YOUTH WITHOUT AGE AND LIFE WITHOUT DEATH
There was once a mighty emperor and empress. Both were young and handsome, and as they desired the blessing of children they did every thing that was necessary to secure it, that is they went to the witches and philosophers and asked them to read the stars to find out whether they would have children or not. But it was all in vain.
Finally the emperor heard that a very wise old man lived in a neighboring village, and sent for him. The messengers returned with the answer: "Let him who needs me come to me." So the emperor and empress set out for the wise man's house, taking with them several of their courtiers, attendants, and soldiers. When the old man saw them in the distance, he rose, went to meet them, and said at once:
"Welcome ! But what do you want to know, oh, emperor ! your wish will bring you sorrow."
"I am not here to question you about that," replied the emperor, "but to learn whether you have any plants you can give us that will bestow the blessing of children."
"I have," the old man answered, "but you will possess only one child. He will be a handsome, lovable boy, yet you will not be able to keep him long."
After the emperor and empress had obtained the herbs they joyfully returned to the palace.
The whole empire, the courtiers, and all the attendants rejoiced too. But when the hour of its birth came, the child began to scream in a way no magic arts could silence.
The emperor commenced to promise it all the good things the world contained, but it was impossible to quiet it.
"Hush, father's pet," said the emperor, "I will give you this or that kingdom; hush, my son, I will give you this or that princess for your wife." At last, when he saw the child would not stop, he added: "Hush, my boy, I will give you youth without age and life without death."
Then the prince stopped crying; the courtiers beat drums and blew trumpets, and there were great rejoicings throughout the empire for a whole week.
The older the boy grew, the more thoughtful and reflective he became. He went to the schools and the philosophers and gained every kind of learning, so that the emperor died of joy and came to life again. The whole realm was proud of having a prince so wise and learned, a second King Solomon.
But one day, when the lad had just reached his fifteenth year and the emperor sat at a banquet with the nobles and grandees of the country, the handsome prince rose, saying: "Father, the time has come, you must now give me what you promised at my birth !"
When the emperor heard this he grew very sorrowful and answered:
"Why, my son, how can I give you an impossible thing ? If I promised it to you then, it was only to hush you."
"If you can't give it to me, father, I shall be obliged to wander through the whole world till I find what was promised to me, and for which I was born."
Then all the nobles and the emperor fell at his feet and besought him not to quit the country, because, as the courtiers said, his father was growing old, and they would place him on the throne and give him the most beautiful princess under the sun for his wife.
But it was impossible to shake his resolution, he remained as firm as a rock.
After his father had seen and duly considered all these things, he gave his consent and prepared to supply the prince with provisions and whatever else he might need for his journey.
The young hero went to the imperial stables, where the finest steeds in the whole realm were standing, to choose one of them; but when he laid his hand on the horse's tail he knocked it down, and so they all fell, one after another.
At last, just as he was going out, he let his eyes wander around the building once more and saw in one corner a sick, weak horse, covered with sores.
He went up to it, and when he grasped it by the tail, the animal turned its head, saying:
"What do you command, my master ? I thank God that He has permitted a hero's hand to touch me once more."
And, planting its feet firmly, it remained standing. The young prince told it what he intended to do, and the horse replied:
"To obtain your wish, you must ask your father for the sword, lance, bow, quiver of arrows, and garments he wore when a youth; but you must take care of me with your own hands for six weeks and give me oats boiled in milk."
When the prince begged the emperor for the articles the horse had advised, the monarch called the major-domo of the palace and ordered him to open all the chests of clothing, that his son might choose what he pleased.
The young hero, after rummaging them three whole days, at last found in the very bottom of an old trunk the weapons and garments his father had worn in his youth, but the arms were covered with rust.
He set to work to clean them with his own hands and in six weeks, during the time he was taking care of the horse, he succeeded in making the weapons as bright and shining as a mirror.
When the horse heard from the handsome prince that the clothes and arms were cleaned and ready, it shook itself once. All the sores instantly fell off and there it stood, a strong, well-formed animal, with four wings.
When the hero saw this, he said:
"We'll go in three days !"
"May you have a long life, master. From today I shall be at your service," the horse answered.
On the morning of the third day there was great mourning throughout the whole court and empire.
The handsome prince, clad like a hero, holding his sword in his hand and riding the horse he had chosen, took leave of the emperor, the empress, the great nobles and lesser grandees, the army, and all the attendants, who, with tears in their eyes, implored him to give up the journey and not risk his life; but setting spurs to his steed, he dashed through the gate like the wind, followed by the carts loaded with provisions and money, and the two hundred horsemen the emperor had commanded to accompany him.
After reaching the boundaries of his father's country and arriving at the wilderness, the prince distributed all his property among the escort, bade them farewell, and sent them back, keeping for himself only as much food as the horse could carry.
Then he turned toward the east and rode for three days and three nights, till he came to a wide plain where lay a great many human bones.
When he stopped here to rest, the horse said:
"You must know, master, that we are on the land of a Woodpecker Fairy who is so wicked that nobody can enter her domain without being murdered. She was once a woman, but the curse of her parents, whom she angered by her disobedience, turned her into a woodpecker. She is with her children now, but you will meet her to-morrow in yonder forest; she will come to kill you. She is terribly big, but don't be frightened; hold the bow ready to pierce her with an arrow, and keep your sword and lance in hand, so that you can use them in case of need."
Then they went to rest, taking turns in watching.
At dawn the next morning they prepared to pass through the forest; the prince saddled and bridled the horse, drew the girths tighter than usual, and mounted.
Suddenly he heard a tremendous crashing. "Make ready, master," said the horse, "the Woodpecker Fairy is coming."
As she approached, she moved so fast that she tore the trees down; but the horse leaped upward like the wind, so that it was almost over her, and the prince shot off one of her feet with an arrow.
Just as he was about to discharge the second arrow, she cried:
"Stop, my young hero, I'll do you no harm." And seeing that he did not believe her, she gave him the promise written with her own blood.
"Your horse can not be killed, my young hero," she added, "it is enchanted; if it hadn't been for that, I would have roasted and eaten you. Know that until today no mortal man has ventured to cross my boundaries as far as this; a few bold wights who dared to make the trial, reached the plain where you saw so many bones."
They now went to the fairy's house, where she entertained them as guests. But while sitting at the table enjoying the banquet, the Woodpecker Fairy moaned with pain, so the prince pulled the foot he had shot off out of the traveling bag where he had put it, fastened it on, and it instantly healed. The hostess, in her joy, kept open house for three days, and begged the emperor's son to choose one of her daughters, all three of whom were beautiful as fairies, for his wife. He would not do that, but told her what he was seeking, and she replied:
"With your horse and your heroic courage, I believe you will succeed."
After three days had passed, the prince prepared to continue his journey and departed.
He rode on, and on, and on; the road seemed to grow longer and longer, but when he had finally crossed the frontiers of the Woodpecker Fairy's kingdom, he entered a beautiful meadow, one side of which was covered with blooming plants, but the other was scorched.
The prince asked why the grass was singed, and the horse answered:
"We are now in the domain of the Scorpion Witch; she is the Woodpecker Fairy's sister, but they are both so wicked that they can't live together. Their parents' curse has fallen upon them, and so, as you see, they have become monsters; their enmity goes beyond all bounds; they are always trying to get possession of each other's lands. When this one is very angry she spits fire and pitch; she must have had some quarrel with her sister, and, to drive her out of her kingdom, has burned the grass on which she was standing.
She is even worse than her sister, and has three heads. We will rest awhile now, and be ready at the first peep of dawn to-morrow."
The next day they prepared themselves just as they did when they expected to meet the Woodpecker fairy, and set out. Soon they heard a howling and rustling unlike any thing ever known before.
"Make ready, master, the Scorpion Witch is coming."
The Scorpion Witch, with one jaw in the sky and the other on the earth, approached like the wind, spitting fire as she came, but the horse darted upward as swiftly as an arrow, and then rushed over her a little on one side.
The hero shot an arrow and one of her heads fell, but when he was going to strike off another, the Scorpion Witch entreated him to forgive her, she would do him no harm, and to convince him of this she gave him her promise, written in her own blood.
Like the Woodpecker Fairy, she entertained the prince, who returned her head, which grew on again, and at the end of three days he resumed his travels.
When the hero and his horse had reached the boundaries of the Scorpion Witch's kingdom they hurried on without resting till they came to a field covered with flowers, where reigned perpetual spring. Every blossom was remarkably beautiful and filled with a sweet, intoxicating fragrance; a gentle breeze fanned them all. They remained here to rest, but the horse said:
"We have arrived so far successfully, master, but we still have one great peril to undergo and, if the Lord helps us to conquer it, we shall really be valiant heroes. A short distance further on is the palace where dwell Youth without Age and Life without Death. It is surrounded by a high, dense forest, where roam all the wild animals in the world, watching it day and night.
They are very numerous, and it is almost beyond the bounds of possibility to get through the wood by fighting them; we must try, if we can, to jump over them."
After resting about two days they prepared to continue their journey, and the horse, holding its breath, said:
"Buckle my girth as tight as you can, and when you have mounted hold fast to my mane and press your feet close to my neck, that you may not hinder me."
The prince mounted, and in a moment they were close to the forest.
"Master," said the horse, "this is the time that the wild beasts are fed; they are all collected together, now we'll jump over."
"Forward," replied the handsome prince, "and may the Lord have mercy on us."
They flew upward and saw the palace, which glittered so that it would have been easier to look at the sun. They passed over the forest, and, just as they were descending at the palace steps, one of the horse's hoofs lightly touched the top of a tree, which put the whole woods in motion.
The wild animals began to howl till it was enough to make one's hair bristle. They hastily alighted, and if the mistress of the palace had not been outside feeding her chickens (for that is what she called the wild beasts), they would certainly have been killed.
She spared their lives out of pure pleasure, for she had never before seen a human being. Restraining the savage beasts, she soothed them, and sent them back to their haunts. She was a tall, slender, lovely fairy, quite too beautiful. When the young hero saw her, he stood still as though turned to stone. But as she gazed at him she pitied him and said:
"Welcome, my handsome prince. What do you seek here ?"
"We seek Youth without Age and Life without Death."
Then he dismounted from his horse and entered the palace, where he found two other ladies, both of the same age, the elder sisters of the first one.
He began to thank the fairy for having delivered him from danger, but she and her sisters, to show their joy, had a handsome banquet served in golden dishes.
They gave the horse liberty to graze wherever it chose, and afterward made it acquainted with all the wild beasts, so that it might rove about the forest in peace.
The ladies entreated the prince to stay with them, saying that it was so tiresome to be alone. He did not wait to be asked a second time, but accepted the offer with the satisfaction of a man who has found precisely what he sought.
By degrees they became accustomed to live together; the prince told them his story and related what he had suffered before meeting them, and after some time he married the youngest sister.
At their wedding permission was granted to him to go wherever he liked in the neighborhood; they only begged him not to enter one valley, which they pointed out, otherwise some misfortune would befall him; it was called, they said, the Valley of Lamentation.
The prince spent a very long time at the palace without being aware of it, for he always remained just as young as he was when he arrived.
He wandered about the woods without ever having a headache. He amused himself in the golden palace, lived in peace and quiet with his wife and her sisters, enjoyed the beauty of the flowers, and the sweet, pure air.
He often went hunting; but one day, while pursuing a hare, he shot two arrows at it without hitting the animal.
Angrily chasing it he discharged a third arrow, which struck it, but in his haste the luckless man had not noticed that he had passed through the Valley of Lamentation while following the game.
He picked it up and turned toward home, but was suddenly seized with a longing for his father and mother. He did not venture to speak of this wish to his wife, yet by his grief and restlessness both she and her sisters instantly perceived his condition.
"Oh ! luckless prince, you have passed through the Valley of Lamentation," they said in terror.
"I did so, my dear ones, without meaning to be so imprudent, but now the longing to see my parents is killing me ! Yet I can not forsake you. I have already spent several days with you and have no cause to complain. So I'll go and see my parents once more, and then come back to you, never to leave you again."
"Do not quit us, beloved prince! Your parents died two or three hundred years ago, and if you go, we fear you yourself will never return; stay with us, for a presentiment of evil tells us that you will perish !"
All the entreaties of the three ladies, as well as those of the horse, were unable to quiet the young hero's longing for his parents, which was fairly consuming him alive.
At last the horse said: "If you don't listen to me, master, whatever happens to you will be your own fault. I'll tell you something, and if you accept my condition, I'll take you back."
"I'll accept it with many thanks," replied the prince; "let me hear it."
"As soon as you reach your father's palace you will dismount, but I am to return alone in case you stay even an hour."
"Be it so," the prince agreed.
They made their preparations for the journey, the prince embraced the ladies and after having bade them farewell he rode away, but they sobbed and wept bitterly when he left them.
They reached the country which had once been the kingdom of the Scorpion Witch, but found cities there; the woods had become fields; the prince questioned one person and another about the Scorpion Witch and her house, but they answered that their grandfathers had heard from their great, great grandfathers that such silly tales had once been told.
"How is that possible!" replied the prince, "I came through this region myself only a short time ago," and he told them all he knew.
The people laughed at him as if he were a lunatic or a person talking in his sleep, and the prince angrily rode on without noticing that his hair and beard were growing white.
When he reached the realm of the Woodpecker Fairy, the same questions and answers were exchanged. The prince could not understand how these places had altered so much in a few days, and again rode angrily on.
He now had a white beard that reached to his waist, and he felt as if his feet were beginning to tremble.
Quitting this country he arrived in his father's empire. Here he found new people, new towns, and every thing so much changed that he could not recognize it.
At last he came to the palace where he was born.
When he dismounted, the horse kissed his hand, and said:
"I wish you good health, master, I'm going back to the place from which I came. If you want to go too, mount quickly, and we'll be off."
"Farewell, I too hope to return soon."
The horse darted away with the speed of an arrow.
When the prince saw the ruined palace and the weeds growing around it, he sighed deeply and with tears in his eyes tried to remember how magnificent these places had once been.
He walked around the building two or three times, tried to recollect how every room, every corner had looked, found the stable where he had discovered the horse, and then went down into the cellar, whose entrance was choked up with fallen rubbish.
He groped hither and thither, holding up his eyelids with his hands, and scarcely able to totter along, while his snowy beard now fell to his knees, but found nothing except a dilapidated old chest, which he opened.
It seemed empty, but as he raised the lid a voice from the bottom said:
"Welcome, if you had kept me waiting much longer, I too should have gone to decay."
Then his death, which had become completely shriveled in the chest, seized him; but the prince fell lifeless on the ground and instantly crumbled into dust.
Into the saddle then I sprung, The tale to tell to old and young.
THE LITTLE PURSE WITH TWO HALF-PENNIESThere was once an old man and an old woman. The old woman had a hen and the old man had a rooster; the old woman's hen laid two eggs a day and she ate a great many, but she would not give the old man a single one. One day the old man lost patience and said: "Listen, old crony, you live as if you were in clover, give me a couple of eggs so that I can at least have a taste of them."
"No indeed !" replied the old woman, who was very avaricious. "If you want eggs, beat your rooster that he may lay eggs for you, and then eat them; I flogged my hen, and just see how she lays now."
The old man, being stingy and greedy, listened to the old woman's talk, angrily seized his rooster, gave him a sound thrashing and said:
"There, now, lay some eggs for me or else go out of the house, I won't feed you for nothing any longer."
As soon as the rooster escaped from the old man's hands it ran off down the high-road. While thus pursuing its way, lo and behold! it found a little purse with two half-pennies. Taking it in its beak, the bird turned and went back toward the old man's house. On the road it met a carriage containing a gentleman and several ladies.
The gentleman looked at the rooster, saw a purse in its bill, and said to the driver:
"Get down and see what this rooster has in its beak."
The driver hastily jumped from his box, took the little purse from the rooster's bill, and gave it to his master. The gentleman put it in his pocket and drove on. The rooster was very angry and ran after the carriage, repeating continually:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
"Take that impudent rooster and throw it into the well."
The driver got down from his box again, seized the rooster, and flung it down the well. When the rooster saw that its life was in such great danger, what was it to do ?
It began to swallow the water, and drank and drank till it had swallowed all the water in the well. Then it flew out and again ran after the carriage, calling:
When the gentleman saw this, he was perfectly amazed and said:
"Hoho ! This rooster is a perfect imp of Satan ! Never mind ! I'll wring your neck, you saucy cockerel !" When he reached home he told the cook to take the rooster, throw it on the coals burning upon the hearth, and push a big stone in front of the opening in the chimney. The old woman did what her master bade her.
When the rooster saw this new injustice, it began to spit out the water it had swallowed till it had poured all the water from the well upon the burning coals.
This put out the fire, cooled the hearth, and made such a flood on the kitchen floor that the cook fainted away from pure rage.
Then the rooster gave the stone a push, came out safe and sound, ran to the gentleman's window, and began to knock on the panes with its bill, screaming:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
"Driver, rid me of it, toss it into the middle of the herds of cows and oxen; perhaps some bull will stick its horns through it and relieve us."
The coachman seized the rooster and flung it among the herds. You ought to have seen the rooster's delight. It swallowed bulls, oxen, cows, and calves, till it had devoured the whole herd and its stomach had grown as big as a mountain. Then it went to the window again, spread out its wings before the sun so that it darkened the gentleman's room, and once more began:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
"I'll lock it up in the treasure-chamber. Perhaps if it tries to swallow the ducats one will stick in its throat, and I shall get rid of the bird." No sooner said than done. He grasped the rooster and flung it into the treasure-chamber. The rooster swallowed all the money and left the chests empty. Then it escaped from the room, went to the gentleman's window, and again began:
"Kikeriki, sir, Kikerikak, To me the little purse give back."
"Let them all run off to the last chick, I'm glad to be rid of the torment; there was witchcraft in that rooster !"
But the puffed-up rooster stalked proudly along, followed by all the fowls, and went merrily on and on till he reached the old man's house and began to crow:
When the old man heard the rooster's voice he ran out joyfully to meet the bird, but looking through the door what did he see ? His rooster had become a terrible object. An elephant beside it would have seemed like a flea; and following behind came countless flocks of birds, each one more beautiful and brilliant than the other.
When the old man saw the rooster so huge and fat, he opened the gate for it. "Master," said the bird, "spread a sheet here in the middle of the yard."
The old man, as nimble as a top, laid down the sheet. The rooster took its stand upon it, spread its wings, and instantly the whole yard was filled with birds and herds of cattle, but it shook out on the sheet a pile of ducats that flashed in the sun till they dazzled the eyes.
When the old man beheld this vast treasure he did not know what to do in his delight, and hugged and kissed the rooster.
But all at once the old woman appeared from somewhere, and when she saw this marvelous spectacle her eyes glittered in her head, and she was ready to burst with wrath.
"Dear old friend," she said, "give me a few ducats."
"Pine away with longing for them, old woman; when I begged you for some eggs, you know what you answered. Now flog your hen, that it may bring you ducats. I beat my rooster, and you see what it has fetched me."
The old woman went to the hen-coop, shook the hen, took it by the tail, and gave it such a drubbing that it was enough to make one weep for pity.
When the poor hen escaped from the old woman's hands it fled to the highway. While walking along it found a bead, swallowed it, hurried back home as fast as possible, and began to cackle at the gate.
The old woman welcomed it joyfully.
The hen ran quickly in at the gate, passed its mistress, and went to its nest at the end of an hour it jumped off, cackling loudly.
The old woman hastened to see what the hen had laid. But when she glanced into the nest what did she perceive ? A little glass bead. The hen had laid a glass bead ! When the old woman saw that the hen had fooled her, she began to beat it, and beat till she flogged it to death.
So the stupid old soul remained as poor as a church-mouse.
From that time she might live on roast nothing and golden wait a while, instead of eggs, for she had abused and killed the poor hen, though it was not at all to blame.
But the old man was very rich; he built great houses, laid out beautiful gardens, and lived luxuriously.
He made the old woman his poultry-maid, the rooster he took about with him everywhere, dressed in a gold collar, yellow boots, and spurs on its heels, so that one might have thought it was one of the Three Kings from the Christmas play instead of a mere ordinary rooster.
There was once an emperor who had three daughters; the oldest was beautiful, the middle one more beautiful, but the youngest, Ileane, was so fair that even the sun stopped to gaze at her and admire her charms.
One day the emperor received the news that his neighbor, a mighty monarch, was no longer friendly, but wanted to fight with him on account of a great imperial feud. The emperor consulted the old men of the country, and, seeing there was nothing else to be done, he commanded his valiant soldiers to mount their horses, take their weapons, and prepare for the terrible battle which was to be fought.
Before mounting himself, the emperor called his daughters, addressed a few fatherly, touching words to them, and gave each one a beautiful flower, a merry little bird, and a rosy-cheeked apple.
"Whoever has her flower wither, her bird mope or her apple rot, I shall know has not kept her faith," said the wise emperor; then mounting his steed he wished them "Good-health" and set off with his brave soldiers on their toilsome way.
When the neighboring emperor's three sons heard the news that the emperor had quitted his home and gone to the war, they made an agreement among themselves and sprang on their horses to ride to the palace and vex the monarch by making his three daughters faithless to his trust. The oldest prince, a brave, spirited, handsome fellow, went first to see how matters stood and bring tidings afterward to the others.
Three days and three nights the champion stood under the wall, but not one of the girls had appeared at the windows. In the gray dawn of the fourth day he lost patience, plucked up his courage, and tapped on the oldest princess's window.
"What is it, what is it ? What is wanted ?" asked the royal maiden, roused from her sleep.
"It is I, little sister," said the prince, "I, an emperor's son, who have stood under your window three days for love of you."
The princess did not even approach the window, but replied in a prudent tone:
"Go back home by the way you came; may flowers spring up before you and thorns remain behind."
After three more days and nights the prince again knocked on the girl's window. This time the princess approached it, and said in a more gentle voice:
"I told you to go back home by the way you came; may thorns spring up before you and flowers remain behind."
Once more the prince waited three days and three nights under the maiden's window. In the gray dawn of the tenth day, that is after thrice three days and thrice three nights had passed, he smoothed his hair and for the third time tapped on the window.
"What is it ? Who is it ? What is wanted ?" asked the princess, this time somewhat more sternly than before.
"It is I, little sister," said the prince. "For thrice three days I have stood longingly under your window. I would like to see your face, gaze into your eyes, and watch the words flow from your lips!"
The princess opened the window, glanced angrily at the handsome youth, and said in a scarcely audible voice:
"I would willingly look into your face and say a word or two to you, but first go to my younger sister, then come to me."
"I'll send my younger brother," replied the prince. "But give me one kiss to make my way home pleasanter."
And almost before he had spoken, he snatched a kiss from the beautiful girl.
"May no second one fall to your lot," said the princess, wiping her mouth with her embroidered sleeve. "Go back home by the way you came; may flowers spring up before you and flowers remain behind."
The prince went back to his brothers and told them all that had happened, and the second took his departure.
After this prince had stood under the second princess's window nine times nine days and nine times nine nights and tapped for the ninth time at her window, she opened it and said to him kindly:
"I would like to look at you and say a word or two to you, but first go to my youngest sister, then come to me."
"I'll send my youngest brother," said the prince. "But give me one kiss, that I may hurry the faster."
He had scarcely said it, when he stole a kiss.
"May no second one fall to your lot," said this royal maiden too. "Go back home by the way you came, may flowers spring up before you and flowers remain behind !"
The prince returned to his brothers, told them all that had happened, and, for the third time, a hero departed, the youngest son.
When he reached the palace where the three sisters lived Ileane was standing at the window, and when she saw him, said merrily:
"You handsome champion with the royal face, where are you hurrying, that you urge on your steed so hotly ?"
When the prince saw Ileane's face and heard Ileane's words, he stopped, gazed at her, and answered boldly:
"I'm hurrying to the sun to steal one of its rays, to give to its sister and take her home, where she shall become my bride. Now, little sister, I will stop on my way to look at you, gaze at the radiance of your face, say a word to you and steal a word in reply."
Ileane cleverly answered: "If your nature is like your words, if your soul is like your face, proud and beautiful, and mild and gentle, I will gladly call you into the house, seat you at a banquet, give you food and drink and kisses."
The prince sprang from his horse as he heard these words, and answered boldly:
"My nature will be like my speech, my heart like my face; let me in, seat me at the banquet, you shall never repent it from dawn till nightfall."
He had scarcely uttered the words when he leaped upon the window-sill, jumped through the window into the room, went through the room to the table, and took his place at the very top, where the emperor had sat when he was a bridegroom.
"Stop, stop !" said Ileane. "First let me see whether you are what you ought to be, and then we'll talk and begin our love-making. Can you make roses grow on burdocks ?"
"No!" said the prince.
"Then the thistle is your flower," said clever Ileane. "Can you make the bat sing in a sweet voice ?"
"No!" said the prince.
"Then night is your day," said clever Ileane. "Can you make apples grow on wolf's-bane ?"
"That I can !" said the prince.
"Then that shall be your fruit !" replied the beautiful and cunning Ileane. "Sit down at the table."
The prince took his place. Ah ! but Ileane was indeed cunning Ileane. Ere he had fairly seated himself, he dropped, chair and all, into the deep cellar where the emperor's treasures were kept.
Ileane now began to scream: "Help !" and when all the servants came rushing in to see what had happened, she told them she had heard a noise and was afraid that some one had got into the cellar to rob the emperor of his treasures. The servants did not waste many words, but instantly opened the iron door and went into the cellar, where they found the prince and brought him in disgrace to be sentenced.
Ileane pronounced judgment.
Twelve girls under punishment for some offense were to carry him out of the country, and when they had reached the frontier with him, each one was to give him a kiss.
The order was obeyed. When the prince reached home and joined his brothers, he told them the whole story, and after every thing had been related their hearts were filled with rage. So they sent word to the two older princesses that they must arrange to have Ileane go to the three princes' court, so that they might revenge themselves upon her for the insult she had offered them.
When the oldest daughter received this message from the prince she pretended to be sick, called Ileane to her bedside, and told her that she could not get well unless Ileane brought her something to eat from the princes' kitchen.
Ileane would have done any thing for her sister's sake, so she took a little jug and set off for the court of the three princes, to beg or steal. When she reached the palace, she rushed breathlessly into the kitchen and said to the head-cook:
"For heaven's sake, don't you hear the emperor calling you ? Make haste, and see what is the matter."
The cook took to his heels and ran as fast as he could, as though he had received an imperial command. Ileane, left alone in the kitchen, filled her jug with food, emptied all the dainty dishes that were on the fire upon the floor, and went away.
When the princes heard of this insult they were still more enraged than before, sent another message to the two sisters and again prepared a revenge. As soon as the second sister received the news, she, too, pretended to be ill, called Ileane to her bed, and told her that she could not get well unless she tasted the wine in the princes' cellar. Ileane would have done any thing for her sister, so she took the little jug and prepared to go again.
When she reached the court she rushed into the cellar, and, panting for breath, said to the head-butler:
"For heaven's sake, don't you hear the emperor calling you ? Make haste and see what is the matter." The butler took to his heels and ran as if he had received an imperial command. Ileane filled her jug with wine, poured out the rest on the cellar floor, and then hurried home.
The princes sent a third message to the two princesses and told them they must send Ileane in a different way from what they had done before. This time both the princesses feigned illness, called their sister to them, and told her that they could not get well unless Ileane brought them two of the princes' apples.
"My dear sisters," replied Ileane, "I would go through fire and water for you, how much more willingly to the princes." Taking the little jug she set off to find, seize, and bring back the fruit and save her dear sisters' lives.
When the youngest prince learned that Ileane was coming to the garden to steal the golden apples, he gave orders that, if groans were heard there, nobody must dare go in, but let the person who was wailing, moan in peace. Then he hid huge knives, swords, spears, and many other things in the earth under the tree that bore the golden apples, concealing them so that only the sharp points rose out of the ground.
After he had finished, he hid himself in a clump of bushes and waited for Ileane. She came to the gate, and seeing the two huge lions that kept guard there flung each of them a piece of meat; the lions began to tear it, and the princess went to the apple tree, stepped cautiously between the knives, swords, spears, and other things, and climbed into it.
"May this do you much good, little sister," said the prince. "I'm glad to see you in my garden."
"The pleasure is mine," replied Ileane, "since I have so brave and handsome a prince for my companion. Come, climb the tree and help me pick some apples for my dear sisters, who are dangerously ill and have asked for them."
The prince wanted nothing better, he meant to pull Ileane from the tree among the knives.
"You are very kind, Ileane," he replied, "be kinder still and give me your hand to help me up into the tree."
"Your plan is wicked," thought Ileane, "but it shall work your own misfortune." She gave him her hand, pulled him up the trunk to the branches, and then let him drop among the knives, swords, spears and other such things, which had been put there for her own destruction.
"There you are," she said, "now you will know what you meant to do."
The hero with the black soul began to shriek and groan—but nobody came to help him; they left him, according to his own orders, to moan in peace, and he was obliged to bear his terrible sufferings patiently.
Ileane took her apples, carried them home, gave them to her sisters, and then went back to the imperial palace and told the servants to go and rescue their master from his great danger.
The prince, who had been so abominably treated, sent for the most skillful witch in the whole country to come and give him a cure for his wounds. But Ileane had gone to the witch first and offered her a great deal of money to let her, Ileane, go to the court in her place. So Ileane went to the palace disguised as the witch. She ordered a buffalo hide to be soaked in vinegar three days and three nights, then taken out and wrapped around the wounded youth. But the prince's cuts only burned the more, and his sufferings became still more unbearable. When he saw that he was in a bad way, he sent for a priest that he might relieve his heart before he died and give him the sacrament. But Ileane was not idle. She went to the priest, offered him a large sum of money, and induced him to let her go to the palace instead. So Ileane arrived at the court disguised as a priest.
When she approached the prince's bed he was at the point of death, there were scarcely three breaths left in him.
"My son," said the false priest, Ileane, "you have summoned me to confess your sins to me. Think of the hour of death, and tell me all you have on your heart. Are you at variance with any one ? Yes, or no ?"
"With no one," replied the prince, "except Ileane, the youngest daughter of the emperor, our neighbor. And I hate her out of love and longing," he continued. "If I should not die, but recover, I will ask the emperor for her hand in marriage, and if I don't kill her the first night she shall be my faithful wife according to the law." Ileane heard these words, said a few in reply, and then went home. Here she soon understood why her sisters were wailing and lamenting, for they had heard that the emperor was returning home from the great war.
"You ought to rejoice," said Ileane, "when you hear that our kind father is coming home safe and well."
"We should rejoice," replied the sisters, "if our flowers had not withered, our apples had not rotted, and our birds had not stopped singing; but now we have reason to cry."
When Ileane heard these words she went to her room, saw the flower sprinkled with dew, the bird hungry, and the apple looking as if it wanted to say: "Eat me, little sister !"
So, to help her dear sisters, she gave the flower to one and the bird to the other, keeping only the beautiful apple for herself. So they waited for the arrival of the emperor, who was very stern in his commands.
When the monarch reached home, he approached his oldest daughter and asked for the flower, the bird, and the apple. She showed him nothing but the flower, and even that was half withered.
The emperor said nothing, but went to his second daughter. She showed him only the little bird, and that, too, looked drooping. Again the emperor did not speak, but silently went up to his youngest daughter, clever Ileane.
When the emperor saw the apple on Ileane's chest of drawers he could almost have devoured it with his eyes, it was so beautiful. "Where did you put the flower, and what have you done with the bird ?" he asked Ileane.
Ileane did not answer, but hurried to her sisters and brought back a fresh flower and a merry little bird.
"May you prosper, my little daughter," said the emperor; "I see now that you have kept faith with me."
From Ileane the emperor went to his second daughter, and then to the eldest one.
When he questioned them about the three things he had trusted to their care, they hastily brought Ileane's flower, bird, and apple. But as God permits no falsehood to succeed, in their hands the flower withered, the bird moped, and only the apple remained fresh, rosy-cheeked, and eatable.
When the emperor saw this he understood every thing, and ordered the two older princesses to be buried to their breasts in the earth, and left there that they might be an example of the severity of an imperial punishment. But Ileane he praised, kissed, spoke to her in kind, fatherly words, and said: "May you have much happiness, my child, for you have been faithful to your duty."
After the neighboring emperor's son had recovered, he mounted his horse and set off to ask Ileane to be his wife. The old emperor, Ileane's father, after hearing for what purpose the prince had come, said to him kindly:
"Go and ask Ileane, my son and hero; whatever she wishes shall, with God's help, be done."
Ileane said nothing, but permitted the prince to kiss her. The emperor instantly understood the whole matter and said: "My dear children, I see that you ought to be husband and wife; may it prove for your good."
It was not long before Ileane married the bold, handsome, heroic youth.
Her wedding was so magnificent that tidings of it spread through seven countries.
Yes indeed ! But Ileane had not forgotten the evil the prince had in his mind; she knew that he would try some trick upon her the first night after their marriage.
So she ordered a sugar doll to be made exactly the same size as she was herself, with face, eyes, lips, and figure precisely like Ileane's.
When it was finished, she hid it in the bed where she was to sleep that night.
In the evening, when the relatives and friends had gone to rest and Ileane, too, had been asleep, the prince said to his bride:
"Dear Ileane, wait a little while, I'll come back directly." Then he left the room.
Ileane did not hesitate long, but jumped out of bed, left the sugar doll in her place, and hid behind a curtain at the head of the bed.
She had scarcely concealed herself, when the prince returned to the chamber with a sharp sword in his hand.
"Tell me now, my dear Ileane," he said, "did you throw me into the cellar ?"
"Yes," said Ileane, behind the curtain. The prince dealt one blow with the sword on the doll's breast.
"Did you drive me out of the country with scorn and mockery ?" he asked again.
"Yes," said Ileane.
The prince cut the doll across her face.
"Did you empty my dishes of food ?" asked the prince the third time.
"Yes," said Ileane.
The prince slashed the doll from head to foot.
"Did you pour out my wine ?" was the prince's fourth question.
"Yes," said Ileane.
The prince cut the figure once across. Ileane began to breathe heavily as if in the agony of death.
"Did you throw me among the knives ?" he asked for the fifth and last question.
"Yes," said Ileane.
The prince now thrust his sword into the figure's heart, slashed, and hacked it in all directions, with all his strength, till the tears ran down in streams.
As dawn approached he began to sob bitterly.
Suddenly a bit of sugar popped into his mouth.
"Ah, Ileane ! you were sweet in life, and remain sweet even in death," he said, weeping still more violently.
"Sweet indeed," said Ileane, coming out from behind the curtain, "but from this hour forth I will be a hundred thousand times sweeter."
The prince seemed fairly petrified with delight, when he saw Ileane safe and well. He clasped her in his arms, and for many years they lived joyously and ruled the land in peace and happiness.