Theee was once upon a time a Padishah, and this Padishah had forty sons. All day long they disported themselves in the forest, snaring birds and hunting beasts, but when the youngest of them was fourteen years old their father wished to marry them. So he sent for them all and told them his desire. "We will marry," said the forty brothers, "but only when we find forty sisters who are the daughters of the same father and the same mother." Then the Padishah searched the whole realm through to find forty such sisters, but though he found families of thirty-nine sisters, families of forty sisters he could never find.
"Let the fortieth of you take another wife," said the Padishah to his sons. But the forty brothers would not agree thereto, and they begged their father to allow them to go and search if haply they might find what they wanted in another empire. What could the Padishah do? He could not refuse them their request, so he gave them his permission. But before they departed he summoned them into his presence, and this is what their father the Padishah said to them: "I have three things to say to you, which bear ye well in mind. When ye come in your journey to a large spring, take heed not to pass the night near it. Beyond the spring is a caravanserai; there also ye must not abide. Beyond the caravanserai is a vast desert; and there also ye must not take a moment's rest." The sons promised their father that they would keep his words, and with baggage light of weight but exceedingly precious, they took horse and set out on their journey.
They went on and on, they smoked their chibooks and drank forty cups of coffee, and when evening descended the large spring was right before them. "Verily," began the elder brethren, "we will not go another step further. We are weary, and the night is upon us, and what need forty men fear?" And with that they dismounted from their horses, ate their suppers, and laid them down to rest. Only the youngest brother, who was fourteen years of age, remained awake.
It might have been near midnight when the youth heard a strange noise. He caught up his arms, and turning in the direction of the sound saw before him a seven-headed dragon. They rushed towards each other, and thrice the dragon fell upon the prince, but could do him no harm. "Well, now it is my turn," cried the youth; "wilt thou be converted to the true faith?" and with these words he struck the monster such a blow that six of his seven heads came flying down.
" Strike me once more," groaned the dragon.
"Not I," replied the youth, "I myself only came into the world once." Immediately the dragon fell to pieces, but his one remaining head began to roll and roll and roll till it stood on the brink of the well. "Whoever can take my soul out of this well," it said, "shall have my treasure also," and with these words the head bounded into the well.
The youth took a rope, fastened one end of it to a rock, and seizing the other end himself, lowered himself into the well. At the bottom of the well he found an iron door. He opened it, passed through, and there right before him stood a palace compared with which his father's palace was a hovel. Into this palace he went, and in it were forty rooms, and in each room was a damsel sitting by her embroidery frame with enormous treasures behind her. "Art thou a man or a spirit?" cried the terrified damsels. - "A man am I, and the son of a man," replied the prince.
"I have just slain a seven-headed dragon, and have followed its rolling head hither."
Oh, how the forty damsels rejoiced at hearing these words. They embraced the youth, and begged and prayed him not to leave them there. They were the children of one father and one mother they said. The dragon had killed their parents and carried them off, and they had nobody to look to in the whole wide world.
"We also are forty," said the youth, "and we are seeking forty damsels." Then he told them that he would first of all ascend to his brethren, and then he would come for them again. So he ascended out of the well, went to the spring, lay down beside it and fell asleep.
Early in the morning the forty brothers arose and laughed at their father for trying to frighten them with the well. Again they set out on their way, and went on and on till evening overtook them, when they perceived a caravanserai before them. "Not a step further will we go," said the elder brothers. The youngest brother indeed insisted that it would be well to remember their father's words, for his speech could surely not have been in vain. But they laughed at their youngest brother, ate and drank, said their prayers, and lay down to sleep. Only the youngest brother remained wide awake.
About midnight he again heard a noise. The youth snatched up his arms, and again he saw before him a seven-headed dragon, but much larger than the former one. The dragon rushed at him first of all, but could not overcome him, then the youth dealt him one blow and off went six of the dragon's heads. Then the dragon wished him to take one more blow but he would not; the head rolled into a well, the youth went after it, and came upon a palace larger than the former one, and with ever so much more treasures and precious things in it. He marked the well so that he should know it again, returned to his brothers, and wearied out with his great combat slept so soundly that his brothers had to wake him up with blows next morning.
Again they arose, took horse, went up hill and down dale, and just as the sun was setting, behold! a vast desert stood before them. They fell to eating straightway, drank their fill also, and were just going to lie down to sleep when all at once such a roaring, such a bellowing arose that the very mountains fell down from their places.
The princes were horribly afraid, especially when they saw coming against them a gigantic seven-headed dragon. He vomited forth venomous fire in his wrath, and roared furiously: "Who killed my two brothers? Hither with him! I'll try conclusions with him also!"