This section is from the book "Fairy Tales Of The Slav Peasants And Herdsmen", by Aleksander Borejko Chodzko, Emily J. Harding.. Also available from Amazon: Fairy Tales of the Slav Peasants and Herdsmen (Illustrated Edition).
Without stopping to think, the young man dismounted, and with his sword slew his horse to provide food for the young birds. They thanked him heartily, and said, "If ever you should be in distress, call to us and we will help you at once".
After this George was obliged to travel on foot, and he walked on for a long time, ever getting further and further into the forest. On reaching the end of it, he saw stretching before him an immense sea that seemed to mingle with the horizon. Close by stood two men disputing the possession of a large fish with golden scales that had fallen into their net.
"The net belongs to me," said one, "therefore the fish must be mine".
"Your net would not have been of the slightest use, for it would have been lost in the sea, had I not come with my boat just in the nick of time".
"Well, you shall have the next haul I make".
"And suppose you should catch nothing? No; give me this one and keep the next haul for yourself".
"I am going to put an end to your quarrel," said George, addressing them. "Sell me the fish: I will pay you well, and you can divide the money between you".
Thereupon he put into their hands all the money the king had given him for the journey, without keeping a single coin for himself. The fishermen rejoiced at the good fortune which had befallen them, but George put the fish back into the water. The fish, thankful for this unexpected freedom, dived and disappeared, but returning to the surface, said, "Whenever you may need my help you have but to call me, I shall not fail to show my gratitude".
"Where are you going? " asked the fisherman.
"I am in search of a wife for my old master; she is known as the Maid with the Golden Locks: but I am at a loss where to find her".
" If that be all, we can easily give you information," answered they. "She is Princess Zlato Vlaska, and daughter of the king whose crystal palace is built on that island yonder. The golden light from the princess's hair is reflected on sea and sky every morning when she combs it. If you would like to go to the island we will take you there for nothing, in return for the clever and generous way by which you made us stop quarrelling. But beware of one thing: when in the palace do not make a mistake as to which is the princess, for there are twelve of them, but only Zlato Vlaska has hair of gold".
When George reached the island he lost no time in making his way to the palace, and demanded from the king the hand of his daughter, Princess Zlato Vlaska, in marriage to the king his master.
"I will grant the request with pleasure," said his majesty, "but only on one condition, namely, that you perform certain tasks which I will set you. These will be three in number, and must be done in three days, just as I order you. For the present you had better rest and refresh yourself after your journey".
On the next day the king said, "My daughter, the Maid with the Golden Hair, had a string of fine pearls, and the thread having broken, the pearls were scattered far and wide among the long grass of this field. Go and pick up every one of the pearls, for they must all be found".
George went into the meadow, which was of great length and stretched away far out of sight. He went down on his knees and hunted between the tufts of grass and bramble from morning until noon, but not a single pearl could he find.
"Ah, if I only had my good little ants here," he cried, "they would be able to help me".
"Here we are, young man, at your service," answered the ants, suddenly appearing. Then they all ran round him, crying out, "What is the matter? What do you want?"
"I have to find all the pearls lost in this field, and cannot see a single one: can you help me?"
"Wait a little, we will soon get them for you".
He had not to wait very long, for they brought him a heap of pearls, and all he had to do was to thread them on the string. Just as he was about to make a knot he saw a lame ant coming slowly towards him, for one of her feet had been burned in the bush fire.
"Wait a moment, George," she called out; "do not tie the knot before threading this last pearl I am bringing you".
When George took his pearls to the king, his majesty first counted them to make sure they were all there, and then said, "You have done very well in this test, to-morrow I will give you another".
Early next morning the king summoned George to him and said, "My daughter, the Princess with the Golden Hair, dropped her gold ring into the sea while bathing. You must find the jewel and bring it me to-day".
The young fellow walked thoughtfully up and down the beach. The water was pure and transparent, but he could not see beyond a certain distance into its depths, and therefore could not tell where the ring was lying beneath the water.
"Ah, my golden fishling, why are you not here now?
You would surely be able to help me," he said to himself, speaking aloud.
"Here I am," answered the fish's voice from the sea, "what can I do for you?"
"I have to find a gold ring which has been dropped in the sea, but as I cannot see to the bottom there is no use looking".
The fish said, "Fortunately I have just met a pike, wearing a gold ring on his fin. Just wait a moment, will you?"
In a very short time he reappeared with the pike and the ring. The pike willingly gave up the jewel.
The king thanked George for his cleverness, and then told him the third task. "If you really wish me to give the hand of my daughter with the golden hair to the monarch who has sent you here, you must bring me two things that I want above everything: the Water of Death and the Water of Life".
George had not the least idea where to find these waters, so he determined to trust to chance and "follow his nose," as the saying is. He went first in one direction and then in another, until he reached a dark forest.