2.PRINCESS MIRANDA AND PRINCE HERO

 Far away, in the wide ocean there was once a green island where the most beautiful princess in the world lived. Her name was Miranda. She had lived there ever since her birth, and was queen of the island. Nobody knew who her parents were, or how she had come there. But she was not alone, for there were twelve beautiful maidens, who had grown up with her on the island, and were her ladies-in-waiting.

But a few strangers had visited the island, and spoken of the princess’s great beauty. Many more came in time, and became her subjects, and they had built a magnificent city, in which she had a splendid palace of white marble to live in.

In the course of time a great many young princes came to woo her. But she did not care to marry any of them. If anyone persisted, and tried to force her to be his wife, she could turn him and all his soldiers into ice, by merely fixing her eyes upon them.

One day the wicked Kosciey, the king of the Underground realm, came out into the upper world, and began to gaze all round it with his telescope. Various empires and kingdoms passed before him. At last he saw the green island, and the rich city upon it, and the marble palace in this city and in this palace the twelve beautiful young ladies-of-honour, and among them he saw, lying on a couch, the Princess Miranda asleep. She slept like an innocent child, but she was dreaming of a young knight, wearing a golden helmet, on a grand horse, and carrying an invisible mace, that fought by itself, ………and she loved him better than life.

Kosciey looked at her and was delighted with her beauty. He struck the earth three times, and stood upon the green island.

Princess Miranda called together her brave army, and led them into the field, to fight the wicked Kosciey. But he, blowing on them with his poisonous breath, sent them all fast asleep, and he was just going to lay hands upon the princess, when she, throwing a glance of scorn at him, changed him into a lump of ice, and fled to her capital.

Kosciey did not remain frozen for long. So, as soon as the princess was away, he freed himself from the power of her glance, and regaining his usual form, followed her to her city. Then he sent all the inhabitants of the island to sleep and among them the princess’s twelve faithful maidens.

She was the only one whom he could not injure. Being afraid of her glance, he surrounded the castle—which stood upon a high hill—with an iron wall, and placed a dragon with twelve heads on guard before the gate, and waited for the princess to give herself up.

The days passed by, then weeks, then months, while her kingdom became a desert. All her people were asleep, and her faithful soldiers also lay sleeping on the open fields, their steel armour all rusted, and wild plants were growing over them undisturbed. Her twelve maidens were all asleep in different rooms of the palace, just where they happened to be at the time. She herself, all alone, kept walking sadly to and fro in a little room up in a tower, where she had taken refuge—wringing her white hands and weeping.

Around her all was silent, as though dead. Only every now and then, Kosciey, not daring to face her angry glance, knocked at the door asking her to surrender, promising to make her queen of his Underground realm. But it was all of no use. The princess was silent, and only threatened him with her looks.

But grieving in her lonely prison, Princess Miranda could not forget the lover she had been dreaming of. She saw him just as he had appeared to her in her dream.

She looked up with her blue eyes to heaven, and seeing a cloud floating by, she said, “Oh cloud! Through the bright sky flying! Stay, and hear my pitiful sighing! In my sorrow I call upon you; Oh where is my loved one? Say! Oh where do his footsteps stray? And does he now think of me?”

“I do not know,” the cloud replied. “Ask the wind.”

She looked out into the wide plain, and seeing how the wind was blowing freely, she said,” Oh wind! Over the wide world flying! Do you pity my grief and crying! Have pity on me! Oh where is my loved one? Say! Oh where do his footsteps stray? And does he now think of me?”

“Ask the stars,” the wind replied, “they know more than I do.”

So she cried to the stars, “Oh stars! With your bright beams glowing! Look down on my tears fast flowing! Have pity, have pity on me! Oh where is my loved one? Say! Oh where do his footsteps stray? And does he now think of me?”

“Ask the moon,” said the stars, “who being nearer to the earth, knows more of what happens there than we do.”

So she said to the moon, “Bright moon, as your watch you keep, From the starry skies, over this land of sleep, Look down now, and pity me! Oh where is my loved one? Where do his footsteps stray? And does he now think of me?”

“I know nothing about your loved one, princess,” replied the moon, “but here comes the sun, who will surely be able to tell you.”

The sun rose up in the dawn, and at noon stood just over the princess’s tower, and she said, “You soul of the world! Bright sun! Look on me, in this prison undone! Have pity on me! Oh where is my loved one? Say! Through what lands do his footsteps stray? And does he now think of me?”

“Princess Miranda,” said the sun, “dry your tears, comfort your heart, your lover is hurrying to you, from the bottom of the deep sea, from under the coral reefs. He has won the enchanted ring and when he puts it on his finger, his army will increase by thousands, regiment after regiment, with horse and foot soldiers .The drums are beating, the sabres gleaming, the colours flying, the cannon roaring, they are bearing down on the empire of Kosciey. But he cannot conquer him by force of mortal weapons. I will teach him a surer way. There is good hope that he will be able to save you from Kosciey, and save your country. I will hurry to your prince. Farewell.”

The sun stood over a wide country, beyond the deep seas, beyond high mountains, where Prince Hero in a golden helmet, on a grand horse, was drawing up his army, and preparing to march against Kosciey, the besieger of the fair princess. He had seen her three times in a dream, and had heard much about her, for her beauty was famous throughout the world.

“Dismiss your army,” said the sun. “No army can conquer Kosciey, no bullet can reach him. You can only free Princess Miranda by killing him. You must learn from the old woman Jandza, how you are to do it. I can only tell you where you will find the horse that must carry you to her. Go towards the East. You will come to a green meadow, in which there are three oak trees. Among them you will find hidden in the ground an iron door, with a bronze padlock. Behind this door you will find a war horse and a mace. The rest you will learn afterwards; … farewell!”

Prince Hero was most surprised, but he took off his enchanted ring and threw it into the sea. Immediately his great army vanished directly into mist, leaving no trace behind. He turned to the East and travelled onwards.

After three days he came to the green meadow, where he found the three oak trees and the iron door, as he had been told. It opened upon a narrow, crooked stairway, going downwards, leading into a deep dungeon, where he found another iron door, closed by a heavy iron padlock. Behind this he heard a horse neighing, so loudly that it made the door fall to the ground and at the same moment eleven other doors flew open and there appeared a war-horse, which had been shut up there for ages by a wizard.

The prince whistled to the horse. The horse tugged at his fastenings, and broke the twelve chains holding him. He had eyes like stars, flaming nostrils, and a mane like a thunder-cloud; … he was a horse of horses, the wonder of the world.

“Prince Hero!” said the horse, “I have long waited for such a rider as you, and I am ready to serve you forever. Mount me and take that mace in your hand, which you see hanging to the saddle. You need not fight with it yourself, for it will strike wherever you command it, and beat a whole army. I know the way everywhere. Tell me where you want to go, and you will soon be there.”

The prince told him everything, took the self-fighting mace in his hand, and sprang onto his back.

The horse reared, snorted, pounded the ground, and they flew over mountains and forests, higher than the flying clouds, over rapid rivers, and deep seas. But when they flew along the ground the horse’s light feet never trampled down a blade of grass, nor raised a speck of dust.

Before sunset Prince Hero had reached the forest in which the old woman Jandza lived.

There was absolute silence—not a leaf or a blade of grass stirring, and no living thing, not so much as a bird, or the hum of an insect; only the sound of his horse’s hoofs.

The prince stopped before a little house, supported on crooked legs, and said, “Little house, move, On your crooked legs free; Turn your back to the wood, And your front to me.”

The house turned round, with the door towards him. The prince went in, and the old woman Jandza asked him, “How did you get here, Prince Hero, where no living soul has come till now?”

“Don’t ask me but welcome your guest politely.”

So the old woman gave the prince food and drink, made up a soft bed for him, to rest on after his journey, and left him for the night.

Next morning he told her all, and what he had come for.

“You have undertaken a great and splendid task, prince so I will tell you how to kill Kosciey. In the Ocean, on the island of Everlasting Life, there is an old oak tree. Under this tree is buried a box bound with iron. In this box is a hare; under the hare sits a grey duck. This duck carries within her an egg and in this egg is enclosed the life of Kosciey. When you break the egg he will die at once. Now, goodbye prince and good luck. Your horse will show you the way.”

The prince got on his horse and they soon left the forest behind them and came to the shore of the ocean.

On the beach was a fisherman’s net, and in the net was a great fish, who when he saw the prince cried out pitifully

“Prince Hero! Take me out of the net, and throw me back into the sea. I will repay you!”

The prince took the fish out of the net, and threw it into the sea. It splashed in the water, and vanished.

The prince looked over the sea, and saw the island in the distance; far, far away. But how was he to get there? He leaned on his mace, deep in thought.

“What are you thinking about, prince?” asked the horse.

“I am thinking about how to get to the island, when I cannot swim over that sea.”

“Sit on my back, prince, and hold fast.”

So the prince sat firm on the horse’s back, and held fast by the thick mane. A wind arose, and the sea was somewhat rough but rider and horse pushed on and at last came to shore on the island of Everlasting Life.

The prince took off his horse’s bridle, and let him loose to feed in a meadow of grass, and walked on quickly to a high hill, where the old oak tree grew. Taking it in both hands he tugged at it. The oak resisted all his efforts. He tugged again, the oak began to creak, and moved a little. He mustered all his strength, and tugged again. The oak fell with a crash to the ground and there was a deep hole.

Looking down he saw the iron-bound box. He fetched it up, broke open the lock with a stone, raised the lid, picked up the hare lying in it by its ears, but at that moment the duck, which had been sitting under the hare flew off straight to sea.

The prince fired a shot after her. The bullet hit the duck, she gave one loud quack, and fell. But in that same instant the egg fell from her—down to the bottom of the sea. The prince gave a cry of despair, but just then a great fish came swimming, dived down to the depths of the sea, and coming to the shore, with the egg in its jaws, left it on the sand.

 

THE DRAGON WHO KEPT WATCH

The fish swam away, but the prince, picking up the egg, mounted his horse once more. They swam till they reached Princess Miranda’s island, where they saw a great iron wall stretching all round her white marble palace.

There was only one entrance through this iron wall to the palace, and before this lay the monstrous dragon with the twelve heads, six of which kept guard alternately; when the one half slept the other six remained awake. If anyone were to approach the gate he could not escape the horrid jaws. Nobody could hurt the dragon; for he could only suffer death by his own act.

The prince stood on the hill before that gate, and commanded his self-fighting mace, which was also able to be invisible, to go and clear his entrance to the palace.

The invisible, self-fighting mace fell upon the dragon and began to thunder on all his heads with such force, that all his eyes became bloodshot, and he began to hiss fiercely. He shook his twelve heads, and stretched wide his twelve horrid jaws; he spread out his forest of claws; but this did not help at all. The mace kept on hitting him, moving about so fast, that not a single head escaped, but could only hiss, groan, and shriek wildly! Now it had given a thousand blows, the blood gushed from a thousand wounds, and there was no help for the dragon He raged, writhed about, and shrieked in despair; finally, as blow followed blow, and he could not see who gave them, he gnashed his teeth, belched forth flame, and at length turned his claws upon himself, plunging them deep into his own flesh, struggled, writhed, twisted himself round, and in and out; his blood flowed freely from his wounds … and then it was all over with the dragon.

The prince, seeing this, went into the courtyard of the palace, put his horse into the stable, and went up by a winding stair, towards the tower. The Princess Miranda, having seen him, said to him, “Welcome, Prince Hero! I saw how you disposed of the dragon; but do be careful, for my enemy, Kosciey, is in this palace. He is most powerful, both through his own strength, and through his magic .If he kills you I can live no longer.

“Princess Miranda, do not worry about me. I have the life of Kosciey in this egg.” Then he called out,

“Invisible self-fighting mace, go into the palace and beat Kosciey.”

The mace quickly battered in the iron doors, and set upon Kosciey .It beat him on the neck, till he crouched down and the sparks flew from his eyes.

If he had been an ordinary man it would have been all over with him at once. As it was, he was horribly tormented, and puzzled—feeling all these blows, and never seeing where they came from. He sprang about, raved, and raged, till the whole island resounded with his roaring.

At last he looked through the window, and behold there he saw Prince Hero. “Ah! That is all your doing!” he exclaimed; and sprang out into the courtyard, to rush straight at him, and beat him to jelly! But the prince held the egg in one hand ready and he squeezed it so hard, that the shell cracked and the yolk and the white were all spilled together … and Kosciey fell lifeless!

With the death of the enchanter all his spells were dissolved at once. All the people on the island who were asleep woke up, and began to stir. The soldiers woke from sleep, and the drums began to beat. They formed their ranks, got themselves in order, and began to march towards the palace.

In the palace there was great joy. Princess Miranda came towards the prince, gave him her white hand, and thanked him warmly. They went to the throne-room, and following the princess’s example, her twelve waiting-maids paired off with twelve young officers of the army, and the couples grouped themselves round the throne, on which the prince and princess were sitting.

Then the prince and princess exchanged rings, and were married.

All the other couples were married at the same time, and after the wedding there was a feast, dancing, and music. Everywhere there was rejoicing.