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.
They sailed and sailed through the airy heavens till they were weary; then they tied their boat to the tree with diamond blossoms, silver leaves, and golden apples. They sat on a golden bench under the tree, and were there but a moment, when at a nod from the Sun's daughter a golden butterfly appeared more quickly than a spoken word, and brought fresh-gathered honey of the skies on a rose-leaf. When they had eaten, thirst seized the king's son; then a modest star came bringing a goblet on a silver tray, in the goblet a charm-drink, and when the king's son had drunk from the golden goblet his thirst fell away as if it had been cut in two.
When their hunger and thirst were gone, at the Sun's daughter's nod the modest stars brought a cithara. Dawn then played on its golden chords with silver feathers, and sounded such notes that a man hearing them would spring up and whirl in the dance, even if his own father were lying dead on the table. After that came the hour of rest; the king's son was led across seventy-seven chambers to the bath-room. In the middle of the room stood a great golden cask filled with dew, and on a boxwood table lay lathery soap. The king's son bathed in the dew-water, washed himself with the lathery soap, and wiped with a towel of gold.
When he rose next morning, Dawn gave him a burning ray which she wound up like a ribbon, put in a box, and hung with a golden hair on the neck of the king's son. After that they parted amidst tear-shedding. The Sun's daughter sped across' the vault of heaven on her winged steed, and the king's son continued his journey.
As I say, he had a ray to light up the island. The king's son journeyed and travelled till the steed spoke, saying: "Listen, dear master".
"What is thy command, dear horse?"
"Gird thyself well, for thou must cut the three reeds at a blow; a second blow would lose thee thy head. If at one blow thou succeed, the island will be lighted up. The world-beautiful maiden and her two attendants will be thine, but only on condition that thou cut not open the reeds before coming to water; for if thou dost, they will die a fearful death in a moment".
The king's son promised by heaven and earth that he would act as told. On the seventh day they came to the island of the Black Sea, where there was such darkness that a spoon would have stood up in it; but the king's son drew out the box hanging by the golden hair and removed the cover. All at once the way was lighted, but so strangely that it gave light only to him; he could see everything, but not a created soul could see him. When he came to where the three reeds were growing, they bent before him and bowed to the earth. They continued to bow; at the best moment the king's son drew his sword and with a blow all three reeds fell upon his breast. But from the three reed-stumps black blood sprang forth, and a bitter wail was heard as if a naked sword had been thrust into some one's heart. It had been thrust into the heart of the witch; for the black blood was hers, and the bitter wail was her death-sigh. She could only live while the three reeds stood. As soon as the old witch had breathed out her soul, the burning ray flew out of the silver box as if it had been shot from a gun, and the whole island was in light.
Then the king's son sat on his good steed and journeyed over forty-nine kingdoms as swiftly as the most fleet-winged bird could go. Once curiosity rose in him to know if there was indeed something in the reeds, and what it could be like. I say, curiosity rose up in him, and bored his side as if with an iron auger, so that what he did or did not do, he took out his gleaming knife and split the smallest reed, in which was the youngest attendant of the world-beautiful Reed Maiden. No sooner had he split the reed than a beauteous, pearl-given, lovely girl fell upon his breast; and her first word was: "Water! Only as much water as a little swallow takes in her beak when she gives drink to her young, or I die!"
But the king's son had it not. One drop of water is not much, but he could not give that much. The beautiful maiden, like a broken flower, began to wither, grew paler and paler, till at last the pallor of death seized her head, and bending to the breast of the king's son, she died.
The king's son was so sorry for his fault that if it had been possible, he would have atoned for it with his blood; but that was not possible. Therefore he came down from his good steed, dug a grave with his sword, and buried the maiden; as a grave-mark he planted the split reed, and from it a black rose sprang, which as mourning, bloomed in black.
A bitter weeping wail, a bitter woe-cry was heard from the two reeds that were not split yet, as if some one were bewailing a brother. Great sadness seized the king's son too, who thought, "I caused the death of this maiden. I broke this flower and planted it in the bosom of death." But if he had wept out his soul, it would have been useless; therefore he mounted his steed and rode farther. He travelled and journeyed till curiosity rose in his breast, and bored his side as with an iron auger. "Is there in the second reed another such maiden; and will she go like the first?"
At last he could resist the devil's boring no longer; so he took his gleaming clasp-knife, and split the second reed also. Behold, the elder attendant of the Reed Maiden, came out, saying: "Water, water, or I shall die a fearful death!" But the king's son had not one drop of water; the maiden grew paler and paler, till she dropped her head on the breast of the king's son, and died. The king's son came to the earth, dug a grave with his sword, and buried the maiden. At the head of the grave split reed; from it a beautiful rose-bush sprang up, which bloomed in black, as mourning.
A bitter weeping wail, a bitter woe-cry of pain was heard from the unsplit reed, in which the world-beautiful maiden herself was hidden; and no less grief seized the king's son. He had killed two; with his own strength he had broken two beautiful flowers, and put them in the bosom of death. Grief covered him with black wing. His good steed went as a bird of swiftest flight till curiosity rose up in the breast of the king's son, bored his side as with an iron auger. "What sort of person is his future bride? who is the world-beautiful Reed Maiden?"