There was once a poor peasant lad who was sober and honest and industrious, and yet he never could succeed in the world; he was barely able to make enough to keep body and soul together.
One night he had a dream, and in his dream a venerable looking old man with a long gray beard, and wearing a golden crown upon his head, appeared to him.
“My son,” said the old man, “go to the top of the mountain that lies beyond the rocky plain to the eastward. There fortune awaits thee; only be brave and daring. Go, and delay not.”
In the morning, when the youth awoke, he remembered his dream and wondered over it for a time, but it was soon forgotten.
The next night the old man appeared to him again while he was sleeping and regarded him with a severe expression. “Why hast thou not already set out for the mountain?” he asked. “Fortune will not await thee forever.”
When the youth awoke, he wondered that he should have dreamed of the same old man a second time, but still he regarded the dream as meaning nothing, and before the end of the day he had forgotten it.
But the third night the same old man appeared to him for still a third time. “How is this?” he cried! “By this time thou shouldst have been well on thy way to the mountain. Up! Up! delay not, or disaster will follow!”
When the youth awoke he determined to set out at once for the mountain. He packed up enough food for the journey and started out without further delay.
All day he traveled across the rocky plain, and by night time he had arrived at the foot of the mountain. Here he rested, and the next day he set out to climb to the top.
Up and up he went, and so at last came to the mouth of a cave that was at the summit.
A light shone out from the cave, and when the lad looked into it he saw a beautiful maiden sitting there, fair beyond all words. Her hair was of pure gold and shone like sunlight, and it was so long it fell down all about her and trailed on the floor, and out of her hair she was weaving a mantle.
When the beauty saw the lad she cried out loud for wonder.
“Who art thou, rash youth?” she called to him, “who hath dared to venture into the cave of the Mountain Demon?”
“I am a poor peasant who lives down below here on the other side of the plain.” he answered. “And I did not know this was a Demon’s Cave.”
“But how camest thou hither?”
“An old man told me to come. He appeared to me three times in a dream, with a crown of gold on his head, and he told me to journey to the top of the mountain and I would find fortune awaiting me.”
“He spoke truth,” answered the maiden. “That old man was my father; he was a King and I am a Princess. He who rescues me may have me for a bride if he will, and my Kingdom for a dowry.”
The Princess then told the lad that years before the Demon of this mountain had seen her beside a spring where she was bathing with her maidens. He had fallen in love with her, and for her sake he had made war on her father and slain him, but her he had brought here to his cave, and had set her to weaving a mantle out of her hair. When the mantle was finished she would be obliged to marry him, and already it was almost done.
“But how may you be rescued?” asked the lad.
“That is a difficult and dangerous task,” replied the beauty, “but it may be done. If you have the courage to stay here for three nights,” said the Princess, “and for those three nights will allow the Demon to torment you as he will, and yet are brave enough to utter never a sound, then his power over me will be broken, and I will be free from him.”
When the youth heard that the only way he could save the Princess was by allowing the Demon to torment him for three nights, his ardor was somewhat cooled. “And if I were to rescue you, would you be willing to take me for a husband?” he asked.
“Yes, that I would,” answered the Princess, “for if you can endure those torments for my sake, then I will know you love me truly, and that you are indeed a brave soul and a daring one.”
The youth thought for a while. “Very well,” he said, “at least I will try it.”
Then he sat down, and he and the Princess talked together, and she was so wise and gentle and witty in her talk that with every hour that passed he loved her better and better.
Toward evening there was a great noise outside and a glare of red light, and the Mountain Demon rushed into the cave, and a terrible creature he was to look at, I can tell you. He was as black as soot, and his eyes shone in his head like coals of fire. He had horns and a tail, and instead of nails he had long claws on his fingers, and with every breath he sent out fire and cinders.
When the lad saw the Demon he began to shake and tremble, and he wished he were well out of that adventure and home again, even if he had to miss having a Princess for a wife. However it was too late to wish that now.
The Demon wasted no words upon the lad, but he picked him up and threw him down on the floor, and then he danced about on him up and down. After he had finished dancing on him, he hauled him about and pulled his ears and his hair, and did everything he could to make him cry out, and almost he succeeded; but still the youth remembered what the Princess had said and managed to keep his lips closed, and when the first ray of daylight shone into the cave, the Demon was obliged to depart, for so it is with the evil ones.
Then the Princess came, and lifted the youth up and comforted him, and she took down a flask from the wall where it hung, and rubbed him over with the ointment that was in it, and then his bruises disappeared — for he had been black and blue all over from the way the Demon had danced on him.
“That is one night passed, and you have stood it bravely,” said the Princess.
“Yes, that is all very well,” answered the Youth, “but I doubt whether I can stand two more nights of it. Perhaps it would have been better if I had kept away altogether; or at least that I go away now before I suffer any more torments that may be even worse.”
“Do not say that,” cried the Princess, and she began to weep.
When the lad saw her tears, his heart melted with pity for her, and he promised that he would not desert her, whatever happened, but would do his best to rescue her.
Then the Princess was cheered and brought out all sorts of good things that the Demon had stored away, and she and the lad ate and drank together and became quite merry.
After a while it became dark, however, and the lad’s heart sank down again.
At the same hour as the night before, the Demon came rushing back into the cave again, and when he saw the lad was still there, he howled aloud for very rage. Again he caught up the lad and dashed him down on the floor of the cave, and this time he took a hammer and pounded him with it until it seemed to the lad that every bone in his body was beaten to a jelly.
He had to clench his teeth together to keep from crying out. All night the Demon tormented him until he was more dead than alive, but when morning came, the evil one was obliged to give over as before, and he disappeared out of the cave, howling horribly.
The Princess came and rubbed the lad all over with the ointment as before and then he became quite strong and well and sound again.
But now the lad was all for starting out for home. He had had enough of the Demon and his doings. The Princess had to beg and implore and entreat him before he would consent to remain for still the third night.
“What good will it do me, or you either,” he said, “if the Demon makes an end of me? And that I fear he will do, if he finds me here a third time.”
“Oh, my dear lad, surely you love me enough to suffer still one other little time,” wept the Princess. “I do not believe the Demon has really the power to kill you; and think, if you allow him to torment you only one more night and still keep silence, then you will have me for a wife, and a kingdom to reign over, and we will live together happily forever.”
“Very well,” said the lad at last, “I will try to stand it still this third time, though I misdoubt me I am a fool for my pains.”
So when the Demon came home that night, there was the lad still sitting in the cave with the Princess. The Demon was so enraged he swelled up to twice his size and turned blacker than ever. He caught the lad from off the stool where he was sitting and threw him on the floor and then he picked up a pair of pincers and pinched him all over. All night the Demon kept at him. He rolled him about over the floor, and knocked him against the stools and tables, and it seemed sometimes as though the lad would be obliged to cry for mercy. But he bit his lips till they bled, and not a sound came from between them.
At last it was morning, and when the sun shone into the cave, the Demon gave a howl and burst with a noise like a thunder-clap, and there was nothing left of him but a little heap of black dust on the floor.
But the lad lay there without sound or motion, as though he were dead. Then for the third time the Princess rubbed him with the ointment, and he opened his eyes and rose up and was quite well again.
The Princess bade him go to the back of the cave where there was a spring of water and bathe himself in it. This he did, and as soon as he had bathed he became the handsomest young man that ever was seen, and instead of poor and ragged clothes he was dressed in silks and velvets, and he had a jeweled ring upon his finger, and a golden crown on his head.
“And now,” said the Princess, “we will return to my own country, and you shall be King and I will be Queen, and we will live happily together from this time on.”
As she said so it was, and she and the peasant lad returned to her kingdom and were married, and they loved each other so dearly that there never was a cross word between them.
I went to the wedding along with all the others that were bidden, and ate and drank so much that I could hardly walk home again.