ONCE upon a time there lived a man who had two sons but they did not get on at all well together, for the younger was much handsomer than his elder brother who was very jealous of him. When they grew older, things became worse and worse, and at last one day as they were walking through a wood the elder youth seized hold of the other, tied him to a tree, and went on his way hoping that the boy might starve to death.
However, it happened that an old and humpbacked shepherd passed the tree with his flock, and seeing the prisoner, he stopped and said to him, ‘Tell me, my son why are you tied to that tree?’
‘Because I was so crooked,’ answered the young man; ‘but it has quite cured me, and now my back is as straight as can be.’
‘I wish you would bind me to a tree,’ exclaimed the shepherd, ‘so that my back would get straight.’
‘With all the pleasure in life,’ replied the youth. ‘If you will loosen these cords I will tie you up with them as firmly as I can.’
This was soon done, and then the young man drove off the sheep, leaving their real shepherd to repent of his folly; and before he had gone very far he met with a horse boy and a driver of oxen, and he persuaded them to turn with him and to seek for adventures.
By these and many other tricks he soon became so celebrated that his fame reached the king’s ears, and his majesty was filled with curiosity to see the man who had managed to outwit everybody. So he commanded his guards to capture the young man and bring him before him.
And when the young man stood before the king, the king spoke to him and said, ‘By your tricks and the pranks that you have played on other people, you have, in the eye of the law, forfeited your life. But on one condition I will spare you, and that is, if you will bring me the flying horse that belongs to the great dragon. Fail in this, and you shall be hewn in a thousand pieces.’
‘If that is all,’ said the youth, ‘you shall soon have it.’
So he went out and made his way straight to the stable where the flying horse was tethered. He stretched his hand cautiously out to seize the bridle, when the horse suddenly began to neigh as loud as he could. Now the room in which the dragon slept was just above the stable, and at the sound of the neighing he woke and cried to the horse, ‘What is the matter, my treasure? is anything hurting you?’ After waiting a little while the young man tried again to loose the horse, but a second time it neighed so loudly that the dragon woke up in a hurry and called out to know why the horse was making such a noise. But when the same thing happened the third time, the dragon lost his temper, and went down into the stable and took a whip and gave the horse a good beating. This offended the horse and made him angry, and when the young man stretched out his hand to untie his head, he made no further fuss, but suffered himself to be led quietly away. Once clear of the stable the young man sprang on his back and galloped off, calling over his shoulder, ‘Hi! dragon! dragon! if anyone asks you what has become of your horse, you can say that I have got him!’
But the king said, ‘The flying horse is all very well, but I want something more. You must bring me the covering with the little bells that lies on the bed of the dragon, or I will have you hewn into a thousand pieces.’
‘Is that all?’ answered the youth. ‘That is easily done.’
And when night came he went away to the dragon’s house and climbed up on to the roof. Then he opened a little window in the roof and let down the chain from which the kettle usually hung, and tried to hook the bed covering and to draw it up. But the little bells all began to ring, and the dragon woke and said to his wife, ‘Wife, you have pulled off all the bed-clothes!’ and drew the covering towards him, pulling, as he did so, the young man into the room. Then the dragon flung himself on the youth and bound him fast with cords saying as he tied the last knot, ‘To-morrow when I go to church you must stay at home and kill him and cook him, and when I get back we will eat him together.’
So the following morning the dragoness took hold of the young man and reached down from the shelf a sharp knife with which to kill him. But as she untied the cords the better to get hold of him, the prisoner caught her by the legs, threw her to the ground, seized her and speedily cut her throat, just as she had been about to do for him, and put her body in the oven. Then he snatched up the covering and carried it to the king.
The king was seated on his throne when the youth appeared before him and spread out the covering with a deep bow. ‘That is not enough,’ said his majesty; ‘you must bring me the dragon himself, or I will have you hewn into a thousand pieces.’
‘It shall be done,’ answered the youth; ‘but you must give me two years to manage it, for my beard must grow so that he may not know me.’
‘So be it,’ said the king.
And the first thing the young man did when his beard was grown was to take the road to the dragon’s house and on the way he met a beggar, whom he persuaded to change clothes with him, and in the beggar’s garments he went fearlessly forth to the dragon.
He found his enemy before his house, very busy making a box, and addressed him politely, ‘Good morning, your worship. Have you a morsel of bread?’
‘You must wait,’ replied the dragon, ‘till I have finished my box, and then I will see if I can find one.’
‘What will you do with the box when it is made?’ inquired the beggar.
‘It is for the young man who killed my wife, and stole my flying horse and my bed covering,’ said the dragon.
‘He deserves nothing better,’ answered the beggar, ‘for it was an ill deed. Still that box is too small for him, for he is a big man.’
‘You are wrong,’ said the dragon. ‘The box is large enough even for me.’
‘Well, the rogue is nearly as tall as you,’ replied the beggar, ‘and, of course, if you can get in, he can. But I am sure you would find it a tight fit.’
‘No, there is plenty of room,’ said the dragon, tucking himself carefully inside.
But no sooner was he well in, than the young man clapped on the lid and called out, ‘Now press hard, just to see if he will be able to get out.’
The dragon pressed as hard as he could, but the lid never moved.
‘It is all right,’ he cried; ‘now you can open it.’
But instead of opening it, the young man drove in long nails to make it tighter still; then he took the box on his back and brought it to the king. And when the king heard that the dragon was inside, he was so excited that he would not wait one moment, but broke the lock and lifted the lid just a little way to make sure he was really there. He was very careful not to leave enough space for the dragon to jump out, but unluckily there was just room for his great mouth, and with one snap the king vanished down his wide red jaws. Then the young man married the king’s daughter and ruled over the land, but what he did with the dragon nobody knows.