The King and the Beggar Woman
Narrated by Abebe Kebede
Once upon a time there was this beggar woman who had a small hut, and she would leave her hut and go out begging. Although she was a beggar, she was one of the most beautiful women in the Empire.
Now one day, as she was walking out in the roads and begging, she met the King coming home from a tribunal. The King looked at this beautiful woman and was very much impressed by her, so he gave her a stick for brushing her teeth. The beggar took the stick home and after some time she conceived and she gave birth to a most handsome son.
Now the beggar woman didn’t want to take her child with her as she begged, therefore she would cover him up in rags whenever she used to go out. And she also named him “My Brushing Stick” (which is Ficwo-Ficicho in Sidaminya). So whenever she would go out, she would cover him up and go, and when she came, she would sing to make sure that he was all right. So whenever he heard her voice singing, he would come running out from under the rags and greet her.
But at other times if other people came, and he heard other voices, he just curled up and didn’t respond.
Now the king who had given her this brushing stick was married, and his main wife was barren and she couldn’t give birth. Then after some time, she heard about this beggar woman who had given birth to a very handsome son, so the queen stole the son from the beggar woman.
Now when the beggar woman came home, she began to sing, “Where are you, my Ficwo-Ficicho whom I have kept hidden in the rags, are you there?”
But there was no response. So she rushed in and looked everywhere, but her handsome son was gone. So the beggar woman began searching wide and far for her son and she searched and she searched.
Then one day she heard that the queen had said that she had given birth to a son and that there was rejoicing in the castle. Therefore she went over there, because she had heard previously that the queen was actually barren. So she goes to the palace looking for her son, and as she approaches there is a lot of feasting and dancing and singing and ululating, and she approached and said, “Excuse me, has anybody seen my son?”
And the servants over there said, “Who cares about your son? The queen has given birth, she has given birth to a prince and everybody is happy, they are rejoicing and they are very, very happy. Who cares about a poor beggar woman’s child? In fact you should go in and start eating and dancing too. Who cares about your child?”
But the beggar woman was very worried, so she walked around and she began singing, and she went, “Ficwo-Ficicho, my toothbrush son, who I used to hide amongst the rags, where are you? Are you anywhere around? Where is my son who I have brought up with all this problems?”
And from inside the palace, he sang back, “My dear mother, now I am covered up with robes. I can’t come to you because the robes weigh me down. What shall I do, my mother?” (The robe was actually a billaco, a thick white gabi).
On hearing her son’s voice, the beggar woman was excited, and she rushed right in and picked up her son and a general chaos ensued.
“What’s wrong? What’s going on?” the King asked, and he tried to find out what had actually happened.
“My Lord, my master,” the beggar woman said, “I was a poor beggar woman living by myself in a hut. Then one day on the road I met you, and you gave me a stick for brushing my teeth. I took that brushing stick home and I kept it in my hut, and after some time I conceived and I gave birth to a son. Look at the son.”
And when they looked at the boy, he was actually a big boy and not a newly born infant.
“So you see, my king, I have this son and your wife, the queen stole him from me and I have come to reclaim my son.”
The king was very impressed by the honesty of the beggar woman, and he was very angry because the queen had tried to deceive him by pretending that she had given birth to a child. Therefore he killed the queen, and married the beggar woman and made her the queen and his son became the prince, and they lived happily ever after.
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