In the old, old days there lived a mighty king with a wife and two sons named Poghos and Petros, and the king’s closest friend and adviser was his black arab stable-master. When the queen died, the king was bowed down with grief, and one day, after five years of mourning, he summoned his stable-master and said: ‘Saddle two horses. A bit of fresh air might lessen my grief.’
They were riding along the outskirts of the city when they saw three pretty sisters filling their pitchers at a public fountain. Their looks and gay chatter attracted the king’s attention and he overheard them talking about him.
‘If I were to wed the king I’d weave him a carpet so big that half of it would be large enough for his whole army to sit on,’ said the eldest sister.
‘If I were to wed the king I’d make him a tent so big that half of it would be large enough to shelter his whole army,’ said the middle sister.
‘If I were to wed the king I’d bear him sons and daughters with golden locks,’ said the youngest daughter.
The king raced back to the palace and summoned his council. The stable-master went to fetch the three maidens. He found them chattering away at the same fountain. When the stable-master told them they were wanted at the king’s palace they thought it might be their last day on earth, and wondered if they had said some- thing wrong about the king.
The three maidens appeared before the king’s council, and the king said: ‘It is my desire to wed these three sisters.’
‘Are you willing to be my wives?’ the king asked the girls.
‘We are willing,’ they said.
After the wedding the king spent the first night with the eldest sister. ‘How big was that carpet you said you would weave for me?’ he asked her. ‘Half of it large enough for my whole army to sit on? Did I hear you right?’
‘Bring me the wool I’d need for it, my king, and I will weave that carpet,’ she answered.
The king saw it was an empty boast.
He spent the second night with the middle sister, and she too had been bragging.
On the third night the king was with the youngest sister. ‘Did you speak the truth when you said you would bear me sons and daughters with golden locks?’
‘O my king, is this a paint shop? You will have to wait.’ When the time came she did give birth to a son with Golden Locks, and her sisters were so envious that they ordered the stable-master, who was afraid of them, to replace the newborn baby with a puppy and drown the child in the sea. They rewarded the stable-master with five hundred silver pieces. And the midwife too received five hundred silver pieces to keep it secret.
Instead of drowning the baby, the stable-master hid it away in a manger, and at midnight he mounted his horse and took the child to a mountain cave, where he intended to keep it. Cloister-of-Flowers was the name of the mountain. The stable-master returned to the palace that same night and quietly went to bed.
The next morning people came to congratulate the king over the birth of his new son. ‘What is there to congratulate you for?’ snorted the two sisters. ‘She gave birth to a puppy.’
The king was furious and summoned the stable-master.
‘Throw that bitch into the sea!’
The stable-master hid the queen also in the stable, and returned to the palace two hours later.
‘Did you carry out my order?’
‘Yes, my king, I drowned her in the sea.’
That night the stable-master put the young queen on his horse and rode out to the same mountain cave where he kept her baby. She thought he was going to kill her. ‘Fear not, my queen, no harm will come to you,’ he said. ‘You can trust me. From this day on I am your brother. You did not give birth to a pup, as your sisters told the king, but to a fine son with Golden Locks.’
The young queen found her baby in the cave. And the stable-master took good care of them both, serving the king by day, the queen with her baby by night. He brought them food, clothing, everything they needed. When her son became ten years old the stable-master brought him a bow-and-quiver, and the lad was out hunting every day in the woods and plains. He was a very bright boy, wise far beyond his years. And thus mother and son lived in that mountain cave for fifteen years.
Let us now return to the king.
One day the king said to his stable-master: ‘Saddle two horses and let us go hunting.’
They slung on their swords, took up their maces, and their bows-and-quivers, and mounted their horses.
‘Where shall we go?’ the king asked.
‘We can hunt wherever you like.’
‘I’ll follow you,’ the king said.
They rode off to the Cloister-of-Flowers, where the Lad with Golden Locks was out hunting on that same day, garbed in deerskin, a tight lambskin pulled down on his head. As the Lad raised his bow to shoot a deer two horsemen came galloping toward him, and he decided to wait until they passed. The king himself brought the deer down with an arrow shot from his bow, and the Lad grabbed the fallen deer and ran.
‘Shoot him down!’ the king ordered the stable-master, he was so angry.
The stable-master let an arrow fly over the Lad’s head. The Lad got away and disappeared in the cave.
‘What happened, why do you look so frightened?’ his mother asked him.
‘Two horsemen are coming after me. I took the deer they shot and fled.’
The two horsemen rode up to the cave and mother and son met them at the entrance.
‘Where is the deer I shot?’ the king asked the boy. ‘Who gave you the right to take it?’
‘May the king live long,’ said the youth, ‘the game does not belong to him who shoots it, but to him who catches it.’
‘How do you know I am the king?’
‘Pray come in, and I’ll tell you.’
The king felt drawn to this boy. He dismounted and went in with the stable-master, who pretended not to know the boy and his mother. The king was surprised to see the cave so neat and well kept, and stacked full with every kind of game. The Lad shamed him as a hunter. The king and the stable-master were served a very good meal of choicest venisons.
After they finished eating the two men rose to go, and the stable-master brought up their horses. The Lad with Golden Locks said: ‘Here is your deer, my king,’ and offered it to the king. The stable-master tied the deer behind his saddle. The king did not mount his horse and lingered at the door of the cave. The boy stirred his feelings and it gladdened the king’s heart just to look at him.
‘What shall we do with this fine boy?’ the king asked the stable-master. ‘Leave him here, or take him with us?’
‘May the king live long, I have a confession to make. Do you remember what those three sisters you married promised when we overheard them talking at the fountain? Well, the youngest sister did keep her promise, and bore you a son with Golden Locks. Her envious sisters gave me five hundred silver pieces and ordered me to drown your son in the sea. And they gave five hundred silver pieces to the midwife to keep it secret. They made you and the child’s mother believe she gave birth to a pup when after her delivery the queen found a pup lying in her bed beside her. I did not drown your son. I hid him away in a manger and then I brought him to this cave. And I also saved his mother’s life when you ordered me to drown her in the sea, though I knew I was risking my neck by disobeying your orders. O my king, this fine boy you met today is your own son, and this woman is your own wife.’
The stable-master pulled off the lamb-skin the Lad wore on his head, and let the king see his son’s Golden Locks. The king could scarcely believe his eyes and ears and asked the queen to forgive him.
‘I do not know how to repay you for your great kindness,’ the king said to the stable-master. ‘Bring two more horses from the palace. My wife and my son are going with us.’
The stable-master raced back to the palace and said to the king’s two sons: ‘I have very great news for you! Your brother with Golden Locks and his mother, the queen, are both alive and well, and will soon be home with the king.’
The two older sisters gasped when they heard the news. The stable-master rode back to the cave with two horses in tow, and the king, the queen, and the Lad with Golden Locks arrived at the palace, crowded with well-wishers, and received a regal welcome. The Lad brought along his bird of truth, which was the only company his mother had when he went out hunting. When the older sisters came into her room—seven days later—to say they were sorry, the bird of truth broke its glass cage and flew out the window.
‘My bird! I’ve lost my bird! It flew out the window,’ cried the Lad with Golden Locks.
The king said: ‘Don’t worry, son, your bird will be caught and brought back.’ Then he turned to the two older sisters and said: ‘That bird flew away because of you. Get out of my sight. I don’t want to see you again.’
And both women were expelled from the palace.
Poghos and Petros said: ‘We will catch our brother’s bird and bring it back.’
First it was Poghos who rode off with forty warriors. They rode on until dark, and then camped on a plain where they cooked and ate their supper, and lay down to sleep. Poghos and his men sprang to their feet when they heard a shriek in the middle of the night, and thinking somebody was being robbed, they remounted and galloped in the direction of the cry. They heard the same cry again—it was the cry of a partridge—and the king’s son turned into stone with his forty men. But Poghos could still see with one eye.
Seven days later Petros said: ‘My brother didn’t come back. Let me go after him and see what happened.’
The king let Petros go after his eldest son, and Petros also rode off with forty warriors. They too camped at the same place and heard the same shriek in the middle of the night. They remounted and went to investigate, and they too turned into stone.
The Lad with the Golden Locks wanted to go after his two older brothers and bring them home. The king said: ‘If something happens to you too, who will replace me on the throne?’
‘I must go find them,’ the youth insisted.
‘Take a thousand men with you,’ the king said.
‘Father, I am not going to war! The stable-master will be enough.’
‘King’s son, I am at your command,’ said the stable-master.
‘We shall need about twenty pounds of parched crushed wheat,’ said the young prince.
And the two said goodbye, mounted their horses, and rode off. They too camped at the same place, and the youth ordered the stable-master to scatter the crushed wheat around the camp before they ate their supper and lay down to sleep.
Later in the night the stable-master saw a fox steal into the camp and eat the grain. He reached for his bow and said:
‘King’s son, a fox is eating the crushed wheat, shall I shoot it?’
‘No, don’t shoot a hungry fox, let it eat all it wants.’
About two hours later the stable-master spoke again. ‘King’s son, I see the fox is sitting on your coat. Shall I shoot it?’
‘No, the poor thing found a soft spot to sit on.’
Shortly before daybreak the stable-master saw the fox leap to its feet and run away.
‘King’s son, the fox is running away, shall I shoot it now?’
‘No, let it go, and may God be with it.’
When the fox heard these words it turned back and said in a human voice: ‘O Lad with Golden Locks, tell me your heart’s desire.’
‘My heart’s desire is to have my two brothers back, and my bird too!’
‘Leave your things with the stable-master and follow me.’
The fox led the youth to the city of birds. ‘You’ll find your bird in that barn over there, and you can go in and take it, but don’t touch any of the other birds,’ the fox said.
The youth went into the barn and saw thousands of birds like his own. He thought he might as well take two. And as he reached for the second bird all the other birds in the barn raised an awful hullabaloo about it, and he was seized and taken to the king of birds.
‘Why take a bird that doesn’t belong to you?’ said the king of birds.
‘I don’t know, human greed, I suppose.’
‘You can have two of my birds if you bring me the black horse of the chief of the forty robbers whose hideout is on a mountain called Cloister-of-Flowers.’
The king of birds ordered the prisoner released, and as the youth came out of the barn the fox met him at the door.
‘Didn’t I tell you to take only your bird and not touch any of the others? Why jump from the frying pan into the fire? Come, follow me.’
The fox led the youth to the mountain where the robbers had their hideout. ‘Take only the horse, don’t touch the saddle,’ the foxed warned him.
The Lad with Golden Locks went into the robbers’ den and his eyes popped out when he saw the saddle of the chief’s black horse. He thought it was worth at least two such stallions. ‘What’s the use of having the chief’s horse without its saddle?’ he said to himself, and as he threw the saddle on the black horse the robbers rushed in and caught him. They took him to their chief.
‘So you have to have my saddle too,’ said the chieftain. ‘If you are so very brave, I dare you to bring me the maiden that dwells on Mount Aragaz. I’ll saddle my horse myself and give it to you as a reward for your courage.’
As the prince came out of the robbers’ den the fox said: ‘Why don’t you listen to what I tell you? I warned you to take only the horse.’
‘Human greed. What can you do?’
‘Come, follow me.’
The youth carefully listened to the directions the fox gave him. The road to Mount Aragaz was a perilous one, covered with thorns and thistles, and the fox ordered him to take off his shoes and climb it bare-foot.
‘When you see the maiden, don’t greet her, don’t talk to her, say nothing. Just cut a lock of her hair and run. You will hear voices screaming after you, ‘‘Catch him! Don’t let the thief get away!’’ Pay no heed to their cries, and don’t look back. You’ll turn into stone if you look back.’
The youth climbed to the rocky peak on his bare feet. When the maiden saw him she stood up and cried: ‘Welcome, O Lad with Golden Locks! I sought you with a lamp in my hand and I found you at last in broad daylight.’
He said nothing. He just cut a lock of her hair and ran. The rocks and woods roared out after him: ‘Catch the thief! Don’t let him get away!’
The fox was waiting for him.
‘Here is a lock of her hair.’
‘Give it to me.’
He gave it to the fox, and lo and behold! the fox changed into a pretty maiden.
‘I am the fox,’ the maiden assured him. ‘Now take me to the chieftain. You can leave me with him, mount his black stallion and go. I shall join you later.’
The chieftain was beside himself with joy when he saw her, taking her for the maiden on Mount Aragaz. He ordered his men to saddle his horse and give it to the Lad. The prince sprang onto the black horse and galloped away.
The chieftain tried to embrace and kiss the maiden sitting beside him. She pushed him away. ‘What kind of man are you?’ she said, freeing herself from his arms. ‘Don’t you have other wives? I’d like to meet them.’
The chieftain called his forty wives, and they saw that she was prettier than any of them.
‘Take her to the garden with you,’ the chieftain said.
She went to the garden with his forty wives, and jumping over the wall disappeared. She changed back into a fox and caught up with the prince on his way to the city of birds.
‘Get off your horse, tie it in this stable and take me to the king of birds,’ she said, changing into a horse, a black horse like that of the robber chief. The king of birds was happy to have the horse he wanted, and admired it greatly.
‘Give this boy two of my birds and let him go.’
The youth took the two birds, sprang onto the horse he had tied in the stable, and galloped off. The other horse that stayed with the king of birds kicked the groom, then jumped over the wall, changed back into a fox, and was gone with a swish of its tail. She overtook the Lad with Golden Locks, who rejoined the stable-master waiting at the camp. The fox led them to where Poghos and Petros had turned into stone.
‘O Lad with Golden Locks, what are these rocks, do you know?’ the fox asked him.
‘I don’t know, I am puzzled, they look more like men and horses to me than rocks.’
‘These two are your brothers, turned to stone, but they can still see us, and these others are their warriors.’
They heard the cry of a partridge, and all of these bewitched and petrified men came back to life, with their horses. The fox led them back to the camp.
‘O Lad with Golden Locks, if it weren’t for the crushed wheat you let me eat here, you too would have turned into stone like your brothers. Now I must bid you farewell and go my own way.’
The three brothers returned to their own kingdom with the stable-master and all their warriors, and they brought two birds of truth and the black horse of the robber chief with them. The king was overjoyed to see his sons and the stable-master back safe and sound and gave a great feast in their honour.
A few days later Poghos and Petros said to the king: ‘O Father, tomorrow let none but the two of us appear before the king’s council.’
The king thought they wanted to lodge a complaint against the Lad with Golden Locks. And when the council met the next day Poghos and Petros stood before their father with hands folded on their breasts and said:
‘May the king live long, you are too old now to carry on your shoulders these heavy burdens of state. Let our brother, whom we regard as our saviour, sit on the throne in your stead.’
‘I am willing,’ said the king, ‘and I am happy to see you three brothers on such affectionate terms with one another.’
The Lad with Golden Locks said with tears in his eyes: ‘Don’t ask me to be king. My father is still in good health, my brothers are grown up. I have no desire to be king.’
‘We would not care to live without you as our king,’ said Poghos and Petros.
‘I accept this honour bestowed upon me with a heavy heart,’ said the Lad with Golden Locks, ‘provided our father continues to reign and I only rule in his name.’
‘Good. We agree,’ said his brothers.
One day the Lad with Golden Locks summoned his father, his brothers, the stable-master, the chamberlain and a few courtiers and said: ‘Don’t you think it is time for us three brothers to marry and settle down? Perhaps, Father, you could find us good wives.’
‘You have my consent to marry,’ said the king.
‘Father, our wives should be three sisters so alike in appearance that no one can say one is prettier than the others.’
‘Son, I am ready to carry out your wishes.’
‘You can leave tomorrow morning with our stable-master disguised as dervishes.’
And the next morning the king took off his royal garments and put on the ragged garb of a dervish. He set out on his quest accompanied by the stable-master, who too was dressed as a dervish. They wandered through the world, and one day they sat down to rest on a threshing-floor at the edge of a town. They saw a shepherd drive his flock back to the fold, and a maiden step out of a hut spinning wool. They thought it was the same maiden who went in and out three times, not knowing they were three sisters who looked alike.
The shepherd walked into his hut and scolded his wife and daughters for not inviting the two dervishes to rest in his home. He came out of the hut and said: ‘Dervish papas, come in and be my guests.’
The shepherd served them a good meal. The stable-master whispered into the king’s ear: ‘See? All three are his own lawful daughters.’
That night they stayed in the shepherd’s hut, and started for home the next morning. Back in the palace, the king said to his three sons:
‘I found three sisters who look so much alike you can’t tell them apart, and their father is a shepherd. It is God’s will.’
The stable-master went back to the shepherd’s hut with a gift of five thousand silver pieces from the king, and in three months the shepherd was in business as a merchant. The stable-master paid him another visit in three months.
‘The king wants his three sons to marry your three daughters. Will you give your consent?’
The man took it as a joke and laughed it off.
‘I am not joking. That’s why I came back, to talk marriage.’
‘If the king wants my daughters to marry his sons, I give them gladly, nothing would please me more.’
The stable-master took three engagement rings out of his pocket and put them on a stand by the fireplace. The three sisters came in, picked up their rings, and slipped them on their fingers: the eldest betrothed to the king’s eldest son, the middle daughter to the middle son, the youngest to the youngest son.
‘This calls for a few drinks,’ said their father, and congratulated his daughters. They served a feast. And the stable-master left the next morning, saying he would be back on May first with the king and the wedding party.
And the king went to fetch the three brides with bagpipes and drums and a thousand mounted warriors. The Lad with Golden Locks warned him not to camp within a mile of a spring they would be passing on their way, and the king remembered his son’s warning. But on the way back with the three sisters most of his men got drunk, and despite his orders camped by this forbidden spring instead of further down the road. The king woke at dawn and saw the whole camp beseiged by a dragon. Swords and sabers flashed out of the scabbards. The dragon spoke in a human voice by God’s order and said: ‘Calm down, men, you can’t frighten me with your swords and sabers; they are useless against me.’
The king bared his head and said: ‘My dear dragon, let us go in peace, and I promise to give you anything you ask for.’
‘Send me your son with Golden Locks,’ said the dragon.
The king was crushed. All his men were dismayed. But the king could not take back his promise. The dragon let them pass, and warned the king not to forget to send him his son with Golden Locks. The king ordered his men not to tell the boy anything about the dragon until after the wedding.
When they reached the palace, the king’s eldest son stepped forward and took the eldest sister by the hand. Then the middle son stepped forward and took the middle sister by the hand. The Lad with Golden Locks made no move to claim his bride, and the youngest sister remained standing, unwanted by her betrothed.
‘She is like a sister to me,’ he said. ‘I am no longer the king’s son. I now belong to the dragon.’
‘If she is like a sister to him, then our betrothed also are like sisters to us,’ said Poghos and Petros, and no wedding took place in the palace.
Seven days later the Lad with Golden Locks bid them all farewell and said: ‘Let everyone in the city dress in black for forty days, while I am gone.’
Everybody was in tears, and the youngest daughter cried her eyes out when the Lad went off to the spring where the king had met the dragon. The king had to keep his promise, knowing it would be worse for him if he did not.
The Lad with Golden Locks washed his hands and feet at the spring and lay down to take a nap. And when he woke he saw the dragon standing before him.
‘So you did come, my Lad with Golden Locks. Well, we are ready to fly.’ The dragon coiled around the boy. ‘Close your eyes.’ The youth closed his eyes. The dragon soared into the sky with the youth seated on its back.
‘Open your eyes, look down on earth and tell me what you see.’
‘I see something like a threshing floor.’
The dragon flew higher.
‘Have a heart, the sun is burning me, I can’t stand this heat!’ the boy cried.
‘Tell me, what do you see down there?’
‘I can’t see a thing.’
‘We are flying over Chin-ma-Chin. Could you bring me the daughter of the king of Chin-ma-Chin?’
‘I will try.’
‘You had better, or I will drop you and break every bone in your body. The dragon flew down to earth and set him down on the other side of the sea, in Chin-ma-Chin.
‘Now be on your way, and good luck,’ said the dragon.
The Lad started out for the king’s city in Chin-ma-Chin with a sinking heart, and on his way ran into three monsters fighting on a mountaintop.
‘This mortal will try to break up our fight,’ the monsters said when they saw him.
The Lad with Golden Locks strode up to the monsters and said:
‘What’s the trouble? Why are you fighting?’
They said they were three brothers quarrelling over a cap, a key and a tablecloth.
‘What’s so special about them that you should fight?’
‘When you put this cap on your head you become invisible,’ they said. ‘You can pass by a hundred thousand people, and nobody will see you. With this key in your pocket you can open or close any door you want. And when you spread out this tablecloth you will find it loaded with any kind of food you ask for.’
The Lad with Golden Locks threw three rocks into a gorge and said: ‘Now go down to the bottom of this gorge, and when I tell you to come back, run back as fast as you can. The one who comes back first gets the cap. The next one gets the tablecloth. The last one gets the key.’
The monsters scrambled down the gorge.
They ran back. The youth put the cap on his head and disappeared. The monsters could not see him any more. They swung their arms around hoping to bump against him and knock off his cap, but there was no sign of the youth, he had vanished with the cap, the tablecloth and the key. ‘He fooled us.’ said the monsters, ‘but we have no one to blame but our selves. We went blind by sticking our own fingers into our eyes.’
The boy tramped across Chin-ma-Chin, and heaven only knows how far he went until he met seven monsters barring his way in a narrow pass where he was trapped between a high wall of rocks and the raging sea.
‘It’s a long time since we have tasted human flesh,’ the seven monsters growled.
The boy wracked his brains for a way out of this tight spot, and decided to try his magic tablecloth. He spread it out and prayed to God. The monsters had all the food they could eat.
‘We haven’t had a meal like this in seven years,’ they said, and asked the youth what they could do for him.
‘Just let me pass,’ he said, folding his tablecloth. ‘I am on my way to the city of the king.’
And the monsters not only let him pass but gave him a tuft of their woolly hair and said: ‘Burn this hair any time you need us and we’ll come to your aid.’
The boy kept going and ran across so many ants that they would have eaten him alive if he had not spread out his magic tablecloth and prayed to God. The ants too ate all they could and said: ‘Thank you, you can go now.’ They too wanted to help him and gave him a tiny claw. ‘Burn this claw any time you need us,’ they said.
Then the youth had to make his way through immense flocks of white birds of prey that would have pecked at him and flown away with bits of his flesh hanging from their beaks if he had not spread out his magic tablecloth again. These birds too were grateful, and gave him a feather, and said: ‘Burn this feather any time you need us.’
At last the youth reached the city of the king of Chin-ma-Chin and sat down under a plane tree to rest. He found lodgings in the house of an old woman, and lived with her about a week. Then he said one morning: ‘Nanny, go to the king and tell him I want to marry his daughter.’
She said: ‘Son, forget it, the king will never give you his daughter. You don’t want to lose your head. Stay out of trouble.’
‘Oh, you needn’t worry about me. You do what I tell you. I want to marry the king’s daughter.’
The old woman got up and went to the palace. She sat on the stone bench before the gate. A courtier came out and said: ‘What do you want, old woman?’
‘My son wants to marry the king’s daughter.’
The courtier went in and said to the king: ‘A shepherd’s wife expects your daughter to marry her son.’
‘Let her in.’
The old woman was led into the king’s chamber.
‘Well, old woman, what is it that you want?’
‘My son wants to marry your daughter, and so I came to ask for her hand.’
‘If your son wants to marry my daughter he will have to pass a few tests, and I’ll cut off his head if he fails. Bring him over.’
The old woman went home and returned with the prince, who wore a kerchief on his head covering his Golden Locks.
‘Before I would give you my daughter you’d have to do a few feats to prove yourself.’
In the evening the king’s men locked up the youth in a room and placed seven roast lambs in seven copper trays before him. ‘If you can eat these seven roast lambs tonight, the king’s daughter is yours, but if you cannot, we will cut off your head tomorrow morning,’ they said.
How to eat seven roast lambs in one night? He knew he could not. Suddenly he remembered the tuft of hair the seven monsters gave him. He took it out of his pocket and burned it, then unlocked the door with his magic key. And the seven monsters walked in and cleaned up the seven copper trays, wiped their mouths and went away. The youth locked the door and lay down to sleep.
The next morning the king called his executioner and said: ‘Cut off that fellow’s head and bring it to me.’
The executioner saw that the Lad had eaten the seven roast lambs and was sound asleep. He hurried back to the king and said: ‘He ate them all!’
‘That fellow’s good looks must have softened your heart.’
The king rose, put on his shoes, and went to the boy’s room. He saw that the Lad had indeed eaten the seven roast lambs.
‘I wish I had brought some bread with me,’ the Lad said, yawning and stretching his arms. ‘You don’t treat a man to a feast like that without bread.’
The king was speechless with amazement, and let him go home, under guard. His daughter watched the handsome stranger from her window and was sorry for the Lad. The next day the king invited him to dinner, and then he ordered him to be locked up in a large storeroom filled with rye, wheat and millet, all mixed together.
‘I want you to separate all this grain by tomorrow morning, if you don’t want to lose your head,’ the king said.
The youth was stumped again. Then he remembered the ants, and burned the tiny claw they gave him. And the ants crept in through chinks and cracks in the walls, under the door, through the windows, in countless numbers.
‘King’s son with Golden Locks, what can we do for you?’
‘Separate all this rye, wheat and millet for me!’
The ants did it in two hours. The youth spread out his tablecloth and fed them, after which the ants crept out of the room, and he lay down to sleep.
Early the next morning the king came with his executioner to cut off the boy’s head. The Lad would not let them open the door and come in.
‘Have an honest Godfearing man come in first and see for himself what I have done,’ shouted the youth. ‘I am lost if somebody mixes a handful of this grain.’
The king summoned his Godfearing men, and they came and saw that all the grain was separated. ‘He will win, he will get the king’s daughter,’ they said.
And again the king invited him to dinner, and told him the next morning: ‘I want you to bring white birds to fight my black birds. If my birds win, you lose your head. If my birds lose, you win my daughter.’
The king’s black birds flew in for this fight and blotted out the sun. The youth was at the end of his wits. Then he remembered the feather the white birds gave him, and burned it. The white birds came with a mighty roar of wings. The black birds flew up to meet the white birds, and black feathers clouded the sky as the lifeless bodies of the black birds rained onto the ground. Not a single black bird was left alive when the white birds got through with them.
The youth did not spread out his magic tablecloth in the king’s presence. ‘I owe you a meal,’ he said to his white birds, and sent them away.
‘May the king live long, do I get your daughter now?’
And the king said: ‘You win. My daughter is yours.’
The wedding was celebrated for seven days and seven nights, and they were now man and wife. The Lad drew his sword and put it down on the bed between them.
‘What are you doing?’ she cried. ‘If you only knew how many of my suitors have lost their heads!’
‘King’s daughter, forgive me, but for forty days we will have to live like brother and sister.’
One day when the youth was alone in the bridal chamber, without the kerchief on his head, the king’s daughter came in and saw the room aglow with a golden light. She ran to her father, and cried:
‘Come, take a look at your son-in-law!’
And the king, the queen and their daughter rushed to the bridal chamber, but the youth had already covered his head with the kerchief. The princess pulled off the kerchief and the chamber glowed again with the wondrous light of his Golden Locks. The king realized the Lad was of royal birth, the son of a king to whom he paid tribute.
‘Forgive me for all the trouble I have caused you,’ the king said.
‘It is all forgiven. Now allow me to go back to my own country with your daughter.’
The king gave his consent and the couple departed with many costly gifts and a large dowery. On their way they met the white birds that flew down from all sides, so that the ground was alive with them. The youth spread out his magic tablecloth and fed the birds, and they let them pass. Then they had to cross the land of ants, and the youth fed the ants also, and the ants too let them pass. Then he spread out his tablecloth for the seven monsters, who too had their fill and let them pass. And at last they reached the domain of the dragon. The groom scanned the sky with anxious eyes and hoped his bride would tell the dragon the truth, that they were travelling as brother and sister and not as man and wife. The dragon came sweeping through the sky toward them.
‘Why do you keep looking up at the sky?’ the bride asked.
‘Do you see that dragon? I have to hand you over to him,’ he said. She grew pale, she trembled. As soon as the dragon hit the ground it shed its skin and changed into a handsome youth, who was none other than the bride’s own brother! They embraced each other with tears of joy. She told her brother how the Lad with Golden Locks won her hand.
‘My father has been very harsh with all suitors of my sister, and he has built seven-storey mansions with their skulls,’ the bride’s brother told the Lad with Golden Locks. ‘I could no longer endure such cruelty and I prayed to God to make me a dragon so that I would live in the skies, away from all those skulls. I sent you to Chin-ma-Chin to fetch my sister not for me, but for yourself. Take her, my sister is yours as your lawful wife.’
And he put on his dragon’s skin again and carried them on his back across the sea and set them down on the other side.
‘Farewell, my friend, but remember, before you wed my sister you should wed the shepherd’s daughter. Don’t neglect her.’
‘My dear brother-in-law,’ said the Lad with Golden Locks, ‘take this cap of invisibility, this magic tablecloth and key, and from this day on let me live by my own wits.’
The dragon took the cap of invisibility, the magic tablecloth and key, and they parted, the dragon soaring into the sky. The youth went on to his father’s city with the princess of Chin-ma-Chin. He met a herdsman who shouted at him in an angry voice: ‘How dare you enter our city with a maiden in white dress when all of us wear black? Don’t you know the whole city has been grieving over the loss of the king’s son, the Lad with Golden Locks?’
The herdsman drew his dagger and wanted to slay him on the spot. The Lad struck him in the face so hard that the man ran to the king with a bloody nose.
Then they met another herdsman, and the Lad gave him a gold piece and said: ‘Run to the king as fast as you can and tell him his lost son is back.’
The king rewarded both herdsmen, and came out of the palace to meet his son with drums and bagpipes, and to give him a royal welcome. The youngest sister stayed in the palace and sadly watched the ceremony from a window. The Lad with Golden Locks went up to her and said: ‘Come, my beloved, I was betrothed to you first, and I shan’t shame you now.’
The three brothers married the three sisters at a joint wedding. Then the Lad with Golden Locks also married the daughter of the king of Chin-ma-Chin. The wedding feast lasted for seven days and seven nights.
They attained their wish, and may you likewise attain your wish.