Once upon a time something extraordinary happened. If it had not happened it would not be told.
There was once an emperor and empress who were childless. So they sought out all the wizards and witches, all the old women and astrologers; but their skill proved vain, no one knew how to help them. At last the royal pair devoted themselves to almsgiving, praying, and fasting, until one night the empress dreamed that the Lord had taken pity on her, and appearing to her, said: “I have heard your prayers, and will give you a child whose like can not be found on earth. Your husband, the emperor, must go to the brook to-morrow with a hook and line, then you are to prepare with your own hands the fish he catches, and eat it.”
Before it was fairly daylight, the empress went to the emperor and woke him, saying: “Rise, my royal husband, it is morning.”
“Why, what ails you to-day, wife, that you wake me so early?” the emperor replied. “Has any foe crossed the frontiers of my country?”
“Heaven forbid. I’ve heard nothing of that sort, but listen to my dream.”
And she told him about it.
When the emperor heard her story he jumped out of bed, dressed, took the hook and line, and, gasping for breath, went to the brook. He threw in the hook and soon saw the cork on the line bob. He pulled it out, and what did he see? A big fish, made entirely of gold. It was a wonder that he did not die of joy. But what did the empress say when she saw it? She was still more out of her wits.
The empress cooked the fish with her own hands, the royal couple ate it, and the empress instantly felt that the promise would be fulfilled.
The maid-servant who cleared away the table saw a fish-bone on the empress’ plate, and thought she would suck it, to know how food tastes when prepared by royal hands.
One day the empress received the gift of a beautiful boy, as handsome as a little angel. That same night the maid-servant, too, had a son who looked so exactly like the prince that they could not be distinguished from each other. The maid-servant’s child precisely resembled the royal one. The prince was named Busujok, the maid-servant’s son was called Siminok.
They grew up together, were taught their lessons, and learned as much in one day as other children in a whole year. When they were playing in the garden, the empress watched them from her window with great delight.
They became tall youths and looked so much alike that people could never tell which was the prince and which the maid-servant’s son. They were haughty in bearing, both were charming, winning in speech, and brave, brave to a fault.
One day they determined to go hunting. But the empress was constantly fretting herself to find some way of recognizing her own son, for as their faces were alike and their clothes precisely the same, she often could not distinguish one from the other. She therefore thought of putting some mark on the prince. So she called him, and while pretending to be playing with his hair, knotted two locks together without his knowledge. Then the youths went off to hunt.
They hurried joyously through the green fields, skipped about like lambkins, gathered flowers, sprinkled themselves with dew, watched the butterflies flit from blossom to blossom, saw the bees gather wax and honey, and enjoyed themselves to the utmost. Then they went to the springs, drank some water to refresh themselves, and gazed unweariedly at the sky, which met the earth on the horizon. They would fain have gone to the end of the world to see it close at hand, or at least far enough to reach the spot where the earth grows marshy before it comes to an end.
Next they went into the woods. When they saw the beauties of the forest, they stood still with mouths wide open in astonishment. Consider that they had not beheld any of these things in their whole lives. When the wind blew and stirred the leaves, they listened to their rustling, and it seemed as if the empress was passing by, drawing her silken train after her. Then they sat down on the soft grass, under the shade of a big tree. Here they began to reflect and consult each other about how they were to commence hunting. They wanted to kill nothing but wild beasts. They did not notice the birds which hopped around them and perched on the boughs of the trees; they would have been sorry to hurt them, for they liked to listen to their twitter. It seemed as if the birds knew this; they showed no fear, but sang as if they were going to split their throats; the nightingales, however, trilled only from their craws, that their songs might be the sweeter. While they stood there consulting, the prince suddenly felt so overwhelmed with fatigue that he could hold out no longer, but laying his head in Siminok’s lap, asked him to stroke his hair.
While he was doing so, Siminok stopped and said:
“What is the matter with your head, Brother Busujok?”
“What should be the matter? How do I know, Brother Siminok?”
“Just see,” replied Siminok, “two locks of your hair are tied together.”
“How is that possible?” said Busujok. This discovery vexed the prince so much that he determined to go out into the wide world.
“Brother Siminok,” he said, “I’m going out into the wide world, because I can’t understand why my mother tied my hair while she was playing with it.”
“Listen to reason, Brother Busujok, and do nothing of the sort,” replied Siminok; “if the empress tied your hair, it certainly was not for any evil purpose.”
But Busujok remained firm in his resolve, and when he took leave of Siminok, he said to him:
“Take this handkerchief, Brother Siminok, and if you ever see three drops of blood on it, you will know that I am dead.”
“May the Lord help you, Brother Busujok, that you may prosper; but I beg you once more by my love, stay!”
“Impossible,” replied Busujok.
Then the youths embraced each other, and Busujok departed; Siminok remained behind, gazing longingly after him till he was out of sight.
Siminok then returned to the palace and related all that had happened.
The empress was insane with grief. She wrung her hands and wept till it was pitiful to see her. But she did not know what to do, and at last comforted herself a little by gazing at Siminok. After some time the latter took out the prince’s handkerchief, looked at it, and saw three drops of blood on it. Then he said:
“Oh! my royal brother is dead. I shall go and look for him.”
Taking some provisions for the journey, he set out in search of Busujok. He passed through cities and villages, crossed fields and forests, wandering on and on till he reached a small hut. There he met an old woman, whom he asked about his brother. The crone told him that Busujok had become the son of the emperor who reigned in the neighborhood.
When Siminok reached this emperor’s palace, the princess, as soon as she saw him, thought that he was her husband and came running to meet him. But he said: “I am your husband’s brother; I have heard that he is dead, and came here to learn something about him.”
“I can not believe it,” replied the princess. “You are my husband, and I don’t know why you deny it. Has my faith been put to any test, and have I ever deceived you?”
“Nothing of the sort. But I tell you truthfully that I am not your husband.”
The princess would not believe this, so Siminok said:
“The Lord will show the truth. Let the sword hanging on yonder nail scratch whichever of us two is mistaken.”
Instantly the sword sprang down and cut the princess’ finger. Then she believed Siminok, and gave him the hospitality which was his due.
The next day he learned that Busujok had gone out hunting and had not yet returned. So he, too, mounted a horse, took some greyhounds, and rode after his brother, following the direction in which he had gone. He rode on and on till he reached a forest, where he met the Wood Witch. As soon as he saw her, he set off after her. She fled, he pursued, until perceiving no way of escape she swung herself up into a tall tree.
Siminok dismounted, tied his horse to a tree, made a fire, took out his provisions, and began to eat, occasionally tossing the greyhounds something.
“Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I’m so cold,” said the Wood Witch, “my teeth are chattering.”
“Get down and warm yourself by the fire,” replied Siminok.
“I’m afraid of the dogs,” she said.
“Don’t be frightened, they’ll do you no harm.”
“If you want to do me a favor,” the Wood Witch answered, “take a strand of my hair and tie your dogs with it.”
Siminok put the hair in the fire.
“Oh! how horribly the hair I gave you smells—you have put it in the fire.”
“Go away from here and don’t talk any more nonsense,” replied Siminok. “One of the hounds put its tail a little too near the fire and scorched it, that’s what smells so badly. If you are cold, come down and warm yourself, if not, hold your tongue and let me alone.”
The Wood Witch believed him, came down, approached the fire, and said:
“I am hungry.”
“What shall I give you to eat? Take what you want of all I have.”
“I should like to eat you,” said the Wood Witch, “prepare for it.”
“And I will devour you,” replied Siminok.
He set the hounds upon her to tear her to pieces.
“Stop,” cried the Wood Witch, “call off your dogs that they may not tear me, and I’ll give you back your brother with his horse, hounds, and all.”
Siminok called off the dogs.
The Wood Witch swallowed three times and up came Busujok, his horse, and his dogs. Siminok now set his hounds upon her, and they tore her into mince-meat. When Busujok recovered his senses, he wondered at seeing Siminok there and said:
“Welcome, I’m glad to meet you so well and gay, Brother Siminok, but I’ve been asleep a very long time.”
“You might have slept soundly till the end of the world, if I had not come?” he replied.
Then Siminok told him every thing that had happened from their parting until that moment.
But Busujok suspected him; he thought that Siminok had won his wife’s love, and would not believe him when he told him the simple truth—that such an idea had never entered his head.
Now that Busujok had once begun to be jealous of his bride, he acted like a lunatic! So, being overpowered by evil thoughts, he made an agreement with Siminok to bandage the eyes of their horses, mount them, and let them carry their riders wherever they would.
This was done. When Busujok heard a groan he stopped his horse, untied the bandage, and looked around him. Siminok was nowhere to be seen. Just think! He had fallen into a spring, been drowned, and never came out again!
Busujok returned home and questioned his wife; she told just the same story as Siminok. Then, to be still more certain of the truth, he, too, ordered the sword to jump down from the wall and scratch the one who was wrong. The sword leaped down and wounded his middle finger.
The prince pined away, lamenting and weeping bitterly for the loss of Siminok, and sorely repenting his undue haste, but all was vain, nothing could be changed. So, in his grief and anguish, he resolved not to live any longer without his brother, ordered his own eyes and those of his horse to be bandaged, mounted it, and bade it hasten to the forest where Siminok had perished. The horse went as fast as it could, and plump! it tumbled into the very same spring where Siminok had fallen, and there Busujok, too, ended his days. But at the same time the morning star, the emperor’s son Busujok, and the evening star, the maid-servant’s son Siminok, appeared in the sky.