The Magician's Horse by Andrew Lang
Once upon a time, there was a king who had three sons. Now it
happened that one day the three princes went out hunting in a large
forest at some distance from their father's palace, and the youngest
prince lost his way, so his brothers had to return home without him.
For four days the prince wandered through the glades of the forest,
sleeping on moss beneath the stars at night, and by day living on roots
and wild berries. At last, on the morning of the fifth day, he came to
a large open space in the middle of the forest, and here stood a
stately palace; but neither within nor without was there a trace of
human life. The prince entered the open door and wandered through the
deserted rooms without seeing a living soul. At last he came on a great
hall, and in the centre of the hall was a table spread with dainty
dishes and choice wines. The prince sat down, and satisfied his hunger
and thirst, and immediately afterwards the table disappeared from his
sight. This struck the prince as very strange; but though he continued
his search through all the rooms, upstairs and down, he could find no
one to speak to. At last, just as it was beginning to get dark, he
heard steps in the distance and he saw an old man coming towards him up
'What are you doing wandering about my castle?' asked the old man.
To whom the prince replied: 'I lost my way hunting in the forest. If
you will take me into your service, I should like to stay with you, and
will serve you faithfully.'
'Very well,' said the old man. 'You may enter my service. You will
have to keep the stove always lit, you will have to fetch the wood for
it from the forest, and you will have the charge of the black horse in
the stables. I will pay you a florin a day, and at meal times you will
always find the table in the hall spread with food and wine, and you
can eat and drink as much as you require.'
The prince was satisfied, and he entered the old man's service, and
promised to see that there was always wood on the stove, so that the
fire should never die out. Now, though he did not know it, his new
master was a magician, and the flame of the stove was a magic fire, and
if it had gone out the magician would have lost a great part of his
One day the prince forgot, and let the fire burn so low that it very
nearly burnt out. Just as the flame was flickering the old man stormed
into the room.
'What do you mean by letting the fire burn so low?' he growled. 'I
have only arrived in the nick of time.' And while the prince hastily
threw a log on the stove and blew on the ashes to kindle a glow, his
master gave him a severe box on the ear, and warned him that if ever it
happened again it would fare badly with him.
One day the prince was sitting disconsolate in the stables when, to
his surprise, the black horse spoke to him.
'Come into my stall,' it said, 'I have something to say to you.
Fetch my bridle and saddle from that cupboard and put them on me. Take
the bottle that is beside them; it contains an ointment which will make
your hair shine like pure gold; then put all the wood you can gather
together on to the stove, till it is piled quite high up.'
So the prince did what the horse told him; he saddled and bridled
the horse, he put the ointment on his hair till it shone like gold, and
he made such a big fire in the stove that the flames sprang up and set
fire to the roof, and in a few minutes the palace was burning like a
Then he hurried back to the stables, and the horse said to him:
'There is one thing more you must do. In the cupboard you will find a
looking-glass, a brush and a riding-whip. Bring them with you, mount on
my back, and ride as hard as you can, for now the house is burning
The prince did as the horse bade him. Scarcely had he got into the
saddle than the horse was off and away, galloping at such a pace that,
in a short time, the forest and all the country belonging to the
magician lay far behind them.
In the meantime the magician returned to his palace, which he found
in smouldering ruins. In vain he called for his servant. At last he
went to look for him in the stables, and when he discovered that the
black horse had disappeared too, he at once suspected that they had
gone together; so he mounted a roan horse that was in the next stall,
and set out in pursuit.
As the prince rode, the quick ears of his horse heard the sound of
'Look behind you,' he said, 'and see if the old man is following.'
And the prince turned in his saddle and saw a cloud like smoke or dust
in the distance.
'We must hurry,' said the horse.
After they had galloped for some time, the horse said again: 'Look
behind, and see if he is still at some distance.'
'He is quite close,' answered the prince.
'Then throw the looking-glass on the ground,' said the horse. So the
prince threw it; and when the magician came up, the roan horse stepped
on the mirror, and crash! his foot went through the glass, and he
stumbled and fell, cutting his feet so badly that there was nothing for
the old man to do but to go slowly back with him to the stables, and
put new shoes on his feet. Then they started once more in pursuit of
the prince, for the magician set great value on the horse, and was
determined not to lose it.
In the meanwhile the prince had gone a great distance; but the quick
ears of the black horse detected the sound of following feet from afar.
'Dismount,' he said to the prince; 'put your ear to the ground, and
tell me if you do not hear a sound.'
So the prince dismounted and listened. 'I seem to hear the earth
tremble,' he said; 'I think he cannot be very far off.'
'Mount me at once,' answered the horse, 'and I will gallop as fast
as I can.' And he set off so fast that the earth seemed to fly from
under his hoofs.
'Look back once more,' he said, after a short time, 'and see if he
is in sight.'
'I see a cloud and a flame,' answered the prince; 'but a long way
'We must make haste,' said the horse. And shortly after he said:
'Look back again; he can't be far off now.'
The prince turned in his saddle, and exclaimed: 'He is close behind
us, in a minute the flame from his horse's nostrils will reach us.'
'Then throw the brush on the ground,' said the horse.
And the prince threw it, and in an instant the brush was changed
into such a thick wood that even a bird could not have got through it,
and when the old man got up to it the roan horse came suddenly to a
stand-still, not able to advance a step into the thick tangle. So there
was nothing for the magician to do but to retrace his steps, to fetch
an axe, with which he cut himself a way through the wood. But it took
him some time, during which the prince and the black horse got on well
But once more they heard the sound of pursuing feet. 'Look back,'
said the black horse, 'and see if he is following.'
'Yes,' answered the prince, 'this time I hear him distinctly.
'Let us hurry on,' said the horse. And a little later he said: 'Look
back now, and see if he is in sight.'
'Yes,' said the prince, turning round, 'I see the flame; he is close
'Then you must throw down the whip,' answered the horse.' And in the
twinkling of an eye the whip was changed into a broad river. When the
old man got up to it he urged the roan horse into the water, but as the
water mounted higher and higher, the magic flame which gave the
magician all his power grew smaller and smaller, till, with a fizz, it
went out, and the old man and the roan horse sank in the river and
disappeared. When the prince looked round they were no longer to be
'Now,' said the horse, 'you may dismount; there is nothing more to
fear, for the magician is dead. Beside that brook you will find a
willow wand. Gather it, and strike the earth with it, and it will open
and you will see a door at your feet.'
When the prince had struck the earth with the wand a door appeared,
and opened into a large vaulted stone hall.
'Lead me into that hall,' said the horse, 'I will stay there; but
you must go through the fields till you reach a garden, in the midst of
which is a king's palace. When you get there you must ask to be taken
into the king's service. Good-bye, and don't forget me.'
So they parted; but first the horse made the prince promise not to
let anyone in the palace see his golden hair. So he bound a scarf round
it, like a turban, and the prince set out through the fields, till he
reached a beautiful garden, and beyond the garden he saw the walls and
towers of a stately palace. At the garden gate he met the gardener, who
asked him what he wanted.
'I want to take service with the king,' replied the prince.
'Well, you may stay and work under me in the garden,' said the man;
for as the prince was dressed like a poor man, he could not tell that
he was a king's son. 'I need someone to weed the ground and to sweep
the dead leaves from the paths. You shall have a florin a day, a horse
to help you to cart the leaves away, and food and drink.'
So the prince consented, and set about his work. But when his food
was given to him he only ate half of it; the rest he carried to the
vaulted hall beside the brook, and gave to the black horse. And this he
did every day, and the horse thanked him for his faithful friendship.
One evening, as they were together, after his work in the garden was
over, the horse said to him: 'To-morrow a large company of princes and
great lords are coming to your king's palace. They are coming from far
and near, as wooers for the three princesses. They will all stand in a
row in the courtyard of the palace, and the three princesses will come
out, and each will carry a diamond apple in her hand, which she will
throw into the air. At whosesoever feet the apple falls he will be the
bridegroom of that princess. You must be close by in the garden at your
work. The apple of the youngest princess, who is much the most
beautiful of the sisters, will roll past the wooers and stop in front
of you. Pick it up at once and put it in your pocket.'
The next day, when the wooers were all assembled in the courtyard of
the castle, everything happened just as the horse had said. The
princesses threw the apples into the air, and the diamond apple of the
youngest princess rolled past all the wooers, out on to the garden, and
stopped at the feet of the young gardener, who was busy sweeping the
leaves away. In a moment he had stooped down, picked up the apple and
put it in his pocket. As he stooped the scarf round his head slipped a
little to one side, and the princess caught sight of his golden hair,
and loved him from that moment.
But the king was very sad, for his youngest daughter was the one he
loved best. But there was no help for it; and the next day a threefold
wedding was celebrated at the palace, and after the wedding the
youngest princess returned with her husband to the small hut in the
garden where he lived.
Some time after this the people of a neighbouring country went to
war with the king, and he set out to battle, accompanied by the
husbands of his two eldest daughters mounted on stately steeds. But the
husband of the youngest daughter had nothing but the old broken-down
horse which helped him in his garden work; and the king, who was
ashamed of this son-in-law, refused to give him any other.
So as he was determined not to be left behind, he went into the
garden, mounted the sorry nag, and set out. But scarcely had he ridden
a few yards before the horse stumbled and fell. So he dismounted and
went down to the brook, to where the black horse lived in the vaulted
hall. And the horse said to him: 'Saddle and bridle me, and then go
into the next room and you will find a suit of armour and a sword. Put
them on, and we will ride forth together to battle.'
And the prince did as he was told; and when he had mounted the horse
his armour glittered in the sun, and he looked so brave and handsome,
that no one would have recognised him as the gardener who swept away
the dead leaves from the paths. The horse bore him away at a great
pace, and when they reached the battle-field they saw that the king was
losing the day, so many of his warriors had been slain. But when the
warrior on his black charger and in glittering armour appeared on the
scene, hewing right and left with his sword, the enemy were dismayed
and fled in all directions, leaving the king master of the field. Then
the king and his two sons-in-law, when they saw their deliverer,
shouted, and all that was left of the army joined in the cry: 'A god
has come to our rescue!' And they would have surrounded him, but his
black horse rose in the air and bore him out of their sight.
Soon after this, part of the country rose in rebellion against the
king, and once more he and his two sons-in-law had to fare forth to
battle. And the son-in-law who was disguised as a gardener wanted to
fight too. So he came to the king and said: 'Dear father, let me ride
with you to fight your enemies.'
'I don't want a blockhead like you to fight for me,' answered the
king. 'Besides, I haven't got a horse fit for you. But see, there is a
carter on the road carting hay; you may take his horse.'
So the prince took the carter's horse, but the poor beast was old
and tired, and after it had gone a few yards it stumbled and fell. So
the prince returned sadly to the garden and watched the king ride forth
at the head of the army accompanied by his two sons-in-law. When they
were out of sight the prince betook himself to the vaulted chamber by
the brook-side, and having taken counsel of the faithful black horse,
he put on the glittering suit of armour, and was borne on the back of
the horse through the air, to where the battle was being fought. And
once more he routed the king's enemies, hacking to right and left with
his sword. And again they all cried: 'A god has come to our rescue!'
But when they tried to detain him the black horse rose in the air and
bore him out of their sight.
When the king and his sons-in-law returned home they could talk of
nothing but the hero who had fought for them, and all wondered who he
Shortly afterwards the king of a neighbouring country declared war,
and once more the king and his sons-in-law and his subjects had to
prepare themselves for battle, and once more the prince begged to ride
with them, but the king said he had no horse to spare for him. 'But,'
he added, 'you may take the horse of the woodman who brings the wood
from the forest, it is good enough for you.'
So the prince took the woodman's horse, but it was so old and
useless that it could not carry him beyond the castle gates. So he
betook himself once more to the vaulted hall, where the black horse had
prepared a still more magnificent suit of armour for him than the one
he had worn on the previous occasions, and when he had put it on, and
mounted on the back of the horse, he bore him straight to the
battle-field, and once more he scattered the king's enemies, fighting
single-handed in their ranks, and they fled in all directions. But it
happened that one of the enemy struck with his sword and wounded the
prince in the leg. And the king took his own pocket-handkerchief, with
his name and crown embroidered on it, and bound it round the wounded
leg. And the king would fain have compelled him to mount in a litter
and be carried straight to the palace, and two of his knights were to
lead the black charger to the royal stables. But the prince put his
hand on the mane of his faithful horse, and managed to pull himself up
into the saddle, and the horse mounted into the air with him. Then they
all shouted and cried: 'The warrior who has fought for us is a god! He
must be a god.'
And throughout all the kingdom nothing else was spoken about, and
all the people said: 'Who can the hero be who has fought for us in so
many battles? He cannot be a man, he must be a god.'
And the king said: 'If only I could see him once more, and if it
turned out that after all he was a man and not a god, I would reward
him with half my kingdom.'
Now when the prince reached his home—the gardener's hut where he
lived with his wife—he was weary, and he lay down on his bed and
slept. And his wife noticed the handkerchief bound round his wounded
leg, and she wondered what it could be. Then she looked at it more
closely and saw in the corner that it was embroidered with her father's
name and the royal crown. So she ran straight to the palace and told
her father. And he and his two sons-in-law followed her back to her
house, and there the gardener lay asleep on his bed. And the scarf that
he always wore bound round his head had slipped off, and his golden
hair gleamed on the pillow. And they all recognised that this was the
hero who had fought and won so many battles for them.
Then there was great rejoicing throughout the land, and the king
rewarded his son-in-law with half of his kingdom, and he and his wife
reigned happily over it.