The Crimson Fairy Book
The Strong Prince
Once upon a time there lived a king who was so fond of wine that he could not go to
sleep unless he knew he had a great flaskful tied to his bed-post. All day long he drank
till he was too stupid to attend to his business, and everything in the kingdom went to
rack and ruin. But one day an accident happened to him, and he was struck on the head
by a falling bough, so that he fell from his horse and lay dead upon the ground.
His wife and son mourned his loss bitterly, for, in spite of his faults, he had always been
kind to them. So they abandoned the crown and forsook their country, not knowing or
caring where they went.
At length they wandered into a forest, and being very tired, sat down under a tree to eat
some bread that they had brought with them. When they had finished the queen said: 'My
son, I am thirsty; fetch me some water.'
The prince got up at once and went to a brook which he heard gurgling near at hand. He
stooped and filled his hat with the water, which he brought to his mother; then he turned
and followed the stream up to its source in a rock, where it bubbled out clear and fresh
and cold. He knelt down to take a draught from the deep pool below the rock, when he
saw the reflection of a sword hanging from the branch of a tree over his head. The young
man drew back with a start; but in a moment he climbed the tree, cutting the rope which
held the sword, and carried the weapon to his mother.
The queen was greatly surprised at the sight of anything so splendid in such a lonely
place, and took it in her hands to examine it closely. It was of curious workmanship,
wrought with gold, and on its handle was written: 'The man who can buckle on this sword
will become stronger than other men.' The queen's heart swelled with joy as she read
these words, and she bade her son lose no time in testing their truth. So he fastened it
round his waist, and instantly a glow of strength seemed to run through his veins. He took
hold of a thick oak tree and rooted it up as easily as if it had been a weed.
This discovery put new life into the queen and her son, and they continued their walk
through the forest. But night was drawing on, and the darkness grew so thick that it
seemed as if it could be cut with a knife. They did not want to sleep in the wood, for they
were afraid of wolves and other wild beasts, so they groped their way along, hand in
hand, till the prince tripped over something which lay across the path. He could not see
what it was, but stooped down and tried to lift it. The thing was very heavy, and he
thought his back would break under the strain. At last with a great heave he moved it out
of the road, and as it fell he knew it was a huge rock. Behind the rock was a cave which it
was quite clear was the home of some robbers, though not one of the band was there.
Hastily putting out the fire which burned brightly at the back, and bidding his mother
come in and keep very still, the prince began to pace up and down, listening for the return