The Grey Fairy Book
The Unlooked-for Prince
A long time ago there lived a king and queen who had no children, although they both
wished very much for a little son. They tried not to let each other see how unhappy they
were, and pretended to take pleasure in hunting and hawking and all sorts of other sports;
but at length the king could bear it no longer, and declared that he must go and visit the
furthest corners of his kingdom, and that it would be many months before he should
return to his capital.
By that time he hoped he would have so many things to think about that he would have
forgotten to trouble about the little son who never came.
The country the king reigned over was very large, and full of high, stony mountains and
sandy deserts, so that it was not at all easy to go from one place to another. One day the
king had wandered out alone, meaning to go only a little distance, but everything looked
so alike he could not make out the path by which he had come. He walked on and on for
hours, the sun beating hotly on his head, and his legs trembling under him, and he might
have died of thirst if he had not suddenly stumbled on a little well, which looked as if it
had been newly dug. On the surface floated a silver cup with a golden handle, but as it
bobbed about whenever the king tried to seize it, he was too thirsty to wait any longer and
knelt down and drank his fill.
When he had finished he began to rise from his knees, but somehow his beard seemed to
have stuck fast in the water, and with all his efforts he could not pull it out. After two or
three jerks to his head, which only hurt him without doing any good, he called out
angrily, ‘Let go at once! Who is holding me?'
‘It is I, the King Kostiei,' said a voice from the well, and looking up through the water
was a little man with green eyes and a big head. ‘You have drunk from my spring, and I
shall not let you go until you promise to give me the most precious thing your palace
contains, which was not there when you left it.'
Now the only thing that the king much cared for in his palace was the queen herself, and
as she was weeping bitterly on a pile of cushions in the great hall when he had ridden
away, he knew that Kostiei's words could not apply to her. So he cheerfully gave the
promise asked for by the ugly little man, and in the twinkling of an eye, man, spring, and
cup had disappeared, and the king was left kneeling on the dry sand, wondering if it was
all a dream. But as he felt much stronger and better he made up his mind that this strange
adventure must really have happened, and he sprang on his horse and rode off with a light
heart to look for his companions.