This section is from the book "Edmund Dulac's Fairy Book", by Edmund Dulac. Also available from Amazon: Edmund Dulac's Fairy-Book: Fairy Tales of the Allied Nations (Illustrated Edition).
Then the chief giant said to the Prince: 'O Nine Man Mord, climb by this to the top of the wall, and then we will pass the other tree up to you so that you can fix it as a ladder on the other side for all of us to descend by.'
The Prince climbed the tree-ladder; and, when he had reached the top of the wall they pushed the other tree up to him.
'Now,' he called down, 'I don't quite know how you want it placed. Will one of you come up and show me?'
In answer to this the chief himself climbed up and swung the tree over roots first, while he held and steadied it by its topmost branches. At this moment the Prince, unseen by the others, drew his sword, and, with one stroke, hewed off the giant's head. It fell within the city walls, and, in another second, the headless body went tumbling after it.
'Now,' he cried down to the others, 'it's all fixed, and your chief has gone down. Come up one by one, and I will hold the tree for you, and steady it, so that you can reach the ground quickly.'
And they came up one by one; and, one by one, off went their heads; and they, and their bodies after them, reached the ground very quickly. Then he climbed down the tree, and over the piled carcases of the nine giants, and made his way into the city.
It was true what the giants had said; for, although the sun had not yet risen, signs were not wanting that the city, if not deserted, was very thinly inhabited. The streets were neglected; the houses for the most part were falling to decay; and though, no doubt, those who remained - if any - feared a visit from the man-eating giants, still no watch was set, and the Prince, as he made his way through the streets, saw no one.
At last, as he went on, he espied a high tower, and, at one of its windows, there was a light. He made his way to this tower, and quickly ran up the stairs leading to the room that contained the light. At last, seeing its rays through the crack of the door, he turned the handle and entered.
A strange sight met his gaze as he stood a moment on the threshold. It was a splendid apartment of velvet and gold, magnificently decorated; but what immediately riveted his eyes was the figure of a beautiful princess sleeping upon a richly furnished couch. She was lovely to look upon; and, as he advanced into the room, he could see nothing but her. Presently, however, a hiss greeted his ears; and, looking up, he was startled to see a huge snake lying on the ledge above the couch, with its arched neck bent down ready to strike the sleeping girl.
With a loud cry the Prince tried to attract its attention; then, as it raised its head, he snatched his dagger from his belt, and, with one blow, pinned its head to the wall.
'Hold wood! Hold dagger!' he cried, releasing the hilt. 'None can draw that blade from the wall but him who planted it there!'
Then, without waking the beautiful maiden, he stole from the room and went back over the city wall, and beyond, till he came again to the giants' cave, where he quickly gathered some fuel and hurried back to his brothers, whom he found still sleeping. When he had set the fire in a blaze, he watched till the hour of sunrise, and then woke them with a loud cry:
'Arouse ye, my brothers; the day is here!'
But he told them nothing of his adventures of the night.
When they set out they came very soon to a high-road that led to the gates of the Tsar's city. Now it was the daily practice of the Tsar to walk in the ways of the city for an hour after sunrise, and bewail the death of those of his people who had perished by the hands of the giants, and also to pray fervently that his own daughter would never so perish. So it was that on this same morning he came, by his wanderings through empty streets, to the part of the wall where the tall tree-ladder was standing; and, as he drew near, he saw with amazement the great bodies of the giants lying on the ground, each with his head severed from his body.
When the Tsar saw this he raised his hands to high heaven and cried, 'This is a great day, for the giants are all slain!' And the people, who still remained to him, hearing his cry of joy, came running, and gathered about him, praying that God would preserve the mighty one who had done this astonishing deed. They were still praising the unknown hero, when some attendants came running swiftly from the palace, to tell the Tsar that a great snake had almost succeeded in killing the Princess.
At this he hastened back and made his way to the room in the tower where the Princess was lying asleep; and there he found the snake pinned to the wall by a dagger. At once he took the hilt in his hand and tried to drag it from the wall, but, to his great wonder, it resisted all his efforts.
On this, seeing the great strength of the hero who had planted the dagger there, and knowing that none but he could have the strength to remove it, he ordered a proclamation to be issued throughout the whole kingdom: that, if the man who had killed the nine giants and pinned the head of the snake to the wall with his dagger, would come and draw his dagger forth again, he would be rewarded with splendid gifts and receive the Princess in marriage.
Far and wide went this proclamation, but the Tsar, to make doubly sure, posted a thousand officials at as many inns on the great high-roads that connected the city with the outlying parts of the kingdom. And these officials' duty was to question travellers, and learn whether they had met, or heard of, any such hero as he who had killed the giants and transfixed the snake. Rewards were offered to any who could supply information, and punishments were held out to those who concealed it.
Now it so happened that the three Princes, in their search for their sisters, chanced to rest at an inn on one of the high-roads; and, when they had finished supper, they fell into conversation with an interesting stranger - a courtly man of cities, with manners that are only learnt in kings' palaces. He begged to be allowed to call for wine, - which in those days was no offence, - and, as they drank their toasts, he fell to narrating his wonderful exploits in a far-off kingdom - so far-off, indeed, that imagination alone could reach it, and no other traveller could ever return to tell a different tale.