Once there were a king and queen who had two sons. The older of the two was a very short and ugly man with only one eye, and that was in the middle of his forehead. His brother was tall and handsome and carried himself like a prince.
Naturally the king preferred his handsome son and wished to make him his heir. "My people will never obey a dwarf with only one eye," he said.
This made Deesa, the older son, very angry. "The kingdom ought to be mine," he said, "or if I cannot have it all it should be divided."
He said this to his wife, whose name was Matni, and as she was an enchantress she determined to get the whole of the kingdom for her husband if possible. She thought it all over and then invited the younger brother to a banquet in that part of the palace where she lived.
Then she said to her husband, "After supper you must sit with your brother on the balcony overlooking the river. I will change him into a fish and then you can throw him into the water. In this way we shall hear no more of him."
Deesa agreed to this, and after supper invited his brother to sit with him on the balcony. Then Matni went up on the roof of the palace and threw down some powder on the younger Prince's head. Just as soon as she did this, the Prince was changed into a little fish, and his brother picked him up and threw him into the river.
All this was done so suddenly that the Prince hardly knew what had happened to him. Over and over he turned before he struck the water, but when it had closed over him he found that he had been changed into a fish and could swim very nicely underneath the water.
He seemed to know, too, that Matni had enchanted him, and he wanted to get out of her way; so he swam on and on until at the end of two days he was outside of his father's kingdom.
Then one day he was caught in a net by some fishermen and taken to the palace of the king of that country to be served up for dinner. He was not very big, and one of the servants thought it would be much nicer to have him in a bowl than to cook him.
So the servant begged for the little fish. "I will take it to the Queen's room," she said. "She has no children and is sometimes very dull. This little fish may amuse her."
The Queen was very much pleased with the pretty little fish and became very fond of him. When he grew to be too large for the bowl, she had another one prepared for him, and fed him boiled rice twice every day. "He is such a dear," she said, "that he shall be called Athon-Rajah, the Fish Prince."
After awhile the Fish Prince grew so big that the Queen had a tank made for him through which the clear water of the river flowed in and out.
Then one day the Queen feared that the Fish Prince was not comfortable in his tank and would prefer to be in the beautiful shining river which flowed past her windows. So she said to him one day, "Are you quite happy here, Athon-Rajah?"
After a moment's thought the Fish Prince replied, "I am quite happy here, dear Queen-mother, but if you could get me a nice little wife I should be happier. It is really quite lonely here all by myself."
Now the Queen looked upon the Fish Prince as her own son, and never imagined that any girl would have the least objection to marrying him. So she said, "If you want a wife I can easily find one for you."
"But would you not like to go and swim in the river?" she went on.
"Certainly not," replied the Fish Prince. "All I want is to have a nice little wife and live right here." The answer astonished the Queen, but then she did not know that he was a fish only in appearance.
"All right," she said. "I will find you a wife at once, and have a room built in the tank for her." She had the room built at once, but it was not an easy matter to find a wife for the Fish Prince!
Everybody knew that Athon-Rajah was a pet of the Queen's, but for all that, they said he was a monster of a fish, and that all he wanted of a wife was to devour her. But the Queen sent messengers far and wide, among the rich and the poor alike, but found no one who was willing to give his daughter as a wife to the Fish Prince.
Even the people who had eight or ten daughters were very polite about it, but said, "We cannot give one of our children to your Fish Prince." Then the Queen offered a great bag of gold to any father who would send his daughter to be the Fish Prince's wife, but nothing came of it for a long time.
At last a fakir or beggar-man heard of the bag of gold and said to the messenger, "You may have my eldest daughter. She cannot be worse off than where she is now, and the gold will make me rich."
"Tell me where she is?" asked the Queen's messenger.
"She is down by the river, washing," said the man. "She is my first wife's child, and her stepmother makes her do all the hard work, and will not give her enough to eat."
"She gets more than she deserves," cried the stepmother angrily. "Much more than she deserves. You can take her and welcome. We shall be well rid of her, and if the Fish Prince wants to eat her, he can do so."
So the messenger gave the bag of gold to the fakir, and went down to the river, where he found a very pretty girl washing clothes on the edge of the water. She cried very much when she heard what his errand was, and begged him to let her say good-bye to an old friend before he took her away.
"Tell me who is this friend," said the messenger. "The Queen said we were to lose no time." And the girl replied, "It is a seven-headed cobra whom I have known ever since I was a little child."
Still crying, the girl, whose name was Maya, ran along the bank, and the cobra put his seven heads out of the hole where he lived.
"I know all about it," he said. "Don't cry. Pick up those three pebbles outside my hole and put them in your dress. When you see the Athon-Rajah coming, throw the first at him. If it hits him he will sink to the bottom of the tank."
Then the cobra went on. "When he rises to the surface, hit him with the second, and the same thing will happen. Throw the third pebble at him, and he will change from a fish into a handsome young prince."
"Then he isn't really a fish?" asked Maya.
"He is the son of a Rajah and is under an enchantment," replied the cobra. "But you can break the enchantment in the way I have told you."
So Maya dried her tears and went away with the messenger to the palace, where they showed her a beautiful little room that had been prepared for her inside the tank where the Fish Prince lived. Then the Queen kissed her and said, "You are just the dear little wife I want for my Athon-Rajah."
Maya would have been quite happy, for every one was very kind to her, if it had not been for the thought of the cold dark water, and her fear that she might not be able to hit the Fish Prince with the pebbles. But she let them put her into the little room, where she sat down and waited for a long time, with the pebbles in her hand.
Then there was a sound of rushing water and of waves dashing against the door. She looked out and there was a huge fish swimming towards her with his mouth wide open!
"I want to see my wife!" cried the Fish Prince. "Unfasten the door!"
Trembling from head to foot with fright, Maya opened the door and threw the first pebble, which went right down his throat. He sunk like a stone, but in a minute or two came up to the surface again.
Then Maya threw the second pebble, which hit the Fish Prince on the head, and he sunk the second time.
Maya was so nervous that she nearly missed hitting him with the third pebble, for it only touched the tip of his fin. This time he did not sink, but changed into a handsome prince, who took her in his arms and kissed her tenderly.
"You have broken my enchantment!" he cried. "Now we can enjoy sunshine and happiness in the world above, and need not live in a tank any longer."
So they were drawn up out of the water and taken to the palace, where no one could possibly live happier than Maya and the Fish Prince.
Notes: A Book of East Indian Fairy Tales. The book holds five Indian folktales.
Author: Hartwell James
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, London