Tale from Romania.
Once upon a time there was a prince who lived with his father, the king, in a big castle. Of course, they didn't live there alone – hundreds of servants, knights, soldiers, cooks, blacksmiths, troubadours, jesters, midwives and monks also lived within the castle walls. Here was everything the prince could ever want. But, like all young men, he still longed to go out into the world. One day he took leave of his father and set off to seek happiness, whatever it might be. After riding a good distance he came to a wide ditch. His horse galloped over, but before he could continue on his journey he heard someone calling to him. There was a little old woman sitting in the ditch with a bunch of rice.
"Would the young gentleman be so kind as to help an old lady out of the ditch where she happened to fall in the dark the other night?" she wondered. The prince immediately dismounted from his horse, lifted up the old woman with the rice and put her in the saddle instead. The old woman showed him where to go and soon they had arrived at her little cabin.
"Wait a moment and you'll get something for the trouble," said the old woman and disappeared into her cabin. Soon she came out again with a small silver bell in her hand. "You are a powerful prince, but at the same time you are kind-hearted and stop to help those who are weaker than yourself," said the old woman. "Would you like to have the most beautiful woman in the world as your wife?" “Who wouldn't want that?” the prince wondered, immediately becoming very interested. "Then you will marry the flower queen's daughter.
"In and of itself, it will not be easy to get hold of her, because she is the prisoner of a cruel dragon. But take this little bell with you and you will get help when you are in trouble. Call once, and the king of eagles will come to you. Call twice and the king of foxes will come to you. Call three times and the king of fishes will come to you, and better helpers than these three kings are not under the sun.” The old woman handed the prince the bell and with that both she and the cottage disappeared into thin air. The prince now understood that the old woman had been a powerful fairy in disguise.
The prince traveled further into the world to find the dragon that held the flower queen's daughter captive and it was a long and difficult journey. First his horse died and he himself became starved and frozen, as his clothes finally began to fall apart. One day he came to a small hut by the side of the road. Outside sat a creepy old man smoking his pipe. “It's not like uncle has heard of the dragon holding the flower queen's daughter captive?” wondered the prince. "No, I can't say that I have," replied the old man. But go a little way down the road and you will come to my father's cabin. Ask him instead.”
The prince moved on and after a year came to a new hut. Outside there sat an even older and more wrinkled old man. “It's not like uncle knows about the dragon that's holding the flower queen's daughter captive?” wondered the prince. "Never heard of," muttered the old man. “But continue down this road and you will come to my father's hut. He probably knows.”
So the prince wandered on and after a year came to yet another hut. Outside it sat the oldest, most wrinkled, driest old man the prince had ever seen. "It's not like uncle knows where to find the dragon that's holding the flower queen's daughter captive?" wondered the prince. "Yes, that wretch lives at the top of the mountain there," grumbled the old man, pointing with a gnarled finger at a black mountain a day's journey away. “The dragon has just begun its year of sleep. He is awake for a whole year, then he sleeps for a whole year. But if you want to meet the flower queen's daughter, you have to climb the mountain next to it. The mother of the dragon lives there and she holds a ball every night where the flower queen's daughter always dances."
The prince thanked the old man heartily and set off for the mountains. It took him a whole day to walk up to the palace where the mother of the dragon lived, but at last he stood before the mighty gates. He had barely had time to knock before seven hideous dragons appeared and angrily asked what he wanted. "I have heard so much about the beauty and goodness of the mother of the dragon that I would like to enter her service," lied the prince. Such beautiful speech amused the dragons so they let him in. When the prince saw the mother of the dragon sitting on her diamond throne, he was about to faint with horror, for such a hideous monstrosity he had not been able to imagine even in his worst nightmares.
The mother of the dragon was warty, scaly, spiky and had three heads. The prince did not dare to think what her son, the dragon, might look like. “Why have you come here?” asked the mother of the dragon in a voice that sounded like the cawing of a hundred ravens. "I am captivated by your beauty and goodness and would like to serve you if I can," explained the prince. “Well, if you want to serve me, you must first prove yourself capable. For three days you shall take my mare out in the meadow below the mountain, but if you do not bring her home unharmed every night I will eat you!” The prince promised to do his best and then went to bed, for he had had quite a tiring day.
The next morning the prince went to the palace stables and fetched the mare. They walked down the path that wound around the mountain until they reached the meadow. But the prince had hardly unleashed the mare before she had disappeared without a trace. For a moment he was gripped by deep despair, but then he remembered the little silver bell he had been given by the old woman. He now picked it out and rang with it once. Suddenly he heard a whoosh in the air and the king of eagles landed next to him. "I know what you want help with," said the king of the eagles. "You are looking for the dragon's mare and you will not find her, because she has hidden herself up in the clouds. But I will call my people and together we will hunt her down.” Then the king mother of the eagles lifted the clouds and soon the sky was completely black with birds. Soon they had startled the mares, who politely jumped down to the ground again.
As evening fell, the prince rode back to the palace of the dragons and stabled the mares. The terrible mother of the dragon was greatly surprised. "You have succeeded in your task today and as a reward you will get to go to my ball tonight." Then she wrapped the prince in a robe of copper and led him into a great hall where a lot of dragons danced. But he also caught sight of the flower queen's daughter among them. She was truly the most beautiful of women. Her skin was like roses and lilies and her dress was woven of the most beautiful flowers. The prince immediately invited her to dance and told her who he was. "I have come to save you from here," he whispered. The beautiful girl looked at him seriously and said, "If you succeed in bringing back the mare all three days, you shall ask for her foal as a reward for your labor." The prince took her words to heart and took leave of the girl as the ball drew to a close.
The following morning he led the mares down the mountain to the meadow, just like the day before. And in the same way the mare disappeared when he released her. Then he took out the little silver bell and rang it twice. In an instant, the king of foxes stood beside him and said, “I know what you want help with. You're looking for the dragon's mare and you won't find her, because she's hidden in a rabbit nest underground. But I will call my people and together we will hunt her down.” Soon the whole meadow was covered with foxes running around and snooping with their long noses. After a while they picked up a trail and several of them disappeared into a small hole in the ground. It wasn't long before the mare came rushing out of another hole with the whole pack of foxes in tow.
The prince thanked the king of the foxes and as dusk fell he returned to the palace of the dragons and stabled the mares. This time the prince was given a silver cloak by the mother of the dragon and was once again shown into the ballroom. There he met the flower queen's daughter, who of course was happy to see him in good health. As they danced together, she whispered in his ear: “If you succeed tomorrow too, take the foal with you and meet me after the ball in the meadow. Then we'll run away together!”
The next morning the prince went to the meadow with the mare and released her as usual. Just like the previous days, she disappeared without a trace, but the prince trusted his little silver bell and rang it three times. Immediately a stream splashed next to him and the king of fishers raised his head. "I know what you want help with," said the King of the Fishermen. "You're looking for the dragon's mare and you won't find her, because she's hidden somewhere in the stream. But I will call my people and together we will hunt her down.” Then the king of the fishers disappeared into the water and soon the whole stream began to boil with fish plowing through the water. After a while the mare came rushing out of the stream. The prince thanked the fish king and as dusk fell he returned to the palace of the dragons and stabled the mares.
The dragon's mother was very pleased with his work and said to him: “You are indeed a brave and cunning youth and I will gladly take you into my service. You have earned a real reward. Say what you want and you'll get it!” So the prince asked for the mare's foal, which the dragon's mother gave him without blinking. In addition, he was given a robe of gold and, like the previous evenings, was admitted to the dragons' ball. He danced with the flower queen's daughter as he used to, and they did not say much to each other, for they knew that much was at stake that night. Before the ball was over, they slunk off in separate directions so as not to attract attention. The prince went to the stable and got the foal and the flower queen's daughter went to her room to get warm clothes. They met in the meadow below the mountain and mounted the foal together, which set off in the wind.
But it wasn't long before the dragon's mother noticed that both youths were missing. She figured out what had happened and furiously gathered all her dragons to go after them.
But first she woke up her son the dragon, who got really grumpy about not getting to sleep through his whole year. But when he heard what had happened, he became even angrier and spread out his miles-wide wings to go after the escapees. The flower queen's daughter knew the way home and the prince steered the foal with a practiced hand over all the cliffs, rivers and mountains. Suddenly they heard a horrible noise behind them and when the girl looked over her shoulder she saw all the dragons coming rushing like a big black cloud of horror. She could almost feel their burning breath on her back and knew that soon the beasts would be right on top of them. But soon they could glimpse the flower queen's castle on the horizon, and the girl cried: “Mother, mother! Call on all your children to help us!” When the echo of her voice had reached the castle, the prince noticed something strange happening on the ground. Right behind them rose a wall of all kinds of plants. It rose far into the sky and contained both flowers with strong scents and thistles with long thorns. The dragons crashed straight into the wall of plants and were left hanging there. Some pricked themselves shudderingly at the thistles, while others snorted horribly at the scent of the flowers, which smelled really bad in their ugly noses. The dragons got no further than that, but the prince and the girl continued on to the castle on the horizon.
The flower queen was obviously overjoyed to see her daughter again and the girl was happy to come home. But she also explained to her mother that she and the prince loved each other and that she now wanted to live with him. "I gladly give you my daughter to be your wife," declared the flower queen. "But you must know one thing. In summer she is yours, but when winter comes she must return to me and live in my palace in the underworld. Then when spring comes, she can go to you again. That is how you must live your lives.”
Both the daughter and the prince agreed to this, and they both returned to the prince's kingdom, where they celebrated a large and pompous wedding.
All summer they lived in great happiness, and when winter came the flower queen's daughter took leave of her husband to travel to her mother's castle. And so she came and went every year, but despite this, she and the prince lived happily ever after.