Once upon a time there were two brothers. One was very rich and had four children, the other was very poor and had seven children.
One day the poor man's wife went to the rich man and said to him, "I am very wretched, for I have not enough bread for my children. I take a little meal and I mix it with a great deal of bran and so manage to make bread. It is well nigh a year since my children have had any relish with their meals; they get nothing but bread and water."
He answered her: "And yet your children are so strong, while mine, with all their feeding and the comforts they enjoy, are always ailing!"
The poor woman said, "God has given us poverty and hunger, but thanks be to Heaven, our children are hale and hearty. Now, therefore, I have come to beg you, if you have any work, not to send for anyone but me, so may God send health to your children!" and as she spoke these words, the tears ran from her eyes like a river.
Then he called his wife and said to her: "Have we any work for her to come and do for us daily, so that she may not sit idle?"
His wife answered him: "Let her come twice a week and knead bread for us."
When she heard these words she was glad, for she thought at once, that when she kneaded that fine white bread they would give her some of it, and her poor children would eat and rejoice. So she rose to go away.
And they said to her: "Good-bye, and remember to come tomorrow morning."
Thus they bade her farewell without giving her a scrap of anything.
As she set off home she said to herself, "Would that I were rich, that I might open my cupboard, and bring forth a bit of cheese, or a piece of bread, or at least a little rice, or such like household store to gladden the hearts of the poor!" and lifting her hands to heaven she said: "Why, oh my God, hast thou made me so poor?"
And so she went weeping home where her children were waiting for her ever so eagerly, hoping she might bring them something.
But alas, poor thing, she came with empty hands.
The next day she went very early in the morning to the rich man's house to knead bread, and when she had kneaded it and ended her work, they bade her farewell and told her to be sure and come next time, without giving her so much as a cup of cold water.
As soon as she came home the children said to her: " Have you brought us anything, mother?"
"No!" she said. "Maybe, when they have done baking they will send us a bit of bread."
But in vain she waited, and when evening came not a loaf nor a plate of anything to eat appeared.
In two or three days they sent word for her to come and knead again, for they liked her kneading much. Then the poor woman arose and went again; and as she was kneading the thought came into her head, not to wash her hands till she got home, and then to wash them in a dish, and to give the wash to her children instead of plain water.
So as soon as she had done kneading, she hurried away, and when she got home she said to her children, "Wait till I give you a little milk-soup."
And washing her hands well of the dough, she filled a good dish, and gave each one a little to drink.
And they liked it so much that they said, "Mother, whenever you go to knead, mind you bring us some of that broth to drink."
A month passed while she went on at this work. And it seems that God blessed her children, for they grew fatter than ever.
One day as the rich man was passing by the poor man's house, he put his head in at the door and said, "How do you do here?"
Then he turns and looks at all the children, and is amazed to see how fat they seem; and going out at the door in a rage, he went home to his wife and called her: "Come here and tell me what you give to my sister-in-law who comes to knead for us."
Now she was frightened at the way he shouted at her and said, "I never gave her anything yet, because I am so afraid of giving her too much and your scolding me."
Says he, "You must have given her something, for her children are so fat they look as if they would burst."
Then she swore an oath and said, "She takes nothing away with her but her unwashed hands and she washes them at home, and gives the wash to her children to drink."
When he heard that he said, "Put a stop to that too."
So the next day when the woman went to knead, her mistress waited until she had finished, and when she had done, said to her, "Wash your hands well and then go."
When the poor woman heard that her countenance fell, and she quailed with grief to think how she should go to her children, and they would beg the milk-soup of her.
When she came to her house her children were gathered together awaiting her, and as soon as they saw her come in they all cried with one voice: "What have you got, mother?"
"Nothing, children; I forgot myself and washed my hands!"
All the children began to weep and to cry, "How could you so forget us, as not to bring us that beautiful broth?"
While they were thus weeping and wailing, the father entered the house and said, "What ails the children that they cry?"
Then she told him all that had happened, and he was sorely grieved, and made up his mind to kill himself, and so that his wife might not guess his purpose, he asked her for a bag to go to the hill and gather herbs. She gave it him, and he went away. And as he wandered about bewildered for a long while, he found himself at the top of a high crag, and there he made up his mind to fling himself down and die.
Then he spied facing the crag a great castle, and he said to himself, "Before I kill myself, I may as well go and see what that castle is like."
And drawing near he saw a tree, and he climbed up into it to see who lived in the castle. After a little while he looked, and behold, a number of dragons came out ! He counted them, and they were forty-nine. When the dragons were gone, they left the door open, for that was always their custom. So he climbed down from the tree and went into the castle and walked about it, and saw that it contained much treasure. Then he took his bag and filled it with as much as his back could carry, and went away at once, for he feared lest the dragons should catch him.
When they came back they perceived that a thief had been and stolen some of their money, and from henceforth they determined that one of them should always stay behind in the castle. The poor man returned to the town two days later, and found his wife weeping and refusing to be comforted, for she feared that his affliction had led him to go and kill himself. But when she saw him come back she praised God because he came alive.
Then said her husband to her, "Wife, God has taken pity on our children and on you, who made bread so long at my brother's house, though they never gave you a morsel to feed our little ones. See, here we have enough to live for some time." And opening his bag he showed her the coins.
She was a pious woman, so she said, "The first thing you must buy is some oil that we may light a lamp to our Lady, which we have not done for so long."
And her husband hearkened unto her and straightway went and bought oil, and when they had lighted the lamp they prayed with all their hearts and with tears in their eyes.
The next day her husband arose, and the first thing he did was to buy a house; and he moved into it with his homely furniture and his poor children.
On the first evening he said to his wife, "From day to day we will buy what we want for the house, but nothing more, for we must bear in mind how you used to give milk-soup to the children to drink, to save them from dying of hunger."
"Yes," said she, "I will never ask you for anything that we do not want."
Two months passed during which these people lived happily. They did nothing else but go to church and help the poor. One day, then, the wife of the rich man came to visit her poor kinswoman, for she had heard from many that she was now well off, and she herself had begun to suffer misfortune; all her sheep had died, her fields had brought forth no crops, the frost had bitten many of her trees, and she had met with many other mishaps.
When the poor woman saw her without being in the least affronted to think how little she had helped her in her own misery, she welcomed her joyfully, and gave her the best seat, and put before her the best things she had to eat in the house; whereas the other, when she went, had only received her in the kitchen, and never asked her to sit down!
After some time, she said, "Sister, pray tell me, where has your husband found work, that my husband may try and find some too, for we have fallen into great distress."
And the poor woman answered her, "My husband has not got any employment, but the day you made me wash my hands he went away -- " and then she told her all that had happened.
Then the rich woman asked her to take her husband and show him the dragons.
"Perhaps," said she, "we, too, may thus find succour."
And the poor one said to her, "When my husband comes this evening I will tell him, and your husband can go tomorrow, with a bag, along with him."
When the poor man came home at nightfall, his wife told him what had passed, and he said to her, "I will go and show him the place, but I will not go to gather more treasures for myself, for this which I have God blesses, and it grows from day to day."
Next morning the rich man came with his bag on his back, and said to him, "Good morrow, brother, how do you do? Are you well?" Whereas at other times, if he saw his brother in the way he would turn his back upon him, or take another road, so as not to hear him say that he wanted any help.
But when the poor man saw him he got up and kissed him, and said, "Welcome, brother; I daresay it's ten years since I had the happiness of seeing you enter my house."
"Yes," said the rich one, "but now I have fallen into distress, and know not what to do."
Says the poor man, "Let us go; perhaps you will have good luck yet, and get as rich as ever."
So they set off for the hill. And when they got there he showed him the tree, and said to him, "Go aloft and sit in the tree, and soon the dragons will come out. Count them. If there are forty-nine you can come down and enter the castle free from fear; but if, peradventure, they are but forty-eight, do not go in."
With these words he went away. In a little while the dragons came out, and he began to count them. But it seems he counted them wrong, and instead of saying forty-eight he said forty-nine. So he came down as fast as he could and went into the castle, and eagerly looked about to see where the treasure was, that he might fill his bag and be gone with all speed, and as he stood there he heard a voice saying, "So you are the thief, and have come back to steal more!"
And lo! out comes the dragon which had been watching in a room close by, and seizes him by the head and makes four quarters of him, and hangs them up at the four corners of the dwelling.
When the dragons came home, he said to them, "There's no need to keep watch any longer, for I have hung up the four quarters of the thief, and they will guard our castle for us!"
And from that day forward they determined, none of them to stay at home, but all of them to go out, and so they began to do.
When two days had passed away the wife of the rich man got restless, and went to the house of her brother-in-law to ask him what they had done with her husband.
But the poor man told her what directions he had given him, and said, "I don't know whether he has counted the dragons right, but I will go and see."
And off he went. When he came near to the castle, he got up into the tree, and when the dragons came out he counted them with great care, and they were forty-nine in all. Then he came down and went into the castle and looked right and left for his brother. And raising his eyes he looked aloft and beheld his brother hanging in four quarters, and he was sore amazed. Then he lost no time in taking him down, filling his bag with money and going away.
When he got home he felt very weary and sad, and said to his wife, "Send someone to my sister-in-law's to tell her to come and take charge of her husband."
And when she came she wept, and would not be comforted on beholding her husband cut into four quarters.
Then she said to the poor man, "You must find me a tailor to sew him together, for I cannot bury him like that in four pieces."
The poor man went out at once and got a tailor, who sewed him together.
When they had buried and bewailed him, the poor man opened the bag and gave his sister-in-law half the money, and said to her, "Go and get succour for yourself and your children, and if you are in want again, do not blush to come and ask me for what you need."
The widow went home with tears in her eyes. Let us leave them and return to the dragons.
When they reached their castle and found the dead man was gone, they all cried aloud, "So the thief has an accomplice!"
The next day, therefore, they went into the town and sought for a tailor to make them forty-nine coats and forty-nine pairs of shoes.
So they said to the tailor, "Mind you sew them well so that the stitches don't come out and that they fit us nicely!"
And they said it over and over again till the tailor got angry and said to them, "Here's a fuss! Why yesterday I had to sew a dead man, who was in four bits, together, and they were quite satisfied with the job, though it was out of my line, and you with your coats are like to craze me!"
Then they said to him, "Pray do you know the man who brought you the dead man to sew?"
Said he, "Of course I do, he lives quite close, and if you like I will show you his house, so that you can go and ask him, whether the dead man was well sewed or not."
So he took a dragon with him, and after walking twenty good paces, he showed them the shop.
Then they went away to a joiner's, and ordered forty-eight chests, just big enough for them to get into. When they were finished, the forty-eight dragons got inside, and the forty-ninth remained outside. And in the morning the dragon went to the poor man's place, and said to him, "I have had forty-eight chests sent me and I want you to be so kind as to let me leave them here for the night."
"Not for one night only," he answered, "but let them stay as long as you like, and until it suits you to take them away."
And he got porters to bring them in. Then the children of the poor man began to get upon the chests, and jump about, and play on them; and the dragons who were inside, from time to time, groaned and said, "Ah, would it were dark that we might eat them all."
One of the children was playing hide-and-seek with the rest, and he heard these words and these groanings. So he ran to his father and said: "Those chests are bewitched; they are talking."
Then the father thought a moment, and said, "Forty-eight! and the one that brought them makes forty-nine."
And he went close up to the chests, and put his ear at the key-hole, and he, too, heard the groaning. So he said to himself, "Now, monsters, I'll make sure of you, now that I have got you in my power."
So off he set at once, and went and bought forty-eight spits, and lighted his kitchen fire, and put them in, and made them red hot, and took them one by one, and thrust them into all the chests.
Then he said to his servant, "Look here, my man, they have played us a trick, and put a dragon in a chest, and if we had not killed it, it would have eaten us all up."
The servant was angry, and said to his master, "Give it me, and let me go sink it by the sea shore?"
And he took it on his back, and threw it on to the beach. While he was on his way back, his master made ready another one, and said, "You did not throw it far enough out to sea, and it has come back."
And as often as he returned he did the same with all, and threw them into the sea. But when he got to the last one he grew tired of always coming back and finding one there again, so he walked right into the sea, and plunged it in deep, and when he got back to the shop he called out: "Master, is it back again?"
And his master answered, "No, no, it has not come back. You must have thrown it in very deep."
"Aye, master," said he, "I went right into the sea, and plunged it in, and left it."
In the morning the dragon came to see what had become of the chests, and the merchant cunningly told him that one chest was found open, "and I don't know," says he, "what you had inside."
He was seized with fear, and went to look at the chests, which were in the back part of the shop. And he found the chest was indeed open, and he trembled. The merchant lost no time, but seized him and flung him into the chest, and made it fast forthwith, and straightway spitted him, and so they were all done for.
And the man himself inherited the dragon's castle, and lived there as happy as a prince, and may we live happier still.
Source: Edmund Martin Geldart, Folk-Lore of Modern Greece: The Tales of the People (London: W. Swan Sonnenschein and Company, 1884), pp. 9-17.