THERE was once, I don't know where, beyond seven times seven countries, and at a cock's crow even beyond them--an immense, tall, quivering poplar tree. This tree had seven times seventy-seven branches; on each branch there were seven times seventy-seven crow-nests, and in each nest seven times seventy-seven young crows. May those who don't listen attentively to my tale, or who doze, have their eyes pecked out by all those young crows; and those who listen with attention to my tale will never behold the land of the Lord! There was once, I don't know where, a king who had three sons who were so much like each other that not even their mother could distinguish them from each other. The king sent his three sons wandering; the three princes went, and went, and, on the third day, they arrived at a vast forest, where they first met a she-wolf with three whelps. "What are you doing here, princes, where not even the birds ever come?" asked the wolf, "you can go no further, because I and my whelps will tear you in pieces." "Don't harm us, wolf!" said the princes, "but rather, let's have your whelps to go as our servants." "I will tear you to pieces," howled the wolf, and attacked them; but the princes overcame the wolf, and took the three whelps with them. They went and went further into the vast forest and met a bear with three cubs, the next day. "What are you doing here, princes, where not even a bird comes?" asked the bear; "you can go no further, because I and my cubs will tear you in pieces." "Don't harm us, bear," said the princes, "but rather let's have your three cubs to come as our servants." "I will tear you in pieces," roared the bear, and attacked them, but the princes overcame the bear, and took the three cubs with them. Again they went into the vast forest, and met a lioness and her three cubs, on the third day. "What are you doing here, princes, where not even a bird comes? you can go no further, because I and my cubs will tear you in pieces." "Don't harm us, lioness," said the princes, "but let's have your three cubs to come as our servants." "I will tear you in pieces," roared the lioness, and attacked them, but the princes overcame the lioness, and took the three cubs as their servants: and thus each prince had three servants, a lion, a bear, and a wolf. At last they reached the outskirts of the vast forest, where the road divided into three, under a tree, and here the eldest said, "Let us stick our knives into the tree, and each start in a different direction; in a year hence we will be back again, and whosoever's knife is covered with blood, he is in danger, and the others must go in search of him." "Agreed," said the others, and, sticking their knives into the tree, started off in different directions.
After long wanderings the eldest came to a town which was wholly covered with black cloth, and here he took lodgings with an old woman. "Why is this town hung with black?" asked the prince. "Alas, we live in great danger here!" said the old woman, "in the lake near the town lives the dragon with seven heads, who vomits fire, and to him we have to give a virgin every week, and to-morrow it is the king's daughter's turn, and she has to go, and this is the reason why our town is covered with black." "And is there no man who can help?" inquired the prince. "We have not found one yet," said the old woman, "although our king has promised his daughter, and after his death his realm, to the one who kills the dragon." The prince did not say another word, but took a rest and, afterwards, went towards the lake, and as he passed the royal palace he saw the princess in the window weeping. The royal princess was so beautiful that even the sun stopped before the window, in his course, to admire her beauty. At last he reached the lake, and could already hear, even at a distance, the dragon with seven heads roaring, so loudly that the ground trembled. "How dare you approach me? You must die, even had you seven souls!" roared the dragon, but instead of an answer the prince threw his mace at him, with such force that it smashed one of his heads on the spot, thereupon he attacked him with his sword, and also set his dogs at him, and while he cut the dragon's heads off one by one, his servants bit him to pieces, and thus killed the dragon, whose blood formed a brook seven miles long. After this he drew a tooth out of each head of the dragon and put them into his sabretache, and, as he was very tired, he lay down amongst the bulrushes and went fast asleep with his dogs. The Red Knight was watching the whole light from amongst the bulrushes, and, seeing that the prince was asleep, he crept to him and killed him, and quartered him, so that he might not revive, and, picking up the dragon's seven heads, went off towards the town. As soon as the Red Knight had gone the three dogs woke, and, seeing that their master had been murdered, began to howl in their sorrow. "If we only had a rope, so that we could tie him together. I know of a weed which would bring him to life again," said the wolf. "If we only knew how to tie him together, I would soon get a rope," said the lion. "I would tie him together if I had a rope," said the bear; whereupon the lion ran to the town, the wolf went in search of the weed, and the bear remained behind to guard his master's body. The lion rushed into a ropemaker's and roared, "Give me a rope, or I will tear you in pieces." The ropemaker, in his fright, produced all the rope he had, and the lion rushed off with a coil. In the meantime the wolf also returned with the weed, and the bear tied the prince's body together, and the wolf anointed him. When, all at once, the prince woke, and, rubbing his eyes, stood up. "Well, I have slept a long time," said the prince, and as he saw that the sun was setting he returned to the town with his servants, and, as he again passed in front of the royal palace, he saw the princess once more, who looked at him, smiling this time. The prince again took his night's lodging with the old woman, and, as he got up next morning, the whole town was covered with red cloth. "Why is the whole town covered with red, now?" asked the prince. "Because the Red Knight killed the dragon, and saved the royal princess, and he is to be married to her to-day," replied the old woman. The prince thereupon went into the palace, into which crowds of people were streaming. The king was just leading the Red Knight to his daughter, and said, "Here, my daughter, this is the hero who killed the dragon, and only the hoe and the spade will separate him from you from this day." "My royal father," said the princess, "that isn't the man that killed the dragon, and therefore I cannot be his wife." "He did kill him," shouted the king, "and, in proof of it, he brought the dragon's seven heads with him, and therefore you have to be his wife, according to my promise." And there was a great feast after this, but the princess sat crying at the table, and the prince went home very downcast. "Give me some food, master, I'm hungry," said the wolf, when his master came home. "Go to the king and get some food from his table," and the wolf went. The Red Knight sat on seven red pillows, between the king and his daughter, but when he saw the wolf enter, in his fright a pillow dropped from under him, and the wolf took a full dish, and went away, and told his master what had happened. "Give me some food, master. I'm hungry too," said the bear; and his master sent him also to the palace, and as he entered the Red Knight in his fright again dropped a pillow from under him. When the bear arrived at home with the food, he told this to his master. And as the lion got hungry too, he had to go for his food; and this time the Red Knight dropped a third pillow, and could hardly be seen above the table. Now the prince went to the palace himself, and as he entered every one of the pillows dropped from under the Red Knight in his fright. "Majesty," said the prince, "do you believe that the Red Knight has killed the dragon with seven heads?" "Yes," answered the king, "and he brought the seven heads with him, they are here." "But look, majesty, whether there is anything missing out of every head." The king examined the dragon's heads, and exclaimed in astonishment: "Upon my word there is a tooth missing from every head." "Quite so," said the prince, "and the seven dragon teeth are here," and, taking them from his sabretache, he handed the teeth to the king. "Your Majesty, if the Red Knight has killed the dragon, how could I have obtained the teeth?" "What's the meaning of this?" inquired the king, in anger, of the Red Knight; "who killed the dragon?" "Pardon!" implored the knight. In his fear he confessed all, and the king had him horsewhipped out of the palace, and sent the dogs after him.
He bade the prince sit down at once by the side of his daughter, as her bridegroom; and in joyful commemoration of the event they celebrated such a wedding that the yellow juice flowed from Henczida to Bonczida. And the prince and princess lived happily afterwards as man and wife.
However, it happened once that as the prince went hunting with his three servants, and after a long walk strolled into the wood, he became tired and hungry; so he made a fire under a tree, and sat down at it, and fried some bacon; when suddenly he heard some one call out with a trembling voice in the tree: "Oh! how cold I am." The prince looked up, and saw an old woman on the top of the tree shivering. "Come down, old mother," said he. But the old woman said, still shivering with cold, "I'm afraid to come down, because your dogs will kill me; but if you will strike them with this rod, which I throw down to you, they will not touch me." And the good prince, never thinking that the old woman was a witch, struck his servants with the rod, who, without him noticing it, turned into stone. Seeing this, the old woman came down from the tree, and, having prepared a branch as a spit, she caught a toad. She drew it on the spit, and held it to the fire, close to the bacon; and when the prince remonstrated and tried to drive the old woman away, she threw the toad into his face, whereupon the prince fainted. As his servants could not assist him, the witch killed him, cut him up in pieces, salted him, and put him into a cask. The princess was waiting for her husband in great sorrow; but days passed, and still he did not come, and the poor princess bewailed him day and night.
In the meantime, the second prince returned to the tree in which they had stuck their knives; and, finding that his elder brother's knife was covered with blood, started in search of him. When he came to the town, it was again covered with black. He also took lodgings for the night with the old woman, and on inquiring she told him the whole story of the first prince, and also informed him that the town was draped in black because the prince was lost while hunting. The second prince at once came to the conclusion that it could be no one else but his elder brother, and went to the palace. The princess, mistaking him for her husband in her joy, threw her arms round his neck. "Charming princess, I am not your husband," said the prince, "but your husband's younger brother." The princess, however, would not believe him, as she could not imagine how one man could so resemble another; therefore she chatted with him the whole day, as if with her husband, and, night having set in, he had to get into the same bed with her. The prince, however, placed his unsheathed sword between himself and his sister-in-law, saying: "If you touch me, this sword will at once cut off your hand." The princess was very sorry on hearing this, but, in order to try, she threw her handkerchief over the prince, and the sword cut it in two at once, whereupon the princess burst out crying, and cried the whole night. Next morning the prince went out in search of his brother, and went out hunting in the same wood where he had heard his brother was lost. But, unfortunately, he met the witch, and was treated in the same way as his brother. She killed and salted him also.
After this the youngest prince returned to the tree in which the knives were, and, finding both his brothers' knives covered with blood, went in the direction in which his eldest brother had gone. He came to the town, which was still draped in black, and learned all from the old woman; he went to the palace, where the princess mistook him too for her husband. He had to sleep with her, but, like his brother, placed a sword between them, and, to the great sorrow of the princess, he, too, went out hunting the next morning. Having become tired, he made a fire, and began to fry some bacon, when the witch threw him the rod; but the prince luckily discovered in the thicket the six petrified dogs, and instead of touching his own dogs with the rod, he touched those which had been turned into stone, and all six came to life again. The witch was not aware of this and came down from the tree, and the brutes seized her on the spot, and compelled her to bring their masters to life again. Then the two princes came to life again. In their joy all three embraced each other, and their servants tore the witch in pieces. Whereupon they went home, and now the joy of the princess was full, because her husband and her brothers-in-law had all returned, and she had no longer any fear that the sword would be placed in the bed. On account of the joyful event the town was again draped in red cloth. The eldest prince lived happily with his wife for a long time, and later on became king. His two brothers went home safely.