Czech: The Twin Brothers

This story is part of the Czech Folktales unit. Story source: The Key of Gold by Josef Baudis (1922).

The Twin Brothers

ONCE there was a princess, and she was under a curse and enchantment, so that she had to spend her life in the shape of a fish.

One day a woman happened to be working in the meadow by the river, and she saw a flock of birds flying above the river and talking to the fish. The woman wondered what it was that was there, so she went to the waterside and looked in. All she saw was a fish swimming about. So she said: "I should like to eat you, fish. I feel sure you would do me good."

Now, when she said that, the fish answered: "You could save me. You will have twin sons, although you have never had any children before."

The woman said that, if she could help her in that, there was nothing the fish could ask that she would not do to deliver her.

The fish answered: "Catch me and take me to your field. There you must bury me and plant a rose-tree over me. When the roses first come into bloom, you will bear twin sons. After three years, dig in the place where you buried me and you will find two swords, and these you must keep. Your mare will have two foals and your bitch will have two pups, and each of your twins will have a sword, a horse, and a dog. Those swords will have the virtue that they will help your sons to victory over everybody. I shall be delivered as soon as my body has rotted."

When the twin sons grew up, they were very clever, and so they said: "We must try our luck in the world. We are bold enough. One of us will go to the East and one to the West. Each of us must look at his sword every morning to see if the other needs his help, for the sword will begin to rust as soon as one of us is in peril."

So they cast lots which way they should go, and each of them took his sword, his horse, and his dog, and away they went.

The first rode through deep forests, and he met a fierce dragon and a lion, so he attacked the dragon, which had nine heads. The lion stayed quiet while the knight attacked the dragon, and at last he succeeded in cutting one of the dragon's heads off. He felt tired then, and the lion took his place; then the knight cut two more heads off the dragon. And so it went on till he had all the heads cut off. Then he cut out the tongues from all the nine heads and kept them, and so went forward on his adventurous journey.

Now, it chanced that there were some woodcutters in these forests, and one of them collected all the dragon's heads, having come across them by chance. That dragon used to come to the town and devour one person every visit. This time the lot had fallen upon the princess, and so she was to be devoured by the dragon. So the town was all hung with black cloth. The woodcutter knew all about this, so he went with the heads to the town to sue for the princess, for it had been proclaimed that whoever killed the dragon should be her husband. When the princess saw that such a low-born man was to be her husband, she was taken aback and tried by all the means in her power to delay the wedding.

The knight happened to come to the town just then, and he saw a good inn, so he rode up to it. The innkeeper came at once to ask what he could do for him. Now, there were other guests there, and it was a busy place. The guests were all talking of the one matter: when the princess was going to marry the man who had killed the dragon. The wedding ought to have been long ago, but the bride and her parents kept putting it off.

The knight listened to all this talk, and then he asked: "Are you sure that it was that woodcutter who killed the dragon?"

They answered that it certainly was, for the heads were preserved in the palace.

The knight said nothing, but when he thought the proper time had come he rode to the palace. The princess saw him from the window, and she wondered who it might be. He was ushered in, and he went straight to the princess and told her everything. He asked her whether he might attend the wedding.

She answered: "I am not at all pleased with my marriage. I would much rather marry you, sir."

He asked her why. "If he killed the dragon, he must be a great man."

"He is such a low-born man," said she, "that it is not likely that he killed the dragon."

"I should like to see him," said he.

So they brought the woodcutter before him, and the knight asked to see the heads. So they brought the heads. He looked at the heads and said: "There are no tongues in these heads. Where are the tongues?"

Then he turned to the woodcutter: "Did you really kill the cruel dragon?" he said.

The woodcutter persisted in his story.

"And how did you cut the heads off?"

"With my hatchet."

"Why, you couldn't do it with your hatchet. You are a liar."

The woodcutter was taken aback and did not know what to say. He was frightened already, but he said: "It happened that the dragon didn't have any tongues."

The knight produced the tongues and said: "Here are the tongues, and it was I who killed the cruel dragon."

(1000 words)

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