This section is from the book "Myths And Folk-Tales Of The Russians, Western Slavs, And Magyars", by Jeremiah Curtin. Also available from Amazon: Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and the Magyars.
After dinner the fisherman's wife hurried to the king with the fish. When she came to the palace, she asked the first man she met where the king was, but got as answer: "I don't keep the king!" She went farther, making confusion everywhere until all the servants came together, but no one said anything to her. At last she reached the guard who stood before the king's chamber; she wanted to go without ceremony to his Kingly Grace. The guard pushed her back sharply, but the fishwoman did not retreat so easily; she tried once more to break through the guards, but this time she was repulsed. One of the guards, as firm as a rock, and with as much hair on his face as a bear, caught her by the hand and pulled her so roughly that she almost fell to the floor. She screamed that they were killing her, and roused the whole palace; even the king came. She turned straight to him and cried out over the heads of the men: "Royal Grace, I am bringing fish, and these bears won't let me in".
The king, who was in good humor that day, beckoned her to come. "What kind of fish, and how many?" asked he when she approached.
"Royal Grace, only three, but so wonderful that I have not seen such as long as I live." With that she took a fish from the basket and handed it to the king.
"Wonderful, indeed," said the king, "but give them not to me, give them to my cook; and here is to thee for the road," giving her a handful of gold-pieces.
The fishwoman, when she saw so much money, fell at the king's feet, and came near throwing him down; but he did n't mind. Then she took the fish to the kitchen, and ran headlong home.
After she had gone the king went to the kitchen, looked at one of the fish, and said to the cook: "Thou must dress these fish in a special manner, and answer with thy head for the cooking".
"Royal Grace, in what manner?" asked the cook, trembling with terror when he heard of his head; for though he was a great hero at cutting off heads, he trembled like an aspen when his own head was in question.
"That's thy affair," replied the king; "I will send my chamberlain to thee to look after the fish".
The king went away, and presently the chamberlain appeared. The cook did not know how to prepare the fish, and lost his wits, - but that was his luck, for he did everything without knowing it, and altogether different from his wont. At last when they had the fish on the pan, and began to butter them, the whole palace trembled. Then followed a terrible shock; and before the cook or the chamberlain could think what it meant, they received each such a slap on the face from an invisible hand that they fell senseless to the floor. And while they were lying in such concord on the floor, they knew not that one of the fish stood on his tail in the pan, and said to the other two: "Will ye serve me or be food for the king".
"Serve thee," said both in one voice. With that all three of them vanished, and to this day no man knows whither they went.
The cook woke up from his involuntary slumber sooner than the chamberlain; he did not rise, however, but waited for the other. Then he rose, groaned heavily, complained, and both hurried to the fish; but they were gone. "The devil take the fish!" said the cook; "but what will the king say?"
It was no great joy for the chamberlain that the fish were gone; still he went to the king and told him of all that had happened in the kitchen.
"I cannot believe it," said the king; "but if thou canst get more fish like these, thou wilt be forgiven this time. Now go to the fisherman and tell him to get other fish like these".
The chamberlain hurried away with light heart, rejoiced at his easy escape. The fisherman said that he could catch fish only on Mondays. The chamberlain told this to the king; the king was very angry. But what could he gain by that?
There was joy in the fisherman's cottage by reason of so much money, and the fisherman's wife could hardly wait till Monday. She roused her husband early Monday morning, got him a holiday breakfast, and almost pushed him out of the house, so as to bring those strange fish with all speed. The fisherman obeyed, not his wife, however, but the king, and hastened to the cliff with the wonderful herb in his bosom. He had barely stood on the step, when he was carried to the mountain; and from there he rushed to the lake, where he found a boat waiting for him as before. The first and second time he caught nothing; but the third time he drew out three fish. "Now my wife will be glad," thought he, and hurried up the mountain; from there he was taken to the valley in an instant, and ran home. His wife pulled the fish out of his hands, threw them into a basket, and ran to the king's palace. The guard was ordered to let her pass; and she went straight to the king, who came out to meet her, and looking at the fish, to see if they were the same, gave her another handful of gold for her trouble. The fish-woman thanked him, took the fish to the kitchen, and went home leisurely, for she counted the money to see if there was the same as before; there was still more. Now there was joy in the cottage; and the fisherman was thankful in his heart to the fiery man, by whose action he had gained such peace in his household.
New orders were issued by the king to the cook, who was trembling with terror, thinking what would come of the fish. But the king, who did not believe even the chamberlain, sent his eldest son to watch both the chamberlain and the cook, lest they should eat the fish themselves. They all stood in great expectation around the pan in which the butter was melting under the fish; but as soon as they began to butter the fish, the castle was shaken more violently than before, a still louder shock followed, and the cook, chamberlain, and even the prince himself, received such slaps from an unseen hand that all three fell senseless to the floor. And while they were lying there, they did not know that one of the fish stood on its tail in the pan, and said to the other two: "Will ye be food for the king, or serve me?"