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The Golden Duck

from Czechoslovak Fairy Tales





THE STORY OF PRINCE RADUZ AND THE FAITHFUL LUDMILA


Once upon a time there was a king who had four sons. One day the queen
said to him:

"It is time that one of our boys went out into the world to make his
fortune."

"I have been thinking that very same thing," the king said. "Let us
get ready Raduz, our youngest, and send him off with God's blessing."

Preparations were at once made and in a few days Raduz bid his parents
farewell and set forth.

He traveled many days and many nights over desert plains and through
dense forests until he came to a high mountain. Halfway up the
mountain he found a house.

"I'll stop here," he thought to himself, "and see if they'll take me
into service."

Now this house was occupied by three people: old Yezibaba, who was a
bad old witch; her husband, who was a wizard but not so bad as
Yezibaba; and their daughter, Ludmila, the sweetest, kindest girl
that two wicked parents ever had.

"Good day to you all," Raduz said, as he stepped into the house and
bowed.

"The same to you," old Yezibaba answered. "What brings you here?"

"I'm looking for work and I thought you might have something for me to
do."

"What can you do?" Yezibaba asked.

"I'll do anything you set me to. I'm trustworthy and industrious."

Yezibaba didn't want to take him, but the old man wanted him and in
the end Yezibaba with very ill grace consented to give him a trial.

He rested that night and early next morning presented himself to the
old witch and said:

"What work am I to do today, mistress?"

Yezibaba looked him over from head to foot. Then she took him to a
window and said: "What do you see out there?"

"I see a rocky hillside."

"Good. Go to that rocky hillside, cultivate it, plant it in trees that
will grow, blossom, and bear fruit tonight. Tomorrow morning bring me
the ripe fruit. Here is a wooden hoe with which to work."

"Alas," thought Raduz to himself, "did ever a man have such a task as
this? What can I do on that rocky hillside with a wooden hoe? How can
I finish my task in so short a time?"

He started to work but he hadn't struck three blows with the wooden
hoe before it broke. In despair he tossed it aside and sat down under
a beech tree.

In the meantime wicked old Yezibaba had cooked a disgusting mess of
toads which she told Ludmila to carry out to the serving man for his
dinner. Ludmila was sorry for the poor young man who had fallen into
her mother's clutches and she said to herself: "What has he done to
deserve such unkind treatment? I won't let him eat this nasty mess.
I'll share my own dinner with him."

She waited until her mother was out of the room, then she took
Yezibaba's magic wand and hid it under her apron. After that she
hurried out to Raduz, whom she found sitting under the beech tree with
his face in his hands.

"Don't be discouraged," she said to him. "It is true your mistress
cooked you a mess of toads for your dinner but, see, I have thrown
them away and have brought you my own dinner instead. As for your
task," she continued, "I will help you with that. Here is my mother's
magic wand. I have but to strike the rocky hillside and by tomorrow
the trees that my mother has ordered will spring up, blossom, and bear
fruit."

Ludmila did as she promised. She struck the ground with the magic wand
and instantly instead of the rocky hillside there appeared an orchard
with rows on rows of trees that blossomed and bore fruit as you
watched them.

Raduz looked from Ludmila to the orchard and couldn't find words with
which to express his surprise and gratitude. Then Ludmila spread out
her dinner and together they ate it, laughing merrily and talking.
Raduz would have kept Ludmila all the afternoon but she remembered
that Yezibaba was waiting for her and she hurried away.

The next morning Raduz presented Yezibaba a basket of ripe fruit. She
sniffed it suspiciously and then very grudgingly acknowledged that he
had accomplished his task.

"What am I to do today?" Raduz asked.

Yezibaba led him to a second window and asked him what he saw there.

"I see a rocky ravine covered with brambles," he said.

"Right. Go now and clear away the brambles, dig up the ravine, and
plant it in grape vines. Tomorrow morning bring me the ripe grapes.
Here is another wooden hoe with which to work."

Raduz took the hoe and set to work manfully. At the first blow the hoe
broke into three pieces.

"Alas," he thought, "what is going to happen to me now? Unless Ludmila
helps me again, I am lost."

At home Yezibaba was busy cooking a mess of serpents. When noonday
came she said to Ludmila: "Here, my child, is dinner for the serving
man. Take it out to him."

Ludmila took the nasty mess and, as on the day before, threw it away.
Then again hiding Yezibaba's wand under her apron, she went to Raduz,
carrying in her hands her own dinner.

Raduz saw her coming and at once his heart grew light and he thought
to himself how kind Ludmila was and how beautiful.

"I have been sitting here idle," he told her, "for at the first blow
my hoe broke. Unless you help me, I don't know what I shall do."

"Don't worry," Ludmila said. "It is true your mistress sent you a mess
of serpents for your dinner, but I threw them out and have brought you
my own dinner instead. And I've brought the magic wand, too, so it
will be easy enough to plant a vineyard that will produce ripe grapes
by tomorrow morning."

They ate together and after dinner Ludmila took the wand and struck
the earth. At once a vineyard appeared and, as they watched, the vines
blossomed and the blooms turned to grapes.

It was harder than before for Raduz to let Ludmila go, for he wanted
to keep on talking to her forever, but she remembered that Yezibaba
was waiting for her and she hurried away.

The next morning when Raduz presented a basket of ripe grapes, old
Yezibaba could scarcely believe her eyes. She sniffed the grapes
suspiciously and then very grudgingly acknowledged that he had
accomplished his second task.

"What am I to do today?" Raduz asked.

Yezibaba led him to a third window and told him to look out and tell
her what he saw.

"I see a great rocky cliff."

"Right," she said. "Go now to that cliff and grind me flour out of the
rocks and from the flour bake me bread. Tomorrow morning bring me the
fresh loaves. Today you shall have no tools of any kind. Go now and do
this task or suffer the consequences."

As Raduz started off, Yezibaba looked after him and shook her head
suspiciously.

"I don't understand this," she said to her husband. "He could never
have done these two tasks alone. Do you suppose Ludmila has been
helping him? I'll punish her if she has!"

"Shame on you," the old man said, "to talk so of your own daughter!
Ludmila is a good girl and has always been loyal and obedient."

"I hope so," Yezibaba said, "but just the same I think I myself will
carry him out his dinner today."

"Nonsense, old woman! You'll do no such thing! You're always smelling
a rat somewhere! Let the boy alone and don't go nagging at Ludmila
either!"

So Yezibaba said no more. This time she cooked a mess of lizards for
Raduz' dinner.

"Here, Ludmila," she said, "carry this out to the young man. But see
that you don't talk to him. And hurry back."

Poor Raduz had been pounding stones one on another as well as he
could, but he hadn't been able to grind any of them into flour. As
noonday approached he kept looking up anxiously to see whether
beautiful Ludmila was again coming to help him.

"Here I am," she called while she was yet some distance away. "You
were to have lizard stew today but, see, I am bringing you my own
dinner!"

Then she told him what she had heard Yezibaba say to her father.

"Today she almost brought you your dinner herself, for she suspects
that I have been helping you. If she knew that I really had she would
kill you."

"Dear Ludmila," Raduz said, "I know very well that without you I am
lost! How can I ever thank you for all you have done for me?"

Ludmila said she didn't want thanks. She was helping Raduz because she
was sorry for him and loved him.

Then she took Yezibaba's wand and struck the rocky cliff. At once,
instead of the bare rock, there were sacks of grain and a millstone
that worked merrily away grinding out fine flour. As you watched, the
flour was kneaded up into loaves and then, pop went the loaves into a
hot oven and soon the air was sweet with the smell of baking bread.

Raduz begged Ludmila to stay and talk to him, but she remembered that
the old witch was waiting for her and she hurried home.

The next morning Raduz carried the baked loaves to Yezibaba. She
sniffed at them suspiciously and then her wicked heart nearly cracked
with bitterness to think that Raduz had accomplished his third task.
But she hid her disappointment and pretending to smile, she said:

"I see, my dear boy, that you have been able to do all the tasks that
I have set you. This is enough for the present. Today you may rest."

That night the old witch hatched the plot of boiling Raduz alive. She
had him fill a big cauldron with water and put it on the fire. Then
she said to her husband:

"Now, old man, I'm going to take a nap but when the water boils wake
me up."

As soon as Yezibaba was asleep Ludmila gave the old man strong wine
until he, too, fell asleep. Then she called Raduz and told him what
Yezibaba was planning to do.

"You must escape while you can," she said, "for if you are here
tomorrow you will surely be thrown into the boiling cauldron."

But Raduz had fallen too deeply in love with Ludmila to leave her and
now he declared that he would never go unless she went with him.

"Very well," Ludmila said, "I will go with you if you swear you will
never forget me."

"Forget you? How could I forget you," Raduz said, "when I wouldn't
give you up for the whole world!"

So Raduz took a solemn oath and they made ready to flee. Ludmila threw
down her kerchief in one corner of the house and Raduz' cap in
another. Then she took Yezibaba's wand and off they started.

The next morning when the old man awoke, he called out: "Hi, there,
boy! Are you still asleep?"

"No, I'm not asleep," answered Raduz' cap. "I'm just stretching."

Presently the old man called out again: "Here, boy, hand me my
clothes."

"In a minute," the cap answered. "Just wait till I put on my
slippers."

Then old Yezibaba awoke. "Ludmila!" she cried. "Get up, you lazy girl,
and hand me my skirt and bodice."

"In a minute! In a minute!" the kerchief answered.

"What's the matter?" Yezibaba scolded. "Why are you so long dressing?"

"Just one more minute!" the kerchief said.

But Yezibaba, who was an impatient old witch, sat up in bed and then
she could see that Ludmila's bed was empty. That threw her into a
fine rage and she called out to her husband:

"Now, old man, what have you got to say? As sure as I'm alive that
good-for-nothing boy is gone and that precious daughter of yours has
gone with him!"

"No, no," the old man said. "I don't think so."

Then they both got up and sure enough neither Raduz nor Ludmila was to
be found.

"What do you think now, you old booby!" Yezibaba shouted. "A mighty
good and loyal and obedient girl that daughter of yours is! But why do
you stand there all day? Mount the black steed and fly after them and
when you overtake them bring them back to me and I'll punish them
properly!"

In the meantime Raduz and Ludmila were fleeing as fast as they could.

Suddenly Ludmila said: "Oh, how my left cheek burns! I wonder what it
means? Look back, dear Raduz, and see if there is any one following
us."

Raduz turned and looked. "There's nothing following us," he said, "but
a black cloud in the sky."

"A black cloud? That's the old man on the black horse that rides on
the clouds. Quick! We must be ready for him!"

Ludmila struck the ground with Yezibaba's wand and changed it into a
field. She turned herself into the growing rye and made Raduz the
reaper who was cutting the rye. Then she instructed him how to answer
the old man with cunning.

The black cloud descended upon them with thunder and a shower of
hailstones that beat down the growing rye.

"Take care!" Raduz cried. "You're trampling my rye! Leave some of it
for me."

"Very well," the old man said, alighting from his steed, "I'll leave
some of it for you. But tell me, reaper, have you seen anything of two
young people passing this way?"

"Not a soul has passed while I've been reaping, but I do remember that
while I was planting this field two such people did pass."

The old man shook his head, mounted his steed, and flew home again on
the black cloud.

"Well, old wiseacre," said Yezibaba, "what brings you back so soon?"

"No use my going on," the old man said. "The only person I saw was a
reaper in a field of rye."

"You booby!" cried Yezibaba, "not to know that Raduz was the reaper
and Ludmila the rye! How they fooled you! And didn't you bring me back
just one stalk of rye? Go after them again and this time don't let
them fool you!"

In the meantime Raduz and Ludmila were hurrying on. Suddenly Ludmila
said:

"I wonder why my left cheek burns? Look back, dear Raduz, and see if
there is any one following us."

Raduz turned and looked. "There's nothing following us but a gray
cloud in the sky."

"A gray cloud? That's the old man on the gray horse that rides on the
clouds. But don't be afraid. Only have ready a cunning answer."

Ludmila struck her hat with the wand and changed it into a chapel.
Herself she changed into a fly that attracted a host of other flies.
She changed Raduz into a hermit. All the flies flew into the chapel
and Raduz began preaching to them.

Suddenly the gray cloud descended on the chapel with a flurry of snow
and such cold that the shingles of the roof crackled.

The old man alighted from the gray steed and entered the chapel.

"Hermit," he said to Raduz, "have you seen two travelers go by here, a
girl and a youth?"

"As long as I've been preaching here," Raduz said, "I've had only
flies for a congregation. But I do remember that while the chapel was
building two such people did go by. But now I must beg you, good sir,
to go out, for you are letting in so much cold that my congregation is
freezing."

At that the old man mounted his steed and flew back home on the gray
cloud.

Old Yezibaba was waiting for him. When she saw him coming she called
out:

"Again you bring no one, you good-for-nothing! Where did you leave
them this time?"

"Where did I leave them?" the old man said. "How could I leave them
when I didn't even see them? All I saw was a little chapel and a
hermit preaching to a congregation of flies. I almost froze the
congregation to death!"

"Oh, what a booby you are!" Yezibaba cried. "Raduz was the hermit and
Ludmila one of the flies! Why didn't you bring me just one shingle
from the roof of the chapel? I see I'll have to go after them myself!"

In a rage she mounted the third magic steed and flew off.

In the meantime Raduz and Ludmila were hurrying on. Suddenly Ludmila
said:

"I wonder why my left cheek burns? Look back, dear Raduz, again, and
see if there is any one following us."

Raduz turned and looked. "There's nothing following us but a red cloud
in the sky."

"A red cloud? That must be Yezibaba herself on the steed of fire. Now
indeed we must be careful. Up to this it has been easy enough but it
won't be easy to deceive her. Here we are beside a lake. I will change
myself into a golden duck and float on the water. Do you dive into the
water so that she can't burn you. When she alights and tries to catch
me, do you jump up and get the horse by the bridle. Don't be afraid at
what will happen."

The fiery cloud descended, burning up everything it touched. At the
edge of the water Yezibaba alighted from her steed and tried to catch
the golden duck. The duck fluttered on and on just out of her reach
and Yezibaba went farther and farther from her horse.

Then Raduz leaped out of the water and caught the horse by its bridle.
At once the duck rose on its wings and flew to Raduz and became again
Ludmila. Together they mounted the fiery steed and flew off over the
lake.

Yezibaba, helpless with rage and dismay, called after them a bitter
curse:

"If you, Raduz, are kissed by woman before you wed Ludmila, then will
you forget Ludmila! And you, ungrateful girl, if once Raduz forgets
you then he shall not remember you again until seven long years have
come and gone!"

Raduz and Ludmila rode on and on until they neared Raduz' native city.
There they met a man of whom Raduz asked the news.

"News indeed!" the man said. "The king and his three older sons are
dead. Only the queen is alive and she cries night and day for her
youngest son who went out into the world and has never been heard of
since. The whole city is in an uproar as to who shall be the new
king."

When Raduz heard this he said to Ludmila: "Do you, my dear Ludmila,
wait for me here outside the city while I go quickly to the palace and
let it be known that I am alive and am returned. It would not be
fitting to present you to my mother, the queen, in those ragged
clothes. As soon as I am made king I shall come for you, bringing you
a beautiful dress."

Ludmila agreed to this and Raduz left her and hurried to the castle.
His mother recognized him at once and ran with open arms to greet him.
She wanted to kiss him but he wouldn't let her. The news of his
return flew abroad and he was immediately proclaimed king. A great
feast was spread and all the people ate and drank and made merry.

Fatigued with his journey and with the excitement of his return, Raduz
lay down to rest. While he slept his mother came in and kissed him on
both cheeks. Instantly Yezibaba's curse was fulfilled and all memory
of Ludmila left him.

Poor Ludmila waited for his return but he never came. Then she knew
what must have happened. Heartbroken and lonely she found a spot near
a farmhouse that commanded a view of the castle, and she stood there
day after day hoping to see Raduz. She stood there so long that
finally she took root and grew up into a poplar tree that was so
beautiful that soon throughout the countryside people began talking
about it. Every one admired it but the young king. He when he looked
at it always felt unhappy and he supposed this was because it
obstructed the view from his window. At last he ordered it to be cut
down.

The farmer near whose house it stood begged hard to have it saved, but
the king was firm.

Shortly after the poplar was cut down there grew up under the king's
very window a pretty little pear tree that bore golden pears. It was a
wonderful little tree. No matter how many pears you picked in the
evening, by the next morning the tree would again be full.

The king loved the little tree and was forever talking about it. The
old queen, on the other hand, disliked it.

"I wish that tree would die," she used to say. "There's something
strange about it that makes me nervous."

The king begged her to leave the tree alone but she worried and
complained and nagged until at last for his own peace of mind he had
the poor little pear tree cut down.

The seven years of Yezibaba's curse at last ran out. Then Ludmila
changed herself again into a little golden duck and went swimming
about on the lake that was under the king's window.

Suddenly the king began to remember that he had seen that duck before.
He ordered it to be caught and brought to him. But none of his people
could catch it. Then he called together all the fishermen and
birdcatchers in the country but none of them could catch the strange
duck.

The days went by and the king's mind was more and more engrossed with
the thought of the golden duck. "If no one can catch it for me," he
said at last, "I must try to catch it myself."

So he went to the lake and reached out his hand after the golden duck.
The duck led him on and on but at last she allowed herself to be
caught. As soon as she was in his hand she changed to herself and
Raduz recognized her as his own beautiful Ludmila.

She said to him: "I have been true to you but you have forgotten me
all these years. Yet I forgive you, for it was not your fault."

In Raduz' heart his old love returned a hundredfold and he was
overjoyed to lead Ludmila to the castle. He presented her to his
mother and said:

"This is she who saved my life many times. She and no one else will be
my wife."

A great wedding feast was prepared and so at last Raduz married the
faithful Ludmila.





Next: The Story That Never Ends

Previous: The Golden Godmother



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