Boy Beautiful arose and did as his steed told him, and the next moment they were close up to the forest.
"Now is the time, my master," cried the good steed.
"The wild monsters are now being fed, and are gathered together in one place. Now let us spring over!"
"I am with thee, and the Lord have mercy upon us both," replied Boy Beautiful.
Then up in the air they flew, and before them lay the palace, and so gloriously bright was it that a man could sooner look into the face of the midday sun than upon the glory of the Palace of Youth without Age, and Life without Death. Eight over the forest they flew, and just as they were about to descend at the foot of the palace-staircase, the steed with the tip of his hind leg touched lightly, oh, ever so lightly! a twig on the topmost summit of the tallest tree of the forest. Instantly the whole forest was alive and alert, and the monsters began to howl so awfully that, brave as he was, the hair of Boy Beautiful stood up on his head. Hastily they descended, but had not the mistress of the palace been outside there in order to feed her kittens (for so she called the monsters), Boy Beautiful and his faithful steed would have been torn to pieces. But the mistress of the monsters, for pure joy at the sight of a human being, held the monsters back and sent them back to their places. Fair, tall, and of goodly stature was the Fairy of the Palace, and Boy Beautiful felt his heart die away within him as he beheld her. But she was full of compassion at the sight of him, and said: "Welcome, Boy Beautiful! What dost thou seek? "
"We seek Youth without Age, and Life without Death," he replied.
Then he dismounted from his steed and entered the palace, and there he met two other fair dames of equal beauty; these were the elder sisters of the Fairy of the Palace. They regaled Boy Beautiful with a banquet served on gold plate, and the good steed had leave to graze where he would, and the Fairy made him known to all her monsters, that so he might wander through the woods in peace. Then the fair dames begged Boy Beautiful to abide with them always, and Boy Beautiful did not wait to be asked twice, for to stay with the Fairy of the Palace was his darling desire.
Then he told them his story, and of all the dangers he had passed through to get there, and so the Fairy of the Palace became his bride, and she gave him leave to roam at will throughout her domains. "Nevertheless," said she, "there is one valley thou must not enter or it will work thee woe, and the name of that valley is the Vale of Complaint."
There then Boy Beautiful abode, and he took no count of time, for though many days passed away, he was yet as young and strong as when he first came there. He went through leagues of forest without once feeling weary. He rejoiced in the golden palace, and lived in peace and tranquillity with his bride and her sisters. Oftentimes too he went a-hunting.
One day he was pursuing a hare, and shot an arrow after it and then another, but neither of them hit the hare. Never before had Boy Beautiful missed his prey, and his heart was vexed within him. He pursued the hare still more hotly, and sent another arrow after her. This time he did bring her down, but in his haste the unhappy man had not perceived that in following the hare he had passed through the Vale of Complaint!
He took up the hare and returned homewards, but while he was still on the way a strange yearning after his father and his mother came over him. He durst not tell his bride of it, but she and her sisters immediately guessed the cause of his heaviness.
"Wretched man!" they cried, "thou hast passed through the Vale of Complaint!"
"I have done so, darling, without meaning it," he replied; "but now I am perishing with longing for my father and mother. Yet need I desert thee for that? I have now been many days with thee, and am as hale and well as ever. Suffer me then to go and see my parents but once, and then will I return to thee to part no more."
"Forsake us not, oh beloved!" cried his bride and her sisters. "Hundreds of years have passed away since thy parents were alive; and thou also, if thou dost leave us, wilt never return more. Abide with us, or, an evil omen tells us, thou wilt perish!"
But the supplications of the three ladies and his faithful steed likewise could not prevail against the gnawing longing to see his parents which consumed him.
At last the horse said to him: "If thou wilt not listen to me, my master, then 'tis thine own fault alone if evil befall thee. Yet I will promise to bring thee back on one condition."
"I consent whatever it may be," said Boy Beautiful; "speak, and I will listen gratefully."
"I will bring thee back to thy father's palace, but if thou dismount but for a moment, I shall return without thee."
"Be it so," replied Boy Beautiful.
So they made them ready for their journey, and Boy Beautiful embraced his bride and departed, but the ladies stood there looking after him, and their eyes were filled with tears.
And now Boy Beautiful and his faithful steed came to the place where the domains of Scorpia had been, but the forests had become fields of corn, and cities stood thickly on what had once been desolate places. Boy Beautiful asked all whom he met concerning Scorpia and her habitations, but they only answered that these were but idle fables which their grandfathers had heard from their great-grandfathers.
"But how is that possible?" replied Boy Beautiful;
"twas but the other day that I passed by------" and he told them all he knew. Then they laughed at him as at one who raves or talks in his sleep; but he rode away wrathfully without noticing that his beard and the hair of his head had grown white.
When he came to the domain of Gheonoea he put the same questions and received the same answers. He could not understand how the whole region could have utterly changed in a few days, and again he rode away, full of anger, with a white beard that now reached down to his girdle and with legs that began to tremble beneath him.
At length he came to the empire of his father. Here there were new men and new dwellings, and the old ones had so altered that he scarce knew them.
So he came to the palace where he had first seen the light of day. As he dismounted the horse kissed his hand and said: "Fare thee well, my master! I return from whence I came. But if thou also wouldst return, mount again and we'll be off instantly."
"Nay," he replied, "fare thee well, I also will return soon."
Then the horse flew away like a dart.
But when Boy Beautiful beheld the palace all in ruins and overgrown with evil weeds, he sighed deeply, and with tears in his eyes he sought to recall the glories of that fallen palace. Round about the place he went, not once nor twice: he searched in every room, in every corner for some vestige of the past; he searched the stable in which he had found his steed, and then he went down into the cellar, the entrance to which was choked up by fallen rubbish.
Here and there and everywhere he searched about, and now his long white beard reached below his knee, and his eyelids were so heavy that he had to raise them on high with his hands, and he found he could scarce totter along. All he found there was a huge old coffer which he opened, but inside it there was nothing. Yet he lifted up the cover, and then a voice spoke to him out of the depths of the coffer and said: "Welcome, for hadst thou kept me waiting much longer, I also would have perished."
Then his Death, who was already shrivelled up like a withered leaf at the bottom of the coffer, rose up and laid his hand upon him, and Boy Beautiful instantly fell dead to the ground and crumbled into dust. But had he remained away but a little time longer his Death would have died, and he himself would have been living now. And so I mount my nag and utter an "Our Father" ere I go.