THE PRISONER OF ZEMBLA
[From his posthumously published Rolling Stones (1912).]
by O. Henry
So the king fell into a furious rage, so that none durst go near him
for fear, and he gave out that since the Princess Ostla had disobeyed
him there would be a great tourney, and to the knight who should prove
himself of the greatest valor he would give the hand of the princess.
And he sent forth a herald to proclaim that he would do this.
And the herald went about the country making his desire known, blowing a
great tin horn and riding a noble steed that pranced and gambolled; and
the villagers gazed upon him and said: "Lo, that is one of them tin horn
gamblers concerning which the chroniclers have told us."
And when the day came, the king sat in the grandstand, holding the gage
of battle in his hand, and by his side sat the Princess Ostla, looking
very pale and beautiful, but with mournful eyes from which she scarce
could keep the tears. And the knights which came to the tourney gazed
upon the princess in wonder at her beauty, and each swore to win so that
he could marry her and board with the king. Suddenly the heart of the
princess gave a great bound, for she saw among the knights one of the
poor students with whom she had been in love.
The knights mounted and rode in a line past the grandstand, and the king
stopped the poor student, who had the worst horse and the poorest
caparisons of any of the knights and said:
"Sir Knight, prithee tell me of what that marvellous shacky and
rusty-looking armor of thine is made?"
"Oh, king," said the young knight, "seeing that we are about to engage
in a big fight, I would call it scrap iron, wouldn't you?"
"Ods Bodkins!" said the king. "The youth hath a pretty wit."
About this time the Princess Ostla, who began to feel better at the
sight of her lover, slipped a piece of gum into her mouth and closed
her teeth upon it, and even smiled a little and showed the beautiful
pearls with which her mouth was set. Whereupon, as soon as the knights
perceived this, 217 of them went over to the king's treasurer and
settled for their horse feed and went home.
"It seems very hard," said the princess, "that I cannot marry when I
But two of the knights were left, one of them being the princess' lover.
"Here's enough for a fight, anyhow," said the king. "Come hither, O
knights, will ye joust for the hand of this fair lady?"
"We joust will," said the knights.
The two knights fought for two hours, and at length the princess' lover
prevailed and stretched the other upon the ground. The victorious knight
made his horse caracole before the king, and bowed low in his saddle.
On the Princess Ostla's cheeks was a rosy flush; in her eyes the light
of excitement vied with the soft glow of love; her lips were parted, her
lovely hair unbound, and she grasped the arms of her chair and leaned
forward with heaving bosom and happy smile to hear the words of her
"You have foughten well, sir knight," said the king. "And if there is
any boon you crave you have but to name it."
"Then," said the knight, "I will ask you this: I have bought the patent
rights in your kingdom for Schneider's celebrated monkey wrench, and I
want a letter from you endorsing it."
"You shall have it," said the king, "but I must tell you that there is
not a monkey in my kingdom."
With a yell of rage the victorious knight threw himself on his horse and
rode away at a furious gallop.
The king was about to speak, when a horrible suspicion flashed upon him
and he fell dead upon the grandstand.
"My God!" he cried. "He has forgotten to take the princess with him!"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~