This section is from the book "Fairy Tales Of The Slav Peasants And Herdsmen", by Aleksander Borejko Chodzko, Emily J. Harding.. Also available from Amazon: Fairy Tales of the Slav Peasants and Herdsmen (Illustrated Edition).
And having thus spoken he turned a somersault over the stump of a fallen tree which lay in the forest: while, to the prince's amazement, he was immediately transformed into a young girl exactly resembling the Princess with the Golden Hair.
"Now, leave your real bride in the forest," said the transformed fox, "and take me with you to offer to the king of the silver palace in exchange for his horse Zlato-Nrivak. Mount the horse, return here, and escape with the maid you love; I will manage the rest".
The king of the silver castle received the maiden without the least suspicion, and handed over in exchange the Horse with the Golden Mane, over whose back lay the bejewelled bridle. The prince left at once.
At the palace all were busy preparing the wedding feast, for the marriage was to take place immediately, and everything was to be of the most costly description. Invitations had been out to all the grandees of the land.
Towards the end of the feast, when every one had drunk his fill of wine and pleasure, the king asked his guests their opinions on the charms of his bride.
"She is most beautiful," said one, "in fact, it would be impossible for her to be more lovely; only, it seems to me that her eyes are somewhat like those of a fox".
The words were hardly out of his mouth when the royal bride vanished, while in her place sat a red fox, who with one vigorous bound sprang through the door and disappeared to rejoin the prince, who had hastened on in front. With sweeping strokes of his bushy tail he overthrew bridges, reopened precipices, and heaped up mountains; but it was very hard work for the poor thing, and he did not come up with the runaways until they had almost reached the copper castle. Here they all had a rest, while the red fox turned a somersault and transformed himself into a horse resembling the one with the golden mane. Then the prince entered the copper castle and exchanged the transformed fox for the firebird Ohnivak, the king having no suspicions whatever. The red fox, having thus deceived the monarch, reassumed his own shape and hurried after the departing prince, whom he did not overtake until they had reached the banks of the river where they had first become acquainted.
"Now here you are, prince," said the red fox, "in possession of Ohnivak, of the lovely Zlato-Vlaska, and of the Horse with the Golden Mane. Henceforth you can manage without my help, so return to your father's house in peace and joy; but, take warning, do not stop anywhere on the way, for if you do some misfortune will overtake you".
With these words the red fox vanished, while the prince continued his journey unhindered. In his hand he held the golden cage that contained the fire-bird, and at his side the lovely Zlato-Vlaska rode the Horse with the Golden Mane; truly, he was the happiest of men.
When he reached the cross roads where he had parted from his brothers, he hastened to look for the branches they had planted. His alone had become a spreading tree, theirs were both withered. Delighted with this proof of divine favour, he felt a strong desire to rest for a while under the shadow of his own tree; he therefore dismounted, and assisting the princess to do the same, fastened their horses to one of the branches and hung up the cage containing Ohnivak on another: within a few moments they were all sound asleep.
Meanwhile the two elder brothers arrived at the same place by different roads, and both with empty hands. There they found their two branches withered, that of their brother having grown into a splendid tree. Under the shade of the latter he lay sleeping; by his side was the Maid with the Golden Locks; the horse, Zlato-Nrivak, was fastened to a tree, and the fire-bird roosted in his golden cage.
The hearts of the two brothers were filled with envious and wicked thoughts, and they whispered thus to one another, "Just think what will become of us - the youngest will receive half of the kingdom during our father's life and succeed to the throne at his death; why not cut his throat at once? One of us will take the Maid with the Golden Locks, the other can carry the bird to our father and keep the Horse with the Golden Mane; as for the kingdom, we will divide it between us".
After this debate they killed their youngest brother and cut up his body into small pieces, while they threatened to treat Zlato-Vlaska in the same way if she attempted to disobey them.
On reaching home they sent the Horse with the Golden Mane to the marble stables, the cage containing Ohnivak was placed in the room where their father lay sick, and the princess was allowed a beautiful suite of apartments and maids of honour to attend her.
When the king, who was much weakened by suffering, had looked at the bird, he asked after his youngest son. To which the brothers replied: "We have not seen or heard anything of him, it is very likely that he has been killed".
The poor old man was much affected - it seemed, indeed, as if his last hour had come. The fire-bird moped and refused to sing; the Horse with the Golden Mane stood with his head bent down before his manger, and would eat no food: while Princess Zlato-Vlaska remained as silent as if she had been born dumb, her beautiful hair was neglected and uncombed, and she wept - her tears fell fast.
Now as the red fox chanced to pass through the forest he came upon the mangled body of the youngest brother, and he at once set to work to put the scattered pieces together, but was unable to restore them to life. At that moment a raven, accompanied by two young ones, came hovering overhead. The fox crouched behind a bramble bush; and when one of the young birds alighted upon the body to feed, he seized it and made a pretence of strangling it. Upon which the parent bird, full of anxious love and fear, perched upon a branch close by and croaked as if to say, "Let my poor little nestling go. I have done you no harm, neither have I worried you; let him free, and I will take the first opportunity of returning your kindness".