High above the city of Pest, in a town called Buda, overlooking the Danube River, is a place called the Fisherman’s Bastion. The Bastion is a fortress to honor the brave fishermen who defended the city from tribes who tried to conquer the city many years ago. The bastion has many stairs and seven towers from which you can see for many miles.
The bastion is in a country called Hungary. There lived a young boy called Henry. Henry lived in a small house in Buda with his parents. Henry was a happy boy who walked to school each day – up the steep hill from his home. After school, he walked home down the same steep hill, sometimes stopping at the playground in the park. He never played too long because he did not want to worry his mother and father. When he got home, his mother gave him a big bowl of goulash to eat. Goulash is a special soup very much loved by the people of Hungary. It is a red color because it is flavored with a special spice called paprika. It has beef, potatoes, celery root, carrots, garlic and onion as well. Very yummy! Henry especially loved to eat goulash and ate his very quickly.
One day, when Henry came home after school, his mother looked very sad. Henry sat at the table, hoping she would feed him his goulash. Henry became hungrier and hungrier as he sat there but his mother did not bring the goulash.
“What’s wrong, mother?” Asked Henry, “Why are we not eating our goulash?”
“Oh, Henry,” said his mother, “I tried to make the goulash today but the paprika was gone. Missing from the cupboard where I keep it! I thought perhaps I set it somewhere else so I looked all over the house. No paprika! I went next door to borrow some from Mrs. Liszt but she said her paprika was missing as well. We cannot make goulash without paprika.”
Henry felt very sad when he heard this news but, being a very brave boy, he did not start to cry. Instead, being a very clever boy, he decided to help his mother find the paprika. He thought he would climb to the top of the hill and look around. He might be able to see the paprika bandit from there.
He started up the steep hill. Along the way, he saw his friend Leopold, walking along slowly with his head hung down.
“Hey, Leopold,” said Henry, “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” said Leopold, “We have no paprika so we can’t eat goulash. I am very hungry.”
“We have no paprika either,” said Henry. “Would you like to come to the top of the hill with me? We may be able to see the paprika bandit from there.”
“Oh yes,” said Leopold, looking a little bit brighter.
So Henry and Leopold set out. Along the way, the met Gretchen and Hilda, two other children from the village. Their parents had no paprika either so they decided to follow Henry and Leopold up the hill.
When they got to the Bastion, the children climbed the steps into the central tower. From there they could see the whole town of Buda and the town of Pest across the river.
They saw farmers in the potato fields but no paprika bandit.
They saw grape pickers in the vineyards but no paprika bandit.
They saw women pushing baby carriages but no paprika bandit.
The children were beginning to get discouraged when clever Henry said he had a new idea.
“Follow me,” said Henry.
The children climbed down the stairs from the tower. Henry led them across the top of the hill and down just a bit until they saw where he was going. In the steep, rocky hill, there was carved a labyrinth. This was a dark tunnel that wound its way through the rocks. The children had never dared go into the labyrinth because their parents told them not to. The people of the town believed if someone went in, they might never come out.
But Henry was not only brave, he was very clever, as I mentioned before. He told the children to gather up as many rocks as they could carry.
“We will make cairns,” said Henry, “So we will know how to get back out.”
“What’s a cairn?” asked Leopold, who was not as clever as Henry.
“It’s a pile of rocks we will use to make our trail through the labyrinth. We will build one at every turn so we know how to get back out,” said Henry.
So the children set off, into the labyrinth, building cairns as they went. It was dark in the tunnels so they felt the walls with their hands as they walked along.
Suddenly, they heard a deep, gruff voice
“Who goes there?” It said.
“It is I, Henry,” said Henry. “Who are you? And where are you?”
“I am up ahead, follow my voice,” said the creature.
The children were afraid but they followed brave Henry as he led them on.
When they turned a corner, they saw a man unlike any they had seen before. He was very short – shorter than the children. He was stocky and wore a green jacket and pants. He had a long beard and on his head he wore a tall pointy red hat.
“My name is Henry,” said Henry, “What is your name?”
“My name is Franz, ” said the creature. “Why have you come to my house? I don’t remember inviting you.”
“We are searching for paprika,” said Henry. “All the paprika in town has vanished and we can’t make our goulash.”
“Well,” said the gnome, as that is what he was, “I may know a thing or two about that.”
“Oh please help us,” said Henry, “We are very hungry.”
The gnome motioned for the children to follow him into the next part of the cave. When they got there, their eyes opened wide. There was paprika – in tins and sacks – piled everywhere.
“Are you the paprika bandit?” asked Henry.
“I am no bandit,” said the gnome. “I have just borrowed the paprika. I will give it back on one condition.”
“What is that?” Asked Henry, anxious to get the paprika back.
“I would like to get a bowl of goulash every day. No one ever makes soup for me and I am very hungry,” said Franz the gnome.
“Agreed,” said Henry and the children gathered up all the paprika to return it to its owners.
After that day, Henry brought the gnome a thermos of goulash every day on his way home from school. He followed the cairns through the tunnel to the gnome’s home.
Henry and the gnome became good friends. The gnome was very old. He was alive when the brave fishermen defended the town against the tribes that were trying to conquer it. Since the fishermen were very brave, like Henry, they were not afraid of the gnome. They brought him fresh fish to eat every day. But when the fishermen died, no one brought food to the gnome. The townspeople were afraid to go into the labyrinth. The poor gnome had not eaten for 800 years. It’s no wonder he became very crabby.
But now, he was his old self. After all, eating goulash makes everyone happy.