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The Princess and the Witch
by Sunitichandra Mishra

A Russian Folklore
Adapted and retold

Long ago there lived a handsome prince in Russia who got married to a beautiful princess. Though they were newly married, the prince had to part from his dear wife very soon as he had to go to the battlefield. At this painful separation, the prince said to his wife: "I don't know when I will be back. Take care of yourself. There are many wicked people around. Don't mix with them and please go nowhere out beyond the palace wall". With tearful eyes, the princess bade him to go and promised: "Rest assured, I will always be loyal and obedient to you, will talk to none, listen to none and will never go beyond the palace wall". The prince left for the battlefield, leaving the princess alone. Months passed by. The princess would never talk to anyone and confined herself to her own chamber.

Once a woman came to the princess' chamber. By her face she looked to be a simple and innocent woman but, in fact, she was a witch. She said to the princess these sweet words: "O lovely princess! Why do you wane like this all the time in remembrance of the prince? See, your face has become pale and weakness is devouring you day by day. Why don't you come out with me for a morning walk and breathe in fresh air?" Taking the wicked woman to be her well-wisher and thinking that a little walk will do no harm, the princess agreed to take a stroll with her in the palace garden. There was a small pond of fresh water near the garden. The woman encouraged the princess to take a dip in the water to feel the real freshness. The princess said "no" but she ultimately agreed to take a bath. But as soon as she took a dip in the water, the wicked woman waved her magic wand and said: "Be thou a white duck" and the poor princess turned into a duck. Then the foul-hearted witch became princess herself, put on the nicest dress and went to live in the palace waiting there for the prince's return. A day came when the prince returned from the battlefield. The wicked lady, disguised as his wife, greeted the prince warmly and took him inside the palace.

Time went by. The white duck laid three eggs out of which were born three pretty ducklings. The mother took great care of them and the lovely ducklings played merrily in the water. Once the three little ducklings, ignoring their mother’s repeated warning, swam far away in the pond and were noticed by the witch who offered them nice food and invited them to come out of water and caught them to kill because she knew the ducklings were the children of the real princess. When night came and the ducklings were fast asleep, she used her magic-wand and said: "Sleep, sleep fast and wake up never!" And the three ducklings made no movement, as they were almost dead in a deep slumber.

When the children did not come back, the mother duck became restless. She looked for them hither and thither but the kids were nowhere to be found. She understood that the evil witch had done harm to her little children. The white duck swam towards the palace and quacked in pain calling her kids:

"Come back, my little ones
Come back, my beloved ones
I know the witch disguised as princess
Has planned to take your life
She separated me from my lovely prince
Of whom I was once wife."

The prince heard the voice of the duck. He already doubted that this woman living with him was not like the real princess. Now he knew everything. He ordered his commanders to bring the duck near her. He ordered his priests to perform holy rituals. As soon as holy water was sprinkled on the duck, she turned into the real princess. And when the holy water was sprinkled on the sleeping ducklings, they got up and turned into three lovely boys. The witch could not flee away. The commanders caught her. She was tied to a horse's legs and the horse was made to run. Her body reduced to pieces, which were eaten up by birds and animals. After this, the prince, the princess and their three lovely children lived happily together.

21-May-2006
 
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