The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples

The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples (Zlatna jabuka i devet paunica) is a Serbian epic poetry. It was published for the first time as a fairy tale by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in 1853. Later on it was published as a Bulgarian fairy tale by A. H. Wratislaw in his Sixty Folk-Tales from Exclusively Slavonic Sources, number 38 in 1890. Andrew Lang included it in The Violet Fairy Book, as a translation from a German version of Karadžić's original tale.[1] Ruth Manning-Sanders included it in The Glass Man and the Golden Bird: Hungarian Folk and Fairy Tales. It is Aarne-Thompson type 400*, the swan maiden.[2]


An emperor's golden apple tree was robbed every night, and his sons set themselves to watch it. The older two slept, but the youngest stayed awake. Nine peahens arrived. Eight rifled the tree, while the ninth came down beside him and became a beautiful maiden. She talked with him. He begged her to leave one apple, and she left two. This went on for two nights, until his brothers spied on him and saw how it happened. They made a bargain with a witch, and the next night she leapt up and cut off a lock of the maiden's hair. The prince caught the witch and had her executed, but the peahens did not return.

Grieving, the prince set out in search of his beloved. He found a castle with an aging empress, who had one daughter. On hearing that nine peahens bathed in the lake outside, he set out, despite her efforts to have him stay. The empress bribed his servant to blow a whistle when the nine peahens approached. This threw him into an enchanted sleep. The ninth tried to wake him, but to no avail. She told the servant they would come on the next day and never again. The next day, the servant put him to sleep again, and the maiden told him that if the prince wanted to find her, he should roll the under peg on the upper. The servant repeated this to the prince. The prince cut off his head and went on alone.

A hermit directed him to a castle, he found the ninth peahen, and they were married at once. One day his wife, the empress, had to go on journey, and forbade him to go into the twelfth cellar. When he went in, a cask with iron bands about it asked him for water. He gave it three cups. It burst, and a dragon sprang out to fly off and capture the empress.

He set out in search of her. He saw a fish on the bank, helped it into the water, and received a scale to call it; a fox in a trap, and received a couple of hairs; and a wolf in another trap, and received a couple of hairs. He found where the empress was held captive, and they tried to escape. The dragon saw them and wanted to pursue them,but his horse told him there was plenty of time to eat and drink before setting off and, sure enough, after he had eaten and drunk, the dragon captured them. He let the prince go because of the drinks of water, but promised it would be the only clemency.

The prince returned to the castle and had the empress ask the dragon where he got the horse. The dragon related how a witch had a mare and foal, and that whoever watched over these for her for three days would get his pick of her horses, but that whoever failed in the task would lose his life. The prince travelled to the witch's house and noticed that, all around it,poles had been set up, all but one of which had a skull upon it. She hired him to look after the horses. He watched all day, but fell asleep during the night - whereupon they escaped into the water. Using scale he would been given,the prince summoned the fish, who told him the charm with which to get them out. When he went back for dinner, the witch scolded the horse, listened to the excuse it gave for being recaptured by the prince and told it to try going among the foxes on the morrow. The next day the prince used the fox hairs to summon the fox to retrieve the mare and foal, and, the day after that, the wolf hairs to call the wolf to retrieve them from among the wolves.

When, at last, the prince came to claim his reward,he asked for the ugly horse in the corner and would not be dissuaded from his choice, but straightway hastened back to the castle on his new steed and carried off the empress. When the dragon saw this, he asked his horse whether he had time to eat and drink before settling off in pursuit, but the horse said he would not catch the fugitives, regardless of whether he ate first or set off straight away. Undaunted, the dragon set off anyway and, during the pursuit, the dragon's horse complained to the prince's of the effort involved in trying to catch him. The prince's horse asked the dragon's horse why it put up with it - whereupon the dragon's horse threw the dragon and killed him, and the empress rode it the rest of the way home.

Wratislaw's version

In the Bulgarian version, the prince stays with the peahen for several days before the witch disturbs them. When he leaves to search for her he takes one of his servants who prevents him from seeing the maiden, whereas in the Serbian version the old empress sends her servant to go with him. The wolf has also been replaced by a crow in a trap, and instead of an ugly horse, the prince asked for a skinny horse.

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