The Three Citrons

: Czechoslovak Fairy Tales


Once upon a time there was an aged king who had an only son. One day

he called the prince to him and said: "My son, you see that my head is

white. Soon I shall be closing my eyes and you are not yet settled in

life. Marry, my son, marry at once so that I can bless you before I


The prince made no answer but he
ook the king's words to heart and

pondered them. He would gladly have done as his father wished but

there was no young girl upon whom his affections were set.

One day when he was sitting in the garden, wondering what to do, an

old woman suddenly appeared before him.

"Go," she said, "to the top of the Glass Hill, pluck the Three

Citrons, and you will get a wife in whom your heart will delight."

With that she disappeared as mysteriously as she had come.

Her words went through the prince's soul like a bright dart. Instantly

he determined, come what might, to find the Glass Hill and to pluck

the Three Citrons. He told his father his intention and the old king

fitted him out for the journey and gave him his blessing.

For a long time the prince wandered over wooded mountains and desert

plains without seeing or even hearing anything of the Glass Hill and

the Three Citrons. One day, worn out with his long journey, he threw

himself down in the shade of a wide-spreading linden tree. As his

father's sword, which he wore at his side, clanked on the ground,

twelve ravens began cawing from the top of the tree. Frightened by the

clanking of the sword, they raised their wings and flew off.

The prince jumped to his feet. "Those are the first living creatures I

have seen for many a day. I'll go in the direction they have taken,"

he said to himself, "and perhaps I'll have better luck."

So he traveled on and after three days and three nights a high castle

came in view.

"Thank God!" he exclaimed, pushing joyfully ahead. "I shall soon have

human companionship once more."

The castle was built entirely of lead. The twelve ravens circled above

it and in front of it stood an old woman leaning on a long leaden

staff. She was a Yezibaba. Now you must know that a Yezibaba is an

ugly old witch with a hooked nose, a bristly face, and long scrawny

hands. She's a bad old thing usually, but sometimes, if you take her

fancy, she's kind.

This time when she looked the prince over she shook her head at him in

a friendly way.

"Yi, yi, my boy, how did you get here? Why, not even a little bird or

a tiny butterfly comes here, much less a human being! You'd better

escape if life is dear to you, or my son, when he comes home, will eat


"No, no, old mother, don't make me go," begged the prince. "I have

come to you for advice to know whether you can tell me anything about

the Glass Hill and the Three Citrons."

"No, I have never heard a word about the Glass Hill," Yezibaba said.

"But wait until my son comes. He may be able to tell you something.

Yes, yes, I'll manage to save you somehow. Go hide under the besom and

stay there until I call you."

The mountains rumbled and the castle trembled and Yezibaba whispered

to the prince that her son was coming.

"Phew! Phew! I smell human meat! I'll eat it!" shouted Yezibaba's son

while he was still in the doorway. He struck the ground with his

leaden club and the whole castle shook.

"No, no, my son, don't talk that way. It's true there is a pretty

youth here, but he's come to ask you about something."

"Well, if he wants to ask me something, let him come out and ask."

"Yes, my son, he will, but only when you promise me that you will do

nothing to him."

"Well, I won't do anything to him. Now let him come out."

The prince hidden under the besom was shaking like an aspen leaf, for

when he peeped through the twigs he saw an ogre so huge that he

himself would reach up only to his knees. Happily the ogre had

guaranteed his life before Yezibaba ordered him out.

"Well, well, well, you little June bug!" shouted the ogre. "What are

you afraid of? Where have you been? What do you want?"

"What do I want?" repeated the prince. "I have been wandering in these

mountains a long time and I can't find what I'm seeking. So I've come

to you to ask whether you can tell me something about the Glass Hill

and the Three Citrons."

Yezibaba's son wrinkled his forehead. He thought for a moment and

then, lowering his voice a little, he said: "I've never heard of any

Glass Hill around here. But I tell you what you do: go on to my

brother in arms who lives in the Silver Castle and ask him. Maybe

he'll be able to tell you. But I can't let you go away hungry. That

would never do! Hi, mother, bring out the dumplings!"

Old Yezibaba placed a large dish on the table and her giant son sat


"Well, come on! Eat!" he shouted to the prince.

When the prince took the first dumpling and bit into it, he almost

broke two of his teeth, for the dumpling was made of lead.

"Well," shouted Yezibaba's son, "why don't you eat? Doesn't the

dumpling taste good?"

"Oh, yes, very good," said the prince, politely, "but just now I'm not


"Well, if you're not hungry now you will be later. Put a few in your

pocket and eat them on your journey."

So, whether he wanted them or not, the prince had to put some leaden

dumplings into his pocket. Then he took his leave of Yezibaba and her

son and traveled on.

He went on and on for three days and three nights. The farther he

went, the more inhospitable became the country. Before him stretched a

waste of mountains, behind him a waste of mountains with no living

creature in sight.

Wearied with his long journey, he threw himself on the ground. His

silver sword clanked sharply and at its sound twenty-four ravens

circled above him, cawed in fright, and flew away.

"A good sign!" cried the prince. "I'll follow the ravens again!"

So on he went as fast as his legs could carry him until he came in

sight of a tall castle. It was still far away, but even at that

distance it shone and flashed, for it was built of pure silver.

In front of the castle stood an old woman, bent with age, and leaning

on a long silver staff. This was the second Yezibaba.

"Yi, yi, my boy!" she cried. "How did you get here? Why, not even a

little bird or a tiny butterfly comes here, much less a human being.

You'd better escape if life is dear to you, or my son, when he comes

home, will eat you!"

"No, no, old mother, he won't eat me. I bring greetings from his

brother of the Leaden Castle."

"Well, if you bring greetings from the Leaden Castle you are safe

enough. Come in, my boy, and tell me your business."

"My business? For a long time, old mother, I've been looking for the

Glass Hill and the Three Citrons, but I can't find them. So I've come

to ask you whether you could tell me something about them."

"No, my boy, I don't know anything about the Glass Hill. But wait

until my son comes. Perhaps he can help you. In the meantime hide

yourself under the bed and don't come out until I call you."

The mountains rumbled and the castle trembled and the prince knew that

Yezibaba's son was coming home.

"Phew! Phew! I smell human meat! I'll eat it!" bellowed the mighty

fellow. He stood in the doorway and banged the ground with his silver

club until the whole castle shook.

"No, no, my son," said Yezibaba, "don't talk that way! A pretty little

chap has come bringing you greetings from your brother of the Leaden


"Well, if he's been at the Leaden Castle and came to no harm, he'll

have nothing to fear from me either. Where is he?"

The prince slipped out from under the bed and stood before the ogre.

Looking up at him was like looking at the top of the tallest pine


"Well, little June bug, so you've been at my brother's, eh?"

"Yes," said the prince. "See, I still have the dumplings he gave me

for the journey."

"I believe you. Well, what do you want?"

"What do I want? I came to ask you whether you could tell me something

about the Glass Hill and the Three Citrons."

"H'm, it seems to me I used to hear something about them, but I

forget. I tell you what you do: go to my brother of the Golden Castle

and ask him. But wait! I can't let you go away hungry. Hi, mother,

bring out the dumplings!"

Yezibaba brought the dumplings on a large silver dish and put them on

the table.

"Eat!" shouted her son.

The prince saw they were silver dumplings, so he said he wasn't hungry

just then, but he'd like to take some with him for the journey.

"Take as many as you want," shouted the ogre. "And give my greetings

to my brother and my aunt."

So the prince took some silver dumplings, made suitable thanks, and


He journeyed on from the Silver Castle three days and three nights,

through dense forests and over rough mountains, not knowing where he

was nor which way to turn. At last all worn out he threw himself down

in the shade of a beech tree to rest. As the sword clanked on the

ground, its silver voice rang out and a flock of thirty-six ravens

circled over his head.

"Caw! Caw!" they croaked. Then, frightened by the sound of the sword,

they flew away.

"Praise God!" cried the prince. "The Golden Castle can't be far!"

He jumped up and started eagerly off in the direction the ravens had

taken. As he left a valley and climbed a little hill he saw before him

a beautiful wide meadow in the midst of which stood the Golden Castle

shining like the sun. Before the gate of the castle stood a bent old

Yezibaba leaning on a golden staff.

"Yi, yi, my boy," she cried to the prince, "how did you get here? Why,

not even a little bird or a tiny butterfly comes here, much less a

human being! You'd better escape if life is dear to you, or my son,

when he comes home, will eat you!"

"No, no, old mother, he won't eat me, for I bring him greetings from

his brother of the Silver Castle!"

"Well, if you bring greetings from the Silver Castle you are safe

enough. Come in, my boy, and tell me your business."

"My business, old mother? For a long time I've been wandering over

these wild mountains in search of the Glass Hill and the Three

Citrons. At the Silver Castle they sent me to you because they thought

you might know something about them."

"The Glass Hill? No, I don't know where it is. But wait until my son

comes. He will advise you where to go and what to do. Hide under the

table and stay there till I call you."

The mountains rumbled and the castle trembled and Yezibaba's son came


"Phew! Phew! I smell human meat! I'll eat it!" he roared. He stood in

the doorway and pounded the ground with his golden club until the

whole castle shook.

"No, no, my son," said Yezibaba, "don't talk that way! A pretty little

fellow has come bringing you greetings from your brother of the Silver

Castle. If you won't harm him, I'll call him out."

"Well, if my brother didn't do anything to him, I won't either."

So the prince crawled out from under the table and stood before the

giant. It was like standing beneath a high tower. He showed the ogre

the silver dumplings as proof that he had been at the Silver Castle.

"Well, well, well, my little June bug," shouted the monstrous fellow,

"tell me what it is you want! I'll advise you if I can! Don't be


So the prince told him the purpose of his journey and asked him how to

get to the Glass Hill and pluck the Three Citrons.

"Do you see that blackish lump over yonder?" the ogre said, pointing

with his golden club. "That is the Glass Hill. On that hill stands a

tree. From that tree hang the Three Citrons which send out fragrance

for seven miles around. You will climb the Glass Hill, kneel beneath

the tree, and reach up your hands. If the citrons are destined for you

they will fall into your hands of their own accord. If they are not

destined for you, you will not be able to pluck them no matter what

you do. As you return, if you are hungry or thirsty, cut open one of

the citrons and you will have food and drink in plenty. Go now with

God's blessing. But wait! I can't let you go away hungry! Hi, mother,

bring out the dumplings!"

Yezibaba set a large golden dish on the table.

"Eat!" her son shouted. "Or, if you are not hungry just now, put some

in your pocket and eat them on the way."

The prince said that he was not hungry but that he would be glad to

take some of the golden dumplings with him and eat them later. Then he

thanked the ogre most courteously for his hospitality and advice and

took his leave.

He trudged quickly on from hill to dale, from dale to hill again, and

never stopped until he reached the Glass Hill itself. Then he stood

still as if turned into stone. The hill was high and steep and smooth

with not so much as a scratch on its surface. Over its top spread out

the branches of the magic tree upon which hung the Three Citrons.

Their fragrance was so powerful that the prince almost fainted.

"Let it be as God wills!" he thought to himself. "But however the

adventure is to come out, now that I'm here I must at least make the


So he began to claw his way up the smooth glass, but he hadn't gone

many yards before his foot slipped and down he went so hard that he

didn't know where he was or what had happened to him until he found

himself sitting on the ground.

In his vexation he began to throw away the dumplings, thinking that

perhaps their weight had dragged him down. He took one and threw it

straight at the hill. Imagine his surprise to see it fix itself firmly

in the glass. He threw a second and a third and there he had three

steps on which he was able to stand with safety!

The prince was overjoyed. He threw dumpling after dumpling and each

one of them became a step. First he threw the leaden ones, then the

silver ones, and last of all the golden ones. On the steps made in

this way he climbed higher and higher until he had reached the very

summit of the hill. Then he knelt under the magic tree, lifted up his

hands, and into them the Three Citrons dropped of their own accord!

Instantly the tree disappeared, the Glass Hill sank until it was lost,

and when the prince came to himself there was neither tree nor hill to

be seen, but only a wide plain.

Delighted with the outcome of his adventure, the prince turned

homewards. At first he was too happy even to eat or drink. By the

third day his stomach began to protest and he discovered that he was

so hungry that he would have fallen ravenously upon a leaden dumpling

if he had had one in his pocket. But his pocket, alas, was empty, and

the country all about was as bare as the palm of his hand.

Then he remembered what the ogre of the Golden Castle had told him and

he took out one of the Three Citrons. He cut it open, and what do you

suppose happened? Out jumped a beautiful maiden fresh from the hand

of God, who bowed low before him and exclaimed:

"Have you food ready for me? Have you drink ready for me? Have you

pretty clothes ready for me?"

"Alas, beautiful creature," the prince sighed, "I have not. I have

nothing for you to eat or to drink or to put on."

The lovely maiden clapped her hands three times, bowed before him, and


"Ah," said the prince, "now I know what kind of citrons you are! I'll

think twice before opening one of you again!"

Of the one he had opened he ate and drank his fill, and so refreshed,

went on. He traveled three days and three nights and by that time he

began to feel three times hungrier than before.

"God help me!" thought he. "I must eat something! There are still two

citrons and if I cut open one there would still be one left."

So he took out the second citron, cut it in two, and lo, a maiden

twice as beautiful as the first stood before him. She bowed low and


"Have you food ready for me? Have you drink ready for me? Have you

pretty clothes ready for me?"

"No, lovely creature, I haven't! I haven't!"

The maiden clapped her hands thrice, bowed before him, and


Now there was only one citron left. The prince took it in his hand,

looked at it, and said: "I won't cut you open until I'm safe at home

in my father's house."

He took up his journey again and on the third day he came to his

native town and his father's castle. He had been gone a long time and

how he ever got back he didn't know himself.

Tears of joy rained down the old king's cheeks.

"Welcome home, my son, welcome a hundred times!" he cried, falling on

the prince's neck.

The prince related the adventures of his journey and they at home told

him how anxiously they had awaited his return.

On the next day a great feast was prepared. All the nobles in the land

were invited. The tables were spread with food and drink the most

expensive in the world and many rich dresses embroidered in gold and

studded with pearls were laid out.

The guests assembled, seated themselves at the tables, and waited.

Music played and when all was ready, the prince took the last citron

and cut it in two. Out jumped a beautiful creature, three times

lovelier than the others.

"Have you food ready for me?" she cried. "Have you drink ready for me?

Have you pretty clothes ready for me?"

"I have indeed, dear heart!" the prince answered. "I have everything

ready for you!"

He led her to the gorgeous clothes and she dressed herself in them and

every one present marveled at her great beauty.

Soon the betrothal took place and after the betrothal a magnificent


So now the old king's wish was fulfilled. He blessed his son, gave

over the kingdom to him, and not long afterwards he died.

The first thing that faced the young king after his father's death was

a war which a neighboring king stirred up against him. So the young

king had to bid farewell to the bride whom he had won so dearly and

lead his men to battle. In order that nothing happen to the queen in

his absence, he built a golden throne for her in the garden beside the

lake. This throne was as high as a tower and no one could ascend it

except those to whom the queen let down a silken cord.

Not far from the king's castle lived the old woman who, in the first

place, had told him about the Three Citrons. She knew well enough how

the young king had won his bride and she was deeply incensed that he

had not invited her to the wedding and in fact had not even thanked

her for her good advice.

Now this old woman had a gipsy for servant whom she used to send to

the lake for water. One day when this gipsy was filling her pitcher,

she saw in the lake a beautiful reflection. She supposed it was a

reflection of herself.

"Is it right," she cried out, "that so lovely a creature as I should

carry water for that old witch?"

In a fury she threw the pitcher on the ground and broke it into a

hundred pieces. Then she looked up and discovered that it wasn't her

own reflection she had seen in the water but that of the beautiful


Ashamed of herself, she picked up the broken pitcher and went home.

The old woman, who knew beforehand what had happened, went out to meet

her with a new pitcher.

"It's no matter about the pitcher," the old woman said. "Go back to

the lake and beg the lovely lady to let down the silken cord and pull

you up. Tell her you will comb her hair. When she pulls you up, comb

her hair until she falls asleep. Then stick this pin into her head.

After that you can dress yourself up in her clothes and sit there like

a queen."

It was easy enough to persuade the gipsy. She took the pitcher and the

pin and returned to the lake.

As she drew water she gazed at the lovely queen.

"Oh, how beautiful you are!" she whined, leering up at the queen with

an evil eye. "How beautiful you are! Aye, but you'd be a hundred times

more beautiful if you but let me comb out your lovely hair! Indeed, I

would so twine those golden tresses that your lord would be


With words like these she beguiled and coaxed the queen until she let

down the silken cord and drew the gipsy up. Once on the throne, the

wicked gipsy combed out the golden tresses and plaited them and

arranged them until the queen fell sound asleep. Then the gipsy took

the pin and stuck it into the queen's head. Instantly a beautiful

white dove flew off the golden throne and not a trace was left of the

lovely queen except her rich clothing. The gipsy dressed herself in

this, sat in the queen's place, and gazed down into the lake. But in

the lake no lovely reflection showed itself, for even in the queen's

clothes the gipsy remained a gipsy.

The young king waged a successful war against his enemies and made

peace. Scarcely had he got home when he hurried to the garden to see

whether anything had happened to his heart's delight. Who can express

in words his astonishment and horror when instead of his beautiful

wife he saw the evil gipsy!

"Ah, my dearest one, how you have changed!" he murmured and tears

flowed down his cheeks.

"Yes, my dear, I have changed, I know I have," the gipsy answered. "It

was grief for you that has broken me."

She tried to fall on his neck but the king turned quickly away and

left her.

From that time forth he had no peace but day and night he mourned the

lost beauty of his wife and nothing consoled him.

Grieving in this way and thinking always the same sad thoughts, he was

walking one day in the garden when suddenly a beautiful white dove

flew down from a high tree and alighted on his hand. She looked up at

him with eyes as mournful as his own.

"Ah, my poor dove," the king said, "why are you so sad? Has your mate

also changed?"

As he spoke he stroked the dove gently on the back and on the head.

On the head he felt a little lump. He blew aside the feathers and

discovered the head of a pin. He pulled out the pin and instantly the

sad dove changed into his own beautiful wife.

She told him what had happened to her, how the gipsy had deceived her

and stuck the pin into her head. The king had the gipsy and the old

witch caught at once and burnt at the stake.

From that time on nothing happened to mar the king's happiness,

neither the plots of his enemies nor the spite of evil people. He

lived in love and peace with his beautiful wife and he ruled his

kingdom wisely. In fact he's ruling it still if he hasn't died.