Once upon a time, long long ago, in the days when poplars bore pears and rushes violets, when bears could switch themselves with their tails like cows, and wolves and lambs kissed and cuddled each other, there lived an Emperor whose hair was already white, and who yet had never a son to bless himself with. The poor Emperor would have given anything to have had a little son of his own like other men, but all his wishes were in vain.
At last, when he was quite an old old man, Fortune took pity on him also, and a darling of a boy was born to him, the like of which the world had never seen before. The Emperor gave him the name of Aleodor, and gathered east and west, north and south, together to rejoice in his joy at the child's christening. The revels lasted three days and three nights, and all the guests who made merry there with the Emperor could think of nothing else for the rest of their lives.
But the lad grew up as strong as an oak and as lovely as a rose, while his father the Emperor drew nearer every day to the edge of the grave, and when the hour of his death arrived he took the child on his knees and said to him:
"My darling son, behold the Lord calls me. The moment is at hand when I am to share the common lot of man. I foresee that thou wilt become a great man, and though I be dead my bones will rejoice in the tomb at thy noble deeds. As to the administration of this realm I need tell thee nought, for thou, with thy wisdom, wilt know how it behoves a king to rule. One thing there is, nevertheless, that I must tell thee. Dost thou see that mountain over yonder? Beware of ever setting thy foot upon it, for 'twill be to thy hurt and harm. That mountain belongs to the 'Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-horse,' and whosoever ventures upon that mountain cannot escape unscathed."
He had no sooner said these words than his throat rattled thrice, and he gave up the ghost. He departed to his place like every other human soul that is born into the world, though there was never Emperor like him since the world began. Those of his household bewailed him, his great nobles bewailed him, his people bewailed him also, and then they had to bury him.
The Emperor and the Young Aleodor. - p. 210.
Aleodor, from the moment that he ascended the throne of his father, ruled the land wisely like a mature statesman, though in age he was but a child. All the world delighted in his sway, and men thanked Heaven for allowing them to live in the days of such a prince.
All the time that was not taken up by affairs of State, Aleodor spent in the chase. But he always bore in mind the precepts of his father, and took care not to exceed the bounds which had been set him.
One day, however - how it came about I know not - but anyhow he fell into a brown study, and never noticed that he had overstepped the domains of the Half-man till, after taking a dozen steps or so onwards, he found himself face to face with the monster. That he was trespassing on the grounds of this stunted and terrible creature did not trouble him over-much, it was the thought that he had transgressed the dying command of his dear father that grieved him.
"Ho, ho!" cried the hideous monster, "dost thou not know that every scoundrel who oversteps my bounds becomes my property? "
"Yes," replied Aleodor, "but I must tell thee that it was through want of thought and without wishing it that I have trodden on thy ground. Against thee I have no evil design at all."
"I know better than that," replied the monster; "but I see that, like all cowards, thou dost think it best to make excuses."
"Nay, so sure as God preserves me, I am no coward. I have told thee the simple truth; but if thou wouldst fight, I am ready. Choose thy weapons! Shall we slash with sabres, or slog with clubs, or wrestle together?"
"Neither the one nor the other," replied the monster. "One way only canst thou escape thy just punishment - thou must fetch me the daughter of the Green Emperor!"
Aleodor would very much have liked to have got out of the difficulty some other way, as affairs of State would not allow him to take so long a journey, a journey on which he could find no guide to direct him; but what did the monster know of all that? Aleodor felt that if he would avoid the shame of being thought a robber and a trampler on the rights of others, he must indeed find the daughter of the Green Emperor. Besides, he wanted to escape with a whole skin if he could; so at last he promised that he would do the service required of him.
Now the Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-horse knew very well that, as a man of honour, Aleodor would never depart from his plighted word, so he said to him: "Go now, in God's name, and may-good luck attend thee!"
So Aleodor departed. He went on and on, thinking over and over again how he was to accomplish his task, and so keep his word, when he came to the margin of a pond, and there he saw a pike dashing its life out on the shore. He immediately went up to it to satisfy his hunger with it, when the pike said to him: "Slay me not, Boy-Beautiful!l but cast me rather back into the water again, and then I will do thee good whenever thou dost think of me."
Aleodor listened to the pike, and threw it back into the water again. Then the pike said to him again: "Take this scale, and whenever thou dost look at it and think of me I will be with thee."
Then the youth went on further and marvelled greatly at such a strange encounter.
Presently he fell in with a crow that had one wing broken. He would have killed the crow and eaten it, but the crow said to him: "Boy-Beautiful, Boy-Beautiful! why wilt thou burden thy soul on my account 1 Far better were it if thou didst bind up my wing, and much good will I requite thee with for thy kindness."
1 Fet frutnosu, the favourite name for all young heroes in Roumanian fairy-tales.