A little girl asked me for a story this week, so I told her one my grandmother said,
“a long time ago, even longer than you can imagine, there were three sisters who loved each other very much. The eldest was very beautiful and loved to dance and sing. The middle sister, although not very pretty, was good at taking care of the young babies and children and she was a wonderful cook. The youngest sister, however, was ugly and could not sing or dance or cook at all! She felt very jealous every time she looked at her pretty eldest sister or watched her other sister cooking pot after pot of delicious food.
One day a great commotion started at the entrance to their village. All the families rushed out of their homes, dropping their pots and pans and work as fast as they could. None of them could believe their eyes, because there before them stood a very, VERY handsome prince on his very, VERY handsome horse.
Nervously, he cleared his throat, smoothed his fine blue trousers, and finally spoke.
“I have come here today because my faithful servant told me that among you all is living the most beautiful woman in the world and I want her to be my wife. I ask that in seven days, you send to me the most beautiful daughter that you have. I will accept only one girl, so choose wisely!”
The Romani of the village looked at one another, mouths hanging open. They could hardly believe what he said. They didn’t even notice as the prince rode away down the mountain. Suddenly, a little voice spoke,
“Well, you all know who the prettiest girl here is!” Of course, it was Luli, the eldest sister. Standing in the center of the crowd, she smoothed her long braids and her colourful skirts, and smiled a very big smile at everyone. “I am even more beautiful than the moon!” She cried. Everyone began nodding their heads and smiling.
“Yes, Luli! You are truly beautiful! You should go with the prince!”
The middle sister, Maudlina began to cry. She didn’t want her older sister to be the one who was chosen.
“I should be chosen!’ She shouted. “I may be a little fat and not be as beautiful, but no one can cook or clean or sew like me in the whole village!” As she spoke, she pointed to all the skirts she had sewn and all the fat stomachs full of her good food. The villagers again looked at each other.
“Maudlina, you are right! What better person is there for the prince?!”
Now it was the youngest sister, Kali who became upset.
“You can’t send Maudlina,” she said. “You should send me!!”
At this the villagers laughed, some of them even crying because they laughed so hard.
“Send you?” They chuckled, “send you?!! Why should we send you?” They asked. “You are so ugly and so useless the prince will send you back in anger!”
“My sister, Luli is very pretty. She is the most beautiful face in the village. There is no one else as beautiful here. If you send her away, all of your children will be ugly like me. Maudlina is not very beautiful, but if you send her away who will take care of you all? Who will mend your shirts? Who will cook your food and watch your children? I am ugly and I have no skill. No one notices me, so no one will miss me, not even my own father.”
At this all the Romani began to argue. Some thought that Luli should go, while some wanted Maudlina to go. There were even some who thought it should be Kali. They argued and argued until it got dark and there were no fires and no food.
“Savorre! Everyone!” shouted Baba Jesenja, the oldest and wisest woman in the whole village, “since you cannot decide between these three sisters, we should ask the prince!” And so it was decided that when the prince returned in seven days, each sister would go with him for one week and at the end of one month he would decide who was going to be his wife.
Every day, eldest sister, Luli pampered herself. She spent hours in front of the cracked mirror belonging to her aunt. She did nothing else but smooth her face and brush her hair. On the other hand, middle sister, Maudlina began cooking special food and making special clothes for the prince. She used all of the meat and rare food and cloth in the village, leaving nothing for celebrations or the coming winter months.
What did Kali do? Well, she was not beautiful so she did not even look at herself once, and she could neither cook nor stitch, so she made neither food nor clothes for the prince. Instead, she saw that her sisters were avoiding their chores. So she danced and sang for the old ones, even though she tripped as she tried to dance and her voice sounded squeaky and awkward. She cooked and took food to those who needed it and she tried hard to repair the holes in the men’s shirts and women’s skirts.
In seven days the prince returned as promised.
“Have you chosen a wife for me?” He asked. Quietly, Baba Jesenja shuffled to the front of the crowd.
“Sir Prince, if it please you, we have come to a decision!” Several people in the crowd shouted and clapped as she spoke.
“Yes, old mother, what is the decision you have made? I am anxious to meet my wife!” As the old woman explained the village’s decision to the prince, he began to frown. Then he began to laugh. “So, I get to spend three weeks with three beautiful women?” He asked, unable to believe how lucky he was. “I have travelled all throughout my kingdom and you are the last people I have come to in order to find my wife. Show me the women!”
First Luli stepped forward, her face smooth and beautiful and her long black hair flowing down her back like a river. The prince gasped and unbelieving, bent to bow to her. When Maudlina stepped forward, the prince looked at Baba Jesenja, confused. However, as soon as she brought out the special food and clothing she had made, the prince again bowed on his knee.
However, when Kali stepped forward the prince’s mouth fell open in surprise and he began to laugh. “Why grandmother, even you are more beautiful than this black piglet. Are you sure there are no other girls?”
Baba Jesenja shook her head and the prince reluctantly cast his eyes down, instead of bowing. It was quickly decided that Luli would visit the prince first. As they left the village together, everyone was very excited.
After one week, the prince returned with Luli. Although his horse remained as very, VERY handsome as ever, the prince looked tired, disheveled, and even a little ugly.
“Whatever is wrong?” Asked Balo, father of the three girls, worriedly. “Did she displease you?”
“This girl is useless!” The prince spat. “She cannot cook, she cannot sew. All she can do is warble like a bird and twirl about. She spends hours in front of the mirror instead of cleaning! You are welcome to her. Perhaps one of you here will be able to teach her to be helpful!”
With that, the prince snatched up Maudlina and rode away in a cloud of dust.
Again seven days passed and again the prince returned. This time his coat was unbuttoned and his face puffy.
Again Balo came forward, “what is wrong this time, my lord?”
“Why are your daughters so selfish?” The prince asked. “She cooked all the special and rare foods and left none for the coming seasons. She used all my cloth sewing new skirts for herself and new curtains for the palace. Now, I am fat and have no cloth to make new clothing!”
As he dropped the sad looking Maudlina from his horse to the ground, she began to cry.
“I’m sorry,” he said to her. “You cannot be my wife and I know this makes you sad!”
“No!” She cried, “I am not sad because you will not marry me. I am sad because my pretty new dress smells like horse and now it has dirt all over it!” She swished her skirts as if to demonstrate and stomped angrily away.
Now, the prince scooped up Kali and again rode hurriedly away.
The village waited, expecting the prince to ride back even more upset and angrier than ever before. Everyone knew that Kali was ugly and useless.
However, as the prince rode into the village seven days later, he was beaming with pride and happiness.
“Meet my new bride!” He shouted, waving happily at Kali.
Balo could not believe it. “Wait, wait. Are you lying to me? How can you choose this ugly useless witch and yet send back my most beautiful and most useful daughters?”
The prince laughed. “Let me tell you, father Balo, why I did not choose your other daughters. Luli is vain and spends time looking at herself or dancing and singing so others can tell her how beautiful she is. In the same way, Maudlina is pretty enough on the outside, but she is selfish and makes food and clothing to bribe all those around her. Neither Luli nor Maudlina would try to do anything else. Luli said sewing and cooking are for ugly girls who cannot sing or dance and Maudlina believes that singing and dancing are only for poor women who can do nothing else.” As he spoke, the two sisters began to cry. “However,” he continued, “your daughter Kali is willing to do anything to help others. Although she cannot dance, she twirled and spun for my old mother. Although she cannot sing, she taught my sister’s children songs about their heroes. And although she cannot cook or sew, she helped out whenever she could without even being asked!”
Balo was speechless. The whole village hung their heads in shame for they all believed that only Luli was beautiful and only Maudlina was useful. No one had noticed Kali, except for all the things she couldn’t do. Now as she sat next to the very, VERY handsome prince on his very, VERY handsome horse she looked very, VERY beautiful. Her face was smooth and her skirts were perfectly sewn and all the men and women realised that Kali was so beautiful because she was so kind.
Before they could apologise to Kali the prince turned and rode out of the village, shouting and waving goodbye. Immediately, Luli and Maudlina went looking for the old woman, angry that she had asked the prince to give all three sisters a chance and angry that their ugly, useless sister was now a beautiful princess. They each thought they should have been chosen. But, when they got to Baba Jesenja’s house it was empty. All that remained in the middle of the floor were a pile of golden feathers and single golden tooth.”