THE WATER OF LIFE 185
But one day, as the brothers were as usual doing the honours to their guests, an old man turned to them and said, ' Yes, it is all most beautiful, but there is still something it needs.'
' And what may that be ? '
' A pitcher of the water of life, a branch of the tree the smell of whose flowers gives eternal beauty, and the talking bird.'
' And where am I to find all those ? '
' Go to the mountain that is far off yonder, and you will find what you seek.'
After the old man had bowed politely and taken farewell of them the eldest brother said to the rest, ' I will go in search of the water of life, and the talking bird, and the tree of beauty.'
'But suppose some evil thing befalls you?' asked his sister. 'How shall we know?'
'You are right,' he replied; 'I had not thought of that! '
Then they followed the old man, and said to him, ' My eldest brother wishes to seek for the water of life, and the tree of beauty, and the talking bird, that you tell him are needful to make our palace perfect. But how shall we know if any evil thing befall him?'
So the old man took them a knife, and gave it to them, saying, ' Keep this carefully, and as long as the blade is bright all is well; but if the blade is bloody, then know that evil has befallen him.'
The brothers thanked him, and departed, and went straight to the palace, where they found the young man making ready to set out for the mountain where the treasures he longed for lay hid.
And he walked, and he walked, and he walked, till he had gone a great way, and there he met a giant.
' Can you tell me how much further I have still to go before I reach that mountain yonder? '
' And why do you wish to go there?'