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a pack of wolves snapping at his heels. Then all the boy's courage
returned to him. He took his bow, and aiming an arrow at the largest
wolf, shot him through the heart, and a few more arrows soon put the
rest to flight. The magician was full of gratitude to his deliverer, and
promised him a reward for his help if the youth would go back with him
to his house.

'Indeed there is nothing that would be more welcome to me than a night's
lodging,' answered the boy; 'I have been wandering all day in the
forest, and did not know how to get home again.

'Come with me, you must be hungry as well as tired,' said the magician,
and led the way to his house, where the guest flung himself on a bed,
and went fast asleep. But his host returned to the forest to get some
food, for the larder was empty.

While he was absent the housekeeper went to the boy's room and tried
to wake him. She stamped on the floor, and shook him and called to him,
telling him that he was in great danger, and must take flight at once.
But nothing would rouse him, and if he did ever open his eyes he shut
them again directly.

Soon after, the magician came back from the forest, and told the
housekeeper to bring them something to eat. The meal was quickly ready,
and the magician called to the boy to come down and eat it, but he
could not be wakened, and they had to sit down to supper without him.
By-and-by the magician went out into the wood again for some more
hunting, and on his return he tried afresh to waken the youth. But
finding it quite impossible, he went back for the third time to the
forest.

While he was absent the boy woke up and dressed himself. Then he came
downstairs and began to talk to the housekeeper. The girl had heard
how he had saved her master's life, so she said nothing more about his
running away, but instead told him that if the magician offered him the
choice of a reward, he was to ask for the horse which stood in the third
stall of the stable.

By-and-by the old man came back and they all sat down to dinner. When
they had finished the magician said: 'Now, my son, tell me what you will
have as the reward of your courage?'

'Give me the horse that stands in the third stall of your stable,'
answered the youth. 'For I have a long way to go before I get home, and
my feet will not carry me so far.'

'Ah! my son,' replied the magician, 'it is the best horse in my stable
that you want! Will not anything else please you as well?'

But the youth declared that it was the horse, and the horse only, that
he desired, and in the end the old man gave way. And besides the horse,
the magician gave him a zither, a fiddle, and a flute, saying: 'If you
are in danger, touch the zither; and if no one comes to your aid, then
play on the fiddle; but if that brings no help, blow on the flute.'

The youth thanked the magician, and fastening his treasures about him
mounted the horse and rode off. He had already gone some miles when,
to his great surprise, the horse spoke, and said: 'It is no use your
returning home just now, your father will only beat you. Let us visit a
few towns first, and something lucky will be sure to happen to us.'

This advice pleased the boy, for he felt himself almost a man by this
time, and thought it was high time he saw the world. When they entered
the capital of the country everyone stopped to admire the beauty of the
horse. Even the king heard of it, and came to see the splendid creature
with his own eyes. Indeed, he wanted directly to buy it, and told the
youth he would give any price he liked. The young man hesitated for a
moment, but before he could speak, the horse contrived to whisper to
him:

'Do not sell me, but ask the king to take me to his stable, and feed me
there; then his other horses will become just as beautiful as I.'

The king was delighted when he was told what the horse had said,
and took the animal at once to the stables, and placed it in his own
particular stall. Sure enough, the horse had scarcely eaten a mouthful
of corn out of the manger, when the rest of the horses seemed to have
undergone a transformation. Some of them were old favourites which the
king had ridden in many wars, and they bore the signs of age and of
service. But now they arched their heads, and pawed the ground with
their slender legs as they had been wont to do in days long gone by. The
king's heart beat with delight, but the old groom who had had the care
of them stood crossly by, and eyed the owner of this wonderful creature
with hate and envy. Not a day passed without his bringing some story
against the youth to his master, but the king understood all about the
matter and paid no attention. At last the groom declared that the
young man had boasted that he could find the king's war horse which had
strayed into the forest several years ago, and had not been heard of
since. Now the king had never ceased to mourn for his horse, so this
time he listened to the tale which the groom had invented, and sent for
the youth. 'Find me my horse in three days,' said he, 'or it will be the
worse for you.'

The youth was thunderstruck at this command, but he only bowed, and went
off at once to the stable.

'Do not worry yourself,' answered his own horse. 'Ask the king to give
you a hundred oxen, and to let them be killed and cut into small pieces.
Then we will start on our journey, and ride till we reach a certain
river. There a horse will come up to you, but take no notice of him.
Soon another will appear, and this also you must leave alone, but when
the third horse shows itself, throw my bridle over it.'

Everything happened just as the horse had said, and the third horse was
safely bridled. Then the other horse spoke again: 'The magician's raven
will try to eat us as we ride away, but throw it some of the oxen's
flesh, and then I will gallop like the wind, and carry you safe out of
the dragon's clutches.'

So the young man did as he was told, and brought the horse back to the
king.

The old stableman was very jealous, when he heard of it, and wondered
what he could do to injure the youth in the eyes of his royal master.
At last he hit upon a plan, and told the king that the young man had
boasted that he could bring home the king's wife, who had vanished many
months before, without leaving a trace behind her. Then the king bade
the young man come into his presence, and desired him to fetch the queen
home again, as he had boasted he could do. And if he failed, his head
would pay the penalty.

The poor youth's heart stood still as he listened. Find the queen? But
how was he to do that, when nobody in the palace had been able to do
so! Slowly he walked to the stable, and laying his head on his horse's
shoulder, he said: 'The king has ordered me to bring his wife home
again, and how can I do that when she disappeared so long ago, and no
one can tell me anything about her?'

'Cheer up!' answered the horse, 'we will manage to find her. You have
only got to ride me back to the same river that we went to yesterday,
and I will plunge into it and take my proper shape again. For I am the
king's wife, who was turned into a horse by the magician from whom you
saved me.'

Joyfully the young man sprang into the saddle and rode away to the banks
of the river. Then he threw himself off, and waited while the horse
plunged in. The moment it dipped its head into the water its black skin
vanished, and the most beautiful woman in the world was floating on the
water. She came smiling towards the youth, and held out her hand, and
he took it and led her back to the palace. Great was the king's surprise
and happiness when he beheld his lost wife stand before him, and in
gratitude to her rescuer he loaded him with gifts.

You would have thought that after this the poor youth would have been
left in peace; but no, his enemy the stableman hated him as much as
ever, and laid a new plot for his undoing. This time he presented
himself before the king and told him that the youth was so puffed up
with what he had done that he had declared he would seize the king's
throne for himself.

At this news the king waxed so furious that he ordered a gallows to be
erected at once, and the young man to be hanged without a trial. He was
not even allowed to speak in his own defence, but on the very steps of
the gallows he sent a message to the king and begged, as a last favour,
that he might play a tune on his zither. Leave was given him, and taking
the instrument from under his cloak he touched the strings. Scarcely had
the first notes sounded than the hangman and his helper began to dance,
and the louder grew the music the higher they capered, till at last they
cried for mercy. But the youth paid no heed, and the tunes rang out more
merrily than before, and by the time the sun set they both sank on the
ground exhausted, and declared that the hanging must be put off till
to-morrow.

The story of the zither soon spread through the town, and on the
following morning the king and his whole court and a large crowd of
people were gathered at the foot of the gallows to see the youth hanged.
Once more he asked a favour - permission to play on his fiddle, and this
the king was graciously pleased to grant. But with the first notes, the
leg of every man in the crowd was lifted high, and they danced to the
sound of the music the whole day till darkness fell, and there was no
light to hang the musician by.

The third day came, and the youth asked leave to play on his flute. 'No,
no,' said the king, 'you made me dance all day yesterday, and if I do
it again it will certainly be my death. You shall play no more tunes.
Quick! the rope round his neck.'

At these words the young man looked so sorrowful that the courtiers said
to the king: 'He is very young to die. Let him play a tune if it will
make him happy.' So, very unwillingly, the king gave him leave; but
first he had himself bound to a big fir tree, for fear that he should be
made to dance.

When he was made fast, the young man began to blow softly on his flute,
and bound though he was, the king's body moved to the sound, up and
down the fir tree till his clothes were in tatters, and the skin nearly
rubbed off his back. But the youth had no pity, and went on blowing,
till suddenly the old magician appeared and asked: 'What danger are you
in, my son, that you have sent for me?'

'They want to hang me,' answered the young man; 'the gallows are all
ready and the hangman is only waiting for me to stop playing.'

'Oh, I will put that right,' said the magician; and taking the gallows,
he tore it up and flung it into the air, and no one knows where it came
down. 'Who has ordered you to be hanged?' asked he.

The young man pointed to the king, who was still bound to the fir; and
without wasting words the magician took hold of the tree also, and
with a mighty heave both fir and man went spinning through the air, and
vanished in the clouds after the gallows.

Then the youth was declared to be free, and the people elected him for
their king; and the stable helper drowned himself from envy, for, after
all, if it had not been for him the young man would have remained poor
all the days of his life.

[From Finnische Mahrchen.]




The Strong Prince

Once upon a time there lived a king who was so fond of wine that he
could not go to sleep unless he knew he had a great flaskful tied to his
bed-post. All day long he drank till he was too stupid to attend to his
business, and everything in the kingdom went to rack and ruin. But one
day an accident happened to him, and he was struck on the head by a
falling bough, so that he fell from his horse and lay dead upon the
ground.

His wife and son mourned his loss bitterly, for, in spite of his faults,
he had always been kind to them. So they abandoned the crown and forsook
their country, not knowing or caring where they went.

At length they wandered into a forest, and being very tired, sat down
under a tree to eat some bread that they had brought with them. When
they had finished the queen said: 'My son, I am thirsty; fetch me some
water.'

The prince got up at once and went to a brook which he heard gurgling
near at hand. He stooped and filled his hat with the water, which he
brought to his mother; then he turned and followed the stream up to
its source in a rock, where it bubbled out clear and fresh and cold. He
knelt down to take a draught from the deep pool below the rock, when he
saw the reflection of a sword hanging from the branch of a tree over his
head. The young man drew back with a start; but in a moment he climbed
the tree, cutting the rope which held the sword, and carried the weapon
to his mother.

The queen was greatly surprised at the sight of anything so splendid in
such a lonely place, and took it in her hands to examine it closely.
It was of curious workmanship, wrought with gold, and on its handle was
written: 'The man who can buckle on this sword will become stronger than
other men.' The queen's heart swelled with joy as she read these words,
and she bade her son lose no time in testing their truth. So he fastened
it round his waist, and instantly a glow of strength seemed to run
through his veins. He took hold of a thick oak tree and rooted it up as
easily as if it had been a weed.

This discovery put new life into the queen and her son, and they
continued their walk through the forest. But night was drawing on, and
the darkness grew so thick that it seemed as if it could be cut with a
knife. They did not want to sleep in the wood, for they were afraid of
wolves and other wild beasts, so they groped their way along, hand in
hand, till the prince tripped over something which lay across the path.
He could not see what it was, but stooped down and tried to lift it.
The thing was very heavy, and he thought his back would break under the
strain. At last with a great heave he moved it out of the road, and as
it fell he knew it was a huge rock. Behind the rock was a cave which it
was quite clear was the home of some robbers, though not one of the band
was there.

Hastily putting out the fire which burned brightly at the back, and
bidding his mother come in and keep very still, the prince began to pace
up and down, listening for the return of the robbers. But he was very
sleepy, and in spite of all his efforts he felt he could not keep awake
much longer, when he heard the sound of the robbers returning, shouting
and singing as they marched along. Soon the singing ceased, and
straining his ears he heard them discussing anxiously what had become of
their cave, and why they could not see the fire as usual. 'This must
be the place,' said a voice, which the prince took to be that of the
captain. 'Yes, I feel the ditch before the entrance. Someone forgot to
pile up the fire before we left and it has burnt itself out! But it is
all right. Let every man jump across, and as he does so cry out "Hop! I
am here." I will go last. Now begin.'

The man who stood nearest jumped across, but he had no time to give the
call which the captain had ordered, for with one swift, silent stroke
of the prince's sword, his head rolled into a corner. Then the young man
cried instead, 'Hop! I am here.'

The second man, hearing the signal, leapt the ditch in confidence, and
was met by the same fate, and in a few minutes eleven of the robbers lay
dead, and there remained only the captain.

Now the captain had wound round his neck the shawl of his lost wife,
and the stroke of the prince's sword fell harmless. Being very cunning,
however, he made no resistance, and rolled over as if he were as dead as
the other men. Still, the prince was no fool, and wondered if indeed he
was as dead as he seemed to be; but the captain lay so stiff and stark,
that at last he was taken in.

The prince next dragged the headless bodies into a chamber in the cave,
and locked the door. Then he and his mother ransacked the place for some
food, and when they had eaten it they lay down and slept in peace.

With the dawn they were both awake again, and found that, instead of
the cave which they had come to the night before, they now were in a
splendid castle, full of beautiful rooms. The prince went round all
these and carefully locked them up, bidding his mother take care of the
keys while he was hunting.

Unfortunately, the queen, like all women, could not bear to think that
there was anything which she did not know. So the moment that her son
had turned his back, she opened the doors of all the rooms, and peeped
in, till she came to the one where the robbers lay. But if the sight
of the blood on the ground turned her faint, the sight of the robber
captain walking up and down was a greater shock still. She quickly
turned the key in the lock, and ran back to the chamber she had slept
in.

Soon after her son came in, bringing with him a large bear, which he had
killed for supper. As there was enough food to last them for many days,
the prince did not hunt the next morning, but, instead, began to explore
the castle. He found that a secret way led from it into the forest; and
following the path, he reached another castle larger and more splendid
than the one belonging to the robbers. He knocked at the door with
his fist, and said that he wanted to enter; but the giant, to whom the
castle belonged, only answered: 'I know who you are. I have nothing to
do with robbers.'

'I am no robber,' answered the prince. 'I am the son of a king, and I
have killed all the band. If you do not open to me at once I will break
in the door, and your head shall go to join the others.'

He waited a little, but the door remained shut as tightly as before.
Then he just put his shoulder to it, and immediately the wood began
to crack. When the giant found that it was no use keeping it shut, he
opened it, saying: 'I see you are a brave youth. Let there be peace
between us.'

And the prince was glad to make peace, for he had caught a glimpse of
the giant's beautiful daughter, and from that day he often sought the
giant's house.

Now the queen led a dull life all alone in the castle, and to amuse
herself she paid visits to the robber captain, who flattered her till at
last she agreed to marry him. But as she was much afraid of her son,
she told the robber that the next time the prince went to bathe in
the river, he was to steal the sword from its place above the bed,
for without it the young man would have no power to punish him for his
boldness.

The robber captain thought this good counsel, and the next morning, when
the young man went to bathe, he unhooked the sword from its nail and
buckled it round his waist. On his return to the castle, the prince
found the robber waiting for him on the steps, waving the sword above
his head, and knowing that some horrible fate was in store, fell on his
knees and begged for mercy. But he might as well have tried to squeeze
blood out of a stone. The robber, indeed, granted him his life, but
took out both his eyes, which he thrust into the prince's hand, saying
brutally:

'Here, you had better keep them! You may find them useful!'

Weeping, the blind youth felt his way to the giant's house, and told him
all the story.

The giant was full of pity for the poor young man, but inquired
anxiously what he had done with the eyes. The prince drew them out of
his pocket, and silently handed them to the giant, who washed them well,
and then put them back in the prince's head. For three days he lay in
utter darkness; then the light began to come back, till soon he saw as
well as ever.

But though he could not rejoice enough over the recovery of his eyes, he
bewailed bitterly the loss of his sword, and that it should have fallen
to the lot of his bitter enemy.

'Never mind, my friend,' said the giant, 'I will get it back for you.'
And he sent for the monkey who was his head servant.

'Tell the fox and the squirrel that they are to go with you, and fetch
me back the prince's sword,' ordered he.

The three servants set out at once, one seated on the back of the
others, the ape, who disliked walking, being generally on top. Directly
they came to the window of the robber captain's room, the monkey sprang
from the backs of the fox and the squirrel, and climbed in. The room was
empty, and the sword hanging from a nail. He took it down, and buckling
it round his waist, as he had seen the prince do, swung himself down
again, and mounting on the backs of his two companions, hastened to
his master. The giant bade him give the sword to the prince, who girded
himself with it, and returned with all speed to the castle.

'Come out, you rascal! come out, you villain!' cried he, 'and answer
to me for the wrong you have done. I will show you who is the master in
this house!'

The noise he made brought the robber into the room. He glanced up to
where the sword usually hung, but it was gone; and instinctively he
looked at the prince's hand, where he saw it gleaming brightly. In his
turn he fell on his knees to beg for mercy, but it was too late. As he
had done to the prince, so the prince did to him, and, blinded, he was
thrust forth, and fell down a deep hole, where he is to this day. His
mother the prince sent back to her father, and never would see her
again. After this he returned to the giant, and said to him:

'My friend, add one more kindness to those you have already heaped on
me. Give me your daughter as my wife.'

So they were married, and the wedding feast was so splendid that there
was not a kingdom in the world that did not hear of it. And the prince
never went back to his father's throne, but lived peacefully with his
wife in the forest, where, if they are not dead, they are living still.

[From Ungarische Volksmarchen.]




The Treasure Seeker

Once, long ago, in a little town that lay in the midst of high hills and
wild forests, a party of shepherds sat one night in the kitchen of the
inn talking over old times, and telling of the strange things that had
befallen them in their youth.

Presently up spoke the silver-haired Father Martin.

'Comrades,' said he, 'you have had wonderful adventures; but I will tell
you something still more astonishing that happened to myself. When I was
a young lad I had no home and no one to care for me, and I wandered from
village to village all over the country with my knapsack on my back;
but as soon as I was old enough I took service with a shepherd in the
mountains, and helped him for three years. One autumn evening as we
drove the flock homeward ten sheep were missing, and the master bade me
go and seek them in the forest. I took my dog with me, but he could find
no trace of them, though we searched among the bushes till night fell;
and then, as I did not know the country and could not find my way home
in the dark, I decided to sleep under a tree. At midnight my dog became
uneasy, and began to whine and creep close to me with his tail between
his legs; by this I knew that something was wrong, and, looking about, I
saw in the bright moonlight a figure standing beside me. It seemed to be
a man with shaggy hair, and a long beard which hung down to his knees.
He had a garland upon his head, and a girdle of oak-leaves about his
body, and carried an uprooted fir-tree in his right hand. I shook like
an aspen leaf at the sight, and my spirit quaked for fear. The strange
being beckoned with his hand that I should follow him; but as I did not
stir from the spot he spoke in a hoarse, grating voice: "Take courage,
fainthearted shepherd. I am the Treasure Seeker of the mountain. If you
will come with me you shall dig up much gold."

'Though I was still deadly cold with terror I plucked up my courage and
said: "Get away from me, evil spirit; I do not desire your treasures."

'At this the spectre grinned in my face and cried mockingly:

'"Simpleton! Do you scorn your good fortune? Well, then, remain a
ragamuffin all your days."

'He turned as if to go away from me, then came back again and said:
"Bethink yourself, bethink yourself, rogue. I will fill your knapsack - I
will fill your pouch."

'"Away from me, monster," I answered, "I will have nothing to do with
you."

'When the apparition saw that I gave no heed to him he ceased to urge
me, saying only: "Some day you will rue this," and looked at me sadly.
Then he cried: "Listen to what I say, and lay it well to heart, it may
be of use to you when you come to your senses. A vast treasure of gold
and precious stones lies in safety deep under the earth. At twilight and
at high noon it is hidden, but at midnight it may be dug up. For seven
hundred years have I watched over it, but now my time has come; it is


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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe Crimson Fairy Book → online text (page 8 of 21)