ONCE upon a time something happened. If it hadn't happened, it wouldn't be told.
There was once a great and mighty emperor, whose kingdom was so large that no one knew where it began and where it ended. Some believed it was boundless, others said that they dimly remembered having heard from very old people that the emperor had formerly engaged in war with his neighbors, some of whom had proved greater and more powerful, others smaller and weaker than he. One piece of news about this emperor went all through the wide world--that he always laughed with his right eye and wept with the left. People vainly asked the reason that the emperor's eyes could not agree, and even differed so entirely. When great heroes went to the emperor to question him, he smiled evasively and made no reply. So the enmity between the monarch's eyes remained a profound mystery, whose cause nobody knew except the emperor himself. Then the emperor's sons grew up. Ah, what princes they were! Three princes in one country, like three morning stars in the sky! Florea, the oldest, was a fathom tall, with shoulders more than four span broad. Costan was very different, short, strongly built, with a muscular arm and a stout fist. The third and youngest prince was named Petru--a tall, slender fellow, more like a girl than a boy. Petru did not talk much, he laughed and sang, sang and laughed, from morning till night. Only he was often seen in a graver mood, when he pushed back the curling locks from his forehead and looked like one of the old wiseacres who belonged to the emperor's council.
"Come, Florea, you are grown up, go to our father and ask him why one of his eyes always weeps and the other always laughs," said Petru, one fine morning to his brother Florea. But Florea would not go; he knew by experience that the emperor was always vexed if any one asked him that question.
Petru fared just the same when he went to his brother Costan.
"Very well, if nobody else dares, I'll venture it!" he said at last. No sooner said than done, Petru instantly went and asked.
"May your mother blind you! What's that to you?" replied the emperor wrathfully, giving him one cuff on the right ear and another on the left. Petru went sadly away, and told his brothers how his father had served him. Yet, after the young prince had asked what was the matter with the eyes, it seemed as though the left one wept less and the right one laughed more.
Petru plucked up his courage and went to the emperor again. A box on the ear is a box on the ear, and two of them are two! It was no sooner thought than done. He fared just the same the second time. But the left now only wept occasionally, and the right one seemed ten years younger.
"If that's the way things stand," thought Petru, "I know what I have to do. I'll keep going to him, keep repeating the question, and keep receiving the cuffs on the ear until both eyes laugh."
No sooner said than done. Petru never made the same remark twice.
"My son Petru," began the emperor, this time in a pleasant tone and laughing with both eyes, "I see that you can't drive this anxiety out of your head, so I'll tell you what is the matter with my eyes. Know that this eye laughs when I see that I have three such sons as you, but the other weeps because I fear that you will not be able to reign in peace and protect the country against bad neighbors. But if you bring me water from the fountain of the Fairy Aurora that I may bathe my eyes with it, both will laugh, because I shall then know that I have brave sons on whom I can rely."
Such were the emperor's words. Petru took his hat from the bench by the stove, and went to tell his brothers what he had heard. The princes consulted together and soon settled the matter, as is proper among own brothers. Florea, being the oldest, went to the stables, chose the best and handsomest horse, saddled it, and bade farewell to home.
"I will go," he said to his brothers; "and if, at the end of a year, a month, a week, and a day, I have not returned with the water, you can follow me, Costan." With these words he departed.
For three days and three nights Florea did not stop; his horse flew like a ghost over the mountains and valleys till it reached the frontiers of the empire. But all around the emperor's dominions ran a deep gulf, and across this abyss there was only a single bridge. Here Florea halted to look back and bid farewell to his native land.
May the Lord preserve even a Pagan from what Florea now beheld when he wanted to go on--a dragon! But a dragon with three heads and the most horrible faces, with one jaw in the sky and another on the earth. Florea did not wait for the dragon to bathe him in flames, but set spurs to his horse and vanished as if he had never been in existence. The dragon sighed once and disappeared, without leaving a trace behind.
A week passed; Florea did not return; a fortnight slipped by, but nothing was heard of him. A month elapsed; Costan began to search among the horses to choose one. When morning dawned after a year, a month, a week, and a day, Costan mounted his horse, took leave of his youngest brother, and saying to him, "Come, if I am lost too," rode off as Florea had done.
The dragon at the bridge was now still more terrible, his heads were more frightful--and the hero fled still faster. Nothing more was heard of the two brothers; Petru remained alone.
"I am going to follow my brothers," he said one day to his father.
"Then may God go with you," replied the emperor. "He alone knows whether you will have better luck than your brothers."
So the monarch's youngest son also bade him farewell and set off for the frontiers of the empire. On the bridge stood a dragon still larger and more horrible, with jaws even more yawning and frightful. The creature now had seven heads instead of three.
Petru stopped when he beheld this monster. "Get out of the way!" he shouted. The dragon did not stir. Petru called a second and a third time, then rushed forward with uplifted sword. Instantly the sky darkened so that he saw nothing but fire--fire on the right, fire on the left, fire before him, fire behind him. The dragon was spitting fire from every one of its seven heads. The horse began to neigh and rear, so that our hero could not strike with his sword.
"Hold! This won't do!" said Petru, dismounting and seizing the horse's bridle with his left hand, while he held his sword in the right.
That plan would not do either. The hero saw nothing but fire and smoke.
"I'll go home--to get a better horse," said Petru, and he mounted his steed, and went away to come back again.
When he reached the place his nurse, old Birscha, was waiting for him at the court-yard gate.
"Ah, my son Petru! I knew you would be obliged to come back again, because you didn't set out right."
"How ought I to have gone?" asked Petru, half angrily, half sadly.
"You see, my dear Petru," the old nurse began, "you can't reach the fountain of the Fairy Aurora unless you ride the horse which your father the emperor rode in his youth; go, ask where and whose that horse is, then mount it and depart."
Petru thanked her for her directions, and then went off to inquire about the horse.
"May the light grow black to you!" said the emperor. "Who told you to ask me that? It must surely have been that witch of a Birscha. Are you crazy? Fifty years have passed since I was young, who knows where the bones of the horse I rode then are rotting? It seems to me that there's one strap of the bridle lying on the stable floor. It's all I have left of the horse."
Petru went off in a rage and told his old nurse the whole story.
"Just wait," cried the old woman, laughing. "If that's the way things are, very well. Go and bring me the piece of the bridle, I shall know how to turn it to some account."
The floor was covered with saddles, bridles, and straps; Petru chose the most tattered, rusted, and blackest, and carried it to the old woman, that she might do with it what she had promised. The old nurse took the bridle, smoked it with incense, muttered a short spell over it, and then said to Petru. "Now take the bridle and strike the pillars  of the house with it."
Petru did as he was told. The old woman's charm worked well. Scarcely had Petru struck the pillars when something happened--I don't know how--that utterly amazed him. A horse stood before him, a horse whose superior the world never saw. Its saddle was made of gold and jewels, its bridle glittered so that one dared not look at it for fear of being blinded. A beautiful horse, beautiful saddle, and beautiful bridle for the handsome prince!
"Jump on the bay's back, my young hero," cried the old woman, making the sign of the cross over horse and rider; then she repeated a short charm and went into the palace.
After Petru had leaped on the horse he felt thrice as much strength in his arm and thrice as much courage in his heart.
"Hold fast, master, for we have a long journey and must go swiftly," said the bay, and the hero soon saw that they galloped, galloped, galloped, as never horse and hero had galloped before.
On the bridge now stood a dragon whose like had never been there, a dragon with twelve heads, each one more terrible, more fiery than the others. Ah, but the monster found its match. Petru did not quail, but began to roll up his sleeves and spit upon his hands. "Out of the way!" he shouted. The dragon began to spit fire. Petru wasted no more words, but drew his sword and prepared to rush upon the bridge.
"Hold, calm yourself, master," said the bay, "do as I tell you; press the spurs into my flanks, draw your sword, and be ready, for we must now leap over the bridge and the dragon. When you see that we are directly over the monster, cut off its head, wipe the blood from your sword on your sleeve, and put it in the sheath, that you may be prepared to fight when we touch the earth again."
Petru struck in the spurs, drew his sword, hacked off the head, wiped the blood away, thrust the blade into its sheath, and was ready when he again felt firm ground under the horse's hoofs. So they crossed the bridge.
"Now we must go on," Petru began, after he had cast one more glance back to his native land.
"Forward," replied the bay, "but you must now tell me, master, how we are to hasten. Like the wind? Like thought? Like longing? Or like a curse?"
Petru looked before him and saw nothing but sky and earth--a wilderness which made his hair bristle with horror.
"We will change our pace and ride like each in turn,--not too fast that we may not grow weary, and not too slow lest we should be late."
They rode on,--one day like the wind, one like thought, one like longing, and one like a curse, until in the gray dawn of the morning of the fourth day, they reached the end of the wilderness.
"Now stop and go on at a walk, that I may see what I have never beheld," cried Petru, rubbing his eyes like a person waking from sleep or one who beholds something that seems like an illusion. Before the eyes of the young prince stretched a copper forest--trees, saplings, shrubs, bushes, ferns, and flowers of the most beautiful varieties, all made of copper. Petru stood staring, as a man gazes who beholds something he has never seen or heard of. He rode into the wood. The blossoms along the wayside began to praise themselves and tempt Petru to gather them and make a garland:
"Take me, I am beautiful and give strength to him who breaks me," said one.
"Oh, no, take me, for whoever wears me in his hat will be loved by the greatest beauty in the world," said another. Then a third and a fourth, each lovelier than its companions, stirred, and in sweet tones tried to persuade Petru to gather it.
The bay sprang aside whenever it saw its master stoop toward a flower.
"Why don't you keep quiet?" cried Petru, somewhat sternly.
"Pick no blossoms, you will fare badly if you gather them," replied the bay.
"Why should I fare badly?"
"A curse rests on these flowers--whoever gathers them must fight with the Welwa  of the wood."
"With what sort of a Welwa?"
"Now let me alone! But listen; look at the flowers and gather none of them, keep quiet." Having said this the horse went on at a walk. Petru knew by experience that he would do well to heed the bay's advice. So he turned his thoughts away from the flowers. But it was all in vain! If one is unlucky, he can't get rid of his ill-fortune even if he tries with all his might. The flowers still offered themselves to him, and his heart grew weaker and weaker.
"Come what may," said Petru after a while, "I shall at least see the Welwa of this wood, that I may know what the monster is like and with whom I have to deal. If I am fated to die by its hands, it will kill me in some way, and if not I shall escape, though there should be hundreds and thousands like it." Then he began to pull off the flowers.
"You have done wrong!" said the bay anxiously. "But as the thing has happened it can't be changed, so gird yourself and prepare to fight, for here is the Welwa."
The bay had scarcely spoken and Petru had hardly twined his wreath, when a light breeze blew from all quarters of the compass and soon rose to a gale. The gale increased until everywhere there was naught save gloom and darkness, gloom and darkness. The ground under Petru's feet trembled and shook, till he felt as though somebody had taken the world on his back and was dragging it away at full speed.
"Are you afraid?" asked the bay, shaking its mane.
"Not at all," replied Petru, summoning up his courage, though chills were running down his back. "If a thing must be, all right; let it be as it is."
"You need not fear," replied the bay, to encourage him. "Take the bridle from my neck and try to catch the Welwa with it."
The horse had just time to say this and Petru had not even a chance to unfasten the bridle properly, when the Welwa stood before him, a monster so frightful, so terrible, that he could not look at it. It has no head, yet it is not headless, it does not fly through the air, yet neither does it walk on the earth. It has a mane like the horse, horns like the stag, a face like the bear, eyes like the polecat, and a body that resembles every thing except a living being! Such was the Welwa which rushed upon Petru.
Petru rose in his stirrups and began to strike, sometimes with his sword, sometimes with his arm, till the perspiration ran down his body in streams.
A day and night passed away; the battle was not yet decided.
"Stop, so that we can rest a little while," said the Welwa, panting for breath.
The hero let his sword fall.
"Don't stop!" cried the bay quickly, and Petru set to work again with all his might.
The Welwa now neighed once like a horse, then howled like a wolf, and again rushed upon Petru. The battle went on for another day and night, and was even more terrible than before. Petru grew so weary that he could scarcely move.
"Stop now! I see I am dealing with a person who understands fighting. Stop!" said the Welwa for the second time. "Stop and let us settle our quarrel."
"Don't stop!" cried the bay.
Petru fought on, though he could scarcely breathe. But the Welwa no longer rushed so fiercely upon him and began to act with more care and caution, as people do when they feel they have not much strength. So the fight lasted till the dawn of the third day. When the rosy light of morning began to glimmer, Petru--how, I don't know, it's enough that he did it--threw the bridle over the head of the wearied Welwa, which instantly became a horse--the handsomest horse in the world.
"Sweet be your life, for you have delivered me from enchantment," said the transformed Welwa, and began to caress the bay charger. Petru learned from their conversation that the Welwa was a brother of the bay horse, and had been bewitched many years before by Holy Wednesday. 
Petru tied the Welwa to his horse, sprang into the saddle, and continued his journey. How did he ride? That I need not say. He rode swiftly till he got out of the copper forest.
"Stand still, and let me look at what I have never seen before," said Petru again, when they came out of the copper forest. A still more marvelous one now stretched before him, a forest of glittering bushes bearing the handsomest and most tempting flowers--he was entering the Silver Wood. The blossoms began to talk still more sweetly and enticingly than they had done in the Copper Forest. "Gather no more flowers," said the Welwa that was tied to the bay, "for my brother is seven times stronger than I."
But did my fearless hero restrain himself? Scarcely two minutes had passed ere he began to gather flowers and twine them into a wreath. The tempest howled louder, the darkness was greater, and the earth quaked still more than in the Copper Forest; the Welwa of the Silver Wood rushed upon Petru with seven-fold greater fierceness than the other Welwa had done. But he was not idle either. The battle again lasted for three days and three nights, and at dawn on the fourth morning our hero bridled the second Welwa.
"Sweet be your fortune, for you have delivered me from enchantment!" said the Welwa, and they pursued their journey along the road by which they had come.
"Stop, stand still, go on at a walk, and let me gaze at what I have never seen before," cried Petru for the third time; then he covered his eyes with his hand lest he should be blinded by the rays streaming from the Gold Forest. He had already beheld marvelous things, but never even dreamed of a sight like this.
"We will stand here or we shall fare badly," cried the horses in one breath.
"Why should we fare badly?" asked Petru.
"You'll pluck the flowers again. I know your heart will give you no rest until you do! And our youngest brother is seven times seven times stronger and more terrible than we three together. So let us go round the forest," said the bay.
"Certainly not," replied Petru; "let us go through it! Let us see all, since we have seen something, and experience all, now that we have experienced part. Have no fear, I have none!"
I need not tell you that Petru did again what he had already done twice. Oh dear! How could he help it?
Scarcely was the wreath twined when something began which had never been experienced before. It was not a more furious tempest or greater darkness, neither did the earth quake more violently. No! I don't know how or what it was, but it seemed to Petru as though somebody had got into the middle of the earth to overturn it. What happened was something awful, and may Heaven preserve any one from it!
"You see!" said the bay angrily, "why couldn't you keep quiet?"
Petru saw that he saw nothing more, began to feel that he felt nothing more, and understood that he could understand nothing more, so he made no reply, but girded his sword tighter and prepared to fight. "Now the Welwa can come," he cried, "I will die or throw the bridle over its head." He had scarcely uttered the words when something whose like he had never beheld before approached him. A dense fog surrounded Petru, a fog so dense that he could not even see himself in it.
"What's this?" cried the champion, somewhat startled, when he began to feel that he was aching all over. But he was still more alarmed when he perceived that he could not hear his own voice through the mist. So he began to strike about him with his sword to the right and left, before and behind, in every direction, and with all the strength he had--as a man does when he sees that matters are growing serious. So he fought on during a day and a night, without seeing any thing except thick darkness, or hearing any thing except his own perspiration trickling down his horse's flanks. For some time he had even felt as if he were no longer alive, but had died long before. Suddenly the fog began to scatter. At dawn on the second day it disappeared entirely, and when the sun rose in the sky Petru's eyes again saw the light. He felt as if he had been born anew.
The Welwa? it seemed to have vanished from the earth.
"Get your breath now, for the battle will begin again presently," said the bay.
"What was that?" asked Petru.
"The Welwa," replied the horse, "the Welwa changed into fog. Get your breath, it is coming again."
The bay had hardly spoken and Petru had hardly had time to breathe, when he saw approaching from one side something,--but what it was he did not know. Water, yet it was not like water, for it did not seem to flow on the earth, but in some queer fashion to fly, or move in some way--Enough, it left no trace behind and did not fly high. It was something that appeared to be nothing.
"Oh, dear!" cried Petru.
"Take courage and defend yourself, don't stand still," said the bay, but could not utter another word, for the water filled its mouth.
The fight began again. Petru struck about him without stopping for a day and a night, not knowing at what he was aiming, and fought without knowing with whom. When the next day dawned he felt that his feet were paralyzed.
"Now I am lost!" he cried somewhat angrily; yet he began to show himself doubly brave and dealt still stronger blows. The sun rose and the water vanished, one could not tell how or when.
"Get your breath!" said the bay, "get your breath, for you haven't much time to lose. The Welwa will come back directly."
Petru made no answer; the poor fellow was so tired that he did not know what to do. So he settled himself more firmly in the saddle, seized his sword with a tighter grip, and thus prepared awaited the approach of the foe he saw advancing.
Such a thing, how can I describe it? It was like a man dreaming that he sees something which has what it has not, and has not what it has--this was the shape in which the Welwa now appeared to Petru. Oh, heavens! how could the Welwa now be a gold forest after having twice left it in disgrace? It flew with its feet and walked with its wings, its head was behind and its tail was before, its eyes were in its breast and its breast was on its forehead--and as for the rest, no mortal could describe it.
Petru shuddered in every limb, and crossed himself twice, then he plucked up courage and began to fight as he had already fought once, and also as he had never yet fought before. The day passed and Petru's strength failed. Evening came, and Petru's eyes began to grow dim. When midnight arrived he felt that he was no longer on horseback. He himself did not know how and when he had reached the earth, but he was on foot. When night was yielding to day Petru could not keep up, but sank on his knees.
"Stand up, gather your strength once more!" cried the bay, seeing that his master was losing his vigor.
Petru wiped away the perspiration with his shirt-sleeve, strained every nerve, and once more stood erect.
"Now strike the Welwa on the mouth with the bridle?" said the bay.
Petru did as he was bid. The Welwa neighed so loudly that Petru thought he should be deafened, then, though so tired that it was scarcely able to move, rushed upon the hero. The fight was now not long. Petru managed to throw the bridle over this Welwa's head, too.
When broad day came, the hero was riding on the fourth horse. "May you have a beautiful wife, for you have delivered me from enchantment!" said the Welwa.
They rode on, and when night was shrouding the day, they reached the borders of the Gold Forest.
While pursuing their way Petru began to get tired, and, in order to have something to do, examined the beautiful wreaths. "What shall I do with the wreaths?" he said to himself. "One is enough for me. I'll keep the handsomest." So he threw down the copper one, then the silver one, and reserved only the gold garland.
"Stop," said the bay horse. "Don't throw the wreaths away. Dismount and pick them up, they may yet be useful to you."
Petru did as he was told and rode on. Toward evening, when the sun was only a hand's breadth above the horizon and the little flies were beginning to swarm, our rider reached the edge of the forest. Before him stretched a wide moor, on which as far as the eye could wander nothing was visible. The horses stopped.
"What is it?" asked Petru.
"We may fare badly here," replied the bay.
"Why should we fare badly?"
"We are now entering the domain of Holy Wednesday. So long as we ride through it, we shall experience nothing but cold, cold, cold. Fires are kept burning all along the roadside, and I'm afraid you will go and warm yourself."
"Why shouldn't I warm myself?"
"You'll fare badly if you do," said the bay anxiously.
"Forward," said Petru fearlessly, "I will be cold, too, if necessary."
The further Petru entered Holy Wednesday's kingdom the more he felt that it was no pleasant region. At every step the air grew colder and frostier, there was so much cold and ice that it froze even the marrow in one's bones. But Petru was no coward, he proved as brave in enduring hardship as he had been in battle. Along the roadside one fire after another was burning, and beside these fires were gathered groups of people who called to him in the sweetest, most enticing words. Petru's very breath froze, yet he did not yield, but ordered the bay to go on at a walk. How long our hero battled with the cold and frost can not be told, for every body knows that Holy Wednesday's kingdom is longer than one stone's throw or even two. The cold there is not moderate, but bitter, so bitter that even the rocks are split by the frost. That's the way it is in that country. But Petru had not grown up without some hardships, so he only ground his teeth, though he was so benumbed that he couldn't even wink.
They reached Holy Wednesday. Petru dismounted, flung the bridle over the bay's head, and entered the house.
"Good morning, mother."
"Thank you, my frozen hero!"
Petru laughed, but made no answer.
"You have proved yourself a brave fellow," said Holy Wednesday, patting him on the shoulder. "Now I'll give you the reward." She went to an iron chest, opened it, and took out a little box. "See," she said, "this casket has been destined from the earliest times for the person who penetrated the realm of the cold. Take it and guard it carefully, for it may be of great service to you. When you open it, you will receive news from whatever place you desire and truthful tidings from your native land."
Petru thanked her for her words and her gift, mounted his horse, and rode on. After he was a good stone's throw away, he opened the magic box. "What do you command?" asked something inside.
"Give me news of my father," replied Petru rather timidly.
"He is sitting in the council chamber with the elders of the kingdom."
"Is he prospering?"
"Not especially; he has troubles."
"Who is annoying him?" asked Petru, somewhat sharply.
"Your brothers, Costan and Florea," the voice in the box answered. "As it seems to me, they are trying to wrest the scepter from him and the old monarch says that they are not yet worthy of it."
"Forward, bay, we have no time to lose," cried Petru. Then, shutting the box, he put it into his knapsack.
They hurried as ghosts flit when whirlwinds are blowing and vampires hunting at midnight. How long they rode can not be told, but it was a long, long time.
"Stop! Let me give you another piece of advice," said the bay after a while.
"Well, tell me," said Petru.
"You have been tormented by the cold, now you'll have to encounter heat such as you never felt before. Keep up your courage, and don't let yourself be attracted to the cool places."
"Forward!" replied Petru. "Don't be anxious--if I didn't freeze, I shan't melt."
Indeed! This heat was enough to melt the very marrow of one's bones, a heat that exists nowhere except in the kingdom of Holy Thursday.  The further they went the greater the heat became. Even the iron of the horses' shoes began to melt, but Petru would not yield. The perspiration ran down his body in streams, he wiped it away with his sleeve, and rode swiftly on. As for the heat, intense as it became, there was something else that tortured Petru more. Along the roadside, always a good stone's throw apart, were cool valleys with cold springs ready to quench the traveler's thirst. When Petru looked at them, he felt as if his heart was shriveled and his tongue dried up with thirst. Lilies, violets, and roses grew in the soft grass around the springs, and on these beds of flowers reclined girls so beautiful that heaven only knows how it would have been possible for them to be lovelier. Petru would fain have shut his eyes in order not to see such bewitching creatures any longer.
"Come, hero, come to the cooling waters, let us amuse you," called the enticing maidens.
Petru silently shook his head, he had lost the power of speech.
They rode on so for a long, long time. Suddenly they felt that the heat was beginning to lessen, and on a distant hill-top a hut appeared. This was the dwelling of Holy Thursday. Petru approached, and when almost at the door Holy Thursday came out and welcomed him. Petru expressed his thanks, as is customary among distinguished and well-behaved people, and they entered into conversation as people who have never seen each other are in the habit of doing. Petru brought news of Holy Wednesday, related his adventures, and mentioned the goal for which he had started, and then bade her farewell, for he really had no time to lose. Who could tell how far he still had to go to reach the Fairy Aurora?
"Wait a little while, until I can say a few words to you," said Holy Thursday. "You are now about to enter the domain of Holy Friday;  go to her and tell her that I wish her health and happiness. When you return, come to me again, and I'll give you something that will be useful to you."
Petru thanked her and rode on.
He had scarcely ridden long enough to smoke a pipeful of tobacco, when he entered a new country. Here it was neither hot nor cold, but like the climate in spring when the lambs are being weaned. Petru began to breathe easily, but he was on a desolate moor consisting of sand and thistles.
"What can this be?" asked Petru, when he saw an object something like a house, but a long, long distance off; just where his eyes beheld the end of the dreary heath.
"That is Holy Friday's house," replied the bay; "if we ride on, we may be able to reach it before dark."
And so it happened. Night was just closing in as the hero slowly neared the distant house. On the moor was a throng of phantoms flitting on Petru's right and left hand, before and behind him.
"Don't be afraid," said the bay. "Those are the Whirlwind's daughters; they are dancing in the air, waiting for the moon eater."
So they reached Holy Friday's house. "Dismount and enter," said the bay.
Petru was about to do what he had been told.
"Stop, don't be in such a hurry," the horse continued. "Let me first tell you what you are to do. You can't go into Holy Friday's house so unceremoniously; she is guarded by the Whirlwinds."
"What am I to do?"
"Take the copper wreath and go with it to the hill you see yonder. When you reach the top, begin to call: 'Good Heavens, what beautiful girls, what angels, what fairy-like creatures!' Then hold the garland aloft, and say: 'If I only knew whether any body would take this wreath from me--if I only knew! If I only knew!' and hurl the garland away."
"Why should I do that?" asked Petru, as a man is in the habit of questioning, when he wants to know the cause of his acts.
"Silence! Go and do it," replied the bay curtly, and Petru, without further words, did as he was bid.
Scarcely had the hero flung the wreath aside, when the Whirlwinds rushed upon it and tussled around it.
Petru now turned toward the house.
"Stop," cried the bay again, "I haven't yet told you every thing. Take the silver wreath and knock at Holy Friday's window. When she asks 'Who is there?' say that you came on foot and have lost your way on the moor. She will rebuff you. But you mustn't stir from the spot. Say to her: 'I won't go away, for ever since I was a little child I have always heard of Holy Friday (Venus) and--I didn't have steel shoes made with calf-skin straps, did not travel nine years and nine months, did not fight for this silver wreath I want to give her, did not do and suffer all these things merely to turn back now that I have reached her.' Act and speak as I have told you--what follows must be your own care."
Petru made no reply, but went up to the house. As it was perfectly dark, the hero did not see the dwelling, and was guided only by the rays of light streaming through the window. When he reached the house several dogs began to bark, because they knew some stranger was near.
"Who is fighting with the hounds? May his life be bitter," cried Holy Friday angrily.
"It is I, Holy Friday!" said Petru, with laboring breath, like a man who likes and yet is not quite satisfied with what he is doing. "I have lost my way on the moor, and don't know where I can spend the night." Here he stopped, not daring to say more.
"Where did you leave your horse?" asked Holy Friday rather sharply.
Petru reflected; he did not know whether he ought to tell a lie or speak the truth, so he made no answer.
"Go, in God's name, my son, I have no room for you," said Holy Friday retiring from the window.
Petru now repeated what the horse had told him to say. Scarcely had he done so, when he saw Holy Friday open the window.
"Let me see the wreath, my son," she said sweetly, in a gentle tone.
Petru gave her the garland.
"Come into the house," said Holy Friday, "don't be afraid of the dogs, they know what I want."
It was even so. The dogs began to wag their tails, and followed Petru as they follow a master returning home from the fields at night. Petru said "good evening" as he entered, laid his hat on the oven, and when Holy Friday invited him to sit down took his place on a bench by the stove. They now talked about everyday matters, the world, the wickedness of mankind, and similar things, without any special reason or purpose. It appeared from her talk that Holy Friday was very much incensed against men; but Petru agreed with her in every thing--as is proper for a person who is sitting at another's table.
Heavens, how old the aged dame looked! I don't know why young Petru devoured her so with his eyes, that he might have given her the Evil eye. Was he counting the wrinkles in her face? He would have needed to be born seven times in succession, and each time live seven times as long as an ordinary human life, to have leisure to number them all. But Holy Friday's heart laughed with joy, when she saw Petru completely absorbed in gazing at her.
"When the present state of things had no existence," Holy Friday began, "before the world was made, I was born, and was so beautiful a child that my parents created the earth, in order to have somebody to admire my loveliness. By the time the world was made I had grown up and, amid all the marveling at my beauty, the Evil eye fell upon me. Since then every century a wrinkle has formed on my face. And now I am old!" Holy Friday's grief and anger would allow her to say no more.
In the course of the conversation Holy Friday told Petru that her father had once been a great and powerful emperor, and once, when a quarrel broke out between him and the Fairy Aurora, who ruled the adjoining country, he had been shamefully mocked at by his neighbor. Then she began to say all sorts of things about the Fairy Aurora. What was Petru to do? He listened in silence, now and then saying: "Yes, yes, it is really too bad." What else could he do?
"But I will set you a task, if you are a brave champion and will perform it," said Holy Friday, when both began to be sleepy. "At the Fairy Aurora's is a spring--whoever drinks from it will bloom like the rose and the violet. Bring me a jug of the water, and I shall know how to show you my gratitude. It's a difficult task, heaven knows! The Fairy Aurora's kingdom is guarded by all sorts of wild beasts and terrible dragons. But I want to tell you something else, and give you something too."
After Holy Friday had said this, she went to a chest bound with iron on every corner and took out a tiny little flute.
"Look," she said to Petru, "an old man gave me this when I was young. Whoever hears its notes falls asleep and sleeps till they are heard no longer. Take the instrument, and play upon it so long as you remain in the Fairy Aurora's kingdom. No one will harm you, for every creature will be asleep."
Petru now told his hostess what he meant to do, and Holy Friday was still more delighted. They did not talk much more. Why should they? it was already long past midnight. Petru said "good night," thrust the flute into its case, and went up to the garret to get some sleep. When morning dawned, the hero was already awake and the morning-star had hardly risen in the sky ere he was up. He took a large manger, filled it with red-hot coals, and went out to feed his horses. After the bay had eaten nine and each of the other horses three full cribs of fire, Petru led them to the spring, watered them, and prepared to continue his journey.
"Stop," Holy Friday called from the window. "I have a word more to say. I want to give you a piece of advice."
Petru went to the window.
"Leave one horse here, and go on with only three. Ride slowly until you have reached the Fairy Aurora's kingdom. Then dismount and enter her country on foot. Then, when you return, come so that you will leave all three steeds lying in the road and arrive here on foot."
"I will obey every word," said Petru, trying to go on.
"Don't be in a hurry, I haven't finished yet," Holy Friday continued. "Don't look at the Fairy Aurora, for her eyes bewitch, her glances rob a man of his reason. She is ugly, too ugly to be described. She has owl's eyes, a fox's face, and cat's claws. Do you hear? Don't look at her. And may the Lord bring you back to me safe and sound, my son Petru."
Petru thanked her for her counsel and lingered no longer. Where should he find time to gossip with old women? He left the bay horse in the meadow and continued his journey.
Far, far away, where the sky meets the earth and the stars talk to the flowers, appeared a bright rosy glow, almost like that of the sky in early spring, only still more beautiful and wonderful. This was the Fairy Aurora's palace. The whole space between was filled with flowery meadows. Then, too, it was neither warm nor cold, neither light nor dark, but midway between, just as it is on St. Peter's day when one rises early in the morning to drive the cattle to pasture. Petru rode through this beautiful region with a happy heart. How long he rode can not be told in human language, for in that country night does not follow day and day night; it was always early morning with soft, cool breezes, a viewless sun, and a dim light--the reign of day and night first began in Holy Friday's land. After a long journey, Petru saw something white appear amid the rosy glow of the sky. The nearer he approached the more distinctly he saw what was now before his eyes. It was the fairy-palace. Petru gazed and gazed, then drew a long breath like a man who says, "Oh, Lord, I thank thee!" But ah, how beautiful this palace was! Lofty turrets stretching far above the clouds, walls white as sea-shells, and brighter than the sun at noon-day, a roof of silver--but what kind of silver? it did not even glitter in the sun--and the windows were all spun from air and set in frames of dull gold. Over all these things the merry sunbeams played, as the wind plays with the shadows of the branches in the spring, when it is so indolent that it scarcely stirs.
Petru could not stay long, for he was in a hurry; so he dismounted, let the horses graze on the dewy grass, took his flute, as Holy Friday had directed, and saying, "God be with me!" commenced his tremendous task. He had scarcely walked three stones' throws when he saw a giant, lulled to sleep by the sweet notes of the flute. This was one of the guardians of the Fairy Aurora's palace. As he lay there on his back Petru began to measure him by paces. I won't exaggerate, but he was so big that when Petru had walked from his feet to his head he heaved a sigh, he did not exactly know whether from fatigue or fear. It would have been no wonder if he was astounded. The rising moon is not so large as the giant's eye. And this eye was not even like other people's, but in the middle of the giant's forehead. Such was the eye! What could the rest have been! Petru was a brave hero, but he heartily thanked God, the flute, and Holy Friday, that he had not got into a fight with this monster of a man, and softly continued his way. The prince had walked about as far as a man usually goes before he feels inclined to sit down in the shade, when he encountered still more terrible foes. Dragons, each with seven heads, were stretched out in the sun sound asleep, some on his right hand, others on the left. How these dragons looked I can not describe: nowadays every body knows that dragons are not things to be trifled with or laughed at. Petru hurried swiftly past them, but I really don't know whether it was from haste or fear. And it would have been no wonder if he was afraid! A dragon is a dragon!
The prince now reached a river. But let nobody suppose it was an ordinary stream; milk flowed instead of water, not over sand and gravel, but over gems and pearls, and it ran neither slowly nor quickly, but both slowly and quickly at the same time, like the days of happy mortals. This was the river that flowed around the palace without ever stopping or moving. On the bank, each one leap from the other, lions were sleeping. And such lions! They had golden hair, and teeth and claws tipped with iron. These were the guardians of the other bank of the river, where there was a beautiful garden, as beautiful as gardens can only be in the Fairy Aurora's realm. On the shore grew the fairest flowers and upon these blossoms fairies, each more beautiful and bewitching than the others, slept sweetly side by side. Petru did not even dare to glance that way. The prince now asked himself how he was to get across the stream. It was broad and deep and had only one bridge, and this bridge, too, was unlike any other in the world. On each bank was a bridge-head, each guarded by four sleeping lions! But as to the bridge--no human soul could cross it. One saw it with the eyes, but felt nothing but empty air if he tried to set foot on it. Who knows of what material it was made! Perhaps a little cloud.
Enough, Petru remained on the river bank. Cross? That he could not do. Swim over it? That was not to be thought of! What should he do? Well, we needn't worry about Petru, he isn't easily frightened. He turned and went back to the giant. "We'll run the risk," he thought, "we'll talk to each other. Wake up, my brave fellow," he shouted, pulling the monster by the sleeve of his coat. When the giant awoke he stretched out his hand toward Petru--just as we do when we try to catch a fly. Petru blew upon the flute, and the giant fell back to the ground. So Petru waked him and put him to sleep again, three times in succession,--that is, he waked him three times and made him go to sleep three times. When this was to be done for the fourth time, Petru unfastened his cravat, tied the giant's two little fingers together with it, then drew his sword, and, tapping the monster on the breast, cried, "Wake up, my brave fellow!"
When the giant saw what a sorry jest had been played upon him, he said to Petru: "Hark ye, this is no fair fight! Fight honestly, if you are a hero!"
"Wait a while, I want to talk with you first," said Petru. "Swear that you will carry me over the river, then I'll release you for a fair fight."
The giant took the oath, and Petru let him rise. When he was fairly awake he rushed upon the prince to crush him at a single blow. But he had met his match. Petru was more than a day old, and he, too, dashed boldly on the foe. They fought for three days and three nights; the giant seized Petru and hurled him on the ground so that he drove him into the earth up to his knees, but Petru buried the giant to his waist; then the giant thrust him into the ground to his breast, and finally Petru forced the giant down to his neck. When the giant found himself cornered in this way he cried out in terror, "Let me go, let me go, I own myself conquered!"
"Will you carry me over the river?" asked Petru.
"I will!" he replied from the hole in the ground.
"What shall I do to you if you break your promise?"
"Kill me; do whatever you choose with me, only let me live now!"
"Be it so!" said Petru, then taking the giant's left hand he tied it to his right foot, stuffed a handkerchief into his mouth so that he could not cry out, bandaged his eyes to prevent him from seeing, and led him to the river.
When they reached the stream the giant put one foot on the opposite bank, took Petru on the palm of his hand and set him carefully on the further shore.
"That's right!" said Petru; then he blew on his flute and the giant sank down on the river bank.
When the fairies, who were bathing in the milky waves of the river, heard the sound of Petru's flute they felt sleepy, came out, and fell asleep on the blossoms along the shore, where Petru found them when he got down from the palm of the giant's hand. He did not venture to linger long with them. They were beautiful, heaven knows! What must the Fairy Aurora herself be? Or was she the ugliest among the fair ones? The prince did not stop to ask himself many questions, but set off to see.
When he entered the garden, he began to wonder again. Much as he had seen and experienced, he had never beheld any thing so beautiful. The trees all had golden branches, the waters of the fountains were clearer than dew, the wind blew with a musical sound, and the flowers whispered sweet, loving words. Petru wondered still more when he found that there was not a single unfolded blossom in the garden, nothing but buds. It seemed as if the world had stood still here, and it was always spring. Yet when did the flowers bloom, if they had not yet had time to open? And, if they did not bloom, why was it? This question, and many another one, Petru asked himself on his way to the palace. No one barred his progress, no one interfered with his thoughts, every body was asleep; the nymphs beside the fountains, the birds on the boughs, the deer in the thickets, and the butterflies on the flowers, all were sunk in dreams by the music of the flute. Nay, even the wind no longer played with the leaves, the sunbeams no longer drank the dewdrops from the grass, and the river had ceased to flow. Petru alone was awake, awake with his thoughts, and his wonder at these thoughts. He reached the court-yard of the palace. Around it stretched a thick, beautiful grass-plot--a grass plot that swayed like the wind. Before him was the gate--a gate made entirely of flowers and other beautiful things. Below and beside the gate were more flowers, each one more beautiful than the other, so that Petru fancied he was treading upon clouds as he passed over them. On the right and left slept fairies, who should have guarded the entrance of the court-yard. Petru looked around him in every direction, said once more, "God be with me!" and entered the palace.
What Petru saw I can not describe; surely every body knows that the palace of the Fairy Aurora can be no ordinary place. Around it were petrified fairies, trees with golden leaves, and flowers made of pearls and gems, columns wrought of sunbeams, steps as soft and lustrous as the couches of princesses, and a sweet, soothing atmosphere. Such was the court-yard of the Fairy Aurora's palace, and it could have been no different. Why should it? Petru went up the steps and entered the palace. The first twelve rooms were hung with linen, the next twelve with silk; then came twelve decked with silver and twelve with gold. Petru passed swiftly through the whole forty-eight, and in the forth-ninth apartment, which was the most magnificent of all, he found the Fairy Aurora. The chamber was large, broad, and high, like one of the finest churches. The walls were covered with all sorts of silk and beautiful things, and on the floor, where one sets one's foot, was something, I don't know exactly what, but something as glittering as a mirror and as soft as cushions, besides many other beautiful things, such as a Fairy Aurora must have. Where should there be lovely things, if not in her palace! As has been said, Petru fairly held his breath when he saw himself in the midst of so much beauty. In the center of this church, or whatever it was, Petru saw the famous fountain on whose account he had taken so long a journey, a fountain like any other, with nothing extraordinary about it. One couldn't help wondering that the Fairy Aurora allowed it to be in her room. It had staves such as were used in ancient times, but they had evidently been allowed to remain for some special purpose.
And now I will tell a wonderful thing. Beside the fountain lay the Fairy Aurora herself--the real Fairy Aurora! The couch was made of gold and heaven knows what else, but it was a beautiful one, and on it slept the Fairy Aurora, resting on silken cushions filled with spring breezes. Of course she was not beautiful. Why should she be? Had not Holy Friday said that she was a combination of hideous things? Why should we delay in our words? Perhaps Holy Friday was right! It might be so. Enough--when Petru looked at her as she slept there on her couch, he held his breath and no longer played on the magic flute--he was petrified by this wonder of wonders. No, she was beautiful, far, far more beautiful than one would expect the Fairy Aurora must be! I'll say no more.
On the right and left of the couch slept twelve of the prettiest fairies in the kingdom, who had evidently been overtaken by slumber while waiting on their queen. Petru was so absorbed in gazing at the Fairy Aurora that he did not notice them till, no longer hearing the flute, they stirred in their sleep. Petru, too, trembled, and began to play again. The whole palace was once more sunk in slumber, and the prince advanced three paces.
Between the couch and the fountain was a table on which were a tender white loaf, kneaded with roe's milk, and a goblet of red wine, sweet as a morning dream. This was the bread of strength and the wine of youth. Petru looked once at the bread, once at the wine, and once at the Fairy Aurora, then with three steps more reached the couch, the table, and the fountain. When he stood beside the couch he fairly lost his senses--he really could not control himself, and stooping bit the Fairy Aurora. She opened her eyes, and looked at the prince with a glance which made him lose his senses still more. He played upon his flute that she might fall asleep again, placed the golden wreath on her brow, took a piece of bread from the table, drank a sip of the wine of youth, then bit the fairy again, ate another mouthful of bread, and drank more wine. This he did three times in succession. Thrice he bit the Fairy Aurora, thrice he ate of the bread, and thrice he tasted the wine. Then he filled the jug with water from the fountain and vanished like a piece of good news.
When the hero entered the garden he found an entirely new world. The flowers were flowers, the buds had opened, the fountains played faster, the sunbeams danced more cheerily on the palace walls, and the fairies' faces looked more joyous. All this was due to the three bites.
Petru went away by the same road that he came, amid the fairies and flowers, on the palm of the giant's hand, past lions, dragons, and other monsters. Then, seated in his saddle, he cast one glance back and saw that the whole world behind him was in motion. Hi! But they had somebody before them worth chasing. Not like the wind, not like thought, not like longing, not like a curse, but even faster than happiness vanishes, Petru hurried on his way. The pursuers were left behind, and the prince reached Holy Friday on foot. Holy Friday knew that he was coming by the neighing of the bay horse, which had felt its master's approach three days off, so she came to meet him, bringing some white bread and red wine.
"Welcome back, prince!"
"Good morning, thank you kindly, Holy Friday."
Petru then handed her the jug of water from the Fairy Aurora's fountain, and his hostess thanked him most warmly. They exchanged a few words about the prince's journey, the Fairy Aurora's palace, and the beauty of this sister of the Sun--then Petru saddled the bay, for he really had no time to lose. Holy Friday listened sometimes joyously, sometimes bitterly, sometimes merrily, sometimes angrily, but when she saw that Petru was surely going, to carry home his portion of the water from the fairy fountain, she wished him health and happiness.
Petru did not stop till he reached Holy Thursday. Here he dismounted and entered as had been agreed, but did not stay long, merely greeted her, talked a little while, and then said farewell.
"Stop, let me tell you something else before you go on," said Holy Thursday anxiously. "Take care of your life; enter into conversation with no one, don't ride too fast, don't let go of the water, believe no promises, and fly from lips that speak sweet words! Go as you came, the way is long, the world is wicked, and you have something very valuable in your hand, so listen to me. I give you this handkerchief, it is made neither of gold, silver, silk, nor pearls, but striped linen; take good care of it, it is enchanted. Whoever carries it no thunderbolt can strike, no lance stab, no sword slay, and no bullet pierce."
Such were Holy Thursday's words. Petru took the handkerchief and listened to her counsel; then dashed off on the bay, hurrying as fairy princes do hurry, when seized by homesickness. Petru did not dismount at Holy Wednesday's, but said, "How do you do," from his horse's back and rode on. Just at the right time he remembered his enchanted box, and, wishing to know what was going on in the world, drew it out of its case. He had barely pulled it out and not wholly opened it, when the voice inside said:
"The Fairy Aurora is angry because you took the water away. Holy Friday is angry because she has broken her jug, your brothers Florea and Costan are angry because you have wrested the empire from them."
Petru began to laugh when he heard of so much anger. He did not exactly know what else to ask. "How did Holy Friday break the jug?" he said at last.
"She began to dance with joy, and fell down with it."
"How have I wrested the empire from my brothers?"
The box now began to relate how Florea and Costan, as the emperor was now old and blind in both eyes, had gone to him and begged him to divide his kingdom between them. The emperor had replied that no one should rule the land except he who brought water from the Fairy Aurora's fountain. "As the brothers understood his meaning they went to old Birscha, who told them that you had been there, accomplished the feat, and set out on your way home. Your brothers consulted together and are now on their way to meet you, kill you, take the water from you, and reign over the country."
"You lie, you accursed box," cried Petru furiously, when he heard all this, and dashed the casket upon the ground so that it broke into seventy-seven pieces. He had not ridden much further, ere he saw the clouds of his own country, felt his native breezes, and beheld here and there, in the distance, one of the mountain peaks on the frontiers of his home. Petru stopped, that he might see more distinctly what it seemed to him that he only fancied he perceived.
He was just going to cross the bridge on the borders of the empire, when he thought he heard a distant sound, as though some one were calling him, and even shouting his name: "Ho! Petru!" He wanted to halt.
"Forward, forward," cried the bay. "You'll fare badly if you stop."
"No, no, stop! Let us see who and what it is, and what is wanted. Let me look the world in the face!" So saying, Petru turned the bay's bridle.
Oh, Petru, Petru! Who told you to stop? Wouldn't it be better for you to remember what Holy Thursday said to you? Wouldn't it be better for you to heed the bay's counsel? That's the way of the world, you can do nothing to change it!
When he turned, he saw his brother Florea and his brother Costan. They were both there, and approached Petru. Forward, Petru, hurry on! Or did not Holy Thursday tell you that you must enter into conversation with no one? Or do you no longer remember the tidings Holy Wednesday's box brought you? The brothers drew near with fair words and honey on their lips. What did Holy Thursday say? Petru, Petru, have you forgotten?
When Petru saw his dear brothers, he leaped from the bay's back and rushed into their arms. Dear me! how could he help it? How long it was since he had seen a human face or heard one word of human speech! The conversation flowed as it flows among brothers. Petru was gay and happy; Florea and Costan were full of sweet words, there was honey on their lips. Only the bay was sad and hung his head mournfully. After the brothers had talked a long time about the old emperor, the country, and Petru's journey, Florea began to frown.
"Brother Petru, this is a wicked world!--wouldn't it be better for you to give us the water to carry? People will come to meet you, but nobody will know any thing about us, whence we come, where we are going, or what we have."
"Yes, indeed," said Costan, "Florea speaks sensibly."
Petru shook his head once or twice, and then told his brothers about his charmed handkerchief. They now perceived that there was only one way to kill the hero, so Florea began to talk to Petru over Costan's shoulders. About three stones'-throws off was a well of clear, cold water.
"Aren't you thirsty, Costan?" asked Florea, winking at Costan.
"Yes," replied Costan, understanding what Florea meant. "Come, Petru, let us quench our thirst, and then may God help us on our way. We'll follow you to protect you from annoyance and danger."
Don't go, Petru, don't go, or you'll fare badly! The bay horse neighed but once. Ah, but the hero did not understand. What happened then! What should happen? Nothing!--
The well was broad and deep.
The two brothers went home with the water, as if they had brought it from the Fairy Aurora.
The bay neighed again, so fiercely and mournfully that even the woods shook with fear, then rushed to the well and stood there paralyzed by grief.
This was the story of Petru, the brave, the heroic prince. It seems as if he were destined to arrive at an evil hour.
A banquet was held at the emperor's court, and all sorts of splendid ceremonies were arranged. All through the land went the news that the monarch's sons, Florea and Costan, had brought the water from the Fairy Aurora. The emperor washed his eyes with the water and saw as never mortal man had seen before. In the royal chamber behind the hearth stood a cask, and in the stave of this cask he saw a worm--the emperor could see so well that he looked through the wood. After dividing the empire between his two brave sons, he retired to his large private estates to spend his old age in peace. So ended the story of the water from the Fairy Aurora's fountain. The country celebrated the event for three days and three nights, then the people went to work again as if nothing had happened.
After Petru had left the couch, the palace, and the court-yard, and the sound of his flute could no longer be heard, the Fairy Aurora recovered her consciousness, opened her eyes, raised her head, and looked around her in every direction as if searching for something, though she herself did not exactly know what.
"What was that?" she asked, half awake, half-dreaming--"Who?"
It seemed to her as if she had seen something in a vision,--no, in reality,--something sweet and pleasant. A creature like a human being, but with a more commanding glance, something unlike any thing she had ever beheld before.
"Don't you know what it was? Did you see it too! Or, have you, too, been asleep, been dreaming?"
Such were the questions the Fairy Aurora asked her attendant fays and herself. She felt as if she had had a different soul ever since she saw this wonder. But no one answered her; every one was dumb with amazement.
The Fairy Aurora noticed the wreath: "What a beautiful garland! Who gathered the flowers for it, who twined them into a coronal, and who brought the wreath here and laid it on my couch?"
And the Fairy Aurora became sad.
She saw the bread on the table. Three mouthfuls were missing, one on the right side, one on the left and one out of the middle. It was the same with the wine of youth; three sips were missing, one from the top, one from the bottom, and one from the middle.
Somebody must have been there. The Fairy Aurora grew still more sorrowful; it seemed to her as if she missed something, yet she did not know what or where.
The water in the fountain was turbid. Water! Somebody has taken water away from here! And the Fairy Aurora was wrathful. How had any one been able to enter unperceived? Where were all the sharp-eyed guards? The giants, the dragons, the iron-shod lions, the fairies, the flowers, and the sun--what had they all been doing? Nobody had watched! Had nobody been at his post? The Fairy Aurora now fell into a perfect rage. "Lions! Dragons! Giants! set forth, pursue, catch, seize and bring him back." Such were the orders of the Fairy Aurora in the fury of her wrath. The command was issued and set her whole realm in commotion, but Petru had fled so swiftly that not even the sunbeams could overtake him. All returned sorrowfully; all brought sad tidings. Petru had crossed the frontiers of the kingdom, had gone where the Fairy Aurora's guards possessed no power.
The fairy queen now forgot her anger in her grief, and sent forth the Sun to make seven days into one, to search, gaze, and bring tidings. During this seven-fold long day the Fairy Aurora did nothing but watch the course of the Sun; she gazed and gazed till the tears began to stream from her eyes, I don't know whether from looking so long or from her great sorrow and yearning.
Lo and behold! On the seventh day the Sun came home,--red, tired, and sad. More bad news. Alas! Petru was where the sunbeams could not penetrate.
When the Fairy Aurora saw that this last trial had also been vain, she gave strict orders throughout her whole country that the fairies should no longer smile, the flowers no longer send forth fragrance, the breezes no longer blow, the springs no more pour forth clear waters, nor the sunbeams shine. Then she commanded that the black veil of darkness should be let down between the world and her empire, a veil so thick that only a single sunbeam should pierce it, to convey the tidings that the sun would not move through the sky until the person who had taken the water from the fountain should come. And this news went through the darkened world. The people agreed that the great light had been solely for the emperor's eye-sight. Nobody in the world saw except the emperor, nobody perceived the annoyances of the darkness except the emperor, and nobody was more unhappy than the emperor. So he advised and commanded his sons, Florea and Costan, to set out and free the world from darkness.
Whoever lies once, will lie a second time; Florea mounted his horse and rode by the way Petru had smoothed to the Fairy Aurora's kingdom. When he had nearly reached her court, the fairy felt that some stranger was approaching.
"Is any body coming?" she asked, rather sharply.
"Some one is coming," replied the dragons who mounted guard at the bridge.
"How is he coming? Over or under the bridge?"
The bridge was what we know. Florea passed under it.
"The hero is passing under the bridge!" replied the dragons, somewhat amused.
"See to him, or the light will become black to you," said the fairy, receiving Florea at his entrance. Florea was thrilled by the sight of so much beauty.
"Welcome, my hero! Did you steal the water?"
"Yes, you are right, I took it."
"Did you drink the wine?"
Florea remained silent.
"Did you eat the bread?"
"No," said Florea.
"Did you bite me?"
Florea was silent.
"Then may you lose your sight! I'll teach you to tell another falsehood!" said the fairy, angrily, giving Florea two cuffs, one on the right ear and the other on the left, till every thing grew as dark before his eyes as mortal sin. Two dragons led the blind prince out of the palace, and the matter was settled.
Costan now set out to follow his brother's example. He set out for the Fairy Aurora's palace, reached it, and fared just as Florea had done--he, too, left it a blind man.
There was now not a single ray of light in the whole earth. The world was deprived of light on account of one emperor's eyes.
After the Fairy Aurora had found that she could not recover Petru, she summoned every one in her whole domain; the fairies, the flowers, in short, all her subjects. Even the sun himself was obliged to come down from the sky, unharness the horses from his chariot, lead them to the stable, and go to the Fairy Aurora's palace. When all were thus assembled, the beautiful queen gave them no further commands, but in her grief and suffering bade farewell to all her subjects, thanked them for their love and confidence, and sent them out into the world, that each one might act according to his own ideas, keeping only two lions, two large and two small dragons, and two giants, that she might have somebody to guard the bridge. She sent all the fairies into the garden, telling them not to come back to the court till she was happy once more, then gave orders that the flowers should henceforth cease to smell so sweet that every human being would carry them away, the winds wail so piteously that no mortal could help weeping to hear them, the springs send forth bitter waters, and the sun daily cast seven times seven cold rays into the world. After saying all these things, she went to the great wheel on which the threads of human life are wound, stopped it, so that it could no longer turn, and human existence became changeless. Then the Fairy Aurora hid herself from the world in the darkest and dreariest corner of her whole palace.
The big and little dragons and the giants went out into the wide world and hid themselves for very shame in the most secluded caves and deserts, so that they could no longer be seen by any human eye; the lions shook the gold from their manes, the iron from their teeth and paws, and became furious with rage; the fairies concealed themselves in the garden; the flowers, springs, and winds obeyed the Fairy Aurora's will; and the cold rays of the sun, lacking both warmth and light, can still be seen in the sky on summer nights. Human life was at a stand, time ceased to move. Two lions, two big and two little dragons, and two giants mounted guard at the bridge. How long the Fairy Aurora's kingdom remained in this state is not known and can not be told. Much time passed without moving.
Holy Friday, too, at last noticed that the Fairy Aurora was angry; the scanty sunbeams, and the whirlwinds which shook the whole world, had brought her the tidings. She was half angry, half pleased,--angry because she could no longer see around her, and pleased because her brave, handsome prince had escaped and her beautiful neighbor was sorrowful. She was provoked, too, because her jug with the wonderful water was broken. But when Holy Friday saw that the darkness did not lessen, the light did not return, and even the very last sunbeam vanished from the earth, she realized that the Fairy Aurora was not jesting, and she ordered the whirlwinds to set out together and remove the great veil on the frontiers of the empire, that light might enter the world. The winds departed, each one more furious, more fierce, more terrible than the other--as whirlwinds usually are. It seemed as if they were taking the world away with them, and meant to tarry on it no longer. They reached the veil and dashed against it. Oh, how strong they were! But the veil did not stir. The whirlwinds blew against it again and again, three times in succession, then they gave up the attempt. They saw that the veil was firmer than the earth itself. After lingering a few moments they returned, wearied and covered with disgrace, and once more circled around the earth in their wild rage. You can imagine what happened to every thing that came in their way. Nothing good at any rate. Alas! alas!
The whirlwinds returned to Holy Friday and told her about the veil. Holy Friday was now not only half-angry, but wholly enraged, so she sent the whirlwinds to the emperor's court to tell Petru he must intercede with the Fairy Aurora and promise to do whatever she asked, that light might return to the world. The whirlwinds set out again--this time somewhat more slowly and peacefully, as people depart when engaged on a good errand to a friendly person. They reached the palace. Petru was not there. The whirlwinds began to act somewhat more willfully. Petru had perished on the way. The whirlwinds circled around the palace from the left, then from the right, then from the center, turned it, twisted it, raised it, and hurled it, till there was nothing left of it. Then they returned to Holy Friday's hut with the news of Petru's death.
"Go into the world, every one of you, move every thing that can be moved, and find Petru. Bring him to me dead or alive!" said Holy Friday, after she had heard the sad tidings.
For three days and three nights the whirlwinds did not stop blowing. Thrice they uprooted trees, drove the rivers from their beds, dispersed the clouds by beating them against the rocks, swept the bottom of the sea and destroyed the surface of the earth. It was all in vain. They came back to the house, each one more tired, angry and mortified than the other.
Only one still lingered: the Spring wind, the soft, lazy, warm Spring wind. What had become of him? They all knew that he could not have accomplished much. Who knows? Weary as he was, he had perhaps lain down somewhere in the shade. Nobody troubled his head any more about him. Suddenly, after a short time, when all were racking their brains to discover Petru, the leaves began to stir gently.
Holy Friday felt the soft air, and went out. "What news do you bring?" she asked the favorite of all the winds.
"Sad, very sad, yet good,"--whispered the young wind. "After I grew tired of so much searching, destroying, and pulling, I reached an empty well, and, being rid of my brothers, thought I would rest a while before setting off for home."
"And you found Petru at the bottom of the well?" cried Holy Friday, joyfully.
"Yes, and the bay by his side."
"May your speech be sweet, your breezes soft, and may you ever bring good tidings!" said Holy Friday; then she commanded him to hasten to Holy Thursday and tell her she must be ready with the gold crucible, for Petru was in a sad case:--from there the Spring wind was to rush to Holy Wednesday and tell her she must come to the well with the water of life. "Do you understand?" said Holy Friday. "And go as fast as you can," and they all set off together.
They reached the deserted well. There was nothing left of Petru except bones and ashes. Holy Wednesday took the bones and fitted them together--not a single one was missing. Holy Friday ordered the whirlwinds to search the bottom of the well, turn up all the dust, and collect Petru's ashes. This was done. Holy Thursday made a fire, gathered the dew from the flowers into the gold crucible, and set it on the flames. When the water began to boil, Holy Wednesday repeated three spells, looked once to the east, once to the west, once to the north, and once to the south, and threw the herb of life into the boiling water. Holy Friday did the same with Petru's ashes. Holy Thursday counted one, two, three, and took the crucible off the fire. Petru's ashes and the herb of life were made into a fragrant salve. The Spring wind blew upon it once and stiffened it, then Petru's bones were smeared with it seven times from head to foot, seven times from foot to head, seven times across one way, and seven times across the other, and, when this was done, up sprang the hero, a hundred thousand times handsomer, braver, and prouder than before.
"Jump on the horse!" said Holy Friday.
As soon as the bay felt his master on his back, he began to neigh and stamp. The animal was more spirited than ever.
"Where shall we go?" the horse asked gayly.
"Home," replied Petru.
"How shall we ride?"
"Like a curse."
Petru expressed his thanks for the service done him, and set off; he rode and rode as fleetly as a curse flies, till he came to the emperor's court.
Nothing was left of the palace except the ground where it had stood. No trace of any human being who could have uttered a word or given any tidings was to be found. At last old Birscha came out of a ruined cellar. Petru learned what had happened and its cause, turned his bay, and went back even more swiftly than he had come. He did not even stop to take breath until he reached the Fairy Aurora's kingdom. The time that had passed since every thing had been in the condition the queen had commanded, can not be told in words. It must have been a long period.
When Petru reached the bridge the sun had only three bright rays, seven warm, and nine cold ones left; all the others had gradually been lost.
The Fairy Aurora felt that some remarkable person must be coming, for it seemed just as it had done when she woke from the dream that had made her so sad. She was longing for something, she knew not what, just as she had then.
"Who is coming?" she asked in a low tone.
"Hold firmly, master," said the bay.
Petru struck in the spurs, drew the bridle, and felt nothing until he was on the other side of the bridge.
"The hero is coming! Over the bridge!" cried the guards, waving their hats in the air.
The Fairy Aurora did not stir nor speak.
Petru suddenly rushed up to her, clasped her in his arms, and kissed her--just as fairy princes always kiss bewitching fairies.
The lovely fairy queen felt as she had never felt before. She said nothing more, asked no more questions, but made a sign to have the bay led into the stables of the sun, and entered the palace with Petru.
The fairies began to smile merrily, the flowers to smell sweetly, the springs to pour forth clear waters, the winds to blow cheerily, the wheel of life whirled faster than a top, the black veil fell, and the radiant sun rose high in the heavens, higher than it had ever done before. And in the world there was a light like the sun's, so that for nine years, nine months, and nine days it was so terribly bright that nothing could be seen.
Petru rode home, brought back his old father and mother, had a wedding so magnificent that tidings of it spread through ninety-nine countries, and became emperor of both kingdoms.
His brothers, Florea and Costan, had their sight restored so that they might witness Petru's happiness.
This, dear children, was the story of handsome Prince Petru and the Fairy Aurora, queen of the Land of the Sun.
Petru lived and reigned in peace and health, and who knows whether, by God's help, he may not be reigning still.