time ago there lived
a king and queen who had no children, although they both wished very
for a little son. They tried not to let each other see how unhappy they
were, and pretended to take pleasure in hunting and hawking and all
of other sports; but at length the king could bear it no longer, and
that he must go and visit the furthest corners of his kingdom, and that
it would be many months before he should return to his capital.
time he hoped he
would have so many things to think about that he would have forgotten
trouble about the little son who never came.
the king reigned
over was very large, and full of high, stony mountains and sandy
so that it was not at all easy to go from one place to another. One day
the king had wandered out alone, meaning to go only a little distance,
but everything looked so alike he could not make out the path by which
he had come. He walked on and on for hours, the sun beating hotly on
head, and his legs trembling under him, and he might have died of
if he had not suddenly stumbled on a little well, which looked as if it
had been newly dug. On the surface floated a silver cup with a golden
but as it bobbed about whenever the king tried to seize it, he was too
thirsty to wait any longer and knelt down and drank his fill.
When he had
finished he began
to rise from his knees, but somehow his beard seemed to have stuck fast
in the water, and with all his efforts he could not pull it out. After
two or three jerks to his head, which only hurt him without doing any
he called out angrily, ‘Let go at once! Who is holding me?'
‘It is I,
the King Kostiei,'
said a voice from the well, and looking up through the water was a
man with green eyes and a big head. ‘You have drunk from my spring, and
I shall not let you go until you promise to give me the most precious
your palace contains, which was not there when you left it.'
only thing that the
king much cared for in his palace was the queen herself, and as she was
weeping bitterly on a pile of cushions in the great hall when he had
away, he knew that Kostiei's words could not apply to her. So he
gave the promise asked for by the ugly little man, and in the twinkling
of an eye, man, spring, and cup had disappeared, and the king was left
kneeling on the dry sand, wondering if it was all a dream. But as he
much stronger and better he made up his mind that this strange
must really have happened, and he sprang on his horse and rode off with
a light heart to look for his companions.
In a few
weeks they began
to set out on their return home, which they reached one hot day, eight
months after they had all left. The king was greatly beloved by his
and crowds lined the roads, shouting and waving their hats as the
passed along. On the steps of the palace stood the queen, with a
golden cushion in her arms, and on the cushion the most beautiful boy
ever was seen, wrapped about in a cloud of lace. In a moment Kostiei's
words rushed into the king's mind, and he began to weep bitterly, to
surprise of everybody, who had expected him nearly to die of joy at the
sight of his son. But try as he would and work as hard as he might he
never forget his promise, and every time he let the baby out of his
he thought that he had seen it for the last time.
years passed on
and the prince grew first into a big boy, and then into a fine young
Kostiei made no sign, and gradually even the anxious king thought less
and less about him, and in the end forgot him altogether.
no family in the
whole kingdom happier than the king and queen and prince, until one day
when the youth met a little old man as he was hunting in a lonely part
of the woods. ‘How are you my unlooked-for Prince?' he said. ‘You kept
them waiting a good long time!'
are you?' asked
know soon enough.
When you go home give my compliments to your father and tell him that I
wish he would square accounts with me. If he neglects to pay his debts
he will bitterly repent it.'
the old man disappeared,
and the prince returned to the palace and told his father what had
turned pale and
explained to his son the terrible story.
grieve over it, father,'
answered the prince. ‘It is nothing so dreadful after all! I will find
some way to force Kostiei to give up his rights over me. But if I do
come back in a year's time, you must give up all hopes of ever seeing
prince began to
prepare for his journey. His father gave him a complete suit of steel
a sword, and a horse, while his mother hung round his neck a cross of
So, kissing him tenderly, with many tears they let him go.
steadily on for three
days, and at sunset on the fourth day he found himself on the seashore.
On the sand before him lay twelve white dresses, dazzling as the snow,
yet as far as his eyes could reach there was no one in sight to whom
could belong. Curious to see what would happen, he took up one of the
and leaving his horse loose, to wander about the adjoining fields, he
himself among some willows and waited. In a few minutes a flock of
which had been paddling about in the sea approached the shore, and put
on the dresses, struck the sand with their feet and were transformed in
the twinkling of an eye into eleven beautiful young girls, who flew
as fast as they could. The twelfth and youngest remained in the water,
stretching out her long white neck and looking about her anxiously.
among the willows, she perceived the king's son, and called out to him
with a human voice:
give me back
my dress, and I shall be for ever grateful to you.'
hastened to lay
the dress on the sand, and walked away. When the maiden had thrown off
the goose-skin and quickly put on her proper clothes, she came towards
him and he saw that none had ever seen or told of such beauty as hers.
She blushed and held out her hand, saying to him in a soft voice:
you, noble Prince,
for having granted my request. I am the youngest daughter of Kostiei
immortal, who has twelve daughters and rules over the kingdoms under
earth. Long time my father has waited for you, and great is his anger.
But trouble not yourself and fear nothing, only do as I bid you. When
see the King Kostiei, fall straightway upon your knees and heed neither
his threats nor his cry, but draw near to him boldly. That which will
after, you will know in time. Now let us go.'
words she struck
the ground with her foot and a gulf opened, down which they went right
into the heart of the earth. In a short time they reached Kostiei's
which gives light, with a light brighter than the sun, to the dark
below. And the prince, as he had been bidden, entered boldly into the
with a shining crown
upon his head, sat in the centre upon a golden throne. His green eyes
like glass, his hands were as the claws of a crab. When he caught sight
of the prince he uttered piercing yells, which shook the walls of the
The prince took no notice, but continued his advance on his knees
the throne. When he had almost reached it, the king broke out into a
been very lucky for
you that you have been able to make me laugh. Stay with us in our
empire, only first you will have to do three things. To-night it is
Go to sleep; to-morrow I will tell you.'
the prince received a message that Kostiei was ready to see him. He got
up and dressed, and hastened to the presence chamber, where the little
king was seated on his throne. When the prince appeared, bowing low
him, Kostiei began:
Prince, this is what
you have to do. By to-night you must build me a marble palace, with
of crystal and a roof of gold. It is to stand in the middle of a great
park, full of streams and lakes. If you are able to build it you shall
be my friend. If not, off with your head.'
listened in silence
to this startling speech, and then returning to his room set himself to
think about the certain death that awaited him. He was quite absorbed
these thoughts, when suddenly a bee flew against the window and tapped,
saying, ‘Let me come in.' He rose and opened the window, and there
before him the youngest princess.
you dreaming about,
dreaming of your father,
who has planned my death.'
nothing. You may sleep
in peace, and to-morrow morning when you awake you will find the palace
said, she did. The
next morning when the prince left his room he saw before him a palace
beautiful than his fancy had ever pictured. Kostiei for his part could
hardly believe his eyes, and pondered deeply how it had got there.
time you have
certainly won; but you are not going to be let off so easily. To-morrow
all my twelve daughters shall stand in a row before you, and if you
tell me which of them is the youngest, off goes your head.'
youngest princess!' said the Prince to himself, as he entered his room,
‘a likely story!'
‘It is such
a difficult matter
that you will never be able to do it without my help,' replied the bee,
who was buzzing about the ceiling. ‘We are all so exactly alike, that
our father scarcely knows the difference between us.'
must I do?'
youngest is she
who will have a ladybird on her eyelid. Be very careful. Now good-bye.'
morning King Kostiei
again sent for the prince. The young princesses were all drawn up in a
row, dressed precisely in the same manner, and with their eyes all cast
down. As the prince looked at them, he was amazed at their likeness.
he walked along the line, without being able to detect the sign agreed
upon. The third time his heart beat fast at the sight of a tiny speck
the eyelid of one of the girls.
is the youngest,'
‘How in the
world did you
guess?' cried Kostiei in a fury. ‘There is some jugglery about it! But
you are not going to escape me so easily. In three hours you shall come
here and give me another proof of your cleverness. I shall set alight a
handful of straw, and before it is burnt up you will have turned it
a pair of boots. If not, off goes your head.'
prince returned sadly
into his room, but the bee was there before him.
‘Why do you
look so melancholy,
my handsome Prince?'
‘How can I
help looking melancholy
when your father has ordered me to make him a pair of boots? Does he
me for a shoemaker?'
you think of doing?'
making boots, at
any rate! I am not afraid of death. One can only die once after all.'
Prince, you shall not
die. I will try to save you. And we will fly together or die together.'
spoke she spat upon
the ground, and then drawing the prince after her out of the room, she
locked the door behind her and threw away the key. Holding each other
by the hand, they made their way up into the sunlight, and found
by the side of the same sea, while the prince's horse was still quietly
feeding in the neighbouring meadow. The moment he saw his master, the
whinnied and galloped towards him. Without losing an instant the prince
sprang into the saddle, swung the princess behind him, and away they
like an arrow from a bow.
hour arrived which
Kostiei had fixed for the prince's last trial, and there were no signs
of him, the king sent to his room to ask why he delayed so long. The
finding the door locked, knocked loudly and received for answer, ‘In
moment.' It was the spittle, which was imitating the voice of the
was taken back
to Kostiei. He waited; still no prince. He sent the servants back
and the same voice replied, ‘Immediately.'
making fun of me!'
shrieked Kostiei in a rage. ‘Break in the door, and bring him to me!'
servants hurried to do
his bidding. The door was broken open. Nobody inside; but just the
in fits of laughter! Kostiei was beside himself with rage, and
his guards to ride after the fugitives. If the guards returned without
the fugitives, their heads should pay for it.
time the prince and
princess had got a good start, and were feeling quite happy, when
they heard the sound of a gallop far behind them. The prince sprang
the saddle, and laid his ear to the ground.
pursuing us,' he
is no time to
be lost,' answered the princess; and as she spoke she changed herself
a river, the prince into a bridge, the horse into a crow, and divided
wide road beyond the bridge into three little ones. When the soldiers
up to the bridge, they paused uncertainly. How were they to know which
of the three roads the fugitives had taken? They gave it up in despair
and returned in trembling to Kostiei.
he exclaimed, in
a passion. ‘They were the bridge and the river, of course! Do you mean
to say you never thought of that? Go back at once!' and off they
had been lost, and
the prince and princess were far on their way.
‘I hear a
horse,' cried the
jumped down and
laid his ear to the ground.
said, ‘they are
not far off now.'
instant prince, princess,
and horse had all disappeared, and instead was a dense forest, crossed
and recrossed by countless paths. Kostiei's soldiers dashed hastily
the forest, believing they saw before them the flying horse with its
burden. They seemed close upon them, when suddenly horse, wood,
disappeared, and they found themselves at the place where they started.
There was nothing for it but to return to Kostiei, and tell him of this
‘A horse! a
the king. ‘I will go after them myself. This time they shall not
And he galloped off, foaming with anger.
‘I think I
hear someone pursuing
us,' said the princess
‘Yes, so do
time it is Kostiei
himself. But his power only reaches as far as the first church, and he
can go no farther. Give me your golden cross.' So the prince unfastened
the cross which was his mother's gift, and the princess hastily changed
herself into a church, the prince into a priest, and the horse into a
hardly done when Kostiei
monk. Have you
seen some travelers on horseback pass this way?'
prince and Kostiei's
daughter have just gone by. They have entered the church, and told me
give you their greetings if I met you.'
Kostiei knew that he
had been hopelessly beaten, and the prince and princess continued their
journey without any more adventures.