©2004 Connard Wellingham
Once upon a time there lived a king who had three sons. Two of them were grown men but the third was only a boy although he was very handsome. Now, as inevitably happens to all mortals at some time in their life, the king fell ill. Being a wise man he knew his days were numbered and called his sons to him.
"My sons," he said in a weak voice, "I am dying."
"Father, you cannot die," cried the youngest.
The older sons, being more knowledgeable, said nothing but their expressions were grave.
"I'm afraid it comes to us all, one day," the old king smiled. "Be assured that I love you very much."
The young man wept and held his father's frail hand.
"We live in a small kingdom," the king continued. "I'm afraid there is not enough wealth to support all three of you. However there is enough to support two of you, so I have decided that you, my first-born sons, will have one half each. Whereas you," he ruffled his youngest son's hair, "will have one third of all my wealth."
"Father, I want nothing but for you to live for ever."
"That cannot be so you will have one third of my wealth. But as you are only a child your brothers will look after it until you are eighteen. Upon your eighteenth birthday, you will receive your inheritance and may set out to seek your fame and fortune. Is this understood? Do you all agree?"
With tears in their eyes, the sons agreed to carry out their father's wishes.
Shortly thereafter the king died and was buried with all due pomp and circumstance amid much mourning throughout the kingdom, for the king was truly loved by his people.
In due course, the older sons retired to their new lands; one to the west and one to the east. The youngest remained at the castle to complete his education.
Now the older brothers were not wicked men and they really did care for their handsome little brother. On the other hand they were not very clever men and had very definite ideas about how kings should behave.
The first brother thought that kings should be fine and grand and live in splendid castles and eat wonderful food and drink fine wine. It wasn't long before he had spent all his inheritance. He needed more money to pay for the feasts and the hunts and the castles. So he borrowed some money from his youngest brother. As the youngster was only young and unconcerned with financial matters, he didn't bother to mention that he'd borrowed some money - and anyway it wasn't very much.
The second brother thought his older sibling was very foolish with his fine clothes and grand airs. He thought that a king should improve things for his people. He built roads and bridges so his people could get from place to place more quickly. And he believed that the farmers should grow more food and the shepherds keep more sheep so he built dams and canals and walls. It wasn't long before he, too, had spent all his inheritance. He needed more money to pay for the walls and roads. So he borrowed some money from his youngest brother. As we was only young and unconcerned with financial matters, he didn't bother to mention that he'd borrowed some money - and anyway it was all for a very good cause.
The result was that when the youngest brother reached his eighteenth birthday and went to his brothers for his inheritance, there wasn't any left. His brothers were very sorry. They had only borrowed a little - just to tide them over, you understand. But, over the years, the little had becomes a lot and so the youngest brother got nothing.
At first he was very angry and went around slamming doors and shouting at people. After a while he realised this wasn't helping to get his wealth back and, besides, he was by nature a cheerful person. His brothers had spent all his inheritance and there was nothing he, or anyone else, could do to get it back. So, one fine morning, he saddled up his favourite horse, and set out to seek his fortune.
His heart was heavy as he paused to look back at the castle surrounded by its fields and villages. It had been his home for eighteen happy years and he was loath to leave it. But there was nothing left for him there, so he hardened his heart and pointed his face to the north.
He rode for many days. He rode over heath and heather, field and meadow, up hill and down dale, through lands alien to his eyes. And everywhere he went he asked the people he met if they knew where he could find fame and fortune. But the people just shook their heads and muttered that there wasn't much call for fame and fortune in these parts. They were peaceful people and not much given to such high and mighty things.
On and on he rode until, topping a hill one day, he saw stretched before him a vast and dark forest. He was a brave prince as well as handsome, so he was not afraid. With barely a shudder, he rode right into the sombre woods, the trees closing in around him and dimming the sunlight. After a while he came upon a pool set in a small glade. There he stopped to let his horse drink.
While his horse slaked his thirst in the limpid waters, a mist arose and covered the pool, and out of the mist appeared a beautiful witch.
"I see you are a brave young man in search of your fame and fortune," the witch said with a smile. "I can help you if you want. But you must pay me."
The prince looked at her sadly. "Then I'm afraid I must refuse your help," he said. "For I have nothing to pay you with."
The witch smiled even more. "Oh, it's not money I want but something you have in abundance, I think. Take the path to the right and keep to the right, no matter how thick the forest, and you'll come to a small cottage. If you behave properly, the owner will tell you what to do next."
"For this advice, I thank you," said the prince. "I will do as you suggest."
"And now you must pay me," said the witch.
"If the path leads to fame and fortune I will think any payment well spent," cried the prince.
"Well said," said the witch. "You must give some of your seed to the enchanted pool."
"My seed?" exclaimed the prince in surprise.
"Your seed," cried the witch. "Send it arcing high over the water."
The prince suddenly realised what the witch wanted and blushed bright red for he was a modest boy as well as brave and handsome."
The prince unfastened his breeches and reached inside. But he was all soft and not at all hard as he needed to be to make his seed fly out over the water.
"What can I do?" he cried to the witch.
"I will help," she said.
Very slowly she unfastened her gown and revealed herself to the prince. She was very, very beautiful with long black hair and milky white skin and ruby-red lips. She cupped her full breasts, offering the pointed red tips to the young prince. She smoothed carmine-tipped fingers down silken flanks and drew them up over her abundant black bush. The prince looked and looked and soon he was very hard indeed and soon after that he sent great jets of his seed high into the air and arching out over the enchanted pool. The witch was delighted. "You are indeed a true prince and you have repaid me many times over," she cried and sank back into the mist.
The Prince mounted his horse and just then he noticed the little path at the right of the pool that he had not seen before. He turned his horse onto the path, and the horse acting as if he knew the way, trotted along at a fine pace.
Well he rode on for a long time. It was very quiet in the dark forest, even the birds seemed strangely hushed. The sound of his horse's hoofs and the jingling of his harness sounded unnaturally loud. It was almost dark when he came upon a woman walking along the path. She was dressed all in black with a long black dress and a black shawl over her head and she was bent over nearly double by the large bundle of wood she was carrying.
The prince immediately stopped is horse and got off. "That's a very large bundle of wood you're carrying, mother," he said. "Do you have far to go?"
"Only another mile," the woman replied.
"Then let me carry the wood and you ride on my horse," the prince exclaimed.
"You can take my wood if you think you can carry it," the woman said. "but I shall walk for your horse is very big and I am afraid I might fall off."
"Then you shall lead my horse while I carry your wood," said the prince.
He took the wood from the woman and handed her the reins. But as he did so, the wood seemed to suddenly become very heavy indeed and the prince staggered under its weight.
"This is indeed a heavy load," he said.
But the woman had taken the reins of his horse and was walking briskly up the track. The prince hefted his load and set off after her. He did not want to lose her in the darkening forest. As they went along the wood seemed to get heavier and heavier and the woman seemed to walk faster and faster. The prince was very puzzled at this because he was a strong young man as well as being modest and brave and handsome but he struggled along after the woman as best he could.
At last they came to a small cottage set at the side of the track and the prince gratefully dropped the wood where the woman indicated.
"Whew," he gasped. "Is there any other way I can help you, mother?" he asked.
"You can draw some water from the well while I make supper," she said.
The prince went to the well and lowered the bucket which was attached to a long rope. The well seemed to have plenty of water in it but, try as he might, he could only get a thimbleful at a time into the bucket. It was very tiring, raising and lowering the bucket again and again but, at last, he managed to get a bucketful.
Just then the woman came to the door of the cottage. "Have you got the water, yet, for supper is ready."
The prince brought the bucket of water and went to get his supper. He was very hungry for he had done much that day and had not eaten since breakfast.
The cottage was very small. It only had one room with a fire with a rocking chair in front of it, a bed in one corner, a table and two chairs under the window and a closet opposite the fire. But it was clean and tidy and the prince sat down to supper with a will.
After the meal the prince sat back with a contented sigh. "That was a meal fit for a king, mother - or a prince at least," he jested. He looked out of the window and saw it had grown quite dark. "May I sleep here tonight on your floor?"
"I will do better than that if you will give me a kiss," the woman responded.
Now the prince imagined her to be an old woman, all gnarled and wrinkled, but he was a prince and, besides, she had fed him a magnificent supper.
"I will kiss you and gladly," he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.
He gathered the woman into his arms and bent to kiss her wrinkled lips. As he did, the woman threw back the shawl from her face. To his astonishment, he saw she was not old and wrinkled at all and, if not young, she was not old and she was very beautiful. Now he bent to his task with enthusiasm and kissed her long and deep.
"Goodness me," said the woman in a rather shaky voice when he had finished. "That was some kiss. You must certainly share my bed rather than sleep on the hard floor."
The prince was overjoyed and soon they were both naked and in bed together. There the prince proved that the giving of his seed was not confined to beautiful witches and enchanted ponds.
In the morning the prince awoke to find he was alone. The woman had disappeared but she had left him some bread and cheese and a note. The note said he should keep on going along the track and stray to neither left nor right. After a while he would come to a fountain. He was to walk around it seven times backwards calling out in a loud voice, "Cymbrel, Cymbrel, where art thou, for I have come to take the vow." The note did not say who or what Cymbrel was or what vow he was to take.
"So far this has been a grand adventure," he said to himself as he set off. "And, although I've not found fame and fortune yet, I'll do as I'm bid."
He rode for many miles along the track straying to neither right nor left and, at last, he came upon a clearing in the middle of the forest. In the middle of the clearing stood a fountain, just as the woman had foretold. There was no water in the fountain but in the middle was a statue of the most beautiful young girl he had ever seen. It looked so life-like that he half-expected it to speak. The maiden had a large ewer perched on her shoulder and it was from this that the water was supposed to flow to fill the fountain.
"This is very mysterious," the prince said to himself.
He got down from his horse and went over the woman's instructions in his mind. Feeling more than a little foolish, he started walking backwards around the fountain crying in a loud voice, "Cymbrel, Cymbrel, where art thou, for I have come to take the vow."
After the third time round, something very strange happened. There was a loud gurgling sound and water began to pour from the ewer. The prince was very startled and almost stopped. But he took himself in hand and continued to walk backwards round the fountain calling out for Cymbrel. He did not dare look at the fountain in case any more strange things had happened.
When, at last, he had walked round the fountain seven times and was hoarse with shouting, he stopped. The sound of the water splashing in the fountain was very loud in the quiet glade.
"What is supposed to happen now?" he wondered aloud.
Nothing happened so he risked a look at the fountain. Imagine his surprise when he saw that, instead of a statue in the middle, was the most beautiful and lovely young girl he had ever seen in his life. Her hair sparkled with pearls and diamonds, and her robe was of rainbow coloured mist.
As he gazed upon this vision of loveliness, she seemed to smile at him rather sadly.
"There never was anyone so lovely as you," said the prince, and he was just wild to win her, but he did not know how and he was afraid that the mist would melt and she would disappear. "Who are you?" he asked in a trembling voice.
"I am Cymbrel," she said and her voice sounded like the most delicate music played on harps and viols. "You were calling for me."
"Yes, I was," said the prince, his heart beating very fast.
"I am enchanted," she said. "You promised to take the vow."
The prince dropped to his knee and placed a hand upon his heart and said, "I vow I shall love you from this day onward."
The maiden laughed gently and her laugh was like the tinkling of small bells. "That's a very nice vow but it won't do you or me any good if I'm enchanted."
The prince looked up and saw that the lovely girl was smiling at him. It made him feel so strong and brave. "Then I vow I will break the enchantment that binds you and make you mine."
"If you break the enchantment, then I will be yours for ever," she said softly.
"Then I'll start at once," cried the prince, springing to his feet. "Oh, but I don't know what to do."
The maiden laughed again. "You must find the ogre who dwells in this forest and kill him," she said. "But before you do you must force him to tell you how to break the enchantment. It was he who enchanted me and only he knows how to break it."
The prince drew his sword. "With this sword I will free you, and you shall be mine," he cried, and mounting his horse he galloped off into the forest, looking this way and that, in search of the ogre.
He searched for many days without success. No matter where he looked, he could not find the ogre. Every evening he rode back to the fountain, and there he wearily told the maiden that he had not yet found the ogre. She always told him to be brave and continue the search but even she began to despair that the ogre would not be found and she would stay enchanted forever.
The prince met with many dangers. One day a lion sprang out from behind a tree and frightened his horse. The horse reared up unseating the prince. The lion sprang at him with a great roar. The prince managed to draw his sword and swung it at the lion just as it was about to pounce. The blade struck the lion across the face, blinding it in one eye. It reared back roaring in pain. Taking his courage and his sword firmly in both hands, the prince gave a mighty thrust right into the lion's mouth. The blade went straight down the lion's throat, killing it instantly.
On another day, the prince met three robbers. They were big, evil-looking men with squints and raggedy clothes.
"Well, young master," said the roughest. "Why don't you climb down from that fine horse of yours and give us all your money and jewels."
"But I haven't any money or jewels, I'm only a wandering knight," said the prince. He was very frightened for they were very big and looked very evil.
The ruffians thought this a grand joke and roared with laughter.
"He rides a fine horse and carries a fine sword and has no money or jewels?" they roared. "A truly wondrous tale."
"Let's have no more fairy stories, young master," said the first robber. "Give us your money and jewels now or it'll be the worse for you."
Now the prince was truly frightened for he knew that when the robbers found out he really didn't have any money or jewels they would kill him for sure.
He summoned up all his courage and drew his sword. "I may have no money or jewels but I do have this," he cried, waving his sword and spurring his horse.
The robbers were taken by surprise. Many people spurred their horses or ran when the met the robbers. But they always ran away. Never before had anyone actually charged towards them. They were so taken aback they did not know what to do. In an instant, the prince was upon them. With one mighty sweep of his sword he struck the head of one robber clean from his shoulders. The second robber just stood in the road with his mouth open in astonishment. The prince's horse charged into him, knocked him over and trampled him to death. The third robber took to his heels and didn't stop running until he was many miles away.