THERE was once a young lad who had neither father nor mother. Every thing his parents had left him was in the care of guardians, and at last he could bear their unjust reproaches no longer, but went out into the wide world, entered a path leading to a glade in the forest, and followed it a long way.
When, in the evening, he grew tired and found no place to rest, he climbed a hill and gazed around him in every direction to try to discover a light; after a long search he saw the flicker of a tiny spark and went toward it. He walked and walked half the night, then he came to a huge fire, by which a man as big as a giant was sleeping. What was the youth to do? After thinking a while, he crept into one leg of the man's trowsers and spent the rest of the night there.
When the man rose the next morning, to his great astonishment, he saw the youngster drop out of his breeches.
"Where did you come from?" he asked.
"I was sent to you for a son last night," replied the lad.
"If that is true," said the big man, "you may tend my sheep, and I'll give you something to eat, but beware that you don't cross the boundaries, or woe betide you!"
He pointed out to the boy the end of his land, and then added:
"God be with you!"
The lad tended the flock all day, and when he returned in the evening found the fire lighted, and helped the giant milk the sheep.
After their work was done, they sat down to supper, and while they were eating the boy asked:
"What is your name, father?"
"Mogarzea," replied the big fellow.
"I wonder you don't get tired of staying here alone in this wilderness."
"Then you wonder without cause. Don't you know that the bear never dances willingly?"
"Yes, you're right there," replied the boy. "But I see that you are always dull and sad. Tell me your story, father."
"What can be the use of telling you things that would make you sorrowful too?"
"Never mind, I should like to know them. Are you not my father? Do you suppose you have me as a son for nothing?"
"Well then, if that's true and you wish it, listen to my story.
"My name, as I have already told you, is Mogarzea; I am a prince, and set out to go to the Sweet-milk Lake, which is not far from here, to marry a fairy. I had heard that three fairies lived there. But Fortune did not smile upon me; wicked elves attacked me and took away my soul. Since that time I have settled here to dwell with my sheep on this little patch of land, without being able to take pleasure in any thing, without having a moment's happiness, or even once enjoying a laugh.
"The abominable elves are so quarrelsome that they let no one who crosses their frontiers go unpunished. That's why I advise you to be on your guard, lest something should happen to you also."
"All right, all right, just let me alone, father," replied the youth, and they went to rest.
When day dawned, the lad rose and set off with the flock. I don't know how or why, but he could not feel content to gaze at the elves' beautiful meadows, while the sheep were grazing on Mogarzea's barren ground.
On the third day, when he was standing in the shade of a tree playing on the flute, for he was, as it were, a master of the art of flute playing, one of the sheep strayed away into the flowery meadows, others followed, then others, till, when the youth noticed them, a number of the animals had crossed the boundaries.
Still playing on his flute, he went to drive back the sheep which had left the flock, but he suddenly saw before him three merry maidens, who stopped him and began to dance around him. When the lad discovered the state of affairs, he summoned up his courage and blew with all his might. They danced until the evening.
"Let me go now," he said, "poor Mogarzea will be hungry; to-morrow, if you wish, I'll play still better."
"We will let you go," they replied, "but you know that if you don't come you will not escape our punishment."
So they agreed that he was to come directly to them the next morning, sheep and all, then each went home. Mogarzea wondered why the milk had increased so much, and was not satisfied until the lad assured him that he had not crossed the boundaries. They ate their supper and went to rest.
The youth did not wait till it had become perfectly light, but at the first streak of dawn set off with the sheep straight to the elves' meadows. When he began to play on his flute, the elves instantly appeared and danced and danced till evening. Then the youth pretended to drop the flute and, as if by accident, stepped upon it and broke it.
If you could have seen how he bewailed it, how he wrung his hands and wept over the loss of his companion, you would surely have pitied him. Even the elves were touched with compassion and tried to comfort him.
"I wouldn't care so much," he said, "only I shall never find another flute that will sound as merry as this one, for it was made out of the heart of a seven-year-old cherry tree."
"We have, in the court-yard, a cherry tree that is just seven years old; if you want it, come, we'll cut it down and you can make yourself another flute."
They all went there, felled the cherry tree, and for fear of touching the pith while stripping off the bark, the youth requested all the elves to help.
After having made a cleft in the trunk with his ax, large enough for them to get their fingers in, he told them to take hold of it in order to break it apart solely by the strength of their arms, that the blade of the ax might not touch the pith of the wood. They were actually stupid enough to do so as they stood around the trunk, and, while saying "pull," he drew out the ax and caught their fingers in the crack.
In vain the elves begged him to release them, in vain they said that they were almost faint with pain; the lad would not even listen to the fine promises they made, but remained as cold as a stone.
Finally he asked them for Mogarzea's soul.
"It is in a bottle on the window-sill," they said.
After he had fetched it, he inquired how he could restore it to its place, and the elves explained, hoping he would then release them from their torture.
"You have tormented many people so that they suffered terrible agony all their lives; now you too can suffer for one night, it won't make the sky fall."
With these words he took the sheep and Mogarzea's soul and departed; but the elves wailed so that any one's heart might have been torn with pity. When he reached home, Mogarzea scolded him for being late. The boy's only reply was to ask him to lie down on his back, then climbing upon his breast he jumped up and down several times, until the lazy soul the elves had conjured into him darted out and the youngster gave him his own to swallow; holding his mouth and nose with his hands he made him drink the water that had been in the bottle, and then put on a plaster he had brought from the elves.
He had scarcely got it on, when Mogarzea sprang up like a deer and said:
"Whether you are my son or not, what do you want as a reward for what you have done?"
"Tell me where the Milk Lake is, and what I am to do to obtain one of the three fairies who are there for my wife, and let me be your son forever."
Mogarzea granted the lad's wishes and they sat down to supper without his wondering how the sheep gave so much milk; all night long they amused themselves by shouting, singing and dancing.
Noticing that dawn was approaching before they had gone to rest, they resolved to set out together to pay a visit to the cheated elves,--and did so. When Mogarzea saw them, he took them, log and all, on his back and went to his father's kingdom, where every body rejoiced when he came home as brave and cheery as ever. But he pointed out his deliverer, who was following behind with the sheep.
Then they all thanked the lad for his cleverness in rescuing Mogarzea from misfortune, and the festivities at the palace lasted three whole days.
After these three days had passed, the boy took Mogarzea aside and said:
"I want to go now; please tell me where the Sweet-milk Lake is, and, God willing, I'll come back again with my wife."
At first Mogarzea tried to detain him, but finding it no use to talk till he was tired, he told him what he had heard--he had seen nothing, on account of the elves.
The boy took his flute and some food for the journey, and then, departing, walked three long summer days until the evening, before he reached the Milk Lake, which was in a fairy's kingdom. Early the next morning he began to play on his flute at the edge of the lake,--and what did he see? A beautiful fairy, whose hair was exactly like gold, and whose clothes were more costly than any he had ever seen; she was more dazzling than the sun as she began to dance. The boy stood motionless with his eyes fixed upon her, but when the fairy noticed that he was no longer playing she vanished. The next day she did the same thing. On the third, still playing, he approached, and as in the pleasure of dancing she did not notice it, he suddenly rushed upon her, clasped her in his arms, kissed her, and snatched the rose from her head.
She screamed and then begged him to give her back the flower, but he refused. Even wood and stone might have wept over her grief, as she lamented and entreated. But when he fastened the rose in his hat, she followed him.
Finding that he could not be persuaded to restore the rose, they agreed to be married. So they went to Mogarzea, to be wedded by the emperor, and remained there, but every year in the month of May they returned to the Milk Lake to bathe their children in its waves.
After the emperor's death Mogarzea divided the kingdom with his preserver.