Book of Legends - Horace Scudder

How the Princess Was Beaten in a Race

There was once a king who had a daughter, and this daughter was very fair, so that every prince in all the countries around wished to marry her. Now the princess was a very swift runner. She ran so fast that no one could overtake her.

The king was in no haste to marry off his daughter, so he gave out that no one should have her for a wife who could not beat her in a race. Any one, prince or peasant, might race with her. The first man who beat her in the race should have her for wife; but whoever raced with her and did not beat must have his head cut off.

At first there were many who tried, for a great many princes were in love with her, and men who were not princes thought they might outstrip her, and so come to be as good as princes.

The girl had fine fun. She raced with each one, and she always beat in the game; a great many heads were cut off, and at last it was hard to find any one who dared to race with her. Now there was a poor young man in the country who thought thus to himself:—

"I am poor, and have only my head to lose if I do not win the race. If I should win I should become noble, and all my family would be noble also. I think I will try."

He was a good runner, and he was also a fellow of quick wit. He heard that the princess was very fond of roses. So he gathered a fine nosegay. He also had a silken girdle made. Finally he took all his money and bought a silken bag, and placed in it a golden ball; on the ball were the words, "Who plays with me shall never tire of play."

These three things he placed in the bosom of his robe, and went and knocked at the palace gate. The porter asked him what he wished, and he said he had come to race with the princess.

The princess herself, who was only a young girl, looked out of the window and heard what was said. She saw that he was poor and meanly clad, and she looked on him with scorn.

But the king's law made no choice between rich and poor, prince and peasant. So the princess made ready to run. The king and all the court gathered to see the race, and the headsman went off to sharpen his axe.

The two had not run far, and the princess was outrunning the young man, when he drew forth his bunch of roses. He threw this so that it fell at the feet of the princess. She stopped, picked it up, and was greatly pleased with the flowers. She looked at them, smelled of them, and began to bind them in her hair. She forgot the race, when suddenly she saw the young man far ahead of her.

At once off she tore the roses, threw them from her, and ran like the wind. It was but a little while before she overtook the young man. She smote him lightly on the shoulder and said:—

"Stop, foolish boy! Do you hope to marry a princess?"

But as she sped past him, he threw before her the silken girdle. Again she stopped, and stooped to look at it. It was a beautiful girdle, and she clasped it about her waist. As she was buckling it, she saw the young man well on toward the goal.

"Wretch!" she cried, and burst into tears. Then she flung the girdle away and bounded forward. Once more she caught up with him. She seized him by the arm.

"You shall not marry me!" she said angrily, and sprang past him. She was near the goal, but the young man now let fall at her feet the silken bag. The ball of gold glittered in it, and the princess was curious to see what the plaything was. She paused for just a moment, raised the bag from the ground and took out the ball. It had letters on it, and she stood still to read them:—

"Who plays with me shall never tire of play."

"I should like to see if that is true," said the princess, and she began to play with the ball. She tossed it and tossed it, and no one can say if she would have tired, for suddenly she heard a great shout. The young man had reached the winning-post: his head was safe. He married the princess, and all his family were made noble.