Like lightning he drew his sword and smote the alligator between the eyes, cleaving its head in one mighty stroke. Then, when it had ceased its death struggles, he cut off both its ears and placed them in his haversack.

As his brothers still slept he resolved to say nothing about the matter, and, to this end, he rolled the carcase of the alligator down the shelving shore into the water, where it sank like lead. At sunrise he roused his brothers, and, with few words, they resumed their wandering.

After three days struggling through the forest, they came to another lake, where they camped for the night. This time the second brother watched, while the eldest and the youngest slept.

And he, too, had a strange adventure, but more terrible than that the eldest brother had encountered. At midnight the waters of the lake began to move, and a great alligator with two heads emerged and came up on the shore. Then, with both mouths wide open and his long sharp teeth gleaming in the moonlight, the monster rushed at the watcher and the sleepers. But the watcher sprang forward, sword in hand, and dealt two terrific blows, one on each head, killing the alligator instantly. Then he cut off the four ears and placed them in his haversack, and rolled the huge carcase back into the lake. As the eldest brother had done, he kept the matter to himself, and let his brothers sleep on.

In the morning he aroused them, and they all set out again on their wandering.

During that day they came to the edge of the forest, but only to find a vast desert before them. Their hearts sank within them, but, nothing daunted, they set forth, saying one to the other, 'There is no desert that has no boundaries. We shall come to the other side.'

But for three whole days they journeyed on, and all was still desert as far as the eye could see; and their food and water were exhausted, and they were sore distressed. Then, as they saw that the forest had no end, they cried to God to deliver them. And it seemed that the haze of the desert lifted, and they saw before them a lake, calm and peaceful. On its shore they would spend the night.

Having refreshed themselves from its waters, and eaten of some luscious fruits that grew upon its margin, they made their camp; and this time the youngest brother watched while the other two slept.

And he, also, had an adventure, but far more terrible than either of his brothers had encountered. As they were sleeping soundly, and he was looking at the still surface of the lake, something heaved up out of the depths and swam rapidly towards him. When it came up out of the water he saw that it was a monstrous alligator, with three heads. As it advanced upon him, with all three mouths wide open, ready to devour him and his sleeping brothers, he sprang to meet it, and, with three mighty strokes like flashes of lightning, severed the three heads from the body. Then he cut off the six ears and placed them in his haversack. As the other two brothers had done, he, also, kept the matter to himself.

It was not yet dawn, and the fire was burning low. In order to replenish it the young Prince went into the surrounding desert to look for fuel. After searching for some time in vain, he mounted a rock and looked around; and there, not very far away, he saw the gleam of a fire. He ran towards it, knowing he should find some fuel. But, when he arrived at the place where the fire was burning, he found the glare of it came from within a large cave. Creeping forward cautiously, he peered in, and saw a strange sight. The fire was blazing in the middle of the floor, and round it sat nine giants, eating the flesh of human beings, whose limbs they drew from a huge cauldron over the fire.

Horrifying was this sight to the Prince. He made up his mind to trick the giants. He advanced boldly into the cave and gave them greeting.

'Good-morrow, my friends,' he cried jauntily; 'I 've been searching for you everywhere.'

'Good-morrow, friend!' replied the biggest of the giants. 'And, if you 're indeed one of us, you will, of course, join us in our feast, and then help us in our search for more.'

'With every pleasure!' cried the Prince; 'indeed, I need hardly thank you for the kind invitation, since I am at all times ready to assist you in your hunting expeditions. I have a rare tooth for the flesh of mortals, and the bigger they are the better I like them.'

The giants looked at one another and grunted approvingly. Then said the chief: 'Since you are with us, what is your name?'

'I am Nine Man Mord,' replied the Prince, taking the name of that hero of a far land who had slain nine men in so many strokes of his sword. 'I have journeyed from the North and have come to dwell among you, and be one of you.'

They were all astonished, for they had heard wonderful stories of Nine Man Mord; and they seemed to forget that they themselves were nine.

'Come, Nine Man Mord!' they cried; 'come, sit and eat with us.'

Readily the Prince took his place among them; but, though it seemed to them that he ate of the human flesh, he did not really do so. While pretending to eat, he told them such tales of his adventures in the far country that none of them noticed he was not eating, but disposing of the flesh cunningly, sometimes by throwing it behind him, and again by offering a tit-bit to one or another in token of friendship.

When the feast was over, the giants rose and stretched themselves.

'Now,' said the biggest one, 'we'll go a-hunting. There's always to-morrow's feast to be thought of. We go, O Nine Man Mord, to the Tsar's city. There is still good flesh to be got there, though we have been feeding on it for many, many years. And, I may tell you, as the prey is not so plentiful as it used to be, it affords all the better sport in the taking.'

'I 'm with you,' replied the Prince, 'and, maybe, I can show you a trick or two.'

So they set out and journeyed together - the nine giants and the Prince - till they came to the outskirts of a large and beautiful city. Here, in the surrounding forest, the giants plucked up two great trees by the roots, and took them to the city walls, where they placed one tree as a ladder.