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.
Since he could not resist this devil's boring, this mighty curiosity, he took out the third and last reed to split it; but the magic steed reached back, and taking the reed from the king's son, did not return it till they came to the shore of a lake.
At the water the king's son split the last reed, and there came forth such a maiden that her like was not born since the world began, nor before, nor after. Her first word was: "Water! Only as much water as a little swallow takes in her beak when she gives drink to her young, or I shall die in a moment!"
The king's son gave her to drink; she felt better. Then they embraced, and kissed, saying, "I am thine, thou art mine".
"Listen, my beautiful love," said the king's son, "while I ride home for a carriage of glass and gold do thou hide in this willow; but till I see thee, though one word is not much, speak not that much to any one".
The king's son rode for the glass and golden carriage; the maiden climbed the willow where she hid. Now, what came of the affair, and what did not, while the king's son was gone a crawfish-gathering gypsy girl happened under the willow-tree, and looking in the water she saw the quivering image of the charming maiden. Putting her hand on her hip she said: "What a beautiful shadow I have, quite worthy of a princess".
"It's thine of course! I 'll tell whose it is," said a golden bird from the tree, in a golden voice.
The gypsy looked into the tree, where she saw the world-beautiful princess, for the sight of whom the sun would have stood still in heaven. The girl said nothing, but in a twinkle she dragged the maiden from the tree by her white foot, pulled off her purple velvet robe, and threw her into the water. The maiden did not sink, but shaking herself, turned into a golden-feathered duck and swam on the lake. The gypsy then, ill or well, put on the purple velvet robe, which sat on her as if it had been put on with a fork and rake; then she sat with great importance on the tree. But she did not sit long; for seeing the golden duck, she jumped down and began to throw stones at her. She threw and threw so many that her arm grew tired, but she could not hit, for the golden duck dived into the water the moment a stone flew over her. At last the gypsy was tired, climbed into the willow-tree and waited for fortune.
She had not long to wait, for soon the king's son came with a gold and glass carriage to take home the golden bird; but the gypsy had her mind, for she would not come down from the tree - at least she said so - till he should shoot the golden duck on the lake, so she might drink its red blood, and eat its tender flesh.
The king's son took his arrow, aimed to kill the golden duck; but the gypsy will not drink its red blood, will not eat its tender flesh, for the arrow never went with its point to the duck, but always turned towards her the feathered end. If it had found her, it would not have been her death. The king's son had shot away all his arrows, and besides it was evening; he had to leave the amusement and turn his wagon-tongue homeward.
At home he had told how beautiful a wife he was bringing; all the greater was the surprise when he led in the bride with raised veil. The king's son had praised the world-beautiful Reed Maiden, and now before the wedding assembly stands a leather-cheeked gypsy girl. The guests know not whether to Laugh or to be angry.
Now, the queen - the former gypsy - thought that it could not remain thus, without the world-beautiful Reed Maiden visiting her husband in the night; therefore she put a sleeping-powder into his drink every God-given evening, from which the king's son slept like a shepherd's coat.
The wor!d-bcautiful Reed Maiden shook herself, turned into a little bird, and at midnight she came to the king's son's window. She knocked with her little beak, the window opened of itself, and she flew in; then the little bird shook herself, turned into a princess such as had not been born before, nor since, nor after that. She went to the king's son, spoke to him fondling words, but he did not hear; roused him, but he did not wake; bent over him, and at last cried long, but he did not feel the hot tears which burned his cheek, - he lay there motionless as a block.
Then she said: "Oh, king's son, youth of my soul, thy dear lips are dumb; open them for one, two words, to cheer thy beautiful love, thy tender violet. I will come yet twice, then never again".
But the king's son did not wake. When the clock struck one after midnight the maiden shook herself, turned into a bird, and flew out through the window; the window closed after her of itself.
The servant of the king's son heard all these words clearly, for he was awake; but in the morning when he woke he thought it was all a dream, therefore he did not tell the king's son what he had seen, but resolved that he would wait for the coming night, and if the maiden would appear again in the form of a bird, then surely it was not a dream, and he would tell the king's son.
The next evening also his wife gave the king's son a sleeping-powder, and he slept like a shepherd's coat. When the clock struck twelve the little bird rapped with her beak, the window opened before her, and closed behind.
The little bird shook herself and became the beautiful Reed Maiden. She went to the bed of the sleeping king's son, spoke to him, strove to rouse him, and cried as the evening before; but he was motionless as a block. When the clock struck one the maiden shook herself, was a bird, and flew out through the window, which closed behind her. The servant of the king's son heard all this clearly, for he had not slept, and was now sure that it was no dream. He said to his master next morning: "I would say something to thy Highness if I were not afraid".
"Oh, good Yanchi, thou wilt have no trouble, only speak".
"Well, the night before last, at midnight, a little bird flew to the window, struck and beat it with her beak; the window opened before her She flew in, shook herself, and became such a beautiful maiden that I looked on her as an altar image; and I was afraid that she would bewitch me. The beautiful maiden then bent over thy Highness, spoke to thee, but thou didst not wake; she cried a long time, but thou didst not feel her hot tears. At last she said, with a bird's tongue: 'Oh, king's son, youth of my soul, thy dear lips are dumb; open them for one, two words, to cheer thy beautiful love, thy tender violet. I will come yet twice, then never again.' This was repeated last night, but thy Highness spoke not a word, and lay there like a block. And thy Highness may believe that she was so beautiful that if I had been lying dead on the table, I should have risen".
"Is that true, Yanchi?"
"As true as that the bright sun is shining in the sky".
"Well, Yanchi, couldst thou take a slap on the cheek for a hundred florins?"
"Not for the money, but gladly for thy Highness, - even a hundred of them".
"If thou wilt, then take it when my wife gives me the sleeping-powder again; for her dog soul gives it so that I should not wake. Knock down the light as though from awkwardness, then I will pour the sleeping-draught quietly into the bath; the woman will think that I have drunk it".
When bath-time came Yanchi took the candle as if he wished to snuff it, and put it out. The king's son, meanwhile, poured the sleeping-powder and wine into the bath quietly. The gypsy queen thought that he had drunk it, but she gave such a cuff to poor Yanchi that his eyes saw stars; but Yanchi, for the sake of his master, took the cuff as if a pretty girl had kissed him.
As the clock struck twelve, the king's son feigned sleep; but he was just as much awake as good myself. I say, the clock struck twelve. The little bird came to the window, knocked with her beak, the window opened before and closed behind her; she shook herself and became such a maiden as neither before that, nor since, was born, so that the starry heavens would have looked at her with smiles. She bent over the king's son; when at last she cried, the king's son put his arm around her and drew her to him, that she might not become a little bird again; that she might not fly away any more.
He assembled, next day, all the dukes and counts in the kingdom, and all the doers of good, and taking before them the hand of the world-beautiful Reed Maiden, he asked, -
"What does that person deserve who tries to separate from each other a couple?"
Because the gypsy thought that the question was in favor of her own leathery face, she called out in an instant: "That person, my royal husband, deserves to be put in a cask, with spikes driven inward from the outside all through it, and rolled from the highest mountain in the kingdom".
"Oh, dog-given wretch, thou hast pronounced thy own sentence!"
And they took by the neck the queen, once a gypsy, and put her in a cask like that, with spikes driven in, and let the cask roll from the highest mountain in the kingdom.