A Lithuanian fairy tale, this version is from Tales of The Amber Sea, compiled and translated by Irina Zheleznova in 1974.
Once upon a time there was an old man who made a living by making and selling brooms.
One day he went to the forest for switches. All of a sudden who should appear out of nowhere but a hedgehog. Back and forth he scurried and never left the old man’s side. The old man sat down to have a bite to eat, and the hedgehog bustled about at his feet, now picking up a bread crumb, now licking a drop of milk from his boot. The old man took a liking to the little animal, and, putting him in his cap, brought him home.
In the morning the old man and his wife woke up, they looked and they saw that all the plates in the house had been washed and set carefully on the shelves the pots and pans scrubbed till they shone, the swept clean and sprinkled with sand, water brought in, the firewood chopped and stacked and the fire in the stove started. And there was the hedgehog sitting on a stool and snorting, busily at work sewing up the old man’s pants with one of his own needles.
The old man and his wife were very pleased with the hedgehog for being so hardworking. They decided to keep him and to take him for their own son and they named him Prickly.
Prickly grew up and bethought of him getting married. And it was not just anyone he wanted to marry but the king’s daughter herself and none other! He begged his new father to go matchmaking and ask for the hand of the king’s daughter on his behalf.
The father, loving Prickly dearly, went to the king and said:
“Will you not agree to let your daughter marry my Prickly, Sire?”
“Bring him here and we’ll see!” replied the king.
The old man came home and told Prickly all about it, and Prickly turned it over in his mind and said:
“The king was right to ask to see me. Let us go to him!”
The old man tied a silk ribbon round the hedgehog, stuck a white clover in it, and, putting him in his cap, brought him to the king.
The king took one look at the bridegroom and burst out laughing. He laughed so that his beard shook.
“A find bridegroom you’ve brought us!” cried he.
But the old man began praising the hedgehog and saying how clever and hardworking he was.
“Very well,” said the king, “I’ll let him have my daughter in marriage if only he cleans my cow-house of all the dung that has piled up there in the last five years, strews it over the field, ploughs three hundred tithes of land, grows the wheat and reaps it, threshes and grinds the grain and then bakes pies out of the whole of the flour.”
The old man heard him out and was filled with sorrow. But the hedgehog said, trying to comfort him:
“Do not grieve, father. I’ll try to cope with the work somehow. Only take me to the king’s cow-house.”
The old man brought him to the cow-house and the hedgehog cried:
“Come, dung, get into the wagons and make off for the field!”
And at once the dung loaded itself into the wagons and rode off for the field.
The hedgehog began running up and down the unploughed field.
“Come, field, plough yourself!” he cried, and the same moment the field was ploughed.
“Come, field, harrow yourself!” – and at once the field was harrowed, a cloud of dust rising over it.
“Lie straight as strings, furrows!” – and at once the furrows stretched across the field straight as strings.
“Drop into earth, grain!” – and the grains of wheat dropped of themselves into the furrows.
“Come up and ripen, golden wheat!” – and the wheat at once came up and ripened.
“Be cut and gathered into sheaves!” – and the wheat gathered itself up into sheaves.
“Dry the grain, sun!” – and the sun dried the grain.
“Lie down on the threshing-floor, ears of wheat!” – and the ears of wheat lay down on the threshing-floor.
“Be threshed and ground to flour, grain!” – and the grain was threshed and ground to flour.
“Bake yourselves, pies, and then climb into the wagons and ride off to the king’s palace!” – and the pies baked themselves, climbed into the wagons, and, warm and gragrant as they were, rode off to the palace. A hundred wagon-loads they made up all in all, and the hedgehog rolled ahead of them and pointed out the way.
Seeing that the hedgehog had done what had been asked of him and not wanting to go back on his word, the king summoned his daughter, showed her the bridegroom and bade her get ready for the wedding.
The princess could not very well disobey her father’s command, so she and Prickly were first betrothed and then married.
Late at night after the wedding feast when his young bride had gone to bed, the hedgehog cast off his prickly skin, hid it behind the stove and turned into a young man so handsome that he seemed to light everything about him, just like the sun.
The king’s daughter woke from a fitful sleep and was overjoyed to see the tall and handsome youth in place of the loathsome hedgehog.
At daybreak the hedgehog got back into his prickly skin again and began scurrying about from one chamber to another, snorting and sniffing as he did so. But as soon as darkness set in he again cast off his needles and turned into a handsome youth.
One morning the king’s servant came in to clean the chambers, found the hedgehog’s skin behind the stove and threw it in the fire together with teh sweepings.
The youth woke up, he looked for his skin but could not find it anywhere. This made him very angry and he said to the king’s daughter:
“It was an evil magician who turned me into a hedgehog. Now I must go off beyond the far seas and you won’t see me for seven years. And before I go I will put a magic spell on you: whatever you touch will turn to iron.”
Off he went beyond the far seas, leaving his young wife behind him, and whatever she touched was at once covered with a thick coat of iron. She touched her legs and they turned to iron. She passed her hand forgetfully over her forehead and her forehead turned to iron, too. This was a harsh punishment indeed and the king’s daughter suffered cruelly and wept because of it.
Cursing her lot and moving her feet with difficulty, she came to the house of the old broom-maker, the hedgehog’s adopted father, and begged him to find his son and ask him if there was anything she could do of if she was fated to die thus bound in iron.
The old man took pity on his daughter-in-law and at once made ready to set off beyond the far seas.
It was not for a year nor yet for two years but for many-many years that he was on his way, and he was all grown with moss like an old tree stump by the time he got to where he was bound for.
He came out on to the shore of the sea and called:
“Come, Prickly, come, my son, swim out to me!”
The son turned into white sea foam, and, as a wave carried him to shore, asked:
“Why are you here, father? Why cannot you leave me in peace?”
The father told him of his young wife’s sufferings and Prickly heard him out and said:
“Let her come here herself!”
By the time the father came back home many more years had passed and he had turned into an old and feeble man. He told his daughter-in-law what she had to do, and, bound in iron though she was, off she set on her way, dragging her feet with difficulty.
A year went by, and another, and when at last she got to the shore of the sea she, too, like her father-in-law before her, was all grown with moss. She stood there and waited, and her husband turned into white foam, and, floating out to her, said:
“Listen to me. When ‘evening comes you will see white foam by the very shore and red foam just beyond. Wait till the half-moon appears in the sky and then scoop up a handful of the white foam.”
With these words he vanished in the deep, and the wife waited till evening came and then did just as he had told her. The moment the half-moon had risen, she scooped up a handful of white foam, and there before her stood her husband in the guise of a tall and handsome youth.
“We must swim the sea,” said he. “Are you not afraid, my wife?”
“No, I am not,” the princess replied.
“Then put your arms round my neck and hold tight.”
She put her arms round his neck and they swam the sea.
“Now we must pass through flame, for some dragons have made up a fire as hot as the fire of hell in our path. Are you not afraid, my wife?”
“No, I am not,” said she.
“Then put your arms round my waist and hold tight.”
The princess put her arms round her husband’s waist and they passed through the roaring flames.
“Do you see that old oak-tree yonder?” asked the husband after a time. “As soon as we reach it the evil witches waiting there will turn us into loathsome toads. Are you willing to become a toad’s wife and spend two years under a porch?”
“I am!” the princess firmly replied.
The witches turned them into toads, and the princess and her husband lived under a porch for two whole years and only got back their proper shape at the end of them.
They came home at last, and in the best and gayest of spirits, and the old king held such a feast in their honour that all the cats and dogs in the kingdom, smelling the good things roasting and boiling in the palace kitchen, came running there.
I was at the feast, too,
and with great good will
ate and drank my fill.
I had on a hat of butter and a caftan of paper and shoes of glass, and I was taking a trayful of wine glasses to the chamber when, as luck would have it, I stumbled, the glasses rolled down on to my shoes and were smashed and the hat fell off my head and was eaten up by the dogs. Now, this made me feel very bad indeed, so off I ran to the cow-house, dug myself in under a bundle of tow and lay there. Some servants came in, they gathered me up together with the tow and thrust me in a cannon. Boom! went the cannon, and out I shot and flew across the sky. There was a roof in my path, so—c-r-r-rash! —I passed through that and dropped straight in a German pastor’s bed. Down crawled the pastor under the bed, and, trembling with fear, cried:
“O Lord! O Lord! ”
But as I did not know his tongue all I said was;
“Go to sleep, go to sleep! ”
So we both went to sleep and slept the night through, I in the bed and the pastor under it.