ONCE there was a mother, and, being a mother, she had a son. She suckled him for twice seven years. After that she took him into a forest and told him to pull up a fir-tree, roots and all. But the lad could not pull up the fir-tree.
"You are not strong enough yet," said the mother. So she suckled him for another seven years. When she had suckled him for thrice seven years, she took him to the forest again and told him to pull up a beech-tree, roots and all. He seized hold of the beech and pulled it up.
"Now you are strong enough. So you are Victor (Vítazko). Now you can provide for me."
"Yes, I will. Only tell me what I can do for you."
"You must get me a good house first, and then you can take me there," said the mother, and she went home.
Vítazko took the beech-tree which he had pulled up, and, carrying it in his hand like a club, he started in search of a house for his mother. Following the wind, he walked by old roads and paths until he came to a castle. This castle was inhabited by griffins.
When Vítazko reached the castle, the griffins would not let him in. But he did not wait long for their permission: he smashed the gate and went into the castle and killed the griffins; their bodies he flung over the wall, and then he went for a walk through the castle. He was pleased with everything he saw. The rooms were nice, nine in number, but the tenth was closed. When he had gone through the nine he went into the tenth, and there he saw a griffin chained to the wall by three iron bands.
"What are you doing here?" asked Vítazko.
"I am sitting here, as you see. My brothers have chained me here. Untie my bonds and I will give you a splendid reward."
"You must be a wicked old rascal if your own brothers tied you there. I won't unfasten your bonds either," said Vítazko.
So he slammed the door, and went off to fetch his mother to the castle. When he had brought her there, he showed her everything, but he did not open the tenth room, and he forbade her to enter that room, for otherwise there would be trouble. As soon as Vítazko left the house, the mother could not rest, and she kept on walking near the door of that tenth room, till at last she went in, and, of course, she found the griffin there.
"What are you doing here, and who are you?"
"I am a griffin. My own brothers chained me here. They would have unfastened my bonds again, but your son has killed them all. Untie my bonds and I will reward you, and, if you like, I will marry you," said the griffin.
"And what would Vítazko say?" answered the mother.
"What could he say? We will put him out of the world, and you will be your own mistress."
The mother hesitated long enough, but at last she consented, and then she asked the griffin how she could untie his bonds.
"Go into the cellar and fetch me a cup of wine from the last cask."
The mother went into the cellar and brought him a glass of wine from the last cask. As soon as he had drained the first cup, crash! the first chain fell down. The mother brought him another cup and--well! the second chain snapped. So he begged her to bring him a third cup, and when she brought him the third cup the third chain broke too and the griffin was free again.
"But what am I to tell my son when he comes back?" said the mother anxiously.
"Oh! you must feign illness, and when he asks you what will save you, say that nothing can save you but a suckling of the earth sow. When he goes to get it, the sow will tear him in pieces."
Well (but not particularly well!), when Vítazko returned from the chase, bringing a buck for his mother, she groaned and complained: "Alas! my dear son, your toil has been in vain. It is no use your bringing me this good food; I cannot eat it, for I am deadly sick."
"Alas! mother, you must not die. Only tell me what would cure you, and I will bring it for you, even though it were from hell," cried the good Vítazko, for he loved his mother well.
"I can only be cured if I get the suckling of the earth sow."
Vítazko did not wait; he took his beech-tree and set off in quest of the earth sow. He wandered through the country, poor soul! for he did not know where to go, till at last he came to a tower, and there he found Holy Sunday.
"Where are you going?" asked Holy Sunday.
"I am going to the earth sow to get one of her sucklings. My mother is ill, but this will cure her."
"My dear boy, it will be a hard task for you to get that piglet. However, I will help you. Only you must follow my advice exactly."
Vítazko promised that he would follow it exactly. So first she gave him a long, sharp spit, and then she said:
"Go to the stable and take my horse. He will bring you to the place where the earth sow lies buried in the earth. When you have come there you must prick one of her pigs. The pig will squeak, and the sow, hearing it, will start up and run round the earth in a moment. But she won't see you or anybody else, and so she will tell the pigs that if they squeak again she will tear them to pieces. Then she will lie down to sleep, and then you must spit the pig and run quickly away. The pig will be afraid to squeak, the sow won't stir, and my horse will carry you away."
Vítazko promised to carry out her directions exactly. He took the spit, mounted the magic horse, and it brought him swiftly to the place--far, very far it was--where the earth sow lay buried in the earth. Vítazko pricked one of the pigs, and it squeaked terribly. The sow started wildly up and ran round the earth in one moment. But the magic horse did not move, so the sow did not see him or anybody else, and she said angrily to the pigs:
"If one of you squeaks, I will tear you all to pieces at once."
Having said this, she buried herself again.
At once Vítazko spitted the pig. It kept quiet and didn't squeak at all, and the magic horse began to fly, and it wasn't long till they were home again.
"Well, Vítazko, how did it go?" asked Holy Sunday.
"Well, it went just as you said, and here is the pig."
"Very well. Take it to your mother."
Vítazko gave her back the spit; he led the magic horse back to its stall, thanked Holy Sunday, and, hanging the pig from the beech-tree, made haste to go home to his mother.
The mother and the griffin were feasting; they did not expect Vítazko, and here he was. They ran away and discussed what they should do with him.
"When he has given you the pig, you must still pretend to be ill," said the griffin; "and when he asks you what will save you, tell him that only the Water of Life and the Water of Death can cure you. If he goes in quest of that, he is bound to perish."
Vítazko came running to the castle full of joy. He gave the pig to his mother, but she still went on groaning and complaining that she was going to die, and that the pig would not cure her.
"Alas! mother, don't die, but tell me what will cure you, so that I may bring it for you at once," said Vítazko anxiously.
"Ah! my dear son, I can only be cured by the Water of Life and the Water of Death, and where would you get that?" sighed the mother.
Vítazko did not waste time thinking about it. He grasped his beech, and off he went to Holy Sunday.
"Where are you going, Vítazko?" asked Holy Sunday.
"I am coming to you to ask where I could find the Water of Life and the Water of Death, for my mother is still ill, and only those will cure her."
"It will be a hard task for you to get them, but I will help you as well as I can. Here are two jugs; mount my magic horse, and he will bring you to two banks. Beneath those two banks spring forth the Water of Life and the Water of Death. The right bank opens at noon, and from beneath it gushes the Water of Life. The left bank opens at midnight, and beneath it is the Water of Death. As soon as the bank opens, run up to it and fill your jug with water, and so you must do in the other case too. When you have the water, come back. Follow my instructions carefully."
Saying this, she gave him two jugs. He took them and mounted the magic horse, and in a moment they were gone like the wind. The two banks were in a far distant land, and thither the magic horse brought Vítazko. At noon he raised the right bank and the Water of Life gushed forth, then, crash! the bank fell down again, and it was a wonder that it did not take Vítazko's heels off. Quickly Vítazko mounted the magic horse and made haste for the left bank. There they waited till midnight. When the bank lifted, beneath it was the Water of Death. He hurried to it and filled the jug, and, crash! down fell the bank again; and it was a marvel it didn't take Vítazko's hand off. Quickly he mounted the magic horse, the horse flew off, and soon they were home again.
"Well, Vítazko, how have you fared?" asked Holy Sunday.
"Oh! everything went all right, Holy Sunday; and here is the water," said Vítazko, giving her the water.
Holy Sunday kept the water, and gave him two jugs full of spring water and told him to take them to his mother. Vítazko thanked her and went home.
The mother and the griffin were carousing as before, for they did not expect that he would ever return--and there he was just outside. They were terribly frightened, and considered how they could get rid of him.
"You must pretend to be sick still, and tell him you won't recover unless you get the Pelican bird, and he will perish on the quest," said the griffin.
Vítazko brought the water joyfully, but the mother was still groaning and complaining; even that was no good, she was sure she was going to die.
"Ah! don't die, sweet mother. Tell me what will cure you, and I shall be glad to get it all for you," said the good lad.
"There is no help for me unless I can see the Pelican bird. Where could you get it for me?" groaned the mother.
Vítazko took his beech again, and it was no trouble to him to go to Holy Sunday once more.
"Where are you going?" asked Holy Sunday.
"Well, I am coming to you to ask for advice. Mother is still sick; the water did not cure her either, and she says she must see the Pelican bird. And where is the Pelican bird?"
"My dear child, it would be very hard for you to get the Pelican bird. But I will help you all I can. The Pelican bird is a gigantic bird. His neck is very long, and, whenever he shakes his wings, he raises such a wind that the trees begin to shake. Here is a gun; mount my magic horse, and he will bring you to the place where the Pelican bird lives. But be careful. Point the gun against the wind from whatever quarter it blows, and when the hammer falls, ram the gun with the ramrod and come quickly back. You must not look into the gun."
Vítazko took the gun and mounted the magic horse, and the horse spread his wings, and they were flying through the air a long way until they came to a vast desert, where dwelt the Pelican bird. There the magic horse stopped. Now Vítazko perceived that the wind was blowing strongly on his left cheek, so he pointed the gun in that direction, and, clap! the hammer fell. Vítazko rammed the gun quickly with the ramrod and flung it over his shoulder, and the horse started flying, and very soon they were home again.
"Well, how did things go?"
"I don't know whether they went well or ill, but I did what you commanded," answered Vítazko, handing down the gun to Holy Sunday.
"All right. You did quite right. Here he is!" she said. And then she took out the Pelican bird. Then she gave Vítazko another gun to shoot an eagle with. He went out into the forest, and returned before long with an eagle. She gave him this eagle for his mother, in place of the Pelican bird.
The griffin and the mother were making merry again, hoping that Vítazko would never come back, but he was already near. They were terrified, and began to consider what new task they were to set him.
"You must pretend to be sick still, and tell him nothing can do you any good but the golden apples from the garden of the Griffin. If he goes there the Griffin will tear him in pieces, for he is enraged because Vítazko has killed his brothers."
Joyfully Vítazko gave the bird to his mother, but she still kept on groaning; nothing was any good, only the golden apples from the garden of the Griffin could save her.
"You shall have them," said Vítazko, and without resting, he started again and came to Holy Sunday.
"Where are you going, Vítazko?"
"Well," he replied, "not even that did her any good. Mother is still sick, for only the golden apples from the garden of the Griffin will cure her."
"Well, you'll have to fight, my boy," said Holy Sunday; "but, even though you were stronger than you are, it would be a bad look-out for you. Still, I will help you all I can. Here is a ring for you; put it on your finger, and, when you are in need, think of me, turn the ring round on your finger, and you will have the strength of a hundred men. Now mount the magic horse; he will take you there."
Vítazko thanked her heartily, mounted the magic horse, and was carried by him a far journey, till they came to a garden hedged about by a high rampart. Had it not been for the magic horse Vítazko could never have got into the garden, but the horse flew like a bird over the rampart. Vítazko leapt down from the horse, and instantly began to look for a tree with golden apples. A beautiful girl met him and asked him what he was looking for. Vítazko said that he was looking for golden apples to cure his sick mother, and begged her to tell him where to look for them.
"The apple-tree is under my charge, and I must not give the apples to anybody, or the Griffin would tear me to pieces. I am a king's daughter, and the Griffin carried me off and brought me to this garden and put me in charge of the apples. Go back, good youth, go back, for the Griffin is very strong, and, if he sees you, he will kill you like a fly," said the girl.
But Vítazko was not to be turned back, and he hastened on into the garden. So the princess pulled off a priceless ring and handed it to Vítazko, saying: "Take this ring, and when you think of me and turn this ring round on your finger, you will have the strength of a hundred men, otherwise you could not gain the victory over the Griffin."
Vítazko took the ring and put it on his finger. He thanked her and went off to the centre of the garden. In the middle of the garden stood an apple-tree full of golden apples, and underneath it a horrible Griffin was lying.
"What do you want here, murderer of my brothers?" shouted the Griffin.
"I have come to get some apples from this tree," answered Vítazko undauntedly.
"You shall not have any of the apples unless you wrestle with me," exclaimed the Griffin angrily.
"I will if you like. Come on!" said Vítazko, and he turned the ring on his right hand and thought of Holy Sunday. He set his legs wide apart and they began to wrestle. In the first round the Griffin moved Vítazko a little, but Vítazko drove him into the ground above his ankles. Just at this moment they heard a swirl of wings above them, and a black raven shouted to them:
"Which am I to help, the Griffin or Vítazko?"
"Help me," said the Griffin.
"And what will you give me?"
"I will give you gold and silver as much as you like."
"Help me," cried Vítazko, "and I will give you all those horses grazing on yonder meadow."
"I will help you, then," said the raven. "But how am I to help you?"
"Cool me when I grow hot," said Vítazko. He felt hot indeed, for the Griffin was breathing out fire against him. So they went on wrestling. The Griffin seized Vítazko and drove him into the ground up to his ankles. Vítazko turned the ring, and again he thought of Holy Sunday. He put his arms round the Griffin's waist and drove him down into the ground above his knees. The black raven dipped his wings in a spring, and then he alighted on Vítazko's head and sprinkled cool drops over Vítazko's hot cheeks, and thus he cooled him. Then Vítazko turned the other ring and thought of the beautiful maiden, and they began wrestling again. So the Griffin drove Vítazko into the ground up to his ankles, but Vítazko took hold of him and drove him into the ground up to his shoulders, and quickly he seized his sword, the gift of Holy Sunday, and cut the Griffin's head off.
The princess came to him at once and plucked the golden apples for him. She thanked him too for delivering her, and said that she liked him well and she would marry him.
"I like you well too," confessed Vítazko, "and, if I could, I would go with you at once. But if you really love me, and if you will consent to wait a year for me, I will come to you then."
The princess pledged herself by shaking hands with him, and she said she would wait a year for him. And so they said good-bye to each other. Vítazko mounted his horse, cleared the rampart at a leap, killed the horses on the meadow for the black raven, and hastened home.
"Well, how have you fared?" asked Holy Sunday.
"Very well, but if it hadn't been for a ring which was given me by a princess I should have fared very badly," answered Vítazko, and he told her everything. She told him to go home with the golden apples and to take the magic horse with him too. Vítazko obeyed.
The griffin and the mother were carousing again. They were greatly startled when Vítazko came riding home; they had never expected that he would return alive even from the garden of the Griffin. The mother asked what she should do; but the griffin had no more shifts; he made off to the tenth room at once and hid himself there. When Vítazko had given the apples to his mother, she pretended that the mere sight of them had cured her, and, rising from the bed, she put the finest of food before Vítazko and then began to caress him as she used to do sometimes when he was a tiny baby. Vítazko was delighted to see his mother in good health again. The mother took a strong cotton cord and said jestingly: "Lie down, dear son; I will wind this cord round you as I used to wind it round your father, to see if you are as strong as he was, and if you can break it."
Vítazko smiled and laid himself down, and allowed his mother to wind the cord round him. When she had finished, he stretched his limbs and snapt the cord in pieces.
"You are strong," she said. "But wait! I will wind this thin silk cord round you to see if you can break it also."
So she did. Vítazko tried to stretch his limbs, but the more he stretched, the deeper the cord cut into him. So he was helpless, and had to lie like a baby in its swaddling-clothes. Now the griffin hastened to cut his head off; he hewed the body in pieces and hung the heart from the ceiling. The mother packed the body in a cloth, and put the bundle on the back of the magic horse, which was waiting in the courtyard, saying:
"You carried him alive, so you can carry him dead too, wherever you like."
The horse did not wait, but flew off, and soon they reached home.
Holy Sunday had been expecting him, for she knew what would probably happen to him. Without delay she rubbed the body with the Water of Death, then she put it together and poured the Water of Life over it. Vítazko yawned, and rose to his feet alive and well. "Well, I have had a long sleep," he said to himself.
"You would have been sleeping till doomsday if I hadn't awakened you. Well, how do you feel now?"
"Oh! I am all right! Only, it's funny: it's as though I had not got any heart."
"That is true; you haven't got a heart," answered Holy Sunday.
"Where can it be, then?"
"Where else should it be, but in the castle, hanging from the crossbeam?" said Holy Sunday, and she told him all that had happened to him.
But Vítazko could not be angry, neither could he weep, for he had no heart. So he had to go and get it. Holy Sunday gave him a fiddle and sent him to the castle. He was to play on the fiddle, and, as a reward, was to ask for the heart, and, when he got it, he must return at once to Holy Sunday--those were her orders.
Vítazko went to the castle, and when he saw that his mother was looking out of the window, he began playing beautifully. The mother was delighted with the music below, so she called the old fiddler (for Holy Sunday had put that shape upon him) into the castle and asked him to play. He played, and the mother danced with the griffin; they danced hard, and did not stop until they were tired. Then the mother gave the fiddler meat and drink, and she offered him gold, but he would not take it.
"What could I do with all that money? I am too old for it," he answered.
"Well, what am I to give you, then? It is for you to ask," said the mother.
"What are you to give me?" said he, looking round the room. "Oh! give me that heart, hanging there from the crossbeam!"
"If you like that, we can give it to you," said the griffin, and the mother took it down and gave it to Vítazko. He thanked them for it, and hastened from the castle to Holy Sunday.
"It is lucky that we have got it again," said Holy Sunday; and she took the heart in her hands, washed it first in the Water of Death and afterwards in the Water of Life, and then she put it in the bill of the Pelican bird. The bird stretched out his long neck and replaced the heart in Vítazko's breast. At once Vítazko felt it joyfully leaping. And for this service Holy Sunday gave the Pelican bird his freedom again.
And now she said to Vítazko: "You must go once more to the castle and deal out justice. Take the form of a pigeon and, when you think of me, you will regain your own shape."
No sooner had she said this than Vítazko was changed into a pigeon, and away he flew to the castle. The mother and the griffin were caressing each other when suddenly a pigeon alighted on the window-sill. As soon as the mother saw the pigeon she sent the griffin to shoot him, but before the griffin could get hold of his crossbow the pigeon flew down into the hall, took human form, seized the sword and cut the griffin's head off at a stroke.
"And what am I to do with thee, thou good-for-nothing mother?" he said, turning to his mother, who in terror fell at his feet begging for mercy. "Do not be afraid--I will not do you any harm. Let God judge between us." He took her hand and led her to the castle yard, unsheathed his sword, and said: "Behold, mother! I will throw this sword into the air. If I am guilty, it will strike me; if you are guilty, it is you it will strike. Let God decide."
The sword whirled through the air, it darted past Vítazko's head, and smote straight into his mother's heart.
Vítazko lamented over her and buried her. Then he returned to Holy Sunday and thanked her well for all her kindness. He girded on the sword, took his beech-tree in his hand, and went to his beautiful princess. He found her with her royal father, who had tried to make her marry various kings and princes, but she would marry none of them. She would wait a year, she said. The year was not yet over when one day Vítazko arrived in the royal palace to ask for the maiden's hand.
"This is my betrothed," exclaimed the princess joyfully, as soon as she saw him, and she went straight up to him.
A splendid feast was made ready, the father gave his kingdom into their hands, and that is the end of this story.