The Giant of the Black Mountains
O NCE upon a time there was a hunter and he had one son. While this son was still a little boy the hunter said to his wife, "My dear, our child will no doubt grow up to be a hunter just as I am, and if I should not be alive when that time comes I wish you would take care to tell him that he must not go to the Black Mountains to hunt; for evil befalls whoever goes thither."
Soon afterward the hunter died, and in time his son grew up and became a hunter as his father had been before him. Then his mother said, "Son, your father commanded me that I should warn you not to go to the Black Mountains to hunt."
But the son saw no good reason why he should not hunt there as well as elsewhere, and one day he took his bow and arrows, mounted his horse and rode to the Black Mountains. At length he was among the lofty, forest-clad ranges, and he could not perceive but that they were perfectly peaceful and free from danger. "What could my father have meant by his warning?" he said to himself, and he kept riding on until suddenly a huge giant appeared before him.
"How now!" shouted the giant, "have you never heard of me that you dare to come and hunt on my ground?" and he picked up three great rocks and hurled them in quick succession at the intruder; but the young man contrived to dodge them, and, fitting an arrow to his bow, he shot the giant and killed him.
"I understand my father's warning now," said the young man; "but as this monster is no longer to be feared I will seek out his dwelling and see what treasure it contains."
So he went farther into the mountains and presently came to a magnificent castle. When he drew near to the entrance a beautiful maiden appeared at a window and he addressed her and asked to whom the castle belonged.
"Its owner is a great giant who will soon come and tear you in pieces," she replied. "How dare you venture among these terrible mountains?"
"The giant is dead," said the young man. "I have killed him."
"Ah then!'" cried she, "I am free. I have been his prisoner for many years, and you are my deliverer. Wait where you are and I will come down and unlock the castle gates and let you in."
She soon had the gates open and bade the young man welcome, and after he had led his horse to the stables the beautiful maiden conducted the young man into the palace. Then she told him she was the daughter of a prince, and that the giant had stolen her and that she had almost despaired of help ever reaching her. They talked together for a long time, and they liked each other so well that before they got through talking the young man asked the princess to be his wife.
"I am willing," said she, "and we can live here in the giant's castle."
"Yes," said he, "and I can go out hunting every day among the mountains."
But there was an old witch woman who had a hut in a wild glen not far from the castle, and when she knew that the giant was dead she went secretly to the body and administered some magic medicine that brought the giant to life. "Giant," said she, when she had restored him, "the young man who slew you is now in your castle. Go home and punish him as he deserves."
"No," said the giant, "I want nothing more to do with him. He is too clever with his bow and arrows to suit me, and I shall keep as far away from him as I can."
"Well, then," said the witch, "the task of disposing of him falls to me; for I do not intend to have him staying here in the mountains, if there is any way to prevent it."
"The quicker you get rid of him the better," said the giant. "Send him away on some errand from which he can never come back."
"That is just what I will do," responded the witch, "and I promise you in three days' time he will be gone to return no more."
Then the witch went to the palace and asked to be hired as a servant, and work was given her in the kitchen. It did not take her long to discover how fond the young man was of the princess, and on her third day at the palace she managed to put something into the food the princess ate that made her sick. No sooner was this accomplished than the witch said to the young man, "I fear your princess will die."
"Oh, no," cried he, "she must not die. We must make her well again."
"But there is only one thing can cure her," said the witch, "and that is the Melon of Life."
"Then I will get the Melon of Life," said he, "and I will start for it at once."
So he travelled all day long and in the evening he came to the house of an old man, who gave him lodging for the night. He told the old man the errand he was on, and the old man said, "Son, you are deceived. The expedition is a fatal one. Do not go."
But the young man would not be persuaded to turn back. "Well," said the old man, "if you must have your way I will give you three things to take with you. Here is a little jug of water, and here is a comb, and here is a knife. The Melon of Life is guarded by fifty giants, and if they pursue you throw these things behind you one at a time as there is need."
The young man took the jug and the comb and the knife and went his way, and at last he came to the garden of the fifty giants. He succeeded in getting into it without being seen, and there he found the Melon of Life. This he picked, and he wasted not a moment in starting on his return journey, but in getting through the garden hedge he cracked some dry twigs, and that alarmed the giants.
They looked around the garden to learn what had caused the noise, and soon perceived that the Melon of Life was gone. Then they set off in pursuit of the young man. When he saw that they were getting near him he threw the jug behind him. The water in it flowed out and covered the land he had just passed over with a great lake.
While the giants were going around this lake he gained quite a distance on them. But presently he saw them coming again. Then he threw the comb behind him and there sprang up a thick jungle through which the giants had great difficulty in forcing their way.
Thus he gained again on his pursuers. But they at length came out of the jungle and were on his trail once more. As soon as he saw them he threw the knife behind him, and the land in his rear was covered with thorn bushes, and the thorns were like sharp knives.
This time the young man got entirely away from the fifty giants and returned to the Black Mountains. However, during his absence, the giant whom the witch had restored to life had taken possession of the castle, and the princess had recovered from her sickness and was locked up in a dungeon.
When the young man approached the castle the giant chanced to be standing at the gates and saw him while he was still at a distance. The giant was very much startled, for he never expected that the young man would come back, and as he did not care to meet him he ran off at once to the forest.
The young man at sight of the giant knew that things had gone wrong while he was away, and he made all haste into the castle, and the first thing he did was to release the princess. She was now quite well and did not need the Melon of Life and he locked it up in a closet.
They did not suspect the treachery of the witch woman and she continued to work in the kitchen. Every night she went to see the giant in the forest, and they plotted how to get rid of the young man once more. "I can never go back to my castle while he is alive," said the giant, "but I know an easy way to dispose of him."
"What is it?" asked the witch.
"If you can pull three hairs from his head he will die," replied the giant.
"Very well," said the witch, "I will pluck the three hairs, though it may be some time before I find a good opportunity."
So she watched and watched until one day the young man fell asleep on a couch in the great hall of the castle. Then the witch stole softly up to the couch, and selecting three hairs suddenly pulled them out. Immediately the young man's sleep became death, and the witch hurried off to tell the giant of what she had accomplished.
While she was gone the princess came in and found the young man dead, and she cried and was very sad. But at last she thought of the Melon of Life locked in the closet and ran and brought it and held it before the young man's nostrils. No sooner did she do that than the young man sneezed seven times and sat up saying, "Oh, what a sound sleep I have had!"
"Sleep!" exclaimed the princess, "it was a sleep out of which you would never have awakened had it not been for the Melon of Life."
Then she told him of how she had found him perfectly lifeless. "There is some villainy in this," said he, "and we had better be on the watch."
So he got his bow and arrows, and he and the princess went up on a tower to look around and see if any danger threatened. They had not been long there when they perceived the giant and the witch coming from the forest. Then the young man let fly an arrow and it hit the witch and that was the end of her. The giant did not wait for him to shoot another arrow. He hastened away as fast as he could go and was never seen in the Black Mountains again, and the young man and the princess lived very happily in the castle ever after.