ON THE shores of the Blue Sea there was a land in which dragons grew. This land had a king whose court was draped in black, and whose eye never ceased to weep, because every Friday he had to send ninety-nine men to the dragons, who were the pest of the place, and who slew and devoured the ninety-nine human beings sent to them. The king had three sons, each of whom was handsomer and more clever than the other. The king was very fond of his sons, and guarded them most carefully. The eldest was called Andrew, the next Emerich, and the youngest Ambrose. There were no other lads left in the land, for the dragons fed on lads' flesh only. One day Andrew and Emerich went to their father and begged him to allow them to go and fight the dragons, as they were sure they could conquer them, and that the dragons would not want any more human flesh after they had been there. But the father would not even listen to his sons' request. As for Ambrose, he did not even dare so much as to submit such a request to his father. Andrew and Emerich, at length, by dint of much talking, prevailed upon their father to allow them to go and fight the dragons. Now, there were only three dragons left in the land: one had seven heads, another eight, and the third nine; and these three had devoured all the other dragons, when they found that there were no more lads to be had. Andrew and Emerich joyfully galloped off towards the copper, silver, and golden bridges in the neighbourhood of which the dragons lived, and Ambrose was left alone to console his royal father, who bewailed his other sons.
Ambrose's godmother was a fairy, and as it is the custom for godmothers to give presents to their godchildren, Ambrose received a present from his fairy godmother, which consisted of a black egg with five corners, which she placed under Ambrose's left armpit. Ambrose carried his egg about with him under his left armpit for seven winters and seven summers, and on Ash Wednesday, in the eighth year, a horse with five legs and three heads jumped out of the egg; this horse was a Tátos and could speak.
At the time when the brothers went out to fight the dragons, Ambrose was thirteen years and thirteen days old, and his horse was exactly five years old. The two elder brothers had been gone some time, when he went into the stable to his little horse, and, laying his head upon its neck, began to weep bitterly. The little horse neighed loudly and said, "Why are you crying, my dear master?" "Because," replied Ambrose, "I dare not ask my father to let me go away, although I should like to do so very much." "Go to your royal father, my dear master, for he has a very bad attack of toothache just now, and tell him that the king of herbs sends word to him through the Tátos-horse with three heads, that his toothache will not cease until he gives you permission to go and fight the dragons; and you can also tell him that if you go, there will be no more dragons left on this earth; but if you do not go his two elder boys will perish in the stomachs of the dragons. Tell him, also, that I have assured you that you will be able to make the dragons vomit out, at once, all the lads whomsoever they have swallowed; and that his land will become so powerful when the lads, who have grown strong in the stomachs of the dragons, return, that, while the world lasts, no nation will ever be able to vanquish him." Thus spoke the Tátos colt, and neighed so loudly that the whole world rang with the sound. The little boy told his father what the Tátos colt had told him; but the king objected for a long time, and no wonder, as he was afraid lest evil might happen to his only son: but at last his sufferings got the better of him, and, after objecting for three hours, he promised his son that if the Tátos were able to carry out its promise he would give him permission to go and fight the dragons.
As soon as he had uttered these words his toothache left him. The little lad ran off and told the message to his little horse, which capered and neighed with delight. "I heard you when you were bargaining," said the horse to its little master, who in his delight didn't know what to do with himself, "and I should have heard you even if you had been a hundred miles away. Don't fear anything, my little master; our ride, it is true, will be a long one, but in the end it will turn out a lucky one. Go, my great-great-grandmother's great-great-grandmother's saddle is there on that crooked willow; put it on me, it will fit me exactly!"
The prince ran, in fact he rushed like a madman, fetched the ragged old saddle, put it on his horse, and tied it to a gate-post. Before leaving his father's home, the little horse asked its little master to plug up one of its nostrils; the prince did so, and the little horse blew upon him with the other nostril which he had left open, when, oh, horror! the little boy became mangy like a diseased sucking pig. The little horse, however, turned into a horse with golden hair, and glistened like a mirror. When the little boy caught sight of his ugly face amidst the hair of his shining horse, he became very sad. "Plug up my other nostril, too!" said the horse with the golden hair. At first the little master would not do it, until the horse neighed very loudly and bade him do it at once, as it was very unwise to delay obeying the commands of a Tátos. So what could the poor lad do but plug up the other nostril of the horse. The horse then opened wide its mouth, and breathed upon the lad, who at once became a most handsome prince, worthy to be a fairy king. "Now sit on my back, my little master, my great king, we are worthy of each other; and there is no thing in the world that we cannot overcome. Rejoice! You will conquer the dragons, and restore the young men to your father's realm; only do as I bid you, and listen to no one else."
In an hour's time they arrived on the shore of the Red Sea, which flows into the Blue Sea. There they found an inn, and close to the inn, within earshot, stood the copper bridge, on the other side of which the dragon with seven heads roamed about. Andrew and Emerich were already at the inn, and as they were very tired, they sat down and began to eat and drink: when the new guest arrived the knives and forks dropped from the two princes' hands; but when they learned that he, too, had come to fight the dragons they made friends with him. They could not, however, recognise him for all the world. Night set in, and Andrew and Emerich had eaten and drunk too much, and became decidedly drunk, and so slept very deeply. Ambrose ate little, drank nothing, and slept lightly. At dawn the Tátos-horse pulled his master's hair, in order to wake him; because it knew that the dragon had least strength at dawn, and that the sun increased his strength. Ambrose at once jumped on horseback and arrived at the copper bridge: the dragon heard the clattering of the horse's hoofs, and at once flew to meet him. "Pooh!" cried the dragon and snorted, "I smell a strange smell! Ambrose, is it you? I know you; may you perish, you and your horse! Come on!" They fought for one hour and three quarters. Ambrose, with two strokes, slashed six of the dragon's heads off, but could not, for a long time succeed in cutting off the seventh, for in it lay the dragon's magic power. But, at last, the seventh head came off too.
The dragon had seven horses, these Ambrose fastened together, and took them to the inn, where he tied them by the side of Emerich's horse. Andrew and Emerich did not awake till nine o'clock, when Emerich asked Andrew if he had killed the dragon, and Andrew asked Emerich if he had done so; at last Ambrose told them that he had killed the dragon with seven heads and taken away his seven horses, which he gave to Emerich, who thanked him for them. The three then continued their journey together as far as the silver bridge: here again they found an inn, which stood close to the bridge. Emerich and Andrew ate and drank and went to sleep as before; the Tátos horse, as soon as day began to break, awoke his master, who cheerfully jumped up, dressed neatly, and left the princes asleep. The Tátos scented the dragon quite ten miles off, and growled like a dog, and the dragon in his rage began to throw his sparks at them when four German miles off; they rushed upon each other and met with a tremendous clash on the bridge; it was a very difficult task for Ambrose to conquer this huge monster, but at last, through the skilful manœuvring of his horse, he deprived the dragon of all his eight heads: the eight horses belonging to the dragon he tied to a post near the head of the eldest prince, Andrew. Andrew and Emerich did not awake till noon, and were astonished at the sight of the splendid horses, questioning each other as to who could have brought them there at such an early hour, and then came to the conclusion that the prince must have killed the dragon, and that these horses had belonged to the monster, for no such horses ever neighed under a man before. Ambrose again confessed that he had killed the dragon, and brought away his horses for them. He also urged his two companions to hurry on to kill the third dragon, or they would be too late. They all got on horseback, but in their joy two of them had had to eat and drink, till they had more than enough, but Ambrose, according to his custom, took but little; the two elder brothers again went to sleep and slept like tops; but again the little Tátos pulled Ambrose's hair, so soon as the morning star began to glimmer.
Ambrose got up at once, and dressed even more quickly than before; for the journey he took a small flask of wine, which he secured upon his saddle. The horse warned its master to approach the dragon with great caution, because it was a very excitable one, and if he got frightened the least it would be very difficult to conquer the monster. Soon the monster with nine heads arrived, thumped once on the golden bridge, so that it trembled under the thump; Ambrose dashed at the dragon and fought with it, but they could not conquer each other, although they fought fiercely and long. At the last hug, especially, Ambrose grew so weak that, if he had not taken a long draught from his flask he would have been done for on the spot; the draught, however, renewed his strength, and they dashed at each other again, but still neither could conquer the other.
So the dragon asked Ambrose to change himself into a steel hoop and he, the dragon, would become a flint hoop, and that they should both climb to the top of yon rock, which was so high that the sun was only a good span above it; and that they should roll down together, and if, while running, the flint hoop left the rut, and, striking the steel hoop, drew sparks therefrom, that Ambrose's head should fall off; but if on the other hand, the steel hoop left the rut and struck the flint hoop so as to draw sparks, then all the dragon's heads should fall off. But they were both wise and stuck to their own ruts, rolling down in a straight course till they reached the foot of the mountain without touching each other, and lay down when they got to the bottom. As they could not manage in this way, the dragon proposed: "I will become a red flame and you will become a white one, and which ever flame reaches highest he shall be victor." Ambrose agreed to this also; while they were contending, they both noticed an old crow, which croaked at them from a hollow tree; the dragon was an old acquaintance of the aged crow, and requested it to bring in its beak as much water as would extinguish the white flame, and promised that if he won, he would give his foe's flesh to the crow, every bit of it.
Ambrose asked for a single drop of water, and promised the crow all the flesh of the big-bodied dragon. The crow helped Ambrose: it soaked its crop full of water and spat it over the red flame; thus Ambrose conquered his last foe. He got on his horse, tied together the nine horses of the dragon with nine heads and took them to his brothers, who were still snoring loudly, although the sun had reached its zenith and was hot enough to make a roast. At last the two lazy people got up, and Ambrose divided the nine horses between them and took leave of them, saying, "Go in peace, I myself am obliged to run wherever my eyes can see." The two good-for-nothing brothers were secretly delighted, and galloped off homewards. Ambrose turned himself into a small rabbit, and as it ran over hill and dale it ran into a small hut where the three wives of the three dragons were seated. The wife of the dragon with seven heads took it into her lap and stroked it for a long time, and thus addressed it: "I don't know whether Ambrose has killed my husband; if he has, there will be a plague in the world, because I will turn into a great pear tree, and the odour of its fruit will be smelt seven miles off, and will be sweet to the taste but deadly poison. The tree which thus grows from me will not dry up till Ambrose plunge his sword into its root, then both it and myself will die." Then the wife of the dragon with eight heads also took the little rabbit in her lap, and spoke thus: "If Ambrose has killed my husband there will be a plague in the world, I can tell you! because in my sorrow I will change into a spring; there will be eight streams flowing out of this spring, each one of which will run eight miles, where it again will sub-divide into eight more branches. And whoever drinks of the water will die; but if Ambrose wash his sword in my blood--which is the water of the spring--all the water will at once dry up and I shall die." Then the wife of the dragon with nine heads spoke to the rabbit, saying, "If Ambrose has killed my husband, in my sorrow I will change into a huge bramble, and will stretch all over the world, all along the highroads. And whoever trips over me, will die; but if Ambrose cut my stalk in two anywhere the bramble will dry up everywhere and I shall die."
Having listened to all this, the little rabbit scampered off out of the hut; but an old woman with an iron nose, the mother of the three dragons, chased him, and chased him over hill and dale: he ran, and rushed about, till at length he overtook his brothers; jumping on his little horse's back, he continued his journey at his leisure. As they travelled on, his eldest brother longed for some good fruit; just then they saw a fine pear tree, whereupon Ambrose jumped from his horse, and plunged his sword into the roots of the tree, and drew blood, and a moaning voice was heard. They travelled on for a few miles, when Emerich all of a sudden became very thirsty: he discovered a spring, and jumped off his horse in order to drink, but Ambrose was first to arrive at the water; when, plunging his sword into it, it became blood, and fearful screams were heard, and in one moment the whole of the water dried up. From this point Ambrose galloped on in front till he left his brothers two miles behind, because he knew that the bramble was stretching far along the country road; he cut it in two, blood oozed out, and the bramble at once dried up. Having thus cleared away all dangers from his brothers' way, he blest them and separated from them.
The brothers went home, but the old woman with the iron nose persecuted Ambrose more than ever, being in a great rage at his having killed her sons and her daughters-in-law. Ambrose ran as hard as he could, for he had left his horse with his brothers; but when he was quite exhausted and had lost all confidence in himself, he ran into a smithy, and promised the smith that he would serve him for two years for nothing if he would hide him safely and well. The bargain was soon struck, and no sooner had the smith hidden him than the old woman appeared on the spot and inquired after a youth: she described his figure, the shape of his eyes and mouth, height, colour of his moustache and hair, dress, and general appearance. But the smith was not such a fool as to betray the lad who had engaged to work at his anvil for him for two years for nothing. So the old witch with the iron nose got to know nothing and left the place growling. One day Ambrose was perspiring heavily by the side of the anvil, so at eventide he went for a short walk in the road in order to get a mouthful of fresh air. When he had nearly reached the edge of the wood, which was only at a dog's trot from the smithy, he met a very old woman with wizened face, whose carriage was drawn by two small cats: the old woman began to ogle little Ambrose, making sheep's eyes at him, like fast young women do. "May hell swallow you, you old hag," said Ambrose to her angrily, "I see you have still such foolish ideas in your head, although you have grown so old!" Having said this he gave the carriage in which the witch sat, a kick, but poor Ambrose's right foot stuck fast to the axle, and the two cats scampered off over hill and dale with him until he suddenly discovered that he was trotting in hell, and saw old Pilate staring at him. The old witch with the iron nose--because it was she who had the carriage and pair of cats--fell over head and ears in love with the young lad, and at once asked him to marry her.
Ambrose shuddered when he heard this repulsive, unnatural request. "Very well," said the woman with the iron nose, "as you don't intend to marry me, into jail you go! twelve hundred-weight of iron on your feet!" Nine black servants seized hold of poor Ambrose, at once, and took him nine miles down into the bowels of the earth, and fastened a piece of iron weighing twelve hundred-weight on his feet and secured it with a lock. The poor lad wept and groaned, but no one had admission to where he was, with the exception of the old witch and one of her maids. The maid of the witch with the iron nose was not quite such an ugly fright as her wizened old mistress, in fact she was such a pretty girl that one would have to search far for a prettier lass. She commenced to visit Ambrose in his prison rather often, sometimes even when the old witch did not dream of it--to tell the truth, she fell head over ears in love with the lad, nor did Ambrose dislike the pretty girl; on the contrary, he promised to marry her if she were able to effect his escape from his deep prison. The girl did not require any further coaxing, but commenced plotting at once. At last she hit upon a scheme, and thus spoke to her darling Ambrose: "You cannot get out of this place, unless you marry the old woman with the iron nose. She having once become your wife will reveal to you all her secrets; she will also tell you how she manages to keep alive so long, and by what ways and means she may be got rid of." Ambrose followed her instructions and was married to the old witch by a clergyman--there are clergy even in hell, as many as you want. The first night Ambrose, after having for a long time been kissing and making love to the old iron nose, asked her: "What keeps you alive for so long, and when do you think you will die? I don't ask these questions, my dearest love," he added, flatteringly, "as if I wished for your death, but because I should like to use those means myself which prolong your life and keep away everything from me which would shorten life, and thus preserve me, living long and happily with you." The old woman at first was half inclined to believe his words, but while meditating over what she had just heard, she suddenly kicked out in bed, and Ambrose flew three miles into hell in his fright.
But the result of all the questioning and flattering in the end was that the old woman confessed. She confided to him that she kept a wild boar in the silken meadow, and if it were killed, they would find a hare inside, inside the hare a pigeon, inside the pigeon a small box, inside the little box one black and one shining beetle: the shining beetle held her life, the black one her power; if those two beetles died then her life would come to an end, too. As soon as the old woman went out for a drive--which she had to do every day--Ambrose killed the wild boar, took out the hare, from the hare the pigeon, from the pigeon the box, and from the box the two beetles: he killed the black one at once, but kept the shining one alive. The old witch's power left her immediately. When she returned home her bed had to be made for her. Ambrose sat by her bedside and looked very sad, and asked her with tears if she, who was the other half of his soul, died what would become of him, who was a man from earth and a good soul, who had no business there. "In case I die, my dear husband," said the doomed woman, in a mild voice, "open with the key which I keep in my bosom yon black closet in the wall. But you can't remove the key from my bosom until I am dead. In the closet you will find a small golden rod; with this rod you must strike the side of the castle in which we are, and it will become a golden apple. You, then, can get into the upper world by harnessing my two cats in my carriage, and by whipping them with the golden rod." Hereupon Ambrose killed the shining beetle too, and her pára (animal soul) left the old witch at once.
He then struck the castle side with the golden rod, and it turned into an apple; having harnessed the two cats and patted them with the golden rod, he bade the maid sit by him, and in a wink they reached the upper world. The maid had been kidnapped by the old witch with the iron nose from the king of the country in the upper world, in whose land the mouth of hell was situated. Ambrose placed the golden apple in the prettiest part of the country and tapped its side with the rod and it became a beautiful castle of gold, in which he married his sweetheart and lived with her happily. Some time after he returned to his father's land, where an immense number of strong soldiers had grown up since Ambrose had killed the dragons. The old king distributed his realm among his three sons, giving the most beautiful empires to Ambrose, who took his father to him and kept him in great honour. His wife bore pretty children who rode out every day on the Tátos.