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The Ram With The Golden Fleece

Source: Hero Tales And Legends Of The Serbians

Once upon a time when a certain hunter went to the mountains to hunt,
there came toward him a ram with golden fleece. The hunter took his
rifle to shoot it, but the ram rushed at him and, before he could
fire, pierced him with its horns and he fell dead. A few days later
some of his friends found his body; they knew not who had killed him
and they took the body home and interred it. The hunter's wife hung
up the rifle on the wall in her cottage, and when her son grew up he
begged his mother to let him take it and go hunting. She, however,
would not consent, saying: "You must never ask me again to give you
that rifle! It did not save your father's life, and do you wish that
it should be the cause of your death?"

One day, however, the youth took the rifle secretly and went out into
the forest to hunt. Very soon the same ram rushed out of a thicket
and said: "I killed your father; now it is your turn!" This frightened
the youth, and ejaculating: "God help me!" he pressed the trigger of
his rifle and, lo! the ram fell dead.

The youth was exceedingly glad to have killed the golden-fleeced ram,
for there was not another like it throughout the land. He took off its
skin and carried the fleece home, feeling very proud of his prowess. By
and by the news spread over the country till it reached the Court,
and the king ordered the young hunter to bring him the ram's skin,
so that he might see what kind of beasts were to be found in his
forests. When the youth brought the skin to the king, the latter said
to him: "Ask whatever you like for this skin, and I will give you what
you ask!" But the youth answered: "I would not sell it for anything."

It happened that the prime minister was an uncle of the young hunter,
but he was not his friend; on the contrary, he was his greatest
enemy. So he said to the king: "As he does not wish to sell you the
skin, set him something to do which is surely impossible!" The king
called the youth back and ordered him to plant a vineyard and to bring
him, in seven days' time, some new wine from it. The youth began to
weep and implored that he might be excused from such an impossible
task; but the king insisted, saying: "If you do not obey me within
seven days, your head shall be cut off!"

The Youth finds a Friend

Still weeping, the youth went home and told his mother all about
his audience with the king, and she answered: "Did I not tell you,
my son, that that rifle would cost you your life?" In deep sorrow
and bewilderment the youth went out of the village and walked a long
way into the wood. Suddenly a girl appeared before him and asked:
"Why do you weep, my brother?" And he answered, somewhat angrily:
"Go your way! You cannot help me!" He then went on, but the maiden
followed him, and again begged him to tell her the reason of his tears,
"for perhaps," she added, "I may, after all, be able to help you." Then
he stopped and said: "I will tell you, but I know that God alone can
help me." And then he told her all that had happened to him, and about
the task he had been set to do. When she heard the story, she said:
"Do not fear, my brother, but go and ask the king to say exactly where
he would like the vineyard planted, and then have it dug in perfectly
straight lines. Next you must go and take a bag with a sprig of basil
in it, and lie down to sleep in the place where the vineyard is to be,
and in seven days you will see that there are ripe grapes."

He returned home and told his mother how he had met a maiden who had
told him to do a ridiculous thing. His mother, however, said earnestly:
"Go, go, my son, do as the maiden bade; you cannot be in a worse
case anyhow." So he went to the king as the girl had directed him,
and the king gratified his wish. However, he was still very sad when
he went to lie down in the indicated place with his sprig of basil.

When he awoke next morning he saw that the vines were already
planted; on the second morning they were clothed with leaves; and,
by the seventh day, they bore ripe grapes. Notwithstanding the girl's
promise the youth was surprised to find ripe grapes at a time of year
when they were nowhere to be found; but he gathered them, made wine,
and taking a basketful of the ripe fruit with him, went to the king.

The Second Task

When he reached the palace, the king and the whole court were
amazed. The prime minister said: "We must order him to do something
absolutely impossible!" and advised the king to command the youth to
build a castle of elephants' tusks.

Upon hearing this cruel order the youth went home weeping and told
his mother what had transpired, adding: "This, my mother, is utterly
impossible!" But the mother again advised him, and said: "Go, my son,
beyond the village; may be you will again meet that maiden!"

The youth obeyed, and, indeed, as soon as he came to the place where
he had found the girl before, she appeared before him and said: "You
are again sad and tearful, my brother!" And he began to complain of the
second impossible task which the king had set him to perform. Hearing
this, the girl said: "This will also be easy; but first go to the
king and ask him to give you a ship with three hundred barrels of
wine and as many kegs of brandy, and also twenty carpenters. Then,
when you arrive at such and such a place, which you will find between
two mountains, dam the water there, and pour into it all the wine
and brandy. Elephants will come down to that spot to drink water, and
will get drunk and fall on the ground. Then your carpenters must at
once cut off their tusks, and carry them to the place where the king
wishes his castle to be built. There you may all lie down to sleep,
and within seven days the castle will be ready."

When the youth heard this, he hurried home, and told his mother all
about the plan of the maiden. The mother was quite confident, and
counselled her son to do everything as directed by the maiden. So
he went to the king and asked him for the ship, the three hundred
barrels of wine and brandy, as well as the twenty carpenters; and the
king gave him all he wanted. Next he went where the girl had told him,
and did everything she had advised. Indeed, the elephants came as was
expected, drank, and then duly fell down intoxicated. The carpenters
cut off the innumerable tusks, took them to the chosen place, and
began building, and in seven days the castle was ready. When the
king saw this, he was again amazed, and said to his prime minister:
"Now what shall I do with him? He is not an ordinary youth! God alone
knows who he is!" Thereupon the officer answered: "Give him one more
order, and if he executes it successfully, he will prove that he is
a supernatural being."

The Third Task

Thus he again advised the king, who called the youth and said to him:
"I command you to go and bring me the princess of a certain kingdom,
who is living in such and such a castle. If you do not bring her to
me, you will surely lose your life!" When the youth heard this, he
went straight to his mother and told her of this new task; whereupon
the mother advised him to seek his girl friend once more. He hurried
to where beyond the village he had met the girl before, and as he
came to the spot she reappeared. She listened intently to the youth's
account of his last visit to the court, and then said: "Go and ask the
king to give you a galley; in the galley there must be made twenty
shops with different merchandise in each; in each shop there must,
also, be a handsome youth to sell the wares. On your voyage you will
meet a man who carries an eagle; you must buy his eagle and pay for
it whatever price he may ask. Then you will meet a second man, in a
boat carrying in his net a carp with golden scales; you must buy the
carp at any cost. The third man whom you will meet, will be carrying
a dove, which you must also buy. Then you must take a feather from
the eagle's tail, a scale from the carp, and a feather from the left
wing of the dove, and give the creatures their freedom. When you reach
that distant kingdom and are near the castle in which the princess
resides, you must open all shops and order each youth to stand at his
door. And the girls who come down to the shore to fetch water are
sure to say that no one ever saw a ship loaded with such wonderful
and beautiful things in their town before; and then they will go and
spread the news all over the place. The news will reach the ears of
the princess, who will at once ask her father's permission to go and
visit the galley. When she comes on board with her ladies-in-waiting,
you must lead the party from one shop to another, and bring out and
exhibit before her all the finest merchandise you have; thus divert
her and keep her on board your galley until evening, then you must
suddenly set sail; for by that time it will be so dark that your
departure will be unnoticed. The princess will have a favourite bird
on her shoulder, and, when she perceives that the galley is sailing
off, she will turn the bird loose and it will fly to the palace with
a message to her father of what has befallen her. When you see that
the bird has flown you must burn the eagle's feather; the eagle will
appear, and, when you command it to catch the bird, it will instantly
do so. Next, the princess will throw a pebble into the sea, and the
galley will immediately be still. Upon this you must burn the scale of
the carp at once; the carp will come to you and you must instruct it
to find the pebble and swallow it. As soon as this is done, the galley
will sail on again. Then you will proceed in peace for a while; but,
when you reach a certain spot between two mountains, your galley will
be suddenly petrified and you will be greatly alarmed. The princess
will then order you to bring her some water of life, whereupon you
must burn the feather of the dove, and when the bird appears you
must give it a small flask in which it will bring you the elixir,
after which your galley will sail on again and you will arrive home
with the princess without further adventure."

The youth returned to his mother and she advised him to do as the
girl counselled him. So he went to the king and asked for all that
was necessary for his undertaking, and the king again gave him all
he asked for.

On his voyage everything was accomplished as the girl had foretold, and
he succeeded in bringing home the princess in triumph. The king and his
prime minister from the balcony of the palace saw the galley returning,
and the prime minister said: "Now you really must have him killed as
soon as he lands; otherwise you will never be able to get rid of him!"

When the galley reached the port, the princess first came ashore
with her ladies-in-waiting; then the handsome young men who had sold
the wares, and finally the youth himself. The king had ordered an
executioner to be in readiness, and as soon as the youth stepped
on shore he was seized by the king's servants and his head was
chopped off.

It was the king's intention to espouse the beautiful princess,
and, as soon as he saw her, he approached her with compliments and
flattery. But the princess would not listen to his honeyed words;
she turned away and asked: "Where is my captor, who did so much for
me?" And, when she saw that his head had been cut off, she immediately
took the small flask and poured some of its contents over the body and,
lo! the youth arose in perfect health. When the king and his minister
saw this marvellous thing, the latter said: "This young man must now
be wiser than ever, for was he not dead, and has he not returned
to life?" Whereupon the king, desirous of knowing if it were true
that one who has been dead knows all things when he returns to life,
ordered the executioner to chop off his head, that the princess might
bring him to life again by the power of her wonderful water of life.

But, when the king's head was off, the princess would not hear of
restoring him to life, but immediately wrote to her father, telling
him of her love for the youth and declaring her wish to marry him,
and described to her father all that had happened. Her father replied,
saying that he approved of his daughter's choice, and he issued a
proclamation which stated that, unless the people would elect the youth
to be their ruler, he would declare war against them. The men of that
country immediately recognized that this would be only just, and so the
youth became king, wedded the fair princess, and gave large estates and
titles to all the handsome youths who had helped him on his expedition.

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