From the Galpoghor Series:
The Frog Princess
Long, long ago in ancient Russia, there lived a king who had three sons. When they were grown to manhood, the king called them to him, saying, “My dear sons, it is time that you were wed; I wish to see my grandchildren before I die.”
To which the sons replied, “If that's your wish, Sire, give us your blessing and tell us whom we are to marry.”
“Take your bows and arrows and go beyond the palace walls into the open plain. There you must each loose an arrow and seek your bride wherever the arrow falls.”
The three princes bowed low before their father and, each taking a single shaft, went beyond the palace walls, drew back their bow strings and let fly their arrows.
The first son's arrow landed in a nobleman's courtyard and was picked up by his daughter. The second son's arrow fell by a rich merchant's house and was picked up by his daughter. The third son, Prince Ivan, shot his arrow so high and wide that he quite lost sight of it. After walking throughout the day he finally found his arrow in a marsh; and sitting on a water lily leaf holding the arrow in her mouth was a slimy frog.
When Prince Ivan asked for it back, the frog replied, “I shall return your arrow only if you take me as your bride.”
“But how can a prince marry a slimy frog!” said Prince Ivan in disgust.
The prince was angry, but there was nothing for it: he picked up the frog and took her back to the palace.
When he recounted the story to his father and showed him the frog, the king declared, “If the fates would have you wed a frog, my son, so be it.”
Thus it was that three weddings were celebrated the next Sunday: the first son married the nobleman's daughter, the second son wed the merchant's daughter and poor Prince Ivan wed the frog.
Some time passed and the king summoned his sons again and said, “My dear sons, I wish to see which wife can make me the finest shirt. Let them each sew me a shirt by morning.”
The princes bowed to their father and went their separate ways. The two eldest sons were not in the least dismayed, for they knew their wives could sew, but the youngest came home sand and downcast.
The frog hopped up to him and asked, “Why do you hang your head, Prince Ivan?”
“Well I might,” he replied. “Father would have you make a shirt by morning.”
“Is that all?” the frog replied. “Eat your supper and go to bed. Morning shows more wisdom than evening.”
As soon as Prince Ivan was asleep, the frog hopped through the door and on to the porch, cast off the frog skin to become Vassilisa the Wise, a princess fair beyond compare, and with the command of many servants.
She clapped her hands and cried, “Come my loyal servants, make haste and set to work. Sew me a shirt by morning as fine as that my father wore.”
At dawn, when Prince Ivan awoke, the frog was sitting on the table beside a shirt wrapped in an embroidered cloth. Overjoyed, he took the shirt to his father who was busy receiving the gifts from his elder sons.
The first son laid out his shirt before the king, who took it and gruffly said, “This shirt is not fit for a common pedlar!”
The second son laid his shirt before the king, and the king grumbled on, “This shirt is not fit for a humble peasnt!”
Then Prince Ivan laid out his shirt, so handsomely embroidered in gold and silver that the king's eyes shone in wonder. “Now this is a shirt fit only for a king!” he exclaimed.
The two elder broters went back to their wives, muttering to each other, “We, were wrong to mock at Prince Ivan's wife. She must be a witch, for sure.”
Presently the king summoned his sons again. “Your wives must bake me a white wheat loaf by tomorrow morning,” he said “I want to see which is the finest cook.”
Again Prince Ivan left the palace in great sadness. And his frog-wife asked him, “Whey are you so sad, my husband? White wheat loaf for my father by tomorrow morning.”
“Is that all?” replied the frog. “Have your supper and go to bed. Morning shows more wisdom than evening.”
This time Ivan's two brothers had sent an old woman from the palace kitchens to see how the frog backed her bread. But the wise frog guessed what they were up to; she therefore kneaded some dough and tossed it into the fire. The old woman straightaway ran to the two brothers to give them the news. And their wives proceeded to do as the frog had done. Meanwhile the frog hopped through the door on to the porch, changed into Vassilisa the Wise and clapped her hands. “Come, my loyal servants. Make haste and set to work,” she cried. “By morning bake me a loaf of crisp white bread, the kind I used to eat at my father's table.”
At dawn, when Ivan awoke, there was the bread all ready, lying on the table and decorated with an entire city made from icing sugar.
Prince Ivan was overjoyed. He wrapped the bread in a clean white cloth and carried it to his father, who was just receiving the loaves his eldest sons had brought. Their wives had thrown the dough into the fire as the old woman said, and the loaves were black and burnt.
The king took the bread from his eldest son, examined it closely and threw it out forth with. He took the loaf from the second son and acted like wise. But when Prince Ivan handed him his bread, the king was so delighted he exclaimed, “Now this is bread fit to grace the royal table!”
At once he invited his three sons to bring their wives to a banquet that very evening.
Once more Prince Ivan returned home sad and mournful. And the frog-wife met him at he door, enquiring, “Was your father not content?”
“He was delighted,” said Prince Ivan. “But now he wishes us to dine at the palace tonight. How can I show you to the royal guests?”
But the frog replied, “Do not grieve, Prince Ivan. Go to the banquet alone; I shall follow later. When you hear thunder, do not be afraid; and if they ask you what it is, say: That is my frog-wife coming in her carriage.”
So Prince Ivan went to the banquet by himself, and his brothers came with their wives dressed in all their finery. “Why are you alone?” his brothers mocked him. “You could surely have brought your fine wife in a box. Wherever did you find such a beauty? You must have searched all the swamps for her.”
The king with his sons, their wives and all the noble guests sat down to dine at the white-clothed oaken tables. All of a sudden, as they were about to start their meal, they heard loud thunder and the whole palace shook and trembled.
The guests were much alarmed, but Prince Ivan calmed them, “Do not be afraid, good people. That is my frog-wife coming in her carriage.”
At that moment a golden carriage drawn by six white horses arrived at the palace, and out of it stepped Vassilisa the Wise. Her blue silk gown glitered with stars and on her golden hair she wore a bright crescent moon. Her beauty was greater than tales can tell or wods can relate. She took her husband's arm and led him to the white-clothed table.
The king was charmed with the Frog Princess's grace and beauty; her learned words enchanted all the guests. Her sisters-in-law looked on in envy, eager to copy her every move. They noticed that, after picking the roast swan bones, she slipped them into her right-hand sleeve and, after drinking the wine, she poured the last few drops from the goblet into her other sleeve. They did likewise.
To be Continued
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