A Celebration of Women Writers

"Prince Lionheart and His Three Friends." by Flora Annie Steel (1847-1929)
From: Tales of the Punjab (1894) by Flora Annie Steel. London & New York: Macmillan and Co., 1894.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

PRINCE LIONHEART AND HIS THREE FRIENDS

O NCE upon a time there lived a King and Queen who would have been as happy as the day was long had it not been for this one circumstance,–they had no children.

At last an old fakîr, or devotee, coming to the palace, asked to see the Queen, and giving her some barleycorns, told her to eat them and cease weeping, for in nine months she would have a beautiful little son. The Queen ate the barleycorns, and sure enough after nine months she bore the most charming, lovely, splendid Prince that ever was seen, who was called Lionheart, because he was so brave and so strong.

Now when he grew up to man's estate, Prince Lionheart grew restless also, and was for ever begging his father the King to allow him to travel in the wide world and seek adventures. Then the King would shake his head, saying only sons were too precious to be turned adrift; but at last, seeing the young Prince could think of nothing else, he gave his consent, and Prince Lionheart set off on his travels, taking no one with him but his three companions, the Knifegrinder, the Blacksmith, and the Carpenter.

Now when these four valiant young men had gone a short distance, they came upon a magnificent city, lying deserted and desolate in the wilderness. Passing through it they saw tall houses, broad bazaars, shops still full of goods, everything pointing to a large and wealthy population; but neither in street nor house was a human being to be seen. This astonished them very much, until the Knifegrinder, clapping his hand to his forehead, said, 'I remember! This must be the city I have heard about, where a demon lives who will let no one dwell in peace. We had best be off!'

'Not a bit of it!' cried Prince Lionheart. 'At any rate not until I've had my dinner, for I am just desperately hungry!'

So they went to the shops, and bought all they required, laying the proper price for each thing on the counters just as if the shopkeepers had been there. Then going to the palace, which stood in the middle of the town, Prince Lionheart bade the Knifegrinder prepare the dinner, while he and the other companions took a further look at the city.

No sooner had they set off, than the Knifegrinder, going to the kitchen, began to cook the food. It sent up a savoury smell, and the Knifegrinder was just thinking how nice it would taste, when he saw a little figure beside him, clad in armour, with sword and lance, riding on a gaily-caparisoned mouse.

'Give me my dinner!' cried the mannikin, angrily shaking his lance.

'Your dinner! Come, that is a joke!' quoth the Knifegrinder, laughing.

'Give it me at once!' cried the little warrior in a louder voice, 'or I'll hang you to the nearest pîpal tree!'

'Wah! Whipper-snapper!' replied the valiant Knifegrinder, 'come a little nearer, and let me squash you between finger and thumb!'

At these words the mannikin suddenly shot up into a terribly tall demon, whereupon the Knifegrinder's courage disappeared, and, falling on his knees, he begged for mercy. But his piteous cries were of no use, for in a trice he was hung to the top-most branch of the pîpal tree.

'I'll teach 'em to cook in my kitchen!' growled the demon, as he gobbled up all the cakes and savoury stew. When he had finished every morsel he disappeared.

Now the Knifegrinder wriggled so desperately that the pîpal branch broke, and he came crashing through the tree to the ground, without much hurt beyond a great fright and a few bruises. However, he was so dreadfully alarmed that he rushed into the sleeping-room, and rolling himself up in his quilt, shook from head to foot as if he had the ague.

By and by in came Prince Lionheart and his companions, all three as hungry as hunters, crying, 'Well, jolly Knifegrinder! where's the dinner?'

Whereupon he groaned out from under his quilt, 'Don't be angry, for it's nobody's fault; only just as it was ready I got a fit of ague, and as I lay shivering and shaking a dog came in and walked off with everything.'

He was afraid that if he told the truth his companions would think him a coward for not fighting the demon.

'What a pity!' cried the Prince, 'but we must just cook some more. Here! you Blacksmith! do you prepare the dinner, while the Carpenter and I have another look at the city.'

Now, no sooner had the Blacksmith begun to sniff the savoury smell, and think how nice the cakes and stew would taste, than the little warrior appeared to him also. And he was quite as brave at first as the Knifegrinder had been, and afterwards he too fell on his knees and prayed for mercy. In fact everything happened to him as it happened to the Knifegrinder, and when he fell from the tree he too fled into the sleeping-room, and rolling himself in his quilt began to shiver and shake; so that when Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter came back, hungry as hunters, there was no dinner.

Then the Carpenter stayed behind to cook, but he fared no better than the two others, so that when hungry Prince Lionheart returned there were three sick men, shivering and shaking under their quilts, and no dinner. Whereupon the Prince set to work to cook his food himself.

No sooner had it begun to give off a savoury smell than the tiny mouse-warrior appeared, very fierce and valiant.

'Upon my word, you are really a very pretty little fellow!' said the Prince in a patronising way; 'and what may you want?'

'Give me my dinner!' shrieked the mannikin.

'It is not your dinner, my dear sir, it is my dinner!' quoth the Prince; 'but to avoid disputes let's fight it out.'

Upon this the mouse-warrior began to stretch and grow till he became a terribly tall demon. But instead of falling on his knees and begging for mercy, the Prince only burst into a fit of laughter, and said, 'My good sir! there is a medium in all things! Just now you were ridiculously small, at present you are absurdly big; but, as you seem to be able to alter your size without much trouble, suppose for once in a way you show some spirit, and become just my size, neither less nor more; then we can settle whose dinner it really is.'

The demon could not withstand the Prince's reasoning, so he shrank to an ordinary size, and setting to work with a will, began to tilt at the Prince in fine style. But valiant Lionheart never yielded an inch, and finally, after a terrific battle, slew the demon with his sharp sword.

Then guessing at the truth he roused his three sick friends, saying with a smile, 'O ye valiant ones! arise, for I have killed the ague!'

And they got up sheepishly, and fell to praising their leader for his incomparable valour.

After this, Prince Lionheart sent messages to all the inhabitants of the town who had been driven away by the wicked demon, telling them they could return and dwell in safety, on condition of their taking the Knifegrinder as their king, and giving him their richest and most beautiful maiden as a bride.

This they did with great joy, but when the wedding was over, and Prince Lionheart prepared to set out once more on his adventures, the Knifegrinder threw himself before his master, begging to be allowed to accompany him. Prince Lionheart, however, refused the request, bidding him remain to govern his kingdom, and at the same time gave him a barley plant, bidding him tend it very carefully; since so long as it flourished he might be assured his master was alive and well. If, on the contrary, it drooped, then he might know that misfortune was at hand, and set off to help if he chose.

So the Knifegrinder king remained behind with his bride and his barley plant, but Prince Lionheart, the Blacksmith, and the Carpenter set forth on their travels.

By and by they came to another desolate city, lying deserted in the wilderness, and as before they wandered through it, wondering at the tall palaces, the empty streets, and the vacant shops where never a human being was to be seen, until the Blacksmith, suddenly recollecting, said, 'I remember now! This must be the city where the dreadful ghost lives which kills every one. We had best be off!'

'After we have had our dinners!' quoth hungry Lionheart.

So having bought all they required from a vacant shop, putting the proper price of everything on the counter, since there was no shopkeeper, they repaired to the palace, where the Blacksmith was installed as cook, whilst the others looked through the town.

No sooner had the dinner begun to give off an appetising smell than the ghost appeared in the form of an old woman, awful and forbidding, with black wrinkled skin, and feet turned backwards.

At this sight the valiant Blacksmith never stopped to parley, but fled into another room and bolted the door. Whereupon the ghost ate up the dinner in no time, and disappeared; so that when Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter returned, as hungry as hunters, there was no dinner to be found, and no Blacksmith.

Then the Prince bade the Carpenter do the cooking while he went abroad to see the town. But the Carpenter fared no better, for the ghost appeared to him also, so that he fled and locked himself up in another room.

'This is really too bad!' quoth Prince Lionheart, when he returned to find no dinner, no Blacksmith, no Carpenter. So be began to cook the food himself, and no sooner had it given out a savoury smell than the ghost arrived; this time, however, seeing so handsome a young man before her she would not assume her own hag-like shape, but appeared instead as a beautiful young woman.

However, the Prince was not in the least bit deceived, for he looked down at her feet, and when he saw they were set on hind side before, he knew at once what she was; so drawing his sharp strong sword, he said, 'I must trouble you to take your own shape again, as I don't like killing beautiful young women!'

At this the ghost shrieked with rage, and changed into her own loathsome form once more; but at the same moment Prince Lionheart gave one stroke of his sword, and the horrible, awful thing lay dead at his feet.

Then the Blacksmith and the Carpenter crept out of their hiding-places, and the Prince sent messages to all the townsfolk, bidding them come back and dwell in peace, on condition of their making the Blacksmith king, and giving him to wife the prettiest, the richest, and the best-born maiden in the city.

To this they consented with one accord, and after the wedding was over, Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter set forth once more on their travels. The Blacksmith king was loath to let them go without him, but his master gave him also a barley plant, saying, 'Water and tend it carefully; for so long as it flourishes you may rest assured I am well and happy; but if it droops, know that I am in trouble, and come to help me.'

Prince Lionheart and the Carpenter had not journeyed far ere they came to a big town, where they halted to rest; and as luck would have it the Carpenter fell in love with the fairest maiden in the city, who was as beautiful as the moon and all the stars. He began to sigh and grumble over the good fortune of the Knifegrinder and the Blacksmith, and wish that he too could find a kingdom and a lovely bride, until his master took pity on him, and sending for the chief inhabitants, told them who he was, and ordered them to make the Carpenter king, and marry him to the maiden of his choice.

This order they obeyed, for Prince Lionheart's fame had been noised abroad, and they feared his displeasure; so when the marriage was over, and the Carpenter duly established as king, Prince Lionheart went forth on his journey alone, after giving a barley plant, as he had done before, by which his prosperity or misfortune might be known.

Having journeyed for a long time, he came at last to a river, and as he sat resting on the bank, what was his astonishment to see a ruby of enormous size floating down the stream! Then another, and another drifted past him, each of huge size and glowing hue! Wonderstruck, he determined to find out whence they came. So he travelled up stream for two days and two nights, watching the rubies sweep by in the current, until he came to a beautiful marble palace built close to the water's edge. Gay gardens surrounded it, marble steps led down to the river, where, on a magnificent tree which stretched its branches over the stream, hung a golden basket. Now if Prince Lionheart had been wonderstruck before, what was his astonishment when he saw that the basket contained the head of the most lovely, the most beautiful, the most perfect young Princess that ever was seen! The eyes were closed, the golden hair fluttered in the breeze, and every minute from the slender throat a drop of crimson blood fell into the water, and changing into a ruby, drifted down the stream!

Prince Lionheart was overcome with pity at this heartrending sight; tears rose to his eyes, and he determined to search through the palace for some explanation of the beautiful mysterious head.

So he wandered through richly-decorated marble halls, through carved galleries and spacious corridors, without seeing a living creature, until he came to a sleeping-room hung with silver tissue, and there, on a white satin bed, lay the headless body of a young and beautiful girl! One glance convinced him that it belonged to the exquisite head he had seen swinging in the golden basket by the river-side, and, urged by the desire to see the two lovely portions united, he set off swiftly to the tree, soon returning with the basket in his hand. He placed the head gently on the severed throat, when, lo and behold! they joined together in a trice and the beautiful maiden started up to life once more. The Prince was overjoyed, and, falling on his knees, begged the lovely girl to tell him who she was, and how she came to be alone in the mysterious palace. She informed him that she was a king's daughter, with whom a wicked Jinn had fallen in love, in consequence of which passion he had carried her off by his magical arts: and being desperately jealous, never left her without first cutting of her head, and hanging it up in the golden basket until his return.

Prince Lionheart, hearing this cruel story, besought the beautiful Princess to fly with him without delay, but she assured him they must first kill the Jinn, or they would never succeed in making their escape. So she promised to coax the Jinn into telling her the secret of his life, and in the meantime bade the Prince cut off her head once more, and replace it in the golden basket, so that her cruel gaoler might not suspect anything.

The poor Prince could hardly bring himself to perform so dreadful a task, but seeing it was absolutely necessary, he shut his eyes from the heartrending sight, and with one blow of his sharp bright sword cut off his dear Princess's head, and after returning the golden basket to its place, hid himself in a closet hard by the sleeping-room.

By and by the Jinn arrived, and, putting on the Princess's head once more, cried angrily, 'Fee! fa! fum! This room smells of man's flesh!'

Then the Princess pretended to weep, saying, 'Do not be angry with me, good Jinn, for how can I know aught? Am I not dead whilst you are away? Eat me if you like, but do not be angry with me!'

Whereupon the Jinn, who loved her to distraction, swore he would rather die himself than kill her.

'That would be worse for me!' answered the girl, 'for if you were to die while you are away from here, it would be very awkward for me: I should be neither dead nor alive.'

'Don't distress yourself!' returned the Jinn; 'I am not likely to be killed, for my life lies in something very safe.'

'I hope so, I am sure!' replied the Princess, 'but I believe you only say that to comfort me. I shall never be content until you tell me where it lies, then I can judge for myself if it is safe.'

At first the Jinn refused, but the Princess coaxed and wheedled so prettily, and he began to get so very sleepy, that at last he replied, 'I shall never be killed except by a Prince called Lionheart; nor by him unless he can find the solitary tree, where a dog and a horse keep sentinel day and night. Even then he must pass these warders unhurt, climb the tree, kill the starling which sits singing in a golden cage on the topmost branch, tear open its crop, and destroy the bumble bee it contains. So I am safe; for it would need a lion's heart, or great wisdom, to reach the tree and overcome its guardians.'

'How are they to be overcome?' pleased the Princess; 'tell me that, and I shall be satisfied.'

The Jinn, who was more than half asleep, and quite tired of being cross-questioned, answered drowsily, 'In front of the horse lies a heap of bones, and in front of the dog a heap of grass. Whoever takes a long stick and changes the heaps, so that the horse has grass, and the dog bones, will have no difficulty in passing.'

The Prince, overhearing this, set off at once to find the solitary tree, and ere long discovered it, with a savage horse and furious dog keeping watch and ward over it. They, however, became quite mild and meek when they received their proper food, and the Prince without any difficulty climbed the tree, seized the starling, and began to twist its neck. At this moment the Jinn, awakening from sleep, became aware of what was passing, and flew through the air to do battle for his life. The Prince, however, seeing him approach, hastily cut open the bird's crop, seized the bumble bee, and just as the Jinn was alighting on the tree, tore off the insect's wings. The Jinn instantly fell to the ground with a crash, but, determined to kill his enemy, began to climb. Then the Prince twisted of the bee's legs, and lo! the Jinn became legless also; and when the bee's head was torn off, the Jinn's life went out entirely.

So Prince Lionheart returned in triumph to the Princess, who was overjoyed to hear of her tyrant's death. He would have started at once with her to his father's kingdom, but she begged for a little rest, so they stayed in the palace, examining all the riches it contained.

Now one day the Princess went down to the river to bathe, and wash her beautiful golden hair, and as she combed it, one or two long strands came out in the comb, shining and glittering like burnished gold. She was proud of her beautiful hair, and said to herself, 'I will not throw these hairs into the river, to sink in the nasty dirty mud,' so she made a green cup out of a pîpal leaf, coiled the golden hairs inside, and set it afloat on the stream.

It so happened that the river, farther down, flowed past a royal city, and the King was sailing in his pleasure-boat, when he espied something sparkling like sunlight on the water, and bidding his boatmen row towards it, found the pîpal leaf cup and the glittering golden hairs.

He thought he had never before seen anything half so beautiful, and determined not to rest day or night until he had found the owner. Therefore he sent for the wisest women in his kingdom, in order to find out where the owner of the glistening golden hair dwelt.

The first wise woman said, 'If she is on Earth I promise to find her.'

The second said, 'If she is in Heaven I will tear open the sky and bring her to you.'

But the third laughed, saying, 'Pooh! If you tear open the sky I will put a patch in it, so that none will be able to tell the new piece from the old.'

The King, considering the last wise woman had proved herself to be the cleverest, engaged her to seek for the beautiful owner of the glistening golden hair.

Now as the hairs had been found in the river, the wise woman guessed they must have floated down stream from some place higher up, so she set off in a grand royal boat, and the boatmen rowed and rowed until at last they came in sight of the Jinn's magical marble palace.

Then the cunning wise woman went alone to the steps of the palace, and began to weep and to wail. It so happened that as Prince Lionheart had that day gone out hunting, the Princess was all alone, and having a tender heart, she no sooner heard the old woman weeping than she came out to see what was the matter.

'Mother,' said she kindly, 'why do you weep?'

'My daughter,' cried the wise woman, 'I weep to think what will become of you if the handsome Prince is slain by any mischance, and you are left here in the wilderness alone.' For the witch knew by her arts all about the Prince.

'Very true!' replied the Princess, wringing her hands; 'what a dreadful thing it would be! I never thought of it before!'

All day long she wept over the idea, and at night, when the Prince returned, she told him of her fears; but he laughed at them, saying his life lay in safety, and it was very unlikely any mischance should befall him.

Then the Princess was comforted; only she begged him to tell her wherein it lay, so that she might help to preserve it.

'It lies,' returned the Prince, 'in my sharp sword, which never fails. If harm were to come to it I should die; nevertheless, by fair means naught can prevail against it, so do not fret, sweetheart!'

'It would be wiser to leave it safe at home when you go hunting,' pleaded the Princess, and though Prince Lionheart told her again there was no cause to be alarmed, she made up her mind to have her own way, and the very next morning, when the Prince went a-hunting, she hid his strong sharp sword, and put another in the scabbard, so that he was none the wiser.

Thus when the wise woman came once more and wept on the marble stairs, the Princess called to her joyfully, 'Don't cry, mother!–the Prince's life is safe to-day. It lies in his sword, and that is hidden away in my cupboard.'

Then the wicked old hag waited until the Princess took her noonday sleep, and when everything was quiet she stole to the cupboard, took the sword, made a fierce fire, and placed the sharp shining blade in the glowing embers. As it grew hotter and hotter, Prince Lionheart felt a burning fever creep over his body, and knowing the magical property of his sword, drew it out to see if aught had befallen it, and lo! it was not his own sword but a changeling! He cried aloud, 'I am undone! I am undone!' and galloped homewards. But the wise woman blew up the fire so quickly that the sword became red-hot ere Prince Lionheart could arrive, and just as he appeared on the other side of the stream, a rivet came out of the hilt, which rolled off, and so did the Prince's head.

Then the wise woman, going to the Princess, said, 'Daughter! see how tangled your beautiful hair is after your sleep! Let me wash and dress it against your husband's return.' So they went down the marble steps to the river; but the wise woman said, 'Step into my boat sweetheart; the water is clearer on the farther side.'

And then, whilst the Princess's long golden hair was all over her eyes like a veil, so that she could not see, the wicked old hag loosed the boat, which went drifting down stream.

In vain the Princess wept and wailed; all she could do was to make a great vow, saying, 'O you shameless old thing! You are taking me away to some king's palace, I know; but no matter who he may be, I swear not to look on his face for twelve years!'

At last they arrived at the royal city, greatly to the King's delight; but when he found how solemn an oath the Princess had taken, he built her a high tower, where she lived all alone. No one save the hewers of wood and drawers of water were allowed even to enter the courtyard surrounding it, so there she lived and wept over her lost Lionheart.

Now when the Prince's head had rolled off in that shocking manner, the barley plant he had given to the Knifegrinder king suddenly napped right in two, so that the ear fell to the ground.

This greatly troubled the faithful Knifegrinder, who immediately guessed some terrible disaster had overtaken his dear Prince. He gathered an army without delay, and set off in aid, meeting on the way with the Blacksmith and the Carpenter kings, who were both on the same errand. When it became evident that the three barley plants had fallen at the selfsame moment, the friends feared the worst, and were not surprised when, after long journeying, they found the Prince's body, all burnt and blistered, lying by the river-side, and his head close to it. Knowing the magical properties of the sword, they looked for it at once, and when they found a changeling in its place their hearts sank indeed! They lifted the body, and carried it to the palace, intending to weep and wail over it, when lo! they found the real sword, all blistered and burnt, in a heap of ashes, the rivet gone, the hilt lying beside it.

'That is soon mended!' cried the Blacksmith king; so he blew up the fire, forged a rivet, and fastened the hilt to the blade. No sooner had he done so than the Prince's head grew to his shoulders as firm as ever.

'My turn now!' quoth the Knifegrinder king; and he spun his wheel so deftly that the blisters and stains disappeared like magic, and the sword was soon as bright as ever. And as he spun his wheel, the burns and scars disappeared likewise from Prince Lionheart's body, until at last the Prince sat up alive, as handsome as before.

'Where is my Princess?' he cried, the very first thing, and then told his friends of all that had passed.

'It is my turn now!' quoth the Carpenter king gleefully; 'give me your sword, and I will fetch the Princess back in no time.'

So he set off with the bright strong sword in his hand to find the lost Princess. Ere long he came to the royal city, and noticing a tall new-built tower, inquired who dwelt within. When the townspeople told hem it was a strange Princess, who was kept in such close imprisonment that no one but hewers of wood and drawers of water were allowed even to enter the courtyard, he was certain it must be she whom he sought. However, to make sure, he disguised himself as a woodman, and going beneath the windows, cried, 'Wood! wood! Fifteen gold pieces for this bundle of wood!'

The Princess, who was sitting on the roof, taking the air, bade her servant ask what sort of wood it was to make it so expensive.

'It is only firewood,' answered the disguised Carpenter, 'but it was cut with this sharp bright sword!'

Hearing these words, the Princess, with a beating heart, peered through the parapet, and recognised Prince Lionheart's sword. So she bade her servant inquire if the woodman had anything else to sell, and he replied that he had a wonderful flying palanquin, which he would show to the Princess, if she wished it, when she walked in the garden at evening.

She agreed to the proposal, and the Carpenter spent all the day in fashioning a marvellous palanquin. This he took with him to the tower garden, saying, 'Seat yourself in it, my Princess, and try how well it flies.'

But the King's sister, who was there, said the Princess must not go alone, so she got in also, and so did the wicked wise woman. Then the Carpenter king jumped up outside, and immediately the palanquin began to fly higher and higher, like a bird.

'I have had enough!–let us go down,' said the King's sister after a time.

Whereupon the Carpenter seized her by the waist, and threw her overboard, just as they were sailing above the river, so that she was drowned; but he waited until they were just above the high tower before he threw down the wicked wise woman, so that she got finely smashed on the stones.

Then the palanquin flew straight to the Jinn's magical marble palace, where Prince Lionheart, who had been awaiting the Carpenter king's arrival with the greatest impatience, was overjoyed to see his Princess once more, and set off, escorted by his three companion kings, to his father's dominions. But when the poor old King, who had very much aged since his son's departure, saw the three armies coming, he made sure they were an invading force, so he went out to meet them, and said, 'Take all my riches, but leave my poor people in peace, for I am old, and cannot fight. Had my dear brave son Lionheart been with me, it would have been a different affair, but he left us years ago, and no one has heard aught of him since.'

On this, the Prince flung himself on his father's neck, and told him all that had occurred, and how these were his three old friends–the Knifegrinder, the Blacksmith, and the Carpenter. This greatly delighted the old man; but when he saw the golden-haired bride his son had brought home, his joy knew no bounds.

So everybody was pleased, and lived happily ever after.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom