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The Strong Prince

from The Crimson Fairy Book





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.]





Next: The Treasure Seeker

Previous: The Gifts Of The Magician



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