The Grateful Prince

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The Grateful Prince (Estonian: Tänulik Kuninga poeg) is an Estonian fairy tale.

It has been included by many authors in various collections of literature such as Dr. Friedrich Kreutzwald in Eestirahwa Ennemuistesed jutud, by W. F. Kirby in The Hero of Estonia, and by Andrew Lang in The Violet Fairy Book. The latter mentions his source as Ehstnische Märchen: the German translation of Kreutzwald's work, adapted by F. Löwe.

Synopsis[edit]

A king was traveling through the forest and lost his way. In his wanderings, he met an ancient man who offered to guide him home in exchange for the first thing that came out of the king's palace upon the king's arrival. Recalling that his faithful and beloved dog always greeted him upon his return home, the king was displeased with the bargain, but had no choice but to agree to the condition. Upon his return home, however, the first thing which emerged from the house was his infant son, in the arms of his nurse. The king was determined not to give the strange old man his son, and planned a deception. The king exchanged his son for a peasant's daughter and raised her as his princess. One year later, the stranger arrived at the palace, and the king gave him the girl. The king, overjoyed that his deception had worked, ordered a lavish celebration. He did not yet seek the return of his son, for fear his duplicity would be revealed to the stranger.

The king's son grew up as a peasant. His foster parents were rewarded for their care of the king's son and were content. The prince, however, had learned of his true father's deception and of the fate of the girl for whom he had been exchanged. He became distraught at the knowledge he would someday become king, while she would suffer with the stranger. He developed an ingenious plan to save her. One day the young man left his home dressed in a sack and carrying a bag of peas. He entered the same forest where his father had been lost many years before. For several hours he walked in circles, as if he was lost. Suddenly, a strange old man appeared before him and began to question where he was going. The prince replied that he was carrying the peas from his aunt's funeral to give to the watchers as was customary in the kingdom. The stranger offered to give the wanderer a job, and the prince agreed. The stranger was so happy that the young man accepted his offer that he twirled and sang as he escorted the secret prince to his secret home. Because of this, he did not notice the prince dropping peas along the way.

The stranger led the prince into a dark, deep cave. As they passed further into the depths, a pale light began to glow above the heads of the two men. At last the prince could make out a silent countryside, filled with animals, where absolute stillness resigned. Suddenly, the prince heard a sound like a troupe of horses, but the old man said it was a kettle boiling. The prince then heard a noise that resembled the whirring of a saw-mill which the man dismissed as his grandmother's snoring. The two continued through the strange country and reached a lonely house on a hill. Here the old man had the prince hide in a kennel because his grandmother could not stand new faces. The prince did not like that, but complied. After a few hours, he was finally beckoned in by the old man. At once his anger at being placed in a kennel turned to joy as he caught sight of a beautiful brown-eyed maiden.

The girl carefully brought out food and set it on a table in the room, seemingly unaware of the young stranger. The old man sat down and ate ravenously, telling the girl to give only scraps to the prince. He told the prince he could rest two days in the house, but on the third he would put him to work. When the prince opened his mouth to reply, the old man forbade him to speak. The maid showed him a room and enchanged by her demurness and beauty, the prince guessed she was not the man's daughter but the peasant girl exchanged for him. He retired to his room and plotted his next move.

On the second day, he drew water and hewed wood for her, then he wandered the farmstead and saw many animals, including a black cow, a white-faced calf, and, alone in a stable, a white horse.

On the third day, the stranger sent the prince to clean the horse's stall and to scythe enough grass for the horse to eat. The prince was satisfied with this easy task, but the maid, who knew the enormous appetite of the horse, whispered a suggestion that he weaves a strong rope from the grass. He should then warn the horse that he would bind its mouth shut and plug it up (prevent it from defecating) if the animal ate too much. The young man did as she suggested, and the horse, hearing his words, stopped eating and did not foul its stall.

Next the old man sent the prince to milk all the milk out of a cow. Again the maid secretly helped the newcomer by telling him to heat a pair of tongs and threaten to use them if the cow did not give all her milk. The prince obeyed, and the cow provided all its milk.

Then the old man sent the prince to bring in all the hay from a haystack. The maid knew that this task could not be accomplished even in a week. She told the prince to tie the horse to the haystack and count. He did so, and when the horse asked why he was counting, the prince said he was counting packs of wolves in the forest. The terrified horse began to run, hauling the entire stack of hay back hastily.

The old man was angry at the prince's success and so sent him on an even more difficult task. He told him to bring the white-faced calf to the pasture. The calf was flighty and frightened, but the maid advised the prince to tie himself to the calf with a silk thread to ensure it could not escape from him. The prince did so and returned with the calf.

Exhausted and furious, the old man said he had no more work, but that the prince must sleep and offer him his hand when he woke. The maid told the prince that the old man meant to eat him, so the next morning the prince should offer the old man a red-hot shovel instead of his hand. The prince obeyed her again, but the old man was cunning and refused to shake the shovel, for he knew it was not the prince's hand.

The next morning the old man told the young prince that he was satisfied with his work, and to show his gratitude he would marry him to his daughter. The prince was overjoyed and ran to find his princess. When he told her of the old man's announcement, she was shocked that he had discovered her secret, that she was the daughter of the king. The girl directed the prince to cut off the white-faced calf's head and withdraw from it a red ball, shining and pulsing with light, and to bring the ball to her. The prince did as she asked, and the two fled the house with the glowing ball to guide them. The prince found that the peas he had left behind him had sprouted and grown, creating a clear route back to the palace.

In the morning, the old man woke to find his house empty. He first thought the young people were not eager to marry, but after searching for them realized that they had fled. He had three stalls of goblin's in his barn, and he summoned all the creatures from the first stall and sent them after the prince and the girl. As he did so, the magic ball pulsed in the girl's hands, and she had it change her into a brook and the prince into a fish. The goblins later returned to the old man and said they had found nothing but a brook with a fish in it.

The old man went to the second stall in the barn and sent the goblins after the couple, instructing them to drink the brook and catch the fish. Before they could find the couple, however, the maid turned herself into a rose tree and the prince into a rose. The goblins returned and said there had been nothing but a rose tree with one lone rose.

The old man went to his third and largest stall to summon his mightiest goblins. The goblins were unleashed and ran out to tear up the rose tree. Before they reached the couple, however, the maid turned herself into a breeze and the prince into a fly. Once the goblins had departed, the girl lamented that the old man would be able to identify her and the young man regardless of the forms they took. She said they must each go to their own home, but the prince said they must stay together and marry. He pleaded with her to change her mind, but she answered by rolling the ball into the peasant's cottage and then vanishing inside.

The prince returned to his castle, where he found that his father, the king, had died, but on his deathbed the late monarch had confessed to switching the maid and the prince to deceive the stranger. The prince mourned his beloved father and publicly revealed to his new subjects all that had transpired. The people agreed that the new king should marry the girl and make her his queen.

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