THERE was, and there was not at all (of God's best may it be!), there was once a woman. This woman's husband had died young, and left her four little children: three boys and one girl.
When the children were grown up, their mother said: 'Children, why do you not look after your patrimony? why do you leave it thus abandoned?' The children did not know anything about this patrimony, and asked their mother where it was. The mother told them that it was in such and such a place, but the children would have to go a long way. They asked their mother: 'Since it is so far, when we go to work, who will bring us our food and drink?' The mother answered: 'I shall send your sister with your food.'
The brothers were pleased with their mother's proposal, and made ready to start. Their mother gave them onion and garlic with them, and said: 'As you are going along, cut the skin off and drop it: when your sister brings your food she will see it, and know where to find you.'
The brothers went to work, and on the path they threw down the skins as their mother had suggested.
Near this path there lived a devi with a hundred heads. Once the devi's mother saw the onion peelings strewed on the path; she collected them all, and put them on the road leading to her house. Three days passed, and the mother thought that her sons' food must be nearly finished. She prepared some more for them, put it in a bag, gave it to her daughter, and sent her to her brothers. The girl set out and followed the onion peelings.
She went on and on and came to a house. In the house was seated an old woman. The girl cried out: 'Mother, mother, canst thou tell me if my brothers are working here?' 'What dost thou want with thy brothers here?' said the old woman. 'This is the house of a devi with a hundred heads; he will soon be coming home, so I had better hide thee, for if he sees thee he will eat thee.'
The devi's mother took the maiden and hid her. The devi appeared, no one knows whence. He carried dead game and firewood. He unbound them from his back, went in, and said: 'Mother, I smell a man! Who has come hither?' 'Why dost thou ask?' said the old woman; 'for fear of thee bird cannot fly in heaven, nor can worm creep on earth.' The devi insisted, and his mother at last gave way, and said: 'I have here a maiden whom I wish thee to marry; if thou wilt not eat her, I will let thee see her.' The son promised, and his mother brought the girl out. When the devi saw her, he liked her very much, and did not eat her.
The brothers waited and waited for their sister, and when she did not come they rose and went home. They reproached their mother, saying: 'Why hast thou not sent us food?' When their mother heard them say this, she began to weep, and said: 'Near the road dwells a hundred-headed devi, and I fear that he--may he be cursed!--has eaten her.' The brothers did not know of this devi, and when they heard about him they arose and went forth to deliver their sister.
When they had gone a good way, they neared the house of the devi. At that time their sister and the devi's mother were sitting on the roof. The devi's mother saw them coming in the distance, and said to her daughter-in-law: 'Look there! dost thou see nothing coming?' Her daughter-in-law replied: 'I see something like a swarm of flies.' 'Woe to their mother and to my son's mother!' said the devi's mother, and asked her again, in a short time, what she saw. The devi's wife answered: 'I see three men.' 'Woe to their mother and to my son's mother!' moaned the old woman.
The three brothers came at last to the devi's house. There they saw water, but they could not cross it by any means. They threw in stones, and stepped over in this way. Then the girl saw that they were her brothers; she came down and embraced them. When the devi's mother learnt who they were, she took them in, gave them food, and then hid them, saying: 'If my son comes home and sees you he will eat you.'
Then the hundred-headed devi came, no one knows whence. On one shoulder he had firewood, and on the other dead game. At the door he undid his burden, and, when he came in, said: 'I smell a man; who has come hither?' His mother tried to hide the truth, but her son would not leave her alone, so at last she said: 'If thou wilt promise not to eat thy wife's brothers, I will show them to thee.' The devi promised, and the old woman brought in the three brothers.
A little while after, the devi said to his wife's brothers: 'Come, let us prepare supper.' They all came and began to skin the game the devi had brought. Whilst the three brothers skinned one stag, the devi skinned sixty, cut them up and threw them into the pot. Then he came, seized the stag his brothers-in-law were skinning, and threw it also into the pot.
When they sat down to supper, the devi asked his wife's brothers: 'Are you eaters of bone or eaters of flesh?' They answered: 'What have we to do with flesh? Bones are good enough for us.' The devi filled his mouth, tore off the flesh, and threw the bones to the three brothers. Then he again inquired: 'Will you drink out of a doki or out of a qantsi?' 'From a qantsi,' replied the brothers. The devi poured out a doki of wine for himself, while he filled the qantsi for them.
When they had finished supper, and were preparing to go to bed, the devi again inquired: 'Do you wish to sleep in a bed or in the stable?' 'What have we to do with a bed? put us in the stable!' replied the brothers. The devi lay down in his bed, and the brothers slept in the stable. In the morning, when the devi awoke, he said to his mother: 'Mother, I am hungry!' The mother saw his meaning, and not wishing to let her daughter-in-law understand, she thus replied: 'Go, son, to the stable; there, in the bread-box, are three badly-cooked loaves. Take them and eat them.'
The devi went into the stable where the brothers lay. He swallowed one of them in the doorway, put the other two in his pocket, and went into the wood.
In the meantime the mother of the brothers waited and waited, and when they did not come back, she thought: 'The devi must have eaten my sons.' She wept bitterly, her tears flowed until they reached to heaven. At that moment a man was passing by. He asked the cause of the tears, and the woman told him that they were for the loss of her children.
Then the man gave her an apple, and said: 'Cut this apple into a hundred pieces, and every day eat three; when the apple is finished, thou shalt have a son, and thou shalt call his name Asphurtzela.'
The woman did as he said. She cut the apple into a hundred pieces, and every day ate three. When the apple was finished, she brought forth a son, and called him by the name of Asphurtzela. Asphurtzela grew as much in a day as other children grow in a year.
Once when Asphurtzela was playing with a group of little boys, a woman passed by with a coca full of water on her shoulder. Just then Asphurtzela threw his codchi; the codchi whirled through the air, struck the woman's coca and broke it. The woman was angry, and called out: 'Mayst thou be cursed! But how can I curse thee, only son of thy mother? For this trick may thy brothers and sister never be delivered from the claws of the devi!'
Asphurtzela did not understand this. He hastened inside, and said to his mother: 'Give me to suck, mother!' 'What a time to ask such a thing,' said his mother. But the boy would not wait, so his mother gave him his wish.
Asphurtzela bit his mother's breast, and said: 'Tell me, mother, have I any brothers?' His mother did not wish him to know, but she was in such pain that she told him everything. When Asphurtzela heard her tale, he prepared to go away. His mother entreated him not to leave her, but the boy would not be persuaded, and set out.
He wandered far and near, and came to an open field, where he saw men ploughing the ground. He shouted out to them: 'Take care, save yourselves, a hundred-headed devi is coming!' The men were filled with terror, and fled in all directions.
Asphurtzela slung the plough over his back, took it to a smith, and said: 'Make me out of this iron a pair of shoes and a bow and arrow.' The smith did so; Asphurtzela put on the iron shoes, took the bow and arrow, and went in quest of the hundred-headed devi.
He went some distance and approached the devi's house. At that time the devi's mother was sitting on the roof, and, seeing some one coming, she said to her daughter-in-law: 'Dost thou see any one, or do my eyes deceive me?' When her daughter-in-law assured her that it was some one, the devi's mother moaned: 'Woe to his mother's breast, and woe to my son's mother's breast!'
In the meantime Asphurtzela arrived quite near the house, leaped over the stream, and came to the door. He saw there a young girl, and said: 'Surely thou art my sister!' The girl only knew her three brothers, and would not admit this, but when Asphurtzela told her his tale, she believed him.
Then the devi's mother came and said: 'Come, child, I will put thee in safety and hide thee, lest my son eat thee when he comes home.' 'Go in there, dog of an old woman! May God bring thee and thy son to shame!' said Asphurtzela, and he waited impatiently for the return of the devi.
Just then the devi appeared, with game slung over his shoulder, and tree roots thrust under his arm. When he saw a strange boy standing boldly in front of his house, he said to himself: 'For fear of me bird dare not fly in heaven nor worm creep on earth. Who can this boy be who is strutting about so carelessly?'
The devi was mad with fury when he saw him. Flames shot from his eyes; he cast an angry glance at him, and shouted out: 'Who art thou? and what art thou doing here?' 'Shall I tell thee who I am? I am thy wife's brother; I am come to be thy guest, so thou must be my host,' said Asphurtzela. 'Very well,' returned the devi, 'come in and let us prepare supper. We must skin the game and cook it.' They began to skin the game, but by the time the devi had skinned one beast, Asphurtzela had finished all the game, thrown it into the pot and cooked it.
The devi gazed on Asphurtzela in unfeigned astonishment. When the food was cooked, and they sat down to supper, the devi, according to his custom, put the question to his guest: 'Art thou an eater of bones or of flesh?' 'Pass me over the flesh, why should I eat bones? am I a dog that I should do this?' answered Asphurtzela. The devi gave him flesh, and inquired: 'Wilt thou drink out of a qantsi or out of a doki?' 'Pass over the doki, why should I take a qantsi?' The devi gave him the doki, and sank into deep thought. When it was time to go to bed, the devi inquired: 'Wilt thou sleep in the stable or in a bed?' 'I am a man, what should I do in the stable? Give me a bed,' said Asphurtzela.
So it came to pass that Asphurtzela slept in the bed, and the devi lay down in the stable. He lay down, but, alas! he could not sleep. His one idea was how he could rid himself of this disagreeable guest. When he thought that Asphurtzela must be asleep, he took a huge sword and began to sharpen it. The noise of the sharpening awoke Asphurtzela, and he, guessing the devi's design, jumped out of bed, and put a log of wood under the coverlet. Then he hid in the room. When the devi had made his sword as bright as a diamond, he stole out quietly, opened the door, and went noiselessly towards Asphurtzela's bed. He raised his sword with all his might and main, and struck with such force that all the dust in the bed was raised, and the log was cleft through the middle. Then the devi went away and closed the door.
Asphurtzela shook down his bed and slept peacefully. In the morning, when the devi awoke and saw his brother-in-law, he gazed on him in amazement, and said: 'Didst thou feel any pain in the night?' 'Oh, no!' said Asphurtzela. 'Not even a flea-bite?' 'No.' 'Then let us wrestle.' 'Very well,' said Asphurtzela, and the combat began.
The devi struggled and struggled, but could not move his brother-in-law. Then Asphurtzela attacked him, and buried him in the ground up to the neck. He took his bow and arrow, aimed at the devi, and cried out: 'Tell me quickly what thou hast done with my brothers, or I shall shoot thee.' The devi was afraid, and said: 'Do not kill me and I shall tell thee. In my breast is a little coffer, in it they are lying dead; there too is a handkerchief, place it on them, and they will become alive again.'
When Asphurtzela heard this, he cut open the devi's breast, took out the coffer, brought out his brothers, placed a handkerchief on them, and they came back to life. Then he shot his arrow at the hundred-headed devi and killed him. When he had cut him into small pieces, he went to the devi's mother and killed her too. Then he learnt his brothers' story, and told them his in return.
The brothers believed Asphurtzela, but envy entered their hearts when they found how much braver he was than they. At last they all arose and went towards home. On the way they had to pass through an open field, where there grew a tree, so large that all the field was under its shade. Asphurtzela said to his brothers and sister: 'Let us rest here, I am very tired and would close my eyes a little.' The brothers consented.
Asphurtzela lay down at the foot of the tree and slept like the dead. His brothers sat down near him, and began to whisper one to another: 'Now that he has killed the hundred-headed devi, what good can he do us? Come, let us bind him to this tree and leave him here.' They took withs, twisted them round and round, and bound him to the tree, so hard that blood poured from his fingers. When his sister saw this, she entreated them to spare him, but they would not listen to her. They bound him tight, took their sister and went home.
As soon as they were in the house, the girl told their mother everything. The mother called down curses on her three sons.
When Asphurtzela woke and saw that he was bound to the tree, he tried hard to get away, but could not move. He looked round, and saw that his brothers were no longer there. He looked everywhere, and then prayed to God: 'O God, if I have deceived my brothers, may this tree become stronger, but if they have deceived me, may I pull it up by the roots.' When he had said this he tried again, and the tree came up by the roots.
Then Asphurtzela arose and went home, bearing the tree with him. He came to the house, and called to his brothers: 'Come out at once and loose my hands!' His brothers grew pale and faint from fear, but they came out and set him free. After this Asphurtzela did not wish to live with his brothers, and made ready to leave home. His sister and mother entreated him to stay, but Asphurtzela would not yield.
He went away, and wandered on until he came to a field where a man was ploughing; when he turned up a clod he threw it into his mouth and swallowed it. Asphurtzela gazed and gazed, and at last said: 'Man, why dost thou swallow these clods?' 'There is no cause for surprise in that; Asphurtzela has killed the hundred-headed devi, what is there remarkable in my swallowing clods?' said the clod-swallower. 'I am Asphurtzela, so let us be as brothers,' said Asphurtzela. They went on together.
When they had gone some distance they came to another field, where there was a man with mill wheels tied to his feet, and in his pocket were two hares. He let both the hares away, and then caught both again. Asphurtzela gazed and gazed at the man, and then said: 'Man, what art thou doing? how canst thou catch these hares?' 'Asphurtzela killed the hundred-headed devi, what is there remarkable in catching two hares?' said the hare-catcher. 'Why, this is Asphurtzela, and he will be as a brother to thee, if thou wilt,' said the clod-swallower. So they all went on together.
On the way, the comrades arranged that each should shoot his arrow in turn, and in the place where it stuck they should eat their repast. First of all the clod-swallower shot. His arrow stuck in a very awkward place, but they came and took their supper there.
Then the hare-catcher shot his arrow, which also stuck in an awkward place. They came to it and ate their mid-day meal.
Last of all Asphurtzela cast his arrow, and it stuck on the shelf of a house where dwelt three devis. At that time the devis were being married to three fair maidens. They saw the arrow stick in their shelf, and stopped the weddings. They tried to pull the arrow out, they struggled and struggled, but could not move it. Then they said: 'Since we cannot pull this arrow out, let us go away, in case he who shot it comes and takes up his abode here.' They left in the house only one lame devi, whom they hid in the chimney.
The three friends came in, laid the cloth, and made ready their supper. They threw up their caps for joy. Then they said: 'Come, let each of us, in turn, remain at home and prepare the food.'
The first day the clod-swallower stayed in. He had prepared the food and dressed it, when, behold! the lame devi came down from the chimney, and said to the clod-swallower: 'Give me to eat and drink.' He gave him food. 'Give me to eat and drink,' said the devi again. He gave him food once more. When he made the same demand a third time, the clod-swallower answered: 'If thou eatest and drinkest everything, what shall I say to my comrades?' The devi said: 'Give me to eat and drink, or I shall eat thee and thy provisions too.' The clod-swallower was afraid, and ran to the door. The devi sat down and finished all the food.
The companions came home and saw that there was no food, but what did it matter? They managed for that day, and the next morning left the hare-catcher at home. The same thing happened to him as to the clod-swallower. Then it was Asphurtzela's turn.
He prepared a quantity of different kinds of food and drink for his companions. Then the lame devi came out of the chimney, and said: 'Give me to eat and drink.' Asphurtzela did so. 'Give me to eat and drink,' again said the devi. Asphurtzela did so. When he asked a third time, Asphurtzela said: 'If I give thee all, what will my comrades do?' 'If thou wilt not give me to eat, I shall eat thee and thy food too.' Asphurtzela smiled to himself, took his bow and arrow, shot the devi through the heart, and cut him in halves.
The devi's head rolled one way and his body another. The head cried out: 'Happy is he who will follow me.' The body cried: 'Woe to the man who follows me.' In the meantime Asphurtzela's companions returned. They ate, and then said: 'Let us go and see what the devi's head promised.'
The devi's head rolled and fell into a hole. Asphurtzela looked in and saw three lovely maidens. He was pleased, and said: 'Let us bring them out and marry them.' The clod-swallower slipped in, but before he had reached the bottom he called out: 'I burn, I burn, draw me up,' and they took him out. Then the hare-catcher slipped down, and the same thing happened to him. Then came Asphurtzela's turn.
He said to his companions: 'When I call out "I burn, I burn," let me down lower into the hole.' He called out many times: 'I burn,' but his companions only lowered him farther.
He went down the hole and saw the maidens, each excelled the other, but the youngest was certainly the most beautiful of all. He took the eldest, and called out to the clod-swallower: 'This is thine!' Then he sent up the second sister, calling out to the hare-catcher: 'This is thine!' Last of all he was about to send the youngest, as his wife, but she objected, saying: 'Go thou first, then I will come, for I fear that thy comrades will betray thee.' Asphurtzela was obstinate, and insisted upon her going first. 'Very well,' said the maiden, 'I will go, since thou wishest me to do so, but know this, thy companions will not draw thee up, they will shut down the covering of the hole, and thou wilt be left here. Three streams will flow here; one black, one blue, and one white; do not put thy head under any except white water, lest thou be drowned.'
It was as she had said. When all three maidens were up, the two men put stones at the mouth of the hole, and left Asphurtzela. He was so indignant that he at once put his head under the black spring, and was immediately carried to the lower regions. He wandered about here and there, and came at last to an old woman's hut. He called out: 'Mother, mother, give me some water to drink.' 'Ah, child,' said the old woman, 'at present there is none, we shall have it again when the dragon has carried away our princess.' 'What dragon?' said Asphurtzela. The old woman replied: 'Our water is withheld by a dragon (gvelashapi), and if we do not offer him a human victim to eat, the water will not flow. We have all paid this debt save the king, and to-day his daughter is to be offered up.' 'Fetch me a water-vessel, mother, I must hasten this minute to the well,' said Asphurtzela.
The woman prayed him not to go, but he would not hear her. The old woman arose, and brought him vessels. Asphurtzela broke up these small water-jars, and said: 'Hast thou no kvevris? bring them to me.' The old woman showed him where the kvevris were. Asphurtzela took them and went away.
When he came to the edge of the stream, he saw a richly dressed maiden seated, shedding bitter tears. He asked her the cause, and when he learnt that this was the king's daughter, he said: 'I will sleep here; when the dragon comes, wake me up.' He laid his head on the maiden's lap, and fell asleep.
The dragon soon appeared. The maiden was afraid to wake Asphurtzela, and she wept more than ever. One of her tears fell on Asphurtzela's cheek, and he woke. When he saw the dragon he rose up, shot an arrow, and cut it in pieces. The maiden, overjoyed, immediately hastened home to her father, and said: 'Thus and thus has it come to pass, the dragon is dead.' The king at first would not believe this, but when others put faith in the story, he sent to seek the youth. He wished him to marry the princess, and decided to give him half of the kingdom.
They sought, and sought, but could not find him. Then the old woman came to the palace and said: 'Mighty sovereign! have mercy upon me and upon my son.' The king knew that she had no son, and said: 'Thou hadst formerly no son, where hast thou found this one?' 'God has given me for my son a youth who has killed our enemy the dragon,' answered the old woman.
The king was rejoiced that the youth was found. He sent his ministers to bring him to the palace. When Asphurtzela came, the king offered him great presents, but he would not take them, and said: 'If thou wilt send me back to my own land of light, I shall be happy, this is all I desire.' The king was very melancholy, he entreated him, but it was of no avail, so he promised.
After this, Asphurtzela went again to his adopted mother. On the way he saw a great tree, and on the top there was a griffin's (phascundzi) nest. There flew down from on high a dragon, and the little birds set up a terrified scream. When Asphurtzela saw what was about to happen, he drew his bow, and, in the twinkling of an eye, the dragon was dead.
The mother griffin flew down, and her fledglings told her what had happened. Then the grateful griffin came to Asphurtzela and said: 'Tell me what thou wishest, that I may do thee a service.' Asphurtzela said: 'I wish for nought, save to be taken again into the land of light.' 'It will be difficult for me, but why should I not do this for thy sake?' said the griffin, and directed him to get food and prepare for the journey. Asphurtzela returned to the king, and asked him for provisions.
When everything was ready, the griffin put Asphurtzela on her back and flew off. On the way, when the griffin cried out, Asphurtzela put food in her mouth. Just as they were about to enter the world of light, the griffin again cried aloud. Asphurtzela had no more food left, but he cut off the calf of his leg, and threw it into the griffin's mouth. This morsel was so very tasty that the griffin did not eat it, but kept it on the tip of her tongue.
When they had arrived, the griffin said: 'Now farewell! leap down and go away.' Asphurtzela descended and went away, but he walked like one who is lame. The griffin said: 'What aileth thee that thou art lame?' He told her. Then the griffin took the piece of flesh she had kept on her tongue, put it in its place, made it whole, and went away.
Asphurtzela went to seek his comrades. He went on and on until he came to a certain place. There he saw his two companions about to marry the beautiful maidens. He took aim with his bow and arrow, and called out: 'Were the men or the women to blame?' 'The youngest sister replied: 'How could it be the women's fault? It was the men's.' Asphurtzela shot his arrow and killed his two companions. Then he took the beautiful maidens with him, married the youngest, and gave the two elder to his brothers.