The spirit of the steppes
In ancient days there lived a king and queen; the former was old but the latter young. Although they loved one another dearly they were very unhappy, for God had not given them any children. They fretted and grieved about this so deeply that the queen became ill with melancholy. The doctors advised her to travel. The king was obliged to remain at home, so she went without him, accompanied by twelve maids of honour, all beautiful and fresh as flowers in May. When they had travelled for some days, they reached a vast uninhabited plain which stretched so far away it seemed to touch the sky. After driving hither and thither for some time the driver was quite bewildered, and stopped before a large stone column. At its foot stood a warrior on horseback, clad in steel armour.
“Brave knight, can you direct me to the high-road?” said the driver; “we are lost, and know not which way to go.”
“I will show you the way,” said the warrior, “but only on one condition, that each of you gives me a kiss.”
The queen looked at the warrior in wrath, and ordered the coachman to drive on. The carriage continued moving nearly all day, but as if bewitched, for it always returned to the stone column. This time the queen addressed the warrior.
“Knight,” said she, “show us the road, and I will reward you richly.”
“I am the Master Spirit of the Steppes,” answered he. “I demand payment for showing the way, and my payment is always in kisses.”
“Very well, my twelve maids of honour shall pay you.”
“Thirteen kisses are due to me; the first must be given by the lady who addresses me.”
The queen was very angry, and again the attempt was made to find their way. But the carriage, though during the whole time it moved in an opposite direction, still returned to the stone column. It was now dark, and they were obliged to think of finding shelter for the night, so the queen was obliged to give the warrior his strange payment. Getting out of her carriage she walked up to the knight, and looking modestly down allowed him to kiss her; her twelve maids of honour who followed did the same.