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.
The old man raised his head, and seeing the king, said: "Welcome; at last I see a human face!"
The king approached him and asked: "Who art thou, and what does this empty palace mean?"
"I am a king, but without subjects or power; another rules in my place," answered the old man, bitterly.
"What is the cause of this?"
"The treason of my own wife".
"And is there no rescue?"
"Well, the same as none; therefore be off at once, otherwise my wife will kill thee when she returns from the King of the Toads".
"I am not afraid of a woman," said the king. "I want to stand before her; we shall see if there is no escape".
"If there were escape I should not be sitting here confined by the King of the Toads!"
"Who is this King of the Toads?"
"Listen; I will tell thee my whole sad story. The sun is yet high, and until it sets my wife will not return: Once I ruled over a powerful nation; around my palace was a great city, and near it a beautiful garden. All is changed into a dark forest and a lake. The fish in the lake are my former subjects. I was once happy, and the more so because I obtained as wife a beautiful and kind princess; but the King of the Toads got into the place where the lake now is, and he turned my wife's heart from me. I remonstrated, begged, threatened my wife with death, but in vain. Every day she went to meet the King of the Toads, and listened to his wheedling speech. Once I came upon them in the summer-house, and heard with my own ears their whispering and kissing. At last the King of the Toads said: 'I will find the nest of the magic bird, will take its eggs, and give them thee to eat; thou wilt become immortal and ever young; then we shall be altogether happy.' 'Deceitful serpent!" I cried, springing from my hiding-place; and with a sharp sword I cut the King of the Toads in two. My wife fell upon him, weeping, and he grew together again. Looking at me with venomous eye he muttered words I could not understand, and that moment I felt my blood grow cold, and my veins stiffened so that I could not think of further struggle. I came home in misery and sat down on this chair to rest; but the King of the Toads froze me to my seat, and laid a spell upon the land. From that time I sit here, I know not how many years. My wife spends every day with her lover, and catches frogs for him out of the lake; in return, he promises her immortality and eternal youth. Now, thou canst see there is no aid for me; but escape thou before my wife kills thee "will not flee," said the king, and drew his sword. "I 'll cut off her head, - the traitorous soul!"
"Foolish man," said the old king; "the King of the Toads saves her, and will not let her be hurt".
"Let him guard her; I must avenge thee," answered the king, and sat on a chair waiting for the deceitful queen, paying no attention to the old man, who begged him by everything in the world to escape.
As the sun was going down the queen came, and was not a little astonished when she saw the stately knight with her husband. The king drew his sword and ran towards her, but the moment the sword touched her clothing it broke in two. It would have been bad for the king now, if he had not remembered the twig which the boatman gave him. He pulled it out quickly, and struck the queen three times. The third time he struck she dropped on a seat, and was unable to move an eye.
"Sit there, like thy husband," said the king, mockingly, and counselled with the old man what to do further.
"It would be better," said the old man, who gained courage when he saw his wife frozen to the chair, "to persuade the King of the Toads to free the kingdom and me from enchantment".
"I will try," answered the king; and going to the adjoining chamber, where the queen's wardrobe was, he dressed in her garments and came back to the old man. "Now I will go to the King of the Toads and pretend to be his love, thy virtuous wife. Then I will beg him; and if he does not do what I want, I 'll freeze him with this twig, and stroke him with my sword till his heart softens".
"But beg of him first," said the old man.
The king made his way in silence to the King of the Toads; but as it was night he could not find him, and was obliged to call out. He changed his voice, which deceived the King of the Toads, who came quickly and wished to embrace him, thinking that he was the queen.
"No, my dear," said the king; "first thou must do something to please me. What good is it for us to live together if my former husband is troubling me? Either kill him altogether or give him back his former condition, so that he may die; if thou wilt take the spell from him, he will fall to dust and ashes".
"Let it be as thou wishest," said he, drawing nearer.
But she moved away, and said: "I have one more favor to ask, but this concerns us alone. As soon as my former husband dies thou wilt take his place and we shall reign together, but what sort of a reign would it be if the whole country were enchanted; therefore give back its former shape to the kingdom, and I will marry thee before the world".
"So let it be," replied the King of the Toads, and embraced his supposed love, who refused no longer. Scarcely had he touched her when he was struck three times with the twig, in the dark night, and the King of the Toads was frozen to the earth.
"Serpent of hell!" cried the king with his powerful voice, "now I 'll enchant thee for the eternal ages; ' and with that he drew out his sword and cut him into countless pieces, which he threw into the water. Frogs rushed from every side with a terrible croaking, and greedily swallowed the bits of the body of their destroyer.
They had barely devoured him when the water began to run out of the lake; and the king saw by the light of the moon which had risen over the mountain summit, how the tree-tops were rising quickly from the water, higher and higher till the water disappeared altogether, and in the place of the lake was a splendid park, in which were multitudes of people who, praising the king, hurried to the castle. The king joined them, but before reaching the castle he had to pass through a large city; and only after travelling many streets did he arrive there. All the chambers were lighted up, and full of people, so that with difficulty did he find the old man, who was standing in the last chamber, and preventing the people from hewing the queen to pieces; but the king drew his sword and cut off her head. "She deserved it," said he to the old man, who dropped a few tears for his former wife.
Now universal rejoicings began, but the liberated king took no part in them. He called his deliverer and said: "My hours are numbered, I give the whole kingdom to thee; rule in my place".
The new king thanked the old one kindly, and when he rose in the morning, he heard that the old king was dead.
Our king mounted a fiery steed, rode to the city, and announced to the people the death and last will of their former ruler. They grieved for a moment, then with shouts of gladness greeted the new king.
After the burial of the old monarch, his successor examined the kingdom; and as everything pleased him greatly, he decided to stay there. Therefore he went to his former palace, but the road was far longer than when he had travelled it with the fisherman. He was obliged to ride several weeks before arriving there. No one knew him, for several years had passed while he was in the enchanted kingdom. At last an old grandfather came, who said: "I am one of the body-guard who went with thee to the cliff where thou didst leave us. Take me, I beg, into thy service again, for all my comrades are dead; I am alone".
The people believed quickly the grandfather's words, gathered around the king and kissed the hem of his garment. The king sold his castle, put everything he could into wagons, and made ready for the road. Now he remembered the fisherman, asked how he was getting on, and when he had returned home.
"Only yesterday," was the reply.
"Send for him," commanded the king; and straightway the fisherman was there.
When the king asked about his adventures, the fisherman answered: "Royal Grace, I have no fish, and God alone knows what happened in that place. All at once the water disappeared under my boat and I was on dry land. I left everything and ran away; but trees began to grow under me, and so quickly that every second branches struck my face. Since it was in the night I might have lost my senses. In the morning I wondered when I saw instead of a forest an enormous city, with a great palace. I hurried from that magic country, thinking to see my cottage soon; but I travelled one day, I travelled two, a week, a month, and then a year - no sign of my cottage. I gave up for a time, and only yesterday I came home safely. My wife was dead; I am all alone now in this wide world".
"Do not cry," said the king; "thou hast me yet. Thou wilt stay with me".
The fisherman answered with tears, and all started off on their journey. They arrived safely at the new kingdom; and all lived happily till they died.