THE FLAMING HORSE
HERE was once a land that was dreary and dark as the grave,
for the sun of heaven never shone upon it. The king of the
country had a wonderful horse that had, growing right on his
forehead, a flaming sun. In order that his subjects might
have the light that is necessary for life, the king had this
horse led back and forth from one end of his dark kingdom to
the other. Wherever he went his flaming head shone out and
it seemed like beautiful day.
Suddenly this wonderful horse disappeared. Heavy darkness
that nothing could dispel settled down on the country. Fear
spread among the people and soon they were suffering
terrible poverty, for they were unable to cultivate the
fields or do anything else that would earn them a
livelihood. Confusion increased until the king saw that the
whole country was likely to perish. In order then, if
possible, to save his people, he gathered his army together
and set out in search of the missing horse.
 Through heavy darkness they groped their way slowly and with
difficulty to the far boundaries of the kingdom. At last
they reached the ancient forests that bordered the
neighboring state and they saw gleaming through the trees
faint rays of the sunshine with which that kingdom was
Here they came upon a small lonely cottage which the king
entered in order to find out where he was and ask directions
for moving forward.
A man was sitting at the table reading diligently from a
large open book. When the king bowed to him, he raised his
eyes, returned the greeting, and stood up. His whole
appearance showed that he was no ordinary man but a seer.
"I was just reading about you," he said to the king, "that
you were gone in search of the flaming horse. Exert
yourself no further, for you will never find him. But trust
the enterprise to me and I will get him for you."
"If you do that, my man," the king said, "I will pay you
"I seek no reward. Return home at once with your army, for
your people need you. Only leave here with me one of your
The king did exactly as the seer advised and went home at
 The next day the seer and his man set forth. They journeyed
far and long until they had crossed six different countries.
Then they went out into the seventh country which was ruled
over by three brothers who had married three sisters, the
daughters of a witch.
They made their way to the front of the royal palace, where
the seer said to his man: "Do you stay here while I go in
and find out whether the kings are at home. It is they who
stole the flaming horse and the youngest brother rides him."
Then the seer transformed himself into a green bird and flew
up to the window of the eldest queen and flitted about and
pecked until she opened the window and let him into her
chamber. When she let him in, he alighted on her white hand
and the queen was as happy as a child.
"You pretty thing!" she said, playing with him. "If my
husband were home how pleased he would be! But he's off
visiting a third of his kingdom and he won't be home until
Suddenly the old witch came into the room and as soon as she
saw the bird she shrieked to her daughter: "Wring the neck
of that cursed bird, or it will stain you with blood!"
 "Why would it stain me with blood, the dear innocent thing!"
"Dear innocent mischief!" shrieked the witch. "Here, give
it to me and I'll wring its neck!"
She tried to catch the bird, but the bird changed itself
into a man and was already out of the door before they knew
what had become of him.
After that he changed himself again into a green bird and
flew up to the window of the second sister. He pecked at it
until she opened it and let him in. Then he flitted about
her, settling first on one of her white hands, then on the
"What a dear bird you are!" cried the queen. "How you would
please my husband if he were at home. But he's off visiting
two-thirds of his kingdom and he won't be back until
At the moment the witch ran into the room and as soon as she
saw the bird she shrieked out: "Wring the neck of that
wretched bird, or it will stain you with blood!"
"Why should it stain me with blood?" the daughter answered.
"The dear innocent thing!"
"Dear innocent mischief!" shrieked the witch. "Here, give
it to me and I'll wring its neck!"
She reached out to catch the bird, but in less time
 than it
takes to clap a hand, the bird had changed itself into a man who
ran through the door and was gone before they knew where he
A moment later he again changed himself into a green bird
and flew up to the window of the youngest queen. He flitted
about and pecked until she opened the window and let him in.
Then he alighted at once on her white hand and this pleased
her so much that she laughed like a child and played with
"Oh, what a dear bird you are!" she cried. "How you would
delight my husband if he were home. But he's off visiting
all three parts of his kingdom and he won't be back until
the day after tomorrow in the evening."
At that moment the old witch rushed into the room. "Wring
the neck of that cursed bird!" she shrieked, "or it will
stain you with blood!"
"My dear mother," the queen answered, "why should it stain
me with blood—beautiful innocent creature that it is!"
"Beautiful innocent mischief!" shrieked the witch. "Here,
give it to me and I'll wring its neck!"
But at that moment the bird changed itself into a man,
disappeared though the door, and they never saw him again.
 The seer knew now where the kings were and when they would
come home. So he made his plans accordingly. He ordered
his servant to follow him and they set out from the city at
a quick pace. They went on until they came to a bridge
which the three kings as they came back would have to cross.
The seer and his man hid themselves under the bridge and lay
there in wait until evening. As the sun sank behind the
mountains, they heard the clatter of hoofs approaching the
bridge. It was the eldest king returning home. At the
bridge his horse stumbled on a log which the seer had rolled
"What scoundrel has thrown a log here?" cried the king
Instantly the seer leaped out from under the bridge and
demanded of the king how he dared to call him a scoundrel.
Clamoring for satisfaction he drew his sword and attacked
the king. The king, too, drew sword and defended
himself, but after a short struggle he fell from his horse
dead. The seer bound the dead king to his horse and then
with a cut of the whip started the horse homewards.
The seer hid himself again and he and his man lay in wait
until the next evening.
On that evening near sunset the second king came
 riding up
to the bridge. When he saw the ground sprinkled with blood,
he cried out: "Surely there has been a murder here! Who has
dared to commit such a crime in my kingdom!"
At these words the seer leaped out from under the bridge,
drew his sword, and shouted: "How dare you insult me? Defend
yourself as best you can!"
The king drew, but after a short struggle he, too, yielded
up his life to the sword of the seer.
The seer bound the dead king to his horse and with a cut of
the whip started the horse homewards.
Then the seer hid himself again under the bridge and he and
his man lay there in wait until the third evening.
On the third evening just at sunset the youngest king came
galloping home on the flaming steed. He was hurrying fast because
he had been delayed. But when he saw the red blood at the
bridge he stopped short and looked around.
"What audacious villain," he cried, "has dared to kill a man
in my kingdom!"
Hardly had he spoken when the seer stood before him with
drawn sword demanding satisfaction for the insult of his
 "I don't know how I've insulted you," the king said, "unless
you're the murderer."
When the seer refused to parley, the king, too, drew his
sword and defended himself.
To overcome the first two kings had been mere play for the
seer, but it was no play this time. They both fought until
their swords were broken and still victory was doubtful.
"We shall accomplish nothing with swords," the seer said.
"That is plain. I tell you what: let us turn ourselves into
wheels and start rolling down the hill and the wheel that
gets broken let him yield."
"Good!" said the king. "I'll be a cartwheel and you be a
"No, no," the seer answered quickly. "You be the light wheel
and I'll be the cartwheel."
To this the king agreed. So they went up the hill, turned
themselves into wheels and started rolling down. The
cartwheel went whizzing into the lighter wheel and broke its
"There!" cried the seer, rising up from the cartwheel. "I am
"Not so, brother, not so!" said the king, standing before
the seer. "You only broke my fingers! Now I tell you what: let
us change ourselves into two flames
 and let the flame that
burns up the other be victor. I'll be a red flame and do you
be a white one."
"Oh, no," the seer interrupted. "You be the white flame and
I'll be the red one."
The king agreed to this. So they went back to the road that
led to the bridge, turned themselves into flames, and began
burning each other mercilessly. But neither was able to
burn up the other.
Suddenly a beggar came down the road, an old man with a
long gray beard and a bald head, with a scrip at his side
and a heavy staff in his hand.
"Father," the white flame said, "get some water and pour it
on the red flame and I will give you a penny."
But the red flame called out quickly: "Not so, father! Get
some water and pour it on the white flame and I'll give you
Now of course the shilling appealed to the beggar more than
the penny. So he got some water, poured it on the white
flame and that was the end of the king.
The red flame turned into a man who seized the flaming horse
by the bridle, mounted him and, after he had rewarded the
beggar, called his servant and rode off.
Meanwhile at the royal palace there was deep sorrow for
the murdered kings. The halls were draped
 in black and
people came from miles around to gaze at the mutilated
bodies of the two elder brothers which the horses had
The old witch was beside herself with rage. As soon as she
had devised a plan whereby she could avenge the murder of her
sons-in-law, she took her three daughters under her arm,
mounted an iron rake, and sailed off through the air.
The seer and his man had already covered a good part of
their journey and were hurrying on over rough mountains and
across desert plains, when the servant was taken with a
terrible hunger. There wasn't anything in sight that he
could eat, not even a wild berry. Then suddenly they came
upon an apple tree that was bending beneath a load of ripe
fruit. The apples were red and pleasant to the sight and
sent out a fragrance that was most inviting.
The servant was delighted. "Glory to God!" he cried. "Now
I can feast to my heart's content on these apples!"
He was already running to the tree when the seer called him
"Wait! Don't touch them! I will pick them for you myself!"
But instead of picking an apple, the seer drew his
 sword and
struck a mighty blow into the apple tree. Red blood gushed
"Just see, my man! You would have perished if you had eaten
one apple. This apple tree is the eldest queen, whom her
mother, the witch, placed here for our destruction."
Presently they came to a spring. Its water bubbled up clear
as crystal and most tempting to the tired traveler.
"Ah," said the servant, since we can get nothing better, at
least we can take a drink of this good water."
"Wait!" cried the seer. "I will draw some for you."
But instead of drawing water he plunged his naked sword into
the middle of the spring. Instantly it was covered with
blood and blood began to spurt from the spring in thick
"This is the second queen, whom her mother, the witch,
placed here to work our doom."
Presently they came to a rosebush covered with beautiful
red roses that scented all the air with their fragrance.
"What beautiful roses!" said the servant. "I have never
seen any such in all my life. I'll go pluck a few. As I
can't eat or drink, I'll comfort myself with roses."
 "Don't dare to pluck them!" cried the seer. "I'll pluck them
With that he cut into the bush with his sword and red blood
splurted out as though he had cut a human vein.
"This is the youngest queen," said the seer, "whom her
mother, the witch, placed here in the hope of revenging
herself on us for the death of her sons-in-law."
After that they proceeded without further adventures.
When they crossed the boundaries of the dark kingdom, the
sun in the horse's forehead sent out its blessed rays in all
directions. Everything came to life. The earth rejoiced
and covered itself with flowers.
The king felt he could never thank the seer enough and
he offered him the half of his kingdom.
But the seer replied: "You are the king. Keep on ruling
over the whole of your kingdom and let me return to my
cottage in peace."
He bade the king farewell and departed.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics