This is the one I’m preparing to tell for a workshop that concludes on Friday. It’s from a Belorussian (*too* many ways to spell that) collection I picked up over the weekend.
ETA: The version I ended up telling tightened this up quite a bit. I’ll leave this as-is (I understand that’s basic blogging courtesy), but I was so much more pleased with my worked version I had to say this is different than what I told.
A tsar’s wife (a witch) was nosing about for a boy baby to adopt and pretend to the tsar was her own (she had been unable to conceive and her husband had been thinking of getting rid of her).
Her serving women finally found a baby floating in a tiny boat on a deep pond. When the child’s mother, who was watching from the reeds, learned what they were seeking, she dove in to retrieve the baby, nearly drowning herself.
The true mother was delighted to have someone else raise her illegitimate child, and moved close to the palace so she should watch him growing up.
It was well worth watching. He grew up handsome and considerate. More considerate, in fact, than his royal parents were comfortable with. He spent a good deal of time with the common people of the city– especially one poor woman who was kinder to him than his own (he thought) mother.
When he was old enough to marry, his own parents had a nice princess picked out for him, but the prince insisted he already had chosen a sweetheart. She was the daughter of a merchant, and while the merchant was wealthy, he was undeniably common. His parents argued with him until they were hoarse, but he refused to budge.
As they had no idea who the beloved maiden was, the parents took out their anger on the young man. His tsarista mother changed his head to that of a pig, rendering him too ugly even too look at. And his father banished him to an island.
The prince did not arrive empty-handed, however. he had a mirror of his mother’s and a stick of his father’s. Naturally these were not ordinary objects.
The mirror let him see whatever he was thinking of (it’s first image was of his sweetheart, as she was at that moment, wringing her hands for worry of him). The stick he struck against the ground and a magical serving man appeared.
At the prince’s request the servant provided a house and grounds in the heart of the wooded island. However, despite his apparent power, the servant of the stick said he could not bring the prince’s sweetheart or the kind poor woman as he requested.
Only those who chose of their own free will may come to this island.
Not long after this, the merchant father of the prince’s sweetheart was preparing for a voyage and asked his three daughters what they would like him to bring back for them.
The oldest asked for a beautiful dress, the second for a instrument so clever it could play itself, and the youngest asked for a singe rose.
For the girl thought to herself, if it is still beautiful when it reaches me I will know my Beloved lives and still thinks of me.
While on his way home the merchant’s ship was hit by a storm and broke apart. The merchant was tossed on a piece of driftwood for an unknown number of days before he felt ground under his feet.
It was the prince’s island.
When the father found his way inland he discovered the prince’s beautiful garden, complete with roses. They were far more beautiful than the foreign roses he had collected to bring to his daughter and he determined to get one.
Of course he was caught by the prince.
Terrified by this being with the head of a pig, the merchant fell to his knees and explained it was the one thing his favorite daughter asked for, and as she was in agony as the loss of her love, his father-heart wanted at least to bring this one gift.
The Prince recognized his sweetheart’s father.
“You may take her whatever you wish,” the beast-prince said. “But then she must return here, or we will all perish.”
And he provided the gifts for the elder daughters as well.
When the merchant reached home all the family tried to convince the youngest daughter that she shouldn’t go to such a monster, but she was so elated to see her rose as beautiful as if it still lived, she felt no fear.
Indeed, she was convinced that this visit to the beast’s island was only some last task to bring her closer to discovering the whereabouts of her beloved prince.
Meanwhile, the prince’s true mother had noticed his lack of visits and, fearing some evil had befallen him, took her faithful white dog with her and began searching the land.
Every night the dog kept watch so she could rest without fear.
When she was unable to find her son anywhere in the land, a friend suggested searching other lands, but these were only accessible to the wealthy who could afford to travel by ship.
Even knowing this, the true mother went begging in the harbor until she found some sailors who would allow her on-board. But they refused to let her bring the dog.
Unable to leave her faithful companion behind, the mother continued through the harbor until she came to the ship that, unknown to her, was carrying the merchant’s daughter.
Here she was welcomed on board, as the sailors had been told to allow any who wished to come. The white dog came along subtlety, hanging close to the mother’s skirts and generally staying out of sight.
An hour after setting sail the boat reached the island, and the mother alighted to continue her search.
The merchant’s daughter was led to the Prince’s house and grounds, but her first sight of the master was so horrible she burst into tears and couldn’t look at him or listen to anything he said.
He left her alone to give her peace, and she saw him only rarely.
Her days were spent in the gardens, and at night she went through the woods and down to the edge of the ocean.
There, each night, she heard the most hauntingly beautiful voice singing– always sad songs. She would stay out by the water, listening until the singing ended.
One night, staying out in the cold and the dark she fell feverish. The prince, who of course, was the unknown singer, came upon her shivering on the sand and carried her back to the house, speaking tenderly to her as he walked.
The girl felt she was in some delicious dream, and imagined she were back with her beloved. The next night she went again to the shore to listen, but this night the songs were almost unbearably joyful.
Again the prince came to the shore in the darkness and, to save her feet from stumbling back, carried her to her room.
The next morning the girl happened upon the pig-headed prince, who was cutting roses to weave into a garland for her. The sight was so shockingly unexpected she began to scream, and all his attempts at soothing words went unheard.
“Go away!” cried the girl. “Why must I see you? I never want to see you again!”
She ran to the sea shore leaving prince crushed and heartbroken. He had so hoped his kindness and sweet words would be enough to win to girl past his horrid disfigurement–but she never stayed long enough to know them.
That night there was no singing.
The girl was in such despair over her loss that she threw herself into the sea, determined to drown her sorrow. But the mother’s white dog, who had brought its mistress out into the night, saw the girl in the waves and swam out to bring her back.
The mother helped the dog as they got close to shore, and revived the girl.
When the girl awoke and saw another woman she felt a bit better. Together with the dog they began walking back to the house and sharing their stories.
Meanwhile, the heartbroken prince had taken his mirror into the garden, and looking into it he saw his beloved in the midst of drowning in the sea. The sight was so distressing he fell in something like a dead swoon.
When the servants finally found him they could do nothing for him.
When the women arrived, it was the white dog again that led the way. It became frantic in a way that reminded the mother of her son’s visits.
“This man has been bewitched!” the mother cried, convinced it was her own son.
These words filled the girls heart with such pity she knelt beside the creature, caressing it gently and speaking kindly.
The prince soon revived under the kindness of his sweetheart, and he invited both woman in for dinner.
After eating, the mother went to see about fixing up some place for herself to sleep, and the two young people went out and walked in the garden.
Unable to contain himself, the prince began to sing, and the girl realized for certain his was the voice she had heard and loved.
Without realizing what she was doing, the girl took his pig’s head in her hands and kissed it.
And then it wasn’t a pig’s head she was kissing after all– it was her own handsome prince, returned to his proper shape.
They returned to the prince’s true mother and were married.
And of course they lived happily ever after, and they never forgot the poor around them.