“Most willingly,” answered the king, “but on one condition, that you bring me the Maiden with the Golden Locks: she lives in the golden castle on the shores of the Black Sea.”
The fox was waiting in the forest the prince’s return, and when he saw him come back without the horse he was very angry indeed.
“Did I not warn you,” said he, “to be content with the black leather bridle? It is really a loss of time to try and help such an ungrateful fellow, for it seems impossible to make you hear reason.”
“Don’t be cross,” said the prince, “I confess that I am in fault; I ought to have obeyed your orders. But have a little more patience with me and help me out of this difficulty.”
“Very well; but this will certainly be the last time. If you do just as you are told we may yet repair all that has been spoilt by your imprudence. Mount your horse and follow—off!”
The fox ran on in front, clearing the road with his bushy tail, until they reached the shores of the Black Sea.
“That palace yonder,” said the fox, “is the residence of the Queen of the Ocean Kingdom. She has three daughters; it is the youngest who has the golden hair, and is called Zlato-Vlaska. Now you must first go to the queen and ask her to give you one of her daughters in marriage. If she takes kindly to your proposal she will bid you choose, and mind you take that princess who is the most plainly dressed.”
The queen received him most graciously, and when he explained the object of his visit she led him into a room where the three daughters were spinning.
They were so much alike that no one could possibly distinguish one from the other, and they were all so marvellously lovely that when the young prince looked upon them he dared hardly breathe. Their hair was carefully covered by a veil through which one could not distinguish the colour of it, but their dresses were different. The first wore a gown and veil embroidered with gold, and used a golden distaff; the second had on a gown embroidered with silver and held a distaff of the same metal; the third wore a gown and veil of dazzling whiteness, and her distaff was made of wood.