Tuesday 30 June 2020

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #19: THE LITTLE SEAMSTRESS

This Armenian story is a good example of a fairy tale with no fairies and no magic – but that’s more than made up for by the excellent trick the sharp-witted, poor-but-proud little heroine plays on a very gullible prince who is none of those things. His behaviour is outrageous harassment, the (doomed) ploy of a privileged, mannerless young man to get a girl’s attention. You wouldn’t think it could end well - but it does, and that’s entirely down to the heroine’s actions. Not only does she get her own back (in spades), she personally manufactures a situation in which the prince stands a good chance that his worried father will allow him to marry her. Seamstresses don’t usually marry princes – so perhaps she's had her eye on him, too!

Charles Downing who translated this story notes that the original title was Derdziki aghdjik: ‘The Tailor’s Daughter’ and that it was told in the 19th century  “by a certain Ephrem Vasakian, of whom nothing but his name is known”. It was collected in Hay zhoghovrdakan heqiathner: ‘Armenian Popular Tales’ by I. Orbeli and S. Taronian. The English translation was published in the collection ‘Armenian Folk-tales and Fables’, tr. Charles Downing, OUP 1972

Once upon a time there was a tailor and his wife. They had a little daughter whom they loved dearly, and one day the tailor took his daughter and placed her with an old woman to learn how to sew.

                Opposite the old woman’s house stood the royal palace, and every day the King’s son would walk up and down upon the balcony wondering what the girl looked like, and how he could get her to talk to him. For whenever she walked past, the little seamstress kept her eyes firmly on the ground and paid him no attention.

                One day the prince thought of a way to make her speak to him, and he called to her from the balcony as she passed by, 

                “Hey there, tailor’s daughter, little bitch! How many threads are there in a piece of cloth?”

                The girl did not reply. 

                The prince repeated his question three times, and then the little seamstress, still averting her head, said, 

                “Hey there, King’s son, son of a dog! How many stars are there in the heavens?” She repeated her question three times, and still she did not look up at the prince.

                The prince thought and thought. How was he to play a trick on this girl and get his own back? He summoned the old woman who was teaching the girl how to sew.

                “Grandmother,” said he, “I’ll give you whatever you want, but bring me to your little apprentice, so that I may give her a kiss.”

                “Very well, prince,” said the old woman, “may I be a sacrifice to your head and life! Your wish is my command.”

                She brought out  a large, wooden chest, and next morning – without telling the little seamstress – she smuggled the prince into it and hid him, covering the top with various garments. Then she called her young apprentice:

                “My child, when you have finished, put your needlework away in the large wooden chest.” The girl obeyed, and when she lifted the lid to put away her needlework, out popped the prince, who caught her around the waist and kissed her.

                The little seamstress made no song and dance about it. She said nothing and went home where she lay in bed and pretended to be ill. She did not return to the old woman’s house for several days. “What shall I do to get my revenge?” she kept asking herself. 

                Her mother and father could see something had upset her.  “Child,” said they, “what are you brooding about? Tell us what you want, and we shall do it for you if we can.”

                “Father,” said the little seamstress. “Sew me a large white cloak. Make it so that only my eyes will be visible when I put it on. Stitch feathers on the back to look like angels’ wings, and cover it so thickly with little bells and baubles that there’ll be no room for even the head of a needle.”

                Her father made the cloak and brought it to her. “It has given me a lot of trouble,” he said. “Try it on, my child, and let me see if it fits you.”

                She put it on, flounced about and flapped the wings, and was satisfied she really did look like an angel in it. She took it off. “I am going to my sewing-mistress’s house now, and I shall not be back tonight.”

                She went to the old woman’s house. “I am going to stay with you tonight,” she said. “My mother and father have had to go on a journey.”

                “Very well, my child,” said the old woman. “If you want to stay here, stay.”

                That night after supper the little seamstress secretly left the house and stole into the palace. While everyone was sleeping she crept into the prince’s antechamber, put on her costume and then tiptoed into the prince’s bedroom. Here she hopped about and flapped her wings, and the sound of tiny bells filled the room.

                The prince opened his eyes; he saw the strange white figure standing over him and was terrified! “Ah! What are you? What do you want of me?” 

                “I am the angel Gabriel,” said the vision, “and I have come to take your soul!”

                “I’m an only son!” cried the prince. “Take all my treasure, take my hidden gold, but do not take my soul!”

                “If that’s the way of it,” said the apparition, “you shall have ten days’ grace. But I shall take a token from you in surety.”

            The prince was trembling, shaking from head to foot. “Take what you wish!”

The angel picked up the prince’s golden wash-basin. “Be ready! In ten days time I shall return for your soul!” And she left.

The little seamstress took off her disguise, went home, wrapped the golden wash-basin in some old clothes and put it in a chest. Dawn broke. She sat down to work.

The prince was completely shattered by his meeting with the Angel of Death. He got up half-paralysed, then crawled out slowly on to the balcony.

“If I do have to die,” he said to himself, “I shall make that girl talk to me first.” And when she passed by he called out,

“Hey there, tailor’s daughter, little bitch! How many kisses are there in a wooden chest?”

He repeated his question three times. 

The little seamstress raised her head. “Hey there, King’s son, son of a dog! How may angel Gabriels are there? How many golden wash-basins are there? How many ten days’ grace are there?”

The prince pondered these words. “The girl is an astrologer!” he said to himself. “She has read the stars and learned of my approaching death!” He went in and flung himself on his bed. “Woe is me, woe!” he wept. “I’m going to die!” 

Then he began to think. “The girl knows all about my coming death, about the number of stars in the sky and about the angel Gabriel. She knows everything – I must marry her!”

He sent a valet to his father the King to tell him that he was dying, and his father and mother hurried to his bedside. “What does our kingdom lack, that you should lie there weeping?” they cried. “We shall send for a good doctor to cure you!”

“I want the tailor’s daughter in marriage,” said the prince. “Ask for her hand for me.”

“We shall fetch her!” said the King. “If she will come voluntarily, good; if not we shall make her. Anything, so long as you get better!”  

He sent messengers to the tailor’s house to ask his daughter’s hand in marriage for the prince. When his daughter came home from work, her father said, “They have come from the court to ask for your hand, daughter. Do you want to marry the King’s son?”

“If you are willing to give me away, father,” said she, “I am willing to marry him.”

So the parents took the little seamstress to the palace and she was married to the prince. They were put to bed together. But her husband just lay there crying, “Woe is me, woe! I’m going to die!” and didn’t pay any attention to his new bride. 

“King’s son, if you do not like me, why did you marry me?”

“Ah, tailor’s daughter!” sighed the prince, “what can I do? In six days time I am going to die!”

“If you have only six days left,” said his wife, “I am leaving you!”

She rose from the bed. She had brought her angel’s robe with her, along with her dowry and trousseau, so went out into the antechamber and donned the robe. 

“My wife has left me,” wept the prince, “and I am going to die!”

Just as he said that, the girl came into his bedroom dressed in her angel’s robe with the feathery wings and the little bells, and flapped and fluttered. 

“Alas!” lamented the prince. “The angel has come for me early!”

“I may as well take your soul right now!” said the angel. Then the prince fell dumb with fear and his knees knocked – and the little seamstress relented in case she frightened him to death.

“Silly boy!” she laughed – and nudged him with her elbow. “I am not the angel Gabriel. I am your wife!” 

The prince could not believe it. “If you are my wife, take off that robe and let me see you!”

The little seamstress took off her disguise. 

“Show me my golden wash-basin!” 

The little seamstress went to the chest, took out the golden wash-basin and placed it before the prince. 

“Wife, you must be a witch!” said the prince. “Tell me the truth. Are you on familiar terms with angels? Can you see the future?”

“I foresee that you will have a long life and never die – and will one day be king of this land!” said the little seamstress. 

“How many stars are there in the heavens, then?” asked the prince. “For since you asked me, you must know.”

“You shall tell me the number of threads there are in a piece of cloth,” replied his wife, “for that is just the number of the stars in the heavens.”

The prince saw how he had been outwitted, and he laughed. He rose from his bed and the wedding feast went on for seven days and nights – and as they achieved their hearts’ desire, so also may you!

Picture credits:

The Little Seamstress as Angel Gabriel - illustration by William Papas, from ‘Armenian Folk-tales and Fables’, tr. Charles Downing, OUP 1972

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines #18: THE WOMAN OF PEACE

This fascinating story from JF Campbell’s ‘Popular Tales of the West Highlands’ (1860) opens with a mutually beneficial arrangement - perhaps of long standing - between a mortal woman and a ‘woman of peace’ from a nearby brugh or elf-mound. (Flattering circumlocutions were used when speaking of the fair folk. They didn’t like to be named, and you wouldn’t want to offend them.) Every day, the woman of peace visits a herder’s wife to borrow her kettle (a big iron cooking pot), and the herder’s wife lets her take it on condition it is returned in the evening, filled with a portion of meat and bones.

It sounds friendly, but the relationship is uneasy. It works only within a strict, formal framework. This is not like  neighbours lending each other cups of flour and gossiping over the fence, it’s more like an armed truce. Make one mistake, put a foot wrong, and the bargain will be void, with penalties. Each sees the other as problematic and unsafe, each is dumb in the other’s territory. The woman of peace speaks no word to the herder’s wife, who on every visit has to repeat a kind of rhymed spell conjuring the power of the smith who forged the kettle and restating the payment required for its use. In the ‘brugh’ the roles are reversed: it's the herder’s wife who speaks no word there, while the fairy man, the old ‘carle’, employs a counter rhyming spell to challenge her and raise the alarm. “Silent wife,” he addresses her, “that came on us from the land of chase…”  The meaning of ‘the land of chase’ isn't entirely clear to me (something to do with hunting?), but it sounds as if the old man regards the visitation of this mortal woman as something sudden, uncanny and perhaps dangerous. 

On one level this is one of those stories where the wife leaves her husband to look after the house or perform some simple domestic task like rocking the cradle, and he makes a terrible mess of it. But most of those tales are comic fantasies designed to show men up as brash fools, helpless without their women. Although this story does that, it isn’t quite like that. It isn’t funny, it’s eerie and slightly sad. The herder’s wife is used to the silent appearance of the woman of peace and she knows the rules by which they operate. Her husband doesn’t. Maybe he listens with half a ear to what his wife tells him to say – he’s sure it will be easy – but when the woman of peace approaches, there’s something so strange about her that even her shadow terrifies him. His fearfulness and inability to speak the correct words and perform the correct ritual, brings this fragile relationship to an end, with loss to both sides. 

NB: The hole in the (probably turf) roof would be to let the smoke out, and the lovely expression ‘in the mouth of the night’ means ‘in the evening’.


There was a herd’s wife in the island of Sanntraigh, and she had a kettle. A woman of peace would come every day to seek the kettle. She would not say a word when she came, but she would catch hold of the kettle. When she would catch the kettle, the woman of the house would say,

“A smith is able to make
Cold iron hot with coal.
The price of the kettle is bones,
And to bring it back again whole.”

The woman of peace would come back every day with the kettle, and meat and bones in it. One day the housewife was for going over the ferry to Baile a Chaisteil, and she said to her man, “If thou wilt say to the woman of peace as I tell you, I will go to Baile Castle.”

                “Ooh! I will say it, surely it’s I that will say it.” 

                He was spinning a heather rope to be set on the house. He saw a woman coming and a shadow from her feet, and he took fear of her. He shut the door. He stopped work. When she came to the door she did not find the door open, and he did not open it for her. She went above a hole that was in the house. The kettle gave two jumps, and at the third leap it went out at the ridge of the house. The night came, and the kettle came not.

                The wife came back over the ferry, and she did not see a bit of the kettle within, and she asked, “Where is the kettle?”

                “Well then, I don’t care where it is,” said the man, “I never took such a fright as I took at it. I shut the door and she did not come any more with it.”

                “Good-for-nothing wretch, what didst thou do? There are two that will be ill off – thyself and I!”

                “She will come tomorrow with it.”

                “She will not come.”

                She hasted herself and went away. She reached the knoll, and there was no one within. It was after dinner, and they were out in the mouth of the night. She went in, she saw the kettle and she lifted it. It was heavy for her with the remnants they had left in it. Then an old carle that was hidden within saw her going out, and he said, 

“Silent wife, silent wife
That came on us from the land of chase,
Thou man on the surface of the brugh,
Loose the black and slip the fierce.”

The two dogs were let loose; and she was not long away when she heard the clatter of the dogs coming. She kept the remnant that was in the kettle so that if she could take it with her, well, but if the dogs should come close she might throw it at them. She saw the dogs coming. She took the lid from it and threw them a quarter of what was in it: that kept them busy for a while. They were coming again, and she threw another piece at them when they closed upon her. Off she went, making all the haste she could; when she got near the farm she up-ended the pot and threw down for them all that was left in it. 

                The dogs of the farm struck up a-barking when they saw the dogs of peace stopping. 

                The woman of peace never came more to seek the kettle. 

Picture credit:

 A Highland Gypsy, Thomas Faed, 1870

Tuesday 16 June 2020


This very long Russian fairy tale was collected by Alexander Afanasiev and translated by W.R.S. Ralston in ‘Russian Folk-Tales’ Smith, Elder, 1873. A 1945 translation by Norbert Guterman gives the title as ‘The Sea-King and Vasilissa the Wise’, but Ralston’s version is so readable I’ve stuck with him and only tweaked a few words here and there. This is just the second half of the story, effectively a tale in its own right; but here is a brief account of the first part.  

A King is befriended by an Eagle, whose life he has spared out hunting. This Eagle carries the King through the air and over the sea to visit his mother and three sisters. At the end of the visit he gives the King two chests, green and red, with advice not to open them until he gets home, and provides a ship to carry him back across the sea. Pausing at an island on his voyage home, the curious King opens the red chest to find what’s in it. Out comes a vast quantity of cattle, so numerous the island barely has room for them. The King is dismayed. How will he ever put them back in the chest again?

But a man comes out of the sea. “Why are you crying?” he asks – and offers to put the cattle back in the chest if the King will give him “whatever you have at home that you don’t know about.” 

Believing he knows everything of value that he has at home, the King agrees – and of course when he arrives, his wife has given birth to a baby boy. Without daring to tell her what he has promised, he opens the red chest, and out come herds of cows and oxen, and flocks of fine sheep. He opens the green chest: a wonderful garden appears. He’s so delighted he forgets his bargain. Years go by, the Prince grows into a young man, and one day, walking by the river, the King is confronted by the same man as before – who rises from the water and demands that he pay his debt. 

Elements of this story will remind you of others. The assistance lent on condition of a reciprocal promise to give  ‘whatever greets you on your homecoming’, or ‘the first thing you see’, or ‘the thing you carry’ – it always turns out to be a child – is a motif at least as old as the story of Jephtha’s daughter in the Old Testament. ‘Rapunzel’ comes to mind, and the beginning of the Irish tale, ‘The Woman Who Went to Hell’, (#12 in this series). The second half of the story, as you will see, follows the pattern of ‘The Mastermaid’,( #7 in this series): the heroine is the active, canny, magic-working daughter of a supernatural father - sea-king, troll, enchanter, ogre, giant, etc - who saves the hapless prince’s life, orchestrates his escape and reclaims him after he has forgotten her. 

Then doesn’t this make them ‘all the same story’? No, no and no! ‘The Water King and Vasilissa the Wise’ is very different in character from the forthright Norwegian comedy of ‘The Mastermaid’. A Baba Yaga in unusually amiable mood helps the urbane Prince, perhaps because he politely calls her ‘granny’: the tasks he must perform are on a palatial scale far removed from mucking out stables or catching horses, and the episode in the bath-house is linked to Russian peasant customs (or at least Eastern European customs, since something similar is also to be found in the Romanian tale ‘Iliane of the Golden Tresses’, (#3). Though the same motifs recur in fairy tales across Europe, the resulting tales are delightfully individual variations on themes – which is all part of the pleasure.  

We begin at the point where the King confesses the truth: his son is promised to the man from the sea. 

The King went home full of grief and told the truth to the Queen and Prince. They mourned and wept together, but there was no help for it: the Prince must be given up. So they took him to the mouth of a river and left him there alone.

                The Prince looked around, saw a footpath and followed it, trusting God to lead him. He walked and walked till he came to a dense forest: in the forest stood a hut: in the hut lived a Baba Yaga. 

                “Suppose I go in,” thought the Prince, and went in. 

                “Good day, Prince!” said the Baba Yaga. “Are you looking for work or avoiding it?”

                “Eh, granny! Give me something to eat and drink first, then ask me questions.” So she gave him food and drink, and the Prince told her where he was going and for what purpose. 

                Then the Baba Yaga said: “My child, go to the sea-shore. You will see twelve spoonbills come flying in; they will turn into maidens and begin bathing. You must creep quietly up and steal the eldest maiden’s shift. When you have struck a bargain with her, go to the Water King; and on your way you will meet with three heroes: Obédalo [‘the Eater’], Opivalo [‘the Drinker’], and Moroz Treskun [‘Crackling Frost’] – take them with you; they’ll do you good service.” 

                The Prince bid the Yaga farewell. Down to the sea-shore he went, and hid behind the bushes. Soon twelve spoonbills came flying in, struck the moist earth, turned into fair maidens and began to bathe. The Prince crept from the bushes, stole the eldest one’s shift and hid again – he didn’t move an inch. The girls finished bathing and came to shore: eleven put on their shifts, turned into birds and flew away leaving only the eldest, Vasilissa the Wise. She began praying and begging the good youth.

                “Do give me my shift!” she says. “I know you are on your way to the house of my father, the Water King. When you come, I will befriend and help you.” 

                So the Prince gave back her shift, and immediately she turned into a spoonbill and flew off after her companions. Going further on his way, the Prince met the three champions, Obédalo, Opivalo and Moroz Treskun: he took them with him and went on the Water King. 

                The Water King greeted him: “Hail, my friend! Why have you been so long in coming to me? I have grown tired of waiting for you. Now get to work. Here is your first task. In one night you must build me a great crystal bridge: it must be ready by tomorrow. If you don’t build it – off with your head!” 

                Leaving the Water King, the Prince burst into floods of tears. Vasilissa the Wise opened the window of her upper chamber. “Prince, what are you crying about?”

                “Ah, Vasilissa the Wise, how can I help crying? Your father has ordered me to build him a crystal bridge in a single night, and I don’t even know how to handle an axe.”

                “No matter! Lie down and sleep; the morning is wiser than the evening.”

                She ordered him to sleep, but she herself went out on to the steps and called aloud with a mighty, whistling cry. From all sides, carpenters and workmen came running; some levelled the ground, others carried bricks. Soon they had built a crystal bridge and painted it with marvellous devices; then they vanished to their homes. 

Early next morning Vasilissa the Wise called the Prince: “Get up, Prince! the bridge is ready; my father will be coming to inspect it.”

Up jumped the Prince, seized a broom, took his place on the bridge and began sweeping here, clearing up there. 

The Water King praised him. “Thanks!” says he. “You have done me one service; now here is another. By tomorrow morning you must plant me a garden green – big and shady. It must be full of song-birds and blossoming trees, with ripe apples and pears dangling from the branches.”

Away went the Prince from the Water King, dissolved in tears.  Vasilissa the Wise opened her window and asked, “What are you crying for, Prince?”

“How can I help crying? Your father has ordered me to plant a garden in one night.”

“That’s nothing! Lie down and sleep: the morning is wiser than the evening.”

She made him go to sleep, but she herself went on to the steps, called and whistled with a mighty whistle. From every side gardeners of all sorts came running, and they planted a garden green, and birds sang in the garden, flowers bloomed on the trees, and ripe apples and pears dangled from the branches.

Early in the morning Vasilissa the Wise awoke the Prince: “Get up, Prince! the garden is ready and Papa is coming to see it.”

The Prince snatched up a broom and ran to the garden.  He swept a path here, trimmed a twig there. The Water King praised him and said, “Thanks, Prince! You’ve done me good and trusty service. Now choose yourself a bride from among my twelve daughters. They all look exactly alike: in face, in hair and in dress. If you can pick out the same one three times running, she shall be your wife, but if you fail I shall put you to death.”

When Vasilissa the Wise knew about this  she seized the chance to say to the Prince: “The first time I will wave my handkerchief, the second time I will be arranging my dress, the third time you will see a fly above my head.” So three times running the Prince guessed which was Vasilissa the Wise, and he and she were married, and a wedding feast was got ready. 

The Water King prepared so much food of all kinds that more than a hundred men could not have got through it, and he ordered his son-in-law see that everything was eaten. “If anything’s left over, the worse for you!” says he. 

“My father,” begs the Prince, “there’s an old fellow of mine here. Please allow him to take a bite with us.”

“Let him come!” 

At once appeared Obédalo, the Eater. He gobbled up everything in sight and even then he wasn’t full. So the Water King set out forty barrels of all kinds of strong drink and ordered his son-in-law to see that they were all drained dry.

“My father,” begs the Prince again, “there’s another old man of mine here; let him too come and drink your health.”

“Let him come!”

Opivalo the Drinker appeared, emptied all forty barrels in a twinkling, and asked for a drop more to wash it all down. The Water King saw he couldn’t win that way, so he gave orders to prepare a bathroom for the young couple – an iron bath-room! – and to heat it as hot as possible. Twelve loads of firewood were set alight, and the stove and walls became red-hot – it was impossible to come within five versts of it.

“My father!” says the Prince; ‘let an old fellow of ours go into the bath-room first for a good scrub, just to try it out.

“Let him do so!”

So Moroz Treskun – Crackling Frost! – went into the bath-room. He blew into one corner, blew into another – next moment, icicles were hanging there. The young couple followed him into the bath-room, scrubbed and steamed themselves and came home.[1]
Vasilissa said to the Prince, “We must get out of my father’s power. He is terribly angry with you and may be plotting some evil deed.”

“Let us go,” said the Prince. At once they saddled their horses and galloped off into the open plain. They rode and rode; many an hour went by. 

“Jump down from your horse, Prince, and lay your ear to the earth,” said Vasilissa. “Can you hear the sound of those pursuing us?”

The Prince bent his ear to the ground but he could hear nothing. Then Vasilissa herself leapt down from her steed. She laid herself flat on the earth and said, “Ah, Prince! I hear a great noise of those chasing after us.” She turned the horses into a well and herself into a basin and the Prince into a very old man. Up came the pursuers.  “Hey, old man!” said they, “have you seen a young man and maiden pass by?”

“Indeed I did, my friends, but it was long ago. Why, I was a just a young man myself at the time I saw them ride by.” 

The pursuers returned to the Water King. “No trace of them at all,” they said, “no news: we saw nothing but an old man beside a well, and a basin floating on the water.”

“Why didn’t you seize them?” cried the Water King. He ordered them to be put to a cruel death and sent another troop after the Prince and Vasilissa the Wise.

In the meantime the fugitives had ridden far and fast. Vasilissa the Wise heard the noise of the fresh troop coming after them, so she turned the Prince into an old priest and she herself became an ancient church, its walls crumbling and covered in moss. Up came the pursuit. ‘Hey, old man! have you seen a young man and maiden pass by?”

“I saw them, my children! but it was a long, long time ago. I was only a young man when they rode by; it was while I was building this church.”

So the second set of pursuers returned to the Water King, saying, “Your royal majesty, there is neither trace nor news of them. All we saw was an old priest and an ancient church.”

“Why did you not seize them?” cried the Water King louder than ever, and putting the pursuers to a cruel death he galloped off himself in pursuit of the Prince and Vasilissa the Wise. This time Vasilissa turned the horses into a river of mead, with banks made of pudding, and she changed the Prince into a drake and herself into a grey duck. The Water King flung himself on the mead and the pudding, and he ate and ate and drank and drank until he burst! And so he gave up the ghost.

The Prince and Vasilissa rode on. At last they drew near to the home of the Prince’s parents. Then said Vasilissa, “Go on in front, Prince, and announce your arrival to your father and mother while I wait for you by the wayside. But remember these words: kiss everyone else, but don’t kiss your sister; if you do, you will forget me.”

The Prince reached home, greeted everyone – kissed his sister too – and no sooner had he kissed her, he forgot all about his wife. It was as if she had never even entered his mind. 

Vasilissa the Wise waited for three days. On the fourth day she dressed herself like a beggar, went into the city and took up lodging in an old woman’s house. By now the Prince was preparing to marry a rich princess, and orders had been sent throughout the kingdom for everyone to bring a wheaten pie to the palace to congratulate the bride and bridegroom. So, like everyone else, the old woman began sifting flour to make a pie. 

“Why are you making a pie, Granny?” asked Vasilissa.

“Why, don’t you know? The King is giving his son in marriage to a rich princess: everyone must go to the palace to serve the dinner to the young couple.”

“Well now! I will bake a pie too, and take it to the palace. Perhaps the King will give me some gift in reward.”

“Bake away in God’s name!” said the old woman. 

Vasilissa took flour, kneaded dough and made a pie. And inside it she put some curds, and a pair of live doves. 

Well, the old woman and Vasilissa the Wise reached the palace just as dinner was being served. What a feast it was, fit for all the world to see! Vasilissa’s pie was set on the table before the bridegroom. As soon as it was cut in half, the two doves flew out. The hen bird seized a piece of curd, and her mate said to her,

“Give me some curds too, Dovey!”

“No I won’t,” replied the other dove, “else you’d forget me, as the Prince has forgotten his Vasilissa the Wise.”

Then the Prince remembered his wife. He jumped up from the table, caught her by her white hands and seated her close to his side. And from that time on they lived together in happiness and prosperity.

[1] Translator’s note: ‘The Russian bath somewhat resembles the Turkish. The word here translated ‘to scrub’ properly means to rub and flog with the soft twigs used in the baths for that purpose. At the end of the ceremonies of a Russian peasant wedding, the young couple always go to the bath.’

Picture credit: 

The Water King: Russian lacquer box painted by Aleksey Zhiryakov