Once upon a time there was a great Emperor and an Empress; both were young and beautiful, and as they would fain have been blessed with offspring they went to all the wise men and all the wise women and bade them read the stars to see if they would have children or not; but all in vain. At last the Emperor heard that in a certain village, hard by, dwelt a wiser old man than all the rest; so he sent and commanded him to appear at court. But the wise old man sent the messengers back with the answer that those who needed him must come to him. So the Emperor and the Empress set out, with their lords and their ladies, and their servants and their soldiers, and came to the house of the wise old man. And when the old man saw them coming from afar he went out to meet them.
"Welcome," cried he; "but I tell thee, oh
Emperor! that the wish of thy heart will only work thee woe."
"I came not hither to take counsel of thee," replied the Emperor; "but to know if thou hast herbs by eating whereof we may get us children."
"Such herbs have I," replied the old man; "but ye will have but one child, and him ye will not be able to keep, though he be never so nice and charming."
So when the Emperor and the Empress had gotten the wondrous herbs, they returned joyfully back to their palace, and a few days afterwards the Empress felt that she was a mother. But ere the hour of her child's birth came the child began to scream so loudly that all the enchantments of the magicians could not make him silent. Then the Emperor began to promise him everything in the wide world, but even this would not quiet him.
"Be silent, my heart's darling," said he, "and I will give thee all the kingdoms east of the sun and west of the moon! Be silent, my son, and I will give thee a consort more lovely than the Fairy Queen herself." Then at last, when he perceived that the child still kept on screaming, he said: "Silence, my son, and I will give thee Youth without Age, and Life without Death."
Then the child ceased to cry and came into the world, and all the courtiers beat the drums and blew the trumpets, and there was great joy in the whole realm for many days.
The older the child grew the more pensive and melancholy he became. He went to school and to the wise men, and there was no learning and wisdom that he did not make his own, so that the Emperor, his father, died and came to life again for sheer joy. And the whole realm was proud that it was going to have so wise and goodly an Emperor, and all men looked up to him as to a second Solomon. But one day, when the child had already completed his fifteenth year, and the Emperor and all his lords and great men were at table diverting themselves, the fair young prince arose and said: "Father, the time has now come when thou must give me what thou didst promise me at my birth!"
At these words the Emperor was sorely troubled. "Nay but, my son," said he, "how can I give thee a thing which the world has never heard of? If I did promise it to thee, it was but to make thee quiet."
"Then, oh my father, if thou canst not give it me, I must needs go forth into the world, and seek until I find that fair thing for which I was born."
Then the Emperor and his nobles all fell down on their knees, and besought him not to leave the empire. "For," said the nobles, "thy father is now growing old, and we would place thee on the throne, and give thee to wife the most beautiful Empress under the sun." But they were unable to turn him from his purpose, for he was as steadfast as a rock, so at last his father gave him leave to go forth into the wide world to find what he sought.
Then Boy Beautiful went into his father's stables, where were the most beautiful chargers in the whole empire, that he might choose one from among them; but no sooner had he laid his hand on one of them than it fell to the ground trembling, and so it was with all the other stately chargers. At last, just as he was about to leave the stable in despair, he cast his eye over it once more, and there in one corner he beheld a poor knacker, all weak, spavined, and covered with boils and sores. Up to it he went, and laid his hand upon its tail, and then the horse turned its head and said to him: "What are thy commands, my master? God be praised who hath had mercy upon me and sent a warrior to lay his hand over me!"
Then the horse shook itself and became straight in the legs again, and Boy Beautiful asked him what he should do next.
"In order that thou mayest attain thy heart's desire," said the horse, "ask thy father for the sword and lance, the bow, quiver, and armour which he himself wore when he was a youth; but thou must comb and curry me with thine own hand six weeks, and give me barley to eat cooked in milk."
So the Emperor called the steward of his household, and ordered him to open all the coffers and wardrobes that his son might choose what he would, and Boy Beautiful, after searching for three days and three nights, found at last at the bottom of an old armoury, the arms and armour which his father had worn as a youth, but very rusty were these ancient weapons. But he set to work with his own hands to polish them up and rub off the rust, and at the end of six weeks they shone like mirrors. He also cherished the steed as he had been told. Grievous was the labour, but it came to an end at last.
When the good steed heard that Boy Beautiful had cleansed and polished his armour, he shook himself once more, and all his boils and sores fell from off him. There he now stood a stout horse, and strong, and with four large wings growing out of his body. Then said Boy Beautiful: "We go hence in three days!" - "Long life to thee, my master!"replied the steed; "I will go wherever thou dost command."
When the third day came the Emperor and all his court were full of grief. Boy Beautiful, attired as became a hero, with his sword in his hand, bounded on to his horse, took leave of the Emperor and the Empress, of all the great nobles and all the little nobles, of all the warriors and all the courtiers. With tears in their eyes they besought him not to depart on this quest; but he, giving spurs to his horse, departed like a whirlwind, and after him went sump-ter horses with money and provisions, and some hundreds of chosen warriors whom the Emperor had ordered to accompany him on his journey.