3.PRINCE LIONHEART AND HIS THREE FRIENDS

Once upon a time there lived a King and Queen who would have been as happy had it not been for one thing, —they had no children.

At last an old monk, coming to the palace, asked to see the Queen, and giving her some grains of rice, told her to eat them and stop weeping, for in nine months she would have a beautiful little son. The Queen ate the grains of rice, and sure enough after nine months she gave birth to the most charming, lovely, splendid Prince that was ever seen. He was called Lionheart, because he was so brave and so strong.

Now when he grew up to be a man, Prince Lionheart grew restless and was always begging his father the King to allow him to travel in the wide world and seek adventures. Then the King would shake his head, saying only that sons were too precious to do that. However at last, seeing the young Prince could think of nothing else, he agreed, and Prince Lionheart set off on his travels, taking no one with him but his three companions, the Knifegrinder, the Blacksmith, and the Carpenter.

Now when these four brave young men had gone a short distance, they came upon a magnificent city, lying deserted and desolate in the wilderness. Passing through it they saw tall houses, broad markets, and shops still full of goods. Everything pointed to a large and wealthy population, but not a single human was to be seen. This astonished them, until the Knifegrinder, clapping his hand to his forehead, said, ‘I remember! This must be the city I have heard about, where a demon lives who will let no one stay in peace. We had best leave!’

‘Not at all!’ cried Prince Lionheart. ‘Not until I’ve had my dinner, for I am just desperately hungry!’

So they went to the shops, and bought all they required, leaving the proper price for each thing on the counters just as if the shopkeepers had been there. Then going to the palace, which stood in the middle of the town, Prince Lionheart told the Knifegrinder to prepare the dinner, while he and his other companions took a further look at the city.

No sooner had they set off, than the Knifegrinder, going to the kitchen, began to cook the food. It sent up a savoury smell, and the Knifegrinder was just thinking how nice it would taste, when he saw a little figure beside him, clad in armour, with sword and lance, riding on a gaily-decorated mouse.

‘Give me my dinner!’ cried the tiny man, angrily shaking his lance.

‘Your dinner? Come, that is a joke!’ said the Knifegrinder, laughing.

‘Give it to me at once!’ cried the little warrior in a louder voice, ‘or
I’ll hang you from the nearest tree!’

‘Wah! whipper-snapper!’ replied the brave Knifegrinder, ‘Come a little nearer, and let me squash you between finger and thumb!’

At these words the tiny man suddenly shot up into a terribly tall demon, whereupon the Knifegrinder’s courage disappeared, and, falling on his knees, he begged for mercy. But his pitiful cries were of no use, for in a moment he was hung from the topmost branch of the nearest tree.

‘I’ll teach ’em to cook in my kitchen!’ growled the demon, as he gobbled up all the cakes and savoury soup. When he had finished every morsel he disappeared.

Now the Knifegrinder wriggled so desperately that the branch broke, and he came crashing through the tree to the ground, without much hurt beyond a great fright and a few bruises. However, he was so dreadfully alarmed that he rushed into the sleeping-room, and rolling himself up in his quilt, shook from head to foot as if he had a fever.

A while later in came Prince Lionheart and his companions, all three as hungry as hunters, crying, ‘Well, jolly Knifegrinder! Where’s the dinner?’

He groaned out from under his quilt, ‘Don’t be angry, for it’s nobody’s fault; only just as it was ready I got a fever, and as I lay shivering and shaking a dog came in and walked off with everything.’

He was afraid that if he told the truth his companions would think him a coward for not fighting the demon.

‘What a pity!’ cried the Prince, ‘but we must just cook some more. Here! You Blacksmith! You prepare the dinner, while the Carpenter and I have another look at the city.’

Now, no sooner had the Blacksmith begun to sniff the savoury smell, and think how nice the cakes and soup would taste, than the little warrior appeared to him also. He was quite as brave at first as the Knifegrinder had been, and afterwards he too fell on his knees and prayed for mercy. In fact everything happened to him as it had happened to the Knifegrinder, and when he fell from the tree he too fled into the sleeping-room, and rolling himself in his quilt began to shiver and shake. When Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter came back, hungry as hunters, there was no dinner.

Then the Carpenter stayed behind to cook, but he fared no better than the two others, so that when hungry Prince Lionheart returned there were three sick men, shivering and shaking under their quilts, and no dinner. So the Prince set to work to cook his food himself.

No sooner had it begun to give off a savoury smell than the tiny mouse-warrior appeared, very fierce.

‘Upon my word, you are really a very pretty little fellow!’ said the
Prince; ‘And what do you want?’

‘Give me my dinner!’ shrieked the tiny man.

‘It is not your dinner, my dear sir, it is my dinner!’ said the Prince; ‘but to settle any argument let’s fight for it.’

Upon hearing this mouse-warrior began to stretch and grow till he became a terribly tall demon. But instead of falling on his knees and begging for mercy, the Prince only burst into a fit of laughter, and said, ‘My good sir! There is a medium in all things! Just now you were ridiculously small, at present you are absurdly big; but, as you seem to be able to alter your size without much trouble, suppose for once in a way you show some spirit, and become just my size, neither less nor more; then we can settle whose dinner it really is.’

The demon agreed, so he shrank to an ordinary size, and then aimed blow after blow at the Prince. But brave Lionheart never yielded an inch, and finally, after a terrific battle, killed the demon with his sharp sword.

Then guessing at the truth he said to his three sick friends, with a smile, ‘Oh you brave ones! Arise, for I have killed the fever!’

They got up sheepishly, and began praising their leader for his bravery.

After this, Prince Lionheart sent messages to all the inhabitants of the town who had been driven away by the wicked demon, telling them they could return and live in safety, on condition of their taking the Knifegrinder as their king, and giving him their richest and most beautiful maiden as a bride.

This they did with great joy, but when the wedding was over, and Prince Lionheart prepared to set out once more on his adventures, the Knifegrinder threw himself before his master, begging to be allowed to accompany him. Prince Lionheart, however, refused the request, telling to him remain to govern his kingdom, and at the same time gave him a barley plant, telling to him tend it very carefully; since so long as it flourished he could be sure his master was alive and well. If, it drooped, then he would know that misfortune was at hand, and set off to help.

So the Knifegrinder king remained behind with his bride and his barley plant, but Prince Lionheart, the Blacksmith, and the Carpenter set off on their travels.

After some time they came to another desolate city, lying deserted in the wilderness. They wandered through it, wondering at the tall palaces, the empty streets, and the vacant shops where never a human being was to be seen, until the Blacksmith, suddenly said, ‘I remember now! This must be the city where the dreadful ghost lives which kills every one. We had best leave!’

‘After we have had our dinners!’ said hungry Lionheart.

So having bought all they required from a vacant shop, putting the proper price of everything on the counter, since there was no shopkeeper, they went to the palace, where the Blacksmith was made cook, while the others looked through the town.

No sooner had the dinner begun to give off an appetizing smell than the ghost appeared in the form of an old woman, awful and horrible, with black wrinkled skin, and feet turned backwards.

At this sight the brave Blacksmith fled into another room and bolted the door. Then the ghost ate up the dinner in no time, and disappeared. When Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter returned hungry, there was no dinner to be found, and no Blacksmith.

Then the Prince told the Carpenter to do the cooking while he went to look around the town. But the Carpenter did no better, for the ghost appeared to him also, and he fled and locked himself up in another room.

‘This is really too bad!’ said Prince Lionheart, when he returned to find no dinner, no Blacksmith, and no Carpenter. So he began to cook the food himself, and no sooner had it given out a savoury smell than the ghost arrived; this time. However, seeing so handsome a young man before her she did not appear as her own witch-like shape, but appeared instead as a beautiful young woman.

However, the Prince was not in the least bit deceived, for he looked down at her feet, and when he saw they were backwards, he knew at once what she was. So drawing his sharp strong sword, he said, ‘I must ask you to take your own shape again, as I don’t like killing beautiful young women!’

At this the ghost shrieked with rage, and changed into her own loathsome form once more; but at the same moment Prince Lionheart gave one stroke of his sword, and the horrible, awful thing lay dead at his feet.

Then the Blacksmith and the Carpenter crept out of their hiding-places, and the Prince sent messages to all the townsfolk, telling them come back and live in peace, on condition of their making the Blacksmith king, and giving him to wife the prettiest, richest, maiden in the city.

They agreed to this, and after the wedding was over, Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter set off once more on their travels. The Blacksmith king was unwilling to let them go without him, but his master gave him also a barley plant, saying, ‘Water and tend it carefully; for so long as it flourishes you may be sure I am well and happy; but if it droops, know that I am in trouble, and come to help me.’

Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter had not travelled far before they came to a big town, where they halted to rest. As luck would have it the Carpenter fell in love with the fairest maiden in the city, who was as beautiful as the moon and all the stars. He began to sigh and grumble over the good fortune of the Knifegrinder and the Blacksmith, and wish that he too could find a kingdom and a lovely bride, until his master took pity on him, and sending for the chief inhabitants, told them who he was, and ordered them to make the Carpenter king, and marry him to the maiden of his choice.

This order they obeyed, for Prince Lionheart’s fame had travelled far, and they were afraid of angering him. So when the marriage was over, and the Carpenter established as king, Prince Lionheart continued on his journey alone, after giving the Carpenter a barley plant, as he had done before.

Having travelled for a long time, he came at last to a river, and as he sat resting on the bank, he was astonished to see a ruby of enormous size floating down the stream! Then another and another drifted past him, each of huge size and shining brightly! Amazed, he decided to find out where they came. So he travelled upstream for two days and two nights, watching the rubies sweep by in the current, until he came to a beautiful marble palace built close to the water’s edge. Magnificent gardens surrounded it, marble steps led down to the river, where, on a magnificent tree which stretched its branches over the stream, hung a golden basket. Now if Prince Lionheart had been amazed before, what was his astonishment when he saw that the basket contained the head of the most lovely, the most beautiful, the most perfect young Princess that had ever been seen! The eyes were closed, the golden hair fluttered in the breeze, and every minute from the slender throat a drop of crimson blood fell into the water, and changing into a ruby, drifted down the stream!

Prince Lionheart was overcome with pity at this sight; tears rose to his eyes, and he decided to search through the palace for some explanation for the beautiful mysterious head.

So he wandered through richly-decorated marble halls, through carved galleries and spacious corridors, without seeing a living creature, until he came to a room, and there, on a white satin bed, lay the headless body of a young and beautiful girl! One glance convinced him that it belonged to the exquisite head he had seen swinging in the golden basket by the river-side, and, urged by the desire to see the two lovely parts united, he set off swiftly to the tree, soon returning with the basket in his hand. He placed the head gently on the neck, when, lo and behold they joined together at once and the beautiful maiden came to life once more. The Prince was overjoyed, and, falling on his knees, begged the lovely girl to tell him who she was, and how she came to be alone in the mysterious palace. She told him that she was a king’s daughter, with whom a wicked Genie had fallen in love. He had carried her off by his magic. Being desperately jealous, he never left her without first cutting off her head, and hanging it up in the golden basket until his return.

Prince Lionheart, hearing this cruel story, begged the beautiful Princess to fly with him without delay, but she told him they must first kill the Genie, or they would never succeed in making their escape. So she promised to persuade the Genie into telling her the secret of his life, and in the meantime asked the Prince cut off her head once more, and replace it in the golden basket, so that the cruel Genie might not suspect anything.

The poor Prince could hardly bring himself to perform so dreadful a task, but seeing it was absolutely necessary, he shut his eyes from the sight, and with one blow of his sharp bright sword cut off his dear Princess’s head, and after returning the golden basket to its place, hid himself in a closet by the sleeping-room.

After a while the Genie arrived, and, putting on the Princess’s head once more, cried angrily, ‘Fee! Fa! Fum! This room smells of man’s flesh!’

Then the Princess pretended to weep, saying, ‘Do not be angry with me, good Genie, for how can I know anything? Am I not dead while you are away? Eat me if you like, but do not be angry with me!’

So the Genie, who loved her to distraction, swore he would rather die himself than kill her.

‘That would be worse for me!’ answered the girl, ‘for if you were to die while you are away from here, it would be very awkward for me. I should be neither dead nor alive.’

‘Don’t worry!’ replied the Genie. ‘I am not likely to be killed, for my life lies in something very safe.’

‘I hope so!’ replied the Princess,’ but I believe you only say that to comfort me. I shall never be content until you tell me where it lies. Then I can judge for myself if it is safe.’

At first the Genie refused, but the Princess asked so prettily, and he began to get so very sleepy, that at last he replied, ‘I shall never be killed except by a Prince called Lionheart; nor by him unless he can find the solitary tree, where a dog and a horse keep guard day and night. Even then he must pass these guards unhurt, climb the tree, kill the starling which sits singing in a golden cage on the topmost branch, cut it open, and destroy the bumble bee it contains. So I am safe, for it would need a lion’s heart, or great wisdom, to reach the tree and overcome its guardians.’

‘How are they to be overcome?’ pleaded the Princess. ‘Tell me that, and I shall be satisfied.’

The Genie, who was more than half asleep, and quite tired of being questioned, answered drowsily, ‘In front of the horse lies a heap of bones, and in front of the dog a heap of grass. Whoever takes a long stick and changes the heaps, so that the horse has grass, and the dog bones, will have no difficulty in passing.’

The Prince, overhearing this, set off at once to find the solitary tree, and before long discovered it, with a savage horse and furious dog keeping watch over it. They, however, became quite mild and meek when they received their proper food, and the Prince without any difficulty climbed the tree, seized the starling, and began to twist its neck. At this moment the Genie, awakening from sleep, became aware of what was happening, and flew through the air to do battle for his life. The Prince, however, seeing him approach, hastily cut open the bird, seized the bumble bee, and just as the Genie was alighting on the tree, tore off the insect’s wings. The Genie instantly fell to the ground with a crash, but, determined to kill his enemy, began to climb. Then the Prince twisted off the bee’s legs, and the Genie became legless also; and when the bee’s head was torn off, the Genie’s died at last.

So Prince Lionheart returned in triumph to the Princess, who was overjoyed to hear of the Genies death. He would have left at once with her to his father’s kingdom, but she begged for a little rest, so they stayed in the palace, examining all the riches it contained.

Now one day the Princess went down to the river to bathe, and wash her beautiful golden hair, and as she combed it, one or two long strands came out in the comb, shining and glittering like gold. She was proud of her beautiful hair, and said to herself, ‘I will not throw these hairs into the river, to sink in the nasty dirty mud,’ so she made a green cup out of a leaf, coiled the golden hairs inside, and set it afloat on the stream.

It so happened that the river, farther down, flowed past a royal city, and the King was sailing in his boat, when he noticed something sparkling like sunlight on the water, and telling his boatmen to row towards it, found the leaf cup and the glittering golden hairs.

He thought he had never before seen anything half so beautiful, and decided not to rest day or night until he had found the owner. Therefore he sent for the wisest women in his kingdom, in order to find out where the owner of the glistening golden hair lived.

The first wise woman said, ‘If she is on Earth I promise to find her.’

The second said, ‘If she is in Heaven I will tear open the sky and bring her to you.’

But the third laughed, saying, ‘Pooh! If you tear open the sky I will put a patch in it, so that none will be able to tell the new piece from the old.’

The King, considering the last wise woman had proved herself to be the cleverest, ordered her to search for the beautiful owner of the glistening golden hair.

Now as the hairs had been found in the river, the wise woman guessed they must have floated downstream from some place higher up, so she set off in a grand royal boat, and the boatmen rowed and rowed until at last they came in sight of the Genie’s magical marble palace.

Then the cunning wise woman went alone to the steps of the palace, and began to weep and to wail. It so happened that as Prince Lionheart had gone out hunting that day, the Princess was all alone, and having a tender heart, she no sooner heard the old woman weeping than she came out to see what the matter was.

‘Mother,’ said she kindly, ‘why do you weep?’

‘My daughter,’ cried the wise woman, ‘I weep to think what will become of you if the handsome Prince is killed by any misfortune, and you are left here in the wilderness alone.’

‘Very true!’ replied the Princess, wringing her hands; ‘what a dreadful thing it would be! I never thought of it before!’

All day long she wept over the idea, and at night, when the Prince returned, she told him of her fears; but he laughed at them, saying his life lay in safety, and it was very unlikely any misfortune should befall him.

Then the Princess was comforted; only she begged him to tell her where it lay, so that she might help to preserve it.

‘It lies,’ returned the Prince, ‘in my sharp sword, which never fails. If harm were to come to it I should die. Nevertheless, nothing can stand against it, so do not worry, sweetheart!’

‘It would be wiser to leave it safe at home when you go hunting,’ pleaded the Princess, and though Prince Lionheart told her again there was no cause to be alarmed, she made up her mind to have her own way, and the very next morning, when the Prince went hunting, she hid his strong sharp sword, and put another in the scabbard, so that he was none the wiser.

When the wise woman came once more and wept on the marble stairs, the Princess called to her joyfully, ‘don’t cry, mother!—the Prince’s life is safe today. It lies in his sword, and that is hidden away in my cupboard.’

Then the wicked old hag waited until the Princess took her noonday sleep, and when everything was quiet she crept to the cupboard, took the sword, made a fierce fire, and placed the sharp shining blade in the blazing fire. As it grew hotter and hotter, Prince Lionheart felt a burning fever creep over his body, and knowing the magical property of his sword, drew it out to see if anything had happened to it, and  it was not his own sword! He cried aloud, ‘I am finished! I am finished!’ and galloped homewards. But the wise woman blew up the fire so quickly that the sword became red-hot before Prince Lionheart could arrive, and just as he appeared on the other side of the stream, a rivet came out of the sword hilt, which rolled off, and so did the Prince’s head.

Then the wise woman, going to the Princess, said, ‘Daughter! See how tangled your beautiful hair is after your sleep! Let me wash and dress it for your husband’s return.’ So they went down the marble steps to the river; but the wise woman said, ‘Step into my boat, sweetheart; the water is clearer on the farther side.’

Then, while the Princess’s long golden hair was all over her eyes like a veil, so that she could not see, the wicked old witch loosed the boat, which went drifting down stream.

In vain the Princess wept and wailed; all she could do was to make a great vow, saying, ‘Oh you shameless old thing! You are taking me away to some king’s palace, I know. But no matter who he may be, I swear not to look on his face for twelve years!’

At last they arrived at the royal city, to the King’s delight. However when he found how serious an oath the Princess had taken, he built her a high tower, where she lived all alone. No one except the people delivering wood and water were allowed even to enter the courtyard surrounding it, so there she lived and wept over her lost Lionheart.

Now when the Prince’s head had rolled off in that shocking manner, the barley plant he had given to the Knifegrinder king suddenly snapped right in two, so that the ear fell to the ground.

This greatly troubled the faithful Knifegrinder, who immediately guessed some terrible disaster had overtaken his dear Prince. He gathered an army without delay, and set off in aid, meeting on the way with the Blacksmith and the Carpenter kings, who were both going in the same direction. When it became evident that the three barley plants had fallen at the same moment, the three friends feared the worst, and were not surprised when, after a long journey, they found the Prince’s body, all burnt and blistered, lying by the river-side, and his head close to it. Knowing the magical properties of the sword, they looked for it at once, and when they found a fake in its place their hearts sank indeed! They lifted the body, and carried it to the palace, intending to weep and wail over it, when they found the real sword, all blistered and burnt, in a heap of ashes, the rivet gone, and the hilt lying beside it.

‘That is soon mended!’ cried the Blacksmith king; so he blew up the fire, forged a rivet, and fastened the hilt to the blade. No sooner had he done so than the Prince’s head grew to his shoulders as firm as ever.

‘My turn now!’ said the Knifegrindcr king; and he spun his wheel so well that the blisters and stains disappeared like magic, and the sword was soon as bright as ever. And as he spun his wheel, the burns and scars disappeared from Prince Lionheart’s body, until at last the Prince sat up alive, as handsome as before.

‘Where is my Princess?’ he cried, the very first thing, and then told his friends of all that had passed.

‘It is my turn now!’ said the Carpenter king gleefully; ‘give me your sword, and I will fetch the Princess back in no time.’

So he set off with the bright strong sword in his hand to find the lost Princess. Before long he came to the royal city, and noticing a tall new-built tower, inquired who lived inside. When the townspeople told him it was a strange Princess, who was kept in such close imprisonment that no one but carriers of wood and water were allowed even to enter the courtyard, he was certain it must be she whom he sought. However, to make sure, he disguised himself as a woodman, and going beneath the windows, cried, ‘Wood! Wood! Fifteen gold pieces for this bundle of wood!’

The Princess, who was sitting on the roof, taking the air, told her servant to ask what sort of wood it was to make it so expensive.

‘It is only firewood,’ answered the disguised Carpenter,’ but it was cut with this sharp bright sword!’

Hearing these words, the Princess, with a beating heart, peered down, and recognized Prince Lionheart’s sword. So she told her servant to inquire if the woodman had anything else to sell, and he replied that he had a wonderful flying carriage, which he would show to the Princess, if she wished it, when she walked in the garden at evening.

She agreed to the proposal, and the Carpenter spent all the day in making a marvelous carriage. This he took with him to the tower garden, saying, ‘Seat yourself in it, my Princess, and try how well it flies.’

But the King’s sister, who was there, said the Princess must not go alone, so she got in also, and so did the wicked wise woman. Then the Carpenter king jumped in, and immediately the carriage began to fly higher and higher, like a bird.

‘I have had enough!—let us go down,’ said the King’s sister after a time.

Then the Carpenter seized her by the waist, and threw her overboard, just as they were sailing above the river, so that she was drowned; but he waited until they were just above the high tower before he threw down the wicked wise woman, so that she got smashed on the stones.

Then the carriage flew straight to the Genie’s magical marble palace, where Prince Lionheart, who had been awaiting the Carpenter king’s arrival with the greatest impatience, was overjoyed to see his Princess once more, and set off, escorted by his three companion kings, to his father’s kingdom. But when the poor old King, who had very much aged since his son’s departure, saw the three armies coming, he was sure they were an invading force, so he went out to meet them, and said, ‘Take all my riches, but leave my poor people in peace, for I am old, and cannot fight. Had my dear brave son Lionheart been with me, it would have been different, but he left us years ago, and no one has heard anything of him since.’

On this, the Prince flung himself on his father’s neck, and told him all that had occurred, and how these were his three old friends—the Knifegrinder, the Blacksmith, and the Carpenter. This greatly delighted the old man. But when he saw the golden-haired bride his son had brought home, his joy knew no bounds.

So everybody was pleased, and lived happily ever after.