The Dragon's Strength

: The Laughing Prince Jugoslav Folk And Fairy Tales

There was once a King who had three sons. One day the oldest son went

hunting and when night fell his huntsmen came riding home without him.

Where is the prince? the King asked.

Isn't he here? the huntsmen said. He left us in midafternoon chasing

a hare near the Old Mill up the river. We haven't seen him since and we

supposed he must have come home alone.

When he hadn't returne
the following day his brother, the second

prince, went out to search for him.

I'll go to the Old Mill, he said to the King, and see what's become

of him.

So he mounted his horse and rode up the river. As he neared the Old Mill

a hare crossed his path and the second prince being a hunter like his

brother at once gave chase. His attendant waited for his return but

waited in vain. Night fell and still there was no sign of the second


The attendant returned to the palace and told the King what had

happened. The King was surprised but not unduly alarmed and the

following day when the Youngest Prince asked to go hunting alone the

King suggested that he go in the direction of the Old Mill to find out

if he could what was keeping his brothers.

The Youngest Prince who had listened carefully to what his brothers'

attendants had reported decided to act cautiously. So when a hare

crossed his path as he approached the Old Mill, instead of giving it

chase, he rode off as though he were hunting other game. Later he

returned to the Old Mill from another direction.

He found an old woman sitting in front of it.

Good evening, granny, he said in a friendly tone, pulling up his horse

for a moment's chat. Do you live here? You know I thought the Old Mill

was deserted.

The old woman looked at him and shook her head gloomily.

Deserted indeed! My boy, take an old woman's advice and don't have

anything to do with this old mill! It's an evil place!

Why, granny, the Prince said, what's the matter with it?

The old woman peered cautiously around and when she saw they were alone

she beckoned the Prince to come near. Then she whispered:

A dragon lives here! A horrible monster! He takes the form of a hare

and lures people into the mill. Then he captures them. Some of them he

kills and eats and others he holds as prisoners in an underground

dungeon. I'm one of his prisoners and he keeps me here to work for him.

Granny, the Youngest Prince said, would you like me to rescue you?

My boy, you couldn't do it! You have no idea what a strong evil monster

the dragon is.

If you found out something for me, granny, I think I might be able to

overcome the dragon and rescue you.

The old woman was doubtful but she promised to do anything the Youngest

Prince asked.

Well then, granny, find out from the dragon where his strength is,

whether in his own body or somewhere else. Find out to-night and I'll

come back to-morrow at this same hour to see you.

So that night when the dragon came home, after he had supped and when

she was scratching his head to make him drowsy for bed, the old woman

said to him:

Master, I think you're the strongest dragon in the world! Tell me now,

where does your strength lie--in your own beautiful body or somewhere


You're right, old woman, the dragon grunted: I am pretty strong as

dragons go. But I don't keep my strength in my own body. No, indeed!

That would be too dangerous. I keep it in the hearth yonder.

At that the old woman ran over to the hearth and, stooping down, she

kissed it and caressed it.

O beautiful hearth! she said, where my master's strength is hidden!

How happy are the ashes that cover your stones!

The dragon laughed with amusement.

That's the time I fooled you, old woman! My strength isn't in the

hearth at all! It's in the tree in front of the mill.

The old woman at once ran out of the mill and threw her arms about the


O tree! she cried, most beautiful tree in the world, guard carefully

our master's strength and let no harm come to it!

Again the dragon laughed.

I've fooled you another time, old woman! Come here and scratch my head

some more and this time I'll tell you the truth for I see you really

love your master.

So the old woman went back and scratched the dragon's head and the

dragon told her the truth about his strength.

I keep it far away, he said. In the third kingdom from here near the

Tsar's own city there is a deep lake. A dragon lives at the bottom of

the lake. In the dragon there is a wild boar; in the boar a hare; in the

hare a pigeon; in the pigeon a sparrow. My strength is in the sparrow.

Let any one kill the sparrow and I should die that instant. But I am

safe. No one but shepherds ever come to the lake and even they don't

come any more for the dragon has eaten up so many of them that the lake

has got a bad name. Indeed, nowadays even the Tsar himself is hard put

to it to find a shepherd. Oh, I tell you, old woman, your master is a

clever one!

So now the old woman had the dragon's secret and the next day she told

it to the Youngest Prince. He at once devised a plan whereby he hoped to

overcome the dragon. He dressed himself as a shepherd and with crook in

hand started off on foot for the third kingdom. He traveled through

villages and towns, across rivers and over mountains, and reached at

last the third kingdom and the Tsar's own city. He presented himself at

the palace and asked employment as a shepherd.

The guards looked at him in surprise and said:

A shepherd! Are you sure you want to be a shepherd?

Then they called to their companions: Here's a youth who wants to be a

shepherd! And the word went through the palace and even the Tsar heard


Send the youth to me, he ordered.

Do you really want to be my shepherd? he asked the Youngest Prince.

The Youngest Prince said yes, he did.

If I put you in charge of the sheep, where would you pasture them?

Isn't there a lake beyond the city, the Prince asked, where the

grazing is good?

H'm! said the Tsar. So you know about that lake, too! What else do

you know?

I've heard the shepherds disappear.

And still you want to try your luck? the Tsar exclaimed.

Just then the Tsar's only daughter, a lovely Princess, who had been

looking at the young stranger, slipped over to her father and whispered:

But, father, you can't let such a handsome young man as that go off

with the sheep! It would be dreadful if he never returned!

The Tsar whispered back:

Hush, child! Your concern for the young man's safety does credit to

your noble feelings. But this is not the time or the place for

sentiment. We must consider first the welfare of the royal sheep.

He turned to the Youngest Prince:

Very well, young man, you may consider yourself engaged as shepherd.

Provide yourself with whatever you need and assume your duties at once.

There is one thing, the Youngest Prince said; when I start out

to-morrow morning with the sheep I should like to take with me two

strong boarhounds, a falcon, and a set of bagpipes.

You shall have them all, the Tsar promised.

Early the next morning when the Princess peeped out of her bedroom

window she saw the new shepherd driving the royal flocks to pasture. A

falcon was perched on his shoulder; he had a set of bagpipes under his

arm; and he was leading two powerful boarhounds on a leash.

It's a shame! the Princess said to herself. He'll probably never

return and he's such a handsome young man, too! And she was so unhappy

at thought of never again seeing the new shepherd that she couldn't go

back to sleep.

Well, the Youngest Prince reached the lake and turned out his sheep to

graze. He perched the falcon on a log, tied the dogs beside it, and laid

his bagpipes on the ground. Then he took off his smock, rolled up his

hose, and wading boldly into the lake called out in a loud voice:

Ho, dragon, come out and we'll try a wrestling match! That is, if

you're not afraid!

Afraid? bellowed an awful voice. Who's afraid?

The water of the lake churned this way and that and a horrible scaly

monster came to the surface. He crawled out on shore and clutched the

Prince around the waist. And the Prince clutched him in a grip just as

strong and there they swayed back and forth, and rolled over, and

wrestled together on the shore of the lake without either getting the

better of the other. By midafternoon when the sun was hot, the dragon

grew faint and cried out:

Oh, if I could but dip my burning head in the cool water, then I could

toss you as high as the sky!

Don't talk nonsense! the Prince said. If the Tsar's daughter would

kiss my forehead, then I could toss you twice as high!

After that the dragon slipped out of the Prince's grasp, plunged into

the water, and disappeared. The Prince waited for him but he didn't show

his scaly head again that day.

When evening came, the Prince washed off the grime of the fight, dressed

himself carefully, and then looking as fresh and handsome as ever drove

home his sheep. With the falcon on his shoulder and the two hounds at

his heels he came playing a merry tune on his bagpipes.

The townspeople hearing the bagpipes ran out of their houses and cried

to each other:

The shepherd's come back!

The Princess ran to her window and, when she saw the shepherd alive and

well, she put her hand to her heart and said:


Even the Tsar was pleased.

I'm not a bit surprised that he's back! he said. There's something

about this youth that I like!

The next day the Tsar sent two of his trusted servants to the lake to

see what was happening there. They hid themselves behind some bushes on

a little hill that commanded the lake. They were there when the shepherd

arrived and they watched him as he waded out into the water and

challenged the dragon as on the day before.

They heard the shepherd call out in a loud voice:

Ho, dragon, come out and we'll try a wrestling match! That is, if

you're not afraid!

And from the water they heard an awful voice bellow back:

Afraid? Who's afraid?

Then they saw the water of the lake churn this way and that and a

horrible scaly monster come to the surface. They saw him crawl out on

shore and clutch the shepherd around the waist. And they saw the

shepherd clutch him in a grip just as strong. And they watched the two

as they swayed back and forth and rolled over and wrestled together

without either getting the better of the other. By midafternoon when the

sun grew hot they saw the dragon grow faint and they heard him cry out:

Oh, if I could only dip my burning head in the cool water, then I could

toss you as high as the sky!

And they heard the shepherd reply:

Don't talk nonsense! If the Tsar's daughter would kiss my forehead,

then I could toss you twice as high!

Then they saw the dragon slip out of the shepherd's grasp, plunge into

the water, and disappear. They waited but he didn't show his scaly head

again that day.

So the Tsar's servants hurried home before the shepherd and told the

Tsar all they had seen and heard. The Tsar was mightily impressed with

the bravery of the shepherd and he declared that if he killed that

horrid dragon he should have the Princess herself for wife!

He sent for his daughter and told her all that his servants had reported

and he said to her:

My daughter, you, too, can help rid your country of this monster if you

go out with the shepherd to-morrow and when the time comes kiss him on

the forehead. You will do this, will you not, for your country's sake?

The Princess blushed and trembled and the Tsar, looking at her in

surprise, said:

What! Shall a humble shepherd face a dragon unafraid and the daughter

of the Tsar tremble!

Father, the Princess cried, it isn't the dragon that I'm afraid of!

What then? the Tsar asked.

But what it was she was afraid of the Princess would not confess.

Instead she said:

If the welfare of my country require that I kiss the shepherd on the

forehead, I shall do so.

So the next morning when the shepherd started out with his sheep, the

falcon on his shoulder, the dogs at his heels, the bagpipes under his

arm, the Princess walked beside him.

Her eyes were downcast and he saw that she was trembling.

Do not be afraid, dear Princess, he said to her. Nothing shall harm

you--I promise that!

I'm not afraid, the Princess murmured. But she continued to blush and

tremble and, although the shepherd tried to look into her eyes to

reassure her, she kept her head averted.

This time the Tsar himself and many of his courtiers had gone on before

and taken their stand on the hill that overlooked the lake to see the

final combat of the shepherd and the dragon.

When the shepherd and the Princess reached the lake, the shepherd put

his falcon on the log as before and tied the dogs beside it and laid his

bagpipes on the ground. Then he threw off his smock, rolled up his hose,

and wading boldly into the lake called out in a loud voice:

Ho, dragon, come out and we'll try a wrestling match! That is, if

you're not afraid!

Afraid? bellowed an awful voice. Who's afraid?

The water of the lake churned this way and that and the horrible scaly

monster came to the surface. He crawled to shore and clutched the

shepherd around the waist. The shepherd clutched him in a grip just

as strong and there they swayed back and forth and rolled over and

wrestled together on the shore of the lake without either getting the

better of the other. The Princess without the least show of fear stood

nearby calling out encouragement to the shepherd and waiting for the

moment when the shepherd should need her help.

By midafternoon when the sun was hot, the dragon grew faint and cried


Oh, if I could but dip my burning head in the cool water, then I could

toss you as high as the sky!

Don't talk nonsense! the shepherd said. If the Tsar's daughter would

kiss my forehead then I could toss you twice as high!

Instantly the Princess ran forward and kissed the shepherd three times.

The first kiss fell on his forehead, the second on his nose, the third

on his mouth. With each kiss his strength increased an hundredfold and

taking the dragon in a mighty grip he tossed him up so high that for a

moment the Tsar and all the courtiers lost sight of him in the sky. Then

he fell to earth with such a thud that he burst.

Out of his body sprang a wild boar. The shepherd was ready for this and

on the moment he unleashed the two hounds and they fell on the boar and

tore him to pieces.

Out of the boar jumped a rabbit. It went leaping across the meadow but

the dogs caught it and killed it.

Out of the rabbit flew a pigeon. Instantly the shepherd unloosed the

falcon. It rose high in the air, then swooped down upon the pigeon,

clutched it in its talons, and delivered it into the shepherd's hands.

He cut open the pigeon and found the sparrow.

Spare me! Spare me! squawked the sparrow.

Tell me where my brothers are, the shepherd demanded with his fingers

about the sparrow's throat.

Your brothers? They are alive and in the deep dungeon that lies below

the Old Mill. Behind the mill there are three willow saplings growing

from one old root. Cut the saplings and strike the root. A heavy iron

door leading down into the dungeon will open. In the dungeon you will

find many captives old and young, your brothers among them. Now that I

have told you this are you going to spare my life?

But the shepherd wrung the sparrow's neck for he knew that only in that

way could the monster who had captured his brothers be killed.

Well, now that the dragon was dead the Tsar and all his courtiers came

down from the hill and embraced the shepherd and told him what a brave

youth he was.

You have delivered us all from a horrid monster, the Tsar said, and

to show you my gratitude and the country's gratitude I offer you my

daughter for wife.

Thank you, said the shepherd, but I couldn't think of marrying the

Princess unless she is willing to marry me.

The Princess blushed and trembled just as she had blushed and trembled

the night before and that morning, too, on the way to the lake. She

tried to speak but could not at first. Then in a very little voice she


As a Princess I think it is my duty to marry this brave shepherd who

has delivered my country from this terrible dragon, and--and I think I

should want to marry him anyway.

She said the last part of her speech in such a very low voice that only

the shepherd himself heard it. But that was right enough because after

all it was intended only for him.

So then and there beside the lake before even the shepherd had time to

wash his face and hands and put on his smock the Tsar put the Princess's

hand in his hand and pronounced them betrothed.

After that the shepherd bathed in the lake and then refreshed and clean

he sounded his bagpipes and he and the Princess and the Tsar and all the

courtiers returned to the city driving the sheep before them.

All the townspeople came out to meet them and they danced to the music

of the bagpipes and there was great rejoicing both over the death of the

dragon and over the betrothal of the Princess and the brave shepherd.

The wedding took place at once and the wedding festivities lasted a

week. Such feasting as the townspeople had! Such music and dancing!

When the wedding festivities were ended, the shepherd told the Tsar who

he really was.

You say you're a Prince! the Tsar cried, perfectly delighted at this

news. Then he declared he wasn't in the least surprised. In fact, he

said, he had suspected as much from the first!

Do you think it likely, he asked somewhat pompously, that any

daughter of mine would fall in love with a man who wasn't a prince?

I think I'd have fallen in love with you whatever you were! whispered

the Princess to her young husband. But she didn't let her father hear


The Prince told the Tsar about his brothers' captivity and how he must

go home to release them, and the Tsar at once said that he and his

bride might go provided they returned as soon as possible.

They agreed to this and the Tsar fitted out a splendid escort for them

and sent them away with his blessing.

So the Prince now traveled back through the towns and villages of three

kingdoms, across rivers and over mountains, no longer a humble shepherd

on foot, but a rich and mighty personage riding in a manner that

befitted his rank.

When he reached the deserted mill, his friend the old woman was waiting

for him.

I know, my Prince, you have succeeded for the monster has disappeared.

Yes, granny, you are right: I have succeeded. I found the dragon in the

lake, and the boar in the dragon, and the rabbit in the boar, and the

pigeon in the rabbit, and the sparrow in the pigeon. I took the sparrow

and killed it. So you are free now, granny, to return to your home. And

soon all those other poor captives will be free.

He went behind the mill and found the three willow saplings. He cut them

off and struck the old root. Sure enough a heavy iron door opened. This

led down into a deep dungeon which was crowded with unfortunate

prisoners. The Prince led them all out and sent them their various ways.

He found his own two brothers among them and led them home to his


There was great rejoicing in the King's house, and in the King's heart,

too, for he had given up hope of ever seeing any of his sons again.

The King was so charmed with the Princess that he said it was a pity

that she couldn't marry his oldest son so that she might one day be


The Youngest Prince is a capable young man, the King said, and

there's no denying that he managed this business of killing the dragon

very neatly. But he is after all only the Youngest Prince with very

little hope of succeeding to the kingdom. If you hadn't married him in

such haste one of his older brothers might easily have fallen in love

with you.

I don't regret my haste, the Princess said. Besides he is now my

father's heir. But that doesn't matter for I should be happy with the

Youngest Prince if he were only a shepherd.