Once upon a time there was a king, and that king had twelve sons. These twelve boys always went together, and they especially liked to hang out in the forest.
But no matter how many times they went into the forest, they always met a gray old man who stopped them and advised them all:
- My sons, don’t always walk in the forest, go see the world a little!
The boys told their father at home what the old man always told them, but the king did not want to let them go. But the gray-haired old man always stood in front of them, even if they went to another forest.
Again, he only advised them to go and see the world, because otherwise things would not end well for them. They could not rest from the old man. So they talked to their father until he let him go.
- Well, go with the news of God, see the world!
They got on a horse and went into the world. The first day they spent the evening in a forest, and there in the forest they found a castle. They didn’t ask who lived in the castle, they went straight in, went through the rooms, and there were twelve rooms, with a bed in each room.
And in one room, the table was set for twelve people, and the table was full of all kinds of expensive food and drink. There was also a stable next to the castle, in that stable there was room for twelve horses, plenty of hay and oats for each horse.
They tied up the horses, fed them well with hay and oats, then they went back to the castle, settled down at the table, ate and drank, were merry, and when they fell asleep, they went to bed nicely. At midnight, the eldest prince wakes up to something. You hear someone calling your name:
- John, come out!
The prince gets up, goes out into the courtyard, and there he finds a girl with a face as black as soot. The girl says:
- Don’t be afraid of me, you prince, that my face is so ugly black. I am the daughter of a king, I have eleven brothers just like you. A witch disfigured our faces and cursed us so that our faces would not turn white until twelve princes lived in this castle for seven years, seven months, seven weeks, seven days, seven hours, and during that time from the castle they neither go out nor get married.
The black girl didn’t say another word, she disappeared as if swallowed by the earth. In the morning Prince János told his younger brothers what had happened to him that night, but his younger brothers said that if those twelve girls were all God’s angels, they would not have stayed so long even then.
At once they saddled up and went on, only János remained in the castle. But they didn’t even get out of the forest, twelve wolves blocked their way, they couldn’t chase them away, they had to go back to the castle in shame.
But they could go back there, because then neither they nor their horse had food or drink. They had to make do with what their brother gave from his own. The next morning they got ready again, no matter what happens, whether the sky breaks, the earth shakes, they keep going. But as they left the castle, all eleven boys turned into stone idols.
Prince János was left alone in the castle, there was no living person outside of him, but there was plenty of food and drink for him and his horse. That’s how it went year after year.
When there were only three days left, the black lady came to him in the evening and said to him:
- Do you hear, Prince János, the devils are coming to you tonight in the form of your eleven younger brothers, they are calling you, luring you with all kinds of beautiful words, but don’t listen to them either! When they see that you don’t go with them, they torture you, make you suffer in every way, but you have to suffer that too.
It was just as the black lady said. The devils came at night, surrounded him, called him, lured him: come with us, you fool, don’t stay here. But Prince János, one word, not much, he didn’t say that much. Then the devils got angry and beat him so that his bones cracked.
In the morning, the black lady came, anointed the prince’s body with all kinds of chudair, and it became seven times more beautiful than it was before. Then he said to Prince János:
- You passed the first test well, Prince János, but tonight you will have an even harder test. The devils are coming again, in the form of your father and mother, they are calling you again, luring you, but you just don’t say anything! When they see that they are not going to do anything, they torture you, make you suffer, tie your hands and feet, take you out to the yard and hang you. But don’t say anything even under the gallows, think of me and don’t be afraid of anything!
Everything happened as the black lady said. The devils came, called him, lured him, tortured him, and hanged him, but the black lady came in the morning, cut the rope, anointed Prince János’s body with all kinds of magic, and it became seven times more beautiful than it was before.
But the black lady’s face also turned half white. He also told Prince János:
you pass the test, my face turns completely white, then the world splits in two. Tonight the devils will come again, namely in the form of your father, mother, brothers and all kinds of relatives, they will torture you, make you miserable, then put you in a fiery coffin, burn to dust, but just think of me, don’t be afraid of anything!
It happened just as the black lady said. The devils came, called, lured: come home, you fool, don’t lose your life for a black-faced girl, and when the beautiful words didn’t work for him, they put him in a fiery coffin and burned him to dust.
But the princess came in the morning, she anointed the prince János with the powder, and suddenly he came back to life, he became who he was, but seven times more beautiful than before.
- Well, Prince János – said the princess – now look at my face, is it white?
- White – said János – whiter than the white lily.
- Well, you just go ahead – said the girl – to the black city, my city, I’ll stay here with my brothers, then we’ll follow you, but make a note well in advance that you will meet a very beautiful girl on the way, she will speak to you, hi, he lures you with nice words to go with him, but you turn away from him, don’t say a word, otherwise you’re playing with your life. As soon as you go on, you will find a table laid, with all kinds of expensive food and drink on it, but don’t look at it, don’t touch it, because I’m telling you, you’re playing with your life.
With that, they said goodbye, Prince János got on his horse and started towards the black city. Indeed, as soon as he reaches a dense forest, a very beautiful girl stands in front of him and addresses him:
- Who are you, what are you, you beautiful boy from Dali, where do you come from, where are you going? Come with me!
He smiled and laughed, but Prince János turned his head and went on without a word. He hadn’t even gone a long way before he saw the table laid. He was a little hungry, he was also thirsty, but he also thought to himself: what the hell can he find if he takes a bite of that red, crispy loaf of bread and drinks a drop of that expensive good Tokaj wine, because that’s how you know it’s full the table was filled with Tokaj wine and Jesus knows what other good drinks.
He didn’t even get off his horse, he just reached down for the loaf, broke off a piece of it, ate it, and then took out a bottle of Tokaj wine at the same time. Well, in the blink of an eye, he fell from his horse to the ground and fell into such a deep sleep that he could not have been awakened by the sound of a cannon.
Not long after, the black lady came after him in a soft velvet carriage, she found Prince János on the ground, petting him, calling him, pulling him, but he did not wake up. Then he took out his golden pen and wrote the following on the blade of Prince John’s sword:
“When you wake up, go back to the castle; in the blind window of the stable you will find an iron nail, cut it in two with your sword. At this, all eleven of your younger brothers will come to life, bring them to the black city. On the way, they reached the shore of the Sea of Blood, and there I found a giant, he will carry you through the sea, but when he does, tell him that you dropped your ring into the sea, go and find it. Then when the giant turns around, push him into the sea, because otherwise he will destroy you and your eleven brothers with a terrible death .
Not far from the Veres sea is the triple glass mountain, beyond it is the black city. Your horses can’t pass this mountain, but there is a man the size of a baccarat at the bottom of the mountain. He speaks to you, tells you all kinds of nonsense, but you don’t say anything, and then he gets angry and picks up some of them in a row and throws them on the mountain of glass in such a way that they fell right in the black city.”
It was a very dark evening when Prince János woke up, read the letter at the dinner table, mounted his horse, galloped back to the castle, ran to the stable, found the iron nail in the blind window, cut it in two with his sword, and then the whole yard fell silent, and – what do your eyes see! – his eleven younger brothers came to life at the same time, but even the horses came to life.
The royals believed that they had only slept for one night, they certainly did not want to believe that this night lasted longer than seven years. Now there was plenty of food and drink for them in the castle, and in the heat they had a big dance, then they got him on a horse, and uccu to him! They galloped off in the direction of the black city.
They went seven days and seven nights until they reached the shore of the Sea of Blood. There was the giant on the seashore. He took the twelve princes on horseback, every night. He took her together on the Sea of Blood, and there she shook off the lads and the horses. However, Prince János did not forget what the black lady wrote.
Tell the giant that a loved one’s precious ring has fallen into the sea, turn around and bring it up from the bottom of the sea. The giant turns, and Prince János pushes him away, and the giant falls into the sea.
The giant shouted and cursed:
- You had the sense, you dog, to put me in, because otherwise you would all have died a terrible death!
“By the way,” thought Prince János, “the black lady had a mind!”
Suddenly he jumped on his horse
all twelve of them started and galloped like a strong wind, but on the way they settled in front of a small house, they would go in there if they could get something to eat or drink. There was no one else in the house but an old woman, but so old that her nose was touching the ground.
Prince John greets you:
- Good evening, old lady!
“You’re lucky,” said the old woman, “that you called me old lady, because otherwise your life is over.”
- After all, I haven’t done anything wrong to Kendak – said Prince János.
- So who killed my daughter? asked the old lady.
- I don’t, I know – said Prince János – I have never killed anyone in my life.
- Well know – said the old woman – that the iron nail you cut in two was my daughter. It was the one who bewitched those twelve girls.
Prince János thought to himself, it would be good to go on from here. He said goodbye to the old woman, even comforted her:
- Don’t worry, old lady, because God gives nails instead of nails! – with that they galloped towards the triple glass mountain.
As long as the baccarat-sized man was there, he was jumping, frolicking, waving his arms.
- Hey, people, hey, who are you, what are you, what are you doing here, what, hey?! This is my land, my country, my grandfather’s grandfather acquired it. I won’t let you go a step further.
The royals just laughed at this swaggering little man, but they didn’t say much, not even that much. But already at this the man of Bacaras’s size became so angry that he didn’t say anything more, he just took the horses in a line and, as they were, in an orderly manner, threw them one after the other over the triple mountain of glass.
All twelve of them fell there in the middle of the black city, and I saw, as I did today, that they didn’t even get hurt. They immediately went to the black castle. The twelve girls were sitting outside on the porch, waiting for the twelve princes. All twelve girls were as white as the white lily, even whiter.
Both the boys and the girls became friends and fell in love. Twelve priests were called that same day, they added up nicely, then twelve gypsy gangs, they pulled as best they could. I also told you a story, as I knew that if I knew better, I would tell it even more.
(Elek Benedek: Hungarian fairy-tale world, volume 2)