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.
THERE was a king, and he had seven sons, - young men strong and healthy as deer, except the seventh, the youngest, whose name was Jalmir. He was in his twentieth year, and still a nurse had to care for him as for a little child. It was pitiful to look at Jalmir; he was as shapely as a maiden, and beautiful as a spring day, still could not walk from weakness. How much the king had paid to doctors, quacks, and every kind of old woman, to cure him, but in vain! At last the afflicted father lost all hope that his dearest son would ever grow strong.
For this reason there reigned in the king's palace deep distress, which was in no way to the taste of Jalmir's brothers, especially since they could not hunt in the neighborhood. "What shall we do in future?" asked the eldest one day when they were resting in the forest after a hunt. "Let us go into the world".
"Yes, yes!" answered all the others. They went home and laid their wishes before their father.
"What am I to do?" objected the king. "Jalmir is sickly; I shall be without aid in my old age".
The sons agreed with him in this, but wheedled him so slyly that at last they received his consent to go out in the world. They rushed with rejoicing to the stable, chose the best horses, took what money they could, and that same day rode away from their father's house at a gallop, without even saying good-by to their brother Jalmir. How strange was the feeling at the heart of the poor fellow when his nurse told him of this! He turned from her in silence; but under the pillow with which he covered his face he shed many tears. When it was growing dark the nurse hurried out of his chamber to chat with the servants. She began with the cook, and they talked till midnight was near before she knew it.
Meanwhile Jalmir was lying on his bed sadder than ever. This time he was not thinking of his bodily pain, but of his brothers who had left him without saying farewell; this troubled him most. He thought, "Shall I ever be well?" and some internal voice said that he would. Filled with hope he fell into a doze, and saw himself hunting on horseback, and hurling a spear at wild beasts as his brothers had done. All at once, and near midnight, a venerable man, with snow-white beard reaching to his waist, stood before the bed, and said: "Jalmir art thou sleeping?"
Jalmir started, opened his eyes, but saw no one. "That was a dream," thought he. He meditated a while, and again closed his eyes. After a short time the old man stood before him again, and asked:
"Jalmir art thou sleeping?" Jalmir opened his eyes quickly, but saw no one. "That was only a dream then," said he to himself, and again closed his eyes. But soon the old man stood before him and inquired a third time: "Jalmir art thou sleeping?"
"I am not," said Jalmir, and rubbing his eyes, saw the old man at his bed.
"Rise in the morning," said the old man, "provide thyself with everything for the road, and go through the southern gate. Outside the town thou wilt find under an old pear-tree a white horse; mount that horse and ride after thy brothers." Then the old man vanished in a twinkle.
Jalmir rubbed his eyes again, and looked around his chamber, but there was no old man anywhere. "It was only a dream," thought he. Again he lay down and slept soundly; but when he woke in the morning he felt so well that he sprang from his bed, and jumped around the chamber from gladness. His nurse returned at that moment; but when she saw that her weakly charge was well, she ran to the king, and before she had reached the door, cried: "Jalmir is well!"
The king went out, and asked in a sad voice: "Hast thou lost thy senses?"
"He is really well," said the nurse with greater rejoicing; but the king shook his head.
Meanwhile Jalmir recollected his supposed dream, and ascribed his recovery to that majestic old man.
"Since he has cured me, I must obey him," said he to himself. He dressed quickly and went to the king. When the king saw him he believed the nurse, and, thoroughly happy, fell on the young man's neck; but he was astonished still more when Jalmir said: "Now, father, let me go; I must follow my brothers".
"And thou wilt leave me?" complained the father.
"I must," answered Jalmir seriously, and he told his dream. The king shook his head incredulously, and at first would not even hear of the departure of his favorite son; but at last he consented with tears. Jalmir made ready for the journey without delay.
The king gave him a carriage and four servants, he took money, and departed straightway. Outside the town he dismissed the servants, giving them the carriage and the horses, and walked on alone to the pear-tree, where a splendid white steed was waiting, stamping the ground impatiently. "Sit on me, quickly," said he with the voice of a man, "or we shall be late".
Jalmir sprang to his back and they went on, not on the ground though, but through the air. In a short time the white steed asked: "Dost thou see thy brothers?"
"I do not see," answered Jalmir.
"But the hill on which they are?"
"Neither do I see that".
"Thou wilt soon see it," said the steed, and hastened his course. "Dost thou see the hill now?" asked he after a time.
"I see," answered Jalmir, "and on it are six ants".
"Those are thy brothers," said the white steed. "But now listen; we shall soon come up with them, but do not make thyself known. We shall pass the night in an inn. Thy brothers will feast, but will not be able to pay, for they lost all their money foolishly yesterday. Pay for them; in the morning we shall go farther".
Jalmir promised to do this, and then the white steed came down to the earth. Soon they overtook the brothers, who did not know Jalmir; and indeed, how could they in that stately, fiery hero recognize their weakly brother. Jalmir bowed to them courteously, and asked permission to travel in their company.