Once upon a time, there was a young man. He lived with his father and his mother in a small townhouse. One morning, as he started off to class, the car broke down. Try as he might, it would not start. Just as the lad was ready to give up, an old woman came up the road and asked, “If I start your car for you, do you promise to do whatever I ask?”
The lad promised, for she looked so ugly and ragged that he thought, “Surely she will not be able to help me.” But that was where he was wrong, for soon the car was running nicely.
“Now, keep your promise,” said the old woman.
“What is it that you want?” asked the lad.
“Rescue the princess of the kingdom that lies east of the sun,” said the old woman.
Now this surprised the lad very much, for never had he heard of the kingdom that lies east of the sun. Still, he had promised, so he said, “It shall be as you ask,” though he knew not how he would do it.
Then the old woman’s rags fell away and behold! There was no longer an old woman, but a flaming peacock. With a flapping of wings, away she flew.
This startled the lad more than ever, but he jumped into the car and followed her as fast as he could. He drove till the city was far behind him. He drove till the car could drive no longer. He left the car and ran till he came to the sea. Still the firebird flew on. Just as the lad felt he could run no longer, he saw where the firebird was headed. Where the sea met the shore was a ring of fire, in the midst of which was a ship. The prow was crafted into the likeness of a great peacock, and in the center of the flame-colored sail, blazed a yellow sun.
The firebird alighted on the shore and said, “Climb on my back, for we must pass the wall of fire.”
The lad looked upon the fire in fear, but recalling his promise he said, “It shall be as you ask,” and climbed upon the bird’s back. The fiery feathers burned him terribly. The wall of flames burned so that he felt he would die, but he held on.
In a moment they had passed through the flames and were on the deck of the ship. When the lad dismounted, he beheld in wonder that the ring of fire had vanished and that he was unscathed. Greater still was his wonder when he looked up and saw not a bird before him, but a beautiful girl with golden hair and grateful eyes. As he looked upon her, it seemed to him that never had he beheld so noble a lady.
“I am the princess of the kingdom that lies east of the sun,” she said, and as she spoke she smiled a smile as bright as the dawn. “Long ago the lord of the Midnight Realm, the Jet Black Sorcerer, asked for my hand in marriage. I refused, and so he laid an enchantment on me. I was doomed to wander the earth in the form of an ugly, old woman until a faithful man would promise to rescue me. If this came to pass, the first stage of the enchantment would be lifted. I would then have to wear the shape of the firebird till the man would bear great fear and pain for my sake. You have done all these things, and now the enchantment is lifted. If you will only help me sail home, you will have fulfilled your promise.”
“But, surely I have kept my word? I have rescued you even as you asked,” said the lad.
“Though you have lifted the enchantment, you have not yet rescued me,” the princess told him. “This ship was placed here by my father, that I might sail home if ever the enchantment was lifted, and around her he placed the ring of fire to guard her from our enemy. But this ship cannot be manned by me alone. Still I am in great danger, for the Jet Black Sorcerer knows that the enchantment has been lifted, and he will do everything in his power to stop me.”
The lad thought of the Jet Black Sorcerer and the dangers to come, but still he said, “It shall be as you ask.”
The princess was filled with joy. “Take this, then, for it may be that you will need it.” And she put into his hands the feather of a firebird.
Together they set sail. For many days they sailed ever eastward. At last there came a night when the princess said, “This morning we shall reach the sunrise which is the gateway to my home.”
Even as she spoke a great storm arose. Total darkness surrounded them, and the lad was filled with a cold terror that burned worse than fire.
“It is the Jet Black Sorcerer!” the princess cried.
They felt the angry wind and waves that they could not see. Then, recalling the gift of the princess, the lad drew out the feather of the firebird and threw it to the winds. On it flew before them, a light in the darkness and a hope in their hearts.
They followed it, sailing ever eastward, till at last a black wave swept over it, and darkness returned. Surely they would be driven off course or drowned! But just as the lad forgot which way was east, a great golden light filled the darkness and drove it away. The dawn had come.
“You have rescued me!” the princess cried. “You have kept your word, and now you shall rule with me after my father. You shall be king of the land that lies east of the sun!”
Thereupon they sailed into the sunrise and passed beyond.