168 THE FAIRY OF THE DAWN
Thus spoke the emperor, and Petru picked up his hat and went to find his brothers.
The three young men took counsel together, and talked the subject well over, as brothers should do. And the end of it was that Florea, as the eldest, went to the stables, chose the best and handsomest horse they contained, saddled him, and took leave of the court.
' I am starting at once,' said he to his brothers, ' and if after a year, a month, a week, and a day I have not returned with the water from the spring of the Fairy of the Dawn, you, Costan, had better come after me.' So saying he disappeared round a corner of the palace.
For three days and three nights he never drew rein. Like a spirit the horse flew over mountains and valleys till he came to the borders of the empire. Here was a deep, deep trench that girdled it the whole way round, and there was only a single bridge by which the trench could be crossed. Florea made instantly for the bridge, and there pulled up to look around him ouce more, to take leave of his native land. Then he turned, but before him was standing a dragon — oh! such a dragon! — a dragon with three heads and three horrible faces, all with their mouths wide open, one jaw reaching to heaven and the other to earth.
At this awful sight Florea did not wait to give battle. He put spurs to his horse and dashed off, ivhere he neither knew nor cared.
The dragon heaved a sigh and vanished without leaving a trace behind him.
A week went by. Florea did not return home. Two passed; and nothing was heard of him. After a month Costan began to haunt the stables and to look out a horse for himself. And the moment the year, the month, the week, and the day were over Costan mounted his horse and took leave of his youngest brother.
' If I fail, then you come,' said he, and followed the path that Florea had taken.