ROUMANIAN FAIRY TALES
ADAPTED AND ARRANGED
J. M. PERCIVAL
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
HENRY HOLT & CO.
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This collection contains translations of Roumanian tales which, however, comprise but a small portion of the inexhaustible treasure that exists in the nation. The originals are scattered throughout Roumanian literature. The finest collection is Herr P. Ispirescu's, from which the stories numbered in the contents 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, and 17 in the present volume have been selected. No. 11 is taken from Herr T. M. Arsenie's small collection; the others have been drawn from the columns of the periodical Convorbiri Literare. Of these Nos. 5 and 14 are by the pen of Herr J. Creanga, No. 9 is the work of Herr Miron Pompilin, while Nos. 1, 3, 7, 16 and 18 are by Herr Slavice, who wrote No. 15 specially for this volume, in the Roumanian language, just as it was related to him by the peasants.
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1. STAN BOLOVAN
2. THE WONDERFUL BIRD
3. THE TWINS WITH THE GOLDEN STAR
4. YOUTH WITHOUT AGE AND LIFE WITHOUT DEATH
5. THE LITTLE PURSE WITH TWO HALF-PENNIES
6. MOGARZEA AND HIS SON
7. CUNNING ILEANE
8. THE PRINCESS AND THE FISHERMAN
9. LITTLE WILD-ROSE
10. THE VOICE OF DEATH
11. THE OLD WOMAN AND THE OLD MAN
12. THE PEA EMPEROR
13. THE MORNING STAR AND THE EVENING STAR
14. THE TWO STEP-SISTERS
15. THE POOR BOY
16. MOTHER'S DARLING JACK
18. THE FAIRY AURORA
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Once upon a time, something happened. If it hadn't happened, it wouldn't be told.
At the edge of the village, where the peasants' oxen break through the hedges and the neighbors' hogs wallow in the ground under the fences, there once stood a house. In this house lived a man, and the man had a wife; but the wife grieved all day long.
"What troubles you, dear wife, that you sit there drooping like a frost-bitten bud in the sunlight?" her husband asked one day. "You have all you need. So be cheerful, like other folks."
"Let me alone, and ask no more questions!" replied the wife, and became still more melancholy than before.
Her husband questioned her the second time, and received the same reply. But, when he asked again, she answered more fully.
"Dear me," she said, "why do you trouble your head about it? If you know, you'll be just sorrowful as I am. It's better for me not to tell you."
But, to this, people will never agree. If you tell a person he must sit still, he is more anxious to move than ever. Stan was now determined to know what was in his wife's mind.
"If you are determined to hear, I'll tell you," said the wife. "There's no luck in the house, husband,—there's no luck in the house!"
"Isn't the cow a good one? Are not the fruit-trees and bee-hives full? Are not the fields fertile?" asked Stan. "You talk nonsense, if you complain of any thing."
"But, husband, we have no children."
Stan understood; and, when a man realizes such a thing, it isn't well. From this time, a sorrowful man and a sorrowful woman lived in the house on the edge of the village. And they were sorrowful because the Lord had given them no children. When the wife saw her husband sad, she grew still more melancholy; and the more melancholy she was, the greater his grief became.
This continued for a long time.
They had masses repeated and prayers read in all the churches. They questioned all the witches, but God's gift did not come.
One day, two travelers arrived at Stan's house, and were joyfully received and entertained with the best food he had. They were angels in disguise; and, perceiving that Stan and his wife were good people, one of them, while throwing his knapsack over his shoulder to continue his journey, asked his host what he most desired, and said that any three of his wishes should be fulfilled.
"Give me children," replied Stan.
"What else shall I give you?"
"Children, sir, give me children!"
"Take care," said the angel, "or there will be too many of them. Have you enough to support them?"
"Never mind that, sir,—only give them to me!"
The travelers departed; but Stan accompanied them as far as the high-road, that they might not lose their way among the fields and woods.
When Stan reached home again, he found the house, yard, and garden filled with children, in all not less than a hundred. Not one was larger than the other; but each was more quarrelsome, bolder, more mischievous and noisier than the rest. And, in some way, God made Stan feel and know that they all belonged to him and were his.
"Good gracious! What a lot of them!" he cried, standing in the midst of the throng.
"But not too many, husband," replied his wife, bringing a little flock with her.
Then followed days which can only be experienced by a man who has a hundred children. The house and village echoed with shouts of "father" and "mother," and the world was full of happiness.
But taking care of children isn't so simple a matter. Many pleasures come with many troubles, and many troubles with many joys. When, after a few days, the children began to shout, "Father, I'm hungry!" Stan began to scratch his head. There did not seem to him to be too many children, for God's gift is good, however large it may be; but his barns were too small, the cow was growing thin, and the fields did not produce enough.
"I'll tell you what, wife," said Stan one day, "it seems to me that there isn't much harmony in our affairs. As God was good enough to give us so many children, He ought to have filled the measure of His goodness, and sent us food for them, too."
"Search for it, husband," the wife answered. "Who knows where it may be concealed? The Lord never does a thing by halves."
Stan went out into the wide world to find God's gift. He was firmly resolved to return home laden with food.
Aha! The road of the hungry is always a long one. A man doesn't earn food for a hundred greedy children in a trice. Stan wandered on, on, on, till he had fairly run himself off his feet. When he had thus arrived nearly at the end of the world, where what is mixes with what is not, he saw in the distance, in the middle of a field which lay spread out as flat as a cake, a sheep-fold. By it stood seven shepherds, and in the shadow within lay a flock of sheep.
"Lord, help me," said Stan, and went up to the fold to see whether, by patience and discretion, he might not find some employment there. But he soon discovered that there was not much more hope here than in the other places whither he had journeyed. This was the state of affairs: every night, at precisely twelve o'clock, a furious dragon came and took from the herd a ram, a sheep, and a lamb, three animals in all. He also carried milk enough for seventy-seven lambkins to the old she-dragon, that she might bathe in it and grow young. The shepherds were very angry about it, and complained bitterly. So Stan saw that he was not likely to return home from here richly laden with food for his children.
But there is no spur more powerful than for a man to see his children starving. An idea entered Stan's head, and he said boldly, "What would you give me, if I released you from the greedy dragon?"
"One of each three rams shall be yours, one-third of the sheep, and one-third of the lambs," replied the shepherds.
"Agreed," said Stan; yet he felt rather anxious, lest he might find it too hard to drive the flock home alone.
But there was no hurry about that. It was some time before midnight. And besides, to tell the truth, Stan did not exactly know how he was to get rid of the dragon. "The Lord will send me some clever plan," he said to himself, and then counted the flock again to see how many animals he would have.
Just at midnight, when day and night, weary of strife, for a moment stood still, Stan felt that he was about to see something he had never beheld before. It was something that can not be described. It is a horrible thing to have a dragon come. It seemed as if the monster was hurling huge rocks at the trees, and thus forcing a way through primeval forests. Even Stan felt that he should be wise to take the quickest way off, and enter into no quarrel with a dragon. Ah! but his children at home were starving.
"I'll kill you or you shall kill me!" Stan said to himself, and remained where he was, close by the sheep-fold.
"Stop!" he cried, when he saw the dragon near the fold; and he shouted as though he was a person of importance.
"H'm," said the dragon: "where did you come from, that you screech at me so?"
"I am Stan Bolovan, who at night devours rocks and by day grazes on the trees of the primeval forests; and if you touch the flock, I'll cut a cross on your back, and bathe you in holy water."
When the dragon heard these words, he stopped in the midst of his career; for he saw that he had found his match.
"But you must first fight with me," replied the dragon, hesitatingly.
"I fight with you?" cried Stan. "Beware of the words that have escaped your lips. My breath is stronger than your whole body." Then, taking from his knapsack a piece of white cheese, he showed it to the dragon. "Do you see this stone?" he said. "Pick one up from the bank of yonder stream, and we'll try our strength."
The dragon took a stone from the shore of the brook.
"Can you squeeze buttermilk out of the stone?" asked Stan.
The dragon crushed the stone in his hand, so that he crumbled it into powder. But he squeezed no buttermilk from it.
"It can't be done," he said rather angrily.
"I'll show you whether it can be done," replied Stan, and then squeezed the soft cheese in his hand, till the buttermilk trickled down between his fingers.
When the dragon saw this, he began to look about him to find the shortest road to run away; but Stan placed himself before the forest. "Let us have a little reckoning about what you have taken from the fold," he said. "Nothing is given away here."
The poor dragon would have taken flight, if he hadn't been afraid that Stan might blow behind him, and bury him under the trees in the forest. So he stood still, like a person who doesn't know what else to do.
"Listen!" he said, after a while. "I see that you are a useful man. My mother has long been looking for a servant like you, but has not been able to find one. Enter our service. The year has three days, and each day's wages is seven sacks of ducats!"
Three times seven sacks of ducats! A fine business! That was just what Stan needed. "And," he thought, "if I've outwitted the dragon, I can probably get the better of his mother!" So he didn't waste many words about the matter, but set off with the monster. A long, rough road; but still it was too short, since it led to a bad end. It seemed to Stan as if he had arrived almost before he started.
The old she-dragon, old as Time itself, was waiting for them. She had made a fire under the huge caldron, in which she meant to boil the milk and mix it with the blood of a lamb and the marrow from its bones, that the liquid might have healing power. Stan saw her eyes glistening in the darkness when they were still three gun-shots off. But, when they reached the spot and the she-dragon perceived that her son had brought her nothing, she was very angry. This she-dragon was by no means lovable. She had a wrinkled face, open jaws, tangled hair, sunken eyes, parched lips, and a breath reeking with the smell of onions.
"Stay here," said the dragon. "I'll go and make arrangements with my mother."
Stan would willingly have stood still further off, but he had no choice now that he had once entered upon this evil business. So he let the dragon go on.
"Listen, mother!" said the dragon, when he had entered the house. "I've brought you a man to get rid of. He's a terrible fellow, who eats pieces of rock and squeezes buttermilk out of stones." Then he told her what had happened.
"Just leave him to me," she said, after hearing the whole story. "No man ever slipped through my fingers."
So the matter remained as it had first been settled. Stan Bolovan became the servant of this monster and his mother. A terrible fix! I really don't know what will come of it.
The next day, the she-dragon gave him his task. They were to give a signal to the dragon world with a club sheathed in seven thicknesses of iron. The dragon raised the club and hurled it three miles, then he set off with Stan, that he might also throw it three miles, or, if possible, further still. When Stan reached the club, he began to look at it rather anxiously. He saw that he and all his children together could not even lift it from the ground.
"Why are you standing there?" asked the dragon.
"Why, you see, it's such a handsome club. I'm sorry," replied Stan.
"Sorry? Why?" inquired the dragon.
"Because," answered Stan, "I'm afraid you'll never see it again in your whole life, if I throw it; for I know my own strength."
"Don't fear. Just throw it," replied the dragon.
"If you really mean it, we'll first go and get provisions enough to last three days; for we shall have to travel at least three days, if not longer, to get it."
These words frightened the dragon, but he did not yet believe that it would be so bad as Stan said. So they went home for the provisions, though he wasn't at all pleased with the idea of having Stan serve his year in merely going after the club. When they got back again to it, Stan sat down on the bag of provisions and became absorbed in staring at the moon.
"What are you doing?" asked the dragon.
"Only waiting for the moon to sail by."
"Don't you see that the moon is directly in my way?" said Stan. "Or do you want me to fling the club into the moon?"
The dragon now began to be seriously anxious. It was a club that had descended to him from his ancestors, and he wouldn't have liked to lose it in the moon.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "Don't throw the club. I'll do it myself."
"Certainly not. Heaven forbid!" replied Stan. "Only wait till the moon passes by."
Then a long conversation followed; for Stan would not consent to have the dragon throw the club again, except on the promise of seven sacks of ducats.
"Oh, dear! mother, he's a tremendously strong man," said the dragon. "I could scarcely prevent him from throwing the club into the moon."
The she-dragon began to be anxious, too. Just think of it! Would it be a joke to have a person able to throw any thing into the moon? She was a she-dragon of true dragon blood, however, and the next day had thought of a still harder task.
"Bring some water," she said early in the morning, and gave each twelve buffalo skins, ordering them to fill them by evening, and fetch them all home at once.
They went to the well; and, before one could wink, the dragon had filled the twelve skins, and was in the act of carrying them back. Stan was tired, he had scarcely been able to drag the empty skins along. A chill ran through his veins, when he thought of the full ones. What do you suppose he did? He pulled a worn-out knife blade from his belt, and began to scratch the earth around the well with it.
"What are you doing?" asked the dragon.
"I'm not a blockhead, that I should go to the labor of filling the skins with water," replied Stan.
"But how will you carry the water to the house, then?"
"How? Just as you see," said Stan. "I'm going to take the well, you goose!"
The dragon stood with his mouth wide-open in amazement. He wouldn't have had this done on any account, for the well was one that had belonged to his ancestors.
"I'll tell you," he said anxiously, "let me carry your skins home, too."
"Certainly not. Heaven forbid!" replied Stan, digging on around the well.
Now, another long discussion followed; and this time, too, the dragon could only persuade Stan by promising him seven sacks of ducats.
On the third day, that is the last one, the she-dragon sent them into the forest for wood.
Before one could count three, the dragon tore up more trees than Stan had ever seen before in his whole life, and piled them up together. But Stan began to examine the trees, chose the very finest, climbed up into one and tied its top with a wild grape-vine to the next. So, without saying a word, he continued to fasten one splendid tree to another.
"What are you doing there?" asked the dragon.
"You see what I am doing," replied Stan, working quietly on.
"Why are you tying the trees together?"
"Why, to save myself unnecessary work in pulling them up one by one," said Stan.
"But how are you going to carry them home?"
"I shall take the whole forest, you goose! Can't you understand that?" said Stan, continuing to fasten them together.
The dragon now felt as if he wanted to take to his heels, and never stop until he reached home.
But he was afraid that he should suddenly find Stan pulling the whole forest down on his head.
This time, as it was the end of the year's service, it seemed as if the discussion would never cease. Stan did not want to listen at all, but had set his mind upon flinging the forest on his back at any rate.
"I'll tell you what," said the dragon, trembling with fear, "your wages shall be seven times seven sacks of ducats. Content yourself with that."
"Well, be it so, as I see you are a good fellow," replied Stan, and agreed that the dragon should carry the wood for him.
The year was now over. Stan was anxious only about one things—how he was to drag so many ducats home.
In the evening, the dragon and his mother sat talking together in their room; but Stan listened in the entry.
"Woe betide us!" said the dragon: "this fellow upsets us terribly. Give him money, even more than he has, only let us get rid of him."
Ah, yes! but the she-dragon cared for money.
"Let me tell you one thing," she said: "you must kill this man to-night."
"I am afraid of him, mother," he answered in terror.
"Have no fear," replied his mother. "When you see that he is asleep, take your club and strike him in the middle of the forehead."
So it was agreed. Ah, yes! but Stan always had a bright idea at the right time. When he saw that the dragon and his mother had put out the light, he took the pig's trough, and laid it bottom upward in his place, covered it carefully with a shaggy coat, and lay down himself under the bed, where he began to snore like a person who is sound asleep.
The dragon went out softly, approached the bed, raised his club, and struck one blow on the spot where Stan's head ought to have been. The trough sounded hollow, Stan groaned, and the dragon tiptoed back again.
Stan then crept out from under the bed, cleaned it, and lay down, but was wise enough not to close an eye all night long.
The dragon and his mother were rigid with amazement when they saw Stan come in the next morning as sound as an egg.
"Good morning; but how did you sleep last night?"
"Very well," replied Stan. "Only I dreamed that a flea bit me just here on the forehead, and it seems as if it still pained me."
"Just listen to that, mother!" cried the dragon. "Did you hear? He talks about a flea, and I hit him with my club!"
This was too much for the she-dragon. She perceived that it isn't worth while to argue with such people. So they hastened to fill his sacks, in order to get rid of him as quickly as possible. But poor Stan now began to perspire. When he stood beside the bags, he trembled like an aspen leaf, because he was unable to lift even one of them from the ground. So he stood staring at them.
"Why are you standing there?" asked the dragon.
"H'm! I'm waiting," replied Stan, "because I would rather stay with you another year. I'm ashamed to have any body see me carry away so little at one time. I'm afraid people will say, 'Look at Stan Bolovan, who in one year has grown as weak as a dragon.'"
Now, it was the two dragons' turn to be frightened.
They vainly told him that they would give him seven—nay, three times seven or even seven times seven—sacks of ducats, if he would only go away.
"I'll tell you what," said Stan, at last. "As I see you don't want to keep me, I won't force you to do so. Have it your own way. I'll go. But, that I need not be ashamed before the people, you must carry this treasure home for me."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when the dragon picked up the sacks and set off with Stan.
Short and smooth, yet always too long, is the road that leads home. But, when Stan found himself close to his house, and heard his children's shouts, he began to walk slower. It seemed too near; for he was afraid that, if the dragon knew where he lived, he might come to take away the treasure. Only he was puzzled to find any way of carrying his money home alone.
"I really don't know what to do," he said, turning to the dragon. "I have a hundred hungry children, and fear you may fare badly among them, because they are very fond of fighting. But just behave sensibly, and I'll protect you as well as I can."
A hundred children! That's no joke! The dragon—though a dragon of dragon race—let the bags fall in his fright. But, from sheer terror, he picked them up again. Yet his fear did not gain the mastery till they entered the court-yard. When the hungry children saw their father coming with the loaded dragon, they rushed toward him, each one with a knife in the right hand and a fork in the left. Then they all began to whet the knives on the forks, shrieking at the top of their lungs, "We want dragon meat!"
This was enough to scare Satan himself. The dragon threw down the sacks, and then took to flight, so frightened that since that time he has never dared to come back to the world.
The Wonderful Bird.
Once upon a time, something happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.
There was a good, pious emperor, who had three sons. Among many other benefits bestowed upon the inhabitants of his empire he built a church, about which marvelous stories were told, for he adorned it with gold, precious stones and every thing the workmen of that country regarded as beautiful and valuable. Within and in front of this church were numbers of marble columns, and it was supplied with the finest paintings, silver chandeliers, huge silver lamps, and the rarest books. The more the emperor rejoiced in its beauty, the more sorrowful he felt that he could not finish it, for the steeple continually fell down.
"How is it that this sacred church can not be completed?" he asked. "I have spent all my property and it is not yet done." So he ordered a proclamation to be sent throughout the empire, stating that any architect who could finish the church steeple would receive great gifts and honors. Besides this, a second proclamation was issued, commanding prayers to be read and services held in all the churches, that God might take pity on him and send him a good architect. The third night the monarch dreamed that if any one would fetch the wonderful bird from the other shore and put its nest in the steeple, the church could be finished. He told this dream to his sons, and they vied with each other in offering to set out and devote themselves to their imperial father's service.
The emperor replied: "I see, my sons, that you all desire to fulfill your duty to God, but you can't all three go at once. My oldest son shall set out first, if he does not succeed, the second one, and so on until the Lord takes pity upon us."
The younger sons silently submitted; the oldest one made his preparations for the journey. He traveled as best he could, and when he had passed the frontiers of his father's empire, found himself in a beautiful grove. After lighting a fire he stood waiting until his food was cooked. Suddenly he saw a fox, which begged him to tie up his hound, give it a bit of bread and a glass of wine, and let it rest by his fire. Instead of granting the request the prince released the hound, which instantly pursued the animal, whereupon the fox, by a magic spell, transformed the emperor's son into a block of stone.
When the sovereign saw that his oldest son did not return, he listened to the entreaties of his second son, and gave him permission to set forth to find the wonderful bird. After making his preparations and taking some provisions with him, this prince also departed. On the spot where his brother had been turned to stone, the same thing happened to him, because he also refused the fox's entreaties, and tried to catch it, to get its skin.
The emperor grew very thoughtful, when after a long time his sons failed to return, either with or without the wonderful bird.
At last the youngest said: "You see, father, it is now a long time since my brothers set out to find the wonderful bird, and they haven't come home yet; give me some money and clothes for the journey that I may try my luck also. If I succeed, you will rejoice, because your dream will be fulfilled, and if I do not, you will suffer no mortification from it."
"Your older brothers have apparently been unable to get this wonderful bird," replied the emperor; "nay, perhaps they have even lost their lives, they have been absent so long. I am old; if you go too, who will help me in the cares of government; if I die, who is there to ascend the throne except you, my son? Stay here, my dear child, do not leave me."
"You know, my royal father, that I have never swerved a hair's breadth from your commands, and if I now venture to urge my petition it is only because, if possible, I would fain fulfill a wish that gives you no rest, which you have cherished so many years and striven to realize at so great a cost."
After many entreaties, the emperor yielded. The prince chose from the imperial stables a horse that pleased him, took a dog for a companion, supplied himself with sufficient food and departed.
After some time had passed, the emperor's two older sons suddenly arrived with the magic bird and a young girl, who was placed in charge of the poultry-yard. Every body wondered at the beauty of the bird, whose plumage glittered with a thousand hues, each feather shining like the sun, and the church-steeple did not fall after the bird and its nest were placed within. One thing, however, was noticed; the bird seemed dumb, it never uttered a note, and all who saw it grieved that so beautiful a creature should have no song; even the emperor, spite of all the pleasure he took in the church and steeple, was sorrowful because the bird did not sing.
People began to forget the youngest son, so great was the rejoicing over the bird that seemed to keep the steeple from falling, and thus enabled the workmen to finish the church; but the emperor grieved because the prince was not there to share his subjects' pleasure.
One day the poultry-keeper came to him and said: "May thy face shine, mighty emperor, the whole city is marveling at the singing of the magic bird—a shepherd entered the church early this morning, and the bird instantly began to sing as if it would burst its throat, and is so happy that it can hardly keep in its nest. This has happened to-day for the second time. While the shepherd is in the church the bird never stops singing, but as soon as he goes away, it is silent."
"Let the shepherd be brought before me at once."
"Your majesty, the shepherd seems to be a stranger; no one here knows him. Your majesty's sons, I hear, have set guards to arrest him."
"Silence," said the emperor; "do not mention my sons; it is not seemly for you to speak against them."
The sovereign sent some of his most trusty servants to keep watch, seize the shepherd as soon as he entered the church and the bird began to sing, and bring him before him. But, not content with this, he went himself the next holiday to hear the bird's wonderful singing with his own ears, and see the shepherd. If he had not been present, a violent conflict would have arisen between his own people and the spies sent by his sons, who evidently wished to lay hands on the shepherd. The emperor ordered that he should be brought to the palace, for a strange feeling stirred in his heart when he saw the timid youth with the figure of a hero.
When he came out of church, the monarch went directly home to his palace, for his heart told him that there must be something unusual about this shepherd. On seeing him, he said:—
"Tell me, my son, from what part of the country do you come? Have you any parents, and how did you get here?"
"My story is a long one, most noble emperor. I have parents and brothers. I shall need more time to tell you how I came hither, but if it is your majesty's will, I am ready. I will come to your majesty early to-morrow morning, it is too late to-day."
"Very well, my brave fellow, I will expect you at dawn to-morrow."
Early the next morning the shepherd came to await the emperor's commands; but as soon as the emperor heard that he had arrived, he summoned him.
"Tell me, my son, what is the reason the magic bird sings as soon as you enter the church, and stops when you go out."
"To understand that and other things, your majesty, let me tell you my whole story."
"I will listen; tell me anything you please."
The shepherd then began:—
"I have a father, and brothers. I left my home to do something to please my father, who was sad because he had a wish that could not be fulfilled. After a journey of several days I reached a beautiful meadow, from which branched several roads. Intending to spend the night there, I lighted a fire, took out some of the provisions I had brought with me, and was just sitting down to eat them, when I suddenly saw a fox beside me. Whence it came I did not know; it seemed as if it had sprung up out of the earth.
"'Please let me warm myself by your fire,' it said. 'See, I am so cold that my teeth chatter. Give me a bit of bread and a glass of wine, that I may satisfy my hunger and thirst, and tie your dog, so I can eat in peace and rest without fear.'
"'Very well,' I replied, 'come and warm yourself. Here are my provisions and my flask, eat and drink as much as you choose.'
"I tied my dog, and we sat down by the fire and talked together. Among other things, I told the fox where I was going, and even asked if it could tell me what I should do to accomplish the task I had voluntarily undertaken.
"'Have no anxiety about that,' replied the fox. 'We'll set out together early to-morrow morning, and if I don't help you to the goal, never trust me again.'
"We sat by the fire, feasting like two friends, then the fox bade me good-night, and vanished like a shadow. I wondered how it had been possible that I did not see what direction the animal took, and while racking my brains to find out how it had managed to go and come unperceived, I fell asleep. When the fox came at dawn next morning, it found me gazing in astonishment at several blocks of stone, which resembled two men, two dogs, and two horses. As soon as I saw the animal, we prepared to set out.
"The fox turned three somersaults and suddenly changed into a handsome hero. On the way he told me that the place where I had spent the night was part of his property, that he was married and had several children, but had been condemned to wear the form of a fox until some human being would take pity on him and receive him, let him warm himself by the same fire, give him a bit of bread and glass of wine. As I was this man, he was now released from the spell, and would go with me and never leave me until I had accomplished my object. This event pleased me, and we journeyed on and on all through the long summer day until late at night when we reached a mountain meadow, where we encamped. My traveling companion told me that the next day we should be obliged to pass through the lands of several dragons, and he thought we should there find what we sought.
"The following morning we entered the dragons' country, though somewhat timidly, and about noon reached the dragon-palace. It is impossible to describe the magnificent things we saw there. Gardens with all sorts of flowers and fruits, rooms that seemed lined with silver, so that they shone in the sun like mirrors, walls covered with paintings and carved flowers. Every corner of the palace was gilded, and fountains cast jets of water into the air. Luckily for us, the dragons were not at home when we arrived. On the threshold we met a beautiful girl, a girl who looked as sweet as if she were made of sugar, and who advised us not to enter the court-yard in the dragons' absence, or we should meet with some misfortune. Then she wept for joy at seeing people from the place from whence the dragons had stolen her. When we asked her about the wonderful bird, she said it was in the possession of some other dragons, relatives of those on whose lands we were.
"'Go there,' she added, 'for with God's help, I hope you will succeed, and when you return, take me with you.'
"After she had told us how we could enter the dragons' court-yard and what we must do, I swore by what was dearest to me in the world, my father, that I would not leave her in the dragons' power, but take her away. Then we continued the journey. To tell the truth, I loved her as soon as I saw her.
"When we reached the borders of the next dragon-kingdom, we stopped to rest, but at dawn the following day we crossed the frontier and by noon reached their palace, which was even more beautiful than the first one. As soon as I had dismounted from my horse, I went to the stable, but my companion turned back, for this was what the girl had advised. The horses were at their cribs. One turned its head and looked at me. I patted its eyes, pulled its ears, threw a bridle over its neck, mounted it, and in riding by, took the cage with the magic bird that hung in the entry."
"You brought the wonderful bird?" cried the emperor. "Then you are my son, whom all believe dead."
"Even so, father." And after kissing the emperor's hand, he begged him to send for the poultry-keeper. When she came, the shepherd said, "This is the girl of whom I told you."
"How is that possible!" replied the emperor. "How did she become a poultry maid?"
"She'll tell you that herself. I don't know. So, as I was saying," he continued, "after I had snatched the cage I fled as fast as I could on the horse I had taken from the dragons, but the other horses began to neigh and make such a noise that my hair fairly bristled, yet I held firm. The dragons chased me until I reached my comrade, who was waiting for me on the frontier. If it had not been for him, they would have seized me, and who knows what would have become of me then. But my companion stretched out his hand, shouting, 'Stop!' The dragons seemed to be suddenly turned to stone; not another step forward did they take. After embracing and kissing me he admired the bird's beauty. The dragons did every thing in their power to get it from me, and made all sorts of promises, but when they saw they could not persuade me, begged me at least to give them the horse. I perceived it would not be right to leave them in such a sad state, so I returned the horse and went on with my companion and the bird, but the dragons almost stared their eyes out after it.
"When we reached the other dragon palace, the girl was waiting for us at the gate. Cracking her whip three times the whole building changed into an apple, which she put in her pocket. I passed my arm around her, and we set out. But oh! dear, when the dragons discovered it! How they chased us, roaring so that our blood curdled in our veins. I summoned all my courage, spurred my horse, and fled like the wind with my companion. But the dragons came as fast as thought. When my comrade saw this, and perceived that there was no possibility of escape, he stopped, made a sign and turned them into blocks of stone. Then we continued our journey till we reached the field from which we had started and which was part of the fox's property. After we had rested and I had thanked God that we had accomplished our task, I asked my comrade what those stone pillars meant.
"He answered: 'If you know you will regret it, and if you don't know, you will also regret it.'
"'Pray tell me.'
"'These are your brothers,' he answered. 'Instead of kindly granting my request, as you did, they set their hounds on me, which condemned me to wear the loathsome fox-skin still longer, so I turned them to stone.'
"'For my sake,' I entreated, 'for the sake of our friendship, make them men again as they were before.'
"'I prize your friendship greatly,' he replied, 'so let it be as you wish—but you'll repent it.'
"In an instant he made a sign with his hand, the stones suddenly shook, and my brothers remained motionless with amazement, when they saw us before them. We took leave of my comrade and set out on our way home. But see what a fine trick my brothers played me.
"'Brother,' they said, after we had ridden about a mile, 'we are tired by the long distance, and it is very warm. Let us go to a pond we know here and each drink a little to cool ourselves.' I agreed, and we went there. The oldest drank, so did the second one, but when I was going to drink too, lying face downward at the edge of the pond, so that I could reach the water with my lips, as they had done, I suddenly felt a terrible burning sensation in both feet, and when I turned to see the cause, could not get up; my brothers had cut off both my feet, and then hurried off, without listening to my complaints and entreaties.
"I spent three days and nights beside the pond. When my good horse saw a dragon coming, it lifted me by my clothes with its teeth, ran as far as it could and kicked so violently that no wild beast could approach us.
"At last, on the fourth day, I met a blind man groping his way along. 'Who are you?' I asked.
"'A poor, maimed fellow,' said he. Then, after he had told me that his brothers, out of envy, had put out his eyes, I told him that my brothers had cut off my feet.
"'I'll tell you what!' he exclaimed. 'We'll take an oath of brotherhood. I have feet, you have eyes, so I'll carry you on my back. I'll walk for you, and you shall see for me. A huge scorpion lives close by, whose blood cures all kinds of diseases.'
"I accepted his offer, and we went to the scorpion's house. He was not at home, so the blind man put me behind the door, telling me to kill him with my sword as soon as he came in; then he hid himself behind the stove. We did not wait long before the scorpion entered in a great rage, for he had noticed that somebody had broken into his house. When I saw him my heart shrunk till it was no bigger than a flea, but as he came in I waited till he was close by me, then struck one blow that chopped all three of his heads off at once.
"I instantly smeared myself with the hot blood and as soon as it touched my feet they stuck as fast as if they had never been cut off. I also smeared the blind man's eyes, and his sight returned. After thanking God, each set out on his own way.
"I did not want to go home at once, but thought it best to hire out as a shepherd and leave God to arrange things so that the criminals' guilt should appear. I was not disappointed in my confidence, for you see His power is great and His judgment just."
"Now tell me how you became a servant and poultry-maid," said the emperor to the maiden.
"After your imperial majesty's oldest sons had cut off their youngest brother's feet, one of them took me, the other the wonderful bird. I thought my heart would dissolve with grief because I was obliged to part from your majesty's youngest son, whom I loved because he was such a noble man. They proposed that I should love one of them, and promised that he would marry me as soon as we reached the emperor's court. After refusing all their offers, I preferred to take service as your majesty's poultry maid, rather than go any where else, for I knew God would not let a man who did right perish, and now I thank Him for having shown me that a good deed is never lost."
"Can you prove," asked the emperor, "that you are the girl and no one else?"
"This apple will show every one that I am she," replied the girl, drawing it from her bosom. "Your older sons knew nothing about it, or they would have taken it from me."
With these words she went out of doors, cracked a little whip three times over the apple and a magnificent palace, more splendid than any in the kingdom, instantly arose.
The emperor himself was astonished. He wished to celebrate his youngest son's return, but the latter said, "Father, before we thank God that I have come home alive, let us three brothers submit to His judgment."
The emperor could make no objection. The brothers were led before him and he ordered the older ones to kneel and ask the youngest son's forgiveness. But he replied: "If God forgives you, I will also."
As they could not avoid it, they went in front of the church, and set out three bee-hives at equal distances apart. Each brother stood with his feet in one, and hurled a stone into the air from a sling. The elder brothers' stones in falling back struck them so hard on the head that they were killed, but the youngest brother's fell in front of him.
Many had assembled to witness this trial. After the wedding was over and the emperor had married his son to the poultry-maid, he came down from the throne and gave it to the prince, who, if alive, reigns there still.
I was present at these events, and now tell them to those who listen.
The Twins With the Golden Star.
Once upon a time something happened. If it hadn't happened, it wouldn't be told.
There was an emperor, who ruled over a whole world, and in this world lived an old shepherd and shepherdess, who had three daughters, Anna, Stana, and Laptitza.
[Footnote 1: Little Milk-white, from "Lapte"—milk.]
Anna, the oldest sister, was so beautiful that the sheep stopped feeding when she went among them; Stana, the second, was so lovely that the wolves watched the herd when she was the shepherdess, but Laptitza, the youngest, who had a skin as white as the foam of milk, and hair as soft as the wool of the lambkins, was as beautiful as both of her sisters put together, beautiful as only she herself could be.
One summer day, when the sunbeams were growing less scorching, the three sisters went to the edge of the forest to pick strawberries. While searching for them, they heard the tramp of horses' hoofs, as if a whole troop of cavalry were dashing up. It was the emperor's son, hunting with his friends and courtiers, all handsome, stately youths, sitting their horses as if they were a part of their steeds, but the handsomest and proudest of all rode the most fiery charger, and was the emperor's son himself.
When they saw the sisters, they curbed their horses and rode more slowly.
"Listen to me, sisters," said Anna; "if one of those youths should choose me for his wife, I'd knead a loaf of bread which, when he had eaten it, would make him always feel young and brave."
"And I," said Stana, "would weave my husband a shirt, in which he could fight against dragons, go through water without being wet, or fire without being burned."
"But I," said Laptitza, the youngest sister, "would give my husband two beautiful sons, twin boys with golden hair, and on their foreheads a golden star, a star as bright as Lucifer."
The youths heard these words, and turning their horses dashed toward the maidens.
"Sacred be thy promise, thou shalt be mine, fairest empress," cried the emperor's son, lifting Laptitza with her berries upon his horse.
"And thou shalt be mine!" "And thou shalt be mine!" said a second and third youth; so bearing their lovely burdens on their steeds, all dashed back to the imperial court.
The three weddings were celebrated the very next day, and for three days and nights the festival was held throughout the empire with great pomp and splendor. After three days and nights the news went through the whole country that Anna had gathered grain, ground, boiled, and kneaded it, and made a loaf of bread, as she had promised while picking strawberries. Then, after three more days and nights, tidings went through the land that Stana had collected flax, dried, and hackled it, spun it into linen, wove the cloth, and made her husband a shirt as she had promised while seeking for her strawberries. Laptitza alone had not yet kept her word, but great things require time.
When seven weeks had passed, counting from the wedding day, the emperor's son, now emperor, appeared before his brave companions and the other courtiers with a very joyous face, and in a much softer voice than ever before informed them that henceforth he should not leave the court for a long time, his heart moved him to stay with his wife night and day.
So the world, the country, and the whole empire rejoiced in the expectation of seeing something never beheld before.
But many things happen in this world, among them much that is good and much that is evil.
The emperor had a step-mother, who had brought with her to the palace a daughter of her first husband, a girl with beautiful hair. But woe betide those who have such relationships.
The step-mother had intended that her daughter should become the emperor's wife and empress of the whole country, instead of little Milk-white, the shepherd's daughter. Therefore she determined that if things fell out as Laptitza had promised, the emperor and the world should believe they did not happen according to the prediction.
But the step-mother could not carry out her plan, because the emperor remained with his wife day and night. Yet she thought that gradually, by coaxing and cunning, she might get rid of him, and then Laptitza would be left in her care and she would provide for every thing.
But she could not get rid of the emperor by means of a few coaxing words. The wind blew them away, and all her craft was useless. Time passed, the day for the fulfillment of Laptitza's promise was drawing near, and still the emperor never left his wife.
When the step-mother saw that no plot succeeded, she felt as if a stone were lying heavy on her heart, and sent a message to her brother, whose kingdom was very near, to ask him to come with his soldiers and summon the emperor to a war.
This was a clever plan and, as will be seen, not an unsuccessful one. The emperor fairly leaped into the air in his rage, when he heard that hostile soldiers were on the march to attack his country, and that something would occur which had not happened for a long time—a battle, a terrible battle, a battle between two emperors. The young husband saw that there was no help for it, he must do what needed to be done.
That is the way with emperors. No matter how much they wish to guard their wives—if they hear of war, their hearts fairly leap in their bodies, their brains swell almost to bursting, their eyes grow dim, and leaving wife and children in God's care, they dash like the wind to battle.
The emperor departed at the first sign of peril, moved as swiftly as one of God's judgments, fought as only he could fight, and at dawn on the morning of the third day was back again at the imperial court, his heart soothed by the battle, but full of unsatisfied longing to know what had happened during his absence.
And—this had happened. Just at dawn on the morning of the third day, when the stars were paling in the sky, and the emperor was only three steps from the palace-gate, the Lord's gift came down to the earth, and Laptitza's promise was fulfilled—two beautiful twin princes, exactly alike, each with golden hair and a golden star on his forehead.
But the world was not to see them!
The step-mother, as wicked as her thoughts, hastily put two puppies in the place of the beautiful twins, and buried the golden-haired children at the corner of the palace, just under the emperor's windows.
When the monarch entered the palace he saw and heard nothing except the two puppies the step-mother had put in the twins' place. No words were wasted. The emperor saw with his own eyes, and that was enough. Laptitza had not kept her promise, and there was nothing to be done except mete out her punishment.
He could not help it, and though his own heart was torn, commanded that the empress should be buried to her breast in the earth and so remain before the eyes of the world, in token of what befell those who tried to deceive an emperor.
The next day the step-mother's wish was fulfilled. The emperor married a second time, and again the wedding festivities lasted three days and three nights.
But God's blessing does not rest upon unjust deeds.
The two princes found no rest in the earth. Two beautiful aspens sprang up where they were buried, but when the step-mother saw them she ordered them to be pulled up by the roots. The emperor, however, said: "Let them grow, I like to see them before the window. I never beheld such aspens before."
So the trees grew, grew as no other aspens ever had grown, every day a year's growth, every night another year's growth, but in the dawn of morning, when the stars were paling in the sky, three years' growth in a single moment. When three days and three nights had passed, the two aspens were lofty trees, lifting their boughs to the emperor's window, and when the wind stirred the branches, he listened to their rustling all day long.
The step-mother suspected what they were, and pondered all day trying to find some way to get rid of the trees at any cost. It was a difficult task, but a woman's will can squeeze milk from a stone, a woman's cunning conquers heroes—what force can not accomplish, fair words win, and when these fail, hypocritical tears succeed.
One morning the empress sat down on the side of her husband's bed and began to overwhelm him with loving words and tender caresses. It was a long time before the thread broke, but at last—even emperors are mortal!
"Very well," he said, reluctantly, "have your own way; order the aspens to be cut down, but one must be made into a bedstead for me, the other for you."
This satisfied the empress. The aspens were cut down, and before night the beds were standing in the emperor's room.
When he lay down, he felt as if he had become a hundred times heavier, yet he had never rested so well; but it seemed to the empress as if she were lying on thorns and nettles, so that she could not sleep all night long.
When the emperor had fallen asleep, the beds began to creak, and amid this creaking the empress fancied she heard words that no one else understood.
"Is it hard for you, brother?" asked one of the beds.
"No, it isn't hard for me," replied the bed in which the emperor was sleeping, "I am happy, for my beloved father rests upon me."
"It's hard for me," replied the other, "for on me lies a wicked soul."
So the beds talked on in the empress's ears until the dawn of morning.
When daylight came, the empress planned how she could destroy the beds. At last she ordered two bedsteads exactly like them, and when the emperor went hunting, placed them in his room without his knowledge; but the aspen beds, down to the very smallest splinter, she threw into the fire.
When they were burned so entirely that not even a bit of charcoal remained, the empress collected the ashes and scattered them to the winds, that they might be strewn over nine countries and seas, and not an atom find another atom through all eternity.
But she had not noticed that just when the fire was burning brightest two sparks rose, and soaring upward, fell again into the midst of the deep river that flowed through the empire, where they were changed into two little fishes with golden scales, so exactly alike that nobody could help knowing they were twin brothers.
One day the imperial fishermen went out early in the morning, and threw their nets into the water. Just at the moment the last stars were fading, one of the men drew up his net and beheld what he had never seen before: two tiny fishes with golden scales.
The other fishermen assembled to see the miracle, but when they had beheld and admired it, determined to carry the fish alive to the emperor for a gift.
"Don't take us there, we've just come from there, and it will be our destruction," said one of the fishes.
"But what shall I do with you?" asked the fisherman.
"Go and gather the dew from the leaves, let us swim in it, put us in the sun, and don't come back again till the sunbeams have dried the dew," said the second little fish.
The fisherman did as he was told, gathered the dew from the leaves, put the little fish into it, placed them in the sun, and did not come back till the dew was all dried up.
But what had happened! What did he see?
Two boys, handsome princes with golden hair and a golden star on their foreheads, so exactly alike that no one who saw them could help knowing that they were twin brothers.
The children grew very rapidly. Every day enough for a year, and every night enough for another year, but in the dawn of morning when the stars paled in the sky, enough for three years in a single moment. Besides, they grew as no other children ever had grown, three times as fast in age, strength, and wisdom. When three days and nights had passed, they were twelve years in age, twenty-four in strength, and thirty-six in wisdom.
"Now let us go to our father," said one of the princes to the fisherman.
The fisherman dressed the lads in beautiful clothing, and made each a lambskin cap, which the boys drew low over their faces, that no one might see their golden hair and the golden star on their foreheads, and then took the princes to the imperial palace.
It was broad daylight when they arrived.
"We want to speak to the emperor," said one of the princes to the guard, who stood armed at the door of the palace.
"That can't be done, he's at table," replied the soldier.
"Just because he is at table," said the second prince, passing through the door.
The guards ran up and tried to drive the boys out of the court-yard, but the boys slipped through their fingers like quicksilver. Three paces forward, three up, and they were standing before the great hall, where the emperor was dining with all his court.
"We want to come in," said one of the princes sharply, to the servants who stood at the door.
"That can't be done," one of the lackeys answered.
"Indeed! We'll see whether it can be done or not," cried the other prince, pushing the men aside right and left.
But there were a great many lackeys, and only two princes. A tumult and uproar arose outside, that resounded through the palace.
"What is going on out there?" asked the emperor angrily.
The princes stopped when they heard their father's voice.
"Two boys are trying to enter by force," said an attendant, approaching the emperor.
"By force? Who seeks to enter my palace by force? Who are these boys?" cried the emperor in the same breath.
"We know not, your majesty," replied the lackey, "but there must be something uncommon about them, for the lads are as strong as young lions, they overpowered the guard at the gate, and have given us plenty to do. Besides, they are proud, they don't lift their caps from their heads."
The emperor flushed scarlet with rage.
"Throw them out!" he cried. "Set the dogs on them."
"Never mind, we will go," said the princes, weeping at the harsh words, as they went down the steps again.
As they reached the gate, they were stopped by a servant, who was out of breath from running to overtake them.
"The emperor has commanded you to come back, the empress wants to see you."
The princes hesitated, then turned, climbed the stairs, and still with their caps on their heads appeared before the emperor.
There stood a long, wide table, at which sat all the imperial guests; at the head was the emperor, and beside him the empress, reclining on twelve silk cushions.
As the princes entered, one of these twelve cushions fell to the floor, only eleven remaining under the royal lady.
"Take off your caps!" cried a courtier.
"To wear the head covered is a token of rank among men. We wish to be what we are."
"Why, yes!" exclaimed the emperor, softened by the musical words that fell from the boys' lips. "Remain what you are, but who are you? Whence do you come, and what do you want?"
"We are twin brothers, members of a family that is broken in twain, half in the earth, half at the head of the table; we come from whence we went, and have reached the place whence we came; we have had a long journey, have spoken in the sighing of the wind, given a voice to wood, sang in the ripples of the water, but now we wish to chant in human language a song you know without knowing it."
A second cushion fell from under the empress.
"Let them go home with their nonsense!" she said to her husband.
"Oh! no, let them sing," replied the emperor. "You only wanted to see them, but I wish to hear them. Sing, boys!"
The empress was silent, and the princes began to sing the story of their lives.
"There was once an emperor," they began, and a third cushion fell from under the empress.
When they described the emperor's departure to the war, three cushions fell at once, and when the princes had finished their song not a single one remained. But when they took off their caps and showed their golden hair and the golden star on their foreheads, guests, courtiers and emperor closed their eyes, that they might not be dazzled by so much radiance.
* * * * *
Afterward, what ought to have been from the beginning, happened.
Laptitza sat at the head of the table beside her husband, but the step-mother's daughter served as the humblest maid in the palace, and the wicked step-mother was fastened to the tail of a wild mare and dragged around the earth seven times, that the whole world might know and never forget, that whoever plans evil comes to a bad end.
Youth Without Age and Life Without Death.
Once upon a time something happened whose like never occurred before—if it had not happened it would not be told—since the flea had one foot shod with ninety-nine pounds of iron and jumped into the skies to get us fairy tales.
There was once a mighty emperor and empress. Both were young and handsome, and as they desired the blessing of children they did every thing that was necessary to secure it, that is they went to the witches and philosophers and asked them to read the stars to find out whether they would have children or not. But it was all in vain. Finally the emperor heard that a very wise old man lived in a neighboring village, and sent for him. The messengers returned with the answer: "Let him who needs me come to me." So the emperor and empress set out for the wise man's house, taking with them several of their courtiers, attendants, and soldiers. When the old man saw them in the distance, he rose, went to meet them, and said at once:
"Welcome! But what do you want to know, oh, emperor! your wish will bring you sorrow."
"I am not here to question you about that," replied the emperor, "but to learn whether you have any plants you can give us that will bestow the blessing of children."
"I have," the old man answered, "but you will possess only one child. He will be a handsome, lovable boy, yet you will not be able to keep him long."
After the emperor and empress had obtained the herbs they joyfully returned to the palace. The whole empire, the courtiers, and all the attendants rejoiced too. But when the hour of its birth came, the child began to scream in a way no magic arts could silence. The emperor commenced to promise it all the good things the world contained, but it was impossible to quiet it.
"Hush, father's pet," said the emperor, "I will give you this or that kingdom; hush, my son, I will give you this or that princess for your wife." At last, when he saw the child would not stop, he added: "Hush, my boy, I will give you youth without age and life without death."
Then the prince stopped crying; the courtiers beat drums and blew trumpets, and there were great rejoicings throughout the empire for a whole week.
The older the boy grew, the more thoughtful and reflective he became. He went to the schools and the philosophers and gained every kind of learning, so that the emperor died of joy and came to life again. The whole realm was proud of having a prince so wise and learned, a second King Solomon. But one day, when the lad had just reached his fifteenth year and the emperor sat at a banquet with the nobles and grandees of the country, the handsome prince rose, saying: "Father, the time has come, you must now give me what you promised at my birth!"
When the emperor heard this he grew very sorrowful and answered: "Why, my son, how can I give you an impossible thing? If I promised it to you then, it was only to hush you."
"If you can't give it to me, father, I shall be obliged to wander through the whole world till I find what was promised to me, and for which I was born."
Then all the nobles and the emperor fell at his feet and besought him not to quit the country, because, as the courtiers said, his father was growing old, and they would place him on the throne and give him the most beautiful princess under the sun for his wife. But it was impossible to shake his resolution, he remained as firm as a rock. After his father had seen and duly considered all these things, he gave his consent and prepared to supply the prince with provisions and whatever else he might need for his journey.
The young hero went to the imperial stables, where the finest steeds in the whole realm were standing, to choose one of them; but when he laid his hand on the horse's tail he knocked it down, and so they all fell, one after another. At last, just as he was going out, he let his eyes wander around the building once more and saw in one corner a sick, weak horse, covered with sores. He went up to it, and when he grasped it by the tail, the animal turned its head, saying:
"What do you command, my master? I thank God that He has permitted a hero's hand to touch me once more."
And, planting its feet firmly, it remained standing. The young prince told it what he intended to do, and the horse replied:
"To obtain your wish, you must ask your father for the sword, lance, bow, quiver of arrows, and garments he wore when a youth; but you must take care of me with your own hands for six weeks and give me oats boiled in milk."
When the prince begged the emperor for the articles the horse had advised, the monarch called the major-domo of the palace and ordered him to open all the chests of clothing, that his son might choose what he pleased. The young hero, after rummaging them three whole days, at last found in the very bottom of an old trunk the weapons and garments his father had worn in his youth, but the arms were covered with rust. He set to work to clean them with his own hands and in six weeks, during the time he was taking care of the horse, he succeeded in making the weapons as bright and shining as a mirror. When the horse heard from the handsome prince that the clothes and arms were cleaned and ready, it shook itself once. All the sores instantly fell off and there it stood, a strong, well-formed animal, with four wings. When the hero saw this, he said:
"We'll go in three days!"
"May you have a long life, master. From to-day I shall be at your service," the horse answered.
On the morning of the third day there was great mourning throughout the whole court and empire. The handsome prince, clad like a hero, holding his sword in his hand and riding the horse he had chosen, took leave of the emperor, the empress, the great nobles and lesser grandees, the army, and all the attendants, who, with tears in their eyes, implored him to give up the journey and not risk his life; but setting spurs to his steed, he dashed through the gate like the wind, followed by the carts loaded with provisions and money, and the two hundred horsemen the emperor had commanded to accompany him.
After reaching the boundaries of his father's country and arriving at the wilderness, the prince distributed all his property among the escort, bade them farewell, and sent them back, keeping for himself only as much food as the horse could carry. Then he turned toward the east and rode for three days and three nights, till he came to a wide plain where lay a great many human bones.
When he stopped here to rest, the horse said: "You must know, master, that we are on the land of a Woodpecker Fairy who is so wicked that nobody can enter her domain without being murdered. She was once a woman, but the curse of her parents, whom she angered by her disobedience, turned her into a woodpecker. She is with her children now, but you will meet her to-morrow in yonder forest; she will come to kill you. She is terribly big, but don't be frightened; hold the bow ready to pierce her with an arrow, and keep your sword and lance in hand, so that you can use them in case of need."
Then they went to rest, taking turns in watching.
At dawn the next morning they prepared to pass through the forest; the prince saddled and bridled the horse, drew the girths tighter than usual, and mounted. Suddenly he heard a tremendous crashing. "Make ready, master," said the horse, "the Woodpecker Fairy is coming." As she approached, she moved so fast that she tore the trees down; but the horse leaped upward like the wind, so that it was almost over her, and the prince shot off one of her feet with an arrow. Just as he was about to discharge the second arrow, she cried:
"Stop, my young hero, I'll do you no harm." And seeing that he did not believe her, she gave him the promise written with her own blood.
"Your horse can not be killed, my young hero," she added, "it is enchanted; if it hadn't been for that, I would have roasted and eaten you. Know that until to-day no mortal man has ventured to cross my boundaries as far as this; a few bold wights who dared to make the trial, reached the plain where you saw so many bones."
They now went to the fairy's house, where she entertained them as guests. But while sitting at the table enjoying the banquet, the Woodpecker Fairy moaned with pain, so the prince pulled the foot he had shot off out of the traveling bag where he had put it, fastened it on, and it instantly healed. The hostess, in her joy, kept open house for three days, and begged the emperor's son to choose one of her daughters, all three of whom were beautiful as fairies, for his wife. He would not do that, but told her what he was seeking, and she replied:
"With your horse and your heroic courage, I believe you will succeed."
After three days had passed, the prince prepared to continue his journey and departed. He rode on, and on, and on; the road seemed to grow longer and longer, but when he had finally crossed the frontiers of the Woodpecker Fairy's kingdom, he entered a beautiful meadow, one side of which was covered with blooming plants, but the other was scorched.
The prince asked why the grass was singed, and the horse answered:
"We are now in the domain of the Scorpion Witch; she is the Woodpecker Fairy's sister, but they are both so wicked that they can't live together. Their parents' curse has fallen upon them, and so, as you see, they have become monsters; their enmity goes beyond all bounds; they are always trying to get possession of each other's lands. When this one is very angry she spits fire and pitch; she must have had some quarrel with her sister, and, to drive her out of her kingdom, has burned the grass on which she was standing. She is even worse than her sister, and has three heads. We will rest awhile now, and be ready at the first peep of dawn to-morrow."
The next day they prepared themselves just as they did when they expected to meet the Woodpecker fairy, and set out. Soon they heard a howling and rustling unlike any thing ever known before.
"Make ready, master, the Scorpion Witch is coming."
The Scorpion Witch, with one jaw in the sky and the other on the earth, approached like the wind, spitting fire as she came, but the horse darted upward as swiftly as an arrow, and then rushed over her a little on one side. The hero shot an arrow and one of her heads fell, but when he was going to strike off another, the Scorpion Witch entreated him to forgive her, she would do him no harm, and to convince him of this she gave him her promise, written in her own blood.
Like the Woodpecker Fairy, she entertained the prince, who returned her head, which grew on again, and at the end of three days he resumed his travels.
When the hero and his horse had reached the boundaries of the Scorpion Witch's kingdom they hurried on without resting till they came to a field covered with flowers, where reigned perpetual spring. Every blossom was remarkably beautiful and filled with a sweet, intoxicating fragrance; a gentle breeze fanned them all. They remained here to rest, but the horse said:
"We have arrived so far successfully, master, but we still have one great peril to undergo and, if the Lord helps us to conquer it, we shall really be valiant heroes. A short distance further on is the palace where dwell Youth without Age and Life without Death. It is surrounded by a high, dense forest, where roam all the wild animals in the world, watching it day and night. They are very numerous, and it is almost beyond the bounds of possibility to get through the wood by fighting them; we must try, if we can, to jump over them."
After resting about two days they prepared to continue their journey, and the horse, holding its breath, said:
"Buckle my girth as tight as you can, and when you have mounted hold fast to my mane and press your feet close to my neck, that you may not hinder me." The prince mounted, and in a moment they were close to the forest.
"Master," said the horse, "this is the time that the wild beasts are fed; they are all collected together, now we'll jump over."
"Forward," replied the handsome prince, "and may the Lord have mercy on us."
They flew upward and saw the palace, which glittered so that it would have been easier to look at the sun. They passed over the forest, and, just as they were descending at the palace steps, one of the horse's hoofs lightly touched the top of a tree, which put the whole woods in motion. The wild animals began to howl till it was enough to make one's hair bristle. They hastily alighted, and if the mistress of the palace had not been outside feeding her chickens (for that is what she called the wild beasts), they would certainly have been killed. She spared their lives out of pure pleasure, for she had never before seen a human being. Restraining the savage beasts, she soothed them, and sent them back to their haunts. She was a tall, slender, lovely fairy, quite too beautiful. When the young hero saw her, he stood still as though turned to stone. But as she gazed at him she pitied him and said:
"Welcome, my handsome prince. What do you seek here?"
"We seek Youth without Age and Life without Death."
Then he dismounted from his horse and entered the palace, where he found two other ladies, both of the same age, the elder sisters of the first one. He began to thank the fairy for having delivered him from danger, but she and her sisters, to show their joy, had a handsome banquet served in golden dishes. They gave the horse liberty to graze wherever it chose, and afterward made it acquainted with all the wild beasts, so that it might rove about the forest in peace. The ladies entreated the prince to stay with them, saying that it was so tiresome to be alone. He did not wait to be asked a second time, but accepted the offer with the satisfaction of a man who has found precisely what he sought.
By degrees they became accustomed to live together; the prince told them his story and related what he had suffered before meeting them, and after some time he married the youngest sister. At their wedding permission was granted to him to go wherever he liked in the neighborhood; they only begged him not to enter one valley, which they pointed out, otherwise some misfortune would befall him; it was called, they said, the Valley of Lamentation.
The prince spent a very long time at the palace without being aware of it, for he always remained just as young as he was when he arrived. He wandered about the woods without ever having a headache. He amused himself in the golden palace, lived in peace and quiet with his wife and her sisters, enjoyed the beauty of the flowers, and the sweet, pure air. He often went hunting; but one day, while pursuing a hare, he shot two arrows at it without hitting the animal. Angrily chasing it he discharged a third arrow, which struck it, but in his haste the luckless man had not noticed that he had passed through the Valley of Lamentation while following the game.
He picked it up and turned toward home, but was suddenly seized with a longing for his father and mother. He did not venture to speak of this wish to his wife, yet by his grief and restlessness both she and her sisters instantly perceived his condition.
"Oh! luckless prince, you have passed through the Valley of Lamentation," they said in terror.
"I did so, my dear ones, without meaning to be so imprudent, but now the longing to see my parents is killing me! Yet I can not forsake you. I have already spent several days with you and have no cause to complain. So I'll go and see my parents once more, and then come back to you, never to leave you again."
"Do not quit us, beloved prince! Your parents died two or three hundred years ago, and if you go, we fear you yourself will never return; stay with us, for a presentiment of evil tells us that you will perish!"
All the entreaties of the three ladies, as well as those of the horse, were unable to quiet the young hero's longing for his parents, which was fairly consuming him alive.
At last the horse said: "If you don't listen to me, master, whatever happens to you will be your own fault. I'll tell you something, and if you accept my condition, I'll take you back."
"I'll accept it with many thanks," replied the prince; "let me hear it."
"As soon as you reach your father's palace you will dismount, but I am to return alone in case you stay even an hour."
"Be it so," the prince agreed.
They made their preparations for the journey, the prince embraced the ladies and after having bade them farewell he rode away, but they sobbed and wept bitterly when he left them.
They reached the country which had once been the kingdom of the Scorpion Witch, but found cities there; the woods had become fields; the prince questioned one person and another about the Scorpion Witch and her house, but they answered that their grandfathers had heard from their great, great grandfathers that such silly tales had once been told.
"How is that possible!" replied the prince, "I came through this region myself only a short time ago," and he told them all he knew.
The people laughed at him as if he were a lunatic or a person talking in his sleep, and the prince angrily rode on without noticing that his hair and beard were growing white.
When he reached the realm of the Woodpecker Fairy, the same questions and answers were exchanged. The prince could not understand how these places had altered so much in a few days, and again rode angrily on. He now had a white beard that reached to his waist, and he felt as if his feet were beginning to tremble.
Quitting this country he arrived in his father's empire. Here he found new people, new towns, and every thing so much changed that he could not recognize it. At last he came to the palace where he was born. When he dismounted, the horse kissed his hand, and said:
"I wish you good health, master, I'm going back to the place from which I came. If you want to go too, mount quickly, and we'll be off."
"Farewell, I too hope to return soon."
The horse darted away with the speed of an arrow.
When the prince saw the ruined palace and the weeds growing around it, he sighed deeply and with tears in his eyes tried to remember how magnificent these places had once been. He walked around the building two or three times, tried to recollect how every room, every corner had looked, found the stable where he had discovered the horse, and then went down into the cellar, whose entrance was choked up with fallen rubbish.
He groped hither and thither, holding up his eyelids with his hands, and scarcely able to totter along, while his snowy beard now fell to his knees, but found nothing except a dilapidated old chest, which he opened. It seemed empty, but as he raised the lid a voice from the bottom said: "Welcome, if you had kept me waiting much longer, I too should have gone to decay."
Then his death, which had become completely shriveled in the chest, seized him; but the prince fell lifeless on the ground and instantly crumbled into dust.
Into the saddle then I sprung, The tale to tell to old and young.
The Little Purse with two Half-pennies.
There was once an old man and an old woman. The old woman had a hen and the old man had a rooster; the old woman's hen laid two eggs a day and she ate a great many, but she would not give the old man a single one. One day the old man lost patience and said: "Listen, old crony, you live as if you were in clover, give me a couple of eggs so that I can at least have a taste of them."
"No indeed!" replied the old woman, who was very avaricious. "If you want eggs, beat your rooster that he may lay eggs for you, and then eat them; I flogged my hen, and just see how she lays now."
The old man, being stingy and greedy, listened to the old woman's talk, angrily seized his rooster, gave him a sound thrashing and said:
"There, now, lay some eggs for me or else go out of the house, I won't feed you for nothing any longer."
As soon as the rooster escaped from the old man's hands it ran off down the high-road. While thus pursuing its way, lo and behold! it found a little purse with two half-pennies. Taking it in its beak, the bird turned and went back toward the old man's house. On the road it met a carriage containing a gentleman and several ladies. The gentleman looked at the rooster, saw a purse in its bill, and said to the driver:
"Get down and see what this rooster has in its beak."
The driver hastily jumped from his box, took the little purse from the rooster's bill, and gave it to his master. The gentleman put it in his pocket and drove on. The rooster was very angry and ran after the carriage, repeating continually:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
The enraged gentleman said to the coachman as they passed a well:
"Take that impudent rooster and throw it into the well."
The driver got down from his box again, seized the rooster, and flung it down the well. When the rooster saw that its life was in such great danger, what was it to do?
It began to swallow the water, and drank and drank till it had swallowed all the water in the well. Then it flew out and again ran after the carriage, calling:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
When the gentleman saw this, he was perfectly amazed and said:
"Hoho! This rooster is a perfect imp of Satan! Never mind! I'll wring your neck, you saucy cockerel!" When he reached home he told the cook to take the rooster, throw it on the coals burning upon the hearth, and push a big stone in front of the opening in the chimney. The old woman did what her master bade her.
When the rooster saw this new injustice, it began to spit out the water it had swallowed till it had poured all the water from the well upon the burning coals. This put out the fire, cooled the hearth, and made such a flood on the kitchen floor that the cook fainted away from pure rage. Then the rooster gave the stone a push, came out safe and sound, ran to the gentleman's window, and began to knock on the panes with its bill, screaming:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
"Heaven knows that I've got a torment in this monster of a rooster," said the gentleman. "Driver, rid me of it, toss it into the middle of the herds of cows and oxen; perhaps some bull will stick its horns through it and relieve us." The coachman seized the rooster and flung it among the herds. You ought to have seen the rooster's delight. It swallowed bulls, oxen, cows, and calves, till it had devoured the whole herd and its stomach had grown as big as a mountain. Then it went to the window again, spread out its wings before the sun so that it darkened the gentleman's room, and once more began:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
When the gentleman saw this he was ready to burst with rage and did not know what to do to get rid of the rooster. He stood thinking till at last an idea entered his head:
"I'll lock it up in the treasure-chamber. Perhaps if it tries to swallow the ducats one will stick in its throat, and I shall get rid of the bird." No sooner said than done. He grasped the rooster and flung it into the treasure-chamber. The rooster swallowed all the money and left the chests empty. Then it escaped from the room, went to the gentleman's window, and again began:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
As the gentleman saw that there was nothing else to be done he tossed the purse out. The rooster picked it up, went about its own business, and left the gentleman in peace. All the poultry ran after the rooster so that it really looked like a wedding; but the gentleman turned green with rage as he watched, and said sighing:
"Let them all run off to the last chick, I'm glad to be rid of the torment; there was witchcraft in that rooster!"
But the puffed-up rooster stalked proudly along, followed by all the fowls, and went merrily on and on till he reached the old man's house and began to crow: "Kikeriki!"
When the old man heard the rooster's voice he ran out joyfully to meet the bird, but looking through the door what did he see? His rooster had become a terrible object. An elephant beside it would have seemed like a flea; and following behind came countless flocks of birds, each one more beautiful and brilliant than the other. When the old man saw the rooster so huge and fat, he opened the gate for it. "Master," said the bird, "spread a sheet here in the middle of the yard."
The old man, as nimble as a top, laid down the sheet. The rooster took its stand upon it, spread its wings, and instantly the whole yard was filled with birds and herds of cattle, but it shook out on the sheet a pile of ducats that flashed in the sun till they dazzled the eyes. When the old man beheld this vast treasure he did not know what to do in his delight, and hugged and kissed the rooster.
But all at once the old woman appeared from somewhere, and when she saw this marvelous spectacle her eyes glittered in her head, and she was ready to burst with wrath.
"Dear old friend," she said, "give me a few ducats."
"Pine away with longing for them, old woman; when I begged you for some eggs, you know what you answered. Now flog your hen, that it may bring you ducats. I beat my rooster, and you see what it has fetched me."
The old woman went to the hen-coop, shook the hen, took it by the tail, and gave it such a drubbing that it was enough to make one weep for pity. When the poor hen escaped from the old woman's hands it fled to the highway. While walking along it found a bead, swallowed it, hurried back home as fast as possible, and began to cackle at the gate. The old woman welcomed it joyfully. The hen ran quickly in at the gate, passed its mistress, and went to its nest—at the end of an hour it jumped off, cackling loudly. The old woman hastened to see what the hen had laid. But when she glanced into the nest what did she perceive? A little glass bead. The hen had laid a glass bead! When the old woman saw that the hen had fooled her, she began to beat it, and beat till she flogged it to death. So the stupid old soul remained as poor as a church-mouse. From that time she might live on roast nothing and golden wait a while, instead of eggs, for she had abused and killed the poor hen, though it was not at all to blame.
But the old man was very rich; he built great houses, laid out beautiful gardens, and lived luxuriously. He made the old woman his poultry-maid, the rooster he took about with him everywhere, dressed in a gold collar, yellow boots, and spurs on its heels, so that one might have thought it was one of the Three Kings from the Christmas play instead of a mere ordinary rooster.
Mogarzea and His Son.
There was once a young lad who had neither father nor mother. Every thing his parents had left him was in the care of guardians, and at last he could bear their unjust reproaches no longer, but went out into the wide world, entered a path leading to a glade in the forest, and followed it a long way.
When, in the evening, he grew tired and found no place to rest, he climbed a hill and gazed around him in every direction to try to discover a light; after a long search he saw the flicker of a tiny spark and went toward it. He walked and walked half the night, then he came to a huge fire, by which a man as big as a giant was sleeping. What was the youth to do? After thinking a while, he crept into one leg of the man's trowsers and spent the rest of the night there.
When the man rose the next morning, to his great astonishment, he saw the youngster drop out of his breeches.
"Where did you come from?" he asked.
"I was sent to you for a son last night," replied the lad.
"If that is true," said the big man, "you may tend my sheep, and I'll give you something to eat, but beware that you don't cross the boundaries, or woe betide you!"
He pointed out to the boy the end of his land, and then added:
"God be with you!"
The lad tended the flock all day, and when he returned in the evening found the fire lighted, and helped the giant milk the sheep.
After their work was done, they sat down to supper, and while they were eating the boy asked:
"What is your name, father?"
"Mogarzea," replied the big fellow.
"I wonder you don't get tired of staying here alone in this wilderness."
"Then you wonder without cause. Don't you know that the bear never dances willingly?"
"Yes, you're right there," replied the boy. "But I see that you are always dull and sad. Tell me your story, father."
"What can be the use of telling you things that would make you sorrowful too?"
"Never mind, I should like to know them. Are you not my father? Do you suppose you have me as a son for nothing?"
"Well then, if that's true and you wish it, listen to my story.
"My name, as I have already told you, is Mogarzea; I am a prince, and set out to go to the Sweet-milk Lake, which is not far from here, to marry a fairy. I had heard that three fairies lived there. But Fortune did not smile upon me; wicked elves attacked me and took away my soul. Since that time I have settled here to dwell with my sheep on this little patch of land, without being able to take pleasure in any thing, without having a moment's happiness, or even once enjoying a laugh.
"The abominable elves are so quarrelsome that they let no one who crosses their frontiers go unpunished. That's why I advise you to be on your guard, lest something should happen to you also."
"All right, all right, just let me alone, father," replied the youth, and they went to rest.
When day dawned, the lad rose and set off with the flock. I don't know how or why, but he could not feel content to gaze at the elves' beautiful meadows, while the sheep were grazing on Mogarzea's barren ground.
On the third day, when he was standing in the shade of a tree playing on the flute, for he was, as it were, a master of the art of flute playing, one of the sheep strayed away into the flowery meadows, others followed, then others, till, when the youth noticed them, a number of the animals had crossed the boundaries.
Still playing on his flute, he went to drive back the sheep which had left the flock, but he suddenly saw before him three merry maidens, who stopped him and began to dance around him. When the lad discovered the state of affairs, he summoned up his courage and blew with all his might. They danced until the evening.
"Let me go now," he said, "poor Mogarzea will be hungry; to-morrow, if you wish, I'll play still better."
"We will let you go," they replied, "but you know that if you don't come you will not escape our punishment."
So they agreed that he was to come directly to them the next morning, sheep and all, then each went home. Mogarzea wondered why the milk had increased so much, and was not satisfied until the lad assured him that he had not crossed the boundaries. They ate their supper and went to rest.