The Pigeon's Bride
: The Laughing Prince Jugoslav Folk And Fairy Tales
There was once a King who had an only daughter. She was as lovely as a
princess ought to be and by the time she reached a marriageable age the
fame of her beauty had spread far and wide over all the world.
Neighboring kings and even distant ones were already sending envoys to
her father's court begging permission to offer their sons as suitors to
the Princess's hand. As he had no son of his own the Princess's father
delighted that the day was fast approaching when he might have a
son-in-law, and long before even the name of any particular prince was
discussed the Princess's mother had planned the wedding down to its last
The Princess alone was uninterested.
I'm not ready to get married yet, she'd say to her parents every day
when they'd begin telling her about the various princes who were anxious
to gain her favor. Why such haste? I'm young and there's plenty of
time. Besides, just now I'm too busy with my embroidery to be bothered
with a crowd of young men.
With that, before the King could reprove her, the Princess would throw
her arms about his neck, kiss him under the corner of his mustache, and
go flying off to the tower-room where she had her embroidery frame.
Her mother, the Queen, was much upset by the Princess's attitude.
In my youth, she said, girls were not like this. We were brought up
to think that courtship and marriage were the most important events in
our lives. I don't know what's getting into the heads of the young girls
But the King, who was still smiling from the tickling little kiss which
the Princess had planted under the corner of his mustache, always
Tut! Tut! We needn't worry yet! Take my word for it when some
particular young man comes along she'll be interested fast enough!
At this the Queen, ending the discussion every day with the same words,
would shake her head and declare:
I tell you it isn't natural for a girl to be more interested in
embroidery than in a long line of handsome young suitors!
The Princess was interested in her embroidery--there's no doubt about
that. She spent every moment she could in the tower-room, working and
singing. The tower was high up among the treetops. It was reached by
winding stairs so narrow and so many that no one any older than the
Princess would care to climb them. The Princess flew up them like a
bird, scarcely pausing for breath. At the top of the stairs was a
trap-door which was the only means of entrance into the tower-room. Once
in the tower-room with the bolt of the trap-door securely fastened, the
Princess was safe from interruption and could work away at her
embroidery to her heart's content. The tower had windows on all sides,
so the Princess as she sat at her embroidery frame could look out north,
east, south, and west.
The clouds sailed by in the sky, the wind blew and at once the leaves in
the treetops began murmuring and whispering among themselves, and the
birds that went flying all over the world would often alight on some
branch near the tower and sing to the Princess as she worked or chatter
some exciting story that she could almost understand.
What! the Princess would think to herself as she looked out north,
east, south, and west. Leave my tower and my beautiful embroidery to
become the wife of some conceited young man! Never!
From this remark you can understand perfectly well that the particular
young man of whom her father spoke had not yet come along. And I'm sure
you'll also know that shutting herself up in the tower-room and bolting
the trap-door was not going to keep him away when it was time for him to
come. Yet I don't believe that you'd have recognized him when he did
come any more than the Princess did. This is how it happened:
One afternoon when as usual she was working at her embroidery and
singing as she worked, suddenly there was a flutter of wings at the
eastern window and a lovely Pigeon came flying into the room. It circled
three times about the Princess's head and then alighted on the
embroidery frame. The Princess reached out her hand and the bird,
instead of taking fright, allowed her to stroke its gleaming neck. Then
she took it gently in her hands and fondled it to her bosom, kissing its
bill and smoothing its plumage with her lips.
You beautiful thing! she cried. How I love you!
If you really love me, the Pigeon said, have a bowl of milk here at
this same hour to-morrow and then we'll see what we'll see.
With that the bird spread its wings and flew out the western window.
The Princess was so excited that for the rest of the afternoon she
forgot her embroidery.
Did the Pigeon really speak? she asked herself as she stood staring
out the western window, or have I been dreaming?
The next day when she climbed the winding stairs she went slowly for she
carried in her hands a brimming bowl of milk.
Of course it won't come again! she said, and she made herself sit down
quietly before the embroidery frame and work just as though she expected
But exactly at the same hour as the day before there was a flutter of
wings at the eastern window, the sound of a gentle coo! coo! and there
was the Pigeon ready to be loved and caressed.
You beautiful creature! the Princess cried, kissing its coral beak and
smoothing its neck with her lips, how I love you! And see, I have
brought you the bowl of milk that you asked for!
The bird flew over to the bowl, poised for a moment on its brim, then
splashed into the milk as though to take a bath.
The Princess laughed and clapped her hands and then, as she looked, she
saw a strange thing happen. The bird's feathers opened like a shirt and
out of the feather shirt stepped a handsome youth.
(You remember I told you how surprised the Princess was going to be.
And you're surprised, too, aren't you?)
He was so handsome that all the Princess could say was, Oh!
He came slowly towards her and knelt before her.
Dear Princess, he said, do not be frightened. If it had not been for
your sweet words yesterday when you said you loved me I should never
have been able to leave this feather shirt. Do not turn from me now
because I am a man and not a pigeon. Love me still if you can, for I
love you. It was because I fell in love with you yesterday when I saw
you working at your embroidery that I flew in by the open window and let
you caress me.
For a long time the Princess could only stare at the kneeling youth, too
amazed to speak. He was so handsome that she forgot all about the pigeon
he used to be, she forgot her embroidery, she forgot everything. She
hadn't supposed that any young man in the whole world could be so
handsome! Why, just looking at him, she could be happy forever and ever
Would you rather I were still a pigeon? the young man asked.
No! No! No! the Princess cried. I like you ever so much better this
The young man gravely bowed his head and kissed her hand and the
Princess blushed and trembled and wished he would do it again. She had
never imagined that any kiss could be so wonderful!
They passed the afternoon together and it seemed to the Princess it was
the happiest afternoon of all her life. As the sun was sinking the youth
Now I must leave you and become a pigeon again.
But you'll come back, won't you? the Princess begged.
Yes, I'll come back to-morrow but on one condition: that you don't tell
any one about me. I'll come back every day at the same hour but if ever
you tell about me then I won't be able to come back any more.
I'll never tell! the Princess promised.
Then the youth kissed her tenderly, dipped himself in the milk, went
back into his feather shirt, and flew off as a pigeon.
The next day he came again and the next and the next and the Princess
fell so madly in love with him that all day long and all night long,
too, she thought of nothing else. She no longer touched her embroidery
but day after day sat idle in the tower-room just awaiting the hour of
his arrival. And every day it seemed to the King and the Queen and all
the people about the Court that the Princess was becoming more and more
beautiful. Her cheeks kept growing pinker, her eyes brighter, her lovely
hair more golden.
I must say sitting at that foolish embroidery agrees with her, the
No, it isn't that, the Queen told him. It's the big bowl of milk she
drinks every afternoon. You know milk is very good for the complexion.
Milk indeed! murmured the Princess to herself, and she blushed rosier
than ever at thought of her wonderful secret.
But a princess can't keep growing more and more beautiful without
everybody in the world hearing about it. The neighboring kings soon
began to feel angry and suspicious.
What ails this Princess? they asked among themselves. Isn't one of
our sons good enough for her? Is she waiting for the King of Persia to
come as a suitor or what? Let us stand together on our rights and demand
to know why she won't consider one of our sons!
So they sent envoys to the Princess's father and he saw at once that the
matter had become serious.
My dear, he said to the Princess, your mother and I have humored you
long enough. It is high time that you had a husband and I insist that
you allow the sons of neighboring kings to be presented to you next
I won't do it! the Princess declared. I'm not interested in the sons
of the neighboring kings and that's all there is about it!
Her father looked at her severely.
Is that the way for a princess to talk? Persist in this foolishness and
you may embroil your country in war!
I don't care! the Princess cried, bursting into tears. I can't marry
any of them, so why let them be presented?
Why can't you marry any of them?
I just can't! the Princess insisted.
At first, in spite of the pleadings of both parents, she would tell them
no more, but her mother kept questioning her until at last in
self-defense the Princess confessed that she had a true love who came to
her in the tower every afternoon in the form of a pigeon.
He's a prince, she told them, the son of a distant king. At present
he is under an enchantment that turns him into a pigeon. When the
enchantment is broken he is coming as a prince to marry me.
My poor child! the Queen cried. Think no more about this Pigeon
Prince! The enchantment may last a hundred years and then where will you
But he is my love! the Princess declared, and if I can't have him I
won't have any one!
When the King found that nothing they could say would move her from this
resolution, he sighed and murmured:
Very well, my dear. If it must be so, it must be. This afternoon when
your lover comes, bring him down to me that I may talk to him.
But that afternoon the Pigeon did not come. Nor the next afternoon
either, nor the next, and then too late the Princess remembered his
warning that if she told about him he could never come back.
So now she sat in the tower-room idle and heartbroken, reproaching
herself that she had betrayed her lover and praying God to forgive her
and send him back to her. And the roses faded from her cheeks and her
eyes grew dull and the people about the Court began wondering why they
had ever thought her the most beautiful princess in the world.
At last she went to the King, her father, and said:
As my love can no longer come back to me because I forgot my promise
and betrayed him, I must go out into the world and hunt him. Unless I
find him life will not be worth the living. So do not oppose me,
father, but help me. Have three pairs of iron shoes made for me and
three iron staffs. I will wander over the wide world until these are
worn out and then, if by that time I have not found him, I will come
home to you.
So the King had three pairs of iron shoes made for the Princess and
three iron staffs and she set forth on her quest. She traveled through
towns and cities and many kingdoms, over rough mountains and desert
places, looking everywhere for her enchanted love. But nowhere could she
find any trace of him.
At the end of the first year she had worn out the first pair of iron
shoes and the first iron staff. At the end of the second year she had
worn out the second pair of iron shoes and the second iron staff. At the
end of the third year, when she had worn out the third pair of iron
shoes and the third staff, she returned to her father's palace looking
thin and worn and sad.
My poor child, the King said, I hope now you realize that the Pigeon
Prince is gone forever. Think no more about him. Go back to your
embroidery and when the roses begin blooming in your cheeks again we'll
find some young prince for you who isn't enchanted.
But the Princess shook her head.
Let me try one thing more, father, she begged, and then if I don't
find my love I'll do as you say.
The King agreed to this.
Well, then, the Princess said, build a public bath-house and have the
heralds proclaim that the King's daughter will sit at the entrance and
will allow any one to bathe free of charge who will tell her the story
of the strangest thing he has ever heard or seen.
So the King built the bath-house and sent out his heralds far and wide.
Men and women from all over the world came and bathed and told the
Princess stories of this marvel and that, but never, alas, a word of an
The days went by and the Princess grew more and more discouraged.
Isn't it sad, the courtiers began whispering, how the Princess has
lost her looks! Do you suppose she ever was really beautiful or did we
just imagine it?
And the neighboring kings when they heard this remarked softly among
It's just as well we didn't hurry one of our sons into a marriage with
this young woman!
Now there was a poor widow who lived near the bath-house. She had a
daughter, a pretty young girl, who used to sit at the window and watch
the Princess as people came and told her their stories.
Mother, the girl said one day, every one in the world goes to the
bath-house and I want to go, too!
Nonsense! the mother said. What story could you tell the Princess?
But everybody else goes and I don't see why I can't!
Well, my dear, the mother promised, you may just as soon as you see
or hear something strange. Talk no more about it now but go, fetch me a
pitcher of water from the town well.
The girl obediently took an empty pitcher and went to the town well.
Just as she had filled the pitcher she heard some one say:
Mercy me, I fear I'll be late!
She turned around and what do you think she saw? A rooster in wooden
shoes with a basket under his wing!
I fear I'll be late! I fear I'll be late! the rooster kept repeating
as he hurried off making a funny little clatter with his wooden shoes.
How strange! the girl thought to herself. A rooster with wooden
shoes! I'm sure the Princess would love to hear about him! I'll follow
him and see what he does.
He went to a garden where he filled his basket with fresh
vegetables--with onions and beans and garlic. Then he hurried home to a
little house. The girl slipped in after him and hid behind the door.
Thank goodness, I'm on time! the rooster murmured.
He put a big bowl on the table and filled it with milk.
There! he said. Now I'm ready for them!
Presently twelve beautiful pigeons came flying in by the open door.
Eleven of them dipped in the bowl of milk, their feather shirts opened,
and out they stepped eleven handsome youths. But the Twelfth Pigeon
perched disconsolately on the windowsill and remained a pigeon. The
eleven laughed at him and said:
Poor fellow, your bride betrayed you, didn't she? So you have to remain
shut up in your feather shirt while we go off and have a jolly time!
Yes, the Twelfth Pigeon said, she broke her promise and now she goes
wandering up and down the world hunting for me. If she doesn't find me I
shall nevermore escape the feather shirt but shall have to fly about
forever as a pigeon. But I know she will find me for she will never
stop until she does. And when she finds me, then the enchantment will be
broken forever and I can marry her!
The eleven youths went laughing arm in arm out of the house and in a few
moments the solitary Pigeon flew after them. Instantly the girl slipped
out from behind the door and hurried home with her pitcher of water.
Then she ran quickly across to the bath-house and all out of breath she
cried to the Princess:
O Princess, I have such a wonderful story to tell you all about a
rooster with wooden shoes and twelve pigeons only eleven of them are not
pigeons but handsome young men and the twelfth one has to stay in his
feather shirt because--
At mention of the enchanted pigeons, the Princess turned pale. She held
up her hand and made the girl pause until she had her breath, then she
questioned her until she knew the whole story.
It must be my love! the Princess thought to herself. Thank God I have
found him at last!
The next day at the same hour she went with the girl to the town well
and when the rooster clattered by in his wooden shoes they followed him
home and slipping into the house they hid behind the door and waited.
Presently twelve pigeons flew in. Eleven of them dipped in the milk and
came out handsome young men. The Twelfth sat disconsolately on the
window sill and remained a pigeon. The eleven laughed at him and twitted
him with having had a bride that had betrayed him. Then the eleven went
away laughing arm in arm. Before the Twelfth could fly after them, the
Princess ran out from behind the door and cried:
My dear one, I have found you at last!
The Pigeon flew into her hands and she took him and kissed his coral
beak and smoothed his gleaming plumage with her lips. Then she put him
in the milk and the feather shirt opened and her own true love stepped
She led him at once to her father and when the King found him well
trained in all the arts a prince should know he accepted him as his
future son-in-law and presented him to the people.
So after all the Princess's mother was able to give her daughter the
gorgeous wedding she had planned for years and years. Preparations were
begun at once but the Queen insisted on making such vast quantities of
little round cakes and candied fruits and sweetmeats of all kinds that
it was three whole months before the wedding actually took place. By
that time the roses were again blooming in the Princess's cheeks, her
eyes were brighter than before, and her long shining hair was more
golden than ever.
All the neighboring kings were invited to the wedding and when they saw
the bride they shook their heads sadly and said among themselves:
Lost her looks indeed! What did people mean by saying such a thing?
Why, she's the most beautiful princess in the world! What a pity she
didn't marry one of our sons!
But when they met the Prince of her choice, they saw at once why the
Princess had fallen in love with him.
Any girl would! they said.
It was a big wedding, as I told you before, and the only guest present
who was not a king or a queen or a royal personage of some sort was the
poor girl who saw the rooster with wooden shoes in the first place. The
Queen, of course, had wanted only royalty but the Princess declared that
the poor girl was her dear friend and would have to be invited. So the
Queen, when she saw that the Princess was set on having her own way, had
the poor girl come to the palace before the wedding and decked her out
in rich clothes until people were sure that she was some strange
princess whom the bride had met on her travels.
My dear, whispered the Princess as they sat down beside each other at
the wedding feast, how beautiful you look!
But I'm not as beautiful as you! the girl said.
The Princess laughed.
Of course not! No one can be as beautiful as I am because I have the
secret of beauty!
Dear Princess, the poor girl begged, won't you tell me the secret of
The Princess leaned over and whispered something in the poor girl's ear.
It was only one word: