IN A certain town were encamped a regiment of cuirassiers, and they had a very unpleasant life. Twelve men of them agreed to desert,--three sergeants and nine from the ranks. They carried out their plan; and when they had gone a good distance, one said to the rest: "Let us look, brothers, and see if we are not pursued." Another dismounted, and climbed a high tree,--"Oh! they are searching; but they will not overtake us, for we are far in advance of them." Then he came down, mounted his horse, and all rode rapidly on,--rode till dusk. Then the chief man said: "Where shall we go for the night, brothers? Around here we see nothing but mountains and forests."
One of them climbed a tree again to look for a light. He saw one, and called to his comrades, "Look out! We will ride in the direction in which I throw this sword, for I see a light there."
All rode toward the light, and came to a very large building in the wild mountains. At the first glance they saw it was an enormous castle, which was open. They entered the court, led their horses to the stable,--where oats were ready for twelve horses,--and then went themselves into a hall where a table was laid for twelve persons, so that all might sit down and eat; but there was not a living soul to be seen.
"Brothers," said one of them, "may we touch this food and drink?"
"Why not?" said the chief. "What if we have to pay a few ducats for the entertainment?"
They sat down, and ate with good relish. After they had eaten and drunk, an old sorceress slipped in and saluted them, saying: "Good evening, gentlemen. I greet you in this our famous castle. Did the supper taste well?"
"We ate with pleasure," answered one in the name of all, "only we were a little afraid how it would end."
"Fear not, fear not, I am glad ye are strengthened after the long ride," said the sorceress; and then she said further: "Now of course ye will need good beds, so as to refresh yourselves with grateful sleep. In the next chamber are twelve beds and twelve caskets. Lie on the beds prepared for you, but let no man dare, on pain of great punishment, to look at the caskets, which are unlocked."
All went to the next chamber; the sorceress gave them good-night and went out through the opposite door. In the morning when they rose everything was well prepared for them,--basins with water and towels, and food for each man. After breakfast they spoke of the good cheer which they had not expected to find in the castle. They spoke of various subjects till they came to the caskets, and the splendid things that must be therein. Some expressed great curiosity; some were heard to say that they could not refrain till evening from looking in the caskets; others warned their comrades not to do that which they might regret.
They had a pleasant time all day at the castle, an excellent dinner, a good lunch, a splendid supper. After supper they went to bed. The sun was shining brightly through the windows next morning, but no man was stirring.
The chief rose and called the others, saying, "It is time to be up." Only two gave answer; the rest did not move. These three went to the beds and found their comrades lifeless. All were terrified, and went to the stable to look at their horses. In the stable they found the nine dead horses, of the nine dead men.
"What shall we do?" asked one of them. "We must leave this place where our comrades have perished; nothing can comfort us again."
They returned to the hall where breakfast was ready for only three. They sat down and ate. After eating, the sorceress came again, and said: "Ye see, my friends, that sinful curiosity has cost those nine men their lives. They could withstand it no longer, rose at midnight, opened the caskets, and looked at the contents; scarcely had they lain down again when sudden death overtook them. Had they followed my advice, as ye have, all might have had a pleasant time, and lived joyously here a whole year. Now I see by your faces that nothing can comfort you here, and that ye would gladly go away."
"Yes," answered one, "we fear to remain longer in this place, where our comrades died a sudden death."
"There is nothing to fear," said the sorceress; "but since it is unpleasant for you, I will not keep you. Go where ye like, but before going each may look without fear or danger in his casket, and take the things inside to remember me by; they may be useful."
The men were afraid at first to open the caskets, having before their eyes the sad example of their comrades; but when the sorceress assured them again and again that they might open them without fear and take out the contents, they grew bold and opened them. The first took from his casket a cap, which the sorceress said had such power that whoever put it on his head no man could see him. The second drew from his casket a mantle, and whoever put it on, the sorceress said, could fly through the air as high as he wished. The third took a purse which had the power that whenever it was shaken ten ducats were in it.
The sorceress bade them good-by. They thanked her for the hospitality and useful presents, and saddling their horses, rode away from that castle with the Lord God.
They travelled long, and on the road kept telling what a good time they would have with their gifts. At last they came to a large town, took up their lodging at an inn, and asked what there was strange in the place. The innkeeper answered: "Nothing, unless it be that we have a princess immeasurably fond of playing cards, and who says that no one is able to play with her. She vanquishes every comer, and then has him flogged out of the castle."
The man who had the purse thought, "Wait a while, I'll settle thy play." He made ready straightway, and went to the castle. He had himself announced, and declared that he wished to play with the princess. Meanwhile the other two ate and drank well in the inn.
The princess was glad to find some one again with whom to play cards and whom she might overcome. She had him brought in without delay. The game began. The man lost; but he didn't mind that, for whenever he lost he shook the purse and had ten ducats again. So he kept losing and shaking the purse till the princess was astonished, and thought to herself: "Where dost thou get all these ducats, good man? Thou hast not a treasury at thy side, and still thou hast plenty of money. How dost thou get it?"
She watched him and saw that he shook the purse on his knee, from which he took the ducats. She had already won a great bag of ducats, but still was not able to win all he had. She kept thinking how to get that magic purse. "Now let us rest a little," said she, and went to the next room, from which she brought two goblets of wine. One she gave him and drank the other herself, for they were tired and needed refreshment. Her wine was pure, but in his she put a sleeping-powder. She drank to his health, and he emptied his goblet at a draught. After a while he was so very drowsy that he slipped from the seat, dropped under the table, and fell soundly asleep. That was his misfortune. The princess took the magic purse and gave him one like it containing ten ducats.
When he woke up the princess said to him: "Now let us play again." They played while he had ducats. When the ducats were gone he shook and shook the purse, but in vain. The princess said: "Well, my dear man, since thou hast no money, go. But that disgrace which I have put on others I will not put on thee. I will not have thee flogged out of the castle because I have won much money from thee; go in peace."
He went to his friends in great trouble. They greeted him from afar, and called out: "Well, how didst thou prosper?"
"Oh, badly, very badly, brothers; I no longer have the purse; I lost that."
"Oh, comrade, that is bad; how shall we live now? We are in debt for food and drink, and have nothing to pay with."
The one who had the magic mantle said: "Do ye know what, brothers? I'll take a good vengeance on that wicked woman!"
"But how?" was the question.
He answered, "This is how I'll do it. Let me have thy cap so that no one may see me, and I'll take my mantle. When the princess is going to church I'll seize her, fly with her through the air to desert regions, so far away that she will never be able to come home again."
"Yes, that will be a just punishment for her," said the two others. The third one immediately took the cap, wrapped the mantle around him, and waited for the princess. As she was going along the street he seized her, flew far away with her to wild mountains, and let her down there on the ground near a pear-tree. On that tree were beautiful pears.
The princess begged the man to climb the tree and shake it, so that she might have some of the fruit to eat. "I'll gratify thee just once," said he. But he was so cunning that he did not leave the cap or magic mantle on the ground, but took them up on the tree, hung them both on a limb, and shook the tree with all his might. The cap and the mantle fell to the ground before the pears. The princess put the cap on her head at once, wrapped the mantle around her, and was off in an instant,--sooner than the man on the tree had recovered from his fright.
He was now alone in the wild mountains. What was he to do? He stood motionless as the tree at his side, as if senseless from a thunderbolt; he had no longer magic cap or magic mantle. "Oh, where shall I go?" groaned he, and walked around on the mountains. In his trouble and fright he picked up some pears and ate them. Then other terrible miseries came upon him, for he had barely eaten the pears when unheard of gigantic horns grew out of his head, so that he could not walk through the woods nor turn around; the horns stopped him everywhere; he could barely crawl forward.
With great care and much struggling, he dragged himself over a bit of road and came to a deep ravine, in which a hermit lived whose name was Wind.
"Oh, friend," said the man, "help me from the mountain, and take me home."
Said Wind, "I am not strong enough to bear thee to thy home, but go to my brother; he is the strongest of us. He will take thee home quickly."
"I should like to go to him, but I cannot move."
"He is not far from here,--there, on that side; but go as well as thou art able. He will rid thee of those horns."
The man pushed through as best he could, and came, covered with sweat, to another cave, in which the eldest Wind brother was living. He fell on his knees before Wind, and cried imploringly: "Be so kind as to bear me home!"
"I should like to help thee, my friend; but it is not so easy as may seem to thee. I must go to the Lord to ask with what force Wind may blow. If Wind may blow so trees will be torn out with their roots, thou canst reach home; if Wind blows but weakly, thou wilt not go there, for 'tis far. Wait a while; I'll come back soon."
Wind went to ask the Lord how hard he might blow, and the Lord commanded him to blow mightily.
When he returned, the man asked: "How is it?"
"Well," said Wind, "I must blow mightily; thou wilt reach home. But knowest thou there is an apple-tree over there? Climb it, pluck an apple, cut it into four parts, and eat; thy great horns will fall off."
The man was glad, climbed the apple-tree quickly, but the horns hindered him much. He plucked an apple and ate it; how soon was he free of the horns! He came down from the tree like a squirrel, and thought: "Oh, brother, thou'lt get back thy things!" As he was coming down he took more apples and put them in his pocket; then went to the pear-tree and took pears. Soon Wind caught him up, bore him off swiftly, and in a short time put him down in front of the inn where his friends were waiting impatiently. They were all very glad.
"Where wert thou?" asked they.
"Oh, I was where ye will not be to your dying day, brothers!"
"How didst thou prosper?"
"Where hast thou the cap and the mantle?"
"Oh, that woman took them from me!"
"Woe to us,--woe, passing woe! Now we have neither the purse, the cap, nor the mantle. We are beggared beyond reckoning."
The innkeeper would not let them go because of their debt.
"What will become of us?" asked they in one voice.
The man whom Wind bore home said: "I have here noble and wonderful fruit which I brought from the wild mountains. One of you will take these pears to the street and sell them; but do not dare to sell them to any one save the princess when she is going home from church. For the people thou must put such a price that they will not buy; for the princess reduce the price so that she may buy."
One of the men put the pears in a clean basket, covered them with a neat cloth, and went to the square through which the princess was wont to go to church and return. Soon she was coming out of the church, her servant following some steps behind. She saw the uncommonly beautiful pears from a distance, came up herself, and asked: "How many dost thou give for a copper?"
"Oh, these pears are not sold for copper coin! They are so splendid, and have such a flavor, that I can give only three for a ducat."
The princess bought all, and gave them to her servant to carry; she had barely reached home, and sat near the table, when she took a golden knife, pared and ate with great relish a number of pears. She ate with such pleasure that she saw not how horns began to grow on her head after the first pear; and in a little while they had grown so much that she could not remain in the room. She went to the great supper-hall, but even there was forced to lie down on the floor, so broad and so lofty were her horns. She gave herself up to fearful lamentation and tears, so that all the servants and the king, her father, with the queen, her mother, ran in. All were horrified and wrung their hands, seeing the princess disfigured.
The king sent quickly for the doctors, who came in all haste from each corner and town. The servants ran to every place; each one in his excitement brought whomsoever he knew. The doctors met and shook their heads one after another; each said that in his life he had never seen nor had experience of such a case. They held a consultation, and at last decided to saw off the horns. They went to work, but in vain; they had barely sawed a piece, when it grew on again quickly, so that fright seized every one. The princess was so horrified and ashamed that she would have preferred to be out of the world; no man could help her. Then the king made proclamation that whoso would free the princess from the horns, would get her in marriage, and with her the whole kingdom.
Who was so glad now as the man with the apples? "Wait," thought he; "my little bird, thou'lt sing as I whistle,--no man can help thee but me."
He had fine clothes brought, and dressed as a doctor had himself announced at the palace. He was soon admitted, and began to speak to the princess, saying: "You must have angered God greatly, must have committed grievous sins, for which you are punished in this way. I expect to give you real help; but first of all you must tell me sincerely what you have done,--my aid has to be rendered in view of that."
She confessed with weeping that she had been fond of playing cards; had outplayed all men, then had them flogged from the castle. The last time she had played with a stranger, from whom she had stolen a magic purse; and afterward she had stolen from another man a magic cap and mantle. No doubt the Lord had now punished her for that.
"Before we can think of a cure," said the unknown physician, "you must return the stolen property."
The princess had all the above-mentioned articles brought at once, and gave them gladly to the doctor, who promised to deliver them to the owners. "I will carry them away," said he, "and bring my medicine, through which you will be freed from the horns."
Half an hour later he returned, took her by the hand, looked at her tongue, and said: "Charming woman, you have eaten something, I suppose, from which these horns grew."
The princess answered: "I don't know that I have eaten anything harmful; I ate a few beautiful pears; with that exception I have never eaten any common food."
"You must have eaten something," said the doctor. "I have good medicine that will not fail; but I can only help you on condition that I receive the whole kingdom, with you in marriage, as our lord the king has proclaimed."
The king and princess promised then that the proclamation would be carried out if he would free her from the horns. After these words he set about the cure. He took from his pocket an apple, and cut it into four parts; he told her to lie down, and gave her the first fourth of the apple. She was not able however to lie with comfort by reason of the horns. When she had eaten all the four quarters of the apple, the horns fell off at a blow. Then there was mighty gladness throughout the whole castle; every one rejoiced that the princess, the only daughter of the king, was free of her horns.
The king had the marriage contract drawn up, and soon after they celebrated the wedding, at which the two friends of the young king were present; and he promised that while they lived they should remain at his court as the very first lords.
There was eating and drinking at the wedding; and among other things they ate bread made from rye. But, Mark tell thou no lie.