THERE was a king, and he had seven sons,--young men strong and healthy as deer, except the seventh, the youngest, whose name was Jalmir. He was in his twentieth year, and still a nurse had to care for him as for a little child. It was pitiful to look at Jalmir; he was as shapely as a maiden, and beautiful as a spring day, still could not walk from weakness. How much the king had paid to doctors, quacks, and every kind of old woman, to cure him, but in vain! At last the afflicted father lost all hope that his dearest son would ever grow strong.
For this reason there reigned in the king's palace deep distress, which was in no way to the taste of Jalmir's brothers, especially since they could not hunt in the neighborhood. "What shall we do in future?" asked the eldest one day when they were resting in the forest after a hunt. "Let us go into the world."
"Yes, yes!" answered all the others. They went home and laid their wishes before their father.
"What am I to do?" objected the king. "Jalmir is sickly; I shall be without aid in my old age."
The sons agreed with him in this, but wheedled him so slyly that at last they received his consent to go out in the world. They rushed with rejoicing to the stable, chose the best horses, took what money they could, and that same day rode away from their father's house at a gallop, without even saying good-by to their brother Jalmir. How strange was the feeling at the heart of the poor fellow when his nurse told him of this! He turned from her in silence; but under the pillow with which he covered his face he shed many tears. When it was growing dark the nurse hurried out of his chamber to chat with the servants. She began with the cook, and they talked till midnight was near before she knew it.
Meanwhile Jalmir was lying on his bed sadder than ever. This time he was not thinking of his bodily pain, but of his brothers who had left him without saying farewell; this troubled him most. He thought, "Shall I ever be well?" and some internal voice said that he would. Filled with hope he fell into a doze, and saw himself hunting on horseback, and hurling a spear at wild beasts as his brothers had done. All at once, and near midnight, a venerable man, with snow-white beard reaching to his waist, stood before the bed, and said: "Jalmir art thou sleeping?"
Jalmir started, opened his eyes, but saw no one. "That was a dream," thought he. He meditated a while, and again closed his eyes. After a short time the old man stood before him again, and asked: "Jalmir art thou sleeping?" Jalmir opened his eyes quickly, but saw no one. "That was only a dream then," said he to himself, and again closed his eyes. But soon the old man stood before him and inquired a third time: "Jalmir art thou sleeping?"
"I am not," said Jalmir, and rubbing his eyes, saw the old man at his bed.
"Rise in the morning," said the old man, "provide thyself with everything for the road, and go through the southern gate. Outside the town thou wilt find under an old pear-tree a white horse; mount that horse and ride after thy brothers." Then the old man vanished in a twinkle.
Jalmir rubbed his eyes again, and looked around his chamber, but there was no old man anywhere. "It was only a dream," thought he. Again he lay down and slept soundly; but when he woke in the morning he felt so well that he sprang from his bed, and jumped around the chamber from gladness. His nurse returned at that moment; but when she saw that her weakly charge was well, she ran to the king, and before she had reached the door, cried: "Jalmir is well!"
The king went out, and asked in a sad voice: "Hast thou lost thy senses?"
"He is really well," said the nurse with greater rejoicing; but the king shook his head.
Meanwhile Jalmir recollected his supposed dream, and ascribed his recovery to that majestic old man. "Since he has cured me, I must obey him," said he to himself. He dressed quickly and went to the king. When the king saw him he believed the nurse, and, thoroughly happy, fell on the young man's neck; but he was astonished still more when Jalmir said: "Now, father, let me go; I must follow my brothers."
"And thou wilt leave me?" complained the father.
"I must," answered Jalmir seriously, and he told his dream. The king shook his head incredulously, and at first would not even hear of the departure of his favorite son; but at last he consented with tears. Jalmir made ready for the journey without delay.
The king gave him a carriage and four servants, he took money, and departed straightway. Outside the town he dismissed the servants, giving them the carriage and the horses, and walked on alone to the pear-tree, where a splendid white steed was waiting, stamping the ground impatiently. "Sit on me, quickly," said he with the voice of a man, "or we shall be late."
Jalmir sprang to his back and they went on, not on the ground though, but through the air. In a short time the white steed asked: "Dost thou see thy brothers?"
"I do not see," answered Jalmir.
"But the hill on which they are?"
"Neither do I see that."
"Thou wilt soon see it," said the steed, and hastened his course. "Dost thou see the hill now?" asked he after a time.
"I see," answered Jalmir, "and on it are six ants."
"Those are thy brothers," said the white steed. "But now listen; we shall soon come up with them, but do not make thyself known. We shall pass the night in an inn. Thy brothers will feast, but will not be able to pay, for they lost all their money foolishly yesterday. Pay for them; in the morning we shall go farther."
Jalmir promised to do this, and then the white steed came down to the earth. Soon they overtook the brothers, who did not know Jalmir; and indeed, how could they in that stately, fiery hero recognize their weakly brother. Jalmir bowed to them courteously, and asked permission to travel in their company.
"But where art thou going?" inquired one of the brothers.
"To see the world," answered Jalmir.
"We too," cried the others; "so thou must go with us."
Jalmir bowed to them, and in silence agreed with a nod. But his brothers all gave him their hands, and soon began to tell him how delightfully they had passed the previous day. Jalmir did not, however, find much that was pleasant in it, and frowned.
"Art sorry that thou wert not there?" asked one of the brothers. "Never mind, we can have such days yet without number."
With that they came to an inn. The innkeeper, seeing through the window so many lords, ran out and took the horses. When he took the white steed, Jalmir asked: "Hast thou a stable apart?"
"Yes; and such a one!" boasted the innkeeper.
"Then put my horse in it alone," said Jalmir, "for he is very vicious."
Then he followed his brothers to a room where they were already seated at a table, and calling with terrible uproar on the innkeeper for wine. In a short time the innkeeper brought all that he had, and the brothers drank, sang, shouted, and rioted till the inn trembled; but Jalmir barely drank for one, because he was sick from the action of his brothers. But how grieved was he when one of the brothers said: "This is a different life from being at home with that grumbling father and that sickly brother."
Gradually one after the other dropped under the table, overcome by wine. When all were asleep Jalmir said to the innkeeper: "Be careful that no harm comes to them; I will sleep a little too."
Then he was going to lie on a bench near the fire. "Do not," said the innkeeper; "I have a bed ready for thee. Come with me."
Jalmir, after useless refusals, followed him at last; but before he lay down he visited the white steed to see if he had plenty of oats and water.
When the brothers woke in the morning they looked for Jalmir with a great outcry: "It would have been a nice thing if he had run away from us!" cried one to another. "Who would pay?--for I have no money."
Soon Jalmir came to the room and told them to travel farther; all was settled.
"Thou art ours," said they. All embraced him,--'tis a wonder they did not suffocate him. Escaping from the brothers, Jalmir went to his horse. The brothers followed his example, and soon the inn was far behind.
"Listen," said the white steed to Jalmir, when the brothers had gone ahead. "In the evening we shall come to a castle, in which lives a sorceress with her seven daughters; they will take your horses, and lead you to a chamber. The sorceress will bring you wine after supper, but drink not. What will take place later, thou wilt see."
"Why loiter so?" called one of the brothers suddenly to Jalmir.
"I am coming," answered he; and the white steed soon galloped so that in a few moments he was ahead of the brothers.
"Slower or thou wilt leave us!" cried the brothers; and the white steed waited for them of his own accord. Soon they entered a forest, rode and rode, but there was no end to the forest; only in the evening did they come out on a plain. In the middle of the plain was a beautiful castle. "Oh, now we are in luck," said the brothers, and they began to rejoice.
They galloped into the court of the castle, and were still more rejoiced when seven princesses came forth to meet them. They sprang from their horses in a moment to give a courteous salute; but how did they wonder when the princesses took their horses by the bridles and led them to the stable. Jalmir begged the youngest princess, who had taken his steed, to put the horse in a stable apart, for he was very vicious.
She did as he wished; he saw this, and only then did he go to the supper chamber, where his brothers and the six princesses were already sitting at a great table, covered with the daintiest dishes. He came to them with the youngest princess, but ate very little, though she urged him continually; but when the vile old woman who served them brought wine and poured it to each one in a golden goblet, Jalmir seized his goblet eagerly, but did not drink the wine. He poured it out on one side.
By degrees the brothers began to doze; at last one after another they fell asleep. Jalmir suspected that the old woman had drugged them,--which was true,--and that she had no good thoughts regarding them; therefore he feigned sleep so that in the hour of need he might aid his brothers. Soon after the old woman came and put away each brother with his partner on a couch, of which there were seven in the adjoining chamber; then she went out, but returned straightway with a great broom, and began to strike the brothers. First she struck the eldest, but he moved not; when she had finished with the six she came to Jalmir, and said to herself: "If six are asleep, so is the seventh." She went out, but soon returned with sulphur in her hand, and burned it under the nose of each brother. She began with the eldest, and as not one of them moved, she said when she reached Jalmir: "If six are asleep, so is the seventh."
She went out, but came back bringing pitch, which she burned on the breast of each brother. She began with the eldest, and as none of them sighed, she said when she reached Jalmir: "If six are asleep, so is the seventh; now I may cut off their heads without fear."
Jalmir quivered; and when the old woman went out, he sprang quickly from the couch, put each of his brothers in the place of a princess and did the same with himself. The old woman returned with a sword, but without a light, and cut off the heads of the seven princesses; then she went out. Jalmir sprang up in a moment and tried to rouse his brothers, but in vain. What anguish the poor fellow suffered; only towards morning did the brothers wake and look in terror at the dead bodies of the princesses. But Jalmir exclaimed in a voice of despair: "Let us flee!" and rushed forth; the brothers followed him. In the stable they untied their horses, and springing on them hurried in a wild chase from the castle and across the broad plain.
The sorceress soon saw their flight, and pursued; but as they had crossed the boundary of her castle lands she had power over them no longer, and with work undone was forced to go home, where she cursed herself above the dead bodies of her daughters. The brothers rode without stopping, farther and farther, till at last the castle disappeared from their sight; then they made the first halt to rest and inquire of Jalmir what had been done to them. When they heard that he had saved them from certain death, they fell upon his neck and cried: "Tell us who thou art, since thou hast done so much for us."
"Who else but your brother Jalmir," answered he, almost swimming in tears; and he pressed brother after brother to his breast. But how astonished was he when he saw that they were much colder to him than they had been when they knew him not! Still, they asked how he had recovered, why he had ridden after them, and what their father was doing. But gradually they grew silent and hung their heads. Beyond doubt it was not to their liking that just the youngest of them was so wise.
Jalmir also was silent, and his white steed dropped behind of his own accord. When the brothers could not hear him, he said to his master: "I told thee not to discover thyself, but thou didst not obey me. The results thou canst lay to thyself. In a few days we shall come to a mighty king; thou and thy brothers will enter his service. When in need come to me for advice."
Jalmir stroked the white steed, and begged his forgiveness. From that time the brothers were no longer joyous as before, and kept noticeably aside from Jalmir. But since they had no money they wheedled him greatly whenever they saw an inn, since he always paid for them. After some days they came to a great city. Their first road, however, was to the inn, where they ate moderately but drank beyond measure; and now they began to do such senseless things that Jalmir went to his steed as quickly as possible to get consolation.
When the brothers were alone the eldest said: "I have had favors enough from that sickly brother; to-morrow we will go to the king of this country and serve him. What do ye think?"
"We will all go with thee," cried the others; but suddenly they were confused, for Jalmir had returned.
"Where are ye going?" inquired he. "I will go with you."
The brothers answered him sullenly, but Jalmir said he would go. Towards evening, when the brothers had had a good sleep, they went to the king, who made them men of his court without delay. Now they had a good living, large pay, and almost nothing to do; but as an offset they were still not at rest, for Jalmir was always a thorn in their eyes, especially since the friendship of the king for him increased every day.
Once when the brothers, from idleness, were examining the chambers of the king's castle, they came to one in which were all kinds of books, small and great, piled up to the ceiling. They fell to reading these books with great eagerness.
"Brothers," cried one of them suddenly, "I read here that the king has not a bird in his kingdom."
"Is this true?" exclaimed the others in wonder; "we have not noticed it."
"But know ye," asked the eldest, "to what use we may put this?" All shook their heads. "Listen," said he in a whisper; "we will tell the king that Jalmir knows about birds, and to send him for them."
"And the king will do so at once," said the brother who had read of the birds, "for here is written the great cost of the birds eaten on the king's table in a year."
They stopped reading at once and went straight to the king, to whom they told what they thought. "But, gracious king," said the eldest, "thou must sharply insist, or Jalmir will excuse himself, saying that he knows nothing of birds."
The king nodded graciously and sent for Jalmir. He came quickly, and the king said: "As thou knowest well I have no birds in my kingdom, therefore I command thee to bring them."
"I, gracious king," said Jalmir, in fright, "know nothing of birds."
"Whether thou knowest or knowest not," said the king, in sudden anger, "thou'lt get birds." With that he waved his hand, and poor Jalmir went out with drooping head. Whither can he go? Who can help him in peril? He went straight to the white steed and complained.
"Grieve not," said the steed; "at dusk we will go for the birds."
Jalmir thanked the horse, and could hardly wait till evening. The moment the sun had disappeared behind the woods he was ready for the road; and when the first star had appeared in the sky he led out the white steed, sprang on his back, and flew off like the wind. "But where are we going?" inquired Jalmir of his steed on the way.
"To that sorceress in whose castle thou didst save thy brothers from death," answered the horse.
"To that place!" cried Jalmir in fright.
"Have no fear," said the steed, comforting him; "only do to a hair what I tell thee."
The good steed now increased his speed so that he went like an arrow, and about an hour later he came to the ground at the castle of the sorceress. Jalmir sprang from him, and the steed said: "When thou art in the first chamber thou wilt see silver cages, and in them silver birds; in the second chamber will be golden cages with golden birds; in the third chamber diamond cages with diamond birds. Of all these touch nothing, or such a blow will fall that the whole castle will tremble, and the sorceress will seize thee to kill thee. But go to the fourth chamber; there take a wooden cage in which is a mean-looking bird, and hasten to me."
Jalmir entered the first chamber with courage, but cautiously, and looking at nothing, went to the second chamber; there the glitter of gold dazzled him somewhat. When he opened the door to the third chamber he stood almost blind on the threshold; but quickly recovering, he shaded his eyes, ran to the fourth chamber, and seizing the cage with the bird in an instant, rushed out swift as an arrow. He sprang on the horse, which rose with him through the air in a moment. The sorceress burst out of the castle, and cursing fearfully because she could not stop him, screamed: "But thou wilt come here again!"
When the white steed was beyond the boundary of the castle land, he said to Jalmir: "Open the cage and let the bird fly."
"But shall I not bring it to the king?"
"Only do what I ask," said the steed, with such a stern voice that Jalmir obeyed without thinking.
It was yet night when they reached home. Jalmir tied the horse in the stable and went to his room to strengthen himself with sleep, but he did not sleep long. The morning dawn had barely shown itself when in the king's garden was heard such a loud and cheerful singing of birds that all the people were soon on their feet, and earlier than any the king. At the first moment he was so astonished that he asked whence these wonderful creatures had come.
"Royal Grace," said one of the brothers, "thou didst send Jalmir for them."
"True," said the king, as he bethought himself; "but where is Jalmir?"
A courtier soon brought him, and the king fell on his neck from very joy. He was now really dear to the king; but for that reason was held in more hatred by his brothers.
"How can we get rid of him?" asked the brothers when they were alone.
"Maybe we can read something else," said one of them.
"Very good," answered all, at once; and they hurried to the chamber in which so many books were collected, and it was not long before one of the brothers cried out: "The king has no beasts, and they cost him more than the birds, since he uses many more of them in a year."
"Then let Jalmir go for them," said the sixth brother, smiling maliciously; and they went straight to the king, to whom they told their minds. The king nodded graciously; dismissed them, called Jalmir and said: "I have no beasts in my kingdom; and since they cost me much in a year, I command thee to get me beasts."
"I, gracious king," said Jalmir in wonder, "know of none."
"Thou knowest well," said the king in anger, "for thy brothers told me."
"Did they?" said Jalmir in astonishment. "Well, I will try;" and he went to his white steed, to whom he told everything.
"Be not down-hearted," said the steed, comforting him. "Come to me in the evening; we will go for the beasts."
When it was dark the good steed was flying through the air. "But where shall we go?" asked Jalmir.
"To the sorceress from whom we got the birds," answered the steed.
"But I am afraid that she will catch me," said Jalmir.
"Fear not," said the steed; "only do to a hair what I tell thee." When he came to the ground in front of the castle, he said: "In the first chamber thou wilt see a beast with silver hair, tied with silver chains; in the second chamber a beast with golden hair and golden chains; in the third, one with pearl hair and pearl chains. Touch not any of these, or a blow will fall so that the whole castle will tremble, and the sorceress will seize thee to kill thee. But go to the fourth chamber; there seize an ugly dog that is tied with a ragged rope, and hurry to me."
Somewhat timidly, but all the more carefully, did Jalmir pass the first, second, and third chamber, shading his eyes with his hands so the glitter of the silver, gold, and pearl might not blind him. When he entered the fourth chamber he broke the rope, seized the dog in his arms, rushed out, and swift as an arrow sprang on the horse, which rose in the air. And it was high time; for scarcely had he sat on the horse when the sorceress ran out after him. When she was unable to stop him, she cursed fearfully, and screamed: "But thou wilt come here again!"
When the steed had sprung over the boundary of the castle land, he said: "Now let the dog go."
Jalmir obeyed at once, for he was sure the steed gave good counsel. When they came home, dawn was already appearing; still Jalmir lay on the bed, for he was greatly wearied. He did not sleep long, however; for barely had the dawn come when there was a noise in the castle, in the town, and outside the town, as if the earth were breaking. The king sprang in wonder to the window. But how astonished was he! Right in the garden he saw deer, stags, rabbits; on the trees squirrels; on the ground under the trees mice; in short, such myriads of beasts that his eyes danced. In the king's garden it was pleasant for the beasts; but in the town and outside the town the people killed them, chased wildly after them, and threw stones at them. This displeased the king; and he issued an order that all beasts belonged to him, and that no man should dare to injure them. Then he went to Jalmir, thanked him cordially, and expressed his friendship with an ardent embrace.
The whole kingdom was pleased with the beasts, but Jalmir's brothers were not pleased.
"What shall we do with him?" asked the eldest of the others. "Instead of getting rid of him we have brought him into still greater favor with the king."
"But let us go and read again."
"Yes, yes," said a third; and all hurried off to the well-known room. They had read a long time when at last one cried out: "The king has no wine, and of course wine costs him money."
"Then let Jalmir go for it," answered the eldest, quietly; "and he must get luck from hell if he comes back."
They went straight to the king, and very insinuatingly they told him that Jalmir might easily supply him with wine.
"Then he will do it;" and dismissing them graciously he had Jalmir summoned, and told him his wish.
"Gracious king," answered Jalmir, "I know nothing of wine, but I will go and see."
The king was somewhat angry, thinking surely that Jalmir was unwilling, and thereupon said: "Thou wilt answer to me with thy head." Jalmir, bowing in silence, went out to the steed.
"Fear not," said the steed; "in the evening we will go for the wine." The moment it was dark the kind steed shot away with Jalmir through the air.
"Where are we going this time?" asked Jalmir, a little frightened.
"To the sorceress from whom we got the birds and the beasts. But now pull a hair from my tail, and one from my mane; from the first make a rope three hundred yards long, from the other a net large enough to contain thee."
Jalmir did in silence according to the steed's words; and to his astonishment, before they came to the castle the rope and the net were finished.
"Now attend to my words," said the steed when he had come to the ground. "Tie one end of the rope to my foot and the other to the net, take the net with thee and put it on the door of the cellar, to which thou must go down on three hundred steps. In the cellar thou wilt see vessels with silver and gold and diamond hoops; pay no heed to them, or a blow will fall, and it will be ill with thee. Go to the farthest part of the cellar. There thou wilt see in a niche a little vessel with wooden hoops, take that quickly and hurry to me; but if thou art not able to come, just spring into the net and I will help thee."
Jalmir did everything according to the words of the steed. It was as clear as white day in the cellar from the silver, gold, and diamond hoops, so that he soon saw the little vessel in the niche; but when he caught it, it is a wonder that he did not fall under its weight. With a mighty effort he carried it to the steps; but there he struck his foot against a vessel, and such a blow fell that the castle trembled from its foundation to the highest points of its tower. Jalmir, however, did not grow weak; he sprang up like an arrow over the three hundred steps and jumped into the net.
Meanwhile, the sorceress flew out of the castle and sprang at the steed; but the steed got her down, and so thrashed her with his feet that he did not leave a sound bone in her body. At the same time he wound up the rope so nicely that in a little while he had drawn up the net containing Jalmir. "Sit quickly on me," said he. Jalmir mounted in a moment, keeping the vessel carefully in his arms. The steed rose in the air and flew like lightning, because the sorceress who had picked herself from the ground was chasing him. But soon they had the boundary of the castle land behind them, so that they had no further need to strain their powers.
When they reached home the steed was drooping wearily to the earth, so that Jalmir had to support him in going to the stable. Jalmir was barely able to go to his own room; but first, according to the command of the steed, he left the cask of wine at the door of the king's chamber, then he lay on his bed and was soon asleep.
When the king opened the door of his chamber in the morning he saw the cask. "This must be wine," said the king, rejoicing; and taking off the head, he tried it. "It's wine; it's wine!" rejoiced he; and calling the people of the castle, he drank a health with them all.
"But what is this?" wondered they; "we have taken ten kegs of wine out already, and still it comes."
"This must be an enchanted cask," said the king, and began to laugh. Then he said in serious tones: "Little cask, I should like to have red wine." He drew some. And what a wonder! the wine was red. "I want yellow wine," said the king; and yellow wine flowed out.
"In real fact, it is an enchanted cask," said the king. "Oh, Jalmir," cried he in delight, "how can I reward thee!"
"I have only obeyed thy command, gracious king," answered Jalmir, who had just entered the room.
"Yes, thou hast done all that I commanded, and much more," said the king; "therefore I make thee my son, and proclaim thee viceroy."
All present broke out in tumultuous shouting, but Jalmir's brothers were silent; they bit their lips and clinched their fists. The king, altogether joyous and full of tenderness, from success and from wine, arranged to have a seven day's celebration in honor of the new viceroy. The people did not wait to have the order repeated, but began that very day, especially since they had plenty of food, and the wine which the enchanted cask gave them without stint. The new viceroy was greeted everywhere with shouts, and won at once the love of the people.
But his brothers were enraged all the more. Instead of going to the festivities they went to the room where the books were, and read as diligently as if they wished to become sages at once. This time, however, they were not able to find anything for a great while; but at last they read what they wanted.
"Now I have something for our darling viceroy!" cried one. "In the sea is a golden castle, and in the castle a princess, the most beautiful under the heavens. If our king would take her in marriage, he would grow young and lengthen his life."
"Oh, that is splendid!" said all, rejoicing. "The king will surely send him for the princess, and darling Jalmir will either be drowned in the sea or run home to his father."
When the feasting was over the brothers went to the king, who was, as it were, ill,--just the thing for them. "Gracious king," said the eldest, insinuatingly, "we are always trying to prepare some pleasure for thee."
"Indeed, I have need of it," said the king; "old age and disease are pressing me more and more every day."
"We have just found a remedy for those two evils," said the brothers.
"But what is it,--tell me!" broke out the king, delighted. They told him what they had read.
"Well, Jalmir must take the road this very day," cried the king; and calling Jalmir he explained his wish. Jalmir agreed in silence, but scarcely controlling his tears, hastened to his steed and fell on his neck, weeping.
"What is the matter now?" asked the steed. Jalmir told him all.
"Do not lose courage," said the horse. "Go to the king, and ask him to give thee three hundred loaves of bread, three hundred kegs of wine, and three hundred beeves. Have all put into wagons, and then we will go for the princess."
Jalmir went straightway to the king and asked for these. The king had all provided quickly, and promised him mountains and valleys if he would bring the princess. Jalmir took the road that very day, sitting on his good white steed, which this time did not fly through the air, but walked with slow step behind the wagons on which the loaves, the wine, and the beeves were carried. And many times did day and night change places before they came to the sea. Now they went along the shore; the white steed, going ahead with Jalmir, showed the road to the wagons.
Jalmir saw a great fish on the beach which was trying in vain to get back to the water. "Help it," said the steed; and Jalmir, springing to the ground, helped the fish.
The fish sank under the water, but soon came to the surface and said to Jalmir: "Wait, I must reward thee. Take this whistle, and shouldst thou need aught from me, blow."
Jalmir took the whistle from the fish's lips, gave thanks, and sat again on his steed. After a time they heard as it were distant thunder. "What is that?" asked he of the horse.
"We shall soon be at the end of our journey," said the steed; "those are giants talking."
In a short time Jalmir saw three giants lying on the beach. When he came up they rose, and now he saw their stature. When he looked in their faces he had to bend back his head as if looking at the highest tower.
"What is the good word?" roared one of them, so that Jalmir had to cover his ears.
"I bring three hundred loaves of bread, three hundred kegs of wine, and three hundred slaughtered oxen," answered he.
"That is good of thee," said the giants, nodding their heads with satisfaction; and they rushed to the wagons in which the things were placed. They built a fire, and stuck the oxen on great spits to roast; then they went to the bread and wine, and soon had half inside themselves. A great eagle settled down near by, and looked wistfully at the beeves. Jalmir cut off a quarter and gave it to the eagle.
"Thank thee!" said the eagle. "I will help thee in time;" and she rose in the air with the quarter.
The giants did not leave the oxen very long over the fire; and when they had finished, they said to Jalmir: "Now tell us thy wish; well do we know that ye little worms of the earth do nothing for nothing."
"I have no wish for myself," said Jalmir; "but my master has sent me to bring the princess from the golden castle which stands out in the sea."
"That one over there?" asked the other giant, pointing with his finger to the sea.
Jalmir looked around and saw for the first time a magnificent castle, which gleamed in the waves like the rising sun. "Yes," replied Jalmir.
"We will take thee to it," said the first giant; "but will the princess go with thee?"
"I will ask her," said Jalmir; "but how will ye take me there?"
"Thou wilt soon see," said the giants; and they took pieces of a cliff and hurled them into the sea. They went on breaking the cliff, and sooner than Jalmir expected there was a long stretch of dam in the sea. But the giants did not stop; they worked till the setting of the sun, so that in the evening they had one third of the dam finished, and on the third day it was possible to go with dry foot to the golden castle.
Jalmir thanked the giants heartily, and the morning of the fourth day he went to the princess. The castle was a wonder to look at; but he scarcely noticed it. He entered, and how surprised was he when in the first chamber he saw the princess. With downcast eyes he said: "My king and master has sent me to beg thee in his name to share his throne and crown."
"I will go," answered the princess, with a silvery voice; "but wilt thou remain at his court?"
"I must," said Jalmir. "I am the viceroy."
"Let us go, then," said the princess.
She mounted a splendid crow-black horse, Jalmir his white steed, and they galloped along the dam. On the way Jalmir took courage to look at the princess more closely, and thought that the king would grow younger, and lengthen his life, if the princess would marry him. At the same time he felt a certain agreeable straitening of the heart. He bent his head, and rode in silence at the side of the princess; and the nearer he came to the castle of the king, the more did trouble take hold of his heart. The more joyous, however, was the princess; and her eyes rested on him with a certain special delight. They arrived soon without great adventure.
The king went outside the town to meet them, and conducted them in solemn procession to the castle. "Art thou willing, honored princess, to become my spouse?" asked he of the princess when he had led her to the chambers prepared for her.
"First I must have my golden castle," replied the princess.
The king was amazed; but he bethought himself soon, and turned to Jalmir, gazing imploringly.
"I will go for it," said Jalmir, with decision, especially when the princess nodded graciously and smiled at him.
"Go, my dear Jalmir," said the king, with a soft voice. "I will reward thee in kings' fashion."
Jalmir went to the white steed for advice, and the steed said: "Tell the king to give thee three hundred loaves of bread, three hundred kegs of wine, and three hundred slaughtered oxen; then we will go for the golden castle."
Jalmir told the king his wishes, and the king gave him all. Everything was ready so soon that Jalmir was able to set out that very day. But it was a tedious journey; the wagons went slowly, and after them Jalmir still more slowly, and with drooping head,--why, he knew best himself. When they came to the giants, Jalmir gave them the loaves, the wine, and the meat, begging them urgently to bring the golden castle to the princess.
"Ah, little worm of the earth!" said the giants, laughing, "dost thou think that the castle is made of wood? but we will try," added they after they had looked at the three hundred loaves, at the kegs and the oxen.
They began eating, and when they had eaten heartily, they went to a neighboring forest, where they pulled up three of the strongest trees; and when they had played with them as men play with canes, they went along the dam to the golden castle. After a short time they moved the castle from its foundations, put it on the oak-trees, and then on to their shoulders; and as if it were nothing they walked after Jalmir without weariness till night, when they slept, and next morning went farther. They worked in this way till they drew near the king's castle; they did not go to it, however, but waited till night. Then they put the golden castle in the garden, bade farewell to Jalmir, and went home.
When the morning sun rose people shouted "Fire!" in the castle. All ran to the garden to put it out; but the princess standing in her window cried, "Be quiet! That is my golden castle."
Soon after the king hurried in, and opening his arms in delight, wished to embrace the princess, calling out, "Now thou art mine!"
"Not yet," answered the princess. "What is my golden castle to me if I have lost the key of it?"
The king was frightened; but soon he said, with clear face: "My dear Jalmir will bring it to thee." He wanted to go for him; but Jalmir came just then to the princess to tell her that he had brought the castle. The king told his wish; and Jalmir, gaining pleasure and strength from a gracious smile of the princess, departed. He took counsel of his steed, who said: "The key is somewhere in the sea near the dam." Jalmir mounted; they flew through the air, and were soon on the island where the castle had been.
"But how shall I find the key in the sea?" sighed Jalmir.
"Thou hast the whistle from the fish helped by thee into the water."
"Yes," rejoiced Jalmir; and he blew on the whistle.
That moment the fish swam to the surface, and asked, "What dost thou wish?"
"The princess has lost the key of her golden castle," answered Jalmir, who was about to ask the fish to find it; but the fish had already vanished to tell all fish to look for the key. Now there was life under water,--such gleaming of fish flying hither and thither, up and down! till at last after long swimming, one little fish brought the key to the chief fish. The chief fish gave it to Jalmir; Jalmir gave heartfelt thanks, and was soon flying through the air on his steed, so that he was home before night. When he had given the key to the king he went to his room and shut himself in. Why he did this he knew not himself; but he felt that it would have been better for him had he never seen that princess of the golden castle.
The king, perfectly happy, went with the key to the princess; he felt sure this time that she would make no objection. All the greater was his grief when she said: "I have the castle and the key to it; but what would life be in the castle without the water of death, the water of life, and the water of youth?"
"And where are they to be found?" asked the king.
"They are on my island," answered the princess so decidedly that the king went away in silence to think whom he should send. He had pity on Jalmir, and therefore he went to the brothers; but they spoke to him so convincingly that the king asked Jalmir again to go and do that last service for him. How could Jalmir refuse? Besides, what he had done he had done for her for whom he would have jumped into fire if need be. He went to his steed to ask aid once more, and for the last time. The steed reproached him for lack of courage, and said: "Sit on my back; we'll go straight for the water." Jalmir did so with joy, and was soon going through the air to the island swifter than ever he had travelled before. In a short time the horse came down on the sea-shore and said: "Go to the island for the water of death, the water of life, and the water of youth; but hurry, or the waves will wash down the dam and thou wilt perish. I will eat grass here a while."
Jalmir went forward, but very slowly; for the image of the princess rose continually before his eyes. Except her, the whole world was as naught to him. He was perhaps half way on the dam when all at once the sea rose and bore it away. Jalmir screamed in terror and disappeared in the sea. The steed heard his screams, but did not run to help him, and hanging his head, went with slow step; he knew well that he could give no aid to Jalmir. Then came a terrible storm on the sea. The steed thought that Jalmir had perished; he rose in the air and shot away like a flash.
Not far from the dam--of which there was not a trace after the storm--was an eagle's nest high on the cliff, and in it five little eagles that stretched out their necks, without ceasing looking down eagerly, and crying meanwhile. "What do ye want?" called the old eagle, which sat near by on a cliff and looked down. But how quickly did she fly to the beach when she saw a body there! She recognized it at once; for though she was only a wild creature she remembered well that Jalmir had done her a kindness by giving her the quarter of beef for her young. She seized him now in her strong talons and bore him to the island where the golden castle had been; she plunged him into a spring, then placing him on the ground, sat near his side. Soon Jalmir began to breathe,--at first with difficulty and slowly, then more quickly and evenly, till at last he opened his eyes with a deep sigh. "Why not let me sleep longer?--I slept so lightly! I dreamed so sweetly!" said Jalmir, as if waking from slumber. When he looked around more attentively he called out in amazement, "What has been done to me?"
"Dost thou not know me?" asked the eagle, standing before him.
"I do not know thee," replied Jalmir, shaking his head.
"But I know thee well," cried the eagle. "Thou didst give me a quarter of beef for my children. But what art thou looking for now?"
"The princess sent me to this island for the water of death, the water of life, and the water of youth," answered Jalmir.
"Then take them," said the eagle, and brought him to the three springs. Jalmir took three flasks from his bosom, and filled them with the three waters.
"But how shall I leave here?"
"I would gladly bear thee wherever thou wishest, but I cannot, for I have children; but I will go to my brother. He has no children." She flew off in a flash, soon returning, and with her her brother.
"But where has my white steed gone?" asked Jalmir suddenly.
"I will soon tell thee," answered the eagle, and she rose in the sky till she seemed to the eye of Jalmir as small as the point of a pine leaf. She remained motionless a moment, then came down like a bolt and said: "I saw thy steed under the old pear-tree which stands before the southern gate of the great town."
"Bear me to that place then," said Jalmir, with a voice of entreaty.
The eagle's brother caught him in his strong talons, and was soon flying with him high in the air; so high that Jalmir saw his native place, but it was as small as an ant-hill. He went farther, it became greater, till at last the eagle came to the earth and put Jalmir down near the old pear-tree; then he parted with him, and soon vanished in the air.
The white steed was standing behind the pear-tree, with drooping head, and so gloomy that he did not notice his master.
"My very good steed!" cried Jalmir, and fell on his neck.
"Thou art alive and well?" asked the steed in amazement.
"Yes," answered Jalmir, and told him all that had happened.
"I am happy," said the steed; "but now sit quickly on me, we must go to the princess or we shall be late."
"What is the matter?" asked Jalmir in fright.
"The king wants the wedding to-day," answered the steed.
"Then let us hurry," said Jalmir, and he sprang on the steed, opened his arms toward the town, and cried: "Oh, my dear father!"
"Calm thyself," said the steed; "I know that thou wouldst embrace him; but vain is thy wish, for he died long ago." The steed rose in the air and flew so swiftly that his native place soon vanished from the tearful eyes of Jalmir. On the road the steed said: "When thou art king, judge justly, even if thy heart has to bleed."
Jalmir did not understand him; but when he came to the town and heard how his brothers were laughing at their puny little Jalmir who had perished somewhere, an evil feeling seized him. Mastering himself however, he went to the princess to give her the three waters; and she hastened to the king to whom she said: "My dear bridegroom, so that our marriage be equal, thou must become young and beautiful as I am, and therefore I will rub thee with the water of death so that thy old age shall perish, then with the water of youth, and last with the water of life."
The king consented with gladness, and the princess rubbed him with the water of death; then he straightened himself on the couch so that the princess herself was terrified. Seizing quickly the water of youth; she rubbed him with it and the fresh color of youth shone on the face of the old king. "But still he is not so beautiful as Jalmir," sighed the princess, greatly grieved. With tearful eyes she reached for the water of life, but instead of it took the water of death and rubbed the king. Straightway the pallor of death spread over his face. The princess fell in a faint at his side and remained in it till Jalmir came by chance to the chamber, seized the water of life, and rubbed with it quickly the princess and the king. The princess stood up at once, but the king remained dead.
"Is there no help for him?" asked Jalmir with trembling voice.
"There is not," said the princess, shaking her head; "whoever is rubbed twice with the water of death can never live again."
"But what shall I do now?" muttered Jalmir, closing his eyes.
"Thou art king," answered the princess, "but I--"
"Queen!" cried Jalmir eagerly, and sank at her feet saying, "Forgive me, but I love thee more than myself."
The princess in place of an answer kissed him; and now they went to announce to the people that the old king was dead.
The people, who had already assembled in the square for the wedding of the king, were greatly distressed; but when the princess presented Jalmir as the new king, and herself as his wife, they broke out into mighty rejoicing, which had no end. But Jalmir's brothers were silent; and when the new king with his bride retired, they reported that these two had poisoned the old king. The people raised a tumult; but Jalmir went out among them and asked the cause. Some were silent, and others told him what his brothers had said. "Do ye believe this?" asked Jalmir.
"We do not believe," was shouted from every side.
"Very well," answered Jalmir, "but that ye may believe me I will tell how my brothers tried to kill me;" and he told them all.
"The wretches!" cried the people in a rage; and they caught all the six brothers. Before Jalmir could stop them the people had fired a stack of straw, and when it was blazing high they threw the six brothers into the flames.
"Now ye are all in one pile," laughed the people, "because hitherto ye were always setting fire."
Jalmir turned to the princess with tears in his eyes, but she soon consoled him. After the funeral of the old king they celebrated their betrothal; but when Jalmir, full of happiness, sat at the feast by the side of his bride, all at once he remembered his steed, ran to him, and fell on his neck thanking him as author of all his happiness.
"I have helped thee, do thou help me now," said the steed. "Lead me to the garden." Jalmir did as he desired; then the steed said: "Cut off my head."
"I cut off thy head!" cried Jalmir in fright.
"Wilt thou let me suffer one hundred years longer?" asked the steed in a sad voice.
In place of an answer Jalmir drew his sword, and with one blow cut off his friend's head. The head fell on the ground, but out of it flew a white dove which rose toward the sky. Jalmir turned in sorrow to the princess, but she soon drove the sadness away from his face. They lived happily together, and because they had the water of life, they lived so long that no one has memory of it.