Many, many years ago—well, it's so very, very long ago that no one can really tell how long ago it was—a number of grandees entered into a conspiracy against the king. But in spite of their power and arrogance he succeeded in laying them by the heels, and those who were not willing to swear submission to him there and then were all to lose their heads, which was only fair and just; for if one has not got more sense in one's head than to engage in such foolish undertakings, one may as WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR well do without a head.
But since they were all such grand folks, the king himself wanted to see that everything was carried out properly; and so he set out for the spot where the execution was to take place, which was some distance away in the country. The executioner was, of course, going there as well; but he was not then such a great personage as he is now, and did not travel in such state, either at the public expense or at his own. Oh no, he had to trudge and plod[Pg 162] along on his own legs, were the WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR distance ever so great.
So it happened that he got into the middle of a big forest just as night was setting in, and as there was no sign of any house where he could get lodgings, he looked about for a place where he could lie down and rest. But while he was walking about looking for one, he saw some smoke rising out of the earth, and then he discovered in the ground a trap door covered with turf. If the smoke had not been coming out through the chinks he would never have noticed WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR it.
While he stood wondering where the smoke came from, the trap door was lifted up, and the sooty and dishevelled head of a woman appeared in the opening.
"Bless the man!" said the woman, "have you lost your senses, standing there staring like that? The robbers will be home directly, and if they see you they'll pay you out for prying about here, and you'll never hear the cuckoo again," she said, and then she disappeared into the ground again.
The executioner was not easily frightened, but, 'he who does take care, will always safest WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR fare;' and so he quietly slunk away.
But as he trudged along he marked the trees with his axe; for 'when one knows where the wolf lives, one need not go to the furrier for his skin,' he thought.[Pg 163]
So by dint of walking and running he came at last to his destination; and what he had come there to do he did so satisfactorily that he was well rewarded, and the king himself thanked him for his able assistance. But since the king was so condescending as to speak to one whom other people would not be seen with, the WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR executioner thought he might as well have his say also, and so he told the king what he had seen in the forest. The king was greatly pleased to hear of this, for these robbers had done so much mischief to him and other folks that he would like to get hold of them.
"If I could only get some people to come with me," said the executioner, "I should be sure to catch them, for now I know where they are."
"Yes, that was all very well," thought the king; but he wanted to do this WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR business in his own way, for he was strong and bold beyond all bounds. He was so powerful, indeed, that no one ventured to wrestle with him, for he could throw one and all to the ground in less than no time.
"What do we want with people?" he said. "If you will only come with me and show me the way, I think we two might venture a bout with them," he said; "for you look no weakling either."
Well, the executioner had no objection to that, for it wasn't every day he was in such company, and WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR so they settled how they should set about it.
The king took off his crown and all his finery, and[Pg 164] then they dressed themselves up like the worst of tramps, and blackened their faces and tore their clothes into pieces, so that the rags hung and dangled about them. The king put a sword inside his trousers, and the executioner hid his axe under his jacket; and so they set out.
No sooner had they got into the forest than they met the robbers, of whom there were altogether twelve.
"Who are you?" asked he who seemed to be WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR their chief.
"We are a couple of miserable wretches, who are obliged to beg our bread," said the executioner. "We haven't tasted a morsel the whole day, and don't know what we are going to do for the night either," he said.
"There isn't much to be got out of you, poor beggars!" said the robber; "but that makes no difference. Since you have got into the forest you'll have to die, and no mistake," he said.
"God bless you for your pretty speech!" said the executioner, looking as miserable as he possibly could WHY THE EXECUTIONER IS CALLED ASSESSOR. "How lucky we were to fall in with you, for you know very well it's no pleasure to live when your stomach groans for food, and when you cannot get a morsel to satisfy it with. But since you are such a mighty lord, you might give us a good feed first, for, after all, it's hard to die on an empty stomach."