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King of the fishes.

From The Europa Fairy Book by Joseph Jacobs.

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Once upon a time there was a fisherman who was very poor and felt poorer still because he had no children. Now one day as he was fishing he caught in his net the finest fish he had ever seen, the scales all gold and eyes as bright as diamonds; and just as he was going to take it out of the net what do you think happened? The fish opened his jaws and said, "I am the King of the Fishes, and if you throw me back into the water you will never want a catch." The fisherman was so surprised that he let the fish slip into the water, and he flapped his big tail and dived under the waves. When he got home he told his wife all about it, and she said, "Oh, what a pity, I have had such a longing to eat such a fish." Well, next day the fisherman went again a-fishing and, sure enough, he caught the same fish again, and it said, "I am the King of the Fishes, if you let me go you shall always have your nets full." So the fisherman let him go again; and when he went back to his home he told his wife that he had done so. She began to cry and wail and said, "I told you I wanted such a fish, and yet you let him go; I am sure you do not love me."



The fisherman felt quite ashamed of himself and promised that if he caught the King of the Fishes again he would bring him home to his wife for her to cook. So next day the fisherman went to the same place and caught the same fish the third time. But when the fish begged the fisherman to let him go he told the King of the Fishes what his wife had said and what he had promised her. "Well," said the King of the Fishes, "if you must kill me you must, but as you let me go twice I will do this for you. When the wife cuts me up throw some of my bones under the mare, and some of my bones under the bitch, and the rest of my bones bury beneath the rose-tree in the garden and then you will see what you will see." So the fisherman took the King of the Fishes home to his wife, to whom he told what the fish had said; and when she cut up the fish for cooking they threw some of the bones under the mare, and some under the bitch, and the rest they buried under the rose-tree in the garden. Now after a time the fisherman's wife gave him two fine twin boys, whom they named George and Albert, each with a star on his forehead just under his hair, and at the same time the mare brought into the world two fine colts, and the bitch two puppies.



And under the rose-tree grew up two rose bushes, each of which bore every year only one rose, but what a rose that was! It lasted through the summer and it lasted through the winter and, most curious of all, when George fell ill one of the roses began to wilt, and if Albert had an illness the same thing happened with the other rose. Now when George and Albert grew up they heard that a Seven-Headed Dragon was ravaging the neighbouring kingdom, and that the king had promised his daughter's hand to anyone that would free the land from this scourge. They both wanted to go and fight the dragon, but at last the twins agreed that George go and Albert stop at home and look after their father and mother, who had now grown old. So George took his horse and his dog and rode off where the dragon had last been seen. And when he came to Middlegard, the capital of the kingdom, he rode with his horse and his dog to the chief inn of the town and asked the landlady why everything looked so gloomy and why the houses were draped in black. "Have you not heard, sir," asked the landlady, "that the Dragon with the Seven Heads has been eating up a pure maiden every month? And now he demands that the princess herself shall be delivered up to him this day.



That is why the town is draped in black and we are all so gloomy." Thereupon George took his horse and his dog and rode out to where the princess was exposed to the coming of the Dragon with Seven Heads. And when the princess saw George with his horse and his sword and his dog she asked him, "Why come you here, sir? Soon the Dragon with Seven Heads, whom none can withstand, will be here to claim me. Flee before it is too late." But George said, "Princess, a man can die once, and I will willingly try to save you from the dragon." Now as they were talking a horrible roar rent the air and the Dragon with the Seven Heads came towards the princess. But when it saw George it called out, "Can'st fight?" and George said, "If I can't I can learn." "I'll learn thee," said the dragon. And thereupon began a mighty combat between George and the dragon; and whenever the dragon came near to George his dog would spring at one of his paws, and when one of the heads reared back to deal with it George's horse would spring to that side, and George's sword would sweep that head away. And so at last all the seven heads of the dragon were shorn off by George's sword, and the princess was saved. And George opened the mouths of seven of the dragon's heads and cut out the tongues, and the princess gave him her handkerchief, and he wrapt all the seven tongues in it and put them away next his heart.



But George was so tired out by the fight that he laid down to sleep with his head in the princess's lap, and she parted his hair with her hands and saw the star on his brow. Meanwhile the king's marshal, who was to have married the princess if he would slay the dragon, had been watching the fight from afar off; and when he saw that the dragon had been slain and that George was lying asleep after the fight, he crept up behind the princess and, drawing his dagger, said, "Put his head on the ground or else I will slay thee." And when she had done that he bade her rise and come with him after he had collected the seven heads of the dragon and strung them on the leash of his whip. The princess would have wakened George but the marshal threatened to kill her if she did. "If I cannot wed thee he shall not." And then he made her swear that she would say that the marshal had slain the Dragon with the Seven Heads. And when the princess and the marshal came near the city the king and his courtiers and all his people came out to meet them with great rejoicing, and the king said to his daughter, "Who saved thee?" and she said, "this man." "Then he shall marry thee," said the king. "No, no, father," said the princess, "I am not old enough to marry yet; give me, at any rate, a year and a day before the wedding takes place," for she hoped that George would come and save her from the wicked marshal. The king himself, who loved his daughter greatly, gave way at last and promised that she should not be married for a year and a day.

       



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