The Good Sword
For many years a shepherd and his son lived on a lonely highland, where they tended the sheep. Their low hut was scarcev higher than the thorny bushes around it. Beyond the grazing place there was a ring of mountains with dark rocks and deep caverns. The old shepherd always avoided these mountains, and when the sheep wandered near them he made haste to turn them back.
Their life was a hard and lonely one but neither the shepherd nor his son wished to exchange it for any other. Father and son found contentment in each other's company and when the old man fell ill, the boy cared for him tenderly. After a time the old man felt his strength waning and one day he called his son to him and said "I will soon have to leave you and I grieve that I can give you so small a heritage. Take down the old sword which hangs above our door."
The boy obeyed his father, although the sword felt very heavy in his hand. "This is all I have to give you," said his father. "Always keep it with you and remember that this sword will be victorious in any battle." And giving his son his blessing, the old man closed his eyes and did not open them again.
During the time of his great sorrow, while he was giving his father a proper burial, the son almost forgot about the rusty old sword which had been given to him; but when he closed the hut and drove the sheep down to the distant farm of the owner, the boy strapped the sword to his belt and soon got used to the feel of the heavy weight swinging at his side.
The farmer was surprised to see his flocks coming down from their pastures and bade the boy tell what had befallen his father, and when he had heard, the farmer said, "You are young to have charge of the flock by yourself, but I will let you try it for a while. One thing you must remember - do not let the sheep wander too near to the mountains. There are three pastures lying high on the mountainside which look so brightly green that your beasts may be tempted to clamber up to them, but three trolls live there and each has a small green meadow for himself. If your sheep should wander into one of the trolls' meadows, neither sheep nor shepherd would ever come back again."
The boy thought much of this warning as he drove the flock back toward their grazing place, and as they came nearer to the mountains he kept looking up toward the high green meadows. And in the days that followed, he looked many times toward the trolls' meadows.
Once, when he was tending his sheep, the boy thought suddenly of his sword. "Perhaps a fight with a troll would not be such a bad idea," he said to himself, and he did not drive the sheep back when they wandered toward the mountains. No sooner had the sheep strayed into the small green meadow than a fearful troll came roaring out of his cave. No one who has never seen a wicked troll can picture what an ugly and frightening sight it is.
"Do you know what happens to sheep and shepherds who trespass here?" the troll roared.
"If you mean to harm my sheep, I will have to give you a battle," said the boy, standing his ground.
When he saw how small the boy really was, the troll lashed himself about and breathed out great clouds of smoke. "Now is the time to use my sword," thought the shepherd boy, and as his enemy tried to lay hold of him he brought the sword down on the troll's head with such force that the creature was cut in half by the blow.
The sheep began pulling at the sweet grass of the first troll's meadow and were not content until they had cropped it short. Then they wandered toward the meadow of the second troll. T he shepherd boy again did not hinder them and soon a troll far larger and more terrible than the first one came bellowing out of a cavern. "You have not only trespassed on my meadow, which makes your life forfeit, but you have also slain my brother and trampled down his grass."
"If you try to harm me or my sheep 1 will give you a battle," cried the boy, lifting up his sword. The troll blew out such clouds of fire and smoke that the boy could scarcely see the frightful creature, but when he brought down his sword the troll was badly cut and died at once.
"Now my sheep have some fresh new grass," said the boy, but while his sheep were eating, he himself entered the third troll's meadow, sword in hand. The troll rushed out of his cavern with such howls of anger that the mountains trembled, but before the monster could say a word the boy rushed forward, crying, "It is your turn now!" and slew him with one blow.
When no troll was left living on the mountain, the boy could not wait to climb down into the great holes where they had lived. The three caverns met together under the earth, and when the shepherd boy came into this cave he saw a red horse with saddle and bridle set with rubles, a red dog which stood by the horse, and a suit of crimson armor that lay beside them. Nearby stood a yellow horse with topaz jewels on his harness. A yellow dog and a suit of yellow armor were beside this horse. In another corner of the cave a white horse and a white dog stood near a suit of white armor, and the horse's bridle and the white armor were studded thickly with pearls.
Great chests stood about the cave, filled with coins of silver and gold. It is no wonder that the boy, having slain the trolls and found all this treasure, was in high good spirits, and he went along singing as he drove the sheep back to their fold.
The farmer, who had come to the fold to find out how it was going with his young shepherd, not only found his sheep safe and bulging with food, but the shepherd boy himself, bubbling over with happiness.
"It is well that you and the flocks are prospering," said the farmer, "but I beg you to stop your singing when all our country is sharing in the King's sadness."
"Why should the King be sad?" asked the boy.
"It is all because of the three dreadful monsters," answered the farmer.
"Not the trolls who lived on our mountain, surely!" said the boy.
"No, it is the three dragons of the sea who are causing all this trouble, and they are larger and more terrible than the trolls on the mountain," said the farmer. "Even the King has no power against them and has finally had to promise that each of his three daughters shall be married to one of them. The King has promised a third of his property to anyone who will rid the kingdom of these dragons. It is said by all that the King is himself without any hope of rescue. It is not proper for you to be singing when everyone else is sorrowful," chided the farmer, as he turned back to his farm.
"The sheep will have to take care of themselves while I occupy myself with this matter," thought the shepherd, and when the farmer had gone the boy hastened to the cavern of the mountain trolls and put on the red armor and mounted himself on the red horse. Then calling to the red dog to follow him, he rode down to the seashore where the Princesses were to be given to the sea monsters.
In a little while the royal coach came along, and when it had stopped, a Princess stepped out, with a chamberlain beside her. As she stood there, pale with fear, a dragon rose up out of the sea. The chamberlain took one look at its three horrid heads and fled away and hid himself in some thick bushes.
Before the dragon could come near, the trembling Princess saw a horseman on a red horse draw his sword and cut off all three of the dragon's heads. He only stopped to cut the tongues from each of the heads, and rode away again with a red dog following after him.
When he saw that the danger was past, the chamberlain crawled from his hiding place and took charge of everything. "Climb back into the coach," he said to the Princess, "and be sure to let the King know that it was I who saved you. If you do not do this something more dreadful than a dragon will punish you," and the poor Princess, who was not yet over her fear, promised to say nothing at all about the red horseman.
A week later another Princess was to be delivered to the second sea dragon, and this time the shepherd boy put on the yellow armor and mounted the yellow horse, and with the yellow dog following behind him, he rode to the seashore and waited for the second Princess to arrive. Again a dragon came out onto the sands and it was hideous and terrible with six heads, and the chamberlain who had come with the second Princess ran away and hid himself at a safe distance.
The horseman rode forward and slashed the dragon to bits with his sword and then rode away, after he had cut out the dragon's six tongues. After it was all over, the chamberlain took courage and came back to the Princess, threatening her with dreadful punishment if she should fall to tell the King that it was he himself who had slain the dragon.
"Say nothing about the yellow knight if you value your life," he said, and the second Princess had to do as the chamberlain directed.
When another week had passed, the shepherd boy dressed himself in the white armor and mounted the white horse, and with the white dog following him, he rode to the beach where the youngest Princess was to be given as a bride to the third sea dragon. This time, the dragon which rose up from the water had nine heads. It is not to be wondered at that the third chamberlain, who had ridden in the royal coach with the youngest Princess, fled away and scrambled up a tree at the first sight of the dreadful creature.
But the Princess, who had been looking all around in the hope that some rescuer would appear, spied the white horseman, and she watched him so intently that she scarcely noticed the dragon until after it had lost all of its nine heads and the white horseman was cutting out its nine tongues, one by one. And because she had not been frightened at the dragon she was only angry when the chamberlain came scurrying back down the tree trunk, and she was not at all ready to listen to him.
"Come here, brave knight," she called to the horseman, and before the chamberlain could notice, she slipped a little gold chain around her rescuer's neck. Then the horseman rode away and the third chamberlain came hurrying with threats of the harm that would come to her if she should fail to name him as her rescuer.
When the youngest Princess was returned safely to the palace there was great rejoicing, and the three dishonest chamberlains were praised for their courage and promised a rich reward.
"Each of you shall marry the Princess whom he rescued, and have a third of my kingdom," said the King, ordering a holiday and a festival for the Court, and all the people as well.
When the public holiday was proclaimed the shepherd boy asked the farmer if he, too, might take the day for himself.
"Certainly! The King's decree applies even to the humblest," the farmer said, as he gave him leave to join the merrymaking in the village.
Before setting out the shepherd boy called the three dogs from the trolls' cavern, and, followed by a red, a yellow, and a white dog, he came to the village inn. All manner of people were gathered about and there was much talk about the feast which was being given at the castle.
"Wouldn't it be fine to eat some of the good bread they are having there!" exclaimed the innkeeper.
"It would indeed," said the boy, "and it is possible that my dog could find some of the bread for us." So he said to the red dog, "Go to the castle and bring me some of the fine wheat bread they are eating there." The dog went to the castle, scratched on the doors until they were opened for him, and searched about until he found the King's kitchen. Here he seized a loaf of bread in his mouth, and although everyone tried to stop him, the red dog escaped and carried the bread back to the inn and gave it to his master.
After they had eaten the bread, the innkeeper said, "How would it be if we could eat some of the good roast beef from the castle?"
"That is a fine idea," said the boy. "Perhaps my yellow dog will go to the castle and bring some of it for us:'
So the yellow dog started out, and when he had reached the castle kitchen he seized a whole roast of beef in his mouth. The cooks tried to stop him, and the kitchen boys chased him with spoons and ladles, but the yellow dog ran back to the inn and gave the beef to his master.
The next day, when the weddings were to take place, the innkeeper said, "How wonderful it would be to have a sip of wine from the King's table!"
"That would be a good idea," said the boy. "Surely my white dog could fetch a bottle of wine for us."
When he commanded, the white dog went to the castle and into the hall where all the wedding guests were seated at the King's table, and, before any one of the amazed guests could say a word, it snatched a bottle of wine and ran with it to the inn. When the youngest Princess saw the white dog she clapped her hands and cried, "It was that white dog's master who saved me from the dragon!"
"What nonsense is this?" her bridegroom cried, angrily. "You know quite well that it was I who saved you."
"You have tried to make it appear so, said the Princess, "but now that I see the white dog, I know his master must be near. If you persist in your wicked stories he will serve you as he served the dragon. I will follow the white dog until I find my rescuer," and the Princess jumped up from the table.
" Let us all follow the dog;' cried the King, and he and all the lords and ladies of the Court rushed out, too, and followed the dog to the inn. The shepherd boy was much astonished to see all the crowd and wanted to hide himself, but the youngest Princess cried, "My golden chain will be found around the neck of the man who killed the dragon," and the shepherd boy showed the golden chain which he had under his shirt.
But the third chamberlain began to shout, "Ho! Ho! How can this boy pretend that he has slain the dragon when I have the proof that I did it," and he brought in the nine heads of the last dragon which had been killed.
"My rescuer took the tongues from the dragon's heads," said the Princess, and the shepherd boy showed them not only the nine tongues which he had cut from this dragon's heads, but also the tongues from the heads of the other two dragons, so that no one could be in doubt about the matter any longer.
The three chamberlains were led away in disgrace to receive punishment for their crimes, and the shepherd boy set off for the castle, hand in hand with the youngest Princess, to whom he was married amid great rejoicing. But he did not forget how much he owed to the good sword, and he had it hung up in a place of honor, for even a King feels a little more secure when he has a sword which can be trusted to win every battle for him.
retold by Ruth Bryan Owen