And, as the Prince looked upon him, the captive gasped, 'O young man, for the love of God, bring me a cup of water from yonder fountain; and I, in return, will give thee another life.'

The Prince at once drew him the draught from the nearest fountain, thinking the while that it would be good to have a life to spare. Then, when the chained captive had drunk the water eagerly, the two looked at one another.

'What is your name?' asked the Prince.

'My name is Bashtchelik, which, as you know, means "real steel."'

'Farewell, then, Bashtchelik; I hear the hoof-beats of the Tsar's horses in the distance.' And he turned towards the door.

'Nay, leave me not!' cried Bashtchelik, and then he implored him: 'Give me a second cup of water, and I will give you a second life.'

The Prince drew him another cup of water and handed it to him with a good heart, thinking, as it was returned to him empty, that a second life was well worth having. Then, hearing the approach of the Tsar more distinctly, he bade farewell a second time and turned away; but the captive again besought him.

'O mighty one I he cried; ' do not leave me. I know thee, I know thy name; I know thy noble deeds. Twice hast thou given me to drink; I pray thee, do it yet a third time and I will give thee a third life.'

Hastily the Prince filled the cup and gave him to drink, for the Tsar and his company were now at the gates, and he knew not how to face him. But, before he could gain the door, he heard a crash behind him; and, looking back, he saw that the captive had broken his bonds and stood free. Then, before one could say it had happened, he had loosed a great pair of wings from his sides, and rushed through the doorway. The Prince, looking out, saw him snatch up the Princess, his wife, from the terrace of the Palace, and soar rapidly away.

Ere the beating of wings was lost in the distance, the Tsar came in and demanded to know why the ninth room was open and the captive gone. The Prince then explained everything, and begged the Tsar not to be angry.

'He broke his bonds,' he said, 'and has gone, taking my wife - the daughter that you gave me - away with him. But give me leave, and I will find her and kill Bashtchelik.'

'Alas!' replied the Tsar, 'you have done a rash thing. You know not this man. I lost the best part of a whole army in capturing him. What can you do, my son?'

'I will go forth and seek him,' replied the Prince without wavering. 'If he is stronger than I, then you will see neither me nor my wife again; but, if I prevail, we will return to you.'

So the Prince set forth on his quest; and after three days' journey, he came to a beautiful city. And, as he rode beneath the walls of a castle, he heard a voice from a window high in the tower, calling to him. He drew rein and dismounted; then, as he advanced into the courtyard, a girl came running towards him.

'O my brother!' she cried; 'you have come at last!'

It was his eldest sister whom he had found so easily. They embraced and kissed, and then she led him into the castle.

'And your husband?' he asked as they stepped aside into a dimly-lighted antechamber; 'who and what is he?'

'He is the Dragon King,' she replied in a whisper; 'and he is no friend of my brothers. Yet I will hide you, and then ask him what he would do if you sought me out.'

That evening, when the Dragon King came home on whirring wings, there was no sign of either the Prince or his charger. Yet he raised his nostrils in the air and sniffed.

'I smell a human being,' he said. 'Confess, woman; who is it?'

'No one,' replied she. But he was certain about the matter, saying that his senses had never yet deceived him, though a woman might.

'That is nought,' said she. 'But, tell me; if my brothers came to look for me, how would you take it?'

'If your eldest brother came here,' replied the Dragon King, 'I would eat him raw. Your second brother I would stew gently over a slow fire, or, if he were nice and fat, I should roast him to a turn; but your youngest brother - him I would spare.'

Then said she, 'O King, my youngest brother, who is your brother-in-law, is here in your castle. I will summon him.'

It was a great meeting between the young Prince and the Dragon King. One would have thought that they had known each other for years. They embraced and wished each other health and long life; and then they sat down to a sumptuous banquet quickly brought in by winged attendants, who were evidently of the uneducated dragon classes; - indeed, though richly attired, they looked like slaves.

In the course of conversation the Prince happened to mention that he was on the track of one Bashtchelik, who had run off with his wife against her will.

'Bashtchelik!' exclaimed the Dragon King. 'My dear brother, I beseech you, seek him not. This kingdom itself put out five thousand strong, and took him unawares. But he escaped by a trick, gave battle to ten thousand of my picked dragons, fought his retreat to the mountains, and so escaped triumphant. Man to man - you against Bashtchelik - you cannot hope to win. If you will go back to your home, I will give you an escort and three asses laden with gold.'

'Three asses laden with gold!' said the Prince. 'I thank you much, but I have better than that: I have three lives, which I won from Bashtchelik himself. I will seek him and reclaim my wife.'

The Dragon King wondered at his words; then, plucking a feather from his wing, he said, 'You are determined, and I wish you well. Take this feather, and, if at any time you want my aid, burn it and I will come to you instantly with ten thousand chosen dragons.'

The Prince thanked him, and placed the feather in his girdle. The next morning he took leave of his sister and the Dragon King, and set out in search of Bashtchelik.

He left the city and crossed a desert, where he endured fatigues and encountered perils; but still, by his strong right arm, he preserved his three lives. Then, at last, he came to a city; and, as he took the mainway of it, the same thing happened as before. It was a woman's voice calling from a castle tower: 'O Prince! Dismount and come in hither!'