The Unlooked-for Prince
: Polish Story
: The Grey Fairy Book
A long time ago there lived a king and queen who had no children,
although they both wished very much for a little son. They tried
not to let each other see how unhappy they were, and pretended to
take pleasure in hunting and hawking and all sorts of other
sports; but at length the king could bear it no longer, and
declared that he must go and visit the furthest corners of his
kingdom, and that it would be many months
efore he should return
to his capital.
By that time he hoped he would have so many things to think about
that he would have forgotten to trouble about the little son who
The country the king reigned over was very large, and full of
high, stony mountains and sandy deserts, so that it was not at
all easy to go from one place to another. One day the king had
wandered out alone, meaning to go only a little distance, but
everything looked so alike he could not make out the path by
which he had come. He walked on and on for hours, the sun beating
hotly on his head, and his legs trembling under him, and he might
have died of thirst if he had not suddenly stumbled on a little
well, which looked as if it had been newly dug. On the surface
floated a silver cup with a golden handle, but as it bobbed about
whenever the king tried to seize it, he was too thirsty to wait
any longer and knelt down and drank his fill.
When he had finished he began to rise from his knees, but somehow
his beard seemed to have stuck fast in the water, and with all
his efforts he could not pull it out. After two or three jerks to
his head, which only hurt him without doing any good, he called
out angrily, ‘Let go at once! Who is holding me?'
‘It is I, the King Kostiei,' said a voice from the well, and
looking up through the water was a little man with green eyes and
a big head. ‘You have drunk from my spring, and I shall not let
you go until you promise to give me the most precious thing your
palace contains, which was not there when you left it.'
Now the only thing that the king much cared for in his palace was
the queen herself, and as she was weeping bitterly on a pile of
cushions in the great hall when he had ridden away, he knew that
Kostiei's words could not apply to her. So he cheerfully gave the
promise asked for by the ugly little man, and in the twinkling of
an eye, man, spring, and cup had disappeared, and the king was
left kneeling on the dry sand, wondering if it was all a dream.
But as he felt much stronger and better he made up his mind that
this strange adventure must really have happened, and he sprang
on his horse and rode off with a light heart to look for his
In a few weeks they began to set out on their return home, which
they reached one hot day, eight months after they had all left.
The king was greatly beloved by his people, and crowds lined the
roads, shouting and waving their hats as the procession passed
along. On the steps of the palace stood the queen, with a
splendid golden cushion in her arms, and on the cushion the most
beautiful boy that ever was seen, wrapped about in a cloud of
lace. In a moment Kostiei's words rushed into the king's mind,
and he began to weep bitterly, to the surprise of everybody, who
had expected him nearly to die of joy at the sight of his son.
But try as he would and work as hard as he might he could never
forget his promise, and every time he let the baby out of his
sight he thought that he had seen it for the last time.
However, years passed on and the prince grew first into a big
boy, and then into a fine young man. Kostiei made no sign, and
gradually even the anxious king thought less and less about him,
and in the end forgot him altogether.
There was no family in the whole kingdom happier than the king
and queen and prince, until one day when the youth met a little
old man as he was hunting in a lonely part of the woods. ‘How
are you my unlooked-for Prince?' he said. ‘You kept them waiting
a good long time!'
‘And who are you?' asked the prince.
‘You will know soon enough. When you go home give my compliments
to your father and tell him that I wish he would square accounts
with me. If he neglects to pay his debts he will bitterly repent
So saying the old man disappeared, and the prince returned to the
palace and told his father what had happened.
The king turned pale and explained to his son the terrible story.
‘Do not grieve over it, father,' answered the prince. ‘It is
nothing so dreadful after all! I will find some way to force
Kostiei to give up his rights over me. But if I do not come back
in a year's time, you must give up all hopes of ever seeing me.'
Then the prince began to prepare for his journey. His father gave
him a complete suit of steel armour, a sword, and a horse, while
his mother hung round his neck a cross of gold. So, kissing him
tenderly, with many tears they let him go.
He rode steadily on for three days, and at sunset on the fourth
day he found himself on the seashore. On the sand before him lay
twelve white dresses, dazzling as the snow, yet as far as his
eyes could reach there was no one in sight to whom they could
belong. Curious to see what would happen, he took up one of the
garments, and leaving his horse loose, to wander about the
adjoining fields, he hid himself among some willows and waited.
In a few minutes a flock of geese which had been paddling about
in the sea approached the shore, and put on the dresses, struck
the sand with their feet and were transformed in the twinkling of
an eye into eleven beautiful young girls, who flew away as fast
as they could. The twelfth and youngest remained in the water,
stretching out her long white neck and looking about her
anxiously. Suddenly, among the willows, she perceived the king's
son, and called out to him with a human voice:
‘Oh Prince, give me back my dress, and I shall be for ever
grateful to you.'
The prince hastened to lay the dress on the sand, and walked
away. When the maiden had thrown off the goose-skin and quickly
put on her proper clothes, she came towards him and he saw that
none had ever seen or told of such beauty as hers. She blushed
and held out her hand, saying to him in a soft voice:
‘I thank you, noble Prince, for having granted my request. I am
the youngest daughter of Kostiei the immortal, who has twelve
daughters and rules over the kingdoms under the earth. Long time
my father has waited for you, and great is his anger. But trouble
not yourself and fear nothing, only do as I bid you. When you see
the King Kostiei, fall straightway upon your knees and heed
neither his threats nor his cry, but draw near to him boldly.
That which will happen after, you will know in time. Now let us
At these words she struck the ground with her foot and a gulf
opened, down which they went right into the heart of the earth.
In a short time they reached Kostiei's palace, which gives light,
with a light brighter than the sun, to the dark kingdoms below.
And the prince, as he had been bidden, entered boldly into the
Kostiei, with a shining crown upon his head, sat in the centre
upon a golden throne. His green eyes glittered like glass, his
hands were as the claws of a crab. When he caught sight of the
prince he uttered piercing yells, which shook the walls of the
palace. The prince took no notice, but continued his advance on
his knees towards the throne. When he had almost reached it, the
king broke out into a laugh and said:
‘It has been very lucky for you that you have been able to make
me laugh. Stay with us in our underground empire, only first you
will have to do three things. To-night it is late. Go to sleep;
to-morrow I will tell you.'
Early the following morning the prince received a message that
Kostiei was ready to see him. He got up and dressed, and hastened
to the presence chamber, where the little king was seated on his
throne. When the prince appeared, bowing low before him, Kostiei
‘Now, Prince, this is what you have to do. By to-night you must
build me a marble palace, with windows of crystal and a roof of
gold. It is to stand in the middle of a great park, full of
streams and lakes. If you are able to build it you shall be my
friend. If not, off with your head.'
The prince listened in silence to this startling speech, and then
returning to his room set himself to think about the certain
death that awaited him. He was quite absorbed in these thoughts,
when suddenly a bee flew against the window and tapped, saying,
‘Let me come in.' He rose and opened the window, and there stood
before him the youngest princess.
‘What are you dreaming about, Prince?'
‘I was dreaming of your father, who has planned my death.'
‘Fear nothing. You may sleep in peace, and to-morrow morning when
you awake you will find the palace all ready.'
What she said, she did. The next morning when the prince left his
room he saw before him a palace more beautiful than his fancy had
ever pictured. Kostiei for his part could hardly believe his
eyes, and pondered deeply how it had got there.
‘Well, this time you have certainly won; but you are not going to
be let off so easily. To-morrow all my twelve daughters shall
stand in a row before you, and if you cannot tell me which of
them is the youngest, off goes your head.'
‘What! Not recognise the youngest princess!' said the Prince to
himself, as he entered his room, ‘a likely story!'
‘It is such a difficult matter that you will never be able to do
it without my help,' replied the bee, who was buzzing about the
ceiling. ‘We are all so exactly alike, that even our father
scarcely knows the difference between us.'
‘Then what must I do?'
‘This. The youngest is she who will have a ladybird on her
eyelid. Be very careful. Now good-bye.'
Next morning King Kostiei again sent for the prince. The young
princesses were all drawn up in a row, dressed precisely in the
same manner, and with their eyes all cast down. As the prince
looked at them, he was amazed at their likeness. Twice he walked
along the line, without being able to detect the sign agreed
upon. The third time his heart beat fast at the sight of a tiny
speck upon the eyelid of one of the girls.
‘This one is the youngest,' he said.
‘How in the world did you guess?' cried Kostiei in a fury. ‘There
is some jugglery about it! But you are not going to escape me so
easily. In three hours you shall come here and give me another
proof of your cleverness. I shall set alight a handful of straw,
and before it is burnt up you will have turned it into a pair of
boots. If not, off goes your head.'
So the prince returned sadly into his room, but the bee was there
‘Why do you look so melancholy, my handsome Prince?'
‘How can I help looking melancholy when your father has ordered
me to make him a pair of boots? Does he take me for a shoemaker?'
‘What do you think of doing?'
‘Not of making boots, at any rate! I am not afraid of death. One
can only die once after all.'
‘No, Prince, you shall not die. I will try to save you. And we
will fly together or die together.'
As she spoke she spat upon the ground, and then drawing the
prince after her out of the room, she locked the door behind her
and threw away the key. Holding each other tight by the hand,
they made their way up into the sunlight, and found themselves by
the side of the same sea, while the prince's horse was still
quietly feeding in the neighbouring meadow. The moment he saw his
master, the horse whinnied and galloped towards him. Without
losing an instant the prince sprang into the saddle, swung the
princess behind him, and away they went like an arrow from a bow.
When the hour arrived which Kostiei had fixed for the prince's
last trial, and there were no signs of him, the king sent to his
room to ask why he delayed so long. The servants, finding the
door locked, knocked loudly and received for answer, ‘In one
moment.' It was the spittle, which was imitating the voice of the
The answer was taken back to Kostiei. He waited; still no prince.
He sent the servants back again, and the same voice replied,
‘He is making fun of me!' shrieked Kostiei in a rage. ‘Break in
the door, and bring him to me!'
The servants hurried to do his bidding. The door was broken open.
Nobody inside; but just the spittle in fits of laughter! Kostiei
was beside himself with rage, and commanded his guards to ride
after the fugitives. If the guards returned without the
fugitives, their heads should pay for it.
By this time the prince and princess had got a good start, and
were feeling quite happy, when suddenly they heard the sound of a
gallop far behind them. The prince sprang from the saddle, and
laid his ear to the ground.
‘They are pursuing us,' he said.
‘Then there is no time to be lost,' answered the princess; and as
she spoke she changed herself into a river, the prince into a
bridge, the horse into a crow, and divided the wide road beyond
the bridge into three little ones. When the soldiers came up to
the bridge, they paused uncertainly. How were they to know which
of the three roads the fugitives had taken? They gave it up in
despair and returned in trembling to Kostiei.
‘Idiots!' he exclaimed, in a passion. ‘They were the bridge and
the river, of course! Do you mean to say you never thought of
that? Go back at once!' and off they galloped like lightning.
But time had been lost, and the prince and princess were far on
‘I hear a horse,' cried the princess.
The prince jumped down and laid his ear to the ground.
‘Yes,' he said, ‘they are not far off now.'
In an instant prince, princess, and horse had all disappeared,
and instead was a dense forest, crossed and recrossed by
countless paths. Kostiei's soldiers dashed hastily into the
forest, believing they saw before them the flying horse with its
double burden. They seemed close upon them, when suddenly horse,
wood, everything disappeared, and they found themselves at the
place where they started. There was nothing for it but to return
to Kostiei, and tell him of this fresh disaster.
‘A horse! a horse!' cried the king. ‘I will go after them myself.
This time they shall not escape.' And he galloped off, foaming
‘I think I hear someone pursuing us,' said the princess
‘Yes, so do I.'
‘And this time it is Kostiei himself. But his power only reaches
as far as the first church, and he can go no farther. Give me
your golden cross.' So the prince unfastened the cross which was
his mother's gift, and the princess hastily changed herself into
a church, the prince into a priest, and the horse into a belfry.
It was hardly done when Kostiei came up.
‘Greeting, monk. Have you seen some travellers on horseback pass
‘Yes, the prince and Kostiei's daughter have just gone by. They
have entered the church, and told me to give you their greetings
if I met you.'
Then Kostiei knew that he had been hopelessly beaten, and the
prince and princess continued their journey without any more