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  • The Fairy Tale Magazine

CLASSIC Tales from Russia: The Wise Princess


Story and illustration from The Blue Rose Fairy Book by Maurice Baring, 1911

Once upon a time in a certain kingdom there lived a King and a Queen. They had three sons, who were all young, unmarried, and so brave that no fairy tale could tell, no pen could write down, how brave they were. The youngest was called Ivan-the-King's-Son. The King spoke to his children thus: "My dear children, take each of you an arrow, draw your bow at a venture, and shoot in various directions. And there, where the arrow shall fall, go take a wife."


The eldest brother drew his bow at a venture, and the arrow fell on a nobleman's house, right opposite the women's attic. The second arrow fell in the yard of a merchant's house, on a flight of steps; and on the steps stood a beautiful girl, the merchant's daughter. The youngest brother drew his bow at a venture, and the arrow fell into a dirty marsh, and a frog caught it. Ivan-the-King's-Son said: "How can I marry a frog? She is not my size."


"Marry her," said the King. "It means that such is your fate."


So the sons of the King were married. The eldest married the nobleman's daughter; the second one, the merchant's daughter; and Ivan-the-King's-Son married a frog. And the King called them to him and gave the following command:—


"Each of your wives must bake me a soft white loaf of bread for breakfast to-morrow."


Ivan-the-King's-Son went to his room with a heavy heart and hung his head.


"Ivan-the-King's-Son, why are you so sad?" the frog asked. "Has your father spoken an angry or an unkind word to you?"


"How can I not be sad? The King, my father, has ordered you to get ready a loaf of soft white bread for his breakfast to-morrow."


"Do not worry, Ivan-the-King's-Son, go to bed and sleep. In the morning you will be wiser than in the evening."


She sent him to bed, and no sooner had she done so than she threw off her frog's skin and turned into a most beautiful girl, for she was none other than the Wise Princess. She went out on to the steps and called out in a loud voice: "Oh you, my nurses, get ready, get ready! Provide yourselves with what is necessary, and make me a white loaf such as I used to eat in my father's house."


In the morning, when Ivan-the-King's-Son got up, the frog's loaf had been ready for some time, and it was so excellent that the like of it had never been seen. The loaf of bread was ornamented with various devices: on the sides of it were kings' palaces, and stately towers with their gardens and their walls. The King thanked Ivan-the-King's-Son for the loaf, and at the same time he gave the following order to his three sons:—


"Your wives shall each of them weave me a carpet by to-night."


Ivan-the-King's-Son came home with a heavy heart and hung his head.


"Croak, croak," said the frog, "why are you so sad? Has your father spoken a cruel or an unkind word to you?"


"How can I not be sad?" answered Ivan-the-King's-Son. "The King, my father, has ordered a silken carpet to be woven for him by to-night."


"Do not worry, Ivan-the-King's-Son, lie down and sleep. In the morning you will be wiser."


She put him to bed, and threw off her frog's skin, and turned into a beautiful maiden. She went out on to the steps and called out in a loud voice: "Oh, you boisterous winds, bring hither that same carpet on which I used to sit in the house of my father."


No sooner said than done. In the morning, when Ivan-the-King's-Son awoke, the carpet had been ready for some time, and it was so beautiful that the like of it had never been seen before. It was adorned with gold, silver, and cunning devices. The King thanked his son for the carpet, and at the same time he issued a new command, namely, that his sons were to be present, each with his wife, at the grand review.


Ivan-the-King's-Son returned home with a heavy heart and hung his head.


"Croak, croak, Ivan-the-King's-Son," said the frog, "why are you so sad? Have you heard from your father anything cruel or unpleasant?"


"How can I not be sad? The King, my father, has ordered that I should be present at the review with you. And how can I show you to the people?"


"Do not worry, Ivan-the-King's-Son! Go by yourself, and pay your respects to the King. I will follow; and as soon as you hear a noise like thunder, say, 'My little frog is coming hither in a basket."


The two elder brothers appeared at the review with their wives, all in beautiful clothes; they stood there and laughed at Ivan-the-King's-Son, and said: "Why have you come here, brother, without your wife? You might have brought her in your pocket. And where did you find such a beautiful lady?"


Suddenly a loud noise like thunder was heard, and the whole palace shook. The guests were frightened to death, and jumped up from their places and did not know what to do. But Ivan-the-King's-Son said: "Do not be afraid, gentlemen, this is my little frog who has come here in a basket."


A golden coach drove up to the palace, drawn by six horses, and out of it came the Wise Princess, so beautiful that it is impossible to describe her. She took Ivan-the-King's-Son by the hand, and led him to the oaken chairs and the spread tables. The guests began to eat and drink, and to make merry. The Wise Princess, as she drank from a glass, let a drop fall on to her left sleeve; and as she ate a piece of roast swan, she hid one of the bones in her right sleeve. The wives of the elder sons noticed this, and did the same. Afterwards, when the Wise Princess was dancing with Ivan-the-King's-Son, she shook her left sleeve, and at once a lake appeared. She shook her right sleeve, and white swans swam about on the lake.


The King and his guests were astonished, and when the elder sons' wives began to dance they shook their left sleeves, but the only result of it was to splash the guests. Then they shook their right sleeves, and in so doing a swan's bone hit the King in the face. The King was angry, and drove them away in disgrace. During that time Ivan-the-King's-Son took the opportunity of going home. He found the frog's skin, and threw it into a big fire.


The Wise Princess arrived and asked where her frog's skin was. Then not finding it, she grew sad and said: "Oh, Ivan-the-King's-Son, Ivan-the-King's-Son, what have you done? If you had waited a moment I would have been yours for ever. But now good-bye. Seek me at the end of the world, in the Kingdom of Nowhere. Wear out three pairs of iron boots."


So saying, she turned herself into a white swan, and flew away out of the window.


Ivan-the-King's-Son wept bitterly, and prayed to God with all his might. He put on iron boots, and walked on straight in front of him. He walked and walked, and after a time he met an old man.


"Good morrow, young man," said the old man; "what are you looking for and where are you going to?"


Ivan-the-King's-Son told him all his misfortunes.


"Ah, Ivan-the-King's-Son, why did you burn the frog's skin? You did not put it on, and it was not for you to take it off. The Wise Princess was so far more cunning and wise than her father, that he clothed her in a frog's skin and bade her be a frog for three years. Here is a ball for you. Wherever it rolls, you must boldly follow."


Ivan-the-King's-Son thanked the old man, and followed where the ball rolled. Whether it rolled far or near, for a short time or a long time, the story does not say; but it stopped at a cottage. This cottage stood on chicken's legs and wobbled about. Ivan-the-King's-Son said, "Cottage, cottage, stand as you used to stand—still, as your mother placed you, back to the wood and front to me."


The cottage turned round, with its back to the wood and its front to him. Ivan-the-King's-Son went into the cottage, and there lay an old woman, all bony, with a nose which grew to the ceiling. She said to him in an angry voice: "Fie, fie, fie! Why have you come here, Ivan-the-King's-Son?"


"Oh, you old woman," he answered, "before asking me questions you should give me something to eat and to drink, and you should prepare me a hot steam bath; and then you can ask me questions."


The old woman gave him food and drink, and a steam bath, and then the King's son told her he was looking for his wife, the Wise Princess.


"My child," said the old woman, "it is a pity you did not come before. In the first years, after her flight, she remembered you, but now she has ceased thinking of you. Go at once to my second sister; she knows more than I do."


Ivan-the-King's-Son set out on his journey, and followed the ball. He walked and walked, and again there stood before him a cottage with chickens' legs.


"Cottage, cottage, stand still, as your mother placed you, with your back to the wood and your front to me."


The cottage turned round. Ivan-the-King's-Son went into it, and there stood an old woman with bony legs. She saw the Prince and she said: "Fie, fie! Ivan-the-King's Son, have you come here of your own accord or because you were obliged to?"


Ivan-the-King's-Son answered: "I have come here of my own accord, and also because I can't help it. I am looking for the Wise Princess."


"I am sorry for you, Ivan-the-King's-Son. You should have come before. The Wise Princess has quite forgotten you. She wants to marry another husband. At this moment she is living with my eldest sister. Go thither quickly, but remember one thing, that as soon as you have entered the cottage, the Wise Princess will turn into a spindle and my sister will begin to spin golden threads, and to turn her wheel. Mind that you lose no time in taking away the spindle from her and breaking it in two; throw half of it behind you and the other half in front of you. Then the Wise Princess will appear."


Ivan-the-King's-Son set out on his journey. He walked and walked, but whether the way was long, or whether it was short, whether it was near or far, the story doesn't say. He wore out three pairs of iron boots, and at last he reached a cottage with chickens' legs.


"Cottage, cottage, stand still, as your mother placed you, with your front to me, and your back to the wood."


The cottage turned round, the King's Son went into it, and there an old woman all bony was sitting and spinning gold. She took her spindle, shut it up in a cupboard, and locked the door with a key. But Ivan-the-King's-Son managed to snatch the key and to open the cupboard. He took the spindle and broke it in two pieces; he threw one piece behind him and one piece in front of him. At the same moment the Wise Princess appeared before him.


"Ah, Ivan-the-King's-Son, what a long time you have been coming! I had nearly married some one else." Then she took him by the hand, and they sat down on a magic carpet, and flew back to Ivan-the-King's-Son's house.


On the fourth day the carpet stopped at the royal palace. The King met his son with great joy and gave a large feast. When it was over, he appointed Ivan-the-King's-Son to be his heir.


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