Once upon a time, there was a king who had only one daughter. She did nothing all day but knit. She had no female friends and never left the house. All she did was sit in her room and work. Her mother often said to her: “Listen, my child, why don’t you get married? We can marry you to a handsome prince or a young nobleman.” But the girl would have none of it and always said no.
“Albanian Woman” by Charles Gleyre, 1834 (Lowell Institute, Boston).One day, while she was sitting and embroidering alone in her room, a dove flew in through the window and fluttered around her embroidery frame. The princess took the bird in her hands, but then let it go; she held it again and stroked it. The bird gave her such joy! After a while the dove asked her: “Do you love me?” and she replied: “Yes, I do.” Then the dove said: “If you really love me, put a bowl of milk out tomorrow and you will see what a handsome man I am.” Having said this, it flew off.
The next morning, the princess had a shepherd bring her a pail of milk. She poured it into a bowl and waited for the dove to appear. When it arrived and saw the bowl of milk, it dove into it, left its feathers in the milk and emerged as a young man who was so handsome that the princess threw her arms around him and began to kiss him. He spoke out, saying: “Sit down first and listen to my conditions and then you can kiss me.” She sat down and he continued: “The first condition is that you must never reveal my true form to your parents and the second condition is that you must wait three years for me to return. If you tell anyone, I will not come back.” The maiden replied: “I promise to do everything just as you wish,” and they exchanged rings. The young man then dived into the bowl of milk again and flew away as a dove.
From that day onwards, the young man visited her every day as a dove, caressed her and flew away as a dove. Two years passed, and throughout that time, the queen endeavoured – each day more and more – to persuade the maiden to get married. The princess refused with equal determination until she could resist no longer and revealed to her mother the secret of the dove, blurting out: “Leave me alone, mother. I am already wed to a young man and he has no equal on earth!”
From that day on, the dove did not come anymore. She waited day after day, week after week, month after month, but all her waiting was in vain. The dove did not appear because the maiden had revealed its secret. The maiden grew sadder and sadder. She wept and moaned all day, and begged her father: “I want my dove, give me my dove or I will die of sorrow!” Her father tried to console her, saying: “My child, do not despair. I have a handsome prince and a young nobleman for you. They both want to marry you. Take one of them and forget about the dove!” “No!” cried the maiden, “either it is the dove or I will die! Have three pairs of iron shoes and three walking canes made for me. I will set off in search of it, and will not stop until I have found it.”
The parents pondered: “We have lost her one way or the other. Let us fulfil her wish.” They had the shoes and canes made, as she requested, and gave them to her, and she departed. The maiden wandered for three long years, without ever pausing. Whomever she met on her way, she asked about the dove, but no one had seen it. After three years of wandering, she returned home.
After his daughter departed, the king had the whole palace painted black as a sign of sorrow. When she got back, sunburnt and frail from the trials and tribulations of her journey, she went to her room and locked the door. When her father knocked at the door, she opened it and said: “Father, have a large bathhouse built and let it be known throughout the land that everyone, rich and poor, may bathe in it, but that each of them must tell me a tale to relieve me of my sorrow.” The father did as his daughter had requested and, when the bathhouse was ready, people, rich and poor, came from far and wide to bathe in it, and each of them went to the princess and told her a tale.
In the king’s city, there lived an anemic old woman who had a daughter, and when the daughter heard about the bathhouse, she said to her mother: “Dear mother, give me your permission to go bathing and to tell the princess a story.” The mother would not allow her to go at first because they were so poor, but the maiden insisted and continued asking until the mother agreed.
First of all, however, the maiden took a jug of water and went to the village fountain to fill it so that her mother would have enough to drink until she got back. While she was at the fountain, a rooster that was wearing wooden shoes crossed her path.
When the maiden saw the rooster in the wooden shoes, she was amazed and said to herself: “I am going to go and see where the rooster is off to.” Following it with the water jug on her back, she saw the rooster enter a garden and pick fruits and vegetables and put them all in its basket: lettuce, onions, garlic, oranges and many other things.
When the rooster left the garden, it took the basket home and the maiden followed it. She slipped into the house and hid in a corner. There she saw a large vat of milk standing in the middle of the room. After a while, eleven doves flew into the room, dived into the milk, leaving their feathers in it, and emerged as fine young men who were as fair as angels.
A twelfth dove then flew into the room. This one did not dive into the milk, but perched on the edge of the vat. The young men spoke to it: “If you were married, you could come with us, but your wife revealed your secret and therefore you can’t turn into a man anymore.” The dove replied: “Yes, she revealed my secret, and I have caused her and her family to paint their palace black and to paint their hearts black, and have caused her to wander around the world for three years in search of me.”
When the maiden heard this conversation, she stole out of the room, forgot to fill her jug with water, and hastened home. There, she put the empty jug down and called out: “Mother, I now have a wonderful tale to tell the princess.” Then she ran to the palace. There were other people with the princess, so she had to wait her turn and spent the night there. It was not until the next morning that she was received.
When she came before the princess, she said: “Lady, I can tell you a wonderful story that I heard yesterday.” “Tell me then, my child,” responded the princess. “I would like to hear it.” The maiden told the princess exactly what she had seen and heard and, when she was finished, the princess stated: “You have done well, my child, to come to me, but now take me quickly to that house.”
The maiden led the way and the princess followed her, and when they got to the house, the princess hid behind the door and waited for the doves to come.
The eleven doves came first, dived into the milk and turned into young men. Then came the twelfth dove and perched on the vat. When the princess heard how the others were making fun of the twelfth dove, she jumped out from behind the door and threw her arms around the bird. This made the dove turn into a man, and they married and lived happily ever after.