This section is from the book "Myths And Folk-Tales Of The Russians, Western Slavs, And Magyars", by Jeremiah Curtin. Also available from Amazon: Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and the Magyars.
ONCE there was a king who groaned many a day; doctors came from far and near, but they could not cure him. At last his condition was such that one day all thought he must die. The following night he had a marvellous dream. It seemed to him that he was on Black Island, had freed three princesses, and straightway recovered. When he woke he felt a certain relief, but had almost forgotten the dream. The next night he had the same dream, and again on waking felt easier, but did not ascribe the relief to his dream. The third night he had no dream, but a vision, in which the three princesses appeared to him and said: "Free us, and thou wilt recover; if not, thou wilt die." Then they vanished, and the terrified king felt such pain that he could barely wait till morning. He summoned his twelve sons in haste, and when he had told them of his vision he said in a sad voice: "But how can I, poor man, go on a long journey to Black Island, of which I have never even heard?"
"I will go instead of thee," said Boyislav, the youngest son, with decision.
"We will all go," said the others, looking angrily at Boyislav, whom they hated with all their hearts, because he was his father's favorite.
"Ye cannot all leave me; and thou, Boyislav, surely not," said the king, shaking his head. "Who would there be to reign in my place?"
"Let Boyislav stay at home," said the eldest; "besides, he would be merely a hindrance to us on the road".
"I a hindrance!" said Boyislav, flushing up with anger and pity. "Let me go, father; I will free the princesses alone".
His brothers began to laugh at him and then to dispute as to who should go to Black Island. Since they could not decide, the king said: "I know that ye would all gladly serve me, but since some of you must stay at home, I will make six blank lots and six written ones; whoever draws a written one will go, whoever a blank will remain".
The princes were satisfied and drew lots. They were angry when Boyislav drew a prize, and the king was sad; but he had given his word and could not withdraw it. That very day the princes set out and Boyislav with them. While on dry land they were prosperous; it was worse when they entered a boat and knew not whither to turn. Boyislav said that they ought to go north, but his brothers laughed at him. When they had sailed many weeks in one direction and another without finding Black Island, they were glad to follow his advice; and the third day they arrived at the place, but so terrible was it that no one dared to land save Boyislav. He took provisions and sprang on shore, telling his brothers to await his return. While light lasted he ran up and down on the island, but saw nothing except black rocks. He was forced to pass the night on a bare stone, but rose early, completely refreshed by sleep, and examined farther.
One day passed, and a second; the third day appeared, and still he found nothing. At last, in the evening, he came to a large stone, which seemed to him hewn out by men's hands. He lifted with all his might, turned it over, and found a great dark opening, from which a pleasant odor arose. He went down without delay, and soon found himself in a glorious garden, in which were three golden castles at a great distance. He gazed with astonishment; though there were things there without number such as he had never seen before, still his attention was attracted first by three horses, which rushed around him three times in a wild gallop, and then vanished in the twinkle of an eye. Boyislav looked after them, and heard a voice saying: "I welcome thee, Boyislav, youngest of twelve!"
He looked on every side, but could see no one. The voice cried out the second time: "I welcome thee, Boyislav, youngest of twelve!"
Now he knew where the voice came from; but though he went in that direction and examined everything very carefully, he could see no one. Only after the voice had called much louder than the first and second time, "I welcome thee, Boyislav, youngest of twelve!" did he see behind a rock a famished little horse, so poor that he could count all its ribs.
"What dost thou want of me?" asked Boyislav, not a little astonished that the horse knew him.
"'T is thy wish to free the three princesses," answered the horse; "then listen to what I advise: In the first castle thou wilt find the first princess, who will greet thee with kindness beyond measure, and offer thee food and drink. Eat with relish, but let not the princess eat with thee or kiss thee. Take what is left of the food when thou hast eaten, and go to the second castle; there the second princess will greet thee with still greater kindness, and offer food and drink. Eat with relish, but for no reason let her eat with thee or kiss thee. Take what is left after eating, and go to the third castle, where the third princess will give thee the most kindly reception of all, and place food and drink before thee; eat freely, but let not the princess eat with thee or kiss thee. Take what is left, and come here to me".
"Is nothing more needed to gain their freedom? ' asked Boyislav.
"Nothing," answered the horse; "but thou must not speak a word all this time".
"That is very easy," thought Boyislav.
But the horse said with great emphasis: "Have a care; for to thee 't is a question of life or death".
Boyislav went with quick step to the first castle, where a princess of wonderful beauty ran forth toward him. "I welcome thee, Boyislav, youngest of twelve!" cried she, with glad voice. "How art thou here? Come to my chamber; let me give thee good cheer. What is thy father doing? How are thy brothers?"
Then she took his hand and seated him at the table, to which she brought the most savory food and drink, continually speaking of his home. But he gave no regard; and when she wished to eat with him, he thrust her aside without mercy. Then he seized what was left of the food and hurried away. The princess gave him the sweetest of names, and stretched her hands toward him, but he acted as if he neither saw her nor heard her.