There was once a king who had a beautiful daughter. When it was time for her to get a husband, the king set a day and invited all the neighboring princes to come and see her.
One of these princes decided that he would like to have a look at the princess before the others. So he dressed himself in a shepherd’s costume: a broad-brimmed hat, a blue smock, a green vest, tight breeches to the knees, thick woolen stockings, and sandals. Thus disguised he set out for the kingdom where the princess lived. All he took with him were four loaves of bread to eat on the way.
He hadn’t gone far before he met a beggar who begged him, in God’s name, for a piece of bread. The prince at once gave him one of the four loaves. A little farther on a second beggar held out his hand and begged for a piece of bread. To him the prince gave the second loaf. To a third beggar he gave the third loaf, and to a fourth beggar the last loaf.
The fourth beggar said to him:
“Prince in shepherd’s guise, your charity will not go unrewarded. Here are four gifts for you, one for each of the loaves of bread that you have given away this day. Take this whip which has the power of killing any one it strikes however gentle the blow. Take this beggar’s wallet. It has in it some bread and cheese, but not common bread and cheese for, no matter how much of it you eat, there will always be some left. Take this shepherd’s ax. If ever you have to leave your sheep alone, plant it in the earth and the sheep, instead of straying, will graze around it. Last, here is a shepherd’s pipe. When you blow upon it your sheep will dance and play. Farewell and good luck go with you.”
The prince thanked the beggar for his gifts and then trudged on to the kingdom where the beautiful princess lived. He presented himself at the palace as a shepherd in quest of work and he told them his name was Yan. The king liked his appearance and so the next day he was put in charge of a flock of sheep which he drove up the mountain side to pasture.
He planted his shepherd’s ax in the midst of a meadow and, leaving his sheep to graze about it, he went off into the forest hunting adventures. There he came upon a castle where a giant was busy cooking his dinner in a big saucepan.
“Good-day to you,” Yan said politely.
The giant, who was a rude, unmannerly fellow, bellowed out:
“It won’t take me long to finish you, you young whippersnapper!”
He raised a great iron club to strike Yan but Yan, quick as thought, flicked the giant with his whip and the huge fellow toppled over dead.
The next day he returned to the castle and found another giant in possession.
“Ho, ho!” he roared on sight of Yan. “What, you young whippersnapper, back again! You killed my brother yesterday and now I’ll kill you!”
He raised his great iron club to strike Yan, but Yan skipped nimbly aside. Then he flicked the giant with his whip and the huge fellow toppled over dead.
When Yan returned to the castle the third day there were no more giants about. So he wandered from room to room to see what treasures were there.
In one room he found a big chest. He struck it smartly and immediately two burly men jumped out and, bowing low before him, said:
“What does the master of the castle desire?”
“Show me everything there is to be seen,” Yan ordered.
So the two servants of the chest showed him everything—jewels and treasures and gold. Then they led him out into the gardens where the most wonderful flowers in the world were blooming. Yan plucked some of these and made them into a nosegay.
That afternoon, as he drove home his sheep, he played on his magic pipe and the sheep, pairing off two by two, began to dance and frisk about him. All the people in the village ran out to see the strange sight and laughed and clapped their hands for joy.
The princess ran to the palace window and when she saw the sheep dancing two by two she, too, laughed and clapped her hands. Then the wind whiffed her a smell of the wonderful nosegay that Yan was carrying and she said to her serving maid:
“Run down to the shepherd and tell him the princess desires his nosegay.”
The serving maid delivered the message to Yan, but he shook his head and said:
“Tell your mistress that whoever wants this nosegay must come herself and say: ‘Yanitchko, give me that nosegay.'”
When the princess heard this, she laughed and said:
“What an odd shepherd! I see I must go myself.”
So the princess herself came out to Yan and said:
“Yanitchko, give me that nosegay.”
But Yan smiled and shook his head.
“Whoever wants this nosegay must say: ‘Yanitchko, please give me that nosegay.'”
The Princess was a merry girl, so she laughed and said:
“Yanitchko, please give me that nosegay.”
Yan gave it to her at once and she thanked him sweetly.
The next day Yan went again to the castle garden and plucked another nosegay. Then in the afternoon he drove his sheep through the village as before, playing his pipe. The princess was standing at the palace window waiting to see him. When the wind brought her a whiff of the fresh nosegay that was even more fragrant than the first one, she ran out to Yan and said:
“Yanitchko, please give me that nosegay.”
But Yan smiled and shook his head.
“Whoever wants this nosegay must say: ‘My dear Yanitchko, I beg you most politely please to give me that nosegay.'”
“My dear Yanitchko,” the princess repeated demurely, “I beg you most politely please to give me that nosegay.”
So Yan gave her the second nosegay. The princess put it in her window and the fragrance filled the village until people from far and near came to see it.
After that every day Yan gathered a nosegay for the princess and every day the princess stood at the palace window waiting to see the handsome shepherd. And always when she asked for the nosegay, she said: “Please.”
In this way a month went by and the day arrived when the neighboring princes were to come to meet the princess. They were to come in fine array, the people said, and the princess had ready a kerchief and a ring for the one who would please her most.
Yan planted the ax in the meadow and, leaving the sheep to graze about it, went to the castle where he ordered the servants of the chest to dress him as befitted his rank. They put a white suit upon him and gave him a white horse with trappings of silver.
So he rode to the palace and took his place with the other princes but behind them so that the princess had to crane her neck to see him.
One by one the various princes rode by the princess but to none of them did the princess give her kerchief and ring. Yan was the last to salute her, and instantly she handed him her favors.
Then before the king or the other suitors could speak to him, Yan put spurs to his horse and rode off.
That evening as usual when he was driving home his sheep, the princess ran out to him and said:
“Yan, it was you!”
But Yan laughed and put her off.
“How can a poor shepherd be a prince?” he asked.
The princess was not convinced and she said in another month, when the princes were to come again, she would find out.
So for another month Yan tended sheep and plucked nosegays for the merry little princess and the princess waited for him at the palace window every afternoon and when she saw him she always spoke to him politely and said: “Please.”
When the day for the second meeting of the princes came, the servants of the chest arrayed Yan in a suit of red and gave him a sorrel horse with trappings of gold. Yan again rode to the palace and took his place with the other princes but behind them so that the princess had to crane her neck to see him.
Again the suitors rode by the princess one by one, but at each of them she shook her head impatiently and kept her kerchief and ring until Yan saluted her.
Instantly the ceremony was over, Yan put spurs to his horse and rode off and, although the king sent after him to bring him back, Yan was able to escape.
That evening when he was driving home his sheep the princess ran out to him and said:
“Yanitchko, it was you! I know it was!”
But again Yan laughed and put her off and asked her how she could think such a thing of a poor shepherd.
Again the princess was not convinced and she said in another month, when the princes were to come for the third and last time, she would make sure.
So for another month Yan tended his sheep and plucked nosegays for the merry little princess and the princess waited for him at the palace window every afternoon and, when she saw him, she always said politely: “Please.”
For the third meeting of the princes the servants of the chest arrayed Yan in a gorgeous suit of black and gave him a black horse with golden trappings studded in diamonds. He rode to the palace and took his place behind the other suitors. Things went as before and again the princess saved her kerchief and ring for him.
This time when he tried to ride off the other suitors surrounded him and, before he escaped, one of them wounded him on the foot.
He galloped back to the castle in the forest, dressed once again in his shepherd’s clothes, and returned to the meadow where his sheep were grazing. There he sat down and bound up his wounded foot in the kerchief which the princess had given him. Then, when he had eaten some bread and cheese from his magic wallet, he stretched himself out in the sun and fell asleep.
Meanwhile the princess, who was sorely vexed that her mysterious suitor had again escaped, slipped out of the palace and ran up the mountain path to see for herself whether the shepherd were really with his sheep. She found Yan asleep and, when she saw her kerchief bound about his foot, she knew that he was the prince.
She woke him up and cried:
“You are he! You know you are!”
Yan looked at her and laughed and he asked:
“How can I be a prince?”
“But I know you are!” the princess said. “Oh, Yanitchko, dear Yanitchko, I beg you please to tell me!”
So then Yan, because he always did anything the princess asked him when she said: “Please,” told her his true name and his rank.
The princess, overjoyed to hear that her dear shepherd was really a prince, carried him off to her father, the king.
“This is the man I shall marry,” she said, “this and none other.”
So Yan and the merry little princess were married and lived very happily. And the people of the country when they speak of the princess always say:
“That’s a princess for you! Why, even if she is a princess, she always says ‘Please’ to her own husband!”