A KING, on suspicion of an attempt to usurp the throne, had put his brother in chains and suspended him between heaven and earth. The King was old, and the day of his death being near, he called his three sons, and advised them not to leave the throne empty, lest their uncle should usurp it and put them to death. After giving the young Princes other important counsel, the old King died. The oldest son, who succeeded his father on the throne, one day went fowling. The youngest brother, whose name was Mirza, remembering their father's advice, immediately leaped up and sat on the throne. In the evening the oldest brother returned and began to scold Mirza, saying:
"How now, rogue! Have you a mind to usurp my throne?"
"No, your majesty," replied Mirza; "I sat on the throne lest our uncle, finding it empty, should usurp it. But if it displeases you I will not do it again."
On the following day the King again went fowling, and the throne was left empty. Suddenly a loud jangling of chains was heard, and lo! the uncle, having broken the fetters, descended from the skies and seated himself on the empty throne. Forthwith he ordered his men to put the three brothers to death, but his officials interceded and begged the King not to kill his nephews, but to banish them from the country. The King consented, and the three brothers were banished.
The lot of the three Princes was now to lead a sad, wandering life in the dreary desert. After a long journey, they came to a ruined mill just at the time when the sun was going down. The elder brothers at once dismounted to spend the night in the ruined mill, but Mirza implored them not to do so, saying:
"Brothers, when our father died he advised us that in case our uncle usurped the throne and banished us, we must take heed not to lodge in a ruined mill, not to camp on a green meadow, and not to resort to the Black Mountain. Come, be advised, lest worse trouble befall."
"Hush, coward!" said the elder brothers, and they prepared to lodge in the mill. The oldest brother said:
"Let us turn the horses out to pasture, and do you two go to bed; I will keep watch all night."
After eating their meal the two younger brothers went to bed, while the oldest began his watch. Mirza shut his eyes and pretended to sleep, peeping, however, through his eyelashes to see what his oldest brother was doing. After watching a while the latter was tired, withdrew and went to bed. By the snoring of his brothers, Mirza understood that they had fallen into sound sleep. He rose, girded on his magic sword, and taking his bow and arrow, began to walk about and to keep watch. In the middle of the night he saw, at a distance, the gleaming of a light which drew nearer and nearer, and soon, to his terror, he saw a horrible dragon with seven heads, on each of which was an enormous jewel burning like a torch. It approached his brothers and was about to devour them, when Mirza took aim and shot all its seven heads with a single arrow. The monster stretched itself on the ground, hissing and wheezing. The lad drew his magic sword, and cutting the dragon to pieces put the seven jewels in his pocket. He spent the rest of the night watching, and toward morning went to bed and pretended to sleep. On the morrow the oldest brother awoke and nudged Mirza in the side, saying:
"Get up, ho! have you not slept enough? I was guarding your repose all night long."
All three rose and started upon their journey. They traveled until they came to a green meadow, at the sight of which the two elder brothers dismounted and began to pitch their tents to spend the night, in spite of the entreaties of Mirza, who reminded them of the advice of their father to avoid the green meadow.
"What a coward you are!" exclaimed the second brother. "You need not be so much afraid; I will keep guard to-night," and dismounting, all three pitched their tents on the green meadow. The second brother kept watch till midnight, and then went to bed. Mirza, who was only pretending to sleep, hearing his second brother snore soundly, got up, girded on his magic sword, and taking his bow and arrows, began to keep watch. Soon he saw something approaching the tents. As it drew nearer, he could see that it was a terrible giantess, with one of her lips reaching the skies, and the other sweeping the ground. He at once took ambush in a neighboring trench, and aimed an arrow toward her, saying to himself:
"If she does no harm to my brothers I will not shoot her."
The giantess arrived and was apparently surprised to find three tents, and three horses, but only two men. However, she came to the conclusion that the third human being had been devoured by the wild beasts. She then approached the two sleeping lads and hung a sleep-ring on an ear of each, saying:
"Sleep now, until I send my seven sons to devour you."
Mirza followed her until she came to a large rock, which was the gate of an underground cave. She turned the rock over, and entering the cave, exclaimed to her sons:
"Get up, boys! I have found a good meal for you. Go make your repast on the two human beings, and save a portion for me." Mirza stood at the cave's entrance with his magic sword, and cut off the head of each giant as they came out one by one. Then he entered the cave, and taking hold of the giantess, said:
"Ugly hag! did you dare to send your sons to devour my brothers! Here! share the fate of your younglings." So speaking, he cut her head off too. He came back and found his brothers snoring as before. He took the sleep-rings from their ears, and at daybreak went to bed and feigned sleep. In the morning the second brother jogged Mirza, saying:
"Get up, ho! will you sleep till noon? Have a little mercy on me, who have watched all the night."
They all rose and mounted their horses. That day they came to the Black Mountain, where the two elder brothers desired to camp. Mirza began again to implore them, saying:
"This time, at least, let us follow the advice of our father and not halt on this enchanted ground; let us avoid a third disaster which may perhaps be fatal."
"What a coward you are!" exclaimed his brothers. "What danger was there in lodging in the mill or in camping on the green meadows? As it is your turn to watch to-night, you grumble. Be silent! We will camp here to-night, and you must keep watch."
They pitched their tents, and after a meal, the two elder brothers soon went to bed. Mirza girded on his magic sword, took his bow and arrows, and began his watch. The first part of the night was quiet. After midnight he sat down to take a little rest, and on account of his sleeplessness on the two previous nights, he soon fell asleep. When he opened his eyes it was near daybreak. He rose, and to his great dismay he found the fire was out. It was a sign that he had slept and this would disgrace him. He could not start the fire anew because the flint and steel were in the pockets of the other brothers. He ran to the top of the neighboring hill, whence he saw a light gleaming at a distance. He determined to fetch embers from that light, and make his own fire. On the hilltop he met an old man winding a ball of black thread, while another ball of white thread lay near him.
"Good-day to you, father!" said the lad.
"God's blessing rest upon you!" answered the old man.
"Who are you, and what are these balls?" asked Mirza.
"I am Time," answered the old man; "this black ball signifies the night, which as you see, is near its end. As soon as it finishes, the morning breaks. Then I will roll this white ball, which represents the day, down the hill, and it will go on unwrapping until it is noon. I shall then wrap it again, and finish just when it is evening."
Mirza snatched the black ball from the old man's hand, and rolling it down the hill, unwrapped it, saying:
"Now, father, wrap it up again. I wish this night to be a little longer, for I have much to do."
So saying, he proceeded toward the gleaming light. On arriving he saw that it came from a cave, with a fireplace over which there was a great cauldron with forty handles. The meat of seven oxen was cooking in the cauldron, around which forty giants were lying asleep. The youth approached the fireplace, seized the cauldron, put it down, taking some embers from under, replaced it and started back on his way. It chanced that one of the giants was watching, and saw what the lad did. As soon as Mirza disappeared, he woke his brothers and told them what the human being had done. All the forty were surprised, and bit their lips upon hearing this marvelous news in regard to a human being, who had displayed a strength surpassing the united force of the forty brothers. At once they decided to make that human hero their partner; so accordingly they ran after him, and overtaking him, proposed to him to be their brother. The lad consented, and they adopted each other as brothers, exchanging promises to go to one another's assistance in case of need. Mirza returned to the camp, and after starting the fire, lay down to take a morning nap. By that time his brothers awakened, and jogged him in the side, saying:
"Get up! we have been watching this night also, and do you still sleep?"
He did not utter a word. They all mounted their horses and went their way until they came to the city of the King of the Black Mountain, and camped in a meadow outside the city. In the middle of the night as Mirza was keeping watch around the camp, he saw giants proceeding toward the palace of the King. Coming nearer he perceived that they were his adopted brothers each carrying a large iron nail as long as a man is high.
"God speed!" said Mirza.
"Well met!" answered the giants; "come and help us in our enterprise to-night, and here are three golden apples as a present for you. The King has three daughters whom we have been hunting for seven years, but cannot find. We have prepared these three golden apples for their love, but we will give them to you if you help us. We have made these iron nails to use in climbing the walls."
Mirza's anger began to boil, but he carefully concealed his feeling.
"Very well," he said, at last, "this very night you will attain your desires, but you must obey me."
He walked at their head and the giants followed until they came to the foot of the palace wall. He took the iron nails, and thrusting them into the wall with his thumb, formed a row of steps by which he could ascend to the top of the wall. He then ordered the giants to mount, and as they went up one by one, he cut off their heads with his magic sword, throwing their bodies into a trench on the other side. Then cutting off the ears of each, he put them in his pocket, and arranged their heads in a row on the top of the wall. After that he jumped over and entered the palace. In the King's bedchamber he saw a golden candlestick burning at the head of the King's bed, and a silver candlestick burning at the foot. Mirza changed the places of the candlesticks, and drank the syrup which was in the golden cup near the King. As he was going out, he saw a dragon coiled around the pillar ready to devour the King. At once he drew his dagger, and stabbed the dragon, nailing it to the pillar. Next he took the King's dagger from under his pillow and put it in his belt. Then he entered the bedchamber of the three maidens, drank the syrup in their golden cups and placed a golden apple on the pillow of each, thus betrothing the oldest to his oldest brother, the middle one to his middle brother, and the youngest to himself. He also placed on the pillow of the youngest maiden a necklace made of the seven jewels which he had taken by killing the seven-headed dragon in the ruined mill. Then he came back to his tent, and at daybreak went to bed.
When morning came there was a great tumult among the people of the city, who had seen the heads of the forty giants who had been butchered. Informants ran to the King bearing the glad tidings that his forty troublesome enemies had all been killed, that their bodies were lying in the trench and their heads were on the top of the wall. The King, who by that time had discovered what had happened in his palace, was filled with amazement. His peers and subjects came to congratulate him. Upon this the King sent out heralds to proclaim that the one who did all these things, whoever he might be, must present himself. Not only should he become the son-in-law of the King by marrying the most beautiful of the three maidens, but the King would gladly bestow on him any gift which he might ask. Thousands appeared before the King claiming to be the hero, but none could prove it. No man was left in the city who did not make his appearance before the sovereign. Then the King bade his men call the strangers who were camping without the walls. Mirza feigned sickness, and at first did not go. His two brothers feared that they were to be fined for trampling upon the King's ground, but as soon as they were told wherefore they were called, they began to boast that they had done the heroic deed, yet upon trial they also were turned back in shame.
"Is there no one else left?" inquired the King.
"Nobody," answered the attendant, "except a sickly boy lying in the tent of these strangers."
"Bring him hither," ordered the King.
Mirza, seeing the King's attendant about to force him to go, rose, and leaping on the back of his horse, made his appearance before the King. He put before him the ears of the forty giants and told the King how he slew them, how he changed the places of the candlesticks, how he stabbed the dragon, and betrothed the King's daughters to his brothers and to himself. He gave to the King the dagger, and drew out from the pillar his own dagger which neither the King nor his peers had been able to withdraw. The King sprang from his throne and kissed Mirza on the forehead, exclaiming:
"May Heaven bless you, worthy hero! You are my beloved son-in-law, and after my death my throne is yours."
His brothers bowed down before Mirza, saying:
"Pardon our harshness; hereafter you are our elder brother and we are your subordinates."
After that there was a great wedding festival for forty days and forty nights, and the three maidens were given in marriage to the three brothers. At the nuptials, however, the brides said to the bridegrooms:
"We are not for you, such frail men as you are. Do you think killing forty dwarfish giants a heroic act? Not so. We have our lover, upon whose breast roses and lilies grow. If you are men of valor, go fight the Roaring Giant, our lover; if you can overcome him we are yours, but not until you do so."
On the following morning, Mirza advised his brothers to keep silent and not reveal their secret, lest they should be the laughing-stock of the people. He took leave of the King, saying that he had an important work to do, and would be absent for two months. He started, and after a long journey came to a white castle. A maiden as beautiful as the moon was sitting in the window working with her needle. Seeing the lad, she said to him:
"Human being, neither the snake on its belly, nor the bird with its wing could come here! How could you venture to come?"
"Your love brought me hither, fair maiden," answered the lad.
"Here is food for you," said the maiden, letting down from the window a basket; "eat, and go your way. This castle belongs to the White Giant. Go away before he comes, lest he devour you."
"Who are you, fair maiden? Who has brought you hither?" inquired the lad.
"My father is the King of India. We were three sisters, but the White Giant, the Red Giant, and the Black Giant stole us and brought us into this lonely country. It has been seven years since I have seen a human being."
Mirza asked if she knew where the Roaring Giant lived.
"You must pass the lands of the Red Giant and the Black Giant before you arrive," said the maiden.
"Farewell!" said Mirza.
"Farewell!" said the fair maiden, sighing.
Mirza continued on his way. Toward evening he saw the White Giant returning from hunting. He detected his presence by the human smell, and seeing Mirza, exclaimed:
"What luck! I have not tasted human flesh for a long time;" and he assailed Mirza, to devour him.
"Halt!" exclaimed the lad, preparing his bow and arrow. "I shall prove a hard nut for you to crack. My name is Mirza. I have so far butchered forty-seven giants; you are the forty-eighth."
He shot his arrow, which passed through the giant's heart and nailed him to the ground. Drawing his magic sword, he cut off his head, and thrusting it on his sword's point took it to the white castle and called to the maiden:
"Fair Princess, here is the head of the White Giant, whom I have sacrificed to your love."
The maiden seeing it from the window, ran wild with joy. At once she opened the door of the castle, saying:
"Enter, and may Heaven bless you, who came to deliver me from my bondage!"
The lad entered, and that night lodged in the castle. On the morning, when departing, he put on the maiden's finger a ring, saying:
"Now you are the betrothed of my oldest brother. After fighting the other giants I will come back and carry you with me."
And he took leave of her. After a long journey he came to a black castle with a beautiful maiden sitting in the window, who gave him refreshment as the former had done. Leaving her, he met the Black Giant, and killing him as he had the former one, brought his head to the maiden. He spent the night there, and on the following morning, putting a ring on the finger of the maiden, betrothed her to his second brother. Another long journey brought him to a red castle. A maiden as beautiful as the sun was sitting in the window and working with her needle. The lad at first glance fell in love with her. She also had fallen in love with him at first sight, and said to him:
"Human being, for Heaven's sake, beware of the Red Giant!"
"I have come on purpose to fight with him, fair creature," answered the lad. "I have already killed the White Giant and the Black Giant and freed your sisters."
"But the Red Giant is a sorcerer," said the maiden, "and when brought to bay, changes himself into a mound of earth, with a hole at the top, whence he pours out smoke and flames, and devours everyone who ventures to go near."
He had hardly departed from the maiden, when lo! the Red Giant appeared, brandishing his terrible mace.
"Aha!" exclaimed the Giant, seeing the lad, "a delicious morsel indeed is this which has come to me of its own free will."
"Nay, come, let us fight," said the lad, "and see who shall be the morsel, I or you!" and he prepared his bow and arrow.
"Dwarfish human being!" exclaimed the giant, "how can you oppose me?"
Saying this, he threw his mace at the lad, who took hold of it, exclaiming:
"I have killed forty-nine giants, your White and Black brothers included. Mirza is my name; do you think you will escape from my hand?"
When the giant heard that this was Mirza, the terror of the giants, he was so frightened that he at once changed himself into a red mound with smoke and flames shooting out from the hole in its top. Immediately the lad jumped on the mound, drew his magic sword and thrusting it into the smoking hole, began quickly to stir it until the heart and intestines of the Giant were cut to pieces and were thrown out of the orifice. The youth then jumped down, and lo! the mound fell and was ruined. Mirza then went back to the red castle and called to the maiden.
"Fair Princess," he said, showing her his sword dyed with blood and the pieces of the giant's heart and intestines still clinging to it, "I have sacrificed the Red Giant to your love."
The maiden was almost wild with joy. She opened the door, and embracing Mirza's feet, exclaimed:
"Hero! you have saved me; I owe you my life and all my being. I am still a virgin, and though unworthy to be your wife, for Heaven's sake accept me as your handmaid!"
"Nay, fair maiden, you are my love, you are my betrothed if you do love me," said the lad, putting a ring on her finger.
Then the lad asked her concerning the place where lived the Roaring Giant.
"Be advised, do not go," said the maiden. "The Roaring Giant is a cruel tyrant; you will not come back alive; do not go. He is vulnerable only by his own bow and arrows, and who shall give them to you that you may shoot him with them? It is impossible. For the sake of the love you bear to me, do not go, or take me with you that I may die with you," and the maiden began to sob.
"Nay, love, do not cry," said the lad, "I must go at any risk."
And he started. After a long journey he came to a magnificent castle decorated with gold and jewels. It was the castle of the Roaring Giant. It was toward evening when the lad arrived. At once he took the shape of a servant, sprinkled water about the palace, swept all clean, and hid himself behind the trees and bushes. Soon a noise like that of thunder was heard, from the distant mountains. It was the Roaring Giant who was coming from fowling. Every bird, every beast of the forest hid itself on hearing the noise of the giant. Mirza's hair stood on end, and he felt what a terrible task it was which he had undertaken. The giant, seeing the courtyard round the palace swept and cleaned was pleased, and soliloquized to himself:
"This must be the work of a human being; I must find him out; it would be pleasant to have a human servant." And he exclaimed:
"Where are you, human being? Who are you? Come out from your hiding place. I will not hurt you, but give you what you desire."
Mirza leaped out from his place of concealment, and stood before the Roaring Giant, saying in a humble voice:
"My lord, I have lost my companions and gone astray. Heaven was kind enough to guide me until I came to your door. Will you accept me as your servant?"
The giant accepted him, and the lad served so diligently and devotedly that the giant was greatly pleased, and held him in high esteem. One day the giant and the lad entered the flower garden. Roses, violets and other flowers of every color and perfume grew there luxuriously. Nightingales, birds of paradise, and all kinds of birds and beasts of the forest were there. In the middle of the orchard a fountain gushed out its crystal waters, and formed a pond amid overhanging verdure. It was, throughout, a paradise.
"Bring those flower pots and put them around this pond," said the giant to the lad. "Bring here all kinds of delicious foods, which you have prepared. Every day this week we shall have company, and we must prepare for them."
The lad made the necessary preparations meditating to himself that the expected guests were no doubt the three sisters, the wives of himself and his brothers. Near the pond there was a tree on which the giant had hung his bow and arrows. The lad took them down.
"Halloo! what are you doing?" exclaimed the giant.
"Master, I wish to take the cloth and clean them," answered the lad.
Soon the arrow fell down.
"Bring it to me," said the giant, and putting the arrow in the bow handed it over to the lad. He took it and went backward as if to hang it up. He had scarcely come to the tree, when he turned to the giant and took aim at his heart.
"Alas!" exclaimed the giant.
"Nay, I have come expressly to take your life," said Mirza. "I am Mirza. I have killed fifty giants; you are the fifty-first."
Whiz! and the arrow was flung and pierced the Roaring Giant through the heart and nailed him to the ground. He uttered his last roar, and then lay dead as a stone. The lad thereupon hid himself behind a tree near the pond to see what might happen.
Soon three turtledoves came from the sky flapping their wings and perched gently on the border of the pond. At once they dove into the water and were changed into three maidens. The lad saw that they were his own wife and the wives of his brothers. He kept silent and did not stir. The maidens, putting on the human dresses which they had brought with them, went to embrace the Roaring Giant, who they supposed was asleep. But seeing him nailed to the ground with an arrow through his heart and dead, they were horror-stricken. They ran back to the pond, and undressing themselves, leaped into the water. Just at that time, Mirza came up and stood on the brink of the pond.
"For shame!" he exclaimed. "How now! did you see your lover? Did you enjoy the roses and the lilies growing on his breast?"
They were horror-stricken and mute, hiding their faces with their hands. Mirza cut pieces from the skirts of their dresses, and let them go. They were turned to turtledoves, and flew away with drooping wings. Thereupon Mirza entering the palace of the Roaring Giant, gathered all the riches and loaded them on forty camels. He then went and took the three Princesses whom he had betrothed to himself and his brothers, also the wealth of the Red, Black and White giants. Then he drove back and came again to the city of the King of the Black Mountain. The King hearing that Mirza had come, bringing inestimable wealth, hastened to meet him at the city gate, all his noblemen and peers accompanying him. As soon as they met, Mirza said to the King:
"I cannot talk with you until you convoke a meeting of all the noblemen and wise men of your realm to try your three daughters."
"What!" said the King, "is it not a shame to bring maidens to trial?"
"Nay," said the lad, "your daughters are false, and shameless; they must be tried and punished as an example to the womanhood of the realm. If you do not call a meeting as I have requested, I will leave you and go elsewhere."
Now the King loved Mirza as his very life, and could not part with him. So he gave the order and all the peers and wise men of his realm were summoned to a parliament. The three maidens were brought before the court. Mirza recited his adventures, and placed before the court the pieces which he had cut from the dresses of the maidens. On being put in their respective places they fitted. Thus everything being proved, the maidens could not deny it. The court gave its decision, which the King sanctioned. Thereupon the three daughters of the King were bound by their hair to the tails of three wild horses, which were whipped up and carried them away to the wilderness, dashing them from stone to stone until they were cut into pieces.
Then the King adopted the three Princesses whom Mirza had brought with him. A wedding festival for forty days and nights was celebrated, and the three maidens were given in marriage to the three brothers.
Three apples fell from heaven; one for me, one for the story-teller, and one for him who entertained the company.