by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
The prince had been a duck ever since the old hag transformed him and changed herself into a beautiful woman to marry his father.
The prince would squawk his story more often if he thought anyone could really hear him. Most of the people just shooed him away. Sometimes, someone threw crumbs at him. The other ducks usually swept in and gobbled them up before he could. The prince rarely had enough to eat and always lamented his fate.
Some days, the hag herself would come to him. She never spoke, but she brought him the tastiest morsels from the king’s table, as if to boast.
One afternoon when the hag came, a young maiden stood nearby. The duck prince was squawking loudly enough for the maiden to overhear, if only she could understand.
“You are in disguise, old hag," he said. "How dare you leave me like this? Transform me back into the prince at once!”
The hag almost looked as if she pitied him, but she went away without a word like always.
The duck saw that the maiden was looking at him.
“Would you help me, my lady?” he squawked.
“You are the young prince, then?” she asked.
His heart flipped. She could understand!
“Yes, yes, it is true!” he said.
“Very well,” she agreed. “I will help you. But you must do something for me first. I have lost my pretty bracelet in the old well. If you will go down and find it for me, I will take you into the castle in my arms to tell your father what has become of you.”
“I will do as you ask at once,” said the prince.
He had not been a duck long enough to know he would not be able to fly back out of the well. Even worse, as soon as he dropped into it, the light vanished from above. The maiden had blocked the opening.
The prince squawked until he could squawk no more. Finally, he bowed his head in despair.
After a very long time, the hag opened the well. She let down a bucket and pulled the prince out. She gave him some scraps and carried him back to the lake.
On the way, he squawked sadly. “Why did she wish me harm? All I have is you, you evil hag.”
The hag sighed. At last, she addressed him.
“Do you really believe I wish to be married to your murderous father, you spoiled boy? He was starving us, and your rule would be worse. Everyone says I was too easy on you. They will kill you themselves if they have the chance. I have saved you and your father, and the kingdom. Now, if you will only stop your squawking about who you really are, you might yet live.”
The prince shut his beak. From that time on, he lived humbly among the ducks.
One day, after a very long time, the hag transformed him back into his human form. When the prince returned to the castle, he discovered that his father had died. The prince ruled in his place, and he was such a gentle and good ruler that all his subjects truly loved him. The hag was invited to remain at the castle and eat from the king’s table for all the rest of her days.
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*I wrote this little story while sitting beside a lake watching the ducks.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.