PRINCE RADPOT .
RADPOT succeeded early to the throne of his fathers. When on his deathbed, his sire had called him to his side, and said to him, "In leaving you my kingdom, I leave you a counsel with it which is worth the kingdom itself. In all things be guided by the advice of my wise counsellor Rathgeb, and you shall do well."
But Radpot had a stepmother who hated him, and was determined to destroy him if possible; so she devised a plot against him, the first step of which was to get him out of the kingdom. She therefore advised that he should take a year's journey to perfect himself in knowledge of the world, before assuming the reins of government.
Radpot was not devoid of shrewdness, and readily suspecting some evil intention in his stepmother's advice, at first resisted following it; but afterwards, submitting the matter to Rathgeb, according to his father's desire, he received from him a different counsel from that which he had expected.
"Though your stepmother may have evil intentions," he said, "you need not therefore be afraid; we shall be able to baffle them. In the meantime, it is well that you should travel to see the world, and learn experience. We will so establish a council of regency that the queen shall not be able to do great mischief during your absence."
Radpot was nothing loath to follow this advice, as he was of an adventurous disposition; so, all things being ordered for the due conduct of the affairs of the kingdom, he set out with Rathgeb for his year's journey.
During all the days of preparation for the journey, the queen, who had always heretofore shown herself harsh and hostile to Radpot, behaved with the utmost tenderness and devotion, which the young prince ascribed to her satisfaction at his having followed her advice, and returned her advances with an ingenuous cordiality. She, in turn, received his deference with an increase of solicitude, and nothing could be more affectionate than their leave-taking. Every thing the thoughtfulness of a fond mother could have suggested was provided by her for his safety and comfort on the journey; and as he had his foot in the stirrup she still had one more token of her care of him.
"Take this vial," she said, "it is a precious cordial; and when you are worn and wearied with heat and travel, a few drops of its precious contents will suffice to restore you to strength and vigour. Farewell! and when you taste of it, think of me."
Radpot, with all the openness of his generous nature, assured her that he should never forget her kindness for him, and stowing away the vial in his belt, waved his hand to her as he rode away.
Two days and two nights Radpot and his trusty counsellor journeyed through the cool forest; and then for another day along its border, exposed to the heat of the sun upon the mountain-sides, till they came to a vast plain where there was no shelter of hill or tree, no hospitality of human dwelling. With unbroken courage, however, the young prince commenced crossing it. It was only when, after three days' more hard riding, they still seemed as far as ever from a place of rest, that, wearied and dispirited, he took out his stepmother's vial, to try the effect of her cordial.
It was the moment Rathgeb had feared. He had observed how completely the queen had lulled Radpot's suspicions, and that every attempt at suggesting there was any hypocrisy in her conduct had appeared to vex him. To have now spoken of any danger in trying her cordial would probably have provoked his resentment--Rathgeb took another way of saving his charge.
"Think you not our mounts deserve more than we to taste this precious restorative? whatever labour we have endured, theirs has been tenfold."
"True," said the good-natured prince; and, dismounting, he opened the mouth of his steed, and poured some drops of the liquid on his tongue. He had scarcely done so, however, when the poor beast stretched out his long neck with an air of agony, then fell over on its side, and expired!
Rathgeb left the incident to produce its own effect on the mind of his pupil, who stood gazing as one bewildered.
"What can it be that killed my good horse?" he exclaimed, at length; "it could not be the cordial! no, never! the queen could not have been so base! It was, that he has been so long unused to exercise, this terrible journey has overcome him, and the cordial was too late to save him."
"Try it on mine," answered Rathgeb; "he is a battle-charger, used to endurance, and delighting in labour. See," he said, jumping to the ground, and patting his neck, "he is as fresh now as when we started, not a hair turned!"
"Be it so," replied Radpot, not without some asperity. "I would not suffer the trial, could I suspect it possible the queen could be capable of so horrible a plot as you evidently suppose; but I cannot believe it--so give the cordial to your horse."
Rathgeb took the vial, and poured not more than three drops on the tongue of his thirsty beast. Both watched the effect with a tension akin to awe.
In the first few moments no change was apparent, but Radpot was too generous to give utterance to the triumph he began to experience.
Suddenly the faithful beast started as if it had been transfixed with the sharpest arrow, directed one piteous look towards the master it had served so well, and fell down lifeless by the side of its companion.
"There is no doubt it is as you say," Radpot now confessed, at once. "Forgive me for the haste with which I spoke."
"Nay, prince, there is no need of excuse. Though it behoved me to stand on guard and see no harm befell you, it became you to trust her whose duty it was to befriend, not to harm you."
"And now try this cordial of mine, maybe it will fulfil what the other promised."
The prince gladly accepted the proffered gift; and both, wonderfully restored by its effects, continued their journey on foot.
They had not gone far when three ravens passed them on the wing. The prince and his companion turned back to watch their flight, and saw them alight on the carrion of their dead horses, immediately after tasting of which they all three fell to the earth dead, by the side of the dead horses.
"There may be some profit to be gained from these," said Rathgeb; and going back to the spot, he picked up the dead ravens and took them with him.
Their journey was without further incident, till they at last espied a welcome hut completely sheltered in the border of a vast stretch of forest land.
The sight gave them courage for renewed exertion; and in a few minutes more they stood before the door. An old woman came out to ask them in, but observing the youth and noble mien of the prince, she seemed to be moved with compassion, and cried out, with great earnestness, entreating them not to come in, for the place was the resort of a band of twelve robbers, and that no one could deliver them out of their hands. They would not be home till the next day for dinner; in the meantime, by a path she indicated, the travellers could easily make good their escape.
The prince would have rewarded her for her advice, and have set out again to find a safer shelter; but Rathgeb remarked to him, that a prince should rather find means to overcome a danger than fly from it, and promised to carry him through this one, if he would be guided by him. Radpot, mindful of his father's desire, promised to do all he proposed.
"Then, when the robbers come in, do exactly as I do," said Rathgeb; "in the meantime keep up your courage." And so they supped on what the old woman set before them, and went to bed and slept peacefully. The next day, an hour before dinner-time, Rathgeb went into the kitchen and handed the three ravens to the old woman to cook, giving her very particular directions as to the sauces that were to accompany it, as if it were a dish for which they had a particular liking, and wished dressed entirely for themselves. He was still watching the confection of the dish when the twelve robbers came back. They gave the two strangers a friendly reception, and invited them to dinner. This, the old servant had told Rathgeb, was their custom, and that after dinner they fell upon their guests and slew them at the moment when they least expected any onslaught.
Rathgeb accepted the invitation, with the proviso that he and his companion should be allowed to eat their own food, being some game they had brought down by the way. The robbers made no objection, and they sat down to table. While waiting for the repast to be brought, the robbers entertained their guests with lively conversation, in which Rathgeb joined with great show of cordiality, the young prince sustaining his part admirably.
When the dishes were brought, the old woman was careful to set the three ravens before Rathgeb, as he had bidden her; but the chief robber interposed, and said they must really allow him to offer him and his young friend of their hospitality. Rathgeb made a little courteous difficulty; and the robber-chief, whose object was not to thwart his guests in any thing, but make a show of the greatest civility, said he must really consent to exchange dishes, and not deprive him of the pleasure of providing in one way or another for his guests. After holding out for some pressing, Rathgeb consented, and each set to work to help himself to what was before him, the dish which had been before the robber-chief having been exchanged with that which was before Rathgeb.
Rathgeb helped the prince without appearing to take any notice of what befell the robbers; and Radpot, understanding how important it was to engender no suspicion, fell with a hunter's appetite upon the viands without taking his eyes from his plate, after the manner of a famished man. Before he had devoured many mouthfuls, however, the poison of the ravens had done its work; one after another, or rather all together, the robbers fell under the table as suddenly as the horses and the ravens themselves--all but one. For one of the robbers had felt suspicious of the unusual circumstance of guests bringing their own food with them; when he pointed this out to his companions, they said it was clear there could be no guile in the matter, seeing the guests had so manifestly prepared it for their own eating. But he had abstained from incurring the risk himself, and now alone stood erect amid the dead bodies of his companions.
"Draw, prince," said Rathgeb, "and rid us of this scum of the earth! cross not your sword with the defiled one, but smite him down as a reptile."
Radpot did not wait to be twice told; before Rathgeb had done speaking he had hewn down the swaggering bully, who had thought to make easy work of an unpractised foe.
Radpot and his counsellor lost no time in continuing their journey. The store of the robbers they left to the old woman who had befriended them, and took only a provision of wine and bread with them for their necessities by the way.
Skirting along the borders of the forest, they shortly came to a fine city, where they established themselves at the first inn. They sat down in the Herrenstübchen  while other guests came in. "What news is there?" asked Rathgeb of the new comers.
"News?" asked the person addressed; "it's always the old story here--but that's as strange for those who don't know it as any news."
"What may it be, then?" pursued Rathgeb.
"Why, the princess to whom all this country belongs is going on with her old mad pranks. She is perpetually propounding some new stupid riddle, promising her hand and kingdom to whomsoever divines it. But no one can divine the meaning of her nonsense; and the penalty is, that whoever attempts and fails is dressed like a fool or jester, with long ears and bells, and is made to ride backwards all through the city, with all the people hooting and jeering him."
Rathgeb then informed himself as to the appearance and character of the princess.
"Oh, as to that, she is charming in appearance--radiant as the sun, dazzling all beholders; that is how so many heads are turned by her. And as for her mind, there is no fault there either, except that just because she is more gifted than all other women, she is thus proud and haughty and unbearable."
Rathgeb had heard enough, and went out with the prince to make acquaintance with the city and people, and to talk to him of the plans which had suggested themselves to him for courting and taming the princess. Radpot, who had been much pleased with the account of the princess they heard repeated all around, entered fully into his projects.
As the princess was much interested in conversing with foreigners, it was not difficult for Rathgeb and the prince to obtain admission to her. Rathgeb then proposed the prince to her as suitor; but on the condition that, instead of the princess proposing the riddle for him to guess, he should propose one for the princess to guess, and that if she failed, she must marry his prince.
Two motives urged the princess to accede to this arrangement: first, she felt her credit was staked on not refusing the trial; and then, she was so struck by the appearance of the handsome young suitor, that she was very glad to be saved the chance of losing him by his not guessing her riddle.
Rathgeb's riddle was: "What is that of which one killed two, two killed three, and three killed eleven?"
The princess asked for three days to consider her answer; during which time she consulted all her clever books and all the wise men of the kingdom, but she was unable to arrive at any answer which had a chance of proving to be the right one.
The third day came, and with it Rathgeb and the prince. The princess was obliged to acknowledge herself vanquished, but found an over-payment for her vexation in having to marry the handsome prince, who, however, had, by Rathgeb's advice, not told her that he was a prince, and they passed for two travelling pedlars.
At first all went well enough. In the happiness of living with a husband she loved, the Princess forgot many of her haughty ways, and as the prince governed the kingdom wisely, under Rathgeb's advice, every body was content.
This happy state of things was not destined to last. By degrees the princess's old habits of self-sufficiency, haughtiness, and bad temper came back, and Radpot found he had hard lines to keep peace with her. From day to day this grew worse; and at last he found it hardly possible to endure her continual reproaches and causeless vituperation.
In the meantime Rathgeb received the intelligence from the council of regency that the queen, Radpot's stepmother, was dead, and that all the people were impatient that he should return and place himself at the head of the nation.
In communicating this news to the prince, the old counsellor propounded a scheme for reducing his wife to a better frame of mind which pleased him well. In accordance with it, Radpot absented himself from the palace for several days. At the end of that time he returned; but instead of waiting to listen to the fierce invectives with which the princess met him on his return, he interrupted her at the beginning of the discourse by informing her that he had been engaged on important affairs which did not concern her. Before she had time to recover from her surprise at his audacity in treating her thus, he went on to say that this absence was only the prelude to a much longer one, as he was now called home by his mother, who was a very old woman, and who entreated him to remain with her during the rest of her days; that he was about to set out, therefore, to go to her, and he could not say if he should be able ever to come back again--so he must bid her adieu.
The princess could not for a long time be induced to believe that he was serious; but when she really found him making preparations for his departure, without any allusion to the idea of her accompanying him, she was so softened and distressed that, but for a sign from Rathgeb, he would have forgiven her at once, and told her all.
By Rathgeb's advice, he determined to put her change of demeanour to the test before giving in, and he told her it was impossible to take her with him.
At this, her pleading to accompany him became still more earnest.
"But if you came with me, you would not have a palace-full of servants to wait upon you; you would have to live in a poor hut with a cross old woman, to whom I could not bear that you should answer a cross word, however peevish she might be; you would have to live on the poorest fare, and to earn something towards the support of your life."
The princess, who really loved Radpot devotedly, and was of a good and noble nature, having erred chiefly through thoughtlessness and want of self-control, accepted all these hard terms cheerfully, rather than be separated from her husband.
So they set out the next day. And when they got near Radpot's capital, Rathgeb went on before to a poor cottage in the outskirts, where there lived a lone old woman whom he could trust to carry on his plan by acting as Radpot's mother, without her ever knowing who he really was.
When Radpot and the princess arrived before this cottage, by Rathgeb's instruction, the old woman came out and welcomed him as her son, and Radpot introduced the princess to her as his wife.
"Not much like the wife of an honest workman either!" grumbled the old woman, according to Rathgeb's instructions. "That's the kind of wife a man picks up when he goes to foreign parts--a pert, stuck-up minx! But she'll have to learn to dress like a sober woman, and make some use of her fingers, now she's come here, I can tell her!"
The princess could have thrust these words back down the old woman's throat in an instant, but Radpot imposed silence by a severe look; and then he reminded her that she had promised submission and obedience to his mother, adding that, if she desired it, and shrank from sharing his poverty and hard fare, his friend Rathgeb would even now take her back to her own country.
But the very idea of parting from him produced immediate submission; and the old lady happening to be leaning against the table, as if tired of the exertion of welcoming her son, she even fetched and placed a chair for her, and helped her gently into it.
But still, bad habits cannot be changed all at once, and before the day was out Radpot had had to put on his severe look to arrest her angry answer many a time.
The next morning, as soon as they had breakfasted, he said he was going out for his work as a mason's labourer, and she must choose what work she would do, as no one must be idle in his house. The princess timidly replied that she knew many kinds of fine embroidery, which she thought would sell for a great price, and as she had some such with her, she would set to work to finish a piece of it, so that Rathgeb might take it into the town and get it sold.
Radpot came back in the evening, and flung down a few pence on the table, which he said was the amount of his daily wage, and told her to go out and get the supper with it. It was little she knew of how to buy a workman's supper; and what she brought Radpot was so dissatisfied with that (having dined himself in the palace) he threw it out of window, so that she had to go supperless to bed. Before she went up-stairs, however, Radpot told her to show him her day's work; and when she brought it, expecting him to admire its delicacy and finish, he at once threw it on one side, saying he was sure such coarse stuff would not sell there.
The princess spent the night more in weeping than in sleeping. In the morning she had to get up and prepare the breakfast, in doing which she not only burnt her hands, but, by her general awkwardness at the unusual work, incurred a storm of vituperation from the old mother such as she had often been wont to bestow, while no rough word had ever been spoken to her before in her whole life.
All through the day she had to attend to all the old woman's whims; and in the evening when Radpot came home it was nearly the same thing again with the supper, and he would scarcely suffer her to snatch more than a few mouthfuls, so angry he showed himself at her mistakes in the manner of preparing it. He told her, too, that so long as she did not know how to earn her food, she must not expect to have much of it. This made her the more desirous that Rathgeb should take her work to the town. When he had done so, however, he brought it back, saying no one would buy such coarse, common work there. Then she tried other kinds, each finer and more delicate than the last; but all were brought back to her with the same answer. At last they gave her a basket of common pottery, and told her to go and sell it to the poor people in the market-place. This answered rather better than the work. There were plenty of people who wanted to buy crockery, and the most of them came to her basket in preference to others', because of her beautiful face all bathed in tears. But just as she was reckoning up what a nice sum we should now have to take home, and that it would be acknowledged she had done something right at last, a smartly caparisoned cavalier came riding past, and, without heed to her cries, upset the whole of her stock upon the road, smashing every thing to atoms, and scattering her heap of halfpence into the gutter. She was so bewildered she hardly thought to look at him, and yet, from the single glance, he appeared so like Radpot that she almost called to him by name; he dashed away, however, so quickly, that he was out of hearing in a minute.
In the evening, when she came to detail her mishap to him, he appeared to be very angry at her ill success in every thing she attempted, adding, "I'm afraid you'll never be any use to a poor man--we must get Rathgeb to take you back home again."
But at this she threw herself at his feet in despair, begged him so piteously to do any thing but that, promised so earnestly to apply herself to any mode of life he prescribed for her, provided only he would keep her by him, that he could hold out no longer, and determined to put an end to her trial.
"I will give you one chance more," he said, trying to assume a tone of indifference: "you shall bring me my dinner while I am at work to-morrow; that will save me the time of going to get it, and will be worth something--only mind, now, don't make any mistake this time! I am working at the palace; bring the dinner there, and ask for the mason's labourer."
The next day she took good care to have the dinner ready in time; and though she was filled with confusion at having to go through the public streets carrying the humble provision of the labourer's dinner, and every one gazing after her beautiful, tearful face, she yet went her way bravely, and came at last to the palace.
The moment she asked at the door for the mason's labourer, a page was sent with her, who conducted her through suites of apartments vaster and more magnificent than those of her own palace; and, while she was lost in bewilderment, the page suddenly stopped short and pointed to a drapery hanging, saying, "Pull that aside, and you will find within, him you seek," and then darted away.
She scarcely dared do as she was bid; but then the clocks began to strike the midday hour, and, fearful of keeping her husband waiting, she lifted the drapery with a trembling hand.
On a royal throne, and habited in royal state, there sat Radpot himself, Rathgeb standing respectfully by his side. The princess thought to have fainted at the sight, for she could in no way understand how they came to be there.
"Come in, princess!" said Radpot, encouragingly; and Rathgeb went to the door, and conducted her up to him. He bid her welcome, and kissed her tenderly, told her frankly what had been his plans with her, then led her into an adjoining room, where there were ladies-in-waiting ready to attire her in a robe of cloth-of-gold and coronet of diamonds, which they held in readiness, with many choicest ornaments of gold and precious stones. When she was ready, pages in court suits went before her, and heralds proclaimed her aloud.
As soon as the prince saw her arrive, he ordered his high council to be called in, and presented his consort to them, declaring her as virtuous as she was fair.
After this they lived together many years in great happiness, for the princess had had a life-long lesson, and never relapsed into her foolish ways.