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Knights of the fish.
From The Brown Fairy book by Andrew Lang.
Start of Story
Age Rating 8 Plus.
Once upon a time there lived an old cobbler who worked hard at his trade
from morning till night, and scarcely gave himself a moment to eat. But,
industrious as he was, he could hardly buy bread and cheese for himself
and his wife, and they grew thinner and thinner daily.
For a long while whey pretended to each other that they had no appetite,
and that a few blackberries from the hedges were a great deal nicer
than a good strong bowl of soup. But at length there came a day when
the cobbler could bear it no longer, and he threw away his last, and
borrowing a rod from a neighbour he went out to fish.
Now the cobbler was as patient about fishing as he had been about
cobbling. From dawn to dark he stood on the banks of the little stream,
without hooking anything better than an eel, or a few old shoes, that
even he, clever though he was, felt were not worth mending. At length
his patience began to give way, and as he undressed one night he said to
himself: 'Well, I will give it one more chance; and if I don't catch a
fish to-morrow, I will go and hang myself.'
He had not cast his line for ten minutes the next morning before he drew
from the river the most beautiful fish he had ever seen in his life.
But he nearly fell into the water from surprise, when the fish began to
speak to him, in a small, squeaky voice:
'Take me back to your hut and cook me; then cut me up, and sprinkle me
over with pepper and salt. Give two of the pieces to your wife, and bury
two more in the garden.'
The cobbler did not know what to make of these strange words; but he was
wiser than many people, and when he did not understand, he thought it
was well to obey. His children wanted to eat all the fish themselves,
and begged their father to tell them what to do with the pieces he
had put aside; but the cobbler only laughed, and told them it was no
business of theirs. And when they were safe in bed he stole out and
buried the two pieces in the garden.
By and by two babies, exactly alike, lay in a cradle, and in the garden
were two tall plants, with two brilliant shields on the top.
Years passed away, and the babies were almost men. They were tired of
living quietly at home, being mistaken for each other by everybody
they saw, and determined to set off in different directions, to seek
So, one fine morning, the two brothers left the hut, and walked together
to the place where the great road divided. There they embraced and
parted, promising that if anything remarkable had happened to either, he
would return to the cross roads and wait till his brother came.
The youth who took the path that ran eastwards arrived presently at a
large city, where he found everybody standing at the doors, wringing
their hands and weeping bitterly.
'What is the matter?' asked he, pausing and looking round. And a man
replied, in a faltering voice, that each year a beautiful girl was
chosen by lot to be offered up to a dreadful fiery dragon, who had a
mother even worse than himself, and this year the lot had fallen on
their peerless princess.
'But where IS the princess?' said the young man once more, and again the
man answered him: 'She is standing under a tree, a mile away, waiting
for the dragon.'
This time the Knight of the Fish did not stop to hear more, but ran
off as fast as he could, and found the princess bathed in tears, and
trembling from head to foot.
She turned as she heard the sound of his sword, and removed her
handkerchief from his eyes.
'Fly,' she cried; 'fly while you have yet time, before that monster sees
She said it, and she mean it; yet, when he had turned his back, she felt
more forsaken than before. But in reality it was not more than a few
minutes before he came back, galloping furiously on a horse he had
borrowed, and carrying a huge mirror across its neck.
'I am in time, then,' he cried, dismounting very carefully, and placing
the mirror against the trunk of a tree.
'Give me your veil,' he said hastily to the princess. And when she had
unwound it from her head he covered the mirror with it.
'The moment the dragon comes near you, you must tear off the veil,'
cried he; 'and be sure you hide behind the mirror. Have no fear; I shall
be at hand.'
He and his horse had scarcely found shelter amongst some rocks, when the
flap of the dragon's wings could be plainly heard. He tossed his head
with delight at the sight of her, and approached slowly to the place
where she stood, a little in front of the mirror. Then, still looking
the monster steadily in the face, she passed one hand behind her back
and snatched off the veil, stepping swiftly behind the tree as she did
The princess had not known, when she obeyed the orders of the Knight of
the Fish, what she expected to happen. Would the dragon with snaky locks
be turned to stone, she wondered, like the dragon in an old story her
nurse had told her; or would some fiery spark dart from the heart of
the mirror, and strike him dead? Neither of these things occurred, but,
instead, the dragon stopped short with surprise and rage when he saw a
monster before him as big and strong as himself. He shook his mane with
rage and fury; the enemy in front did exactly the same. He lashed his
tail, and rolled his red eyes, and the dragon opposite was no whit
behind him. Opening his mouth to its very widest, he gave an awful
roar; but the other dragon only roared back. This was too much, and
with another roar which made the princess shake in her shoes, he flung
himself upon his foe. In an instant the mirror lay at his feet broken
into a thousand pieces, but as every piece reflected part of himself,
the dragon thought that he too had been smashed into atoms.
It was the moment for which the Knight of the Fish had watched and
waited, and before the dragon could find out that he was not hurt at
all, the young man's lance was down his throat, and he was rolling,
dead, on the grass.
Oh! what shouts of joy rang through the great city, when the youth
came riding back with the princess sitting behind him, and dragging the
horrible monster by a cord. Everybody cried out that the king must give
the victor the hand of the princess; and so he did, and no one had ever
seen such balls and feasts and sports before. And when they were all
over the young couple went to the palace prepared for them, which was so
large that it was three miles round.