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The Hunting Princes

Source: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars

Once there was a king whose only thought and only pleasure was hunting;
he brought up his sons to the same ideas, and so they were called the
Hunting Princes. They had hunted all over the six snow-capped mountains
in their father's realm; there was a seventh, however, called the Black
Mountain, and, although they were continually asking their father to
allow them to hunt there, he would not give them permission. In the
course of time the king died, and his sons could scarcely wait till the
end of the funeral ceremonies before they rushed off to hunt in the
Black Mountain, leaving the government in the hands of an old duke. They
wandered about several days on the mountain, but could not find so much
as a single bird, so they decided to separate, and that each of them
should go to one of the three great clefts in the mountain, thinking
that perhaps luck would serve them better in this way. They also agreed
that whoever shot an arrow uselessly should be slapped in the face. They
started off, each on his way. Suddenly the youngest one saw a raven and
something shining in its beak, that, he thought, was in all probability
a rich jewel. He shot, and a piece of steel fell from the raven's beak,
while the bird flew away unhurt. The twang of the bow was heard all over
the mountain, and the two elder brothers came forward to see what he had
done; when they saw that he had shot uselessly they slapped his face and
went back to their places. When they had gone the youngest suddenly saw
a falcon sitting on the top of the rock. This he thought was of value,
so he shot, but the arrow stuck in a piece of pointed rock which
projected under the falcon's feet, and the bird flew away; as it flew a
piece of rock fell to the ground which he discovered to be real flint.
His elder brothers came, and slapped his face for again shooting in so
foolish a manner. No sooner had they gone and the day was drawing to an
end than he discovered a squirrel just as it was running into its hole
in a tree; so he thought its flesh would be good to eat; he shot, but
the squirrel escaped into a hollow of the tree, and the arrow struck
what appeared to be a large fungus, knocking a piece off, which he found
to be a fine piece of tinder. The elder brothers came and gave him a
sound thrashing which he took very quietly, and after this they did not
separate. As it was getting dark and they were wandering on together a
fine roebuck darted across their path; all three shot, and it fell. On
they went till they came to a beautiful meadow by the side of a spring,
where they found a copper trough all ready for them. They sat down,
skinned and washed the roebuck, got all ready for a good supper, but
they had no fire. "You slapped my face three times because I was wasting
my arrows," said the youngest; "if you will allow me to return those
slaps I will make you a good fire." The elder brothers consented, but
the younger waived his claim and said to them, "You see, when you don't
need a thing you think it valueless; see now, the steel, flint, and
tinder you despised will make us the fire you need." With that he made
the fire. They spitted a large piece of venison and had an excellent
huntsman's supper. After supper they held a consultation as to who was
to be the guard, as they had decided not to sleep without a guard. It
was arranged that they should take the duty in turns, and that death was
to be the punishment of any negligence of duty. The first night the
elder brother watched and the two youngest slept. All passed well till
midnight, when all at once in the direction of the town of the Black
Sorrow, which lay behind the Black Mountain, a dragon came with three
heads, a flame three yards long protruding from its mouth. The dragon
lived in the Black Lake, which lay beyond the town of the Black Sorrow,
with two of his brothers, one with five heads and the other with seven,
and they were sworn enemies to the town of the Black Sorrow. These
dragons always used to come to this spring to drink at midnight, and for
that reason no man or beast could walk there, because whatever the
dragons found there they slew. As soon as the dragon caught sight of the
princes he rushed at them to devour them, but he who was keeping guard
stood up against him and slew him, and dragged his body into a copse
near. The blood streamed forth in such torrents that it put the fire
out, all save a single spark, which the guarding prince fanned up, and
by the next morning there was a fire such as it did one good to see.
They hunted all day, returning at night, when the middle prince was
guard. At midnight the dragon with the five heads came; the prince slew
him, and his blood as it rushed out put the fire entirely out save one
tiny spark, which the prince managed to fan into a good fire by the

On the third night the youngest prince had to wrestle with the dragon
with seven heads. He vanquished it and killed it. This time there was so
much blood that the fire was completely extinguished. When he was about
to relight it he found that he had lost his flint. What was to be done?
He began to look about him, and see if he could find any means of
relighting the fire. He climbed up into a very high tree, and from it he
saw in a country three days' journey off, on a hill, a fire of some sort
glimmering: so off he went; and as he was going he met Midnight, who
tried to pass him unseen; but the prince saw him, and cried out, "Here!
stop; wait for me on this spot till I return." But Midnight would not
stop; so the prince caught him, and fastened him with a stout strap to a
thick oak-tree, remarking, "Now, I know you will wait for me!" He went
on some four or five hours longer, when he met Dawn: he asked him, too,
to wait for him, and as he would not he tied him to a tree like
Midnight, and went further and further. Time did not go on, for it was
stopped. At last he arrived at the fire, and found there were
twenty-four robbers round a huge wood fire roasting a bullock. But he
was afraid to go near, so he stuck a piece of tinder on the end of his
arrow, and shot it through the flames. Fortunately the tinder caught
fire, but as he went to look for it the dry leaves crackled under his
feet, and the robbers seized him. Some of the robbers belonged to his
father's kingdom, and, as they had a grudge against the father, they
decided to kill the prince. One said, "Let's roast him on a spit";
another proposed to dig a hole and bury him; but the chief of the
robbers said, "Don't let us kill the lad, let's take him with us as he
may be very useful to us. You all know that we are about to kidnap the
daughter of the king of the town of the Black Sorrow, and we intend to
sack his palace, but we have no means of getting at the iron cock at the
top of the spire because when we go near it begins at once to crow, and
the watchman sees us; let us take this lad with us, and let him shoot
off the iron cock, for we all know what a capital marksman he is; and
if he succeeds we will let him go." To this the robbers kindly
consented, as they saw they would by this means gain more than if they
killed him. So they started off, taking the prince with them, till they
came close to the fortress guarding the town of the Black Sorrow. They
then sent the prince in advance that he might shoot off the iron cock;
this he did. Then said the chief of the robbers, "Let's help him up to
the battlements, and then he will pull us up, let us down on the other
side, and keep guard for us while we are at work, and he shall have part
of the spoil, and then we will let him go." But the dog-soul of the
chief was false, for his plan was, that, having finished all, he would
hand the prince over to the robbers. This the prince had discovered from
some whisperings he had heard among them. He soon found a way out of the
difficulty. As he was letting them down one by one, he cut off their
heads, and sent them headless into the fortress, together with their
chief. Finding himself all alone, and no one to fear, he went to the
king's palace: in the first apartment he found the king asleep; in the
second the queen; in the third the three princesses. At the head of each
one there was a candle burning; that the prince moved in each case to
their feet, and none of them noticed him, except the youngest princess,
who awoke, and was greatly frightened at finding a man in her bedroom;
but when the prince told her who he was, and what he had done, she got
up, dressed, and took the young prince into a side-chamber and gave him
plenty to eat and drink, treated him kindly, and accepted him as her
lover, and gave him a ring and a handkerchief as a sign of their
betrothal. The prince then took leave of his love, and went to where the
robbers lay, cut off the tips of their noses and ears, and bound them up
in the handkerchief, left the fortress, got the fire, released Midnight
and Dawn, arrived at their resting-place, made a good fire by morning,
so that all the blood was dried up.

At daybreak in the town of the Black Sorrow, Knight Red, as he was
inspecting the sentries, came across the headless robbers. As soon as he
saw them he cut bits off their mutilated noses and ears, and started for
the town, walking up and down, and telling everybody with great pride
what a hero he was, and how that last night he had killed the
twenty-four robbers who for such a length of time had been the terror of
the town of the Black Sorrow. His valour soon came to the ears of the
king, who ordered the Red Knight to appear before him: here he boasted
of his valour, and produced his handkerchief and the pieces cut from the
robbers. The king believed all that he said, and was so overjoyed at the
good news that he gave him permission to choose which of the princesses
he pleased for his wife, adding that he would also give him a share of
the kingdom. The Red Knight, however, made a mistake, for he chose the
youngest daughter, who knew all about the whole affair, and was already
engaged to the youngest prince. The king told his daughter he was going
to give her as a wife.

To this she said, "Very well, father, but to whomsoever you intend to
give me he must be a worthy man, and he must give proofs that he has
rendered great service to our town." To this the king replied, "Who
could be able or who has been able to render greater services to the
town than this man, who has killed the twenty-four robbers?" The girl
answered, "You are right, father; whoever did that I will be his wife."
"Well done, my daughter, you are quite right in carrying out my wish;
prepare for your marriage, because I have found the man who saved our
town from this great danger." The young girl began to get ready with
great joy, for she knew nothing of the doings of the Red Knight, and
only saw what was going to happen when all was ready, the altar-table
laid, and the priest called, when lo! in walked the Red Knight as her
bridegroom, a man whom she had always detested, so that she could not
bear even to look at him. She rushed out and ran to her room, where she
fell weeping on her pillow. Everyone was there, and all was ready, but
she would not come; her father went in search of her, and she told him
how she had met the youngest of the Hunting Princes the night before,
and requested her father to send a royal messenger into the deserted
meadow, where the dragons of the Black Lake went to drink at the copper
trough, and to invite to the wedding the three princes who were staying
there; and asked her father not to press her to marry the Red Knight
till their arrival; on such conditions she would go among the guests.
Her father promised this, and sent the messenger in great haste to the
copper trough, and the young girl went among the guests. The feast was
going on in as sumptuous a manner as possible. The messenger came to the
copper trough, and hid himself behind a bush at the skirts of an open
place, and as he listened to the conversation of the princes he knew
that he had come to the right place; he hastened to give them the
invitation from the king of the town of the Black Sorrow to the wedding
of his youngest daughter.

The princes soon got ready, especially the youngest one, who, when he
heard that his fiancee was to be married, would have been there in the
twinkling of an eye if he had been able. When the princes arrived in the
courtyard the twelve pillows under the Red Knight began to move, as he
sat on them at the head of the table. When the youngest prince stepped
upon the first step of the stairs, one pillow slipped out from under the
Red Knight, and as he mounted each step another pillow fled, till as
they crossed the threshold even the chair upon which he sat fell, and
down dropped the Red Knight upon the floor.

The youngest Hunting Prince told them the whole story, how his elder
brothers had slain the dragons with three and five heads, and he the one
with seven heads; he also told them especially all about the robbers,
and how he met the king's daughter, how he had walked through all their
bedrooms and changed the candles from their head to their feet; he also
produced the ring and the handkerchief, and placed upon the table the
nose and ear-tips he had cut off the robbers.

They tallied with those the Red Knight had shown, and it was apparent to
everybody which had been cut off first.

Everyone believed the prince and saw that the Red Knight was false. For
his trickery he was sentenced to be tied to a horse's tail and dragged
through the streets of the whole town, then quartered and nailed to the
four corners of the town.

The three Hunting Princes married the three daughters of the king of the
town of the Black Sorrow. The youngest prince married the youngest
princess, to whom he was engaged before, and he became the heir-apparent
in the town of Black Sorrow, and the other two divided their father's

May they be your guests to-morrow!

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