The Boy and the Sword

Originally Published in 1915

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There was once a poor man who lived by tilling the soil. This man had one son who from his earliest infancy had expressed a desire to leave home and explore other lands.

“You are too little and too tender to leave me and wander about alone,” said the father. “Wait until you grow taller and your sinews are hard, for then will I give you my great sword and permission to go forth and wander where you will.”Hearing this, the boy went every day to the big sword and put forth all his strength to lift it—but he could not. However, he did not despond and straining his muscles day after day so increased his strength that at last he was not only able to lift the sword but to swing it around his head, and his father, seeing this, said, “Now, indeed, you have a man’s strength and a man’s right to go forth in search of adventure.”

Two women and a young girl carrying water jars on their heads
Fig. 83. — Indian women of Guatemala with water jars.

So the boy took the sword and joyfully set out. After he had walked for some days he came upon a giant throwing over great hills and said to him, “I go in search of adventure. Come and join me.” And the giant, whose name was Bota Cerros [Hill Thrower], went gladly with him. After these two had walked for some time they met Bota Palos [Tree Thrower], who was running about uprooting trees and throwing them from him. “Come with us,” said the boy to this giant, “for we walk towards the East in search of adventure.” Bota Palos gladly went with them and the three walked on until they came to the foot of a live mountain. In this mountain was a great treasure which no one could reach, because none had been able to find the door that gave access to it. At the foot of this live mountain the three rested at a spot where a great herd of bulls and cows was peacefully grazing. “Tomorrow,” said the boy to Bota Cerros, “you shall go with me to search for the door and Bota Palos shall stay here, kill a bull and prepare a soup for us when we return.” Bota Palos killed a fat bull and when the rich soup was bubbling and boiling, a great Hobgoblin drew near and said, “Give me of what is in the olla, for I hunger.” Bota Palos gave him a big gourdfull of boiling soup and flesh and bone, which he took at one swallow and demanded more, and he kept on asking for more and more until there was none left in the olla. Then he caused a deep sleep to come over Bota Palos and went away. The boy and Bata Cerros returning, found Bata Palos still sleeping, so they awakened him and when he related what had befallen him, the boy said, “Tomorrow you shall go with me and Bota Cerros shall remain here to prepare our soup.” On the next day the Hobgoblin returned, drank all the soup and put Bota Cerros to sleep. Then the boy said, “Tomorrow I shall remain here, and you two shall go in search of the door.” When Bota Cerros and Bata Palos returned without having discovered the door, they found the boy wide awake and the olla full of soup. And after they had eaten and were resting, the boy said to them, “The Hobgoblin came to visit me and I gave him a gourdfull of soup, but when he demanded more I drew my sword and cut off one of his buttocks and then he ran howling away.” “And where is the great ugly buttock?” asked the giants. “In your bellies,” answered the boy, “for I threw it in to replenish the olla.” “It is well,” said the giants, and then they slept. When they awoke, the boy said to Bota Palos, “Now you must follow the drops of the Hobgoblin’s blood, enter the door of the mountain and slay him. Bota Palos set out, but at nightfall he returned, saying, “It is true that I have slain the Hobgoblin, but beyond him is El Sombreron [The Big Hat] that I dared not attack.” Then the boy said to Bota Cerros, “Tomorrow you shall go into the door of the mountain which is alive, kill El Sombreron and bring forth the treasure.” Bota Cerros set off, entered the door, passed the dead Hobgoblin and came to the place where El Sombreron dwelt and after a mighty fight slew him, hut beyond El Sombreron was El Sisemite that Bota Cerros dared not attack, so he returned to his companions and said, “El Sombreron I have slain, but El Sisemite I dared not attack, for fear of him weakened my arms.” Then the boy said to Bota Palos and Bota Cerros, “You two remain here and I shall go and slay El Sisemite, for with my good sword I am without fear.” The boy slew El Sisemite, that in dying so screamed and yelled that the hills trembled, but beyond El Sisemite in a great deep cave dwelt a giant, the owner of the live mountain. So the boy called Bota Cerros and Bota Palos to him, and seeing the dead Sisemite they said one to the other, “This boy is mightier than we and only by artifice may we slay him and get possession of his sword.” “Now,” said the boy, “we shall make a great rope.” So the three set to work and twisted a rope of roots and bark—and the boy let down by the giants came to the bottom of the cave where Dientes Grandes [Big Teeth] lived. His eye teeth reached his belly and his stomach teeth touched his eyes, and his sinews stood out in great knobs all over his body. With one stroke of his sword the boy cut off this monster’s head. Then he freed a beautiful princess, the daughter of a mighty cacique, that had been held in captivity, and filling his bag with jewels and treasure, slung it over his shoulder. Then he took his great sword and the beautiful princess in his arms and having tied the rope about his waist called to Bota Palos and Bota Cerros to draw him up. “The flesh of the Hobgoblin has so weakened our stomach that we have no strength,” answered these giants, “to lift such a weight. You alone, the sword, the princess or the treasure we can haul up, but any two of you are too much for us.” “So be it,” said the boy, who then tied the rope around the girl, who was drawn up by the giants. They also drew up the treasure and after it the sword, but when they had done this they hurled a great boulder into the door of the live mountain and prepared to depart. Bota Palos took up the princess, Bata Cerros the bag of treasure, but not even their combined strength could raise the sword from where it lay. The boy, finding himself a prisoner, walked about the cave of the dead giant Big Teeth until he came to a place where an old witch lived and when he had told her his trouble she said, “I will lend thee my magic horse which will take thee out by my own door.” The horse of the witch took the boy from the cave, but left him lost in the woods not knowing which path to take. So he wandered about until he came to the place where the Duende lived, who told him that iota Palos and Bota Cerros by shouts and yells had called the other giants about them to see if among them there might be one stronger than they who could lift the sword. Then the Duende pointed out the road to the blocked up mouth of the live mountain and changed him so that the giants would not know him when he arrived there. “I am come,” cried the boy, “to lift up the sword.” And the giants, seeing him so little, said, “Lift it then,” and he lifted it and swung it round and round until he had cut every giant in two. Then he picked up the bag of treasure, took the princess by the hand and they walked towards the east until they came to her father’s palace, where they were married.

Two men and a donkey or horse carrying large baskets on their back through town
Fig. 84. — Indian charcoal carriers in a Guatemala village.

Cite This Article

"The Boy and the Sword." The Museum Journal VI, no. 3 (September, 1915): 125-129. Accessed February 21, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/422/


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