64 NINE PEA-HENS AND GOLDEN APPLES
'Give me your advice; what shall I do — have my sapper as usual, or set out in pursuit of them?'
' Eat your supper with a free mind first,' answered the horse, 'and follow them afterwards.'
So the dragon ate till it was past mid-day, and when he could eat no more he mounted his horse and set out after the fugitives. In a short time he had come up with them, and as he snatched the empress out of her saddle he said to the prince :
' This time I will forgive you, because you brought me the water when I was in the cask; but beware how you return here, or you will pay for it with your life.'
Half mad with grief, the prince rode sadly on a little further, hardly knowing what he was doing. Then he could bear it no longer and turned back to the palace, in spite of the dragon's threats. Again the empress was sitting alone, and once more they began to think of a scheme by which they could escape the dragon's power.
' Ask the dragon when he comes home,' said the prince, ' where he got that wonderful horse from, and then you can tell me, and I will try to find another like it'
Then, fearing to meet his enemy, he stole out of the castle.
Soon after the dragon came home, and the empress sat down near him, and began to coax and flatter him into a good humour, and at last she said :
' But tell me about that wonderful horse you were riding yesterday. There cannot be another like it in the whole world. Where did you get it from ?'
And he answered:
' The way I got it is a way which no one else can take. On the top of a high mountain dwells an old woman, who has in her stables twelve horses, each one more beautiful than the other. And in one corner is a thin, wretched-looking animal whom no one would glance at a second time, but he is in reality the best of