« PreviousContinue »
The hunter was just going out to see if his animals were being cared for when he asked the landlord why the houses were so hung with mourning crape.
"Because," he replied, "to-morrow morning our king's daughter will die."
"Is she seriously ill, then?" asked the hunter.
"No," he answered; "she is in excellent health; still she must die."
"What is the cause of this?" said the young man.
Then the landlord explained.
"Outside the town," he said, "is a high mountain in which dwells a dragon, who every year demands a young maiden to be given up to him; otherwise he will destroy the whole country. He has already devoured all the young maidens in the town, and there are none remaining but the king's daughter. Not even for her is any favor shown, and to-morrow she must be delivered up to him."
"Why do you not kill the dragon?" exclaimed the young hunter.
"Ah!" replied the landlord, "many young knights have sought to do so, and lost their lives in the attempt. The king has even promised his daughter in marriage to the man who destroys the dragon, and has sworn that he shall be heir to the throne."
The hunter made no reply to this; but the next morning he rose early, and taking his animals with him climbed up the dragon's mountain.
There stood near the top a little church, and on the altar inside were three full goblets, bearing this inscription: "Whoever drinks of these goblets will be the strongest man upon earth, and will discover the sword which lies buried before the threshold of this door."
The hunter did not drink; he first went out and sought for the sword in the ground, but he could not find the place. Then he returned and drank up the contents of the goblets. How strong it made him feel! and how quickly he found the sword, which, heavy as it was, he could wield easily!
Meanwhile, the hour came when the young maiden was to be given up to the dragon, and she came out, accompanied by the king, the marshal, and the courtiers.
They saw from tbe distance the hunter on the mountain, and the princess, thinking it was the dragon waiting for her, would not go on. At last she remembered that, to save the town from being lost, she must make this painful sacrifice, and therefore she wished her father farewell. The king and the court returned home full of great sorrow. The king's marshal, however, was to remain, and see from a distance all that took place.
When the king's daughter reached the top of the mountain, she found, instead of the dragon, a handsome young hunter, who spoke to her comforting words, and telling her he had come to rescue her, led her into the church, and locked her in.
Before long, with a rushing noise and a roar, the seven-headed dragon made his appearance. As soon as he caught sight of the hunter he wondered to himself, and said, "What business have you here on this mountain?"
"My business is a combat with you!" replied the hunter.
"Many knights and nobles have tried that, and lost their lives," replied the dragon; "with you I shall make short work!" And as he spoke he breathed out fire from his seven throats.
The flames set fire to the dry grass, and the hunter would have been stifled with heat and smoke had not his faithful animals run forward and stamped out the fire. Then in a rage the dragon drew near, but the hunter was too quick for him; he swung his sword on high, it whizzed through the air, and, falling on the dragon, cut off three of his heads.
Then was the monster furious; he raised himself on his hind legs, spat fiery flames on the hunter, and tried to overthrow him. But the young man again swung his sword, and as the dragon approached, he with one blow cut off three more of his heads. The monster, mad with rage, sank upon the ground, still trying to get at the hunter; but the young man, exerting his remaining strength, had no difficulty in cutting off his seventh head, and his tail; and then he called to his animals to come and tear the dragon in pieces.
As soon as the combat was ended the hunter unlocked the church door, and found the king's daughter lying on the ground; for during the combat all sense and life had left her, from fear and terror.
He raised her up, and as she came to herself and opened her e}res he showed her the dragon torn in pieces, and told her that she was released from all danger.
O, how joyful she felt when she saw and heard what he had done! "Now," she cried, "you will be my dear husband, for my father has himself promised me in marriage to the man who kills the dragon."
Then she took off her coral necklace of five strings and divided it among the animals as a reward; the lion's share being, in addition, the gold clasp. Her pocket handkerchief, which bore her name, she presented to the hunter, who went out, and cut out the dragon's seven tongues, which he wrapped up carefully in the handkerchief.
After all the fighting and the fire and smoke, the hunter felt so faint and tired that he said to the maiden, "I think a little rest would do us both good after the fight and the struggles with the dragon that I have had, and after your terror and alarm. Shall we sleep for a little while before I take you home safely to your father's house?"
"Yes," she replied, "I can sleep peacefully now."
So she laid herself down, and as soon as she slept he said to the lion, "You must lie near and watch that no one comes to harm us." Then he threw himself on the ground, quite worn out, and was soon fast asleep.
The lion laid himself down at a little distance to watch; but he was also tired and overcome with the combat, so he called to the bear, and said, "Lie down near me; I must have a little rest, and if any one comes, wake me up."
Then the bear lay down; but he was also very tired, so he cried to the wolf, "Just lie down by me; I must have a little sleep, and if anything happens, wake me up."
The wolf complied; but as he was also tired he called to the fox, and said, "Lie down near me; I must have a little sleep, and if anything comes, wake me up."
Then the fox came and laid himself down by the wolf; but he, too, was tired, and called out to the hare, "Lie down near me; I must sleep a little, and, whatever comes, wake me up."