Once a young Prince married a beautiful Princess. Unfortunately, he had no time to bask in his young wife's presence because he had to leave the kingdom to settle state affairs. The young Princess cried bitterly as she didn't want to part with her beloved husband. The Prince tried to calm her and told her again and again, "My dear wife, don't leave our palace until I come back! Don't talk to any strangers!"
The Princess promised to fulfill all his instructions. So, the Prince left the kingdom and the Princess locked herself up in her bedroom. One morning a strange woman knocked at her window. She was so hearty, simple and kind! She asked the princess, "Why are you sitting alone in your bedroom? Why don't you want to walk in the garden? You are so bored!"
The Princess tried to find excuses as she didn't want to leave her bedroom. Later she thought, "Why should I really be locked up in my bedroom? Nothing bad will happen if I go out! And she went in the garden, where there was a beautiful lake.
"It's very hot today! The sun is shining so brightly and the water of the lake is so cool! Why don't you want to bathe in the lake?" said the old woman kindly.
"No, I don't want to!" answered the Princess. Then she thought: "Nothing bad will happen if I bathe in the lake!" She took off her sarafan and jumped into the water.
As soon as the girl dipped into the water, the woman standing nearby whispered, "Turn into a white duck!" That woman was an evil witch who was enamored of the Princess's husband. So, the Princess turned into the white duck and the witch disguised herself in the girl's clothes.
Some days later the Prince returned to his kingdom. As soon as he came into the palace, the witch, disguised as the young Princess, threw herself on his neck. The Prince extended his arms towards his wife but couldn't recognize her.
Meanwhile the white duck gave birth to three sons. Two of them were healthy and handsome and the third was a puny creature. The sons grew up and began to run in the neighborhood of the lake.
"Don't go far from me!" the white duck admonished them. The children didn't obey her. Playing their games, they ran further and further away from their mother. One day they reached the tsar's court.
The witch scented the children at a distance and began to grind her teeth. She invited them to the palace, and then she feed them and put to bed. The witch pretended to be a kind woman but in reality she was going to eat the children. She ordered a stove to be stoked, big caldrons prepared, and knives sharpened.
Two brothers fell asleep, but the puny creature wasn't sleeping as he was guarding his brothers. At midnight the witch came into their room and asked, "Are you sleeping, children?"
"We aren't sleeping! We know that you want to eat us. The stove is already stoked, the big caldrons are prepared, the water is boiling in the caldrons, and the knives are sharpened!" answered the puny creature.
"They are not sleeping!" thought the witch and went away. Soon she returned and asked again, "Are you sleeping, children?"
"We aren't sleeping! We know that you want to eat us. The stove is already stoked, the big caldrons are prepared, the water is boiling in the caldrons, and the knives are sharpened!" replied the puny creature.
"I hear always the same voice answering me. It's very strange, I must check what has happened there!" thought the witch and snuck in the room.
She saw that two of the brothers were sleeping and killed them. The puny creature concealed himself in his elder brother's pocket and the witch didn't notice him; and so he survived.
In the morning the white duck began calling her children. The children didn't respond. The mother's heart felt that something horrible had happened. The duck spread her wings and flew to the tsar's court. There she found her dead children and began to cry bitterly:
"My dear children!
I brought you up!
I fed you and kept you!
I didn't get enough to eat,
I didn't get enough to sleep!"
The Prince heard the duck's crying and was very surprised. "Wife, do your hear anything? The duck is speaking in a human voice!" said he to the witch.
"No, I don't hear anything!" replied the witch.
Meanwhile the duck continued to cry:
"My dear children!
The old, wicked witch has killed you!
She has deprived you of your father!
She has deprived me of my dear husband!
She has turned me into a white duck!"
The Prince heard the duck's song and ordered, "Catch me this duck!"
The duck didn't allow the servants to catch her. She flew to the Prince and sat near him. The Prince took the duck and said, "A white birch, appear behind my back and a beautiful girl appear before me."
As soon as he said these words, a white birch grew behind his back and the beautiful girl appeared before him. In that girl the Prince recognized his young beloved wife.
The servants were ordered to catch a magpie and tie two small bottles to its forelegs. The magpie flew to the magic land and brought two bottles full of water. The first bottle contained the Water of Life and the second contained the Water of Speech. Having been splashed with the Water of Life, the dead children came to life. Having been splashed with the Water of Speech, the children began to speak.
Since that time the Prince and his big family lived happily. The witch was tied to a horse's tail. The horse galloped along the wide field dragging the witch along the ground. In the place where her leg was torn off a poker appeared. In the place where her arm was torn off a rake appeared. In the place where her head was torn off a big bush grew.