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.
"Serve thee," answered the two in one voice; then all three vanished in an instant, and to this day no man knows whither.
The cook came to his senses first; but seeing the chamberlain and the prince still on the floor, he stayed where he was. The chamberlain followed his example; at last the prince jumped up and roused both. For a while they acted as if they had lost their wits, then rose to their feet slowly, and complained. When they looked in the pan they found it empty. The prince told all carefully to his father. The king was raging, and threatened them all with death. At last he was pacified, and sent the prince to the fisherman. The prince gave the king's order, but the fisherman said that he could catch those fish only on Mondays. When the king heard this he fell into a towering passion, though he knew himself that the fish could be caught only on Mondays. At last he grew calm, but resolved to be present next time they cooked these most wonderful fish.
On Monday the fisherman's wife pushed her husband out of the house at the dawn of day. The fisherman came to the top of the mountain as before, then hastened to the lake, where on the third cast of the net he drew out three fish. He hurried to the top of the mountain; next moment he was in the valley, and ran home as fast as his breath would let him. His wife shortened the journey for him: she ran to meet him, and pulling the fish out of his hands, rushed off to the palace like a crazy woman. The king was waiting; and ran out the moment he saw her. When he looked at the fish he gave her two handfuls of gold. She took the fish to the kitchen, and hurried away. When she came to the field she sat down and counted the money ten times.
In the king's kitchen the king, the prince, and the chamberlain watched the cook while he was preparing the fish. Because the king was present, great attention was paid to everything. This was done partly to make the king tired of being there; but he gave them to understand that he would wait till the fish were ready. After long preparation they got them on the pan; but as soon as the cook began to butter them the palace shook as in a tempest. Then came a shock as from a lightning-stroke, and in an instant all present received such slaps on the face that they fell senseless to the floor. While lying there without distinction of persons none of them knew, not even the king, that one of the fish stood on its tail in the pan and said to the other two: "Will ye serve me or be food for the king?"
"Serve thee!" answered both in one voice; and all three vanished.
After a long time the cook woke from his trance, and seeing the king prostrate, remained as he was. In like manner acted the chamberlain and the prince when they recovered. At last the king rose, walked around the pan quickly, saw no fish, wondered greatly, and went to his chambers in silence. When the king had gone, the prince, the chamberlain, and the cook sprang from the floor and shook themselves.
The king pondered long over these fish, weighed everything duly, and then sent for the fisherman. The fisherman came straightway; but how he wondered when he heard what had happened at the buttering of the fish! The king said: "Take me to that lake; I will examine everything carefully myself." The fisherman of course consented. The king took his body-guard, and all moved toward the cliff, with the fisherman at the head. When they arrived there the fisherman gave the king some of the herb which he had received from the fiery man, took him by the hand, and stood on the stone step. In an instant a mighty wind seized them; the king and the fisherman flew through the air, but the body-guard stood, as if fallen from heaven. They waited long; but when nothing came of it, they returned to the palace, and told the terrified people what they had seen.
In due time the king with the fisherman appeared on the summit of the mountain, from whence he saw the whole country. Although there was no palace, nor even a cottage, still it pleased him greatly at first sight.
"There," said the fisherman to the king, "is the lake where I catch the wonderful fish; I have n't gone farther yet in any direction".
"Very well," said the king, "let us go down".
On reaching the lake the king told the fisherman to catch the fish; but he went on himself to examine the place. The farther he went the thicker the grass, till at last he had hard work to get through; still he advanced till he came to a beautiful green meadow, having on one side the forest, and on the other the lake. Near the shore in a boat sat an old grandfather, whose head was as white as an apple-tree in blossom.
"Wilt thou row me over, grandfather?" asked the king.
"Why should I not, since that is what I am here for?"
The king took a seat in the boat. The old man rowed without hurrying; but the boat moved lightly over the smooth water, like a fly through the blue sky. When they reached the middle of the lake the old man turned to one side. Then the king saw a grand castle half hidden in the dark forest.
"Oh, what a beautiful castle! Who reigns there? ' asked the king.
"Thou wilt learn if thou enter," replied the old man. When they touched the shore he gave the king a green twig, and said: "Take this twig; it will be of use to thee. Good-by, for thou wilt not see me again".
"But who will take me back?"
"No one. Thou wilt go back on dry land;" and turning aside, he disappeared.
The king went straight to the palace; and if he wondered at the words of the old man, he was still more astonished when he entered the principal gate and saw no living soul. Thoughtfully he ascended the broad steps, went through one chamber, then another, a third, and a fourth; but nowhere did he find a living creature. "This is some enchanted castle," thought the king to himself. "Who knows how I shall escape? But I will see all, and then find the way home." He examined the chambers further till he came to the last, and there in the middle of the room sat an old man, bent to the floor. "I said this was an enchanted castle," thought the king; "here sits one man!"