(European Folktale)Once upon a time there lived a king who had but one son, and he was called the Kindhearted. When the prince was twenty years old, he asked the king, his father, to let him go traveling. His father fitted him out for the journey, gave him a true servant to guard him, and his fatherly blessing. The prince took leave of his father, mounted a brave steed and went to different countries, to see God's world, to learn many things, and to return home a wiser and a better man.
Once when the prince was slowly riding through a silent field, he suddenly perceived an eagle in pursuit of a swan. The white swan was almost caught by the eagle's sharp claws, when the prince, carefully aiming, fired his pistol. The eagle fell dead, and the happy swan came down and said: "Prince Kindhearted, I thank you for your help. It is not a swan that is thanking you, but the enchanted daughter of the Knight Invisible. You have not saved me from an eagle's claws, but from the terrible magician King Koshchey. My father will pay you well for your services. Remember whenever you are in need, to say three times: 'Knight Invisible, come to my help!'" The swan flew away as soon as it had finished speaking, and the prince looked after it, then continued his journey.
He crossed many high mountains, traversed deep rivers, passed foreign countries, and at last he came to a great desert, where there was nothing to see but sky and sand. No man lived there, no animal's voice was ever heard, no vegetable ever grew there; the sun was shining so brightly and burning so terribly that all the rivers were dried up, their beds were lost in the sand, and there was not a drop of water anywhere. The young prince anxious to go everywhere and see everything and not noticing how dry things were, kept going farther and farther, and deeper and deeper, into the desert. But after a while he became terribly thirsty. In order to find some water he sent his servant in one direction and he himself went in another. After a long time he succeeded in finding a well. He called to his servant, "I have found a means of getting some water," and they both were happy. But their happiness did not last, for the well was very deep and they had nothing with which to reach the water.
The prince said to the servant: "Dismount, I will let you down into the well by some long ropes and you shall draw up some water."
"No, my prince," answered the servant, "I am much heavier than you are, and Your Majesty's hands will not be able to hold me. You take hold of the ropes, and I will let you down into the well."
The prince, the ropes tied around him, went down into the well, drank the cold water, and taking some of it for the servant, pulled the ropes, as a sign for the servant to draw him up again.
But instead of pulling him up, the servant said: "Listen, you, kingly son! From your cradle-days until now you have lived a happy life, surrounded by luxury and love, and I have always led the life of a miserable wretch. Now you must agree to become my servant, and I will be the prince instead of you. If you will not exchange, say your last prayer, for I am going to drown you."
"Do not drown me, my true servant, you will not gain anything by it. You will never find such a good master as I am, and you know what a murderer may expect in the next world."
"Let me suffer in the next world, but I will make you suffer in this one," answered the servant and he began to loosen the ropes.
"Stop!" cried the prince, "I will be thy servant and you shall be the prince. I will give you my word for it."
"I do not believe your word. Swear that you will write down what you promise me, now, for words are lost in the air, and writing always remains as a testimony against us."
The servant let down into the well a sheet of paper and a pencil, and told the prince to write the following: "The bearer of this is Prince Kindhearted, traveling with his servant, a subject of his father's kingdom."