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King Kojata From The Russian

from The Green Fairy Book





There was once upon a time a king called Kojata, whose beard was
so long that it reached below his knees. Three years had passed
since his marriage, and he lived very happily with his wife, but
Heaven granted him no heir, which grieved the King greatly. One
day he set forth from his capital, in order to make a journey
through his kingdom. He travelled for nearly a year through the
different parts of his territory, and then, having seen all there
was to be seen, he set forth on his homeward way. As the day was
very hot and sultry he commanded his servants to pitch tents in
the open field, and there await the cool of the evening. Suddenly
a frightful thirst seized the King, and as he saw no water near,
he mounted his horse, and rode through the neighbourhood looking
for a spring. Before long he came to a well filled to the brim
with water clear as crystal, and on the bosom of which a golden
jug was floating. King Kojata at once tried to seize the vessel,
but though he endeavoured to grasp it with his right hand, and
then with his left, the wretched thing always eluded his efforts
and refused to let itself be caught. First with one hand, and then
with two, did the King try to seize it, but like a fish the goblet
always slipped through his fingers and bobbed to the ground only
to reappear at some other place, and mock the King.

'Plague on you!' said King Kojata. 'I can quench my thirst without
you,' and bending over the well he lapped up the water so greedily
that he plunged his face, beard and all, right into the crystal
mirror. But when he had satisfied his thirst, and wished to raise
himself up, he couldn't lift his head, because someone held his
beard fast in the water. 'Who's there? let me go!' cried King
Kojata, but there was no answer; only an awful face looked up from
the bottom of the well with two great green eyes, glowing like
emeralds, and a wide mouth reaching from ear to ear showing two
rows of gleaming white teeth, and the King's beard was held, not
by mortal hands, but by two claws. At last a hoarse voice sounded
from the depths. 'Your trouble is all in vain, King Kojata; I will
only let you go on condition that you give me something you know
nothing about, and which you will find on your return home.'

The King didn't pause to ponder long, 'for what,' thought he,
'could be in my palace without my knowing about it--the thing is
absurd;' so he answered quickly:

'Yes, I promise that you shall have it.'

The voice replied, 'Very well; but it will go ill with you if you
fail to keep your promise.' Then the claws relaxed their hold, and
the face disappeared in the depths. The King drew his chin out of
the water, and shook himself like a dog; then he mounted his horse
and rode thoughtfully home with his retinue. When they approached
the capital, all the people came out to meet them with great joy
and acclamation, and when the King reached his palace the Queen
met him on the threshold; beside her stood the Prime Minister,
holding a little cradle in his hands, in which lay a new-born
child as beautiful as the day. Then the whole thing dawned on the
King, and groaning deeply he muttered to himself 'So this is what
I did not know about,' and the tears rolled down his cheeks. All
the courtiers standing round were much amazed at the King's grief,
but no one dared to ask him the cause of it. He took the child in
his arms and kissed it tenderly; then laying it in its cradle, he
determined to control his emotion and began to reign again as
before.

The secret of the King remained a secret, though his grave,
careworn expression escaped no one's notice. In the constant dread
that his child would be taken from him, poor Kojata knew no rest
night or day. However, time went on and nothing happened. Days and
months and years passed, and the Prince grew up into a beautiful
youth, and at last the King himself forgot all about the incident
that had happened so long ago.

One day the Prince went out hunting, and going in pursuit of a
wild boar he soon lost the other huntsmen, and found himself quite
alone in the middle of a dark wood. The trees grew so thick and
near together that it was almost impossible to see through them,
only straight in front of him lay a little patch of meadowland.
Overgrown with thistles and rank weeds, in the centre of which a
leafy lime tree reared itself. Suddenly a rustling sound was heard
in the hollow of the tree, and an extraordinary old man with green
eyes and chin crept out of it.

'A fine day, Prince Milan,' he said; 'you've kept me waiting a
good number of years; it was high time for you to come and pay me
a visit.'

'Who are you, in the name of wonder?' demanded the astonished
Prince.

'You'll find out soon enough, but in the meantime do as I bid you.
Greet your father King Kojata from me, and don't forget to remind
him of his debt; the time has long passed since it was due, but
now he will have to pay it. Farewell for the present; we shall
meet again.'

With these words the old man disappeared into the tree, and the
Prince returned home rather startled, and told his father all that
he had seen and heard.

The King grew as white as a sheet when he heard the Prince's
story, and said, 'Woe is me, my son! The time has come when we
must part,' and with a heavy heart he told the Prince what had
happened at the time of his birth.

'Don't worry or distress yourself, dear father,' answered Prince
Milan. 'Things are never as bad as they look. Only give me a horse
for my journey, and I wager you'll soon see me back again.'

The King gave him a beautiful charger, with golden stirrups, and a
sword. The Queen hung a little cross round his neck, and after
much weeping and lamentation the Prince bade them all farewell and
set forth on his journey.

He rode straight on for two days, and on the third he came to a
lake as smooth as glass and as clear as crystal. Not a breath of
wind moved, not a leaf stirred, all was silent as the grave, only
on the still bosom of the lake thirty ducks, with brilliant
plumage, swam about in the water. Not far from the shore Prince
Milan noticed thirty little white garments lying on the grass, and
dismounting from his horse, he crept down under the high
bulrushes, took one of the garments and hid himself with it behind
the bushes which grew round the lake. The ducks swam about all
over the place, dived down into the depths and rose again and
glided through the waves. At last, tired of disporting themselves,
they swam to the shore, and twenty-nine of them put on their
little white garments and instantly turned into so many beautiful
maidens. Then they finished dressing and disappeared. Only the
thirtieth little duck couldn't come to the land; it swam about
close to the shore, and, giving out a piercing cry, it stretched
its neck up timidly, gazed wildly around, and then dived under
again. Prince Milan's heart was so moved with pity for the poor
little creature that he came out from behind the bulrushes, to see
if he could be of any help. As soon as the duck perceived him, it
cried in a human voice, 'Oh, dear Prince Milan, for the love of
Heaven give me back my garment, and I will be so grateful to you.'
The Prince lay the little garment on the bank beside her, and
stepped back into the bushes. In a few seconds a beautiful girl in
a white robe stood before him, so fair and sweet and young that no
pen could describe her. She gave the Prince her hand and spoke.

'Many thanks, Prince Milan, for your courtesy. I am the daughter
of a wicked magician, and my name is Hyacinthia. My father has
thirty young daughters, and is a mighty ruler in the underworld,
with many castles and great riches. He has been expecting you for
ages, but you need have no fear if you will only follow my advice.
As soon as you come into the presence of my father, throw yourself
at once on the ground and approach him on your knees. Don't mind
if he stamps furiously with his feet and curses and swears. I'll
attend to the rest, and in the meantime we had better be off.'

With these words the beautiful Hyacinthia stamped on the ground
with her little foot, and the earth opened and they both sank down
into the lower world.

The palace of the Magician was all hewn out of a single carbuncle,
lighting up the whole surrounding region, and Prince Milan walked
into it gaily.

The Magician sat on a throne, a sparkling crown on his head; his
eyes blazed like a green fire, and instead of hands he had claws.
As soon as Prince Milan entered he flung himself on his knees. The
Magician stamped loudly with his feet, glared frightfully out of
his green eyes, and cursed so loudly that the whole underworld
shook. But the Prince, mindful of the counsel he had been given,
wasn't the least afraid, and approached the throne still on his
knees. At last the Magician laughed aloud and said, 'You rogue,
you have been well advised to make me laugh; I won't be your enemy
any more. Welcome to the underworld! All the same, for your delay
in coming here, we must demand three services from you. For to-day
you may go, but to-morrow I shall have something more to say to
you.'

Then two servants led Prince Milan to a beautiful apartment, and
he lay down fearlessly on the soft bed that had been prepared for
him, and was soon fast asleep.

Early the next morning the Magician sent for him, and said, 'Let's
see now what you've learnt. In the first place you must build me a
palace to-night, the roof of purest gold, the walls of marble, and
the windows of crystal; all round you must lay out a beautiful
garden, with fish-ponds and artistic waterfalls. If you do all
this, I will reward you richly; but if you don't, you shall lose
your head.'

'Oh, you wicked monster!' thought Prince Milan, 'you might as well
have put me to death at once.' Sadly he returned to his room, and
with bent head sat brooding over his cruel fate till evening. When
it grew dark, a little bee flew by, and knocking at the window, it
said, 'Open, and let me in.'

Milan opened the window quickly, and as soon as the bee had
entered, it changed into the beautiful Hyacinthia.

'Good evening, Prince Milan. Why are you so sad?'

'How can I help being sad? Your father threatens me with death,
and I see myself already without a head.'

'And what have you made up your mind to do?'

'There's nothing to be done, and after all I suppose one can only
die once.'

'Now, don't be so foolish, my dear Prince; but keep up your
spirits, for there is no need to despair. Go to bed, and when you
wake up to-morrow morning the palace will be finished. Then you
must go all round it, giving a tap here and there on the walls to
look as if you had just finished it.'

And so it all turned out just as she had said. As soon as it was
daylight Prince Milan stepped out of his room, and found a palace
which was quite a work of art down to the very smallest detail.
The Magician himself was not a little astonished at its beauty,
and could hardly believe his eyes.

'Well, you certainly are a splendid workman,' he said to the
Prince. 'I see you are very clever with your hands, now I must see
if you are equally accomplished with your head. I have thirty
daughters in my house, all beautiful princesses. To-morrow I will
place the whole thirty in a row. You must walk past them three
times, and the third time you must show me which is my youngest
daughter Hyacinthia. If you don't guess rightly, you shall lose
your head.'

'This time you've made a mistake,' thought Prince Milan, and going
to his room he sat down at the window. Just fancy my not
recognising the beautiful Hyacinthia! Why, that is the easiest
thing in the world.'

'Not so easy as you think,' cried the little bee, who was flying
past. 'If I weren't to help you, you'd never guess. We are thirty
sisters so exactly alike that our own father can hardly
distinguish us apart.'

'Then what am I to do?' asked Prince Milan.

'Listen,' answered Hyacinthia. 'You will recognise me by a tiny
fly I shall have on my left cheek, but be careful for you might
easily make a mistake.'

The next day the Magician again commanded Prince Milan to be led
before him. His daughters were all arranged in a straight row in
front of him, dressed exactly alike, and with their eyes bent on
the ground.

'Now, you genius,' said the Magician, 'look at these beauties
three times, and then tell us which is the Princess Hyacinthia.'

Prince Milan went past them and looked at them closely. But they
were all so precisely alike that they looked like one face
reflected in thirty mirrors, and the fly was nowhere to be seen;
the second time he passed them he still saw nothing; but the third
time he perceived a little fly stealing down one cheek, causing it
to blush a faint pink. Then the Prince seized the girl's hand and
cried out, 'This is the Princess Hyacinthia!'

'You're right again,' said the Magician in amazement; 'but I've
still another task for you to do. Before this candle, which I
shall light, burns to the socket, you must have made me a pair of
boots reaching to my knees. If they aren't finished in that time,
off comes your head.'

The Prince returned to his room in despair; then the Princess
Hyacinthia came to him once more changed into the likeness of a
bee, and asked him, 'Why so sad, Prince Milan?'

'How can I help being sad? Your father has set me this time an
impossible task. Before a candle which he has lit burns to the
socket, I am to make a pair of boots. But what does a prince know
of shoemaking? If I can't do it, I lose my head.'

'And what do you mean to do?' asked Hyacinthia.

'Well, what is there to be done? What he demands I can't and won't
do, so he must just make an end of me.'

'Not so, dearest. I love you dearly, and you shall marry me, and
I'll either save your life or die with you. We must fly now as
quickly as we can, for there is no other way of escape.'

With these words she breathed on the window, and her breath froze
on the pane. Then she led Milan out of the room with her, shut the
door, and threw the key away. Hand in hand, they hurried to the
spot where they had descended into the lower world, and at last
reached the banks of the lake. Prince Milan's charger was still
grazing on the grass which grew near the water. The horse no
sooner recognized his master, than it neighed loudly with joy, and
springing towards him, it stood as if rooted to the ground, while
Prince Milan and Hyacinthia jumped on its back. Then it sped
onwards like an arrow from a bow.

In the meantime the Magician was waiting impatiently for the
Prince. Enraged by the delay, he sent his servants to fetch him,
for the appointed time was past.

The servants came to the door, and finding it locked, they
knocked; but the frozen breath on the window replied in Prince
Milan's voice, 'I am coming directly.' With this answer they
returned to the Magician. But when the Prince still did not
appear, after a time he sent his servants a second time to bring
him. The frozen breath always gave the same answer, but the Prince
never came. At last the Magician lost all patience, and commanded
the door to be burst open. But when his servants did so, they
found the room empty, and the frozen breath laughed aloud. Out of
his mind with rage, the Magician ordered the Prince to be pursued.

Then a wild chase began. 'I hear horses' hoofs behind us,' said
Hyacinthia to the Prince. Milan sprang from the saddle, put his
ear to the ground and listened. 'Yes,' he answered, 'they are
pursuing us, and are quite close.' 'Then no time must be lost,'
said Hyacinthia, and she immediately turned herself into a river,
Prince Milan into an iron bridge, and the charger into a
blackbird. Behind the bridge the road branched off into three
ways.

The Magician's servants hurried after the fresh tracks, but when
they came to the bridge, they stood, not knowing which road to
take, as the footprints stopped suddenly, and there were three
paths for them to choose from. In fear and trembling they returned
to tell the Magician what had happened. He flew into a dreadful
rage when he saw them, and screamed out, 'Oh, you fools! the river
and bridge were they! Go back and bring them to me at once, or it
will be the worse for you.'

Then the pursuit began afresh. 'I hear horses' hoofs,' sighed
Hyacinthia. The Prince dismounted and put his ear to the ground.
'They are hurrying after us, and are already quite near.' In a
moment the Princess Hyacinthia had changed herself, the Prince,
and his charger into a thick wood where a thousand paths and roads
crossed each other. Their pursuers entered the forest, but
searched in vain for Prince Milan and his bride. At last they
found themselves back at the same spot they had started from, and
in despair they returned once more with empty hands to the
Magician.

'Then I'll go after the wretches myself,' he shouted. 'Bring a
horse at once; they shan't escape me.'

Once more the beautiful Hyacinthia murmured, 'I hear horses' hoofs
quite near.' And the Prince answered, 'They are pursuing us hotly
and are quite close.'

'We are lost now, for that is my father himself. But at the first
church we come to his power ceases; he may chase us no further.
Hand me your cross.'

Prince Milan loosened from his neck the little gold cross his
mother had given him, and as soon as Hyacinthia grasped it, she
had changed herself into a church, Milan into a monk, and the
horse into a belfry. They had hardly done this when the magician
and his servants rode up.

'Did you see no one pass by on horseback, reverend father?' he
asked the monk.

'Prince Milan and Princess Hyacinthia have just gone on this
minute; they stopped for a few minutes in the church to say their
prayers, and bade me light this wax candle for you, and give you
their love.'

'I'd like to wring their necks,' said the magician, and made all
haste home, where he had every one of his servants beaten to
within an inch of their lives.

Prince Milan rode on slowly with his bride without fearing any
further pursuit. The sun was just setting, and its last rays lit
up a large city they were approaching. Prince Milan was suddenly
seized with an ardent desire to enter the town.

'Oh my beloved,' implored Hyacinthia, 'please don't go; for I am
frightened and fear some evil.'

'What are you afraid of?' asked the Prince. 'We'll only go and
look at what's to be seen in the town for about an hour, and then
we'll continue our journey to my father's kingdom.'

'The town is easy to get into, but more difficult to get out of,'
sighed Hyacinthia. 'But let it be as you wish. Go, and I will
await you here, but I will first change myself into a white
milestone; only I pray you be very careful. The King and Queen of
the town will come out to meet you, leading a little child with
them. Whatever you do, don't kiss the child, or you will forget me
and all that has happened to us. I will wait for you here for
three days.'

The Prince hurried to the town, but Hyacinthia remained behind
disguised as a white milestone on the road. The first day passed,
and then the second, and at last the third also, but Prince Milan
did not return, for he had not taken Hyacinthia's advice. The King
and Queen came out to meet him as she had said, leading with them
a lovely fair-haired little girl, whose eyes shone like two clear
stars. The child at once caressed the Prince, who, carried away by
its beauty, bent down and kissed it on the cheek. From that moment
his memory became a blank, and he forgot all about the beautiful
Hyacinthia.

When the Prince did not return, poor Hyacinthia wept bitterly and
changing herself from a milestone into a little blue field flower,
she said, 'I will grow here on the wayside till some passer-by
tramples me under foot.' And one of her tears remained as a
dewdrop and sparkled on the little blue flower.

Now it happened shortly after this that an old man passed by, and
seeing the flower, he was delighted with its beauty. He pulled it
up carefully by the roots and carried it home. Here he planted it
in a pot, and watered and tended the little plant carefully. And
now the most extraordinary thing happened, for from this moment
everything in the old man's house was changed. When he awoke in
the morning he always found his room tidied and put into such
beautiful order that not a speck of dust was to be found anywhere.
When he came home at midday, he found a table laid out with the
most dainty food, and he had only to sit down and enjoy himself to
his heart's content. At first he was so surprised he didn't know
what to think, but after a time he grew a little uncomfortable,
and went to an old witch to ask for advice.

The witch said, 'Get up before the cock crows, and watch carefully
till you see something move, and then throw this cloth quickly
over it, and you'll see what will happen.'

All night the old man never closed an eye. When the first ray of
light entered the room, he noticed that the little blue flower
began to tremble, and at last it rose out of the pot and flew
about the room, put everything in order, swept away the dust, and
lit the fire. In great haste the old man sprang from his bed, and
covered the flower with the cloth the old witch had given him, and
in a moment the beautiful Princess Hyacinthia stood before him.

'What have you done?' she cried. 'Why have you called me back to
life? For I have no desire to live since my bridegroom, the
beautiful Prince Milan, has deserted me.'

'Prince Milan is just going to be married,' replied the old man.
'Everything is being got ready for the feast, and all the invited
guests are flocking to the palace from all sides.'

The beautiful Hyacinthia cried bitterly when she heard this; then
she dried her tears, and went into the town dressed as a peasant
woman. She went straight to the King's kitchen, where the white-
aproned cooks were running about in great confusion. The Princess
went up to the head cook, and said, 'Dear cook, please listen to
my request, and let me make a wedding-cake for Prince Milan.'

The busy cook was just going to refuse her demand and order her
out of the kitchen, but the words died on his lips when he turned
and beheld the beautiful Hyacinthia, and he answered politely,
'You have just come in the nick of time, fair maiden. Bake your
cake, and I myself will lay it before Prince Milan.'

The cake was soon made. The invited guests were already thronging
round the table, when the head cook entered the room, bearing a
beautiful wedding cake on a silver dish, and laid it before Prince
Milan. The guests were all lost in admiration, for the cake was
quite a work of art. Prince Milan at once proceeded to cut it
open, when to his surprise two white doves sprang out of it, and
one of them said to the other: 'My dear mate, do not fly away and
leave me, and forget me as Prince Milan forgot his beloved
Hyacinthia.'

Milan sighed deeply when he heard what the little dove said. Then
he jumped up suddenly from the table and ran to the door, where he
found the beautiful Hyacinthia waiting for him. Outside stood his
faithful charger, pawing the ground. Without pausing for a moment,
Milan and Hyacinthia mounted him and galloped as fast as they
could into the country of King Kojata. The King and Queen received
them with such joy and gladness as had never been heard of before,
and they all lived happily for the rest of their lives.





Next: Prince Fickle And Fair Helena

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