Once there was a king who had an only son. One day the king went to inspect his estates. He came to the first farm and found it all right. Before he had finished going the round of his estates, thirteen big farms in all, he forgot that his wife was about to have a child. On his way home he came to a forest, and such a thirst came upon him that he bade his driver stop and look for some water. The driver looked everywhere for water, but he couldn’t find any. So the king himself went to look for it, and he found a well.
Now, just as he was going to drink, he kneeled down and he saw something in the well which had claws like a crab and red eyes. It seized him by the beard with one of its claws—he had a pretty long beard—and it refused to let him go unless he promised to give it the thing that he had at home unknown to himself. So he said to himself: “I know everything at home.” But he forgot about his wife’s condition. By this time his wife had been delivered of a prince, and so the king, without knowing it, had promised his son to the thing in the well. And on that it let him go.
When he got home he saw the new-born prince, and of course he was very sad. He remained so for twelve years. The prince asked him why he was so sad. And the king answered: “Because you are sold.” The prince told him not to worry about it; he would be able to help himself.
The prince called for his horse and started out. He had been riding five days’ journey from his home, when he came to a lake. There he tethered his horse. He saw thirteen ducks swimming on the lake, and there were thirteen shifts lying on the bank. So he carried off one of the shifts and hid himself. When they saw this, twelve of the ducks flew away, but the thirteenth was running hither and thither, looking for her shift. So when he saw her running hither and thither looking for her shift, he came out of his hiding-place. Now the father of those ducks was the being which had seized the king by the beard. He was a sorcerer, and his name was Kojata.
This girl was his youngest daughter. And she said to the prince:
“Now I will give you a good counsel. You will save me and I will save you. My father will set you a difficult task. I will perform it for you, but you must not let him know that I am helping you. Leave your horse here and hurry on to my father’s. He will give you a lodging, and he will give you three days to consider over the task. You will be in your room alone, and in the evening I will come humming to your window, for I shall come to you in a bee’s shape, because I can’t come in any other way. And you must follow my advice. My father has thirteen daughters, and we all resemble one another exactly and we all wear the same sort of clothes. You will have to find out which is the youngest, but you will have no other means of recognizing me than by noticing a tiny fly under my left eye, so be very careful about it.”
So it was. The sorcerer called him in and the thirteen daughters were standing in a row. The sorcerer asked him whether he could make out which was the youngest; if he could do so, his life would be spared. So he went the round of them three times, but it was as much as he could do to recognize her. But he pointed her out. She was the third from the end. So the sorcerer asked him who had been giving him advice. But the prince answered that it was none of his business.
The next day the sorcerer gave him another task: to build a palace of pure gold and silver without using hammer or trowel. The prince was very worried about it. But in the evening the youngest daughter came flying to him again, and she gave him a wand. At a single stroke of the wand the palace rose up ready-built, and it was more perfect than the old one. In the morning he was strolling about the palace looking round him. When King Kojata saw him, he came up to him and stopped: “Who has given you this counsel?” he asked. The prince answered that it was the person who had given him advice the time before.
So the sorcerer set him the third task, and this time the daughter was not able to advise him. She came to him in the evening and said: “I have no other advice than for both of us to flee at once, otherwise you will be lost and I too.”
Now, in the evening she turned herself into a horse, and he mounted her and rode as far as the lake. There he found his own horse, and they both mounted it and rode off at full speed. Soon she heard a great noise behind her, so she turned herself into a church and the prince became a monk. The sorcerer’s apprentices were riding in pursuit of them. When they got as far as the church they turned and went back to Kojata. When they came to him they said that they had not overtaken anybody; they had only seen a church and a monk in it. And he said: “Those were they!”
Next day he sent them again to pursue the runaways. Though they were riding faster than the day before, again they heard a trampling behind them. So she turned herself into a great river and him into an old broken bridge. Their pursuers came as far as the river and the bridge, and then they turned back and reported to their king, Kojata, that they had seen nothing but a river and a bridge. He said at once: “Well, those were they!”
On the third day the runaways started again and made for the border as fast as they could, and soon they were in their own land. When they reached the third church, the sorcerer had no more power over them. He began to tear his hair and knock his head against the ground and to curse his daughter for tricking him.
So the young king came home, bringing a lovely young princess with him. His father was very pleased at that![