TO CUT a long story short, there was a prince and he had three sons. The first two followed in their father's footsteps, but the third did not. He said he would like to be a forester. The father was angry and turned him out of the house. What was he to do with the fellow, when he was so obstinate and would be a forester?
"Well, be whatever you like," said the prince, and he gave him a shepherd's dress and Hynek went out into the world.
He had been walking through a forest for three days. He was hungry and cold, and everything seemed to be against him. He was tired too, and at last he fell asleep under a tree. As he was sleeping, a black man came to him. He would not leave him to sleep, but waked him up. Hynek was frightened. But he told him there was no need to be afraid. He was a good man, though his skin was black. So Hynek stayed with him for seven years and learnt the seven languages, zither playing, and all that sort of thing.
Now the seven years were over. In that land there was a king who had an only daughter. And there was a fierce dragon which was ravaging the whole of that kingdom, and everybody was forced to give him one sheep and one human being to appease him. So the lot fell upon the princess too. The black man told Hynek that something ought to be done to deliver the people and to save the princess from being devoured by that dragon.
"Go to the next homestead," he said, "and ask to be taken on as a shepherd, and in the morning you will have to drive the sheep into this forest."
So they took leave of one another. Hynek was engaged as shepherd, and in the morning he drove the sheep into the forest, where the black man was waiting for him. When he came with the sheep, the black man gave him a wand and a ring, and said:
"When you turn this ring, you will be brought to a castle where a giant dwells, and you will have to tackle the giant. This wand will help you to do it. Then you must take his robe, his horse, and his sword. Then you will be brought to the town, and it will be about the time that the princess will be brought out."
So Hynek took his leave and found everything just as he had said. As he came near to the castle, the giant was looking out and said:
"You earthworm, what are you looking for?"
"Oh! I should like to have a try for that big head of yours."
The giant fell into a rage. He was holding a great club in his hand, and he flung it at Hynek, but Hynek dodged aside and the club sank deep into the ground, it had been flung with such force. So Hynek went right up to him, and, crack! he struck him with the wand. So the giant tumbled over. Hynek took his sword and struck his head off. Then he took an iron key out of the giant's pocket. He opened the lock, took the robe and the horse, and dressed himself as became a knight. Then he turned the ring, and in a moment he found himself on the road along which they were bringing the princess to be devoured by the dragon. When he saw the procession, he asked:
"What's going on here, and why are the people in such grief?"
"Because the princess is to be devoured by a dragon to-day."
Hynek said: "For the sake of her beauty, show me his den where he dwells."
So he rode up to the rock and called out loudly: "Now, dragon, come on; your meal is ready here, waiting for you."
But the dragon answered: "I don't want it to-day; come to-morrow, at eleven."
So Hynek returned. He rode towards them and said that the dragon would not leave his den to-day. So they all went back to the town with the knight, and the king would not let him go away on any account. But Hynek began to make excuses. He had to deliver a letter for the field marshal and he could not remain there. Then he turned the ring on his finger, and instantly he was in the castle again. He left the clothes and the horse there, putting the clothes tidily together. Then he put on his shepherd's dress, turned the ring, and at once he was near the forest, where the black man had been tending his sheep meanwhile. He greeted him kindly:
"You have done everything well. Always act like that."
So he drove the sheep home and played the zither again. Everybody ran up to the door to listen to the magic playing of the shepherd. But he said nothing to anybody.
The next day he drove the sheep to the forest still earlier. The black man was there waiting for him, and said: "Follow my advice and you will be happy."
He said that he would do so. The black man was to mind the sheep again. He gave Hynek the wand and the ring, and Hynek came to another castle.
The giant was looking out as he came up; he was standing in the doorway. He asked the lad grimly what he was looking for.
"Oh! it's nothing. I only want to try for that big head of yours."
The giant was holding a hammer and he hurled it at him. No eye could see where it fell. Hynek leapt towards him, and, crack! he struck him with the wand, and the giant fell over and Hynek cut his head off too. He took a silver key out of the giant's pocket and went straight to the castle. There he chose a robe, girded on a sword, took a horse, and turned the ring again. Once more he was on the road where the princess was being brought to be devoured. He asked them in a different language why they were wailing so.
"Well, our princess is to be devoured by the dragon to-day. He would not leave his den yesterday."
"Show me his den: I will sacrifice myself for the sake of her beauty."
They showed him the rock, and he rode straight up to it and called out: "Now, dragon, come on; your meal is ready here."
"I don't want it to-day, wait till eleven to-morrow."
The king was still less willing to let him go this time, but he found some excuse, turned his horse, and went back with everything to the castle.
Then he returned to the forest and the black man. The black man said: "Drive your sheep home now, but come earlier to-morrow, for a heavy task awaits you."
Hynek could not rest that night: he was so afraid that he would be too late. As soon as dawn came he let out the flock and drove it to the forest. When he got there, the black man said to him: "There's only to-day now. It will be the last time. But it will be a heavy task for you to tackle the third giant and the dragon." Then he gave him the wand and the ring, and said that the key to-day would be of gold. He must choose the robe and take a black horse, and he must take with him the sword with which he had killed the giant and the dragon.
He turned the ring and was brought to the third castle. Here was a giant again, much huger than the other two. He ran at Hynek, but, crack! Hynek struck him with the wand. Then he took his sword and killed him. Then he opened the castle with a golden key; he went to the stable, then he put on a green robe and brought out a black horse. There was a sword hanging there, and he girded it on. Then he turned the ring, and in a moment he was on the road along which they were bringing the princess to be devoured by the dragon.
He asked them in yet another language why they were so sorrowful. He was ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of her beauty. So they showed him the den in which the dragon dwelt, and he called out: "Well, come on, dragon; your meal is ready and waiting for you here."
Now the rock began to shake; all the stones came rolling down, and the dragon flew out of the rock, his seven heads burning with flame, and he made straight for Hynek. Hynek began cutting at the seven heads until he was weary that he could not do any more. Then the horse began to crush the dragon, until after a while Hynek, being rested, took his sword, and at once he cut all the seven heads off.
He was so scorched by the fire that he could not run away, and he fainted on the spot. The people had seen what was happening, so they rode up and carried him away, lest he should perish of the dragon's poison. They brought him and laid him in the princess's lap. She gave him her ring and a golden neckchain, and so he recovered his senses and found himself lying in the princess's lap. He was afraid that he had stayed too long, for he was supposed to be with the marshal by this time. They were all trying to hold him back from going, but he found an excuse and promised he would come back within three days. So at last they just had to let him go.
He returned to the castle, where he put everything back in its place again, except the sword, which he took with him and gave to the black man. The black man said to him: "You have succeeded now, and it will be well with both of us."
So Hynek drove his sheep home rejoicing. He was playing the zither, and all the people gathered outside to listen to his rare and sweet music. He asked what had happened to the princess: had the dragon devoured her?
"Oh no! A knight delivered her, and the king is going to give her in marriage to him."
"Alas! silly shepherd that I am, why did I not tackle him myself with my shepherd's staff!"
But they all laughed at him: "You mind your sheep, that's what befits you."
In the royal castle the wedding-feast was ready. The sixth day had come and they were still waiting for him. But the bridegroom did not come and the princess was sad. On the sixth day he asked the marshal if he could go to the castle to play his zither to the princess; he would like to cheer her, since she was so sad.
"You may go, and, if you succeed, you shall make some extra money."
So Hynek went and played, and the music was so sweet that the lords could listen to nothing but his beautiful playing. He played for three hours, and then he must go home. They asked him what reward he would like.
"Nothing but to drink a cup of wine with the princess."
He had ready the ring which the princess had given him when he was in her lap. His request was granted, and the rest of the musicians who were there were angry with him for claiming so insignificant a reward. When they had filled the cup for him, he drank the wine and dropped the ring into the cup.
Now, the cupbearer who was filling the cup looked into it and saw the glittering ring. So he hastened to the princess with it. She recognized it as her own, so she ordered them to bring that shepherd before her.
"Well," he said, "surely they won't beat me!"
They brought him before the princess, and she made him tell her how he had got that ring and how he had been clothed.
So he said: "All those three days I was with you."
Hynek did not go back to the marshal, though he complained of the loss of his shepherd. He was clad in royal robes now, and they had a splendid wedding in the castle. But the princess did not know what his parentage was, although she could see that he was not a low-born man.
So after a year he said he would like to visit his parents, and he told her to prepare for the journey. She was to send a letter to Prince So-and-So that the young queen was going to visit him. He would go on ahead.
So he put his shepherd's dress on once more and purposely tore it in several places, and, when his princess arrived and everybody was welcoming her, he went straight into the great hall. Now, when the old Prince saw that it was his son all tattered and torn, he bade them put him under lock and key. But he had no difficulty in escaping, and while they were feasting, he came into the hall again and sat down next to the princess. The father was furious that his son should behave so shamefully. But the princess reassured him. It was all right, she said. She did not mind at all; he might sit where he pleased.
After dinner she called for a bath. They prepared it for her. But Hynek was quicker, and slipped into the bathroom before her. She shut the door and he put on his royal robes, and then they went before his father. The Prince was frightened, since he had thought so ill of his son, and he fell on his knees. But Hynek lifted him up and himself kneeled before him and asked his forgiveness.
Then came in the black man. He gave Hynek the sword and bade him cut his head off. Hynek would not repay his kindness in this way.
"Then we shall both be unhappy."
So when he saw what he was to do, he cut the head off and, when he had done that, an English prince appeared in his stead. He was only eighteen years old. All his followers woke up too. Hynek accompanied him to England, and then took leave of him.
How are they all now?
I don't know.