Again he made his way into a courtyard, and again he was met by a woman - his second sister - who greeted him with joy. Soon she led him into her boudoir, and immediately he asked: 'My sister, who is your husband?'

'He is the Eagle King,' said she.

Then, as it had happened with the Dragon King, so it happened with the Eagle King. He came whirring home from a great height, and, by the artfulness of his wife, he met and embraced the young Prince; for, though the Eagle King would have pecked out the livers of the elder brothers, he was glad to meet the youngest. A feast was spread, and, afterwards, the talk led on to Bashtchelik.

'Bashtchelik!' cried the Eagle King. 'Young man, will you listen to me? Once we battered him with ten thousand pairs of wings and assailed him with ten thousand beaks, but he triumphed. For one man to go up against him is as a thistledown attacking a whirlwind. Do nought. Stay with me: I will give you all you desire.'

But, as the Prince held fast to his purpose, the Eagle King plucked a feather from his wing and gave it him.

'If you are in sore straits,' he said, 'burn this feather, and, on the instant, I will come to your aid with ten thousand eagles.'

Then the Prince, thanking the Eagle King, set forth once more. And, in his further journeying, he again came to a city, and heard, beneath a castle wall, a woman's voice calling to him.

It was his youngest sister. She also contrived to bring him face to face with her husband, the Falcon King, who warned him strongly against Bashtchelik, and gave him a feather from his wing in case of need.

After a long search and many adventures, the Prince at last found his wife, standing at the mouth of a large cave. She was much surprised to see him, and ran forward to embrace him. He then told her all he had done since their parting, and she clung to him in great joy.

'Now, dear wife,' he said at last; 'now that I have found you, we will go together to your father's palace.'

'But Bashtchelik!' she exclaimed.

'Bashtchelik is not your husband,' he replied; 'I am your husband.'

'Yes, yes; but if we flee, beloved, Bashtchelik will surely follow us. His rage would be terrible, and I should lose you for ever, and find a frightful punishment.'

'Nay, nay; I am your husband, and I will protect you; come!' Then he added to himself, 'She does not know I have three lives now, and I doubt whether Bashtchelik could kill me three times.'

So they fled together. But, some hours later, Bashtchelik returned from hunting and found the Princess had gone. From some footprints outside the cave he gleaned that she had not gone alone, and instantly guessed that her husband had carried her off. With a cry of rage he sprang into the air, and began to fly round the cave at terrific speed, and in ever-widening circles.

The sun was low down on the Western horizon when the Prince, riding hard with his wife on the saddle-bow, heard a whirring sound in the sky and looked up.

'Hasten!' cried the Princess in alarm; 'it is Bashtchelik. If we can reach the shelter of yonder forest he may not see us.'

But hardly had she spoken when an angry cry from afar fell on their ears. Bashtchelik had seen them - seen her long, yellow hair floating on the breeze and gleaming like gold in the rays of the setting sun. He swerved and swooped downwards, and, madly as they rode for the edge of the forest, he was upon them by the time they reached the outskirts.

Alighting on the ground, he tore the Princess from the Prince's arms, and cried out in sorrowful anger, 'O Prince, I gave you three lives out of gratitude to you, but, if you attempt to steal your wife again, I will kill you.' And with this he mounted in the air with the Princess, and soon disappeared in the distance, leaving the Prince lost in wonder at the suddenness of it all.

Nevertheless he was not to be beaten. He returned to the cave under cover of night, and, having concealed his steed, crept forward and hid himself near the cave, to wait until Bashtchelik should go forth to the hunt.

And he was not disappointed. Soon after the sun rose, Bashtchelik came out from the cave, bearing his bow and arrows, and went in search of prey. Then, when he was out of sight, the Prince dashed into the cave, took his wife and rode away with her. But again ere sunset they heard the whir of wings; and again Bashtchelik snatched the Princess from the Prince's arms. And this time he placed an arrow on his bowstring and drew it to the full.

The Story Of Bashtchelik The Palace of the Dragon King.

The Story Of Bashtchelik The Palace of the Dragon King.

'O Prince,' he said, 'I give you your choice: will you die by arrow or sabre?'

'By sabre,' said the Prince, feeling for his own.

'Nay, nay!' returned Bashtchelik, relenting. 'Because I gave you three lives, I pardon you a second time; but, if you attempt to steal your wife again, I shall slay you without a thought.'

But the Prince, as he watched Bashtchelik fly away with his wife, was not daunted. 'I wish he would stay to fight, said he; 'but maybe he will next time, for I shall certainly take her again.'

And he did. And again they were overtaken. On this occasion it was nowise different, save that when Bashtchelik forgave the Prince it was in angry and threatening tones, before bearing the Princess away.

Having failed three times, the Prince rode sadly homewards. But he had not gone far when he bethought him of the three feathers given him by his brothers-in-law, and of their promises of help. He reined in his steed, and turned and galloped back. He would beard Bashtchelik in his cave, and then give battle, with three armies at his call, if, perchance, this powerful foe should seem to prevail.

When he reached the cave it was an hour after sunrise. He leapt from his steed and entered without knocking. There was a fire burning within, and his wife sat by it with her head on her hand, thinking. She sprang up at the sound of his footstep.