The Serpent Queen
One day, when a confident King Peter was hunting in the forest, he saw a beautiful deer with garlands of flowers and jewels on its head and around its body.
It was such a strange sight that the king put away his bow and arrows and hurried after them.
He ran as fast as he could, but the swift-footed deer was not to be caught and vanished from sight.
Puzzled and hoping to see the deer again, King Peter searched for it until evening. He came to the bank of a river, very tired, and was about to stretch himself to sleep when he heard a voice coming from the water.
“Throw yourself into the river, King Peter,” said the voice.
The king looked down into the clear water. At the bottom, he could see the faint shape of the deer, looking up as though calling to him.
“Throw yourself into the river, King Peter,” repeated the voice.”Do as I say and you need not be afraid of coming to any harm.”
“It at least knows my name,” said the king. “I will do as it says.”
“At once, he dived deep into the water and began to swim toward the bottom, where he found a grand palace made of glass and glittering diamonds ahead of him.
He went inside, crossed a big room covered by carpets of pure golden thread and entered a farther room where, surrounded by young women, was a princess of rare beauty.
Struck by her beauty, the young king asked her to marry him.
“Yes, I will marry you,” agreed the princess, a fairy named Christina, “but first, you must keep a promise.”
“Gladly,” said King Peter.
“This is the promise you must make and keep that, whatever happens, you must not try to find out who I am or anything about me.”
“I promise,” said the young king and they were married at once.
Years passed by, and they had two lovely and graceful children. There seemed to be nothing to disturb their happiness except King Peter’s increasing curiosity about his wife.
He became so curious that he could no longer resist breaking his promise, and one day, when his wife was not there, he searched for her apartment to see what he could find.
Before he found anything, however, the queen returned and caught him.
“You have broken the promise you made,” she told him,
“and I can no longer live with you. Now you must overcome some great tests, but as you try to overcome them, you must not curse me, or you will lose me forever.”
Suddenly a whirlpool appeared, and the queen and the children vanished into it, leaving the king alone in the middle of a desert. Poor Peter started to shout and cry, but nobody could hear him.
Ashamed of himself, the young king wandered around for many days without rest, food or anybody to talk to, calling his wife and two children to return to him.
“If only Christina and my two children came back to me, I would make and keep any promise asked of me,” he sighed, wandering on and on, searching the desert with his tired eyes for any sign of life.
At last, one evening, the queen and the two children came towards him. Overjoyed, King Peter was hurrying to embrace them when all of a sudden, his wife picked up the children and threw them into a massive cauldron of fire that had appeared before them.
Forgetting what he had been told, the young king was so shocked that he shouted at the top of his voice, cursing the queen for what she had done. An incredible rumble of thunder shook the air, and a goddess in a coach pulled by white birds came swooping down from the sky.
“You foolish man,” she told him, looking at Peter with flashing eyes. “What you have done has lost you the wife you love. She is the fairy of the river; when you saw her as a deer and hunted her, she wanted to marry you. I did not wish this to happen because a fairy should never marry a mortal, even if he is a king. You broke two promises, but as I do not wish your wife to be deeply hurt, I will give you back your children alive and well.”
The goddess made a sign, and the two children appeared, relatively safe and sound, but at that exact moment; the goddess touched the queen with a magic wand and changed her into a giant and horrible serpent, which slid away and vanished into a hole in the ground.
“Break that magic spell if you can, O King,” said the goddess as she soared into the sky in the coach and went from view behind the clouds.
Very sad, King Peter returned to his castle with the two children. He was so unhappy without his wife that he called a wise man and asked what he should do to get her back.
“Your Majesty, only you can get her back by performing a brave task,” said the wise man. “I warn you that it will be hazardous. Come with me, and I will show you.”
The wise man led King Peter to the foot of a hill with a great stone door. He gave him a wooden club and told him to strike the door.
Peter obeyed. The door crashed wide open, and out of the cave in the hill came a giant bull with fire coming from its mouth.
The bull charged for attack, and a tremendous fight between man and beast ended with the king being the winner.
Though he could see that the king was almost too tired to move, the wise man told him to strike the door again with the club.
This time a giant came out of the hill. The fight between the king and the giant was terrible to watch, but again the king won.
“Now for the last task,” said the wise man. “Strike the door again and promise to kiss whatever comes out of it.”
The king obeyed and slithered an enormous, slimy serpent from the hillside.
Although shuddering at the sight of it, King Peter kissed the serpent.
There was a tremendous shaking of the earth, the sky went black for a few moments, and the ugly serpent disappeared. In its place stood Queen Christina, even more, beautiful than ever.
At last, the magic spells had been overcome, and there was nothing more to stop King Peter and his queen from living happily ever after.