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Knights of the fish.

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The first wet day after their marriage the bridegroom begged the bride to show him all the rooms in the palace, and it was so big and took so long that the sun was shining brightly again before they stepped on to the roof to see the view. 'What castle is that out there,' asked the knight; 'it seems to be made of black marble?' 'It is called the castle of Albatroz,' answered the princess. 'It is enchanted, and no one that has tried to enter it has ever come back.' Her husband said nothing, and began to talk of something else; but the next morning he ordered his horse, took his spear, called his bloodhound, and set off for the castle. It needed a brave man to approach it, for it made your hair stand on end merely to look at it; it was as dark as the night of a storm, and as silent as the grave. But the Knight of the Fish knew no fear, and had never turned his back on an enemy; so he drew out his horn, and blew a blast. The sound awoke all the sleeping echoes in the castle, and was repeated now loudly, now softly; now near, and now far. But nobody stirred for all that. 'Is there anyone inside?' cried the young man in his loudest voice; 'anyone who will give a knight hospitality? Neither governor, nor squire, not even a page?' 'Not even a page!' answered the echoes. But the young man did not heed them, and only struck a furious blow at the gate. Then a small grating opened, and there appeared the tip of a huge nose, which belonged to the ugliest old woman that ever was seen. 'What do you want?' said she. 'To enter,' he answered shortly. 'Can I rest here this night? Yes or No?' 'No, No, No!' repeated the echoes.

Between the fierce sun and his anger at being kept waiting, the Knight of the Fish had grown so hot that he lifted his visor, and when the old woman saw how handsome he was, she began fumbling with the lock of the gate. 'Come in, come in,' said she, 'so fine a gentleman will do us no harm.' 'Harm!' repeated the echoes, but again the young man paid no heed. 'Let us go in, ancient dame,' but she interrupted him. 'You must call me the Lady Berberisca,' she answered, sharply; 'and this is my castle, to which I bid you welcome. You shall live here with me and be my husband.' But at these words the knight let his spear fall, so surprised was he. 'I marry YOU? why you must be a hundred at least!' cried he. 'You are mad! All I desire is to inspect the castle and then go.' As he spoke he heard the voices give a mocking laugh; but the old woman took no notice, and only bade the knight follow her. Old though she was, it seemed impossible to tire her. There was no room, however small, she did not lead him into, and each room was full of curious things he had never seen before. At length they came to a stone staircase, which was so dark that you could not see your hand if you held it up before your face.

'I have kept my most precious treasure till the last,' said the old woman; 'but let me go first, for the stairs are steep, and you might easily break your leg.' So on she went, now and then calling back to the young man in the darkness. But he did not know that she had slipped aside into a recess, till suddenly he put his foot on a trap door which gave way under him, and he fell down, down, as many good knights had done before him, and his voice joined the echoes of theirs. 'So you would not marry me!' chuckled the old witch. 'Ha! ha! Ha! ha!' Meanwhile his brother had wandered far and wide, and at last he wandered back to the same great city where the other young knight had met with so many adventures. He noticed, with amazement, that as he walked through the streets the guards drew themselves up in line, and saluted him, and the drummers played the royal march; but he was still more bewildered when several servants in livery ran up to him and told him that the princess was sure something terrible had befallen him, and had made herself ill with weeping. At last it occurred to him that once more he had been taken for his brother. 'I had better say nothing,' thought he; 'perhaps I shall be able to help him after all.' So he suffered himself to be borne in triumph to the palace, where the princess threw herself into his arms. 'And so you did go to the castle?' she asked. 'Yes, of course I did,' answered he. 'And what did you see there?' 'I am forbidden to tell you anything about it, until I have returned there once more,' replied he. 'Must you really go back to that dreadful place?' she asked wistfully. 'You are the only man who has ever come back from it.'

'I must,' was all he answered. And the princess, who was a wise woman, only said: 'Well, go to bed now, for I am sure you must be very tired.' But the knight shook his head. 'I have sworn never to lie in a bed as long as my work in the castle remains standing.' And the princess again sighed, and was silent. Early next day the young man started for the castle, feeling sure that some terrible thing must have happened to his brother. At the blast of his horn the long nose of the old woman appeared at the grating, but the moment she caught sight of his face, she nearly fainted from fright, as she thought it was the ghost of the youth whose bones were lying in the dungeon of the castle. 'Lady of all the ages,' cried the new comer, 'did you not give hospitality to a young knight but a short time ago?' 'A short time ago!' wailed the voices. 'And how have you ill-treated him?' he went on. 'Ill-treated him!' answered the voices. The woman did not stop to hear more; she turned to fly; but the knight's sword entered her body. 'Where is my brother, cruel hag?' asked he sternly. 'I will tell you,' said she; 'but as I feel that I am going to die I shall keep that piece of news to myself, till you have brought me to life again.' The young man laughed scornfully. 'How do you propose that I should work that miracle?' 'Oh, it is quite easy. Go into the garden and gather the flowers of the everlasting plant and some of dragon's blood. Crush them together and boil them in a large tub of water, and then put me into it.' The knight did as the old witch bade him, and, sure enough, she came out quite whole, but uglier than ever. She then told the young man what had become of his brother, and he went down into the dungeon, and brought up his body and the bodies of the other victims who lay there, and when they were all washed in the magic water their strength was restored to them. And, besides these, he found in another cavern the bodies of the girls who had been sacrificed to the dragon, and brought them back to life also. As to the old witch, in the end she died of rage at seeing her prey escape her; and at the moment she drew her last breath the castle of Albatroz fell into ruins with a great noise.


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