The Magician's Horse

GREEK

    Long, long ago, a king had three sons.  One day the three sons went hunting in some woods and the youngest prince became separated from his brothers.  They searched for him all day but in the end were forced to return home without him. The prince wandered through the forest for four days, living on roots and berries.  Then he come to a great house, hidden among the trees.  The door stood wide open, so the prince went inside and looked around.  The house was full of wonderful things, but there was no sign of anyone at all. 
     The prince wondered through the empty rooms until he came to a huge hall.  There was a table spread with fine food and wine.  The prince sat down and ate and drank his fill.  As soon as he was finished, the table and all the food left uneaten vanished away.  The prince was astonished big this, but at that moment an old man entered the room.  "What are you doing in my house?" he demanded. 
     "Sir, forgive me," said the prince.  "I got lost in the wood and have been wandering for days.  If  you would take me into your service, I will serve you faithfully."
     "Very well," said the old man.  "You may serve me. I shall pay you a single gold coin every week.  To earn that you must keep the stove in the cellar always lit and care for the black horse which is in my stable.  If you do this, there will be food on the table every day and you may eat your fill.  Do you agree to this?" 
     The prince agreed, and so he came to work for the old man who came and went all the time on mysterious errands so that the prince seldom saw him.  One day he let the fire in the stove almost die out.  The old man came rushing in at the last moment and threw a log on to the fire.  "Be more careful," he cried angrily.  "If that fire ever goes out you will suffer the consequences." 
     And so the prince lived in the old man's house for a year and served him faithfully.  But he never forgot that he was not really a servant and often thought of his brothers and wondered what they were doing. 
     Then one day, as he was sitting rather sadly in the stable, he suddenly heard a voice speaking to him.  It was the black horse.  "Come into mg stall," it said.  "I have much to tell you." 
     The prince was astonished.  "You can talk!" he cried. 
     "Of course," said the horse.  "I am a magician's horse after all.  Oh yes, didn't you know the old man for whom you work is a magician?"  The prince confessed that he did not. 
    "Well," said the horse, "here is what -you must do.  Fetch my saddle and bridle from that cupboard.  Next to them you will find a bottle.  The lotion within it will make your hair shine like pure gold."  The prince did as he was told and sure enough his hair looked just like gold. 
     "Now," said the magician's horse, "gather as much wood as you can and fill the stove right to the top."  The prince hurried to obey.  The stove grew hotter and hotter, and soon flames shot out of it and set fire to the magician's house.  The prince hastened back to the stable. 
     "We do not have long," the horse declared.  "Soon the magician will be back.  Look in the cupboard again and you will find three things: a mirror, a brush and a whip.  Bring them and hurry, for we must be gone." The prince brought the mirror, the brush and the whip and then he mounted the black horse's back and they rode off as fast as the wind. 
     Before they had gone for the horse's keen ears heard the sounds of pursuit.  "Look behind you!" he cried.  "What can you see?" 
     "There is a cloud, like smoke or dust, on the horizon,"said the prince. 
     "That will be the magician," said the horse, and he galloped even faster. 
     After a while the horse said again, "Look over your shoulder and tell me what you see."  The prince did so.  The cloud of dust was much nearer. 
     "Quickly," said the horse, "throw the mirror behind us!" The prince took out the mirror and threw it on the road.  There it grew suddenly large.  Soon the magician came along, and his horse put its foot on the mirror.  The glass gave way with a crack and the horse fell and hurt itself o badly that the magician was forced to walk home, leading his mount. 
     The prince meanwhile rode on as fast as he could.  But soon the black horse's ears began to twitch.  "Look behind you," he said. "Tell me what you see."
    The prince looked. I see a cloud of smoke and a tongue of flame."
    "That is my master," said the horse.  "Be quick and throw the brush behind you."  The prince did as he was told and as soon as the brush touched the ground it became a thick and tangled forest.  When the magician arrived, on a new horse, he could not get through and was forced to go around the forest.
     If the magician had been angry before, now he was furious.  He rode so fast that soon he saw the prince in the distance.  But the black horse had heard him coming . "Look behind you," he said to the prince.  "What do you see?" 
     I see a tongue of fire coming closer."
    "Then you must throw down the whip," said the horse.
    The prince did as he was bidden and as soon as the whip touched the ground it turned into a deep river.  The magician rode up to the edge of the river and urged his mount into it.  The water rose higher and higher, until finally it came up so high that it put out the magic fire that was the   source of the magician's power.  The flame went out with a fizz and the    magician vanished, never to be seen again.  The black horse slowed to a halt.  "We are safe now, "he said.  They rode on for a little way until they
came to a lake.  "See that willow tree?" said the horse.  "Gather a branch from it and strike the ground just over there."
    The prince did so and a vaulted archway sprang up out of the earth. The prince led the horse through it and found himself in a huge hall.
    I will stay here for a while," said the horse.  "But if you want to improve your fortune, you must go on alone until you come to a garden.  Within it is a king's palace.  Go there and ask to be taken into the king's service.  But first of all hide your golden hair under a scarf.  Trust me and you will go far.  But be sure you do not forget me."
    So the prince took his leave of the black horse and went on as he had been instructed.  Soon he found himself in a wonderful garden.  There he saw the walls and towers of the king's palace.  At the gate he met the royal gardener.
    "What do you want?" asked the man.
     I want to take service with the king."
    "Then you can work for me," said the gardener. "I need someone to sweep the paths and weed the flowerbeds.  if  you do that you will get a silver penny every day, somewhere to sleep and plenty of food."
    So the prince started working in the king's garden.  Every day he swept the leaves and pulled up the weeds. And every day he took half the food he was given to the black horse.
    One day when they were together after the prince had finished his work, the black horse addressed him.  "Tomorrow a number of princes and great lords are coming to the king's castle to woo his three beautiful daughters.  They will all stand in a row, and when the three princesses come out they will each be carrying a diamond apple.  They will throw these  down and whichever prince's feet they roll to will be that princess's bride. See to it that you are near at hand when this happens.  The youngest princess's apple will fall near you.  Pick it up quickly and put it in your pocket."
    So the prince did as the horse told him.  When the royal suitors were gathered, out come the three princesses and the youngest was, indeed, the fairest of them all.  Her apple rolled further than all the rest, and came to the feet of the gardener's boy, who picked it up and put it in his pocket. As he did so the scarf covering his hair slipped, and the princess caught a glimpse of his bright golden hair.  "There is more to this young man than I thought," she said to herself.  And as she looked at him she felt her heart beat faster.
    The king was most unhappy about this turn of events.  But he had made the decree that whoever caught the apples would marry the princess who threw them.  So three weddings were celebrated.  The two older princesses married their noble lords, but the youngest married the gardener's boy and went home with, him to the little hut where he lived.
    The next day something happened that made the king forget about his youngest daughter's marriage.  News came that a neighboring kingdom had declared war.  The king prepared for battle at once, and he rode out with the two husbands of his eldest daughters riding at his side.  But he was so ashamed of the gardener's boy that he would not even give him a horse to ride with them.
    As soon as the army had departed the prince went to where the black horse was stabled.  When he told the horse what had happened, the noble beast said at once, I will carry you to the battle.  Fetch my saddle.  Also, look in the next room and you will find armor and a sword that you may carry."
     So the prince rode forth looking as fine as any noble lord.  When he reached the battlefield the king's army was losing.  But when the prince joined in, he fought so bravely that the king's fortune changed. T he great black horse carried him everywhere, and the prince hewed left and right with his shining sword.  Everyone thought he was a great hero who had come to help them.  No one recognized the poor gardener's boy.
     Towards the end of the battle the prince received a wound in the leg. When the king saw this, he tied up the wound with his own scarf, embroidered with crowns and his royal name. He tried to get the prince to climb onto a litter and be carried home, but the hero climbed onto the back of the black horse, which mounted into the sky and flew away with him!
     The prince was soon home and when he had seen that the black horse was safely stabled, he laydown on his bed and fell into an exhausted sleep. There the princess found him. Noticing the blood soaked scarf around his leg she looked more closely and saw the king's name upon it. Hearing the victorious army returning, she hurried to fetch her father. When he saw his scarf on the prince's leg he realized at once that it was the gardener's bog who had helped him in battle.
     Everyone was overjoyed to discover that the hero of the battle was really a prince, and married to their own princess! The prince told them the whole story, and the black horse was fetched and given a place in the royal stable.  After that the prince and princess lived long and happily. The prince often visited the magical horse.  They had many more adventures together and remained good friends for the rest of their lives.

 


 

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