Long long ago there lived an old king who was very sad. And why should he not be so? He had been suffering from a painful disease for a long time. Not even the best doctors in his kingdom or in other countries could find a cure for it. The disease weakened the king and pained him so much that he went so far as to declare that he would marry off his daughter to whoever could cure him of his illness.
One day, a snake appeared in the royal court and paid its respects to the king.
“What do you want?” asked the amazed king.
“Good lord, I heard that you have long been a patient of some seemingly incurable disease. My body has some gall whose curative powers are wonderful. It so happens that nobody dies out of my sting, but rather has his or her health improved due to the beneficent powers of my venom. I would advise you try it and see.”
The king and his courtiers were hesitant at first. But the snake talking in a human voice was itself a miraculous thing and the agony of his illness proved too strong for fears of the king. After some thought, he allowed the snake to bite him. The snake bit the king and the monarch fell as if dead. A cry went out from all present in the court but the snake shouted,
“Quiet, he is only in a daze. He will recover soon.”
And truly did the king recover. Soon the great monarch stood upright. His illness was gone and he thanked the snake a million times for his favor. As promised, he got the snake married to his youngest daughter, Maria.
Maria was very sad when she learned that she was being married off to a snake. But on the night after her marriage, she was overjoyed to see a handsome prince sitting in her bed. The snake was no ordinary serpent. He was actually Don Juan, a prince who had been changed into this form by an enchantment. However, he was allowed to regain his human form only at night.
The life of snake and the monotonous days in the royal household seemed to stifle Don Juan. A few days after marriage, he requested Maria to allow him to go for a walk around the city. Maria kept his request and he secretly continued his nocturnal adventures more than once.
But the other daughters of the king came to know about the ‘stranger’ in Maria’s room and one night, when the prince was away, as usual, they questioned Maria about the secret of the man who could be spotted only at night in the royal household. As instructed by Don Juan, Maria kept mum about her husband’s secret till her sisters tied her to a tree that contained the nest of red ants. The ants bit Maria all over till she could endure no longer and told her sisters about the truth of Don Juan. Satisfied, the sisters let him go.
But on that day, the prince did not return before daybreak, as was his custom. From that day, he was nowhere to be seen and nowhere to be found. While the king’s men looked everywhere for the snake, Maria looked all around for her prince. She asked the birds and she asked the trees. She asked the bees and she asked the ants. She asked for the flowers and she asked for the clouds. But none could tell her of Don Juan. Tired and gloomy, she slept under a tree which was barren of leaves, except for three large ones at the very top. Soon she fell fast asleep under it.
In her dream, she saw her husband lying ill in a house nearby. She saw that he was having the leaves of that same tree under which she was sleeping and then, he was smiling at her.
As soon as she awoke, she climbed the tree and got the leaves and searched for the house that she saw in her dreams. Soon she found it and entered through its gate.
But as she came near the door of the house she found a black woman standing before her. On being asked about Don Juan, the woman replied,
“Yes, he is here. But he is very ill.”
“Please let me meet him. I have got these magical leaves which may cure him of his disease.” cried Maria.
“You can save him if you follow my orders,” said the woman. “You must live as my servant and you will not be allowed to live with your husband. But you may serve him whenever you need it. He will not recognize you, for I am going to cast a spell on you and change you into an ugly woman.”
“But why are you doing so?” asked an amazed Maria.
“I love the prince and I am going to make him my husband. I am a sorceress and I have broken the spell that he was under. That makes him live as a human for all times. I have also made him forget about his past life, including you. But I could not find a way to cure his recent illness. If you are prepared to obey me, I will save him.”
“Do as you want?” said Maria, “but please save Don Juan.”
“I will now turn you into an ugly girl. But I am also giving you this enchanted ring. Whenever you wear it, you will regain your beauty. But do not wear it before Don Juan and never dare to tell him about yourself or this ring, or I will kill both of you.”
The woman took the leaves to the prince and fed those to him. In no time did the prince regain his health. He had forgotten Maria and was ready to accept the sorceress as his wife for her immense assistance in curing him. The woman was overjoyed and Maria, who had been turned into an ugly lady shed her tears secretly. She served Don Juan everyday without telling him of herself.
But love goes beyond external beauty and the inner purity and loveliness of Maria drew Don Juan to her. He found himself attracted to this ugly lady and often sympathized with her. This earned Maria the wrath of the black woman.
Just a few nights before his marriage, Don Juan was taking a walk through the palatial house he was staying in. Suddenly, he heard a piece of sweet music. He followed the sound and found it coming from the direction of Maria’s room. The prince hesitated and then peeped through the keyhole of Maria’s room.
Now it so happened that the enchanted ring that Maria was given obtained her maids of honor, fine dresses, and a band which played sweet music. She made use of her ring every night when she was alone in her room Maria and it was the sound of this band that the prince had heard.
The prince was greatly astonished when he saw the ugly Maria being transformed into a beautiful woman. He began to remember who he was and that Maria was his wife. But he was horrified to see Maria throwing up a pair of scissors into the air. The scissors did not fall but remained suspended, as if waiting for orders to pierce Maria’s heart upon given the signal. It was indeed supposed to be the last night of her life, for the angry black woman had asked to end her life that very night and clear her way of marrying Don Juan.
Don Juan used all his strength to break open the door. He rushed into the room and caught the scissors just as they were falling.
Then Maria told him all that had happened to her. Together, they escaped from the house and went back to the prince’s own kingdom. The king was delighted to have his son back. Upon his orders, the black woman was put to death. Maria’s father was informed of the happy events. Don Juan and Maria lived happily ever after.