Once there was a princess, and she was under a curse and enchantment, so that she had to spend her life in the shape of a fish. One day a woman happened to be working in the meadow by the river, and she saw a flock of birds flying above the river and talking to the fish. The woman wondered what it was that was there, so she went to the waterside and looked in. All she saw was a fish swimming about. So she said: "I should like to eat you, fish. I feel sure you would do me good."
Now, when she said that, the fish answered: "You could save me. You will have twin sons, although you have never had any children before."
The woman said that, if she could help her in that, there was nothing the fish could ask that she would not do to deliver her.
The fish answered: "Catch me and take me to your field. There you must bury me and plant a rose-tree over me. When the roses first come into bloom you will bear twin sons. After three years, dig in the place where you buried me and you will find two swords, and these you must keep. Your mare will have two foals and your bitch will have two pups, and each of your twins will have a sword, a horse, and a dog. Those swords will have the virtue that they will help your sons to victory over everybody. I shall be delivered as soon as my body has rotted."
When the twin sons grew up they were very clever, and so they said: "We must try our luck in the world. We are bold enough. One of us will go to the East and one to the West. Each of us must look at his sword every morning to see if the other needs his help. For the sword will begin to rust as soon as one of us is in peril."
So they cast lots which way they should go, and each of them took his sword, his horse, and his dog, and away they went.
The first rode through deep forests, and he met a fierce dragon and a lion; so he attacked the dragon, which had nine heads. The lion stayed quiet while the knight attacked the dragon, and at last he succeeded in cutting one of the dragon's heads off. He felt tired then, and the lion took his place; then the knight cut two more heads off the dragon. And so it went on till he had all the heads cut off. Then he cut out the tongues from all the nine heads and kept them, and so went forward on his adventurous journey.
Now, it chanced that there were some wood-cutters in these forests, and one of them collected all the dragon's heads, having come across them by chance. That dragon used to come to the town and devour one person every visit. This time the lot had fallen on the princess, and so she was to be devoured by the dragon. So the town was all hung with black cloth. The woodcutter knew all about this, so he went with the heads to the town to sue for the princess, for it had been proclaimed that whoever killed the dragon should be her husband. When the princess saw that such a low-born man was to be her husband she was taken aback, and tried by all the means in her power to delay the wedding.
The knight happened to come to the town just then, and he saw a good inn, so he rode up to it. The innkeeper came at once to ask what he could do for him. Now, there were other guests there, and it was a busy place. The guests were all talking of the one matter: when the princess was going to marry the man who had killed the dragon. The wedding ought to have been long ago, but the bride and her parents kept putting it off. The knight listened to all this talk, and then he asked:
"Are you sure that it was that woodcutter who killed the dragon?"
They answered that it certainly was, for the heads were preserved in the palace.
The knight said nothing, but when he thought the proper time had come he rode to the palace. The princess saw him from the window, and she wondered who it might be. He was ushered in, and he went straight to the princess and told her everything. He asked her whether he might attend the wedding.
She answered: "I am not at all pleased with my marriage. I would much rather marry you, sir."
He asked her why.
"If he killed the dragon he must be a great man."
"He is such a low-born man," said she, "that it is not likely that he killed the dragon." "I should like to see him," said he.
So they brought the woodcutter before him, and the knight asked to see the heads. So they brought the heads. He looked at the heads and said:
There are no tongues in these heads. Where are the tongues?"
Then he turned to the woodcutter: "Did you really kill the cruel dragon?" he said. The woodcutter persisted in his story. "And how did you cut the heads off?" "With my hatchet."
"Why, you couldn't do it with your hatchet. You are a liar."
The woodcutter was taken aback and did not know what to say. He was frightened already, but he said: "It happened that the dragon didn't have any tongues."
The knight produced the tongues and said: "Here are the tongues, and it was I who killed the cruel dragon."
The princess took hold of him and embraced and kissed him, and she was ready to marry him on the spot. As for the woodcutter, he was kicked out in disgrace, and they put him into jail for some time too. So the princess married the knight and they lived happily together.
One day, looking out of the window, he saw in the distance, among the mountains, a black castle. He asked his wife what castle it was and to whom it belonged.
"That is an enchanted castle, and nobody who goes into it ever returns."
But he could not rest, and he was eager to explore the castle. So one morning he ordered his horse to be saddled, and, accompanied by his dog, he rode to the castle. When they reached it they found the gate open. As he went in he saw men and animals all turned to stone. In the hall an old hag was sitting by the fire. When she saw him she pretended to tremble.
"Dear lord," said she, "bind your dog. He might bite me."
He said: "Do not be afraid. He will do you no harm."
He bent down to pat the dog, and at that moment the hag took her wand and struck him with it. He was turned to stone, and his horse and dog too.
The princess waited for her lord, but he did not return. She mourned for him, and the citizens, who loved their lord, were grieved at his loss.
Now, the other brother looked at his sword, and the sword began to rust; so he was sure that his brother was in trouble. He felt that he must help him, so he rode off in that direction and came to the town. The town was hung with black flags. As he rode through the streets the citizens saw him, and they thought he was their lord, for he had a horse and a dog just like their lord's horse and dog. When the princess saw him, she embraced him and said: "Where have you been so long, my dear husband?"
He said that he had lost his way in the forest and that he had fallen among robbers, and, since he had no choice, he had to pretend to be a robber too, and to promise to stay with them and to show them good hiding-places. The robbers, so he said, admitted him to be of their company, and he had not been able to escape before this.
Everybody was delighted, and the lord's brother was careful enough not to say that he was only the brother. But, whenever they went to bed, he put his sword between himself and the lady. The princess was troubled at this, and she tried to find different explanations for the conduct of her supposed husband. One morning, as he was looking out of the window, he saw that same castle, and he asked what castle it was.
She answered: "I have told you already that it is an enchanted castle, and that nobody who goes there ever returns."
So he thought: "It is surely there that my brother is."
He ordered his horse to be saddled and, without saying a word to anybody, he rode off to the castle. As soon as he entered the castle he saw his brother and his dog turned to stone. He saw, too, all the petrified knights and their horses, and the hag sitting and keeping up the fire.
He said: "You old hag, unless you bring my brother to life again I'll hew you in pieces with this sword of mine."
The hag knew that the sword had magical virtues, and so she said:
"Pray, sir, do not be angry with me. Take that box there and rub the ointment beneath his nose and he will come to life again."
"Curse you, you evil old hag; do it yourself, and instantly."
And he went and caught hold of her wand and struck her with it, and at once she was turned into stone. He had not meant to do that, for he did not know that the wand had such power. He took the box and rubbed the ointment beneath his brother's nose, and the brother came to life again. Then he anointed all the others who had been turned to stone, and they all came to life again. As for the hag, he left her there just as she was.
Then the brothers rode off to the princess. When she saw them, she did not know which of them was her husband, they were so like one another.
So she said: "What am I to do now? Which of you is my lord?"
They came before her and bade her choose the right one. But still she hesitated. So her husband went up to her and took her by the hand and said: "I am the right one and that is my brother."
He told her everything, and she was glad that her real husband had come again. So they lived happily together, and, as for the other brother, he went to seek his fortune elsewhere.