The trees grew so thick and near together that it was almost impossible to see through them, only straight in front of him lay a little patch of meadowland. Overgrown with thistles and rank weeds, in the centre of which a leafy lime tree reared itself. Suddenly a rustling sound was heard in the hollow of the tree, and an extraordinary old man with green eyes and chin crept out of it.
'A fine day, Prince Milan,' he said; 'you've kept me waiting a good number of years; it was high time for you to come and pay me a visit.'
'Who are you, in the name of wonder?' demanded the astonished Prince.
'You'll find out soon enough, but in the meantime do as I bid you. Greet your father King Kojata from me, and don't forget to remind him of his debt; the time has long passed since it was due, but now he will have to pay it. Farewell for the present; we shall meet again.'
With these words the old man disappeared into the tree, and the Prince returned home rather startled, and told his father all that he had seen and heard.
The King grew as white as a sheet when he heard the Prince's story, and said, 'Woe is me, my son! The time has come when we must part,' and with a heavy heart he told the Prince what had happened at the time of his birth.
'Don't worry or distress yourself, dear father,' answered Prince Milan. 'Things are never as bad as they look. Only give me a horse for my journey, and I wager you'll soon see me back again.'
The King gave him a beautiful charger, with golden stirrups, and a sword. The Queen hung a little cross round his neck, and after much weeping and lamentation the Prince bade them all farewell and set forth on his journey.
He rode straight on for two days, and on the third he came to a lake as smooth as glass and as clear as crystal. Not a breath of wind moved, not a leaf stirred, all was silent as the grave, only on the still bosom of the lake thirty ducks, with brilliant plumage, swam about in the water. Not far from the shore Prince Milan noticed thirty little white garments lying on the grass, and dismounting from his horse, he crept down under the high bulrushes, took one of the garments and hid himself with it behind the bushes which grew round the lake.