Once upon a time there lived a king who had three sons. Now, before the king’s palace grew a golden apple-tree, which in one and the same night blossomed, bore fruit, and lost all its fruit, though no one could tell who took the apples. One day the king, speaking to his eldest son, said, “I should like to know who takes the fruit from our apple-tree.” And the son said, “I will keep guard to-night, and will see who gathers the apples.” So when the evening came he went and laid himself down under the apple-tree upon the ground to watch. Just as the apples ripened, however, he fell asleep, and when he awoke in the morning there was not a single one left on the tree. Whereupon he went and told his father what had happened. Then the second son offered to keep watch by the tree, but he had no better success than his eldest brother.
So the turn came to the king’s youngest son to keep guard. He made his preparations, brought his bed under the tree, and immediately went to sleep. Before midnight he awoke and looked up at the tree, and saw how the apples ripened, and how the whole palace was lit up by their shining. At that minute nine peahens flew towards the tree, and eight of them settled on its branches, but the ninth alighted near him and turned instantly into a beautiful girl – so beautiful, indeed, that the whole kingdom could not produce one who could in any way compare with her. She stayed, conversing kindly with him, till after midnight, then, thanking him for the golden apples, she prepared to depart; but, as he begged she would leave him one, she gave him two, one for himself and one for the king, his father. Then the girl turned again into a peahen, and flew away with the other eight.
Next morning, the king’s son took the two apples to his father, and the king was much pleased, and praised his son. When the evening came, the king’s youngest son took his place again under the apple-tree to keep guard over it. He again conversed as he had done the night before with the beautiful girl, and brought to his father, the next morning, two apples as before. But, after he had succeeded so well several nights, his two elder brothers grew envious because he had been able to do what they could not.
At length they found an old woman, who promised to discover how the youngest brother had succeeded in saving the two apples. So, as the evening came, the old woman stole softly under the bed which stood under the apple-tree and hid herself. And after a while came also the king’s son, and laid himself down as usual to sleep. When it was near midnight the nine peahens flew up as before, and eight of them settled on the branches and the ninth stood by his bed, and turned into a most beautiful girl.
Then the old woman slowly took hold of one of the girl’s curls and cut it off, and the girl immediately rose up, changed again into a peahen and flew away, and the other peahens followed her, and so they all disappeared. Then the king’s son jumped up, and cried out, “What is that?” and, looking under the bed, he saw the old woman, and drew her out. Next morning he ordered her to be tied to a horse’s tail, and so torn to pieces. But the peahens never came back, so the king’s son was very sad for a long time, and wept at his loss. At length he resolved to go and look after his peahen, and never to come back again unless he should find her. When he told the king, his father, of his intention, the king begged him not to go away, and said that he would find him another beautiful girl, and that he might choose out of the whole kingdom.
But all the king’s persuasions were useless. His son went into the world to search everywhere for his peahen, taking only one servant to serve him. After many travels he came one day to a lake. Now by the lake stood a large and beautiful palace. In the palace lived an old woman as queen, and with the queen lived a girl, her daughter. He said to the old woman, “For heaven’s sake, grandmother, do you know anything about nine golden peahens?” and the old woman answered, “Oh, my son, I know all about them; they come every mid-day to bathe in the lake. But what do you want with them? Let them be, think nothing about them. Here is my daughter. Such a beautiful girl! and such an heiress! All my wealth will remain to you if you marry her.” But he, burning with desire to see the peahens, would not listen to what the old woman spoke about her daughter.
Next morning, when day dawned, the prince prepared to go down to the lake to wait for the peahens. Then the old queen bribed the servant and gave him a little pair of bellows, and said, “Do you see these bellows? When you come to the lake you must blow secretly with them behind his neck, and then he will fall asleep, and not be able to speak to the peahens.” The mischievous servant did as the old woman told him; when he went with his master down to the lake, he took occasion to blow with the bellows behind his neck, and the poor prince fell asleep just as though he were dead.
Shortly after the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the lake, but the ninth flew towards him, as he sat on horseback, and caressed him, and tried to awaken him. “Awake, my darling! Awake, my heart! Awake, my soul!” But for all that he knew nothing, just as if he were dead. After they had bathed, all the peahens flew away together, and after they were gone the prince woke up and said to his servant, “What has happened? Did they not come?” The servant told him they had been there, and that eight of them had bathed, but the ninth had sat by him on his horse, and caressed and tried to awaken him.
Then the king’s son was so angry that he almost killed himself in his rage. Next morning he went down again to the shore to wait for the peahens, and rode about a long time till the servant again found an opportunity of blowing with the bellows behind his neck, so that he again fell asleep as though dead. Hardly had he fallen asleep when the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the water, but the ninth settled down by the side of his horse and caressed him, and cried out to awaken him, “Arise, my darling! Arise, my heart! Arise, my soul”.