ireland
A long time ago in Ireland, there was a king who had ruled for many years. There were two strange things about this king: first, he always wore a hood over his head. And the second strange thing about him was that he only got his hair cut once a year. And every year, the person who cut his hair always disappeared. The people all suspected that the king killed this person every year. Of course, nobody wanted to cut the king’s hair. But the king set up a lottery, and every year, he chose one person from the town to cut his hair.
One year, the king chose a young man named Liam. On the day of the haircut, Liam went to the king’s palace. His hands were shaking with fear. Liam was terrified that today would be the last day of his life.
“Welcome,” the king said to Liam. “It’s your turn to cut my hair.”
Liam only nodded his head miserably.
Slowly, the king took off his hood. Liam saw what the king had been hiding underneath: his huge ears! The king’s ears were big and ugly, like a horse’s ears. Now that Liam knew the king’s secret, he understood why all the previous people who cut his hair had disappeared. The king was probably so embarrassed about his ears that he killed anyone who saw them.
Liam didn’t want to die, but he knew that he had no choice. He picked up the scissors and started to cut the king’s hair. When he finished, the king put his hood back on his head. Liam kneeled down in front of the king and cried, “Please, please, let me go! Don’t kill me! I have an elderly mother who I need to take care of! If I don’t go back home, there won’t be anyone to take care of her!”
But the king answered, “No! You know that I can’t let you go now that you know my secret!”
“Please!” Liam continued. “I promise that I will never tell anyone your secret! Please, believe me! You can trust me!”
The king looked at Liam, who was down on his knees and crying. The king felt sorry for him and felt compassion for him. “Alright, alright, stop crying!” the king said. “I’ll let you go, if you promise me you will never tell anyone my secret. But if I find out that you told someone, I will find you, and I will give you a horrible punishment!”
“Yes, yes, I understand,” Liam replied. “I will take your secret to my grave. Thank you so much!”
Liam went back home and returned to his normal life. For the first several weeks back at home, Liam was just happy and thankful to be alive. But as the time passed, Liam started to feel worse and worse. It was very difficult for him to keep such a huge secret. He couldn’t stand it! He needed to tell someone about the king’s ears. He had to work so hard to keep the secret that he started to become very sick. His body became weak, and he could barely walk. One day, he couldn’t even get out of bed.
Liam’s mother asked the doctor to find out what was wrong with him. When the doctor came to their house, he asked Liam many questions about his health.
“I know why I’m sick,” Liam told the doctor. “It’s because I am keeping a very big, important secret, and I can’t tell anybody about it.”
The doctor thought about the problem and then told Liam, “Tonight, go outside to the woods. Find a tree, and whisper to it. Tell the tree your secret. You can free yourself of the secret, but you won’t have to worry about the tree telling anyone.”
Liam took the doctor’s advice. That night, he used the little bit of strength he still had, and he walked into the forest. He found a nice-looking tree, leaned close to it, and whispered his secret. Immediately, Liam felt much better. His sickness went away, and he felt strong again. He ran home happily.
Several weeks later, a musician was walking through the forest. He saw a beautiful tree—the same tree that Liam had told his secret to. The musician thought, This is a wonderful tree! The wood from this tree will be perfect to make a new violin!
The musician cut down the tree and used it to make a violin. The violin made such beautiful music that the musician quickly became famous throughout the town. Everyone who listened to his music loved it. The king heard about the music, and he asked the musician to come play for him at a big party he was having the next day. There were going to be 500 guests.
At the party the next evening, the musician picked up his violin and started to play. But something strange happened: the violin—which was made with wood from the tree that knew the king’s secret—could not keep the secret. Instead of playing music, the violin yelled out, “The king has ears like a horse! The king has ears like a horse! The king has ears like a horse!”
The king’s face turned red from embarrassment. He looked around the room at everyone watching him. But the king was amazed to see that nobody laughed at him. They didn’t make fun of him. The king realized that maybe it was the right time to show everyone the truth.
The king stood up so everyone could see him, and he took off his hood. The 500 guests didn’t laugh but, instead, started to clap. They admired him for his bravery.
Finally, the king felt happy and free. From that day on, he never wore his hood, and he never again killed the people who cut his hair.