NINE PEA-HENS AND GOLDEN APPLES 65
the lot. He is twin brother to my own horse, and can fly as high as the clouds themselves. But no one can ever get this horse without first serving the old woman for three whole days. And besides the horses she has a foal and its mother, and the man who serves her must look after them for three whole days, and if he does not let them run away he will in the end get the choice of any horse as a present from the old woman. But if he fails to keep the foal and its mother safe on any one of the three nights his head will pay.'
The next day the prince watched till the dragon left the house, and then he crept in to the empress, who told him all she had learnt from her gaoler. The prince at once determined to seek the old woman on the top of the mountain, and lost no time in setting out. It was a long and steep climb, but at last he found her, and with a low bow he began:
' Good greeting to you, little mother !'
' Good greeting to you, my son ! What are you doing here?'
' I wish to become your servant,' answered he.
'So you shall,' said the old woman. ' If you can take care of my mare for three days I will give you a horse for wages, but if you let her stray you will lose your head'; and as she spoke she led him into a courtyard surrounded with palings, and on every post a man's head was stuck. One post only was empty, and as they passed it cried out:
' Woman, give me the head I am waiting for!'
The old woman made no answer, but turned to the prince and said :
' Look ! all those men took service with me, on the same conditions as you, but not one was able to guard the mare!'
But the prince did not waver, and declared he would abide by his words.
When evening came he led the mare out of the stable