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The Egg and the Maiden, a Ukrainian fairy tale
Once upon a time there lived a sky lark who was czar, and a mouse who was his czarina. They ruled over a field and once they sowed wheat on it. When it came time to take in the harvest, they agreed that each of them would have exactly half of the yield. They divided the grains evenly but one grain proved to be an odd one. The mouse said, “I’ll have it!”
But the lark said, “No, I’ll have it!”
They argued and argued and could not come to an agreement. Then they decided to turn for advice to someone who was older and wiser than they were. The moment this decision was reached, the mouse exclaimed, “No need to seek someone else’s advice — I’ll bite this grain in two — one half for me and the other half for you.”
But instead of biting it in two she picked the grain into her mouth and ran away and hid in her burrow. The lark called upon all the birds to come to his aid and get the offending mouse out of her hiding place. The mouse made a similar call though not to the birds but to all kinds of small beasts on the ground — and the war between the beasts and the birds began.
The beasts tried to capture the birds but the birds flew up and perched on the branches of the tree, out of the beasts’ reach. When the birds attacked the beasts, the beasts hid in their burrows and holes, and no one could get the upper hand.
Then the mouse realized that she could also call upon the gnats and mosquitoes who were enemies of the birds. She did and the gnats and mosquitoes came. The mouse told them to attack the birds perched on the branches at night and damage or bite off the feathers on the birds’ wings.
The gnats and mosquitoes did as they were bidden, and in the morning, when they tried to fly, the birds helplessly fell to the ground where they were pounced upon by the beasts and torn to pieces.
The eagle saw what was happening — but he did not move from his branch. He checked his wings and saw that the feathers were greatly damaged and he stayed put. At that time a hunter was passing through the forest. He saw an eagle in the tree, pulled out an arrow and took aim. But the eagle cried out, “Don’t shoot! I can be of a great use for you.”
The hunter lowered his bow — he must have thought that it only seemed to him that the eagle had spoken in the human voice. He raised his bow again, but the eagle pleaded, “Don’t shoot! Better take me home, heal me and you’ll see how useful I will be for you!”
But the hunter was still uncertain, and the eagle cried out at the top of his lungs, “Brother hunter, don’t shoot, get me down from here, and I’ll be of a great use for you!”
The hunter, his doubts dispelled, climbed up to the branch where the eagle sat, took him and brought him home.
Once they got home the eagle said, “Now, feed me with meat until my feathers grow back.”
The hunter had two cows and a bull. He slaughtered one cow and began to feed its meat to the eagle. The eagle ate all the meat and then said to the hunter,
“Now let me out of the house — I’ll see whether my feathers are strong enough.”
The hunter did as he was told to do. The eagle began to fly but came back at noon and said, “No, my feathers are not strong enough yet. Slaughter the other cow.”
The man did as he was told to do and fed the meat to the eagle. When all the meat was eaten, the eagle tried his wings again, but came back in the evening, this time after a whole day of flying around, and said, “No, my feathers are not strong enough yet. Slaughter the bull!”
The man thought to himself, “What should I do? Should I slaughter the bull too? Well, I’ve slaughtered my two cows – so why shouldn’t I slaughter the bull!”
When the eagle ate all the meat, he spent the whole day flying high among the clouds. Then he returned to the man and said, “Thank you for feeding me for so long with good meat. I’m strong now and my feathers are strong too. Now climb onto my back.”
And the man did as he was told.
The eagle soared with the man on his back up to the clouds and then shook him off his back. The man began to fall but the eagle caught him in the air before he hit the ground.
“How did it feel?” asked the eagle.
“It felt as though I was about to die,” said the man.
Then the eagle said, “That’s what I felt when you raised that bow again and aimed at me but now, we are quits. Get on my back and we’ll go to the place where my uncle lives.”
They flew on and on and at last got to the place where the eagle’s uncle lived. The eagle says,
“Go into the house and when somebody asks you whether you’ve seen ‘our nephew,’ you must say, ‘If you give me Egg the Megg, I’ll tell where he is.”
The man did not know what Egg the Megg was but he did as he was told to.
The man went into the house and as he entered he was asked,
“Do you come here on your own free will, or you have been brought here by force?”
And the man said,
“Cossacks do things only on their own free will.”
Then he was asked,
“Have you, by any chance, seen our nephew? He’s been away at war for three summers and there’s been no news of him.”
And the man said,
“If you give me Egg the Megg, I’ll bring him to you.”
And the man got this reply,
“It’s better not to see him ever again than to give you Egg the Megg.
The man left the house and returned to the eagle.
“I was told this, ‘It’s better not to see him ever again than to give you Egg the Meg’”
“Then let’s fly on!”
At last they came to the place where the eagle’s father lived.
The man brought the eagle into the house and the eagle’s parents were overjoyed. They gave the man Egg the Megg but warned him,
“Be careful with it. It will be of great use to you.”
The man thanked the eagles and started on his way home. It was a long way that he had to travel. He lost his way and went to the lake that he saw nearby. There was a big rock on the bank. He sat down by that rock. Then he heard a voice. He looked around and saw a snake on the rock. It was the big snake’s daughter.
“Why are you so distressed,” asked the snake’s daughter.
“I don’t know how to get back home.”
“If you marry me, I’ll take you there.”
The young man had nothing else to do but to say ‘yes.’
The snake’s daughter turned into a maiden and said,
“The egg that you have will help us.”
And it did. After many adventures, in which the snake’s daughter told the young man how to use the egg’s power to get out of the most difficult situations and save them, they got to the young man’s village. The young man walked into his parents’ house, but the snake’s daughter stayed outside, holding the bag with the egg in it. All the relatives gathered to greet the young man and he gave each of them three kisses of greeting. Seeing the uncle’s child he thought to himself, “It will be not right if I don’t kiss this child.” And he kissed her and immediately forgot all about the snake’s daughter.
Several months later, he decided he wanted to get married. They found a good girl for him and as he did not remember any longer that he was married to the snake’s daughter, they got engaged.
The snake’s daughter lived all this time in the same village. On the eve of the marriage the hen party was held at the bride’s house. The snake’s daughter was also invited but no one knew who she actually was. The girls at the party began to make little bread rolls for the wedding as tradition required. But the snake’s daughter made a pigeon and a turtledove out of the dough and with breathed life into them.
The turtledove said to the pigeon,
“Do you remember that it was me who helped save you from misfortune?”
“No, I don’t,” said the pigeon.
Then the young woman let the pigeon fly to the young man, and the moment the pigeon perched on his shoulder he remembered everything.
He broke his engagement with the girl from the village, and called the snake’s daughter his lawful wife. The egg had one last bit of magic left in it and it gave the couple a good house and many heads of cattle.
And now they are happy.
Art by Oleksandr Melnyk[Prev][Contents]