The Enchanted Crab

From Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince by Rosemary Lake

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived alone with her father the king in a castle on a river near the sea, and who spent most of her time swimming. One day the princess, whose name was Fiona, saw a fisherman rowing his boat up the river, pulling behind it a giant crab. The crab was larger than the whole boat, and its shell was brightly painted in pretty designs. "Will you buy this crab?" called the fisherman. "It's very fresh, still alive!"

Taking pity on the poor crab, Fiona said, "Yes, the castle will pay you." Then she sent the fisherman on his way, untied the ropes holding the crab, and said: "You're free now, Sir Crab, swim away home!"

But the giant crab did not swim away. He waved his claws at her in thanks, in a very friendly manner.

"Can you understand me?" said the princess. "Wave twice for yes."

The crab waved twice. The princess sat down on the bank and they spent all morning conversing in this way, and finally the crab took her for a little ride on his back. Then, supenly, just before the sun reached the noon point of the sky, he deposited her politely on the bank and swam away, as if he had just remembered something.

Next morning the crab was back at the same place by the riverbank. Fiona spent all morning playing with him; but again, just before noon, the crab hastily departed. This happened every day, and after a while, in spite of his mysterious departures, the the princess began to think of the crab as her dearest friend.

Then one day, shortly after the crab had swum away, a little beggar boy came along the far side of the river, calling out for alms.

Fiona threw him a gold coin, but the boy was clumsy and the coin fell into the river. The boy jumped in after it, but became entangled in the waterlillies.

The princess dove into the river, swam across, and pulled the little boy to safety.

"Thank you," said the boy, as soon as he could speak. "But where's my gold coin?"

"Never mind," said Fiona, "I'll give you another one later."

But the boy just cried and tried to jump back in the water to look for the lost coin.

Fiona had no more coins, so she said, "All right, I'll look for it. If you promise to stay out of the water."

The boy promised, so Fiona dived back in and swam around the bottom looking for the coin. Soon she found it, but she also found something else: a bronze door set into the bank, deep below the water.

Nearly out of breath, she grasped the coin, shot up to the surface, and threw it to the boy. "Now go home, all right?"

The boy thanked her and ran away. She watched till he was out of sight, then dove back under the water and tried the door.

It opened, and she found herself in a marble tunnel that ran upwards a short distance, then opened out into a magnificent room of marble pillars, surrounded by rich tapestries, with a table spread with silk cloth and golden plates.

Supenly she felt a ripple in the water. Someone was coming! She jumped out of the water and hid behind a tapestry. While she watched, supenly a witch popped out of the water, riding on the giant crab. She was wearing a magnificent red dress and had a red flower in her hair.

The crab carried the witch to the edge of the pool, and they both climbed up on the marble floor.

Then the witch tapped the crab with her wand. "Come out of your shell," she commanded.

The shell opened, and a handsome young man came out!

The witch ordered him to the table, they sat down, and she began tapping the empty dishes and glasses. Each one she tapped instantly became full of some rich-smelling food or drink.

The witch and the young man both ate, and then the witch said: "Now, is there anything else you would like?"

"Yes," said the young man. "My freedom."

The witch laughed and touched the flower in her hair. "Not while I have this," she sneered. "No other witch has a servant as handsome as you, and I'm not going to give you up. --Now, go back in your shell till tomorrow."

"But please--"

While they were arguing, the princess ran and hid in the empty crab shell. Inside, it was fitted like a little boat, and each oar moved one of the claws.

"Oh no!" hissed the young man when he got back in the shell. "My witch is coming, she'll kill us both!"

"Are you under a spell?" Fiona demanded. "Shall I steal the red flower? How can the spell be broken?"

"Oh," he said, "it is not possible, unless she throws away the flower herself. To get it, you would have to risk your life in deep water."

"I like water," said the princess, "and I love you. What can I do?"

"Here there is no chance, the witch would kill anyone she met near her home. But in the open sea it might be possible. The witch loves music, she goes mad and forgets everything else. If you stand on a rock by the sea and play and sing, she will come to listen. You can demand the flower in exchange for finishing your song."

"When I have the flower, then what?"

"As soon as the flower is in your hand, I will be free. For that flower holds my life. --Shhh, she's coming."

The witch sat down on top of the crab shell and the young man rowed out along the canal. When they reached the bronze door, it opened magically as they approached it, but he contrived to bump the shell against the doorframe, and signalled Fiona to get out and swim away in the confusion.

Fiona swam back to the castle, went straight to her father, and said: "I would like to learn a little music and singing."

Her father, who spoiled her in every way, sent for the best music teachers in the land.

The princess practiced every day, till she could play the flute, harpischord, and dulcimer quite well. Then she went to her father. "I'd like to give a concert," she told him. "Will you promise to let me choose the location."

Her father was suspicious. "Is it in my kingdom?"

"Oh, yes. It's very close by."

"Very well. I promise."

"Good," she said. "I want to give it on that rock that sticks out over the ocean."

"But nobody lives on that lonesome shore to hear you," her father protested. "What kind of a concert is that?"

"A rock concert."

Her father sighed. "I might have known. But you can't go there alone. I'll have seven sailors row you down there, and you must choose seven baronesses to accompany you."

"Very well," said Fiona. She chose the oldest and laziest of the baronesses of the kingdom, and told them to wear their fullest hoop skirts. On the day of the concert, the seven sailors rowed them all down the river in a big rowboat, and the baronesses all stood on the beach while Fiona climbed up on the rock alone.

Looking out over the ocean, the princess took up her instruments and began playing the most beautiful music she could. Soon she saw the witch swimming toward her, with the red flower in her hair. Fiona pretended to be tired and put down her dulcimer.

"Oh, please keep on," said the witch. "I am mad about your music!"

"I am mad about your red flower," said the princess. "Will you trade it to me for another song?"

"You may have it," the witch said craftily, "if you can swim as far as I can throw it."

"I can swim," said the princess. "Do you promise?"

"I promise," said the witch. For this witch wore a magic glove which could throw the flower such a long distance that she expected that the girl would give up, or drown, and then the witch could retrieve the flower for herself.

The princess played three more songs for good measure, then said, "Now please give me the flower."

"Go and get it!" said the witch, and threw the flower a whole mile out to sea.

Instantly the princess dived in and swam after it.

Imagine the reaction of the lady-like baronesses in their hoop skirts! "Oh, princess," they set up a cry, "are you crazy? She's drowning, she's drowning!"

The princess swam on, leaving them to have a good scream all by themselves.

The seven sailors in the rowboat rowed as fast as they could to bring her back, but Fiona quickly outdistanced them and disappeared among the billowing waves. She swam and swam, and had almost lost hope, when supenly she saw the red flower right in front of her. Ah, safe! she thought.

She grasped the flower and began the long swim back. But soon she felt the crabshell rise up underneath her, for her best friend had indeed been released from the witch's power at the same moment she touched the red flower. She stretched out on the back of the crabshell, resting in the sunshine, while he rowed her toward shore.

"You have given me back my life," he said. "I have never seen a girl so brave! May I offer you my hand in marriage?"

"Of course!"

"Don't be so hasty, you don't even know my name! Please do not say anything to anyone just yet, not even your father. I must go to my parents, then approach him in the proper manner."

Just then a great wave billowed up ahead of them and over the top of it came the rowboat with the seven sailors all still rowing as hard as they could.

"Till tomorrow, my love," said her friend, and the crabshell sank out of sight just as the sailors frantically reversed oars and pulled the princess aboard.

So Fiona and the baronesses and the sailors returned home. Fiona told the king that she had enjoyed herself very much, and that was all she said; and the baronesses and the sailors kept quiet too.

Next day at the castle was heard a great noise of trumpets, drums, and horses, and then came forward a grand majordomo to say that a great prince requested entrance. The king rushed out to find what was happening, and they made a formal exchange of compliments. Then the prince began telling his opinion of the princess, what a brave deed she had done.

The king, having no idea what he was talking about, listened spellbound. "I am completely in the dark about this!" he said. "Guards! Summon the Princess Fiona!"

As soon as she saw the prince, Fiona ran to meet him.

"Young lady, what is the meaning of all this?" the king demanded.

"He is my fiance!" she explained.

When the king heard the whole story, he was happy, quite happy indeed. He rang the marriage bells as fast as he could, and they all lived together in peace and love ever after.

The End

Expanded from 'El granzio,' a Southern European folktale published 1893; my own translation.--RL

This story is from Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince, copyright 1996 by Mary Ezzell. All Rights Reserved.

The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) Series

Once Upon a Time When the Princess Beat the Dragon

Once Upon a Time When the Princess Cast the Spell

Once Upon a Time When the Princess Got the Treasure