There was once an aged king who had an only son. One day he called the prince to him and said: “Now before I die I should like to see you happily married. Get you a wife, my son.”The son seemed to be not so keen but his royal sire pressed him a key to a chamber in the palace and report back. Thus the son went to a part for so long neglected and he climber to an upper chamber where some 12 alcoves were seen. In each stood statues of princess whose cold beauty did not interest him. Before returning he saw one alcove draped over. His curiosity aroused, he parted the curtain.
H saw a princess deathly pale and trembling, who only said, “Will you not save me? Oh prince You have it in you!” With wan smile she drew out a rose from her bodice and after dropping it she disappeared.
He was intrigued and he picked up the flower. He smelled it tenderly and he was determined to leave no stone unturned in order to possess her. He went down to his father and said all that he saw. He declared, “Father I found my princess! No other will do!”Of course he did not tell the token of love in the form of a rose.
The king trembled. “My son,” he said, “you did ill to uncover what was covered and in declaring this, your choice, you have exposed yourself to a great danger. This maiden is in the power of a black magician who holds her captive in an iron castle. Of all who have gone to rescue her not one has ever returned. However, what’s done is done and you have given your word. Go, then, try what fortune has in store for you, and may Heaven bring you back safe and sound.”
So the prince bade his father farewell, and when his father kissed him tenderly he trembled, “I smell death!” Are you sure that you did not pick anything when I sent to the tower?” Unable to tell a lie he was also loath to turn back from his resolution. So quickly he mounted his horse, and rode forth to find his bride. His first adventure was to lose his way in a deep forest. He wandered about some time not knowing where to turn when suddenly he was hailed from behind with these words: “Hey, there, master, wait a minute!”
He looked around and saw a tall man running toward him.
“Take me into your service, master,” the tall man said. “If you do you won’t regret it.”
“What is your name,” the prince asked, “and what can you do?”
“People call me Longshanks because I can stretch myself out. I’ll show you. Do you see a bird’s nest in the top of that tall fir? I’ll get it down for you and not by climbing the tree either.”
That is not what I am after, the prince said and walked on with his hand easy on the reins of his horse..
Longshanks said, “very well. We are trapped in a tangle of mazes aand shall not ever get out.” Noticing interest he took prince and stretched himself to a mile or so, an the prince could have a bird’s eye view. The prince from up could plan their way out. Thus they came out to the rim where a deep valley began. As the prince wondered how to manage Longshanks said, “There comes my friend Girth.”
The new man was heavily built and round as a barrel.
“Who are you?” the prince asked. “And what can you do?”
“I am called Girth,” the man said. “I can widen myself.” I am a battering ram and as well spin as a top. In the village I come from I make cheese by wading into tanks filled with milk…” Suddenly he stopped short saying, ‘I sometimes shoot my mouth…’
“Let me see you do it,” the prince said.
“Very well, master,” said Girth, beginning to puff out, “I will. But take care! Hold on to me tight while I just let myself roll. The prince did not let go of the coat tails of Girth who rolled himself like a top and before the prince could catch his breath they were on the plains. Langshanks caught up with them and the prince’s horse in tow.
“You made me spin like a top!” the prince said. “I tell you I don’t meet a fellow like you every day! By all means join me.”
They went across the plain and as they neared the rocks they met a man whose eyes were bandaged with a handkerchief.
“Master,” said Longshanks, “there is my other comrade. Take him into your service, too, and I can tell you you won’t regret the bread he eats.”
“Who are you?” the prince asked. “And why do you keep your eyes bandaged? You can’t see where you’re going.”
“On the contrary, master, it is just because I see too well that I have to bandage my eyes. With bandaged eyes I see as well as other people whose eyes are uncovered. When I take the handkerchief off, my sight is so keen it goes straight through everything. When I look at anything intently it catches fire, and if it can’t burn, it crumbles to pieces. On account of my sight I’m called Keen.”
He untied the handkerchief, turned to one of the rocks opposite, and gazed at it with glowing eyes. Soon the rock began to crumble and fall to pieces. In a few moments it was reduced to a heap of sand. In the sand something gleamed like fire. Keen picked it up and handed it to the prince. It was a lump of pure gold.
“Ha, ha!” said the prince. “You are a fine fellow and worth more than wages! I should be a fool not to take you into my service. Since you have such keen eyes, look and tell me how much farther it is to the Iron Castle and what is happening there now.”
“If you rode there alone,” Keen answered, “you might get there within a year, but with us to help you, you will arrive this very day. Our coming is not unexpected, either, for at this very moment they are preparing supper for us.”
“What is the captive princess doing?”
“She is sitting in a high tower behind an iron grating. The magician stands on guard.”
“If you are real men,” the prince cried, “you will all help me to free her.” They agreed.
By late afternoon they had crossed the last mountain, and saw looming up ahead of them the Iron Castle. Just as the sun sank the prince and his followers crossed the drawbridge and entered the courtyard gate. Instantly the drawbridge lifted and the gate clanged shut.
They went through the courtyard and the prince put his horse in the stable, where he found a place all in readiness. Then the four of them marched boldly into the castle.
Everywhere—in the courtyard, in the stables, and now in the various rooms of the castle—they saw great numbers of richly clad men all of whom, masters and servants alike, had been turned to stone. They went on from one room to another until they reached the banquet hall. This was brilliantly lighted and the table, with food and drink in abundance, was set for four persons. They waited, expecting some one to appear, but no one came. At last, overpowered by hunger, they sat down and ate and drank most heartily.
After supper they began to look about for a place to sleep. It was then without warning that the doors burst open and the magician appeared. He was a bent old man with a bald head and a gray beard that reached to his knees. He led in a beautiful lady dressed in white with a silver girdle and a crown of pearls. Her face was deathly pale and as sad as the grave. The prince recognized her instantly and sprang forward to meet her. Before he could speak, the magician raised his hand and said:
“I know why you have come. It is to carry off this princess. She always brings captives by droves. Very well, take her on one condition. Here is a rusty wheel something similar to oil press. You must spin it in a steady tempo. Alas no one has spun it so fast.” The prince would not agree till he knew where they stood. “Aw come on, you shall see soon enough.” The prince motioned Girth who began feeling the wheel that was heavy. Finally he made the wheel spinning so fast and furious, and the magician grinned and he jumped to a spot. To the amazement of all the magician was turning into gold! The magician laughed uproariously and said, “I got back by my youth and I claim the princess for myself!” It was a blood curdling scream. But Keen stepped forward even as the prince removed his bandage. He looked at the magician who was shrilling at the princess, ‘Where is the rose I left with you, Where is it?” Keen saw what was making him mad. In the golden body he had no heart. Meanwhile the prince took the rose out and Keen simply burned it to ashes. With a scream the magician simply collapsed like a slag. Nothing of gold but the spell was broken.
The knights who had been restored to life gathered in the hall to thank the prince for their deliverance. But the prince said to them: “You have nothing to thank me for. If it had not been for these, my three trusty servants, Longshanks, Girth, and Keen, I should have met the same fate as you.”
The prince set out at once on his journey home with his bride and his three serving men. When he reached home the old king, who had given him up for lost, wept for joy at his unexpected return.
All the knights whom the prince had rescued were invited to the wedding, which took place at once and lasted for three weeks. When it was over, Longshanks, Girth, and Keen presented themselves to the young king and told him that they were again going out into the world to look for work. The young king urged them to stay.
“I will give you everything you need as long as you live,” he promised them, “and you won’t have to exert yourselves at all.” But such an idle life was not to their liking. So they took their leave and started out again and to this day they are still knocking around somewhere.
When they were together the bride asked, “how did you know the rose was meant to break the power of the wicked magician?” He smiled and said, “Love knows much more than it can tell.”
Ack: CZECH Folk Tales:
Author: Parker Fillmore
Publisher: The Quinn & Boden Company Rahway, N. J.