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).
IT was in those days when cats wore shoes, when frogs croaked in grandmothers' chairs, when donkeys clanked their spurs on the pavements like brave knights, and when hares chased dogs. So you see it must have been a very very long time ago.
In those days the king of a certain country had a daughter, who was not only exceedingly beautiful but also remarkably clever. Many kings and princes travelled from far distant lands, each one with the hope of making her his wife. But she would have nothing to do with any one of them. Finally, it was proclaimed that she would marry that man who for three successive nights should keep such strict watch upon her that she could not escape unnoticed. Those who failed were to have their heads cut off.
The news of this offer was noised about in all parts of the world. A great many kings and princes hastened to make the trial, taking their turn and keeping watch. But each one lost his life in the attempt, for they could not prevent, indeed they were not even able to see, the princess take her flight.
Now it happened that Matthias, prince of a royal city, heard of what was going on and resolved to watch through the three nights. He was young, handsome as a deer, and brave as a falcon. His father did all he could to turn him from his purpose: he used entreaties, prayers, threats, in fact he forbade him to go, but in vain, nothing could prevent him. What could the poor father do? Worn-out with contention, he was at last obliged to consent. Matthias filled his purse with gold, girded a well-tried sword to his side, and quite alone started off to seek the fortune of the brave.
Walking along next day, he met a man who seemed hardly able to drag one leg after the other.
"Whither are you going?" asked Matthias.
"I am travelling all over the world in search of happiness".
"What is your profession? "
"I have no profession, but I can do what no one else can. I am called Broad, because I have the power of swelling myself out to such a size that there is room for a whole regiment of soldiers inside me".
So saying he puffed himself out till he formed a barricade from one side of the road to the other.
"Bravo!" cried Matthias, delighted at this proof of his capacities. "By the way, would you mind coming with me? I, too, am travelling across the world in search of happiness".
"If there is nothing bad in it I am quite willing," answered Broad. And they continued their journey together.
A little further on they met a very slender man, frightfully thin, and tall and straight as a portico.
"Whither are you going, good man?" asked Matthias, filled with curiosity at his strange appearance.
"I am travelling about the world".
"To what profession do you belong?"
"To no profession, but I know something every one else is ignorant of. I am called Tall, and with good reason. For without leaving the earth I can stretch out and reach up to the clouds. When I walk I clear a mile at each step".
Without more ado he lengthened himself out until his head was lost in the clouds, while he really cleared a mile at each step.
"I like that, my fine fellow," said Matthias. "Come, would you not like to travel with us? "
"Why not? " replied he. "I'll come".
So they proceeded on their way together. While passing through a forest they saw a man placing trunks of trees one upon another.
"What are you trying to do there?" asked Matthias, addressing him.
"I have Eyes of Flame," said he, "and I am building a pile here." So saying he fixed his flaming eyes upon the wood, and the whole was instantly set alight.
"You are a very clever and powerful man," said Matthias, "would you like to join our party?"
"All right, I am willing".
So the four travelled along together. Matthias was overjoyed to have met with such gifted companions, and paid their expenses generously, without complaining of the enormous sum of money he had to spend on the amount of food Broad consumed.
After some days they reached the princess's palace. Matthias had told them the object of his journey, and had promised each a large reward if he was successful. They gave him their word to work with a will at the task which every one up till then had failed to accomplish. The prince bought them each a handsome suit of clothes, and when they were all presentable sent them to tell the king, the princess's father, that he had come with his attendants to watch three nights in the lady's boudoir. But he took very good care not to say who he was, nor whence he had come.
The king received them kindly, and after hearing their request said: "Reflect well before engaging yourselves in this, for if the princess should escape you will have to die".
"We very much doubt her escaping from us," they replied, "but come what will, we intend to make the attempt and to begin at once".
"My duty was to warn you," replied the monarch, smiling, "but if you still persist in your resolution I myself will take you to the lady's apartments".
Matthias was dazzled at the loveliness of the royal maiden, while she, on her side, received the brilliant and handsome young man most graciously, not trying to hide how much she liked his good looks and gentle manner. Hardly had the king retired when Broad lay down across the threshold; Tall and the Man with Eyes of Flame placed themselves near the window; while Matthias talked with the princess, and watched her every movement attentively.
Suddenly she ceased to speak, then after a few moments said, "I feel as if a shower of poppies were falling on my eyelids".
And she lay down on the couch, pretending to sleep.
Matthias did not breathe a word. Seeing her asleep he sat down at a table near the sofa, leaned his elbows upon it, and rested his chin in the hollow of his hands. Gradually he felt drowsy and his eyes closed, as did those of his companions.