IV

The three brothers built three fine palaces for themselves, and lived therein some time unmarried. At length, however, they began to think what would become of all their property after their deaths, and said to each other that it would be a pity for them to die without heirs. So they resolved to marry, that their wealth might be left to their sons and daughters.

The eldest brother said, "Let me go and find the best wives I can for all three of us; meantime you two will remain here, and take care of our property." The others gladly agreed to this, as the eldest brother had given proofs enough that he was by far the wisest of the three, and they felt sure that he would be able also to bring this important business to a successful issue. So he made the needful preparations, and started on his journey to look out for three wives for himself and the two younger brothers who remained at home.

After long travelling he arrived at a large city, and resolved to remain there all night, and to continue his journey in the morning.

It happened that the king of that place had just arranged a horse-race, and promised his only daughter as the prize, and, with her, ten loads of treasure to the winner.

The very evening the eldest brother arrived he heard the public bell-man proclaiming aloud through the streets, that everyone who had a horse should come tomorrow to the royal field, and whoever should spring first over the ditch should be rewarded with the king's daughter, and should receive, with her, ten loads of gold.

He listened to the proclamation without saying anything. Next morning he went out into the king's field in order to see the racing, and found there already innumerable horses of all kinds.

A little later came also the princess, the king's daughter, and behind her were brought ten loads of treasures.

When he saw the king's daughter he thought her so exceedingly beautiful that he went instantly a little aside from the crowd to get a better sight of her. He then remembered his wonderful stone. Taking it out he now lifted it to his lips, and immediately the two negroes appeared, and said, "Master, what do you command?" He replied, "Bring me clothes of silk and velvet, together with precious stones, and ten good horses! and bring them as soon as possible!" He had not winked twice before the negroes had placed before him everything which he had demanded. Then he took out the hair, and, striking fire with a flint, held the hair near it. The moment he did this, the same creamcoloured horse that had given him the hair stood beside him, and asked, "Master, what do you command?" He answered, "I wish that to-day we leave all the other horses behind us in the race, so that I may gain the king's daughter. Therefore prepare yourself, and let us go at once, as the other horses are now ready for starting".

The instant he had spoken these words, the cream-coloured horse stood, pawing the earth, ready and eager to begin the race. The man then mounted it, and off they went. The other racers, having started a few moments before, were already pretty far from the starting-point; in an instant, however, he had reached them, and in another had passed and left them far behind. When he reached the ditch - which was a hundred and five yards deep, and a hundred yards wide - the horse made so great a spring that it touched ground some fifty yards beyond the ditch, broad as it was.

Then he rode back and took the maiden, the king's daughter, and, placing her behind him on his horse, carried her off, together with the loads of gold. All the people, seeing this, wondered greatly who the strange knight could be who had left all the best horses so far behind in the race, and had won the beautiful princess, with all her rich treasures.

He rode along until he came to a wood pretty far from the city, and there he let his wonderful horse go until he should want him again. He then took off all his beautiful clothes, and put on his old dress, and in this manner went on with the maiden and the loads of gold.

About evening he arrived at a strange city, and decided to remain there. After he had rested a little while, the people in the inn told him that all day long the city bell-man had proclaimed that whoever had a good horse should go to-morrow to the horse-race, for the king of the palace had offered his only daughter as a prize, together with a hundredweight of gold and jewels; but that there was a ditch to be sprung over which was three hundred and fifty yards deep and a hundred and fifty yards wide. When he heard this he was greatly pleased, for he was quite sure that he should win this race also.

Next morning, by the help of the little stone and the wonderful hair, he was again dressed in the finest clothes, and mounted on his cream-coloured horse, and so took his place amongst the racers.

Everyone wondered from what country this knight came, and were delighted at his rich dress; as for the horse, the people were never tired of admiring it. When the race-horses were arranged for the start he remained purposely behind. He knew well enough that this was of no consequence to him, as in one moment he could reach and pass them all. At length he started, and in a moment distanced the fleetest horse, arriving at the ditch, and leaping over it as if it were nothing. Then, without waiting a minute, he took possession of the king's daughter and her treasures, and went straight to the city where he had left the first king's daughter and her loads of gold.

Taking the two princesses and all the wealth with him, he now thought that it was time for him to go back home. On his way, however, he had the great good luck to come again to a large city, where he resolved to remain during the night. There, also, the public crier had been proclaiming all day long that the king had determined to give his only daughter and fifteen hundredweight of gold to whoever should win the race which was to be run on the morrow. In this instance, however, the horses would have to leap over a ditch one thousand yards deep and four hundred and fifty yards wide. On hearing this proclamation, the eldest brother became very joyful, for he knew that no racer had any chance of beating his wonderful horse.

On the morrow, therefore, by means of his little stone and the hair, he ordered fifteen horses to be ready, to carry away the treasures he felt sure of winning, and, at the same time, directed the negroes to bring him his fairy courser and dresses so splendid that not even a king could buy them.

Richly dressed in this way, and mounted, as he was, on his marvellous horse, all the world, who had gathered to see the great race, could look at nothing except at him.

When all the racers were arranged for the start, he lingered behind and let them all speed off like falcons. He wished everyone to see that he was the last to start, that they might not charge him afterwards with having in any way cheated. When they had already gone pretty far, he started himself, and in a moment he had reached them, passed them, and left them all a long, long distance behind. How could it be otherwise? When did the crow outfly the falcon? Coming to the ditch, he touched the bridle a little, and, in an instant, his horse had leaped over the ditch, and they were safe on the other side. So, without any delay, he took away the maiden, together with all the gold, and went back to the city. Having collected his immense treasures, he now took with him the three princesses and went straight home. As he travelled along with his company, everyone who met him asked him, "Where are you going?" For you see the princesses were exceedingly beautiful. But beyond all others his two brothers, when he reached home, wondered and were delighted at the sight of the three beautiful princesses. They did not rejoice half so much over the great riches he had gained for them as over the marvellous fairness of the king's daughters whom he had brought to be their wives.

Thus each of the three brothers married a beautiful princess; the eldest brother, however, who had shown himself so much the bravest and wisest of them, married the youngest and most beautiful of the three.