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The Prince And The Dragon

from The Crimson Fairy Book





Once upon a time there lived an emperor who had three sons. They were
all fine young men, and fond of hunting, and scarcely a day passed
without one or other of them going out to look for game.

One morning the eldest of the three princes mounted his horse and set
out for a neighbouring forest, where wild animals of all sorts were to
be found. He had not long left the castle, when a hare sprang out of a
thicket and dashed across the road in front. The young man gave chase
at once, and pursued it over hill and dale, till at last the hare took
refuge in a mill which was standing by the side of a river. The prince
followed and entered the mill, but stopped in terror by the door, for,
instead of a hare, before him stood a dragon, breathing fire and flame.
At this fearful sight the prince turned to fly, but a fiery tongue
coiled round his waist, and drew him into the dragon's mouth, and he was
seen no more.

A week passed away, and when the prince never came back everyone in the
town began to grow uneasy. At last his next brother told the emperor
that he likewise would go out to hunt, and that perhaps he would find
some clue as to his brother's disappearance. But hardly had the castle
gates closed on the prince than the hare sprang out of the bushes as
before, and led the huntsman up hill and down dale, till they reached
the mill. Into this the hare flew with the prince at his heels, when,
lo! instead of the hare, there stood a dragon breathing fire and flame;
and out shot a fiery tongue which coiled round the prince's waist, and
lifted him straight into the dragon's mouth, and he was seen no more.

Days went by, and the emperor waited and waited for the sons who never
came, and could not sleep at night for wondering where they were and
what had become of them. His youngest son wished to go in search of his
brothers, but for long the emperor refused to listen to him, lest he
should lose him also. But the prince prayed so hard for leave to make
the search, and promised so often that he would be very cautious and
careful, that at length the emperor gave him permission, and ordered the
best horse in the stables to be saddled for him.

Full of hope the young prince started on his way, but no sooner was
he outside the city walls than a hare sprang out of the bushes and ran
before him, till they reached the mill. As before, the animal dashed in
through the open door, but this time he was not followed by the prince.
Wiser than his brothers, the young man turned away, saying to himself:
'There are as good hares in the forest as any that have come out of it,
and when I have caught them, I can come back and look for you.'

For many hours he rode up and down the mountain, but saw nothing, and at
last, tired of waiting, he went back to the mill. Here he found an old
woman sitting, whom he greeted pleasantly.

'Good morning to you, little mother,' he said; and the old woman
answered: 'Good morning, my son.'

'Tell me, little mother,' went on the prince, 'where shall I find my
hare?'

'My son,' replied the old woman, 'that was no hare, but a dragon who has
led many men hither, and then has eaten them all.' At these words the
prince's heart grew heavy, and he cried, 'Then my brothers must have
come here, and have been eaten by the dragon!'

'You have guessed right,' answered the old woman; 'and I can give you no
better counsel than to go home at once, before the same fate overtakes
you.'

'Will you not come with me out of this dreadful place?' said the young
man.

'He took me prisoner, too,' answered she, 'and I cannot shake off his
chains.'

'Then listen to me,' cried the prince. 'When the dragon comes back,
ask him where he always goes when he leaves here, and what makes him so
strong; and when you have coaxed the secret from him, tell me the next
time I come.'

So the prince went home, and the old woman remained in the mill, and as
soon as the dragon returned she said to him:

'Where have you been all this time--you must have travelled far?'

'Yes, little mother, I have indeed travelled far.' answered he. Then the
old woman began to flatter him, and to praise his cleverness; and
when she thought she had got him into a good temper, she said: 'I have
wondered so often where you get your strength from; I do wish you would
tell me. I would stoop and kiss the place out of pure love!' The dragon
laughed at this, and answered:

'In the hearthstone yonder lies the secret of my strength.'

Then the old woman jumped up and kissed the hearth; whereat the dragon
laughed the more, and said:

'You foolish creature! I was only jesting. It is not in the hearthstone,
but in that tall tree that lies the secret of my strength.' Then the
old woman jumped up again and put her arms round the tree, and kissed it
heartily. Loudly laughed the dragon when he saw what she was doing.

'Old fool,' he cried, as soon as he could speak, 'did you really believe
that my strength came from that tree?'

'Where is it then?' asked the old woman, rather crossly, for she did not
like being made fun of.

'My strength,' replied the dragon, 'lies far away; so far that you could
never reach it. Far, far from here is a kingdom, and by its capital city
is a lake, and in the lake is a dragon, and inside the dragon is a wild
boar, and inside the wild boar is a pigeon, and inside the pigeon a
sparrow, and inside the sparrow is my strength.' And when the old woman
heard this, she thought it was no use flattering him any longer, for
never, never, could she take his strength from him.

The following morning, when the dragon had left the mill, the prince
came back, and the old woman told him all that the creature had said. He
listened in silence, and then returned to the castle, where he put on
a suit of shepherd's clothes, and taking a staff in his hand, he went
forth to seek a place as tender of sheep.

For some time he wandered from village to village and from town to town,
till he came at length to a large city in a distant kingdom, surrounded
on three sides by a great lake, which happened to be the very lake in
which the dragon lived. As was his custom, he stopped everybody whom he
met in the streets that looked likely to want a shepherd and begged them
to engage him, but they all seemed to have shepherds of their own, or
else not to need any. The prince was beginning to lose heart, when a man
who had overheard his question turned round and said that he had better
go and ask the emperor, as he was in search of some one to see after his
flocks.

'Will you take care of my sheep?' said the emperor, when the young man
knelt before him.

'Most willingly, your Majesty,' answered the young man, and he listened
obediently while the emperor told him what he was to do.

'Outside the city walls,' went on the emperor, 'you will find a large
lake, and by its banks lie the richest meadows in my kingdom. When you
are leading out your flocks to pasture, they will all run straight to
these meadows, and none that have gone there have ever been known to
come back. Take heed, therefore, my son, not to suffer your sheep to go
where they will, but drive them to any spot that you think best.'

With a low bow the prince thanked the emperor for his warning, and
promised to do his best to keep the sheep safe. Then he left the palace
and went to the market-place, where he bought two greyhounds, a hawk,
and a set of pipes; after that he took the sheep out to pasture. The
instant the animals caught sight of the lake lying before them, they
trotted off as fast as their legs would go to the green meadows lying
round it. The prince did not try to stop them; he only placed his hawk
on the branch of a tree, laid his pipes on the grass, and bade the
greyhounds sit still; then, rolling up his sleeves and trousers, he
waded into the water crying as he did so: 'Dragon! dragon! if you are
not a coward, come out and fight with me!' And a voice answered from the
depths of the lake:

'I am waiting for you, O prince'; and the next minute the dragon reared
himself out of the water, huge and horrible to see. The prince sprang
upon him and they grappled with each other and fought together till the
sun was high, and it was noonday. Then the dragon gasped:

'O prince, let me dip my burning head once into the lake, and I will
hurl you up to the top of the sky.' But the prince answered, 'Oh, ho! my
good dragon, do not crow too soon! If the emperor's daughter were only
here, and would kiss me on the forehead, I would throw you up higher
still!' And suddenly the dragon's hold loosened, and he fell back into
the lake.

As soon as it was evening, the prince washed away all signs of the
fight, took his hawk upon his shoulder, and his pipes under his arm, and
with his greyhounds in front and his flock following after him he set
out for the city. As they all passed through the streets the people
stared in wonder, for never before had any flock returned from the lake.

The next morning he rose early, and led his sheep down the road to the
lake. This time, however, the emperor sent two men on horseback to ride
behind him, with orders to watch the prince all day long. The horsemen
kept the prince and his sheep in sight, without being seen themselves.
As soon as they beheld the sheep running towards the meadows, they
turned aside up a steep hill, which overhung the lake. When the shepherd
reached the place he laid, as before, his pipes on the grass and bade
the greyhounds sit beside them, while the hawk he perched on the branch
of the tree. Then he rolled up his trousers and his sleeves, and waded
into the water crying:

'Dragon! dragon! if you are not a coward, come out and fight with me!'
And the dragon answered:

'I am waiting for you, O prince,' and the next minute he reared himself
out of the water, huge and horrible to see. Again they clasped each
other tight round the body and fought till it was noon, and when the sun
was at its hottest, the dragon gasped:

'O prince, let me dip my burning head once in the lake, and I will hurl
you up to the top of the sky.' But the prince answered:

'Oh, ho! my good dragon, do not crow too soon! If the emperor's daughter
were only here, and would kiss me on the forehead, I would throw you up
higher still!' And suddenly the dragon's hold loosened, and he fell back
into the lake.

As soon as it was evening the prince again collected his sheep, and
playing on his pipes he marched before them into the city. When he
passed through the gates all the people came out of their houses to
stare in wonder, for never before had any flock returned from the lake.

Meanwhile the two horsemen had ridden quickly back, and told the emperor
all that they had seen and heard. The emperor listened eagerly to their
tale, then called his daughter to him and repeated it to her.

'To-morrow,' he said, when he had finished, 'you shall go with the
shepherd to the lake, and then you shall kiss him on the forehead as he
wishes.'

But when the princess heard these words, she burst into tears, and
sobbed out:

'Will you really send me, your only child, to that dreadful place, from
which most likely I shall never come back?'

'Fear nothing, my little daughter, all will be well. Many shepherds have
gone to that lake and none have ever returned; but this one has in these
two days fought twice with the dragon and has escaped without a wound.
So I hope to-morrow he will kill the dragon altogether, and deliver this
land from the monster who has slain so many of our bravest men.'

Scarcely had the sun begun to peep over the hills next morning, when
the princess stood by the shepherd's side, ready to go to the lake.
The shepherd was brimming over with joy, but the princess only wept
bitterly. 'Dry your tears, I implore you,' said he. 'If you will just do
what I ask you, and when the time comes, run and kiss my forehead, you
have nothing to fear.'

Merrily the shepherd blew on his pipes as he marched at the head of his
flock, only stopping every now and then to say to the weeping girl at
his side:

'Do not cry so, Heart of Gold; trust me and fear nothing.' And so they
reached the lake.

In an instant the sheep were scattered all over the meadows, and the
prince placed his hawk on the tree, and his pipes on the grass, while he
bade his greyhounds lie beside them. Then he rolled up his trousers and
his sleeves, and waded into the water, calling:

'Dragon! dragon! if you are not a coward, come forth, and let us have
one more fight together.' And the dragon answered: 'I am waiting for
you, O prince'; and the next minute he reared himself out of the water,
huge and horrible to see. Swiftly he drew near to the bank, and the
prince sprang to meet him, and they grasped each other round the body
and fought till it was noon. And when the sun was at its hottest, the
dragon cried:

'O prince, let me dip my burning head in the lake, and I will hurl you
to the top of the sky.' But the prince answered:

'Oh, ho! my good dragon, do not crow too soon! If the emperor's daughter
were only here, and she would kiss my forehead, I would throw you higher
still.'

Hardly had he spoken, when the princess, who had been listening, ran
up and kissed him on the forehead. Then the prince swung the dragon
straight up into the clouds, and when he touched the earth again, he
broke into a thousand pieces. Out of the pieces there sprang a wild boar
and galloped away, but the prince called his hounds to give chase, and
they caught the boar and tore it to bits. Out of the pieces there sprang
a hare, and in a moment the greyhounds were after it, and they caught
it and killed it; and out of the hare there came a pigeon. Quickly the
prince let loose his hawk, which soared straight into the air, then
swooped upon the bird and brought it to his master. The prince cut open
its body and found the sparrow inside, as the old woman had said.

'Now,' cried the prince, holding the sparrow in his hand, 'now you shall
tell me where I can find my brothers.'

'Do not hurt me,' answered the sparrow, 'and I will tell you with all my
heart.' Behind your father's castle stands a mill, and in the mill are
three slender twigs. Cut off these twigs and strike their roots with
them, and the iron door of a cellar will open. In the cellar you will
find as many people, young and old, women and children, as would fill a
kingdom, and among them are your brothers.'

By this time twilight had fallen, so the prince washed himself in the
lake, took the hawk on his shoulder and the pipes under his arm, and
with his greyhounds before him and his flock behind him, marched gaily
into the town, the princess following them all, still trembling
with fright. And so they passed through the streets, thronged with a
wondering crowd, till they reached the castle.

Unknown to anyone, the emperor had stolen out on horseback, and had
hidden himself on the hill, where he could see all that happened. When
all was over, and the power of the dragon was broken for ever, he rode
quickly back to the castle, and was ready to receive the prince with
open arms, and to promise him his daughter to wife. The wedding took
place with great splendour, and for a whole week the town was hung with
coloured lamps, and tables were spread in the hall of the castle for all
who chose to come and eat. And when the feast was over, the prince
told the emperor and the people who he really was, and at this everyone
rejoiced still more, and preparations were made for the prince and
princess to return to their own kingdom, for the prince was impatient to
set free his brothers.

The first thing he did when he reached his native country was to hasten
to the mill, where he found the three twigs as the sparrow had told him.
The moment that he struck the root the iron door flew open, and from the
cellar a countless multitude of men and women streamed forth. He bade
them go one by one wheresoever they would, while he himself waited by
the door till his brothers passed through. How delighted they were to
meet again, and to hear all that the prince had done to deliver them
from their enchantment. And they went home with him and served him
all the days of their lives, for they said that he only who had proved
himself brave and faithful was fit to be king.

[From Volksmarehen der Serben.]





Next: Little Wildrose

Previous: The Boy Who Could Keep A Secret



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