10 THE DRAGON OF THE NORTH
or learned man to be found who would be able to explain the inscription.
At last a young man, with a good heart and plenty of courage, set out to search for the ring. He took his way towards the sun-rising, because he knew that all the wisdom of old time comes from the East. After some years he met with a famous Eastern magician, and asked for his advice in the matter. The magician answered:
' Mortal men have but little wisdom, and can give you no help, but the birds of the air would be better guides to you if you could learn their language. I can help you to understand it if you will stay with me a few days.'
The youth thankfully accepted the magician's offer, and said, ' I cannot now offer you any reward for your kindness, but should my undertaking succeed your trouble shall be richly repaid.'
Then the magician brewed a powerful potion out of nine sorts of herbs which he had gathered himself all alone by moonlight, and he gave the youth nine spoonfuls of it daily for three days, which made him able to understand the language of birds.
At parting the magician said to him, ' If you ever find Solomon's ring and get possession of it, then come back to me, that I may explain the inscription on the ring to you, for there is no one else in the world who can do this,5
From that time the youth never felt lonely as he walked along; he always had company, because he understood the language of birds; and in this way he learned many things which mere human knowledge could never have taught him. But time went on, and he h^ard nothing about the ring. It happened one evening, when he was hot and tired with walking, and had sat down under a tree in a forest to eat his supper, that he saw two gaily-plumaged birds, that were strange to him, sitting at the top of the tree talking to one another about him. The first bird said :
' I know that wandering fool under the tree there, who has come so far without finding what he seeks. He is trying to find King Solomon's lost ring.'
The other bird answered, ' He will have to seek help from the Witch-maiden,1 who will doubtless be able to put him on the right track. If she has not got the ring herself, she knows well enough who has it.'
' But where is he to find the Witch-maiden ? ' said the first