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 Esthonia, 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.


A king was traveling through a forest and lost his way. In his wanderings, he met an old man who offered to guide him home in exchange for the first thing that came out of the king's palace. Recalling that his faithful and beloved dog always greeted him in his return home, the king was displeased with the bargain, but was forced to agree. On 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 that the strange old man should not have his son. In order to deceive the stranger, the king exchanged his son for a peasant's daughter and raised her as his princess. One year later, the stranger returned and took the girl. The joyful king ordered a lavish celebration. He did not dare claim 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 the fate of the girl for whom he had been exchanged and was distraught that he would become king while she suffered. He was determined to save her and formed a cunning plan. One day, he dressed in a sack, took a bag of peas and left his home. He walked into the same forest in which his father had been lost years before, and walked for several hours in circles. 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 hire him, and the prince agreed. The stranger sang and span like a top with pleasure, and never noticed the prince dropping peas along the way.

The stranger led him into a dark, deep cave. As they passed further into the depths, a pale light began to glow above their heads. At last the prince could make out a silent countryside, filled with animals, where absolute stillness reigned. Strange noises were heard around them. A sound like a troop of horses was identified by the old man as a kettle boiling and a noise which resembled the whirring of a saw-mill, the man dismissed as his grandmother's snoring. They 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. After waiting outside for a few hours, he was beckoned in by the old man. At once his anger turned to joy as he caught sight of a beautiful brown-eyed maiden.

The girl seemed unaware of the young stranger as she carefully brought out food and set it on a table. The old man ate ravenously and told the girl to give only the 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 enchanted by her demureness 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. The next day he drew water and hewed wood for her and then he wandered the farmstead and saw the animals including a black cow, a white-faced calf, and a white horse that occupied the stable alone.

On the third day, the man sent the prince to clean the horse's stall and to scythe enough grass for it to eat. The prince was satisfied with this easy task, but the maid, who knew the enormous appetite of the horse, told him in whispers to make a strong plait of the grass. He should then threaten to bind its mouth and peg it so it could not eat or scatter its food. He obeyed, and the horse stopped eating and did not foul its stall.

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

Then the old man sent him to bring in a hay rick. The maid knew that this task could not be done in a week's work. She told the prince to tie the horse to the rick and count. He did so, and when the horse asked why he said he was counting packs of wolves in the forest. The horse hauled the entire rick of hay back hastily, when it heard what the prince said.

The old man was angry, and sent the prince 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.

Exhausted and furious, the old man said he had no more work, but that the prince must come to his bed and offer him his hand when he woke. The maid told him that the old man meant to eat him, but the prince must offer him a red-hot shovel instead of his own hand. Well, the prince obeyed her word and meant to burn the old man. However, the old man was still 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 that he was satisfied with his work, and to show his gratitude he would marry the prince to his daughter. The prince was overjoyed and ran to find his princess. When he told her she turned white and said that he had discovered her secret. Under her direction, the prince cut off the calf's head and brought her from it a red ball, shining and pulsing with light. They fled the house with the ball to guide them, and the hope that the peas he had left had sprouted and grown the route back to the palace. She told him that she had overheard that she was a king's daughter.

In the morning, the old man woke to find his house empty. He first thought the young people were not eager to marry, but then he searched for them and realized that they had fled. He sent a group of goblins from one stall in his barn after them. The ball moved in the maid's hands, and she had it change her into a brook and the prince into a fish. The goblins returned to the old man and said there had been nothing but a brook with a fish. The old man went to the next stall in the barn and sent the goblins there after the couple, instructing them to drink the brook and catch the fish. The maid then 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. Then the maid turned herself into a breeze and the prince into a midge. Then, when the goblins were gone, she said the old man would know them even if they transmuted into any form. The prince pleaded with her to change her mind, but she answered by rolling the ball to the peasant's cottage and vanishing inside.

She said they must each go to their own home but the prince said they must keep together and marry. In the castle, the prince found that his father the king had died, confessing his switch of the maid and the prince. The prince mourned his beloved father but proclaimed what had happened, and all his people agreed that he should marry her and make her his queen.

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