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.
Then he nodded to Yarmil, who gave with trembling hand his diamond casket. Scarcely had the king looked at it when he exclaimed: "Thy princess must be rich beyond measure; thy casket is at any time worth twice my whole kingdom." But how was he astonished when he took out the portrait! He looked fixedly at it for a while, unable to utter a word. Then he said with the greatest enthusiasm, "No; such a lady cannot be found in the world".
All the guests crowded around the portrait, and in one voice agreed with the king. At last Yarmil drew near to look at his princess, unknown till that moment. Now he regretted no whit that he had spent two years in lone life and nursing a toad; but his brothers and his mother were raging, and envied him his princess.
Next day the princes were taking farewell, and the king said to them: "After this time I will not let you go again. In a year and a day I wish to see your princesses; then we will celebrate the weddings".
The two elder brothers were shouting with joy, but Yarmil answered no word. They took leave of their father and went together to the edge of the town, where they separated; the eldest went to the east, the second to the west, but Yarmil to the mouse-hole, which opened quickly to give him a convenient passage. At the white castle the white lady gave him the white steed, which flew to the golden castle regardless of bit. There Yarmil descended, and the steed vanished like a dove in the clouds.
Full of hope Yarmil hastened to the twelfth chamber, for he trusted to find there his wondrous fair princess whose portrait he had taken to his father; but he found in the pan the ugly toad, which he put in his bosom, and now washed three times each day. In vain was all his labor, for the more he bathed the uglier grew the toad. Had it not been for the portrait he would have fled from the castle, and who knows what he might have done? Every day his strength decreased, and when the last day of the year drew near it is a wonder that he did not despair; for the toad had become now not only ugly beyond measure, but all mangy, so that he shivered when he looked at it. And now he must bring this to his father as his chosen one.
"My father will kill me!" cried he with grief, and threw himself on the couch. He thought what to do, but could come to no resolve. At last he reached to his bosom to look once more at the toad, hoping that at sight of it a happy thought might come; but a new surprise, - the toad was gone. Now he began to lament. He ran through the whole castle, searched every room, in the garden every tree and bush, but no trace of the toad.
At last he remembered the dish in the twelfth chamber, ran thither, but stopped on the threshold as if thunderstruck; for that poor chamber had become a real paradise, and in the middle of it stood a lady as beautiful, if not still more beautiful, than the portrait which he had carried to his father. In speechless amazement he looked at her, and who knows how long he might have stood there had she not turned to him and said: "My dear, thou hast suffered much; but I am not yet entirely free, and my people are not. Hurry now to the cellar; here is the key, and do to a hair what I command, or it will go ill with us. When the door is opened, thou wilt hear a terrible wailing; but listen to nothing, and speak not a word. Go down on the steps; below thou wilt find on a table twelve burning tapers, and before each taper one shirt. Roll up the shirts, quench the tapers, bring them all with thee".
Yarmil took the key. When he opened the door of the cellar he heard such wailing that it is a wonder his heart did not break; but mindful of what had been said by his bride, he went boldly, descended the steps, rolled up the twelve shirts, quenching at each one, one taper; then he took the shirts and the tapers and hurried back. But how did he wonder when he saw a man nailed to the door by his tongue! The man begged Yarmil by all things to set him free, so that there was a strange feeling in Yarmil's heart; but after short hesitation he mastered this feeling, and shut the door.
When he came to his bride and gave her the shirts, with the tapers, she said: "These twelve shirts are my twelve skins, in which I was a toad; and these twelve tapers burned me continually. Now I am liberated, it is true; but it will be three years before I shall be completely free. Know that I am the daughter of a mighty king, whom that foul monster, who is nailed to the cellar door by the tongue, changed into a toad because I refused him my hand. He is a wizard; but there is a witch more powerful than he. To punish him, she nailed him to that door; I, too, am still in her power. Now promise that for three years thou wilt tell no living person into what creature I was enchanted; but especially tell not how many skins I had".
"Not even to my own mother!" exclaimed Yarmil, with excitement.
"It is just from thy own mother that thou must hide it most, for she is a witch, and hates thee; she knows long since that thou art three years with me, and most carefully will she try to learn from thee just what I have forbidden thee to tell".
Yarmil was greatly grieved, but the princess soon cheered him, especially when she said: "It is now high time to go, so as to come to thy father's at the right moment." Then she took him by the hand, and led him down the stairs. In front of the castle a carriage with four white horses was waiting; when they entered, the horses rushed off with such speed that soon they passed the white castle. Yarmil was going to ask who the white lady was, when the princess said: "That is my mother, who has aided in my liberation".
Soon they were at the great gate; and when they had passed it, and looked back, there was nothing but a mouse-hole. They arrived at the king's castle just in the same moment with the two elder brothers and their princesses. But no one looked at them, for the eyes of all were turned to Yarmil's bride.