Many years ago there was a King who had seven sons. As soon as each one of the princes was of age his father sent him on an expedition, that he might display his bravery and marry the maiden whom he preferred. Thus six of the princes acquired wives, but Heaven only knows whether they displayed real bravery or not. It was now the turn of the seventh son, whose name was Bedik.1 His father gave him a horse of lightning, a magic sword and a bow-and-arrow, saying:
“Go, my son, and may Heaven grant you good luck.”
Bedik started and traveled through the length and breadth of the world, visiting the land of darkness, the land of light, the land of fairies, the land of giants. He did battle with men, beasts, genii, and all kinds of creatures which he encountered on the way, and overcame them all, but in his wars he lost all his servants and his wealth. He was alone, one day, when he came to a magnificent castle built of marble, decorated with gold and jewels and surrounded with orchards and flower gardens. He walked about the building and gazed everywhere, but could see no human being, man or woman. He waited all the day, concealed behind some bushes. Toward evening there came a Giant covered all over with armor, brandishing his bow and arrows, which were of heavy steel. When he walked the earth trembled. When he came near the castle, becoming aware of the presence of a human being, he exclaimed:
“Aha! I smell a human being. I go a-hunting to the mountains, and lo! the prey has come to my home. Ho! human being, disclose yourself; else I will make a morsel of you.”
The lad was looking at the Giant from his place of concealment. He was the strangest creature that he had ever seen; neither a sword nor an arrow could pierce him. Nevertheless he decided to face him, and coming out from behind the bushes, he stood before him.
“Who are you?” asked the Giant. “The bird with its wing, and the snake on its belly could not approach this castle of mine; and how could you venture to come? Have you not heard of the fame of the Invulnerable Giant?”
“I have,” said the lad bravely, “and my name is no less famous than yours; I am Bedik; I have traveled all over the world, and having heard of you, I came to measure swords with you.”
The Giant gazed at the lad for a moment and suddenly sneezed. The burst of air through his nostrils caused the lad to leap ten rods away.
“Halloo!” exclaimed the Giant, laughing, “you do not seem to be very well able to fight me, do you? Nay, come here again; do not be afraid, I will not hurt you. I have heard about you; you are a brave little fellow. But you see you can do no harm to me, because I am invulnerable. Come, be my servant, for I need a skillful human servant, and I do not think I can find a better one than you. Bring your sword and bow and arrows. You see they are not available to pierce me; we may need them for hunting and other purposes.”
The lad consented, and they lived together for a time. One day the Giant said to the youth:
“You see I am immortal, but I have an anxiety which gnaws my heart day and night. The King of the East has a daughter, and there is no beauty like hers under the sun. I have made seven expeditions to carry her away, but so far have not succeeded. If you can bring her here I will bestow upon you a kingly reward.”
“I will bring her for you,” said the lad.
“But do you promise it upon your soul?” said the Giant.
“I do,” answered the lad, and at once started on the expedition.
After a long journey he came to the city of the King of the East, changed his clothes, took the shape of a farmer boy, and became the apprentice of the King”s gardener. He saw the King”s daughter sitting in her window and working with her needle. She was so beautiful that she seemed to say to the sun, “Sun, you need not shine, since I am shining.” The lad fell in love with her and began to curse the hour when he made the solemn promise to convey her to the Giant. One day, taking advantage of the absence of his master, the lad stripped off his humble clothes, and putting on his princely garments, mounted his horse of lightning and rode in the King”s garden. The maiden was looking from her window and saw him. She had never seen a young man so perfect, and she fell in love with him. On the following day she sent two of her maids to the youth, informing him of her love. The lad sent her word who he was, how he had heard of her wondrous beauty, and now he was waiting to do anything that she might order. The city was surrounded by high walls, through fear of the Invulnerable Giant, who assaulted it every year with the intention of carrying off the maiden; but the people of the city, being brave fighters, would not let the maiden be borne away. So the lad had a hard task to perform. One day the girl sent to him, through her maids, the following message:
“To-morrow is the feast of the Navasard, when all the maidens of the city go out for recreation and merriment, but I am not allowed to go forth because it is the day when the Invulnerable Giant makes his annual assault to seize me. I will, however, go to the garden by the riverside, which is surrounded by high walls; there I will wait for you to see you display your bravery.”
Having received this message, on the next day the youth put on his princely garments, girded his magic sword, and taking his bow and arrows, mounted his horse of lightning. Once or twice he coursed the steed near the garden wall, until it began to gallop as fast as if it had wings. One stroke of the whip, and lo! it jumped over the wall like an eagle, and instantly the horse and its rider alighted in the middle of the garden. In the twinkling of an eye the lad put his arm around the maiden”s waist, and placing her behind him on the saddle, gave another stroke of the whip, which made the horse leap over the garden wall, and in a second they were on safe ground outside the city galloping like a flash of lightning. The maids in attendance were horror-stricken, thinking that it was a hurricane which had taken their lady from them. It was a long time before they understood what had taken place; then they informed the King, who sent out his bravest horsemen in pursuit of the fugitives. But it was too late. The couple on the back of the horse of lightning passed over the mountains and valleys until they came to the border of the deep river. A stroke of the whip and the steed swam the deep waters and emerged on the other side. The King”s horsemen came as far as the river, but seeing that the couple had crossed the frontier, they returned. As soon as the maiden and the youth had crossed the water, and the Invulnerable Giant”s castle appeared in the distance, the maiden said to the lad:
“Bedik, dearest, we have come so far and you have not yet spoken a single word to me; you have shown no sign of love. For Heaven”s sake, tell me; did you kidnap me for yourself or for another?”
“You said, “for Heaven”s sake,”” replied the lad, “I will therefore tell you the truth; I have kidnaped you for the Invulnerable Giant; I have promised to deliver you to him.”
“Alas!” exclaimed the maiden. “May Heaven”s curse rest upon the Invulnerable! He could not get me for all the world. You do not reflect that it was by your skill and valor that you secured me. Woe be to frail womanhood! Maidens are the slaves of their hearts. For you, only for you, I eloped. If you reject me, here is the deep water, and here the high precipice; I would better be food for fishes and birds. May Heaven”s fire burn and consume the hard hearts of men!” So saying, she prepared to throw herself down the abyss into the deep water. The lad”s heart began to burn like a furnace, and he took hold of her, crying:
“Nay, dearest, do not harm yourself. It was because of the vow I made upon my soul that I am taking you to the Giant, and the day you become his wife I will put an end to my life with this sword, for without you life for me would be a curse.”
Then they exchanged vows that they would use every means to put a speedy end to the Invulnerable Giant, and then be married; because they could not marry without destroying the Giant. Thereupon, they mounted the horse and began to proceed toward the castle. The Giant, who from the tower of the castle was looking their way, seeing them at a distance, immediately came down and ran to meet them. He expressed his gratitude to the lad, and his excess of love to the maiden. He treated her with extreme kindness, fearing that he might hurt her tender feelings with his unpolished manners.
“Are you pleased with this place?” he asked her. “What do you want me to do in order to make you as happy as possible?”
“I am very well, thank you; you are everything for me,” said the maiden, suppressing her bitter hatred towards him. “But my parents consented to send me to you only under the condition that I should keep myself a virgin seven years longer. I have given an oath that I will do so; otherwise the love with which they have cherished me would turn into poison and defile my whole life. Do you accept this condition?”
“I do,” said the Giant. “As you are now in my hand, I am willing to wait not only seven years, but, if necessary, seven times seven years.”
They exchanged solemn vows, and decided that Bedik should live with them, and be the best man at their wedding. The maiden occupied one apartment of the castle, the youth and the Giant the other apartments, and so they lived for a time. But the lad and the maiden were uneasy. It was in vain to think of killing the Giant,–he was invulnerable. If they eloped he would certainly overtake them, and there was no escaping from his wrath. One day as the Giant was lying on the couch, with his head on the maiden”s lap, she said to him:
“In former times, how did you live alone, without any companions? And how is it that you are invulnerable, when so many arrows and swords are thrown at you? What is the secret of your immortality?”
At first the Giant refused to tell, but the maiden importuned him, saying: “If you will not inform me, then you do not love me. Tell me in plain words that you love me not, and I will cease to live.”
The Giant was at last persuaded to give up his secret, and he said:
“Seven days” journey from this castle there is a white mountain, where lives an unsubduable white bull which neither man nor beast dares to approach. Once in seven days he becomes thirsty and goes to the top of the white mountain, where there is a white fountain with seven white marble reservoirs full of water, which he drains at a single draught. The bull has in his belly a white fox, which in its turn has in its belly a white box made of mother-of-pearl. In that box are seven white sparrows. Those are my spirits, and those are my seven secrets. The bull cannot be subdued, the fox cannot be caught, the box cannot be opened, the sparrows cannot be seized. If either of them is taken, the others will escape. So I remain unconquerable and invulnerable and immortal.”
The maiden told the secret to Bedik, adding:
“I have done what I could; now it remains for you to do the rest.”
After a few days the lad girded on his sword, and bearing his bow and arrow, took leave of the Giant, saying that he would go on a month”s journey. He started and went directly to the convent of the seven wise monks, who were renowned all over the world for their great erudition and learning. After performing his religious duties before the holy altar, he asked the monks:
“How is the unconquerable man conquered, and the unsubduable beast subdued?”
And he received the following answer:
“Man by woman; beast by wine.”
On the following day he loaded seven horses with seven skinfuls of seven-year-old wine and took them to the white mountain. He emptied the water out of the seven marble reservoirs and filled them with wine, turning the water of the fountain elsewhere. Near by he dug a trench, and hiding himself, waited for the result. At the end of seven days the white bull came to drink, and smelling the wine, he was so much terrified that he leaped as high as the height of seven poplar trees, and ran back roaring and bellowing. On the following day he returned, and being thirsty, drank the wine and was overcome. He leaped once or twice and fell down senseless. The lad drew his sword and approached and cut off the bull”s head.
Let us return a moment to the palace of the Giant. It was the last day of the seven years during which he had waited for the maiden. He had gone to the hunt, that they might have noble game for their wedding dinner. When the bull was overcome and fell, the giant began to grow drowsy. As soon as the youth cut off the bull”s head, the Giant turned dizzy, and a tremor ran through his frame.
“Alas!” cried the Giant. “Some one has killed the white bull. I know it is my fault. I gave my secret to the maiden, and she has told it to Bedik or to some other lover. The bull is killed, and I must die. I will go and kill the maiden. She is not to be for me; why shall she be for another?” So saying, he began to run toward the castle.
Bedik cut the bull”s belly open; the fox also was drunk and stupid, and he cut off his head. The Giant lost his senses, and the blood began to gush out of his nostrils. The youth, opening the stomach of the fox, obtained the pearl box and put it in warm blood. The lid was opened, and the lad seized the seven sparrows. Thereupon streams of blood began to run from the Giant”s mouth and ears, and his two eye-balls started from their sockets, like two great pomegranates. But still he was running toward the castle, sword in hand, and roaring like a mad beast. The maiden was horror-stricken, and quickly ran up to the top of the tower, determined to throw herself thence and kill herself, rather than fall into the hands of the Giant. The Giant had barely reached the castle door, when Bedik killed two of the sparrows; with that the two knees of the Giant were broken. He killed two more sparrows, and the Giant”s two arms withered. He killed two more, and the lungs and heart of the Giant ceased to breathe and beat. He killed the last sparrow; the Giant knocked his head against the threshold of the castle, his skull was broken, and his brains oozed out. A black smoke rose from his mouth and nostrils, and he lay dead as a stone. Thereupon Bedik came on horseback like a flash of lightning. The maiden descended from the tower, and they embraced one another. At once they decided to go to the maiden”s parents and celebrate their wedding. They collected all the wealth of the Invulnerable Giant, and mounting the horse of lightning, began to proceed toward the East.
The maiden being the only child of the King of the East, he was greatly grieved at her loss, seeing that he was getting old, and there was no successor to his throne. On the day following the maiden”s disappearance, the King had sent his servants to the seven wise monks, asking their advice, and he had received the following message:
“The hero who carried off your daughter is a Prince. At the end of seven years your daughter will be restored to you by the same hero, as pure and chaste as before.”
The anxious father waited for seven long years. It was the last day of the seventh year; the King and his subjects had made great preparations for the reception of the returning Princess and her hero. Towards evening the King and his peers were looking anxiously from the seven towers of the city wall. The sun was just going down, when a flash as of lightning was seen on the western horizon, and in the twinkling of an eye Bedik and the maiden reached the city gate on the back of their fiery steed. They were received amid the wild acclamations of the crowd, and were led to the King”s palace. There they knelt before the King and told their story. The King blessed them, and for forty days and forty nights the wedding feast was celebrated.
They attained their wish. May Heaven grant that you may attain your wishes!
Three apples fell from heaven; one for me, one for the story-teller, and one for him who entertained the company.