Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition) | Annotated Tale

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Bash-Chalek; or, True Steel

ONCE upon a time there was a king who had three sons and three daughters. At length old age overtook him, and the hour came for him to die. While dying he called to him his three sons and three daughters, and told his sons to let their sisters marry the very first men who came to ask them in marriage. 'Do this, or dread my curse!' said he, and soon after expired.

               Some time after his death there came one night a great knocking at the gate; the whole palace shook, and outside was heard a great noise of squeaking, singing, and shouting, whilst lightnings played round the whole court of the palace. The people in the palace were very much frightened, so that they shook for fear, when all at once some one shouted from the outside, 'O princes! open the door!' Thereupon the king's eldest son said, 'Do not open!' The second son added, 'Do not open, for anything in the world!' But the youngest son said, 'I will open the door!' and he jumped up and opened it.

               The moment he had opened the door something came in, but the brother could see nothing except a bright light in one part of the room; out of this light came these words: 'I have come to demand your eldest sister for wife, and I shall take her away this moment, without any delay; for I wait for nothing, neither will I come a second time to ask her! Therefore answer me quickly--will you give her or not?'

               The eldest brother said, 'I will not give her. How can I give her when I cannot see you, and do not know who you are, nor whence you come? You come to-night for the first time, and wish to take her away instantly! Should I not know where I can visit my sister sometimes?'

               The second said, 'I will not give my sister to-night to be taken away!'

               But the youngest said, 'I will give her if you will not. Have you forgotten what our father commanded us?' and, with these words, taking his sister by the hand, he gave her away, saying, 'May she be to you a happy and honest wife!'

               As the sister passed over the threshold every one in the palace fell to the ground from fear, so vivid was the lightning and loud the claps of thunder. The heavens seemed to be on fire and the whole sky rumbled, so that the whole palace shook as if about to fall. All this however passed over, and soon after the day dawned; when it grew light enough, the brothers went to see if any trace was left of the mighty power, to whom they had given their sister, so that they might be able to trace the road by which it had gone. There was, however, nothing which they could either see or hear.

               The second night, about the same time, there was heard again round the whole palace a great noise, as if an army was whistling and hissing, and at length some one at the door cried out, 'Open the door, O princes!' They were afraid to disobey, and opened the door, and some dreadful power began to speak, 'Give here the girl, your second sister! I am come to demand her!' The eldest brother answered, 'I will not give her away!' The second brother said, 'I will not give you my sister!' But the youngest said, 'I will give her! Have you forgotten what our father told us to do?' So he took his sister by the hand and gave her over, saying, 'Take her! may she be honest and bring you happiness!' Then the unseen noises departed with the girl. Next day, as soon as it dawned, all three brothers walked round the palace, and for some distance beyond, looking everywhere for some trace where the power had gone, but nothing could be seen nor heard.

               The third night, at the same hour as before, again the palace rocked from its very foundations, and there was a mighty uproar outside. Then a voice shouted, 'Open the door!' The sons of the king arose and opened the door, and a great power passed by them and said, 'I am come to demand your youngest sister!' The eldest and the second son shouted, 'No! we will not give our sister this third night! At any rate, we will know before our youngest sister goes away from our house to whom we are giving her, and where she is going, so that we can come to visit her whenever we wish to do so!' Thereupon the youngest brother said, 'Then I will give her! Have you forgotten what our father on his death-bed recommended us? It is not so very long ago!' Then he took the girl by the hand and said, 'Here she is! Take her! and may she bring you happiness and be happy herself!' Then instantly the power went away with a great noise. When the day dawned the brothers were very anxious about the fate of their sister, but could find no trace of the way in which she had gone.

               Some time after the brothers, speaking together, said, 'Good God! it is really very wonderful what has happened to our sisters! We have no news--no trace of them! We do not know where they are gone, nor whom they have married!' At last they said to each other, 'Let us go and try to find our sisters!' So they prepared immediately for their journey, took money for their travelling expenses, and went away in search of their three sisters.

               They had travelled some time when they lost their way in a forest, and wandered about a whole day. When it grew dark they thought they would stop for the night at some place where they could find water. So, having come to a lake, they decided to sleep near it, and sat down to take some supper. When the time for sleep came the eldest brother said, 'I will keep watch while you sleep!' and so the two younger brothers went to sleep and the eldest watched. In the middle of the night the lake began to be greatly agitated, and the brother who was watching grew quite frightened, especially when he saw something was coming towards him from the middle of the lake. When it came near he saw that it was a terrific alligator with two ears, and it ran at him; but he drew his knife and struck it, and cut off its head. When he had done this he cut off the ears also, and put them in his pocket, the body and the head, however, he threw back into the lake. Meanwhile the day began to dawn, but the two brothers slept on and knew nothing of what their eldest brother had done. At length he awakened them, but told them nothing, so they went on their travels together. When the next day was closing, and it began again to grow dark, they took counsel with each other where they should rest for the night, and where they should find water. They felt also afraid, because they were approaching some dangerous mountains.

               Coming to a small lake they resolved to rest there that night; and having made a fire they placed their things near it, and prepared to sleep. Then the second brother said, 'This night I will keep guard whilst you sleep!' So the two others fell asleep, and the second brother remained watching.

               All at once the lake began to move, and lo! an alligator, with two heads, came running to swallow up the three. But the brother who watched grasped his knife, felled the alligator to the ground with one blow, and cut off both the heads. Having done this he cut off the two pairs of ears, put them in his pocket, and threw the body into the water, and the two heads after it. The other brothers, however, knew nothing about the danger which they had escaped, and continued to sleep very soundly till the morning dawned.

               Then the second brother awoke them, saying, 'Arise, my brothers! It is day!' and they instantly jumped up, and prepared to continue their journey. But they knew not in what country they now were, and as they had eaten up nearly all their food, they feared greatly lest they should die of hunger in that unknown land. So they prayed God to give them sight of some city or village or, at least, that they might meet some one to guide them, for they had already been wandering three days up and down in a wilderness, and could see no end to it. Pretty early in the morning they came to a large lake and resolved to go no further, but remain there all the day, and also to spend the night there. 'For if we go on,' said they, 'we are not sure that we shall find any more water near which we can rest.' So they remained there.

               When evening came they made a great fire, took their frugal supper, and prepared to sleep. Then the youngest brother said, 'This night I will keep guard whilst you sleep;' and so the other two went to sleep, and the youngest brother kept awake, looking sharply about him, his eyes being turned often towards the lake. Part of the night had already passed, when suddenly the whole lake began to move, the waves dashed over the fire and half quenched it. Then he drew his sword and placed himself near the fire, as there appeared a great alligator with three heads, which rushed upon the brothers as if about to swallow them all three.

               But the youngest brother had a brave heart, and would not awaken his brothers, so he met the alligator, and gave him three blows in succession, and at each blow he cut off one of the three heads. Then he cut off the six ears and put them in his pocket, and threw the body and the three heads into the lake. Whilst he was thus busy the fire had quite gone out, so he--having nothing there with which he could light the fire, and not wishing to awaken his brothers from their deep slumbers--stepped a little way into the forest, with the hope of seeing something with which he might rekindle the fire.

               There was, however, no trace of any fire anywhere. At last, in his search, he climbed up a very high tree, and, having reached the top, looked about on all sides. After much looking he thought he saw the glare of a fire not very far off. So he came down from the tree and went in the direction in which he had seen the fire, in order to get some brand with which he might again light the fire. He walked very far on this errand, and though the glare seemed always near him, it was a very long time before he reached it. Suddenly, however, he came upon a cave, and in the cave a great fire was burning. Round it sat nine giants, and two men were being roasted, one on each side of the fire. Besides that, there stood upon the fire a great kettle full of the limbs of men ready to be cooked. When the king's son saw that, he was terrified and would gladly have gone back, but it was no longer possible.

               Then he shouted as loud and cheerfully as he could, 'Good evening, my dear comrades! I have been a very long time in search of you!'

               They received him well, saying, 'Welcome! if thou art of our company!'

               He answered, 'I shall remain yours for ever, and would give my life for your sake!'

               'Eh!' said they, 'if you intend to be one of us, you know, you must also eat man's flesh, and go out with us in search of prey?'

               The king's son answered, 'Certainly; I shall do everything that you do!'

               'Then come and sit with us!' cried the giants; and the whole company, sitting round the fire, took meat out of the kettle and began to eat. The king's son pretended to eat, also, but instead of eating he always threw the meat behind him, and thus deceived them.

               When they had eaten up the whole of the roasted meat, the giants got up and said, 'Let us now go to hunt, that we may have meat for to-morrow.' So they went away, all nine of them, the king's son making the tenth. 'Come along!' they said to him, 'there is a city near in which a great king lives. We have been supplying ourselves with food from that city a great many years.' As they came near the city they pulled two tall pine-trees up by the roots, and carried them along with them. Having come to the city wall, they reared one pine-tree up against it, and said to the king's son, 'Go up, now, to the top of the wall, so that we may be able to give you the other pine-tree, which you must take by the top and throw down into the city. Take care, however,' they said, 'to keep the top of the tree in your hands, so that we can go down the stem of it into the city.' Thereupon the king's son climbed up on the wall and then cried out to them, 'I don't know what to do; I am not acquainted with this place, and I don't understand how to throw the tree over the wall; please one of you come up and show me what I must do.' Then one of the giants climbed up the tree placed against the wall, caught the top of the other pine-tree, and threw it over the wall, keeping the top all the time safe in his hand. Whilst he was thus standing, the king's son drew his sword, struck him on the neck, and cut his head off, so that the giant fell down into the city.

               Then he called to the other eight giants, 'Your brother is in the city; come, one after the other, so that I can let you also down into the city!' And the giants, not knowing what had happened to the first one, climbed up one after the other, and thus the king's son cut off their heads till he had killed all the nine.

               After that, he himself slowly descended the pine-tree and went into the city, walking through all the streets, but there was not one living creature to be seen. The city seemed quite deserted. Then he said to himself, 'Surely those giants have made this great devastation and carried all the people away.'

               After walking about a very long time, he came to a tall tower, and, looking up, he saw a light in one of the rooms. So he opened the door, and went up the steps, into the room. And what a beautiful room it was in which he had entered! It was decorated with gold and silk and velvet, and there was no one there except a girl lying on a couch, sleeping. As soon as the king's son entered, his eyes fell upon the girl, who was exceedingly beautiful. Just then he saw a large serpent coming down the wall, and it had stretched out its head and was ready to strike the girl on the forehead, between the eyes. So he drew his dagger very quickly, and nailed the snake's head to the wall, exclaiming, 'God grant that my dagger may not be taken out of the wall by any hand but my own!' and thereupon he hurried away, and passed over the city wall, climbing up and going down the pine-trees. When he got back to the cavern where the giants had been, he plucked a brand from the fire, and ran away very quickly to the spot where he had left his two brothers, and found them still sleeping.

               He soon lighted the fire again, and meanwhile the sun having arisen he awoke his brothers, and they arose and all three continued their journey. The same day they came to the road leading to the city. In that city lived a mighty king, who used to walk about the streets every morning, weeping over the great destruction of his people by the giants. The king feared greatly that one day his own daughter might also be eaten up by one of them. That morning he rose very early, and went to look about the city; the streets were all empty, because most of the people of the city had been eaten up by the giants. Walking about, at last he observed a tall pine-tree, pulled up quite by the roots, and leaning against the city wall. He drew near, and saw a great wonder. Nine giants, the frightful enemies of his people, were lying there with their heads off. When the king saw that he rejoiced exceedingly, and all the people who were left, gathered round and praised God, and prayed for good health and good luck to those who had killed the giants. At that moment a servant came running, to tell the king that a serpent had very nearly killed his daughter. So the king hurried back to the palace, and went quickly to the room wherein his daughter was, and there he saw the snake pinned to the wall, with a dagger through its head. He tried to draw the knife out, but he was not able to do so.

               Then the king sent a proclamation to all the corners of the kingdom, announcing that whoever had killed the nine giants and nailed the snake to the wall, should come to the king, who would make him great presents and give him his daughter for a wife. This was proclaimed throughout the whole kingdom. The king ordered, moreover, that large inns should be built on all the principal roads, and that every traveller who passed by should be asked if he had ever heard of the man who had killed the nine giants, and any traveller who knew anything about the matter should come and tell what he knew to the king, when he should be well rewarded.

               After some time the three brothers, travelling in search of their sisters, came one night to sleep at one of those inns. After supper the master of the inn came in to speak to them, and, after boasting very much what great things he had himself done, he asked them if they themselves had ever done any great thing?

               Then the eldest brother began to speak, and said, 'After I started with my brothers on this journey, one night we stopped to sleep by a lake in the midst of a great forest; whilst my two brothers slept I watched, and, suddenly, an alligator came out of the lake to swallow us, but I took my knife and cut off its head; if you don't believe me, see! here are the two ears from his head!' And he took the ears from his pocket and threw them on the table.

               When the second brother heard that, he said, 'I kept guard the second night, and I killed an alligator with two heads; if you do not believe me, look! here are its four ears!' and he took the ears out of his pocket and showed them.

               But the youngest brother kept silence. The master of the inn began then to speak, to him, saying, 'Well, my boy, your brothers are brave men; let us hear if you have not done some bold deed.'

               Then the youngest brother began, 'I have also done something, though it may not be a great thing. When we stayed to rest the third night in the great wilderness on the shore of the lake, my brothers lay down to sleep, for it was my turn to keep guard. In the middle of the night the water stirred mightily, and a three-headed alligator came out and wished to swallow us, but I drew my sword and cut off all the three heads; if you do not believe, see! here are the six ears of the alligator!' The brothers themselves were greatly surprised, and he continued: 'Meanwhile the fire had gone out, and I went in search of fire. Wandering about the mountain I met nine giants in one cave;' and so he went on, telling all that had happened and what he had done.

               When the innkeeper heard that he hurried off and told everything to the king. The king gave him plenty of money, and sent some of his men to bring the three brothers to him. When they came to the king, he asked the youngest, 'Have you really done all these wonders in this city--killed the giants and saved my daughter from death?' 'Yes, your majesty,' answered the king's son. Then the king gave him his daughter to wife, and allowed him to take the first place after him in the kingdom. After that he said to the two elder brothers, 'If you like I will also find wives for you two, and build palaces for you.' But they thanked him, saying they were already married, and so told him how they had left home to search for their sisters. When the king heard that, he kept by him only the youngest brother, his son-in-law, and gave the other two each a mule loaded with sacks full of money; and so the two elder brothers went back to their kingdom. All the time, however, the youngest brother was thinking of his three sisters, and many a time he wished to go in search of them again, though he was also sorry to leave his wife. The king would never consent to his going, so the prince wasted away slowly without speaking about his grief.

               One day the king went out hunting, and said to his son-in-law, 'Remain here in the palace, and take these nine keys, and keep them carefully. If you wish, however,' added he, 'you can open three or four rooms, wherein you will see plenty of gold and silver, and other precious things. Indeed, if you much wish to do so, you can open eight of the rooms, but let nothing in the world tempt you to open the ninth. If you open that, woe to you!'

               The king went away, leaving his son-in-law in the palace, who immediately began to open one room after another, till he had opened the whole eight, and he saw in all masses of all sorts of precious things. When he stood before the door of the ninth room, he said to himself, 'I have passed luckily through all kinds of adventures, and now I must not dare to open this door!' thereupon he opened it. And what did he see? In the room was a man, whose legs were bound in iron up to the knees, and his arms to the elbows; in the four corners of the chamber there were four columns, and from each an iron chain, and all the chains met in a ring round the man's neck. So fast was he bound that he could not move at all any way. In the front of him was a reservoir, and from it water was streaming through a golden pipe into a golden basin, just before him. Near him stood, also, a golden mug, all covered with precious stones. The man looked at the water and longed to drink, but he could not move to reach the cup. When the king's son saw that, he was greatly surprised, and stepped back; but the man cried, 'Come in, I conjure you in the name of the living God!' Then the prince again approached, and the man said, 'Do a good deed for the sake of the life hereafter. Give me a cup of water to drink, and be assured you will receive, as a recompense from me, another life.' The king's son thought, 'It is well, after all, to have two lives,' so he took the mug and filled it, and gave it to the man, who emptied it at once. Then the prince asked him, 'Now tell me, what is your name?' And the man answered, 'My name is True Steel.' The king's son moved to go away, but the man begged again, 'Give me yet one cup of water, and I will give you in addition a second life.' The prince said to himself, 'One life is mine already, and he offers to give me another--that is, indeed, wonderful!' So he took the mug and gave it to him, and the man drank it up. The prince began already to fasten the door, while the man called to him, 'Oh, my brave one, come back a moment! You have done two good deeds, do yet a third one, and I will give you a third life. Take the mug, fill it with water, and pour the water on my head, and for that I will give you a third life.' When the king's son heard that, he turned, filled the beaker with water, and poured it over the man's head, the moment the water met his head all the fastenings around the man's neck broke, all the iron chains burst asunder. True Steel jumped up like lightning, spread his wings, and started to fly, taking with him the king's daughter, the wife of his deliverer, with whom he disappeared. What was to be done now? The prince was afraid of the king's anger.

               When the king returned from the chase, his son-in-law told him all that had happened, and the king was very sorry and said to him, 'Why did you do this? I told you not to open the ninth room!' The king's son answered, 'Don't be angry with me! I will go and find True Steel and bring my wife back!' Then the king attempted to persuade him not to go away: 'Do not go, for anything in the world!' he said; 'you do not know True Steel. It cost me very many soldiers and much money to catch him! Better remain here, and I will find you some other maiden for a wife; do not fear, for I love you as my own son, notwithstanding all that has happened!' The prince, however, would not hear of remaining there, so taking some money for his journey he saddled and bridled his horse, and started on his travels in search of True Steel.

               After travelling a long time, he one day entered a strange city, and, as he was looking about, a girl called to him from a kiosk, 'O son of the king, dismount from your horse and come into the forecourt.' When he entered the courtyard the girl met him, and on looking at her he recognised his eldest sister. They greeted each other, and the sister said to him, 'Come, my brother--come with me into the kiosk.'

               When they came into the kiosk, he asked her who her husband was, and she answered, 'I am married to the King of Dragons, who is also a dragon. I must hide you well, my dear brother, for my husband has often said that he would kill his brothers-in-law if he could only meet them. I will try him first, and if he will promise not to injure you, I will tell him you are here.' So she hid her brother and his horse as well as she could. At night, supper was prepared in readiness for her husband, and at last he came. When he came flying into the courtyard, the whole palace shone. The moment he came in, he called his wife and said, 'Wife, there is a smell of human bones here! Tell me directly what it is!'

               'There is no one here!' said she. But he exclaimed, 'That is not true!'

               Then his wife said, 'My dear, will you answer me truly what I am going to ask you? Would you do any harm to my brothers, if one of them came here to see me?' And the dragon answered, 'Your eldest and your second brother I would kill and roast, but I would do no harm to the youngest.' Then his wife said, 'Well, then, I will tell you that my youngest brother, and your brother-in-law, is here.' When the Dragon King heard that he said, 'Let him come to me!' So the sister led the brother before the king, her husband, and he embraced him. They kissed each other, and the king exclaimed: 'Welcome, brother-in-law!' 'I hope I find you well?' returned the prince courteously, and he told the Dragon King all his adventures from the beginning to the end.

               Then the Dragon King cried out, 'And where are you going, my poor fellow? The day before yesterday True Steel passed here carrying away your wife. I assailed him with seven thousand dragons, yet could do him no harm. Leave the devil in peace; I will give you as much money as you like and then go home quietly.' But the king's son would not hear of going back, and proposed next morning to continue his journey. When the Dragon King saw that he could not change his intention, he took one of his feathers, and gave it into his hand, saying, 'Remember what I now say to you. Here you have one of my feathers, and if you find True Steel and are greatly pressed, burn this feather, and I will come in an instant to your help with all my forces.' The king's son took the feather and continued his journey.

               After long travelling about the world he arrived at a great city, and, as he rode through the streets, a girl called to him from a kiosk: 'Here, son of the king! Dismount and come into the courtyard!' The prince led his horse into the yard, and behold! the second sister came to meet him. They embraced and kissed each other, and the sister led the brother up into the kiosk, and had his horse taken to a stable. When they were in the kiosk, the sister asked her brother how he came there, and he told her all his adventures. He then asked her who her husband was. 'I am married to the King of the Falcons,' she said, 'and he will come home to-night, so I must hide you somewhere, for he often threatens my brothers.'

               Shortly after she had concealed her brother, the Falcon King came home. As soon as he alighted all the house shook. Immediately his supper was set before him, but he said to his wife, 'There are human bones somewhere!' The wife answered, 'No, my husband, there is nothing;' after long talking, however, she asked him, 'Would you harm my brothers if they came to see me?' The Falcon King answered, 'The eldest brother and the second I would delight in torturing, but to the youngest I would do no harm.' So she told him about her brother. Then he ordered that they should bring him immediately; and when he saw him, he rose up and they embraced and kissed each other. 'Welcome, brother-in-law!' said the King of Falcons. 'I hope you are happy, brother?' returned the prince, and then they sat down to sup together. After supper, the Falcon King asked his brother-in-law where he was travelling. He replied that he was going in search of True Steel, and told the king all that had happened.

               On hearing this the Falcon King began to advise him to go no farther. 'It is no use going on,' said he. 'I will tell you something of True Steel. The day he stole your wife, I assaulted him with four thousand falcons. We had a terrible battle with him, blood was shed till it reached the knees, but yet we could do him no harm! Do you think now, that you alone could do anything with him? I advise you to return home. Here is my treasure: take with you as much as you like.' But the king's son answered, 'I thank you for all your kindness, but I cannot return. I shall go at all events in search of True Steel!' For he thought to himself, 'Why should I not go, seeing I have three lives?' When the Falcon King saw that he could not persuade him to go back, he took a little feather and gave it him, saying, 'Take this feather, and when you find yourself in great need, burn it and I will instantly come with all my powers to help you!' So the king's son took the feather and continued his journey, hoping to find True Steel.

               After travelling for a long time about the world he came to a third city. As he entered, a girl called to him from a kiosk, 'Dismount, and come into the courtyard.' The king's son went into the yard, and was surprised to find his youngest sister, who came to meet him. When they had embraced and kissed each other, the sister led her brother to the kiosk and sent his horse to the stables. The brother asked her, 'Dear sister, whom have you married? What is your husband?' She answered, 'My husband is the King of Eagles.' When the Eagle King returned home in the evening his wife received him, but he exclaimed immediately, 'What man has come into my palace? Tell me the truth instantly!' She answered, 'No one is here;' and they began their supper. By-and-by the wife said, 'Tell me truly: would you do any harm to my brothers if they came here?' The Eagle King answered, 'The eldest and second brother I would kill, but to the youngest I would do no harm! I would help him whenever I could!' Then the wife said, 'My youngest brother, and your brother-in-law, is here; he came to see me.' The Eagle King ordered that they should bring the prince instantly, received him standing, kissed him, and said, 'Welcome, brother-in-law!' and the king's son answered, 'I hope you are well?' They then sat down to their supper. During the repast they conversed about many things, and at last the prince told the king he was travelling in search of True Steel. When the Eagle King heard that, he tried to dissuade him from going on, adding, 'Leave the devil in peace, my brother-in-law; give up that journey and stay with me! I will do everything to satisfy you!' The king's son however, would not hear of remaining, but next day, as soon as it dawned, prepared to set out in search of True Steel. Then the Eagle King, seeing that he could not persuade him to give up his journey, plucked out one of his feathers and gave it him, saying, 'If you find yourself in great danger, my brother, make a fire and burn this feather; I will then come to your help immediately with all my eagles.' So the prince took the feather and went away.

               After travelling for a very long time about the world, roaming from one city to another, and always going farther and farther from his home, he found his wife in a cavern.

               When the wife saw him she was greatly astonished, and cried, 'In God's name, my husband, how did you come here?' He told her how it all happened, and then added, 'Now let us fly!' 'How can we fly,' she asked, 'when True Steel will reach us instantly? and when he does he will kill you, and carry me back.' But the prince, knowing he had three other lives to live, persuaded his wife to flee, and so they did. As soon, however, as they started, True Steel heard it, and followed immediately. When he reached them, he shouted to the king's son, 'So, prince, you have stolen your wife!' Then, after taking the wife back, he added, 'Now, I forgive you this life, because I recollect that I promised to give you three lives; but go away directly, and never come here again after your wife, else you will be lost!' Thus saying, he carried the wife away, and the prince remained alone on the spot, not knowing what to do.

               At length the prince resolved to go back to his wife. When he came near the cave he found an opportunity when True Steel was absent, and took his wife again and tried to escape with her.

               But True Steel learned their flight directly, and ran after them. When he reached them, he fixed an arrow to his bow, and cried to the king's son, 'Do you prefer to die by the arrow or by the sword?' The king's son asked pardon, and True Steel said, 'I pardon you also the second life; but I warn you! never come here again after your wife, for I will not pardon you any more! I shall kill you on the spot!' Saying that, he carried the wife back to the cave, and the prince remained thinking all the time how he could save her.

               At last he said to himself, 'Why should I fear True Steel, when I have yet two lives? One of which he has made me a present, and one which is my own?' So he decided to return again to the cave next morning, when True Steel was absent. He saw his wife, and said to her, 'Let us fly!' She objected, saying, 'It is of no use to fly, when True Steel would certainly overtake us.' However, her husband forced her to go with him, and they went away. True Steel, however, overtook them quickly, and shouted, 'Wait a bit! This time I will not pardon you!' The prince became afraid, and begged him to pardon him also this time, and True Steel said to him, 'You know I promised to give you three lives, so now I give you this one, but it is the third and last. Now you have only one life, so go home, and do not risk losing the one life God gave you!'

               Then the prince, seeing he could do nothing against this great power, turned back, reflecting, however, all the time, as to the best way of getting his wife back from True Steel.

               At last, he remembered what his brothers-in-law had said to him when they gave him their feathers. Then he said to himself, 'I will try this fourth time to get my wife back; if I come to trouble, I will burn the feathers, and see if my brothers-in-law will come to help me.'

               Hereupon he went back once more towards the cavern wherein his wife was kept, and, as he saw from a distance that True Steel was just leaving the cave, he went near and showed himself to his wife. She was surprised and terrified, and exclaimed, 'Are you so tired of your life that you come back again to me?' Then he told her about his brothers-in-law, and how each of them had given him one of their feathers, and had promised to come to help him whenever he needed their assistance. 'Therefore,' added he, 'I am come once more to take you away; let us start at once.'

               This they did. The same moment, however, True Steel heard of it, and shouted from afar, 'Stop, prince! You cannot run away!' And then the king's son, seeing True Steel so near him, quickly took out a flint and tinder-box, struck some sparks, and burned all three feathers. Whilst he was doing this, however, True Steel reached him, and, with his sword, cut the prince in two parts. That moment came the King of Dragons, rushing with his whole army of dragons, the King of Falcons, with all his falcons, and the King of Eagles, with his mighty host of eagles, and they all attacked True Steel. Torrents of blood were shed, but after all True Steel caught up the woman and fled away.

               Then the three kings gave all their attention to their brother-in-law, and determined to bring him back to life. Thereupon they asked three of the most active dragons which of them could bring them, in the shortest time, some water from the river Jordan.

               One said, 'I could bring it in half an hour.' The second said, 'I can go and return in ten minutes.' The third dragon said, 'I can bring it in nine seconds.' Then the three kings said to the last one, 'Go, dragon; and make haste!' Then this dragon exhibited all his fiery might, and in nine seconds, as he had promised, he came back with water from the Jordan.

               The kings took the water and poured it on the places where the prince was wounded, and, as they did so, the wound closed up, the body joined together, and the king's son sprang up alive.

               Then the three kings counselled him: 'Now that you are saved from death, go home!' But the prince answered, he would at all events yet once more try to get his wife back. The kings, his brothers-in-law, again spoke, 'Do not try again! Indeed, you will be lost if you go, for now you have only one life which God gave you!'

               The king's son, however, would not listen to their advice. So the kings told him, 'Well then, if you are still determined to go, at least do not take your wife away immediately, but tell her to ask True Steel where his strength lies, and then come and tell us, in order that we may help you to conquer him!'

               So the prince went secretly and saw his wife, and told her how she could persuade True Steel to tell her where his strength was. He then left her and went away.

               When True Steel came home, the wife of the king's son asked him, 'Tell me, now, where is your great strength?' He answered, 'My wife, my strength is in my sword!' Then she began to pray, and turned to his sword. When True Steel saw that, he burst out laughing, and said, 'O foolish woman! my strength is not in my sword, but in my bow and arrows!' Then she turned towards the bow and arrows and prayed.

               Then True Steel said, 'I see, my wife, you have a clever teacher who has taught you to find out where my strength lies! I could almost say that your husband is living, and it is he who teaches you!'

               But she assured him that no one taught her, for she had no longer any one to do so.

               After some days her husband came, and when she told him she could not learn anything from True Steel, he said, 'Try again!' and went away.

               When True Steel came home she began again to ask him the secret of his strength. Then he answered her, 'Since you think so much of my strength, I will tell you truly where it is.' And he continued, 'Far away from this place there is a very high mountain; in the mountain there is a fox; in the fox there is a heart; in the heart there is a bird, and in this bird is my strength. It is no easy task, however, to catch that fox, for she can transform herself into a multitude of creatures.'

               Next day, as soon as True Steel left the cave, the king's son came to his wife, and she told him all she had learned. Then the prince hurried away to his brothers-in-law, who waited, all three impatient to see him, and to hear where was the strength of True Steel. When they heard, all three went away at once with the prince to find the mountain. Having got there, they set the eagles to chase the fox, but the fox ran to a lake, which was in the midst of the mountain, and changed herself into a six-winged golden bird. Then the falcons pursued her, and drove her out of the lake, and she flew into the clouds, but there the dragons hurried after her. So she changed herself again into a fox, and began to run along the earth, but the rest of the eagles stopped her, surrounded, and caught her.

               The three kings then ordered the fox to be killed, and her heart to be taken out. A great fire was made, and the bird was taken out of the heart and burnt. That very moment True Steel fell down dead, and the prince took his wife and returned home with her.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Bash-Chalek; or, True Steel
Tale Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Book Title: Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition)
Book Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Publisher: Columbus Printing, Publishing and Advertising Company
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1899
Country of Origin: Serbia
Classification: ATU 552: The Girls Who Married Animals

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