The king's son who feared nothing


El príncipe intrépido

There was once a King's son, who was no longer content to stay at home in his father's house, and as he had no fear of anything, he thought, "I will go forth into the wide world, there the time will not seem long to me, and I shall see wonders enough." So he took leave of his parents, and went forth, and on and on from morning till night, and whichever way his path led it was the same to him. It came to pass that he got to the house of a giant, and as he was so tired he sat down by the door and rested. And as he let his eyes roam here and there, he saw the giant's playthings lying in the yard. These were a couple of enormous balls, and nine-pins as tall as a man. After a while he had a fancy to set the nine-pins up and then rolled the balls at them, and screamed and cried out when the nine-pins fell, and had a merry time of it. The giant heard the noise, stretched his head out of the window, and saw a man who was not taller than other men, and yet played with his nine-pins. "Little worm," cried he, "why art thou playing with my balls? Who gave thee strength to do it?" The King's son looked up, saw the giant, and said, "Oh, thou blockhead, thou thinkest indeed that thou only hast strong arms, I can do everything I want to do." The giant came down and watched the bowling with great admiration, and said, "Child of man, if thou art one of that kind, go and bring me an apple of the tree of life." - "What dost thou want with it?" said the King's son. "I do not want the apple for myself," answered the giant, "but I have a betrothed bride who wishes for it. I have travelled far about the world and cannot find the tree." - "I will soon find it," said the King's son, "and I do not know what is to prevent me from getting the apple down." The giant said, "Thou really believest it to be so easy! The garden in which the tree stands is surrounded by an iron railing, and in front of the railing lie wild beasts, each close to the other, and they keep watch and let no man go in." - "They will be sure to let me in," said the King's son. "Yes, but even if thou dost get into the garden, and seest the apple hanging to the tree, it is still not thine; a ring hangs in front of it, through which any one who wants to reach the apple and break it off, must put his hand, and no one has yet had the luck to do it." - "That luck will be mine," said the King's son.
Then he took leave of the giant, and went forth over mountain and valley, and through plains and forests, until at length he came to the wondrous garden.

The beasts lay round about it, but they had put their heads down and were asleep. Moreover, they did not awake when he went up to them, so he stepped over them, climbed the fence, and got safely into the garden. There, in the very middle of it, stood the tree of life, and the red apples were shining upon the branches. He climbed up the trunk to the top, and as he was about to reach out for an apple, he saw a ring hanging before it; but he thrust his hand through that without any difficulty, and gathered the apple. The ring closed tightly on his arm, and all at once he felt a prodigious strength flowing through his veins. When he had come down again from the tree with the apple, he would not climb over the fence, but grasped the great gate, and had no need to shake it more than once before it sprang open with a loud crash. Then he went out, and the lion which had been lying down before, was awake and sprang after him, not in rage and fierceness, but following him humbly as its master.

The King's son took the giant the apple he had promised him, and said, "Seest thou, I have brought it without difficulty." The giant was glad that his desire had been so soon satisfied, hastened to his bride, and gave her the apple for which she had wished. She was a beautiful and wise maiden, and as she did not see the ring on his arm, she said, "I shall never believe that thou hast brought the apple, until I see the ring on thine arm." The giant said, "I have nothing to do but go home and fetch it," and thought it would be easy to take away by force from the weak man, what he would not give of his own free will. He therefore demanded the ring from him, but the King's son refused it. "Where the apple is, the ring must be also," said the giant; "if thou wilt not give it of thine own accord, thou must fight with me for it."

They wrestled with each other for a long time, but the giant could not get the better of the King's son, who was strengthened by the magical power of the ring. Then the giant thought of a stratagem, and said, "I have got warm with fighting, and so hast thou. We will bathe in the river, and cool ourselves before we begin again." The King's son, who knew nothing of falsehood, went with him to the water, and pulled off with his clothes the ring also from his arm, and sprang into the river. The giant instantly snatched the ring, and ran away with it, but the lion, which had observed the theft, pursued the giant, tore the ring out of his hand, and brought it back to its master. Then the giant placed himself behind an oak-tree, and while the King's son was busy putting on his clothes again, surprised him, and put both his eyes out.

And now the unhappy King's son stood there, and was blind and knew not how to help himself. Then the giant came back to him, took him by the hand as if he were someone who wanted to guide him, and led him to the top of a high rock. There he left him standing, and thought, "Just two steps more, and he will fall down and kill himself, and I can take the ring from him." But the faithful lion had not deserted its master; it held him fast by the clothes, and drew him gradually back again. When the giant came and wanted to rob the dead man, he saw that his cunning had been in vain. "Is there no way, then, of destroying a weak child of man like that?" said he angrily to himself, and seized the King's son and led him back again to the precipice by another way, but the lion which saw his evil design, helped its master out of danger here also. When they had got close to the edge, the giant let the blind man's hand drop, and was going to leave him behind alone, but the lion pushed the giant so that he was thrown down and fell, dashed to pieces, on the ground.

The faithful animal again drew its master back from the precipice, and guided him to a tree by which flowed a clear brook. The King's son sat down there, but the lion lay down, and sprinkled the water in his face with its paws. Scarcely had a couple of drops wetted the sockets of his eyes, than he was once more able to see something, and remarked a little bird flying quite close by, which wounded itself against the trunk of a tree. On this it went down to the water and bathed itself therein, and then it soared upwards and swept between the trees without touching them, as if it had recovered its sight again. Then the King's son recognized a sign from God and stooped down to the water, and washed and bathed his face in it. And when he arose he had his eyes once more, brighter and clearer than they had ever been.

The King's son thanked God for his great mercy, and travelled with his lion onwards through the world. And it came to pass that he arrived before a castle which was enchanted. In the gateway stood a maiden of beautiful form and fine face, but she was quite black. She spoke to him and said, "Ah, if thou couldst but deliver me from the evil spell which is thrown over me." - "What shall I do?" said the King's son. The maiden answered, "Thou must pass three nights in the great hall of this enchanted castle, but thou must let no fear enter thy heart. When they are doing their worst to torment thee, if thou bearest it without letting a sound escape thee, I shall be free. Thy life they dare not take." Then said the King's son, "I have no fear; with God's help I will try it." So he went gaily into the castle, and when it grew dark he seated himself in the large hall and waited. Everything was quiet, however, till midnight, when all at once a great tumult began, and out of every hole and corner came little devils. They behaved as if they did not see him, seated themselves in the middle of the room, lighted a fire, and began to gamble. When one of them lost, he said, "It is not right; some one is here who does not belong to us; it is his fault that I am losing." - "Wait, you fellow behind the stove, I am coming," said another. The screaming became still louder, so that no one could have heard it without terror. The King's son stayed sitting quite quietly, and was not afraid; but at last the devils jumped up from the ground, and fell on him, and there were so many of them that he could not defend himself from them. They dragged him about on the floor, pinched him, pricked him, beat him, and tormented him, but no sound escaped from him. Towards morning they disappeared, and he was so exhausted that he could scarcely move his limbs, but when day dawned the black maiden came to him. She bore in her hand a little bottle wherein was the water of life wherewith she washed him, and he at once felt all pain depart and new strength flow through his veins. She said, "Thou hast held out successfully for one night, but two more lie before thee." Then she went away again, and as she was going, he observed that her feet had become white. The next night the devils came and began their gambols anew. They fell on the King's son, and beat him much more severely than the night before, until his body was covered with wounds. But as he bore all quietly, they were forced to leave him, and when dawn appeared, the maiden came and healed him with the water of life. And when she went away, he saw with joy that she had already become white to the tips of her fingers. And now he had only one night more to go through, but it was the worst. The hob-goblins came again: "Art thou there still?" cried they, "thou shalt be tormented till thy breath stops." They pricked him and beat him, and threw him here and there, and pulled him by the arms and legs as if they wanted to tear him to pieces, but he bore everything, and never uttered a cry. At last the devils vanished, but he lay fainting there, and did not stir, nor could he raise his eyes to look at the maiden who came in, and sprinkled and bathed him with the water of life. But suddenly he was freed from all pain, and felt fresh and healthy as if he had awakened from sleep, and when he opened his eyes he saw the maiden standing by him, snow-white, and fair as day. "Rise," said she, "and swing thy sword three times over the stairs, and then all will be delivered." And when he had done that, the whole castle was released from enchantment, and the maiden was a rich King's daughter. The servants came and said that the table was already set in the great hall, and dinner served up. Then they sat down and ate and drank together, and in the evening the wedding was solemnized with great rejoicings.
Érase una vez el hijo de un rey, que estaba cansado de vivir en el palacio paterno, y como no conocía el miedo, pensó: "Quiero salir a correr mundo. Así no me aburriré, ni se me hará largo el tiempo, y veré cosas maravillosas." Despidióse de su padre y se puso en camino, andando incansablemente, de la mañana a la noche, sin preocuparse del sitio a que lo llevara la ruta. Es el caso que fue a parar frente a la casa de un gigante, y, sintiéndose muy cansado, sentóse a reposar junto a la puerta. Y, al pasear la mirada en derredor, vio unos juguetes en el patio de la casa; eran unos enormes bolos del tamaño de un hombre. Entráronle deseos de probarlos y, colocando los palos en posición, se puso a lanzar los bolos, prorrumpiendo en gritos y exclamaciones cada vez que acertaba; y se divertía de lo lindo. Oyendo el gigante el ruido, asomó la cabeza por la ventana y vio aquel hombrecillo, no mayor que los demás de su especie, que jugaba con sus bolos.
- ¡Renacuajo! - le gritó -. ¿Cómo puedes jugar con mis bolos? ¿De dónde has sacado la fuerza?
Levantó la mirada el príncipe y, al ver al gigante, le dijo: - ¡Zoquete! ¿Piensas que sólo tú tienes brazos fuertes? Yo hago todo lo que se me antoja.
Bajó el gigante y estuvo un rato contemplando, admirado, cómo manejaba el príncipe los bolos, y luego dijo:
- Hombrecillo, si eres capaz de lo que dices, ve a buscarme una manzana del Árbol de la Vida.
- ¿Y para qué la quieres? - preguntó el príncipe.
- No es para mí - respondióle el gigante -; pero tengo una novia que me la reclama. He recorrido buena parte del mundo sin poder dar con el árbol.
- Pues yo lo encontraré - afirmó el príncipe -. Y nada me impedirá coger la manzana.
Dijo el gigante:
- ¿Crees que es tan fácil? El jardín donde crece el árbol está rodeado de una verja de hierro, delante de la cual hay muchas fieras, colocadas una al lado de la otra, que la guardan y no permiten que nadie pase.
- A mí me dejarán pasar - dijo el doncel.
- Pero aun suponiendo que logres entrar en el jardín y veas la manzana colgando del árbol, todavía no podrás decir que sea tuya. Delante de ella hay una argolla, por la que has de pasar la mano si quieres alcanzar y coger la manzana; y esto no lo ha conseguido nadie hasta ahora.
- Pues yo lo conseguiré - dijo el príncipe.
Despidióse del gigante y, atravesando montes y valles, campos y bosques, no se detuvo hasta haber encontrado el jardín maravilloso. Las fieras lo rodeaban, efectivamente; pero tenían la cabeza gacha y dormían. No se despertaron a su llegada, y él, pasando por encima, trepó a la verja y saltó, sin contratiempo, del lado opuesto. En el centro del jardín se alzaba el Árbol de la Vida, y las coloradas manzanas pendían de sus ramas. Encaramóse al tronco, y al intentar coger uno de los frutos vio que colgaba delante de cada uno un anillo; pasó por él la mano sin dificultad, y cortó la manzana. El anillo se contrajo y se apretó en su brazo, y el príncipe sintió, al mismo tiempo, que en sus venas se infundía una fuerza prodigiosa. Bajado que hubo del árbol, ya no quiso saltar la verja como a la llegada, sino que se dirigió hacia la enorme puerta, y a la primera sacudida se le abrió con un fuerte crujido. Salió, y el león que vigilaba, despierto ya, se le acercó de un salto, pero sin fiereza, sino manso y rendido, reconociéndolo como su señor.
El príncipe llevó al gigante la prometida manzana y le dijo:
- ¿Ves? La he obtenido sin dificultad.
El gigante, contento al ver su deseo tan pronto satisfecho, corrió a entregar la manzana a su novia. Era ésta una doncella tan hermosa como inteligente, y al no ver el anillo en su brazo, le dijo:
- No creeré que tú hayas conseguido la manzana, hasta que vea el anillo ciñéndote el brazo.
A lo cual replicó el gigante:
- No tengo más que ir a buscarlo a casa - pensando que le sería fácil arrebatárselo a aquel frágil hombrecillo, en el caso de que se negase a entregárselo voluntariamente. Fue, pues, a pedírselo; mas el príncipe no se lo quiso dar.
- Donde está la manzana debe estar también el anillo - dijo el gigante -. O me lo das por las buenas, o tendrás que luchar conmigo.
Y entablaron una larga pelea sin que el gigante pudiese vencer al hijo del Rey, fortalecido por la fuerza mágica del anillo. Acudió entonces el gigante a la astucia, diciendo:
- Me he acalorado con la lucha, y tú también. Vamos a bañamos al río para refrescarnos antes de reanudar el combate.
El príncipe, que no entendía de perfidias, se fue con él al río, y, después de quitarse las ropas, y con ellas el anillo, se echó al agua. Inmediatamente el gigante se apoderó del anillo y emprendió la fuga. Pero el león, que había presenciado el robo, lo persiguió, se lo arrancó de la mano y lo devolvió a su dueño. Entonces el gigante fue a ocultarse detrás de un roble, y cuando vio a su adversario ocupado vistiéndose, lo atacó a traición y le sacó los ojos.
Y, así, el príncipe quedó ciego, indefenso y desvalido. Volviendo luego el gigante y cogiéndolo de la mano como si quisiera guiarlo, lo condujo a la cima de una altísima roca, donde lo dejó, pensando: "Unos pasos más y se despeñará. Cuando esté muerto podré quitarle el anillo." Pero el fiel león no había abandonado a su amo, y al llegar al precipicio lo sujetó por el vestido y lo hizo retroceder poco a poco. Al presentarse el gigante con propósito de despojar al muerto, se dio cuenta de que su ardid había resultado inútil. "¿No hay, pues, modo de acabar con esta criatura tan débil?," se dijo irritado, y condujo nuevamente al príncipe al abismo por otro camino. Mas el león, observando sus pérfidos propósitos, salvó también esta vez a su señor del peligro. Cuando ya se hallaban muy cerca del despeñadero y el gigante soltó al ciego para que siguiese solo, el animal dio un empellón al monstruo y lo precipitó en el fondo de la cima, donde quedó destrozado.
El fiel animal volvió a apartar a su amo de aquel peligroso lugar, guiándolo hasta un árbol, junto al cual fluía un límpido riachuelo. Sentóse allí el príncipe, y el león, echándose y metiendo la garra en el agua, le roció con ella el rostro. Apenas unas gotas le tocaron las órbitas divisó una tenue luz y vislumbró un pajarillo que volaba muy cerca y chocaba contra el tronco de un árbol; luego se sumergió en el riachuelo, y, volviendo a salir, emprendió raudo vuelo, pasando entre los árboles, pero sin tocarlos, como si hubiese recobrado la vista. Comprendiendo el príncipe la advertencia de Dios, bajó hasta el agua, se lavó y bañó la cara en ella. Y, al incorporarse, tenía otra vez sus ojos, límpidos y claros como nunca los había tenido.
Dio el príncipe gracias a Dios por la gran merced que acababa de otorgarle y, seguido de su fiel león, reanudó su viaje. Un día llegó ante un palacio encantado, a cuya puerta hallábase, de pie, una doncella de esbelta figura y lindo rostro, pero de tez negra como azabache. Dirigiéndose al joven, le dijo:
- ¡Ah, si pudieses redimirme del triste hechizo de que soy víctima!
- ¿Qué debo hacer? - preguntó el muchacho.
Y ella le respondió:
- Debes pasar tres noches en la gran sala de este palacio encantado, pero sin permitir que el miedo se apodere de tu corazón. Te harán víctima de los peores tormentos; pero si resistes sin proferir un grito, quedaré desencantada. La vida, no te la quitarán.
Dijo entonces el príncipe:
- No tengo miedo. Intentaré la empresa con la ayuda de Dios.
Entró alegremente en el palacio y, al llegar la noche, instalóse en el gran salón, en espera de lo que viniere. Hasta medianoche reinó un silencio absoluto; pero a aquella hora se oyó, de repente, un gran estruendo, y de todas las esquinas y rincones entraron en la estancia una legión de diminutos diablillos. Haciendo como que no lo veían, sentáronse en el centro de la habitación, encendieron fuego y se pusieron a jugar. Cuando uno perdía, exclamaba:
- Esto no marcha como debe; hay alguien aquí que no es de los nuestros y que tiene la culpa de que yo pierda.
- Aguarda, tú, que estás detrás de la estufa.
- Voy a buscarte - dijo otro
El alboroto se intensificaba por momentos, y llegó a ser tal, que nadie hubiera podido oírlo sin asustarse. Sin embargo, el príncipe seguía tranquilamente sentado, sin sentir miedo alguno. Pero, al fin, los diablos, levantándose de un salto, arremetieron contra él, en tan gran número, que el príncipe no pudo defenderse. Echándolo brutalmente al suelo, pusiéronse a atormentarlo, pinchándolo, golpeándolo y martirizándolo de mil maneras; pero él aguantó impávido, sin dejar oír una queja. Al amanecer desaparecieron, dejándolo tan exhausto que apenas podía mover los miembros. Al despuntar el día entró en la sala la doncella negra, llevando un frasquito en la mano. Contenía agua de vida, y lo lavó con ella, desapareciendo al momento todo dolor y sintiendo el príncipe que una nueva fuerza circulaba por sus venas.
Díjole la muchacha:
- Has resistido bien una noche, pero aún te quedan dos por delante.
Y se alejó, observando entonces el mozo que los pies se le habían vuelto blancos. A la noche siguiente volvieron los demonios y reanudaron el juego. Después se lanzaron sobre él, maltratándolo mucho más cruelmente aún que la víspera, de tal modo que le dejaron con el cuerpo lleno de heridas. Él, empero, lo resistió valientemente, y al clarear el alba apareció de nuevo la doncella, provista del agua milagrosa, con la que lo curó completamente. Y al retirarse vio el príncipe con gran placer que la piel de la muchacha se había vuelto blanca hasta las puntas de los dedos.
Quedábale una noche de tormento, y fue la peor. Llegó el tropel de diablos:
- ¿Todavía estás aquí? - le gritaron -. Pues vas a pasarla tan negra, que perderás el resuello.
Y lo punzaron, golpearon y arrojaron de un lado a otro, tirándole de brazos y piernas como para arrancárselos. Mas él lo sufrió todo sin exhalar un suspiro. Por fin, desaparecieron los demonios, dejándolo sin sentido, como muerto. Ni siquiera pudo levantar la mirada cuando, presentándose la doncella con el agua de vida, lo humedeció y roció con ella. Al momento se sintió libre de todo dolor, y fresco y sano como si despertase de un sueño. Y al abrir los ojos vio junto a sí a la doncella, blanca como la nieve y hermosa como la luz del día.
- Levántate - le dijo la muchacha -. Blande por tres veces tu espada encima de la escalera, y todo quedará desencantado.
Y en cuanto lo hubo realizado, quedó todo el palacio libre del hechizo, y la doncella convertida en una rica princesa. Entraron los criados a anunciar que en el gran salón estaba puesta la mesa y servida la comida. Comieron y bebieron, y aquella misma noche se celebró la boda en medio del general regocijo.

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