ONCE there was a king, and he had three sons. The king rejoiced in his three sons, and resolved to have them instructed in a befitting manner, so that he might leave good heirs to the kingdom. Therefore he sent his sons to school, where they got on well enough for a time, till at length they turned their backs on the school, went home, all three, and knew their studies no more.
The king grew fiercely angry at this, forbade his sons to stand before his face, and betook himself to live in the chamber of his palace next the rising sun, where he sat continually at the window and looked towards the east as if waiting for something; and with one eye he wept unceasingly, while with the other he laughed.
After the three princes had grown up to a good age, they agreed among themselves to inquire of the king why he was always sitting in the chamber next the rising sun, and why one of his eyes was always crying, while the other was always laughing. First the eldest son went in and put the question, saying, "My father the king, I have come to ask why one of thy eyes is always crying and the other always laughing, while thou art looking continually towards the east."
The king measured his son with his eyes from head to foot, said not a word, but took a sword which hung at the window and hurled it at him with such force that it sank into the door up to the hilt. The prince sprang through the door, thus escaping the blow aimed at him. When he came out his brothers asked what success he had had. He answered: "Try yourselves; then ye will know." The second brother tried, with the same result as the first. At last the youngest, who was called Mirko, went in and declared the cause of his coming. The king answered him not, but seized the sword in still greater anger, and hurled it at him so that it entered the stone wall up to the hilt. Mirko did not spring aside, but went to the sword, drew it out of the stone wall, took it to the king, his father, and placed it before him on the table.
Seeing this, the king opened his mouth and said to Mirko: "I see now, my son, that thou knowest somewhat better than thy two brothers what honor is; to thee then will I give answer. My one eye weeps unceasingly for sadness at your insignificance, not being fit to rule; but my other eye laughs because in the time of my youth I had a trusty comrade, the Hero of the Plain, who battled by my side, and he promised that if he should overpower his enemies he would come to dwell with me, that we might pass the days of our old age together. For this reason I sit ever by the window next the rising sun, because I await his coming; but every day there rise up against the Hero of the Plain, who dwells in the silken meadow, as many enemies as there are grass-blades on the field. Every day he unaided cuts them down; and until all his enemies have disappeared, he will not be able to come to me."
With that Mirko left his father's chamber, came out to his brothers, and told them the king's speech. They counselled together again, and agreed to ask leave of the king to try their fortune. First the eldest son went to his father and made known his wish. The king consented, and the eldest brother went to the royal stables where he chose a good steed, which he saddled next day, and set out on his journey. After he had been absent a whole year, behold he rides home, bearing on his shoulders the top of the copper bridge, which he threw down before the palace. He went in then, stood before the face of the king, and told him where he had been and what he had brought back.
The king heard his son's discourse to the end, and said: "Oh, my son, when I was of thy age the road to the copper bridge was a two hours' ride for me. Thou art a soft hero. Thou wilt never make vitriol. Go thy way."
With that, the eldest son left his father's chamber. After him the second brother went in, and asked leave of the king to try his fortune. Having received it, he went also to the stables and chose a good steed, which he saddled, mounted, and went his way. At the end of a year he came home, bringing the top of the silver bridge, which he threw down in front of the palace; then he stood before the king, his father, and told him where he had been and what he had brought back.
"Oh," said the king, "when I was of thy age that was only a three hours' ride for me. Thou too art a soft hero; nothing at all will come of thee." With that he dismissed the second son.
At last Mirko appeared; he also asked to try his fortune. The king consented, and Mirko went to the stables to choose a steed. Finding nothing to his mind, he went out to the royal stud and examined it carefully, but could not decide which steed to take. Just then an old witch chanced to be passing that way, and asked what he wanted. Mirko told her. "Oh, my master," said she, "thou wilt not find a horse to thy wish here, but I will tell thee how to find one. Go to the king, thy father, and ask him for the horn with which in his youth he called together his golden-haired steeds. Sound this horn and the steeds will appear at once. Choose not among the golden-haired ones; but last of all will come a shaggy-coated, crooked-legged old mare,--thou wilt know her by this, that when she strikes the pillars with her tail the whole palace will tremble from the blow. Choose her; try thy fortune with her."
Mirko took the old witch's advice, went straightway to the king and said: "My father, I have come that thou mayest give me the horn with which in thy youth thou wert wont to call together thy golden-haired steeds."
The king asked: "Who told thee of this horn?"
"No man," answered Mirko.
"Well, my dear son, if no man told thee, thou art wise; but if some man told thee, he does not wish thee harm. I will tell thee where to find the horn; the rust has eaten it up, perhaps, by this time. In the seventh cellar it is enclosed in the wall; look for it, take it out, and make use of it if thou art able."
Mirko called a mason, went with him to the seventh cellar, found the hollow place in the wall, took out the horn, and carried it away. Then standing on the square before the palace, he sounded towards the east, the west, the south, and the north, and having waited a little, behold! he hears the golden horse bells ringing so that the whole city is full of the sound. The steeds came in, one more beautiful than the other in appearance and in breed. At a distance he saw the shaggy-haired, crooked-legged mare; and when she came to the gate, as true as I live, she struck the pillars with her tail so that the whole palace trembled.
When the steeds had stopped in the court-yard, Mirko went up to the mare, led her away to the stable, and then said that he had taken her to try his fortune. The magic mare answered: "That is well, my lord king's son; but first thou must feed me, for without that it will be hard to endure the long road."
"What kind of food dost thou wish?--for whatever my father has, I will give thee with a good heart."
"Very well, kind master; but a steed must be fed before starting, not while on the road."
"I know not what I can do," said Mirko, "except to give what I have with a good heart."
"Bring me straightway a measure of peas, and turn them into the manger."
Mirko obeyed, and when the peas were eaten, he brought a measure of beans; when these were eaten the mare turned to Mirko and said: "Now bring me half a measure of glowing coals."
The coals were brought; and when she had eaten the glowing coals, she became such a golden-haired steed as the Star of Dawn, and spoke further to Mirko. "Go now, my master, to the king, and ask of him that saddle which he used when he coursed the meadow with me in his youth."
Mirko went to the old king and asked for the saddle. The king answered that it was useless, for it had been thrown about a long time in the carriage-house, but if he could find it, he might take it. Mirko went to the carriage-house and found the saddle all befouled by the hens and turkeys. He took it, however, to his steed, which said that it was not proper for a king's son to sit on such a saddle. Mirko was about to carry it away and have a fresh cover put on, when she said: "Place it before me." He obeyed. Straightway she blew on it, and in an instant it became such a golden saddle that its like could not be found in seven kingdoms.
With this he saddled the magic mare, and she said: "Go now, my dear master, to thy father, and ask him for the weapons and the sword with which he fought when he journeyed with me."
Mirko asked his father; the old king said they were on the shelf if he wanted them. Mirko took them to the mare, who blew on them, and instantly they became the most beautiful gold-mounted sword and weapons. Mirko girded on the sword and took the weapons. Then the bridle was brought, and when blown upon became of the most beautiful gold.
Mirko bridled the mare, led her out of the stable, and wished to sit in the saddle, but she said: "Wait, my dear master; lead me out of the city first, and then sit on me." He hearkened to these words, and led her out of the city; then she stood still, and he sat in the saddle.
The magic steed now asked: "How shall I bear thee, dear master; with the speed of the fleet whirlwind, or of quick thought?"
"Carry me as may please thee," answered the prince; "only manage so that I shall endure the swift flight."
"Well, close thy eyes," said the steed, "and hold fast."
Mirko closed his eyes; the steed shot on like a rushing whirlwind, and after a short time struck the earth with her foot, and said to Mirko: "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see?"
"I see," said he, "a great river and a copper bridge."
"That, my dear master, is the bridge the top of which thy first brother brought home; but look for the open place."
"I see it," said Mirko; "but where are we going from here?"
"Only close thy eyes; I will take thee straight there."
With that she moved as quick as thought, and in a few moments struck the earth, stood still, and said to Mirko: "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see?"
"I see a great river, and across it a silver bridge."
"That is the bridge the top of which thy second brother took home; look for the open place."
"I see it," said Mirko; "but where do we go from here?"
"Only close thy eyes," said the steed; "I will take thee at once."
With that she moved on like lightning, and in a flash stamped on the ground, and said to the prince: "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see?"
"I see," said Mirko, "an enormously wide and deep river, across it a golden bridge, and at both ends of the bridge, at this side and that, are four unmercifully large lions. Must we cross this bridge?"
"Never mind," said the steed, "I'll manage; only shut thy eyes."
The mare sped on like a swift falcon, and thus flew across the bridge. After a short time she struck the ground, and said: "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see?"
"I see," replied Mirko, "a summitless, high glass mountain, as steep as the side of a house."
"We must cross that very mountain, my master."
"That, I think, is impossible," said Mirko.
"Fear not," said the steed; "for I have on my feet the shoes which thy father fastened to me with diamond nails, seven hundred years ago. Only shut thy eyes and hold to me firmly."
Now the steed sprang up, and in an instant was on the glass mountain. She stamped, and said, "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see?"
"I see," said Mirko, "when I look behind, something dark, as large as a great plate."
"Oh, my master, that is the round of the earth. But what dost thou see before thee?"
"I see a narrow glass road, rising like a half circle. On both sides of it is emptiness of bottomless depth."
"My dear master, we must pass over that road; but the passage is so delicate that if one of my feet slip the least bit to one side or the other, there is an end to our lives. But trust thyself to me, and close thy eyes. Hold fast, I will manage."
With that she swept on, and in an instant stamped again. "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see?"
"I see behind me," said Mirko, "a faint light, in front of me is darkness so dense that when I hold my finger before my eyes I cannot see it."
"Well, we must go through that also; shut thy eyes and hold firmly."
She sped on anew, and again stamped. "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see now?"
"I see," said Mirko, "the most glorious, light, beautiful, snow-covered mountains, and in the midst of them a silken meadow; in the centre of the silken meadow something dark."
"This silken meadow," said the steed, "belongs to the Hero of the Plain; and the dark object in the middle is his tent, woven from black silk. Now close thy eyes or not as may please thee. We shall go there directly." Mirko spurred the steed, and they were at the tent in a twinkle.
Mirko sprang from his steed and left her at the tent by the side of that of the Hero of the Plain, and entered himself. Within lay a warrior stretched on the silken grass, sleeping; but a sword above him was cutting around in every direction, so that a fly could not light on his body. "Well," thought Mirko to himself, "though he be a good warrior I could slay him in slumber; but it would not be honorable to slay a sleeping man. I will wait till he rises." Then he went out and tied his steed fast to the tent, near the other, stretched himself on the silken grass, and called: "Sword out of thy sheath!" and the sword cut around above him, as his sword above the Hero of the Plain, so that a fly could not touch his body.
When the Hero of the Plain woke up and saw that a horse was tied near his own, he marvelled, and said: "What does this mean? I am here seven hundred years, and I have not seen a strange horse near mine before. Whose can this be?" He rose, went out, and saw Mirko sleeping near the tent with the sword cutting above him. "That," said he, "is an honest warrior; he has not slain me while sleeping. It would not become me to touch him now."
Then he pushed the foot of the sleeping hero with his own. Mirko jumped up straightway, and the Hero of the Plain asked: "Who art thou, and on what journey?" Mirko told whose son he was, and what his journey. "God has brought thee, dear younger brother," said the Hero; "thy father is my old friend, and thou, I see, art as good as thy father. But I have need of thee. This great silken meadow which thou seest, is every day filled with enemies, and every day I cut them down; but to-day as thou art with me, we shall not hurry. Come, let us eat and drink; let them crowd." Then the two went in, ate and drank till the enemy had so increased that they reached almost to the tent. The Hero of the Plain sprang then to his feet and said: "Up, my comrade, we'll soon finish." Both leaped into their saddles and rushed to the centre of the enemy, crying out, "Sword from the sheath!" The swords hewed off the heads of the countless multitude, so there was scarcely room to move for bodies. Twelve of the opposing warriors now flee from the rear, the Hero of the Plain and Mirko pursuing. They come to a glass mountain; the twelve warriors rushing ahead. Mirko pursues in hot haste. On the top of the mountain there is a nice, level space; he sees them running upon it. He gallops after them; but all at once they are as if the ground had swallowed them. Mirko springs to the place where they disappear, finds a breach and a deep opening with winding steps. His steed rushes into the opening and down the stairs; they are soon in the lower world.
Mirko looks around the lower world and sees a shining diamond castle, which serves instead of the sun down there. The twelve fleeing warriors rush towards the castle, he after them, and ordering his sword out of the sheath, cuts off their heads in a moment. The next instant Mirko stands before the diamond castle. Within, there is such a clatter and pounding that the whole interior trembles and shivers. He dismounts and enters. Inside is an old witch weaving, and the racket is deafening. The building is full of armed men. The infernal old witch weaves them. When she throws her shuttle to the right, two hussars spring out on horseback; when she throws it to the left, two men on foot jump out armed.
Meanwhile Sword out of the Sheath cuts down the newly made soldiers, but the old witch weaves more. "Well," thinks Mirko to himself, "I shall never get out of here, at this rate;" but he commands the sword, and it cuts the old witch into small pieces. Then he carries the loom into the yard, where there is a pile. He throws everything on the pile and sets fire to it; but when all is burned one of the old witch's ribs springs out, begins to turn round in the dust, and she rises up again entire. Again Mirko is going to command the sword to cut her to pieces, but she speaks up, "Spare my life, Mirko, and await one good deed for another, if thou wilt let me go. Thou dost not know how to escape from here; I will give thee four diamond horse-shoe nails. Do as I say; thou wilt profit by it."
Mirko takes the nails and puts them away, but says to himself: "If I leave the old witch alive, she will put up her loom again, and the Hero of the Plain will never be able to free himself from his enemies." Again he orders his sword to cut the old witch in pieces; he throws the pieces into the fire, where they are consumed, so that she can never rise again. He mounts his steed and searches the underground world, but nowhere does he find a living soul.
Then he puts spurs to his steed, springs up the circular stairs, and issues forth into the upper world. Straightway he comes down from the glass mountain, and passing over the silken meadow, returns to the Hero of the Plain, who thought Mirko had left him. But when he saw his friend returning, he went out to meet him with great joy, and took him into the tent, where they feasted together gloriously. And when the prince rose to go, he offered him his silken meadow and all the royal domains; but Mirko answered: "My dear elder brother, I have finished thy enemies; they will never attack thy kingdom again. I have this now to ask, that thou come with me to my father the king, who has long been waiting for thee."
Thereupon they mounted their steeds, and set out for the realms of the old king. They went on easily till they reached the glass mountain, where the Hero of the Plain stopped, and said: "My dear younger brother, I cannot go on, for the diamond nails are long since worn from my horse's shoes, and his feet have no grip."
Mirko called to mind that the cursed old witch had given him the diamond nails, and said: "Grieve not, elder brother, I have nails; I'll shoe thy horse this minute."
So he took out the nails, and shod the Hero's horse. Then they continued their journey over the glass mountain with ease and comfort, like two jolly comrades, and sped homeward as swiftly as thought.
At that time the old king was sitting at the window of his palace next the rising sun, and lo! he beholds two horsemen riding towards him. Straightway he takes his field-glass, and sees that it is his trusty old comrade, the Hero of the Plain, together with his son Mirko. He runs out, and from the tower commands that a twelve-year old ox be killed; and when Mirko and the Hero arrive, the great feast is ready. He receives them with joy, kisses and embraces them; this time both his eyes are laughing. Then they sat down to the feast, ate and drank with gladness. Meanwhile the Hero of the Plain spoke of Mirko's doings, and among other things said to the old king: "Well, comrade, thy son Mirko will be a better hero than we were; he is already a gallant youth. Thou hast cause to rejoice in him."
"Indeed, I begin to be satisfied with him," said the king, "especially since he has brought thee. But I do not think he would venture yet to measure strength with Doghead."
Mirko heard the conversation, but said nothing. After dinner, however, he spoke to the Hero of the Plain apart, and inquired who Doghead was, and in what direction he lived. The Hero of the Plain told him that Doghead lived in the north, and was such a hero that his like was not under the sun.
Mirko made preparations for his journey, took provisions, and next day set out for Doghead's. According to his wont, he sat on his steed, held fast, and closed his eyes. The steed sped on, flying like the swift whirlwind. At length she stopped, struck the ground, and said to Mirko: "Open thy eyes! What dost thou see?"
"I see," said the prince, "a seven-story diamond castle, so bright that I can look on the sun, but not on it."
"Well, Doghead lives there; that is the royal castle."
Mirko sprang towards it, stopped right under the window, and called out in a loud voice: "Art thou here, Doghead? I have an account to settle with thee."
Doghead was not at home, but his daughter was, and such a beautiful princess that her like could not be found on the whole round of the earth. As she sat by the window embroidering, and heard the loud, piercing voice, she looked out so angrily with her wondrous black, beautiful eyes that Mirko and his horse were turned into stone in an instant from the flash. Then she thought: "Maybe this young man is a king's son." She went to look at him, was sorry she had turned him to stone so quickly, and approached, taking a golden rod, walked around the stone statue and struck it on all sides with the rod. The stone began to move, and in a moment Mirko and his horse stood alive before her. Then the maiden asked, "Who art thou, and on what journey?"
Mirko answered that he was a king's son, and had come to see Doghead's daughter.
The maiden was so displeased that she called out to her father very angrily; but presently she thought better of it, fell in love with Mirko, and led him up into the seven-story diamond palace, where she saw him with a good heart. During conversation at the table, Mirko confessed that he had come to try his strength with Doghead.
The maiden advised him not to do that, since there was no man on the round of the earth whom her father could not conquer. Seeing, however, that Mirko would not desist from his purpose, she took compassion on him, and told how her father might, perhaps, be overcome. "Go down," said she "into the seventh cellar of the castle. There thou wilt find an unsealed cask, in which my father keeps his strength. Here is a silver flask; fill it from the cask. Do not stop the flask, but keep it always hanging from thy neck uncorked; and when thy strength begins to fail, dip thy little finger in. Every time thou shalt do so, thy strength will be increased with the strength of five thousand men. Drink of the wine, for every drop contains the strength of five thousand men."
Mirko listened to her advice attentively, hung the flask upon his neck, went into the cellar, and found the wine. He took a good draught of it; then thinking that he had enough, and lest Doghead might make further use of the wine, he poured it all on the ground, to the last drop. There were six measures of wheat-flour in the cellar, which he sprinkled around to absorb the moisture. Having done this, he went up to Doghead's daughter, and declared that he was ready, and thanking her for the counsel, vowed to take her as wife for her kindness, and swore eternal fidelity.
The beautiful princess consented, making one condition,--that if Mirko should overcome her father, he would spare his life.
Mirko asked the maiden when her father might be expected to return, and from what quarter.
She answered that he was then in the realms of the setting sun, that he took delight in those regions, but would soon be home, for it was the hour of his coming. But it was easy to know it beforehand, for when he was forty miles distant, he was in the habit of hurling home a forty-hundred-pound club before him; and wherever it fell a fountain gushed out of the earth.
Mirko and the princess went on the balcony to wait for Doghead; all at once (the Lord save us!) the sky grew dark, and a forty-hundred pound club fell in the court-yard. A stream rushed out of the earth as if from a force-pump.
Mirko ran down straightway to see how much his strength had increased. He picked up the club, whirled it around his head, and let it go so that it came down just in front of Doghead. Doghead's horse stumbled over the club, whereupon his master flew into a rage, and cried out: "May the wolves and dogs devour thee! Seven hundred years have I ridden thee, and to this day thou hast never stumbled. Why begin now?"
"Oh, dear master," answered the magic steed, "there is mighty trouble at home; for the club which thou hast sent ahead has been hurled back, and I stumbled over it."
"Oh, that's nothing!" said Doghead. "Seven hundred years ago I saw in a dream that I should have a struggle with Mirko, the king's son, some day. He is now at the castle; but what is he to me? There is more strength in my little finger than in his whole body." With that Doghead sped homeward and was soon there.
Mirko, the king's son, was waiting in the court-yard, and when Doghead saw the prince he made straight towards him and said: "Mirko, I know that thou art waiting for me. Well, here I am; what dost thou wish, that we should fight with swords or wrestle?"
"I care not," answered Mirko; "any way that may please thee."
"Well, let us try it first with swords," said Doghead.
He got off his horse; they stood face to face, and both commanded: "Sword out of the sheath."
The swords sprang out in fighting, and so cut above the heads of the two that the whole place was rattling with their blows. Sparks flew so thickly from their fierce slashing that fire covered the ground, and it was impossible to stand long in one place.
Then Doghead said: "Let us not spoil our swords, but put them up and try wrestling."
They laid aside the swords and began to wrestle. Doghead seized Mirko by the body, raised him up in the air, and so planted him on the ground that he sank in it up to the girdle. Mirko, frightened at this, thrust his little finger into the flask, and became so strong that he sprang out of the earth in a moment, rushed at Doghead, and so stretched him on the ground that he lay there like a flattened frog. Then, seizing him by the hair, he dragged him toward the castle, where a golden bridge was built across a bottomless lake. Having brought him to the middle of the bridge, he held his head above the water and commanded the sword to cut. The head fell into the bottomless lake, and Mirko threw the body after.
Doghead's daughter saw all this, and was powerfully angry at Mirko, the king's son. When he came before her she turned her face away and would not come to speech with him. But Mirko explained that he could not have done otherwise, for if he had spared Doghead's life, he would have lost his own; but as he had pledged his faith to the princess, he held to his word, and would marry her. The princess approved this, and they agreed to make ready and set out for Mirko's kingdom. The horses were brought,--Doghead's magic steed for the princess. They mounted the horses, but when ready to start, Mirko became very sorrowful.
"Why art thou sad Mirko?" inquired the princess.
"Because," said he, "I wish greatly to go home, but it is hard to leave this glorious, seven-story diamond castle here, which was thy father's, for there is none like it in our kingdom."
"Oh, my dear," said the princess, "I will turn it at once into a golden apple. I will sit in the middle of the apple; thou mayst put it in thy pocket, and thus carry home the castle and me. There thou canst change it back again whenever the wish comes."
The beautiful princess came down from her horse, gave the reins to Mirko, and taking out a diamond rod walked around the building and struck it on the sides with the rod. The castle began to shrink together, and became smaller and smaller until it was the size of a watchman's booth. Then she jumped in and it became a golden apple, but the diamond rod remained on the ground outside. Mirko, the king's son, picked up the golden apple and the diamond rod, put them in his pocket, sat on his steed, and leading Doghead's horse by the bridle, travelled home comfortably.
When Mirko had come home and seen his horses in the stable he went to the palace, where he found the old king with the Hero of the Plain, satisfied and amused. He told them that he had conquered Doghead and put him to death; but the old king and the Hero of the Plain shook their heads.
Mirko, taking them both by the hands, said: "Come with me, and I will show you, so that ye may see with your own eyes that I have beaten Doghead; for not only have I brought his seven-story diamond castle with me, but his loveliest daughter with the castle, as proof of my work."
The old king and the Hero of the Plain marvelled at Mirko's speech, and were in doubt; but they went with him, and he led them to the flowery garden of the palace, in the middle of which Mirko took a beautiful spacious place for the diamond castle, where he put down the golden apple. He began to turn and strike it on the sides with the diamond rod. The apple swelled out and began to extend with four corners, and grew greater and greater, till it became a seven-story diamond castle as high as the trees.
Then taking them by the hands he led them up the diamond staircase and entered the halls of the castle, where the world-renowned beautiful princess met and received them with a good heart. Then she sent for the old king's other sons and the chief men of his court. In the dining-hall was a great horse-shoe table. She commanded it; the table opened of itself, and every kind of precious meat and drink appeared upon it. Then the assembled guests feasted joyously. The old king was satisfied at last with his son. He gave Mirko his kingdom and all his possessions, but he withdrew himself to quiet private life, with the Hero of the Plain, and many a pleasant day the old comrades had together; and the old king's two eyes were always laughing. The royal pair lived happily, and had beautiful children. They are still alive if they are not dead.