The Golden Duck: The Story of Prince Raduz and the Faithful Ludmila
Once upon a time there was a king who had four sons. One day the queen said to him:
“It is time that one of our boys went out into the world to make his fortune.”
“I have been thinking that very same thing,” the king said. “Let us get ready Raduz, our youngest, and send him off with God’s blessing.”
Preparations were at once made and in a few days Raduz bid his parents farewell and set forth.
He traveled many days and many nights over desert plains and through dense forests until he came to a high mountain. Halfway up the mountain he found a house.
“I’ll stop here,” he thought to himself, “and see if they’ll take me into service.”
Now this house was occupied by three people: old Yezibaba, who was a bad old witch; her husband, who was a wizard but not so bad as Yezibaba; and their daughter, Ludmila, the sweetest, kindest girl that two wicked parents ever had.
“Good day to you all,” Raduz said, as he stepped into the house and bowed.
“The same to you,” old Yezibaba answered. “What brings you here?”
“I’m looking for work and I thought you might have something for me to do.”
“What can you do?” Yezibaba asked.
“I’ll do anything you set me to. I’m trustworthy and industrious.”
Yezibaba didn’t want to take him, but the old man wanted him and in the end Yezibaba with very ill grace consented to give him a trial.
He rested that night and early next morning presented himself to the old witch and said:
“What work am I to do today, mistress?”
Yezibaba looked him over from head to foot. Then she took him to a window and said: “What do you see out there?”
“I see a rocky hillside.”
“Good. Go to that rocky hillside, cultivate it, plant it in trees that will grow, blossom, and bear fruit tonight. Tomorrow morning bring me the ripe fruit. Here is a wooden hoe with which to work.”
“Alas,” thought Raduz to himself, “did ever a man have such a task as this? What can I do on that rocky hillside with a wooden hoe? How can I finish my task in so short a time?”
He started to work but he hadn’t struck three blows with the wooden hoe before it broke.