The Little Soldier
Once upon a time there was a little soldier who had just come back from the war. He was a brave little fellow, but he had lost neither arms nor legs in battle. Still, the fighting was ended and the army disbanded, so he had to return to the village where he was born.
Now the soldier's name was really John, but for some reason or other his friends always called him the Kinglet; why, no one ever knew, but so it was.
As he had no father or mother to welcome him home, he did not hurry himself, but went quietly along, his knapsack on his back and his sword by his side, when suddenly one evening he was seized with a wish to light his pipe. He felt for his match-box to strike a light, but to his great disgust he found he had lost it.
He had only gone about a stone's throw after making this discovery when he noticed a light shining through the trees. He went towards it, and perceived before him an old castle, with the door standing open.
The little soldier entered the courtyard, and, peeping through a window, saw a large fire blazing at the end of a low hall. He put his pipe in his pocket and knocked gently, saying politely:
'Would you give me a light?'
But he got no answer.
After waiting for a moment John knocked again, this time more loudly. There was still no reply.
He raised the latch and entered; the hall was empty.
The little soldier made straight for the fireplace, seized the tongs, and was stooping down to look for a nice red hot coal with which to light his pipe, when clic! something went, like a spring giving way, and in the very midst of the flames an enormous serpent reared itself up close to his face.
And what was more strange still, this serpent had the head of a woman.
At such an unexpected sight many men would have turned and run for their lives; but the little soldier, though he was so small, had a true soldier's heart. He only made one step backwards, and grasped the hilt of his sword.
'Don't unsheath it,' said the serpent. 'I have been waiting for you, as it is you who must deliver me.