Sixty Folk-Tales From Exclusively Slavonic Sources by A. H. Wratislaw
and Lower Lusatian Stories
XVII. Prince Unexpected
THERE was a king and queen who had been married for three years, but had no children, at which they were both much distressed. Once upon a time the king found himself obliged to make a visit of inspection round his dominions; he took leave of his queen, set off and was not at home for eight months. Towards the end of the ninth month the king returned from his progress through his country, and was already hard by his capital city, when, as he journeyed over an uninhabited plain during the most scorching heat of summer, he felt such excessive thirst that he sent his servants round about to see if they could find water anywhere and let him know of it at once. The servants dispersed in various directions, sought in vain for a whole hour, and returned without success to the king. The thirst-tormented king proceeded to traverse the whole plain far and wide himself, not believing that there was not a spring somewhere or other; on he rode, and on a level spot, on which there had not previously been any water, he espied a well with a new wooden fence round it, full to the brim with spring water, in the midst of which floated a silver cup with a golden handle. The king sprang from his horse and reached after the cup with his right hand; but the cup, just as if it were alive and had eyes, darted quickly on one side and floated again by itself. The king knelt down and began to try to catch it, now with his right hand, now with his left, but it moved and dodged away in such a manner that, not being able to seize it with one hand, he tried to catch it with both. But scarcely had he reached out with both hands when the cup dived like a fish, and floated again on the surface. 'Hang it!' thought the king, 'I can't help myself with the cup, I'll manage without it.' He then bent down to the water, which was as clear as crystal and as cold as ice, and began in his thirst to drink. Meanwhile his long beard, which reached down to his girdle, dipped into the water. When he had quenched his thirst, he wanted to get up again--something was holding his beard and wouldn't let it go. He pulled once and again, but it was of no use; he cried out therefore in anger, 'Who's there? let go!' 'It's I, the subterranean king, immortal Bony, and I shall not let go till you give me that which you left unknowingly at home, and which you do not expect to find on your return.' The king looked into the depth of the well, and there was a huge head like a tub, with green eyes and a mouth from ear to ear, which was holding the king by the beard with extended claws like those of a crab, and was laughing mischievously. The king thought that a thing of which he had not known before starting, and which he did not expect on his return, could not be of great value, so he said to the apparition, 'I give it.' The apparition burst with laughter and vanished with a flash of fire, and with it vanished also the well, the water, the wooden fence, and the cup; and the king was again on a hillock by a little wood kneeling on dry sand, and there was nothing more. The king got up, crossed himself, sprang on his horse, hastened to his attendants, and rode on.
In a week or maybe a fortnight the king arrived at his capital; the people came out in crowds to meet him; he went in procession to the great court of the palace and entered the corridor. In the corridor stood the queen awaiting him, and holding close to her bosom a cushion, on which lay a child, beautiful as the moon, kicking in swaddling clothes. The king recollected himself, sighed painfully, and said within himself: 'This is what I left without knowing and found without expecting!' And bitterly, bitterly did he weep. All marvelled, but nobody dared to ask the cause. The king took his son, without saying a word, in his arms, gazed long on his innocent face; carried him into the palace himself, laid him in the cradle, and, suppressing his sorrow, devoted himself to the government of his realm, but was never again cheerful as formerly, since he was perpetually tormented by the thought that some day Bony would claim his son.
Meanwhile weeks, months, and years flowed on, and no one came for his son. The prince, named 'Unexpected,' grew and developed, and eventually became a handsome youth. The king also in course of time regained his usual cheerfulness; and forgot what had taken place, but alas! everybody did not forget so easily.
Once the prince, while hunting in a forest, became separated from his suite and found himself in a savage wilderness. Suddenly there appeared before him a hideous old man with green eyes, who said: 'How do you do, Prince Unexpected? You have made me wait for you a long time.' 'Who are you?' 'That you will find out hereafter, but now, when you return to your father, greet him from me, and tell him that I should be glad if he would close accounts with me, for if he doesn't soon get out of my debt of himself, he will repent it bitterly.' After saying this the hideous old man disappeared, and the prince in amazement turned his horse, rode home and told the king his adventure. The king turned as pale as a sheet, and revealed the frightful secret to his son. 'Don't cry, father!' replied the prince, 'it isn't a great misfortune! I shall manage to force Bony to renounce the right over me, which he tricked you out of in so underhand a manner, and if in the course of a year I do not return, it will be a token that we shall see each other no more.' The prince prepared for his journey, the king gave him a suit of steel armour, a sword, and a horse, and the queen hung round his neck a cross of pure gold. At leave-taking they embraced affectionately, wept heartily, and the prince rode off.
On he rode one day, two days, three days, and at the end of the fourth day at the setting of the sun he came to the shore of the sea, and in the self-same bay espied twelve dresses, white as snow, though in the water, as far as the eye could reach, there was no living soul to be seen; only twelve white geese were swimming at a distance from the shore. Curious to know to whom they belonged, he took one of the dresses, let his horse loose in a meadow, concealed himself in a neighbouring thicket, and waited to see what would come to pass. Thereupon the geese, after disporting themselves on the sea, swam to the shore; eleven of them went to the dresses, each threw herself on the ground and became a beautiful damsel, dressed herself with speed, and flew away into the plain. The twelfth goose, the last and prettiest of all, did not venture to come out on the shore, but only wistfully stretched out her neck, looking on all sides. On seeing the prince she called out with a human voice: 'Prince Unexpected, give me my dress; I will be grateful to you in return.' The prince hearkened to her, placed the dress on the grass, and modestly turned away in another direction. The goose came out on the grass, changed herself into a damsel, dressed herself hastily, and stood before the prince; she was young and more beautiful than eye had seen or ear heard of. Blushing, she gave him her white hand, and, casting her eyes down, said with a pleasing voice: 'I thank you, good prince, for hearkening to me: I am the youngest daughter of immortal Bony; he has twelve young daughters, and rules in the subterranean realm. My father, prince, has long been expecting you and is very angry; however, don't grieve, and don't be frightened, but do as I tell you. As soon as you see King Bony, fall at once on your knees, and, paying no regard to his outcry, upbraiding, and threats, approach him boldly. What will happen afterwards you will learn, but now we must part.' On saying this the princess stamped on the ground with her little foot; the ground sprang open at once, and they descended into the subterranean realm, right into Bony's palace, which shone all underground brighter than our sun. The prince stepped boldly into the reception-room. Bony was sitting on a golden throne with a glittering crown on his head; his eyes gleamed like two saucers of green glass and his hands were like the nippers of a crab. As soon as he espied him at a distance, the prince fell on his knees, and Bony yelled so horribly that the vaults of the subterranean dominion quaked; but the prince boldly moved on his knees towards the throne, and, when he was only a few paces from it, the king smiled and said: 'Thou hast marvellous luck in succeeding in making me smile; remain in our subterranean realm, but before thou becomest a true citizen thereof thou art bound to execute three commands of mine; but because it is late to-day, we will begin to-morrow; meanwhile go to thy room.'
The prince slept comfortably in the room assigned to him, and early on the morrow Bony summoned him and said: We will see, prince, what thou canst do. In the course of the following night build me a palace of pure marble; let the windows be of crystal, the roof of gold, an elegant garden round about it, and in the garden seats and fountains; if thou buildest it, thou wilt gain thyself my love; if not, I shall command thy head to be cut off.' The prince heard it, returned to his apartment, and was sitting mournfully thinking of the death that threatened him, when outside at the window a bee came buzzing and said: 'Let me in!' He opened the lattice, in flew the bee, and the princess, Bony's youngest daughter, appeared before the wondering prince. 'What are you thus thinking about, Prince Unexpected?' 'Alas! I am thinking that your father wishes to deprive me of life.' 'Don't be afraid! lie down to sleep, and when you get up to-morrow morning your palace will be ready.'
So, too, it came to pass. At dawn the prince came out of his room and espied a more beautiful palace than he had ever seen, and Bony, when he saw it, wondered, and wouldn't believe his own eyes. 'Well! thou hast won this time, and now thou hast my second command. I shall place my twelve daughters before thee to-morrow; if thou dost not guess which of them is the youngest, thou wilt place thy head beneath the axe.' 'I unable to recognise the youngest princess!' said the prince in his room; 'what difficulty can there be in that?' 'This,' answered the princess, flying into the room in the shape of a bee, 'that if I don't help you, you won't recognise me, for we are all so alike that even our father only distinguishes us by our dress.' 'What am I to do?' 'What, indeed! That will be the youngest over whose right eye you espy a ladycow; only look well. Adieu!' On the morrow King Bony again summoned Prince Unexpected. The princesses stood in a row side by side, all dressed alike and with eyes cast down. The prince looked and marvelled how alike all the princesses were; he went past them once, twice--he did not find the appointed token; the third time he saw a ladycow over the eyebrow of one, and cried out: 'This is the youngest princess!' 'How the deuce have you guessed it?' said Bony angrily. 'There must be some trickery here. I must deal with your lordship differently. In three hours you will come here again, and will show your cleverness in my presence. I shall light a straw, and you will stitch a pair of boots before it goes out, and if you don't do it you will perish.'
The prince returned desponding and found the bee already in his apartment. 'Why pensive again, prince?' How shouldn't I be pensive, when your father wants me to stitch him a pair of boots, for what sort of cobbler am I?' 'What else will you do?' 'What am I to do? I shan't stitch the boots, and I'm not afraid of death--one can but die once!' 'No, prince, you shall not die! I will endeavour to rescue you, and we will either escape together or perish together! We must flee--there's nothing else to be done.' Saying this, the princess spat on one of the window-panes, and the spittle immediately froze. She then went out of the room with the prince, locked the door after her, and threw the key far away; then, taking each other by the hands, they ascended rapidly, and in a moment found themselves on the very spot whence they had descended into the subterranean realm; there was the self-same sea, the self-same shore overgrown with rushes and thornbushes, the self-same fresh meadow, and in the meadow cantered the prince's well-fed horse, who, as soon as he descried his rider, came galloping straight to him. The prince didn't stop long to think, but sprang on his horse, the princess seated herself behind him, and off they set as swift as an arrow.
King Bony at the appointed hour did not wait for Prince Unexpected, but sent to ask him why he did not appear. Finding the door locked, the servants knocked at it vigorously, and the spittle answered them from the middle of the room in the prince's voice, 'Anon!' The servants carried this answer to the king; he waited, waited, no prince; he therefore again sent the same servants, who heard the same answer: 'Anon!' and carried what they had heard to the king. 'What's this? Does he mean to make fun of me?' shouted the king in wrath: 'Go at once, break the door open and conduct him to me!' The servants hurried off, broke open the door, and rushed in. What, indeed? there was nobody there, and the spittle on the pane of glass was splitting with laughter at them. Bony all but burst with rage, and ordered them all to start off in pursuit of the prince, threatening them with death if they returned empty-handed. They sprang on horseback and hastened away after the prince and princess.
Meanwhile Prince Unexpected and the princess, Bony's daughter, were hurrying away on their spirited horse, and amidst their rapid flight heard 'tramp, tramp,' behind them. The prince sprang from the horse, put his ear to the ground and said, 'They are pursuing us.' 'Then,' said the princess, 'we have no time to lose.' Instantly she transformed herself into a river, changed the prince into a bridge, the horse into a raven, and the grand highway beyond the bridge divided into three roads. Swiftly on the fresh track hastened the pursuers, came on to the bridge, and stood stupefied; they saw the track up to the bridge, but beyond it disappeared, and the highway divided into three roads. There was nothing to be done but to return, and they came with nought. Bony shouted with rage, and cried out: 'A bridge and a river! It was they. How was it that ye did not guess it? Back, and don't return without them!' The pursuers recommenced the pursuit.
'I hear "tramp, tramp!" 'whispered the princess, Bony's daughter, affrightedly to Prince Unexpected, who sprang from the saddle, put his ear to the ground, and replied: 'They are making haste, and are not far off.' That instant the princess and prince, and with them also their horse, became a gloomy forest, in which were roads, by-roads, and footpaths without number, and on one of them it seemed that two riders were hastening on a horse. Following the fresh track, the pursuers came up to the forest, and when they espied the fugitives in it, they hastened speedily after them. On and on hurried the pursuers, seeing continually before them a thick forest, a wide road and the fugitives on it; now, now they thought to overtake them, when the fugitives and the thick forest suddenly vanished, and they found themselves at the self-same place whence they had started in pursuit. They returned, therefore, again to Bony empty-handed. 'A horse, a horse! I'll go myself! they won't escape out of my hands!' yelled Bony, foaming at the mouth, and started in pursuit.
Again the princess said to Prince Unexpected: 'Methinks they are pursuing us, and this time it is Bony, my father, himself, but the first church is the boundary of his dominion, and he won't be able to pursue us further. Give me your golden cross.' The prince took off his affectionate mother's gift and gave it to the princess, and in a moment she was transformed into a church, he into the priest, and the horse into the bell; and that instant up came Bony. 'Monk!' Bony asked the priest, 'hast thou not seen some travellers on horseback?' 'Only just now Prince Unexpected rode this way with the princess, Bony's daughter. They came into the church, performed their devotions, gave money for a mass for your good health, and ordered me to present their respects to you if you should ride this way.' Bony, too, returned empty-handed. But Prince Unexpected rode on with the princess, Bony's daughter, in no further fear of pursuit.
They rode gently on, when they saw before them a beautiful town, into which the prince felt an irresistible longing to go. 'Prince,' said the princess, 'don't go; my heart forebodes misfortune there.' 'I'll only ride there for a short time, and look round the town, and we'll then proceed on our journey.' 'It's easy enough to ride thither, but will it be as easy to return? Nevertheless, as you absolutely desire it, go, and I will remain here in the form of a white stone till you return; be circumspect, my beloved; the king, the queen, and the princess, their daughter, will come out to meet you, and with them will be a beautiful little boy--don't kiss him, for, if you do, you will forget me at once, and will never set eyes on me more in the world--I shall die of despair. I will wait for you here on the road for three days, and if on the third day you don't return, remember that I perish, and perish all through you.' The prince took leave and rode to the town, and the princess transformed herself into a white stone, and remained on the road.
One day passed, a second passed, the third also passed, and nothing was seen of the prince. Poor princess! He had not obeyed her counsel; in the town, the king, the queen, and the princess their daughter, had come out to meet him, and with them walked a little boy, a curly-headed chatterbox, with eyes as bright as stars. The child rushed straight into the prince's arms, who was so captivated by the beauty of the lad that he forgot everything, and kissed the child affectionately. That moment his memory was darkened, and he utterly forgot the princess, Bony's daughter.
The princess lay as a white stone by the wayside, one day, two days, and when the third day passed and the prince did not return from the town, she transformed herself into a cornflower, and sprang in among the rye by the roadside.
Here I shall stay by the roadside; maybe some passer-by will pull me up or trample me into the ground,' said she, and tears like dew-drops glittered on the azure petals. Just then an old man came along the road, espied the corn-flower in the rye by the wayside, was captivated by its beauty, extracted it carefully from the ground, carried it into his dwelling, set it in a flower-pot, watered it, and began to tend it attentively. But--O marvel!--ever since the time that the cornflower was brought into his dwelling, all kind of wonders began to happen in it. Scarcely was the old man awake, when everything in the house was already set in order, nowhere was the least atom of dust remaining. At noon he came home--dinner was all ready, the table set; he had but to sit down and eat as much as he wanted. The old man wondered and wondered, till at last terror took possession of him, and he betook himself for advice to an old witch of his acquaintance in the neighbourhood. 'Do this,' the witch advised him: 'get up before the first morning dawn, before the cocks crow to announce daylight, and notice diligently what begins to stir first in the house, and that which does stir, cover with this napkin: what will happen further, you will see.'
The old man didn't close his eyes the whole night, and as soon as the first gleam appeared and things began to be visible in the house, he saw how the cornflower suddenly moved in the flower-pot, sprang out, and began to stir about the room; when simultaneously everything began to put itself in its place; the dust began to sweep itself clean away, and the fire kindled itself in the stove. The old man sprang cleverly out of his bed and placed the cloth on the flower as it endeavoured to escape, when lo! the flower became a beautiful damsel--the princess, Bony's daughter. What have you done?' cried the princess. 'Why have you brought life back again to me? My betrothed, Prince Unexpected, has forgotten me, and, therefore, life has become distasteful to me.' 'Your betrothed, Prince Unexpected, is going to be married to-day; the wedding feast is ready, and the guests are beginning to assemble.'
The princess wept, but after awhile dried her tears, dressed herself in frieze, and went into the town like a village girl. She came to the royal kitchen, where there was great noise and bustle. She went up to the clerk of the kitchen with humble and attractive grace, and said in a sweet voice: 'Dear sir, do me one favour; allow me to make a wedding-cake for Prince Unexpected.' Occupied with work, the first impulse of the clerk of the kitchen was to give the girl a rebuff, but when he looked at her, the words died on his lips, and he answered kindly: 'Ah, my beauty of beauties! do what you will; I will hand the prince your cake myself.' The cake was soon baked, and all the invited guests were sitting at table. The clerk of the kitchen himself placed a huge cake on a silver dish before the prince; but scarce had the prince made a cut in the side of it, when lo! an unheard-of marvel displayed itself in the presence of all. A gray tom-pigeon and a white hen-pigeon came out of the cake; the torn-pigeon walked along the table, and the hen-pigeon walked after him, cooing:
Scarcely had Prince Unexpected heard this cooing of the pigeon, when he regained his lost recollection, bounced from the table, rushed to the door, and behind the door the princess, Bony's daughter, took him by the hand; they went together down the corridor, and before them stood a horse saddled and bridled.
Why delay? Prince Unexpected and the princess, Bony's daughter, sprang on the horse, started on the road, and at last arrived happily in the realm of Prince Unexpected's father. The king and queen received them with joy and merriment, and didn't wait long before they prepared them a magnificent wedding, the like of which eye never saw and ear never heard of.
With the above story should be compared that of 'The Water King, and Vasilissa the Wise' (Ralston, p. 120). A large number of tales that may also be compared with it are mentioned by Mr. Ralston in pp. 132-133 of his Russian Folk-tales. As to the interpretation of 'Prince Unexpected,' it is very tempting to look upon Kostchey's twelve daughters as representing the twelve months. And, as the year anciently began with spring, Kostchey's youngest daughter would be the month which forms the transition from winter to spring. The interruption of their progress by Prince Unexpected's temporary forgetfulness may be explained as the temporary cessation of warm weather and return of a kind of secondary winter, which often occurs in early spring. Prince Unexpected himself may, perhaps, be considered as representing the sun, who has been held in captivity by the winter and has escaped with the last month of the year. Vasilissa the Wise is the eldest daughter of the Water King, and would thus represent the first month of the new year.
The text came from:
Wratislaw, A. H. Sixty Folk-Tales From Exclusively Slavonic Sources. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, & Company, 1890.