In a certain distant land once reigned a king and queen, who had three daughters and one son. As the king and queen were talking one day together about family matters, the king said to his consort: “Whenever our daughters happen to marry we shall be obliged to give to each of their husbands a portion of our kingdom, which will thereby be greatly diminished; I think therefore that we cannot do better than marry them all three to our son, and so the kingdom will remain entire. In another eight days, harvest will be over, and then we will celebrate the nuptials.”
The son overheard this discourse, and thought within himself, “that shall never come to pass.”
Now the king and queen having gone to a distant farm to superintend the reapers, some one approached the window, knocked at it, and said to the prince: “Little prince, I am come to marry your eldest sister.”
The young prince replied: “Wait a moment, you shall have her directly.” He called his eldest sister, and as soon as she entered the room, he caught her in his arms, and threw her out of the window. She did not, however, fall to the ground, but on a golden bridge, which was very, very long, in fact it reached to the sun. Her unknown lover took her by the hand, and led her along the golden bridge to his kingdom in the centre of the sun, for this unknown happened to be the Sun-king.
About noon some one else knocked at the window and said, as the former had done: “Little prince, I want to marry your second sister.”
The little prince replied: “Wait a moment, you shall have her directly.” He went into his second sister’s apartment, lifted her up, and threw her out of the window. She did not fall to the ground either, but into a chariot in the air. Four horses, which never ceased snorting and prancing, were harnessed to it. The unknown placed himself in the chariot, and as he brandished the whip, the clouds spread themselves out so as to form a road, the rolling of the chariot wheels was like a storm, and they disappeared in an instant. The unknown was the Wind-king.
The little prince was right glad to think that he had already established two sisters, and when toward evening some one else knocked at the window, he said: “You need not speak, I know what you want:” and out he threw his youngest sister. She fell into a silvery stream. The unknown took her by the arm, and the waves bore her gently to the moon, for her lover was no other than the Moon-king. The young prince then went well pleased to bed.
When the king and queen returned the next day they were very much surprised at hearing what their son had done; but as they had got three such powerful sons-in-law, as the kings of the Sun, Wind, and Moon, they were well satisfied, and said to the young prince: “See how grand your sisters are become through their husbands. You must try also to find some powerful queen to be your wife.”
The prince answered: “I have already fixed on one Kavadiska, and no other shall be my wife.”
The king and queen were quite shocked at this audacious speech, and endeavoured to dissuade him from the thought by all kinds of rational arguments; as, however, they in no wise succeeded, they at length said: “Well, then go forth, my son, and may Heaven guide thee in thy rash enterprise.”
The old king then took two bottles from his chest and gave them to his son, with these words: “See, my son, this bottle contains the water of life, and this the water of death. If thou sprinkle a corpse with the water of life it will be restored to life, but if thou sprinkle a living being with this water of death, it will immediately die. Take these bottles, they are my greatest treasure; perhaps they may be serviceable to thee.” Now all the courtiers began to weep excessively, especially the ladies, who were all very partial to the prince. He, however, was very cheerful and full of hope, kissed the hands of his royal parents, placed the bottles about his person, that of life on the right side, and that of death on the left, girded on his sword, and departed.
He had already wandered far when he reached a valley which was full of slain men. The young prince took his bottle of the water of life and sprinkled some in the eyes of one of the dead, who immediately rose up, rubbed his eyes, and said: “Ha! how long I have been sleeping.” The king’s son asked him, “What has taken place here?” to which the dead man replied: “Yesterday we fought against Kavadiska and she cut us all to pieces.” The king’s son said: “Since you were so weak as not to be able to defend yourselves against a woman, you do not deserve to live;” and then he sprinkled him with the water of death, on which the man fell down again, dead, amongst the other corpses.
In the next valley lay a whole army in the same condition; the prince again re-animated one of the dead, and inquired: “Did you also fight against Kavadiska?” “Yes,” returned the dead. “Why did you make war upon her?” resumed the prince. “Know’st thou not,” rejoined the dead, “that our king desires to marry her, but that she will have no one for her husband, but him who shall conquer her? We went out against her with three armies: yesterday she destroyed one; this morning at sunrise the second; and she is at this moment fighting against the third?” The prince sprinkled the speaker with the water of death, and immediately he also fell to the ground.
In the third valley lay the third host. The re-animated warrior said: “The fight is only just now ended; Kavadiska has slain us all.” “Where shall I find her?” asked the prince. “Her castle is on the other side of that mountain,” replied the warrior, and sank down again as soon as the prince sprinkled him.
Argilius—so was the prince called—crossed the mountain and came to Kavadiska’s castle. He entered. No one was within. In Kavadiska’s chamber hung a sword, which ceased not to spring out of its sheath and then in again. “Ho, ho, since thou art so restless,” thought Argilius, “I will take possession of thee. Thou pleasest me better than my own sword, which never stirs unless I wield it.” So he took off his own sword and exchanged it for the other. He had scarcely done so, when Kavadiska suddenly stood before him. “Thou darest to intrude into my castle?” exclaimed she; “draw then, thou must fight me.” She snatched the sword from the wall. Argilius drew the blade for which he had just exchanged his own. They began to fight, but the first time their swords crossed Kavadiska’s broke off in the middle. Then she said joyfully: “Thou art my bridegroom!” and fell on his neck, and kissed and caressed him, and forthwith became his wife.
After they had lived some time happily together, Kavadiska said one morning: “Beloved husband, I must leave thee for a short time. It is the first and last time I shall ever separate from thee. In seven times seven days I shall return, and thenceforth our life shall flow on in uninterrupted happiness. Everything in the castle is at thy command, only do not enter the furthest room; great misfortunes may befall us if you do.” Having said these words she vanished.
The time passed very heavily for Argilius after his wife had left him; he wandered through the whole castle, till at last he came to the furthest chamber. Being young and thoughtless he opened it. He saw therein an old man, whose beard was fire; this was the Flame-king Holofernes, but Argilius did not know who he was. The old man had three iron hoops round his body, which bound him fast to the wall.
“Hail to thee, young man,” said he; “see, my beard is flame; I am very hot, give me a goblet of wine.” Now, as Argilius was very kindly disposed, he gave him a goblet; and as soon as he had drunk it, one of the hoops round his body gave way. He chuckled and said: “Thou hast greatly relieved me; give me now another goblet.” Argilius did so, and when the Flame-king had emptied that, another hoop gave way. He chuckled again and said: “Twice hast thou given me wine, now give me a goblet of water.” And when Argilius had done as he was requested, the third hoop sprang off, and the Flame-king disappeared.
Kavadiska had not performed half of her journey before Holofernes stood by her side. He addressed her, and his beard waved in anger: “Thou hast rejected me for thy husband, thou hast slain three of my armies, thou hast detained me in prison: now thou art in my power; and now not my wife, but the lowest of my servants shalt thou be.” Since her marriage with Argilius, Kavadiska had lost all her power, therefore her resistance was in vain. In three leaps the Flame-king had already borne her to his realm.
Seven times seven days passed, and Kavadiska did not return. Then Argilius became very uneasy, and he resolved to go and see his three brothers-in-law, and inquire if they could give him any information where Kavadiska was. He arrived first at the Sun-king’s palace, who was just then coming home.
“Welcome, little brother-in-law,” began he.
“Ah! dear brother-in-law,” said Argilius, “I am in search of my wife Kavadiska; know’st thou not where she is? Hast thou not seen her?”
“No,” rejoined the Sun-king, “I have not seen her. Perhaps she is only visible by night, and in that case thou must inquire of our brother-in-law the Moon-king.”
They then took refreshments together, and sat till night came on, when Argilius went on to the Moon-king. He reached his palace just as the Moon-king was about to begin his night wandering, and Argilius having told what he wanted, the Moon-king replied:—
“I have not seen her; but come, join me in my nightly pilgrimage, perhaps we shall discover her.” They wandered all night, but did not get sight of her. Then said the Moon-king:—
“It is now time for me to go home; but yonder comes our brother-in-law the Wind-king; speak to him; he drives about everywhere, perhaps he may have seen her.”
The Wind-king stood beside them, and when he heard his little brother-in-law’s business, he said:—
“Assuredly I know where she is. The Flame-king, Holofernes, has got her imprisoned in a subterranean cavern, and she is obliged to wash all his kitchen utensils in the fiery stream, and as this makes her very hot, I often waft a cooling breeze upon her.”
“I thank thee, dear brother-in-law, for having given her some relief; pray carry me to her,” said Argilius.
“Right willingly,” rejoined the Wind-king: so he gave a great puff, and he and Argilius, together with the horse of the latter, stood the next moment in the presence of his Kavadiska. Her joy was so great that she let all the kitchen utensils fall into the fiery stream; but Argilius, without stopping to talk much, lifted her on his horse and rode off.
The Flame-king was at that time in his own apartment; he heard an extraordinary noise in the stable, and on going into it he found his horse Taigarot prancing, neighing, biting the manger, and pawing the ground. Taigarot was a very peculiar kind of horse; he understood human language, and could even speak, and he had nine feet!
“What mad tricks are you playing?” cried Holofernes; “have you not had enough hay and oats, or have they not given you drink?”
“Oats and hay I have had in plenty,” said Taigarot, “and drink, too; but they have carried off Kavadiska from you.”
The Flame-king shivered with rage.
“Be calm,” said Taigarot; “you may even eat, drink, and sleep, for in three bounds I will overtake her.”
Holofernes did as his horse bade him, and when he had sufficiently rested and refreshed himself, he mounted Taigarot, and in three bounds overtook Argilius. He tore Kavadiska from his arms and cried out, as he was springing home again:—
“Because you set me at liberty, I do not kill thee this time; but if thou returnest once again, thou art lost.”
Argilius went back very melancholy to his three brothers-in-law, and related what had happened. They took counsel together, and then said:—
“Thou must find a horse which is still swifter of foot than Taigarot; there is, however, but one such horse existing, and he is Taigarot’s younger brother. It is true he has only four feet, but still he is decidedly swifter than Taigarot.”
“Where shall I find this horse?” inquired Argilius.
The brothers-in-law replied:—
“The witch Iron-nose keeps the horse concealed under-ground; go to her, enter into her service, and demand the horse in lieu of other wages.”
“Carry me thither, dear brothers-in-law,” said Argilius.
“Immediately,” said the Sun-king; “but first accept this gift from thy brothers-in-law, who love thee dearly.”
With these words he gave him a little staff, which was half gold and half silver, and which never ceased vibrating. It was made of sunshine, moonshine, and wind.
“Whenever thou standest in need of us, stick this staff in the ground, and immediately we shall be by thy side.”
Then the Sun-king took his little brother-in-law on one of his beams, and carried him for one day; then the Moon-king did the same for a whole night, and finally the Wind-king carried him for a whole day and a whole night too, and by that time he reached the palace of the witch Iron-nose.
The palace of the witch was constructed entirely of deaths’-heads; one only was wanting to complete the building. When the old woman heard a knocking at her gate, she looked out of the window, and rejoiced: “At last another!” exclaimed she, “I have waited three hundred years in vain for this death’s-head to complete my magnificent edifice: come in, my good youth!”
Argilius entered, and was a little startled when he first beheld the old woman, for she was very tall, very ugly, and her nose was of iron.
“I should like to enter your service,” were his words.
“Well,” replied she, “what wages do you ask?”
“The horse which you keep under-ground.”
“You shall have him if you serve faithfully; if you fail however once only, you shall be put to death.”
“With me,”—these were witch Iron-nose’s last words,—”with me the year’s service consists of only three days; you may begin your service at once. You will attend to my stud in the meadow, and if in the evening a single one is missing, you die.”
She then led him to the stable. The horses were all of metal, neighed terribly, and made the most surprising leaps.
“Attend to your business,” said Iron-nose, and then locked herself in her apartment. Argilius opened the covered enclosure, threw himself on one of the metal horses and rushed out with the whole troop. They were no sooner on the meadow, when the horse on which he rode threw him into a deep morass, where he sank up to the breast. The whole troop scattered themselves here and there, when Argilius stuck the little staff his brothers-in-law had given him into the ground, and at once the sun’s rays struck with such heat on the morass, that it dried up instantly, and the metal horses began to melt, and ran terrified back to the shed. The witch was very much surprised when she saw they were all driven in again. “To-morrow you must tend my twelve coursers,” said she; “if you are not home again with the last rays of the sun, you die: they are more difficult to manage than the metal horses.”
“Do your duty,” said Argilius, “I shall do mine.”
The twelve coursers soon ran all different ways. Argilius set his staff in the ground, and a fearful storm arose. The wind blew against every horse, and let them rear and prance as they would, the wind got the better of them, and they were all obliged to return to their stable. Argilius immediately shut the stable door, and at that moment the last rays of the sun went down just as Witch Iron-nose reached the stable. She was quite astonished when she saw the horses and Argilius.
“If you do your work well this night, to-morrow you shall be free. Go and milk the metal mares, and prepare a bath of the milk, which must be ready with the first rays of the sun.”
Argilius went to the metal shed, and as he had a misgiving that this would prove the hardest task of all, he was about to set his staff in the ground, when he was met by his brother-in-law, the Moon-king.
“I was seeking thee,” said he. “I know already what thou needest. Where my light shines, just by the metallic horses’ shed, dig about three spans deep, and thou wilt find a golden bridle, which, whilst thou holdest in thy hand, will cause all the mares to obey thee.”
Argilius did as he was desired, and all the metallic mares stood quite still and suffered themselves to be milked. In the morning the bath was ready, the smoke and steam rose up from the milk, which now boiled. Witch Iron-nose said: “Place thyself in it.”
“If I stand this trial,” replied Argilius, “I shall ride away immediately after; let the horse therefore be brought out for the possession of which I bargained.”
The horse instantly stood by the bath. It was small, ill-looking, and dirty. As Argilius approached to enter the bath, the horse put his head into the milk, and sucked out all the fire, so that Argilius remained unhurt in it, and when he came out he was seven times handsomer than before. Witch Iron-nose was much charmed by his appearance, and thought within herself: “Now I in like manner will make myself seven times handsomer than I am, and then I will marry this youth.”
She sprang into the bath. The horse, however, again put his head into the milk, and blew back into it the fire he had previously sucked out, and Witch Iron-nose was immediately scalded to death.
Argilius sprang on his horse and rode away. When they had got beyond the Witch’s domain, the horse said: “Wash me in this stream.”
Argilius did so, and the horse became the colour of gold, and to each hair hung a little golden bell. The horse at one leap cleared the sea, and carried his master to the cave of the Flame-king. Kavadiska was again standing by the side of the fiery stream, washing the kitchen utensils.
“Come,” cried Argilius, “I will rescue thee,”
“Ah!” exclaimed she, “Holofernes will slay thee if he overtakes thee.”
Argilius had, however, already lifted her on his horse and ridden off. Taigarot again set up a wonderful noise in his stable.
“What’s the matter?” cried the Flame-king.
“Kavadiska has escaped,” replied Taigarot.
“Well then, I will again eat, drink and sleep; in three bounds thou wilt overtake her as before,” said Holofernes.
“Not so,” rejoined Taigarot, “mount me directly, and even then we shall not overtake them. Argilius rides my younger brother, and he is the swiftest horse in the whole world.”
Holofernes buckled on his fire-spurs, and flew after the fugitives. It is true, he got sight of them, but he could not come up with them. Then the horse of Argilius turning back his head called out: “Why dost thou let those fiery spurs be stuck in thy side, brother? They will burn thy entrails, they are so long; and yet thou wilt never come up with me. It would be much better that we should both serve one master.”
Taigarot perceived this, and the next time Holofernes stuck the spurs in him, he threw the Flame-king. As they were very high up in the air, (in fact, they were as high as the stars), Holofernes fell to the ground with such force, that he broke his neck. As for Argilius, he brought Kavadiska back to her castle, where they again celebrated their nuptials, lived very happy; and, if they have not died since, they live there to this very day.