The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples
The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples is a Serbian epic poetry. It was published for the first time as a fairy tale by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in 1853. Later on it was published as a Bulgarian fairy tale by A. H. Wratislaw in his Sixty Folk-Tales from Exclusively Slavonic Sources, number 38 in 1890.
An emperor's golden apple tree was robbed every night, and his sons set themselves to watch it. The older two slept, but the youngest stayed awake. Nine peahens arrived. Eight riffled the tree, while the ninth came down beside him and became a beautiful maiden. She talked with him. He begged her to leave one apple, and she left two. This went on for two nights, until his brothers spied on him and saw how it happened. They made a bargain with a witch, and the next night she leapt up and cut off a lock of the maiden's hair. The prince caught the witch and had her executed, but the peahens did not return.
Grieving, the prince set out in search. He found a castle with an aging empress, who had one daughter. On hearing that nine peahens bathed in the lake outside, he set out, despite her efforts to have him stay. The empress bribed his servant to blow a whistle when the nine peahens approached. This threw him into an enchanted sleep. The ninth tried to wake him, but to no avail. She told the servant they would come on the next day and never again. The next day, the servant put him to sleep again, and the maiden told him that if the prince wanted to find her, he should roll the under peg on the upper. The servant repeated this to the prince. The prince cut off his head and went on alone.
A hermit directed him to a castle, he found the ninth peahen, and they were married at once. One day his wife, the empress, had to go on journey, and forbade him to go into the twelfth cellar. When he went in, a cask with iron bands about it asked him for water. He gave it three cups. It burst, and a dragon sprang out to fly off and capture the empress.
He set out in search of her. He saw a fish on the bank, helped it into the water, and received a scale to call it; a fox in a trap, and received a couple of hairs; and a wolf in another trap, and received a couple of hairs. He found where the empress was held captive, and they tried to escape. The dragon saw them, his horse told him there was plenty of time to eat and drink before setting in pursuit, and after he ate and drank, the dragon captured them. He let the prince go because of the drinks of water, but promised it would be the only clemency.
The prince returned to the castle and had the empress ask the dragon where he got the horse. The dragon told how a witch had a mare and foal, and whoever watched them for three days would get his pick of her horses, and whoever failed would lose his life. The prince set out, and found she had poles about her house, every one of which except one had a skull on it. She hired him to look after the horse. He watched all day, but in the night, he fell asleep, and they escaped into the water. He asked the fish, who told him the charm to get them out. When he went back for dinner, the witch scolded the horse, heard its reason, and told it to go among the foxes; he used the fox hairs and got it back, and then, the next day, the wolf hairs.
He asked for the ugly horse in the corner and would not be dissuaded. Then he returned to the castle and carried off the empress. When the dragon saw them, he asked whether he could eat or drink first, but the horse said he would not catch whether he ate first or pursued at once. Still, the dragon rode after, and the horse complained to the prince's of the effort of catching him. The prince's horse asked it why it put up with it. The dragon's horse threw the dragon and killed him, and the empress rode it the rest of the way home.
In the Bulgarian version, the prince was with the peahen for several days before the witch disturbs them. When he leaves to search for her he takes one of his servants who prevents him from seeing the maiden, whereas in the Serbian version the old empress sends her servant to go with him. The wolf has also been replaced by a crow in a trap, and instead of an ugly horse, the prince asked for a skinny horse.
- The Golden Bird
- Prâslea the Brave and the Golden Apples
- Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf
- The Nunda, Eater of People
- Swan Maiden
- The Raven
- The Death of Koschei the Deathless
- The Flower Queen's Daughter
- Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to the Swan Maiden"