Prince Charming, the tear-begotten - (pages 13-14)
The following morning the Prince’s year of service was up. The old witch was bound to give him one of the horses and let him go his own way. As they were having their midday meal she went into the stable, plucked the hearts out of the seven horses and stuck them all into the body of a three-year old, as thin as a bag of bones. The Prince rose from the table, and prompted by the witch, went to choose the horse he was going to take. The horses that were emptied of their hearts had shining black coats; the three-year old possessed of hearts lay in a corner, upon a dung-heap.
«This one I’ll have,» the Prince said, pointing at the lean horse.
«Now, God forbid that your work should go unrewarded!» the cunning old hag said. «Why not take your due? Choose one of those fine horses... Whichever you want, and you’ll have it.»
«Nay, this is the one I want» the Prince said sticking to his choice.
The witch ground her teeth as if out of her mind, but soon closed that loose mouth of hers lest the gall boiling in her evil heart should gush out.
«All right then, take it!» she said at last.
He mounted the horse, his club upon his shoulder. The face of the desert seemed to follow upon his trail and he flew like thought, like a whirlwind amid the clouds of sand in his wake.
The runaway servant girl was waiting for him in a forest. He placed her on the horse behind him and never stopped racing.
Night breathed upon the earth a cool, black breath.
«A feel a burn in my back,» the girl said.
The Prince turned to look. There was a greenish whirlwind on high, out of which two fiery red eyes shone fixedly, their flame-like gaze piercing the girl’s entrails.
«Throw the brush,» said the girl.
The Prince did so. And lo! Behind them rose a large, thick, dark forest, alive with and endless stir of leaves and the howling of hungry wolves.
«Forward,» the Prince shouted at the horse that shot through the dark night like a demon fleeing its cursed doom. A pale moon was gliding among gray clouds, like a clear face across troubled and meaningless dreams. Prince Charming flew and never stopped.
«I feel a burn in my back,» the girl moaned heavily as if she had repressed it for a long time.
The Prince turned and saw a large, gray owl; its eyes alone shone like two lightning bolts from within a cloud.
«Hurl the whetstone», the girl said.
The Prince did so.
Suddenly a gray peak sprang up, stunned, immovable, a horror-stricken stone giant, its head in the clouds.
The Prince whizzed through the air so fast he thought he was not galloping at all, but just tumbling from heaven into a bottomless pit.
«It’s burning hot,» the girl said.
The witch had worked a hole in the rock and was coming through it as a trail of smoke, a burning ember.
«Hurl the neckerchief,» he girl said.
The Prince did so.
Suddenly, a smooth expanse of water appeared behind them, clear and deep; the silver moon and fiery stars were mirrored in that fair glassy lake.
The Prince heard a long drawn-out charm floating in he air and searched the clouds. High up in the heavens Old Midnight was smoothly floating upon its copper wings in the blue distance, two hours before its time. The hag was struggling, as if out of her mind, already half-way across the silvery lake. Prince Charming hurled his club into the clouds and struck the wings of Midnight. It fell to the ground like lead, giving twelve pitiful cracks.
The moon hid behind a cloud while the hag, overcome with leaden sleep, sunk into the mysterious spellbound depth of the lake. A tuft of tall black grasses rose in the middle of the lake. It stood for the witch’s doomed soul.
«We’re through,» the girl said.
«We’re through,» the seven-hearted horse echoed. «My Prince,» she added, «you’ve struck down the Midnight two hours before her time and I can feel the sand writhing under my feet. The skeletons lying buried in the hot sand will rise and start to soar to the moon for their feasts. It is dangerous to be wandering about at this hour. The damp poisoned air of the dead specters might kill you. Better lie down; meanwhile I will go back and suck once more the white invigorating milk of my mother that I may turn fine-looking and sleek-coated again.»
Prince Charming agreed. He dismounted and spread his coat upon the sand that was still hot.
The girl’s eyes were strangely sunken beneath her brow, the bones and joints of her face were showing; the dark skin had turned purple; her hand was heavy as lead and as cold as ice.
«What’s wrong?» the Prince asked.
«Nothing, it’s nothing,» she said in a faint voice and lay in the sands shaking as if possessed.
The Prince let the horse loose, then lay upon the coat he had spread.
He fell asleep, but thought he was awake. The lids of his eyes were red-hot and through the glare he thought the moon was slowly climbing down, growing ever larger as it did so, until it looked like a celestial, silvery city suspended between earth and sky, ablaze in its splendor... with tall, white palaces, thousands of rose-colored windows; an imperial road was leading down to earth, covered with silver pebbles blown over with moonbeam dust.
Meanwhile the wide dreary deserts were teeming with tall skeletons... dry-bony skulls... clad in long thin robes, of loose silver tissue hardly covering the white dried-up bones. They wore crowns upon their heads made of flashes of light and long gilded thorns... mounted upon skeleton horses they slowly climbed, quite slowly... in long procession... long rows of shifting silvery shadows. ... They went the way of the moon, disappearing into the lifeless palaces of that moony city through the windows of which some strains of music, a music of dreams came out.