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.
"I am looking for the black castle of the King of the Crows. Has my lord elder brother never heard of it in his world-beautiful life?"
"Haho, poor man! How not heard of it? Are we not the servants of the lord of that castle? But art not thou the poor man who sold his Highness the two lean cows?"
1 "The reckoning swineherd," - he who counts the pigs.
"Well, what's the use in delay or denial? I am, indeed, he".
"Art thou in truth?"
" I am no one else".
"But how wilt thou enter the black castle, since it is covered all around with a stone wall, and whirls unceasingly on a golden cock's foot? But make no account of that. Here is a shining axe. Just strike the wall with it so that sparks will fly, and thou wilt come upon the door, which will spring open. Then jump in. Have a care, though; for if thou slip and fall, neither God nor man can save thee. When thou art once inside, the King of the Crows will come forward and receive thee kindly. He won't put his soul on the palm of his hand at once; but when his Highness inquires what thy wish is, ask for nothing else but the salt-mill which stands in the corner".
Well, the talk ended there. In the morning the poor man moves on towards the black castle. When he arrives there, he saw that it whirled of itself on a golden cock's foot, like some infernal spindle; and nowhere can he see either window or door upon it, - nothing but the naked wall. He took the swineherd's axe and struck the wall, and sparks flew from the axe in such style that it could n't be better. After a time he came upon the door; it flew open, and he jumped in. If he had delayed but one flash of an eye the stone wall door would have crushed him; as it was, the edge of his trousers was carried off.
As soon as the poor man got in, he saw that the castle turned only on the outside. At this moment the King of the Crows was standing by the window, and saw the poor man coming for the price of the cows. He went to meet him, shook his hand, treated him as tenderly as an egg; then he led him into the most beautiful chamber, and seated him at his side on a golden couch. The poor man saw not a soul anywhere, although it was midday, the time of eating. All at once the table began to spread, and was soon bending under its load, so much food was on it. The poor man shook his head, - for, as I say, though no one was to be seen anywhere, neither cook nor kitchen-boy nor servant, still, was n't the table spread? It was surely witchcraft, surely some infernal art, but not the work of a good spirit, - maybe the salt-mill had something to do with it. That, however, did not come into the poor man's mind, though the mill stood there in the corner.
He was there three days, the guest of the King of the Crows, who received him with every kindness he could offer, so that no man's son could raise a complaint against his Highness. Morning, noon, and night the poor man's food appeared in proper form, but the roast and the wine had no taste for him; for it came to his mind that while he was feasting there, most likely his wife and children had not bread enough. I say it came to his mind; he began to be restless and uneasy. The King of the Crows noticed this, and said to him: "Well, poor man, I see that thou dost not wish to stay longer with me, because thy heart is at home, therefore I ask what dost thou wish for the two lean cows? - believe me, brother, thou didst save me from great trouble that time; if thou hadst not taken pity on me I should have lost my whole army from famine".
"I want nothing else," said the poor man, "but that salt-mill standing there in the corner".
" Oh, poor man, hast thou lost thy wits? Tell me, what good couldst thou get of the mill?"
"Oh, I could grind corn or a little wheat from time to time; if I did not some one else might, so there would be something to take to the kitchen".
"Ask for something else; ask for all the cattle which in coming hither thou didst see".
"What should I do with such a tremendous lot of cattle? If I should drive them home, people would think evil of me; besides, I have neither stable nor pasture".
"But I 'll give thee money. How much dost thou wish? Wouldst be content with three bags of it?"
"What could I do with such an ocean-great lot of money? My evil fate would use it to kill me; people would think that I stole the coin, or murdered some man for it; besides, I might be stopped with it on the road".
"But I 'll give thee a soldier as a guard".
"What good is one of thy Highness's soldiers?" asked the poor man, smiling; "a hen, I think, would drive him away".
"What! one of my soldiers?"
Here the King of the Crows blew a small whistle; straightway a crow appeared which shook itself, and became such a gallant young fellow that he was not only so, but just so. "That's the kind of soldiers I have;" said the king and commanded the young man out of the room. The soldier shook himself, became a crow, and flew away.
"It's all the same to me what kind of soldiers thy Highness has. Thy Highness promised to give me what I want, and I ask for nothing else but the salt-mill".
"I will not give it. Ask for all my herds, but not for that".
"I need not herds; all I want is the mill".
"Well, poor man, I have refused thee three times, and three times thou hast asked for the mill; now, whether I will or not, I must give it, But know that thou art not to grind corn or wheat with the mill; for it has this virtue, - that it accomplishes all wishes. Here it is, take it, though my heart bleeds after it. Thou didst me a good deed, therefore let it be thine".
The poor man put the mill on his back, took farewell of the King of the Crows, thanking him for his hospitality, and trudged home at his leisure. On the way back he entertained the swineherds, the horse-herds, and the cowherds. All he did was to say, "Grind, my dear mill," and what food was dear to the eye, the mouth, and the taste appeared of itself; and if he said, "Draw up, my dear mill," all the food was as if the ground had swallowed it, - it vanished. Then he took leave of the good shepherds and continued his way.