When Chickens and Ducks Looked Alike
copyright 1993 Robert Worgul
Once upon a time, in the village of Dorfchen, in the black forest of Germany, there lived a street musician named Hans. Hans was especially good at playing all manner of stringed instruments. Every chance he got he would play his guitar or banjo at festivals, parades, carnivals, bar mitzvahs, wakes, and village fairs. People threw money into the open guitar case. And that was the way Hans made his living.
There was one thing about Hans that was different from all the other musicians in town. He had six fingers on each hand. But this was to Hans advantage. It allowed him to play his instruments in ways no one thought possible. He played chords no one ever heard before. Children jumped up and down and danced merrily to his music. He was the envy of all the other musicians in the village. But unfortunately, the people of Dorfchen did not have much money to throw into the guitar case, so Hans had to find additional work to do.
This was not difficult to do. Having six fingers on each hand made him an excellent feather plucker,- and the people of Dorfchen enjoyed eating both chickens and ducks for Sunday dinner. Hans could pluck the feathers off a chicken or duck and get it ready for the oven in record time.
Now King Geizhalkonig lived in the black forest. It so happened that he loved chicken dinners but he hated the taste of duck. Several times a week he dined on his favorite meal- roast chicken, dressing, sweet potatoes, and apple pie. When people visited the castle, they dined on roast chicken. The cooks in all the inns and guest houses in the kingdom knew of the king’s love for chicken, and each chef tried to out-do the other in preparing savory chicken recipes for when the the king dined out. It was only natural, then, that Hans talent as a feather plucker would come to the attention of the king. So he was hired by king Geizhalkonig to be in charge of preparing the chickens for dinner.
King Geizalkonig was also a known miser. He was late to pay his debts, and sometimes, did not pay them at all. One day after eating a big chicken dinner, king Geizhalkonig took a walk in the woods. He heard the sound of hammering and went to investigate. There by a stream, he found an elf living in a large wine barrel, busy making shoes, and counting the coins in his pot of gold. The king was so impressed with the fine workmanship that he ordered a pair of shoes be made for him, and agreed to pay a piece of gold when they were finished.
The next day the king Geizhalkonig went to the elf’s home to get his new shoes.
“Pay me my gold piece”, said the elf. But the king said he forgot to bring the money and would pay the next day.
The elf was angry. He had hoped to add the gold piece to his pot of gold. He warned the king that if he was not paid, he would put a magic spell on the kingdom and make all the chickens and ducks look alike!
Now an elf’s spell lasts a hundred years unless the secret of how the spell can be broken is found.
And, since king Geizhalkonig did not pay, the elf put a spell on the chickens and ducks. No one could tell them apart. People who thought they were making duck soup found out it was chicken soup. Other people thought they were making fried chicken, only to find out when they sat down to eat it was fried duck. The king tried to find the elf to give him his gold piece, but the elf was gone.
But difficult as the spell was, there was one way that could be used to find out the difference between a chicken and a duck. It was discovered that if a person threw a foul into the creek that flowed near the village, if it swam, it would, of course, be a duck, and if it sank , it would, of course, be a chicken. The one main problem with this approach was that an alligator lived in the creek, and persons had to be real quick to get the sinking chickens before the alligator got them. This job fell to Hans since he was in charge of preparing the chickens for dinner. Many a times the alligator nipped at the seat of his pants as he was hurrying out of the creek with his chicken. He did not like this part of his job.
So the king put out a decree that if anyone could break the elf’s spell, he would tell them where to find a pot of gold. Many persons tried to break the spell, but to no avail.
One day, in a careless moment, Hans made a mistake and served the king a duck dinner. Geizhalkonig was furious. He threw Hans out of the castle. Since Hans had no place to sleep, he noticed an old barn and decided to sleep on the straw. The next morning when he awoke, he noticed a nest of eggs that where about to hatch. Hans was fascinated by what he saw, and began to play a tune on his guitar:
” So”, thought Hans, “the way to break the elf’s spell is to sing to the hatchlings and lead them out of town. The ducklings will fly south for the winter, and the chickens will go back to the coop. I will tell the good news to the king, and he will tell me where to get a pot of gold”
And that is what Hans did. But Geizhalkonig was not about to give Hans any of his gold. So, the king told Hans that the elf who lived in a wine barrel by the creek had a pot of gold, and the elf would give it to him if Hans kept looking him square in the eyes, until the pot of gold was handed over.
But elves are very tricky. He fooled Hans into looking away for just a moment, and when Hans looked back, the elf and the pot-of-gold were gone.
But everything turned out all right. The king gave back to Hans his job, the king enjoyed his chicken dinners once again, and Hans played his guitar and banjo on the street like he did before. Best of all, when the ducks flew back in the spring,they looked like ducks, and everyone was happy. Everything was back to normal as it should be.