There was once upon a time a Padishah who had three daughters. One day the old father made him ready for a journey, and calling to him his three daughters straightly charged them to feed and water his favourite horse, even though they neglected everything else. He loved the horse so much that he would not suffer any stranger to come near it.
So the Padishah went on his way, but when the eldest daughter brought the fodder into the stable the horse would not let her come near him. Then the middling daughter brought the forage, and he treated her likewise. Last of all the youngest daughter brought the forage, and when the horse saw her he never budged an inch, but let her feed him and then return to her sisters. The two elder sisters were content that the youngest should take care of the horse, so they troubled themselves about it no more.
The Padishah came home, and the first thing he asked was whether they had provided the horse with everything. "He wouldn't let us come near him," said the two elder sisters; " it was our youngest sister here who took care of him."
No sooner had the Padishah heard this than he gave his youngest daughter to the horse to wife, but his two other daughters he gave to the sons of his Chief Mufti and his Grand Vizier, and they celebrated the three marriages at a great banquet, which lasted forty days. Then the youngest daughter turned into the stable, but the two eldest dwelt in a splendid palace. In the daytime the youngest sister had only a horse for a husband and a stable for a dwelling; but in the night-time the stable became a garden of roses, the horse-husband a handsome hero, and they lived in a world of their own. Nobody knew of it but they two. They passed the day together as best they could, but eventide was the time of their impatient desires.
One day the Padishah held a tournament in the palace. Many gallant warriors entered the lists, but none strove so valiantly as the husbands of the Sultan's elder daughters.
"Only look now!" said the two elder daughters to their sister who dwelt in the stable, "only look now! how our husbands overthrow all the other warriors with their lances; our two lords are not so much lords as lions! Where is this horse-husband of thine, prythee? "
On hearing this from his wife, the horse-husband shivered all over, turned into a man, threw himself on horseback, told his wife not to betray him on any account, and in an instant appeared within the lists. He overthrew every one with his lance, unhorsed his two brothers-in-law, and re-appeared in the stable again as if he had never left it.
The next day, when the sports began again, the two elder sisters mocked as before, but then the unknown hero appeared again, conquered and vanished. On the third day the horse-husband said to his wife: "If ever I should come to grief or thou shouldst need my help, take these three wisps of hair, burn them, and it will help thee wherever thou art." With that he hastened to the games again and triumphed over his brothers-in-law. Every one was amazed at his skill, the two elder sisters likewise, and again they said to their younger sister: "Look how these heroes excel in prowess! They are very different to thy dirty horse-husband!"
The girl could not endure standing there with nothing to say for herself, so she told her sisters that the handsome hero was no other than her horse-husband - and no sooner had she pointed at him than he vanished from before them as if he had never been.
Then only did she call to mind her lord's command to her not to betray her secret, and away she hurried off to the stable. But 'twas all in vain, neither horse nor man came to her, and at midnight there was neither rose nor rose-garden.
"Alas!" wept the girl, "I have betrayed my lord, I have broken my word, what a crime is mine! " She never closed an eye all that night, but wept till morning. When the red dawn appeared she went to her father the Padishah, complained to him that she had lost her horse-husband, and begged that she might go to the ends of the earth to seek him. In vain her father tried to keep her back, in vain he pointed out to her that her husband was now most probably among devils, and she would never be able to find him - turn her from her resolution he could not. What could he do but let her go on her way?
With a great desire the damsel set out on her quest, she went on and on till her tender body was all aweary, and at last she sank down exhausted at the foot of a great mountain. Then she called to mind the three hairs, and she took out one and set fire to it - and lo! her lord and master was in her arms again, and they could not speak for joy.
"Did I not bid thee tell none of my secret?" cried the youth sorrowfully; "and now if my hag of a mother see thee she will instantly tear thee to pieces.
This mountain is our dwelling-place. She will be here immediately, and woe to thee if she see thee!"
The poor Sultan's daughter was terribly frightened, and wept worse than ever at the thought of losing her lord again, after all her trouble in finding him. The heart of the devil's son was touched at her sorrow: he struck her once, changed her into an apple, and put her on the shelf. The hag flew down from the mountain with a terrible racket, and screeched out that she smelt the smell of a man, and her mouth watered for the taste of human flesh. In vain her son denied that there was any human flesh there, she would not believe him one bit.
"If thou wilt swear by the egg not to be offended, I'll show thee what I've hidden," said her son. The hag swore, and her son gave the apple a tap, and there before them stood the beautiful damsel. "Behold my wife!" said he to his mother. The old mother said never a word, what was done could not be undone. "I'll give the bride something to do all the same," thought she.
They lived a couple of days together in peace and quiet, but the hag was only waiting for her son to leave the house. At last one day the youth had work to do elsewhere, and scarcely had he put his foot out of doors when the hag said to the damsel: "Come, sweep and sweep not! " and with that she went out and said she should not be back till evening. The girl thought to herself again and again: "What am I to do now? What did she mean by 'sweep and sweep not'?" Then she thought of the hairs, and she took out and burned the second hair also. Immediately her lord stood before her and asked her what was the matter, and the girl told him of his mother's command: "Sweep and sweep not!" Then her lord explained to her that she was to sweep out the chamber, but not to sweep the ante-chamber.