The Strong Prince

: 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


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


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


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


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


'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.]