ACERTAIN king had a beautiful golden-haired daughter named Sybilla, whose suitors came from every country, though with small success, since the princess had vowed to remain single until one proving to be the mightiest hero of the world should appear.
At no great distance from her father's country lived a horrible giant, every hair of whose head could change, at will, into a fiery serpent. He had one eye, the size of a mill-wheel, and his teeth looked like rocks in a mighty cavern. His name was Furioso, and his strength was known to surpass that of an army of ordinary men. What was the dismay of Sybilla's father when this monster sent to request the lovely princess for his wife! The king turned pale, and walked up and down his palace floor all night, for he knew what it meant to refuse the request of Furioso, who, up to this time, had lived at peace with his neighbor's country. The queen-mother, hearing of the giant's offer, took to her royal bed in kicking hysterics. As to the proud little princess, she curled her pretty red lips scornfully and tossed her head. "I'd like to see him do it, the fright!" was what she said.
In a few days what the king feared had come to pass. The giant Furioso, on receiving the beautiful diplomatic letter the king's secretary had written him (after consultation with all the lords and lawyers of the realm), frowned, scratched his head, which instantly bristled all over with flaming serpents, and opening his mouth sent forth a blood-curdling yell of defiance that resounded in the farthest part of the king's dominions. Without a moment's delay he changed himself into a fearful hurricane, and swept over the country and the palace of the Princess Sybilla. Fences and iron gates, stone walls and marble palaces fell to the ground like card-houses. Forests were uprooted, suspension bridges snapped like cobwebs, villages entire rose up into the clouds and disappeared, with their inhabitants looking in astonishment out of the windows! Cows and horses, dogs and elephants were seen whirling about in the air like Japanese day-fireworks. The king and queen found the roof lifted from above their heads, and went sailing out the open space in their nightcaps. They met all the court blowing wildly about up there, and for some time it was like a mad dance without any bottom to it. Dizzy and terrified, the royal couple at last fell down to earth again, the queen lighting on the fat cook, so that she was not seriously injured—the king falling on a tennis net, which the force of the wind kept suspended like a hammock without any ropes.
Picking themselves up, the first thought of the royal
couple was for their beloved princess. As fast as different
members of the court and household fell down
from the clouds, which they continued to do all the
evening and night, the king sent them in search of the
princess. Nobody remembered having seen Sybilla
anywhere in the air, and her waiting-maid, who dropped
somewhere about nine o'clock A.M., next day, wept
as she told how she was combing the princess' golden
hair with the ivory comb she still held in her hand,
when the breeze came which separated them. One
thing was certain, the princess had disappeared. When
things settled down a little, and people began taking
The king and queen exchanged horrified glances.
Each remembered to have heard that one of the tricks of Giant Furioso, when he wished to be particularly wicked, was to change to the semblance of a venerable white-haired man. No doubt about it, the whole calamity to court and nation was the work of Furioso, and he had got the princess.
The distracted king set out at the head of his army to visit Furioso's castle. To his surprise, under the giant's name, upon a visiting card inserted above the speaking-trumpet at the gate, were pencilled these words: "Out of town till further notice." The windows were closed, and green shades hung behind them. No smoke came out of the chimneys, and the doors were chained. Evidently the giant had retired to some one of his retreats, where he could not be followed. The king and his army marched back again in gloomy silence.
For six months nothing was heard of the unfortunate Sybilla, till one day three young princes, travelling from a distant country in search of adventure, found a wounded carrier-pigeon on the road. Under its wing was a note, written in pale red ink, on a bit of torn linen cambric. The note gave them considerable trouble to read it, but, at last, the youngest prince, Myrtillo, who had always been the cleverest at school, managed to decipher these words:
"I write this with blood taken from my finger, on a fragment of my only pocket-handkerchief. I am the wretched Princess Sybilla, daughter of the King Rolando, and I pray any kind mortal who finds this to come to my aid, in the dungeon of Furioso, under the fifth mountain of the Impassable Range. Once in twenty-four hours this mountain cleaves asunder to let my oppressor take the air. Watch, and rescue me, in the name of humanity."
The Impassable Range was far away, but the princes journeyed thither without delay. They found the fifth mountain easily, and hid under the rocks at its base, to await developments. Exactly at sunrise a rumbling sound was heard, and the cliffs shook. The mountain split apart from summit to base, and between two yawning jaws of rock issued forth, first, a head covered with flaming serpents, then a frightful purple face, and lastly, the gigantic form of Furioso. Following him came the wails and shrieks of his captives within the mountain, to which Furioso paid no attention; he only turned his back and shouted:
The princes fancied that this last was the password, and when the giant had disappeared they tried to make the mountain open by repeating it; but in his excitement each one forgot how to pronounce the magic syllables. So there they stayed till sunset, when the giant came home from his hunting expedition. He had a pouch slung over his shoulder, and in it were crowded the new men, women, and children he had caught. The poor creatures were half dead with terror and rough treatment. The princes watched the giant, and listened with all their ears for the password. "Banbedrim!" thundered Furioso, and instantly the mountain yawned to let him and his miserable prisoners pass in, when it closed, as before.
The three princes laid each his hand on his sword, and swore to be avenged of the brutal treatment of their fellow-beings. Next morning when the giant issued forth, hurling the password at the mountain, then disappeared from sight, the oldest prince declared that he should be the first to enter the mountain, that his brothers should wait twenty-four hours for his reappearance, and that should he fail to come back the second brother might come to his assistance.
Bravely the young man sprang up the mountain-side, and called aloud the password. Instantly amid thunderings and lightnings the ground split at his feet and swallowed him from sight. They could see the tip of his bright sword held aloft, as he sank into the gloomy abyss.
Twenty-four hours passed, and the oldest prince failed to return. Then the second brother set forth, and he, too, vanished from sight. A long day and night of waiting had the youngest prince. Then he ascended the mountain where there was every reason to fear his brothers had found a horrible fate. Uttering the password, Myrtillo saw, through the opening earth at his feet, a pit whence came fire and smoke; and he plainly heard the cries for help of many human voices.
Myrtillo fell a great distance, landing on his feet in a desolate cavern. The smoke cleared away and he beheld a huge iron door before which were four trumpets—one of copper, one of silver, one of gold, and one of brass. Over them these words: "He who would enter here, choose between us four."
At the foot of the golden trumpet lay the mangled remains of his oldest brother, who had perished in trying to blow it. At the foot of the silver trumpet the corpse of the second prince had fallen; and now Myrtillo must choose between the two remaining trumpets! Without a moment's hesitation he put his lips to the copper trumpet, and gave a loud, clear blast. At once the iron door flew open, and he was in a hall surrounded by dungeons, through whose gratings he could see prisoners in every stage of misery. They called to him frantically, and hailed him as their deliverer. Alas! what could the poor prince do to save them. He looked about and saw a long tunnel, ending in a massive gate of stone and iron. As he gazed into the darkness of the tunnel something coiled up at the end of it seemed to stir, and a hideous snake darted toward him, opening a pair of jaws as wide as an ordinary fireplace, and sending out a flaming tongue. Myrtillo charged upon the beast, and after a desperate fight drove his sword down its throat, the point coming out at the back of the neck. As he stooped to free his sword the serpent gave a convulsive struggle and died. Myrtillo found a chain around its neck on which was fastened a golden key. He took the key and put it in the great key-hole of the iron door before him, and to his joy the door opened. There, in a dismal dungeon within, lay a beautiful maiden in chains. Myrtillo set her free, and found that she was the Princess Sybilla, whom the giant treated with especial cruelty because she persisted in refusing his love. She told him that the little pigeon was one of many kept for the serpent's food, and that she had hidden it, and helped it to fly out one day when the giant left her cell. "And now," said the princess, when Myrtillo had in turn told her his story, "let us be quick, and lose no time. In the court beyond my cell are two fountains. One of them contains the water of strength, the other the water of weakness. From the former fountain Furioso gains all his power. A little of its water sprinkled upon the dead recalls them to life, and we may save your poor brothers yet."
Myrtillo and the lady hastened to the fountains; but to their dismay a roaring noise and the groans of the wretched prisoners, who were chastised daily upon his return, announced the arrival of the giant. "Quick!" said the lady, pointing to the water of strength; "drink once of this, and you will be strong enough to change the fountains, putting each in the place of the other."
Myrtillo obeyed, and at once felt able to move a mountain at command. He seized the solid stone basins and changed them, and hardly had he done so when the giant came rushing in. "Where is that insolent whipper-snapper of a prince who has dared to kill my faithful serpent?" roared he.
"Here he is, at your service," said Myrtillo, stepping forth with a gallant bow, and holding his glittering sword in hand.
"Just wait till I quench my thirst," said the giant disdainfully, as he stooped down to what he supposed to be his fountain of strength, and drank a long, deep draught. Suddenly a strange trembling came over the monster's huge bulk. His face turned pale, his eyes stared, his jaw dropped, he sank to the ground.
"Why, this is the water of weakness my prisoners drink," he cried. "What trick have you been playing me, you scoundrel?"
Myrtillo again drank of the water of strength, and now he felt as if he could defy an army, single-handed. Swift as a lightning flash he descended upon the giant, and severed his wicked head from his body. The Princess Sybilla uttered a wild shriek of delight, which was heard and understood by all her fellow-captives, and the dungeons echoed with sobs and cries of joy. Myrtillo and the princess filled goblets with the water of strength, and hastened to sprinkle all the prisoners, who, paralyzed by their chains and wasted with hunger, could in many cases barely stir upon the ground where they lay. Soon, a host of strong men and women filled the main hall of the dungeon, and then Myrtillo had the joy of seeing his two brothers return to life under the action of the magic water, in which he bathed their limbs. As Myrtillo only had drank of the water of strength, he remained the strongest champion in the world; and when Sybilla was taken back to her father and mother, she told them that she had promised to take the Prince Myrtillo for her husband. From the giant's stronghold Myrtillo brought away gems and gold enough to enrich him for a lifetime, even after all the giant's victims had been sent home with a bag of gold apiece. His brothers found brides in two lovely fellow-sufferers they had led out of the giant's cavern to the light of day; and so all were satisfied, and in a short time the Giant Furioso was forgotten. No more hurricanes visited the kingdom of Sybilla's father, where things continued to jog along in the old-time peaceful fashion.