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The Blue Star
The story has been published for the first time under the name
“The Uncomely Princess” in the collection “New Tales and
Stories” in Paris in 1927.
The same year, under the name “The Blue Star”, it was
included in the collection “The Brave Runaways”, which was
published in Paris.
In Russia, it was included in the six tome collection of Kuprin’s
works which came out in 1958.
A long time ago, since times immemorial, there lived upon a high
mesa a peaceful nation of shepherds, separated from the rest of the
world by sheer cliffs, deep chasms and dense forests. History
neither knows nor remembers how long ago it was that ironclad,
strange, strong and tall men who came from the south, climbed
upon these mountains and came into the land.
The harsh warriors liked very much the newly discovered country,
with its peaceful people, mild climate, sweet water and rich soil.
So, they decided to remain there forever.
For that there was no need to conquer it, for the inhabitants knew
neither evil nor warfare. All of the conquest was merely that the
knights removed their heavy armor and married the prettiest of the
local girls, and in the head of the state, they put their leader; the
noble, brave Ern, who was given royal power; hereditary and
unlimited. In those distant and naïve times it was still possible.
About a thousand years have passed since. The descendants of the
warriors have intermingled through marriages with the locals to
such an extent that no difference was observable between them
anymore, neither in speech nor in appearance; the outer look of the
ancient knights has been completely absorbed by that of the
Ernoterran people, and has dissolved in it. The ancient tongue,
almost forgotten even by the kings, was only used at the court, and
even there only during the grandest events and ceremonies or
occasionally for expressing the noblest feelings and concepts. The
memory of Ern the First, Ern the Great, Ern the Saint, remained
eternal as a beautiful, everlasting legend, created by an entire
people, similar to the amazing legends the Indians created about
Hiawatha, the Finns about Väinämöinen, the Russians about
Vladimir the Fair Sun, the Jews about Moses, the French about
It was him, the wise Ern, who taught the people of Ernoterra
tilling, gardening, and ironworking. He revealed to them the
writing and arts. He also gave them the rudiments of religion and
law: the religion was limited to reading the God’s Prayer in an
unknown tongue, and the main law was but one: In Ernoterra no
one dares to lie. The men and women were recognized by him as
completely equal in their rights and responsibilities, and all kinds
of titles and privileges were erased by him since the first day of
ascending the throne. The king himself only carried the title of
“The First Servant of the People”.
Ern the Great has also established the law of succession, by which
the throne was inherited by the firstborn, whether a son or a
daughter, marrying solely by their own attraction. Finally, it was
he, Ern the First, fully aware of the temptations, depravity and evil
reigning there, below, in the educated countries he left, who
ordered to destroy and make forever impassable the terrible
mountain path which he and his glorious knights have climbed
with such unbelievable effort.
And thus, under the fatherly, wise, and kind rule of the Erns,
Ernoterra has flourished splendidly, and lived an innocent, full,
marvelous life, knowing neither war, nor crime, nor want, for a
In the ancient, thousand year old royal palace, some things which
belonged to Ern the First while he lived were kept as relics; His
armor, his helmet, his sword, his lance, and a few mysterious
words which he carved with the point of a dagger on the wall of his
hunting trophy room. These days, none of the Ernoterrans could
have lifted the armor from the ground by so much as an inch, nor
swing the sword, even when gripping it with both hands, nor read
the royal writing. Also, three images of the king himself remained;
one – a profile, laid in the finest mosaic; the other – full face,
drawn in paint; the third – carved in marble.
And it should be noted, that these three images, done with great
love and great talent, were the source of constant grief for the
people, who loved their first monarch. From them, there was no
doubt that the great, wise, just, saint Ern, had an exceptionally,
outstandingly unsightly, almost ugly face; which, however, wasn’t
in any way malicious or repulsing. And the Ernoterrans have
always been very proud of their national beauty, and were only
ready to overlook the first king’s unsightly appearance because of
the legendary beauty of his soul.
The law of inherent similarity has its strange whims. Sometimes, a
baby is born resembling not his mother and father, nor even
grandparents and great-grandparents, but suddenly, one of his
distant ancestors, separated from him by many generations. Thus,
in the dynasty of Erns, the chroniclers have recorded the birth of
most unsightly sons, although as history went on, such occurrences
became more and more uncommon. It should be noted, however,
that these ugly princes had, as if on purpose, exceptional qualities
in matters of soul: kindness, intelligence, jolliness. Such a just
mercy of fate toward the unlucky ugly royals has appeased the
Ernoterrans, extremely demanding in matters of beauty of lines,
forms and movements.
The good king Ern XXIII possessed outstanding beauty and was
married a passionate love-match to the prettiest girl in the
kingdom. But they had no children for a very long time; ten years
since the wedding. You can imagine the rejoicing of the people,
when on the eleventh year they finally heard the long awaited
news, that their beloved queen was about to become a mother. The
joy was double – both for the royal pair, and for the fact that the
glorious family of the legendary Ern was once again restored by
direct lineage. In six months they heard with delight about the safe
birth of princess Erna XIII. That day, there wasn’t a single person
in Ernoterra who didn’t drink a full cup of wine for the health of
The only place without joy was the palace. The court midwife, as
soon as the baby was delivered, shook her head and smacked her
tongue sadly. And the queen, as soon as she was shown the
daughter, clasped her hands and cried out:
- Oh, God, what an uncomely girl – and started weeping. But only
for a minute. Then, reaching out, she said:
- No, no, give me my baby, quickly, I will love her twice as much
for being so unsightly, the poor thing.
The royal sire was most upset as well.
- Why did the fate have to be so cruel! – He said. – We heard about
ugly princes in our dynasty, but this is the first time an uncomely
princess has appeared in the ancient family of Erns! Let us pray
that her bodily unsightliness be balanced out by beautiful gifts of
her soul, heart and mind.
The same was repeated by the loyal people, once they heard about
the unsightly appearance of the newborn infanta.
Meanwhile, the girl grew bigger every day and uglier every hour.
And, being unaware of her unsightliness, she slept soundly and
without worry, ate with appetite, and was a most joyful and most
healthy baby. By the age of three, it was obvious for the entire
court how much she resembled the portraits of Ern the Great. But
even in this tender age she was showing her beautiful inner
qualities; kindness, patience, gentleness, attention toward others,
love of people and animals, a clear, lively, precise mind, and
Around that time, the queen came to her husband and said:
- My sire and dear husband. I came to ask of you a great favor for
- Ask, my beloved wife, although you know yourself that I can
refuse you nothing.
- Our daughter is growing, and it seems God has given her a quite
exceptional mind, which outstrips the growth of her body. Soon the
fateful day will come, when the kind, darling Erna will realize,
through comparison, how extremely unsightly her face is. And I
fear this awareness will bring her a lot of grief and pain; not only
now, but throughout her future life as well.
- You are right, my dear wife. But by what mercy of mine do you
think to avert or ease this inevitable strike, about to hit our beloved
- Be not angry, sire, if my thought will seem foolish to you. It must
be done so that Erna will never see her reflection in a mirror. This
way, even is some malicious or careless tongue will tell she is
unsightly – she will never know the full extent of her ugliness.
- And for that you would like?
- Yes… That not a single mirror is to remain in Ernoterra.
- The king reflected for a while. Then he said:
- It will be a great loss for our kind people. Thanks to the law of
our great ancestor about the equality of genders, the men and
women of Ernoterra are equally coquettish. But we know the deep
love towards us and the tried loyalty of our people to the royal
house, and are certain that they will make this small sacrifice
willingly. No later than today, I will issue and make known through
heralds our decree about the total confiscation and destruction of
mirrors, both glass and metal, throughout our kingdom.
The king was right about his people, who were, at those happy
times, one close family with the royal house. The Ernoterrans have,
with great compassion, realized the delicate motivations of the
royal decree, and have readily given to the royal guard all the
mirrors and even the mirror shards. A few jokers, of course,
couldn’t resist a jolly demonstration, passing near the palace with
messed-up hair and faces smeared with dirt. But when the people
are laughing, even with a hint of satire, the monarch can sleep
The sacrifice delivered to the king by the subjects was all the more
significant due to the fact that all the mountain creeks and streams
in Ernoterra were very rapid, and thus did not reflect objects.
The princess Erna was on her fifteenth year. She was a firm, strong
girl, and so tall she towered a head over the tallest male. She was
equally artful both in embroidering fine fabrics and in playing
harp… She had no match in throwing a ball, and climbed mountain
cliffs as a mountain goat. Kindness, sympathy, justice, compassion,
were flowing out of her like sun rays, giving those around her
light, warmth and joy. She never grew tired of helping the sick,
old, and poor. She could treat wounds and knew the effect and
nature of healing herbs. A true gift of the King of Heavens was in
her marvelous arms; by laying them on the scrofulous and the
epileptics, she cured these illnesses. The people idolized her and
blessed her wherever she walked. But often, all too often, the
sensitive Erna caught passing glances in which she sensed pity,
“Maybe I am unlike all the others” – the princess was thinking, and
was asking her maids of honor:
- Tell me, dear friends, am I beautiful or not?
And since no one lied in Ernoterra, the court girls answered her
- You can’t be called beautiful, princess, but you are, without doubt
nicer, smarter and kinder than all the girls and ladies in the world.
Believe us, the man who is fated to be your husband will say the
same. And we, women, are poor judges of other women’s charms.
And it was true; judging Erna’s appearance was very difficult for
them. Neither in size, nor in body, nor in constitution, nor in
features – in nothing was she even remotely like the women of
The day Erna turned fifteen – the time of a girl coming of age by
the country’s laws, - was celebrated in the palace by a magnificent
lunch and a splendid ball. And the next morning, the kind Erna
gathered in a basket some rare delicacies left over from the feast,
and, putting it on her arm, went into the mountains, some four
miles away, to visit her wet nurse she loved dearly. Unlike other
times, the early walk and the clear mountain air gave her no joy.
Her thoughts constantly revolved around the strange observations
she made at yesterday’s ball. Erna’s soul was as clear and innocent
as the eternal mountain snow, but a woman’s instinct, a sharp eye,
and the blooming age have told her a lot. The languishing stares
cast at each other by the dancing young men and women did not
escape her. But not one such meaningful stare was cast at her; only
obedience, loyalty, sublime politeness she saw in the respectful
smiles and the low bows. And always, this inevitable, this horrible
tinge of pity. Am I truly so ugly? Am I a freak, a disgusting
monster, and no one dares tell me that?
In such sad reflections, Erna has reached the wet nurse’s house and
knocked, but receiving no answer, opened the door, (they didn’t
know locks yet in that country) and entered, to wait for the wet
nurse; she has done that before if she didn’t find her at home.
Sitting near the window, resting and thinking sad thoughts, the
princess cast her absent gaze at the familiar furniture and utensils,
when she noticed the nurse’s secret box, in which she kept all sorts
of small things which had to do with her childhood, girlhood, her
first steps of love, her marriage and her life in the palace; colored
pebbles, brooches, embroideries, bands, seals, rings and other
naïve and cheap baubles; since she was a little girl, princess loved
going through these souvenirs, and although she knew their
intimate histories by heart, she always listened to them with great
pleasure. It only seemed weird to her that the box stood in the
open; the wet nurse has always kept it in a secret place, and when,
as it often happened, her foster daughter looked through
everything, she wrapped it in a piece of fine cloth and hid it
“She must have been in a hurry; left the house for a minute and
forgot to hide it.” – the princess thought, sat at the table, put the
box on her knees nonchalantly and started going through the
familiar things, throwing them upon her dress one by one. Thus
Erna has reached the bottom, and suddenly has noticed an obliqueangled, large flat shard. She took it out and looked at it. From one
side it was red, from the other – silvery, shiny, and seemingly deep.
She looked, and saw the corner of the room with a leaning broom...
She turned it a bit – the old narrow wooden chest of drawers was
reflected; a bit more… and such an unsightly face emerged that the
princess could have never even imagined it.
She raised her eyebrows – the unsightly face does the same. She
bowed her head – the face repeated it. She drew her hands across
her lips – and the shard reflected that movement. Then has Erna
suddenly realized that it is her own face looking at her from inside
the strange object. She dropped the little mirror, covered the eyes
with her hands, and, in grief, dropped her head on the table.
That minute, the returning wet nurse has entered the room. She
saw the princess, the forgotten box, and understood everything
immediately. Dropping on her knees before Erna, she started
saying gentle, consoling words. The princess, however, stood up
quickly, straightened; dry eyed but with a furious stare, and gave a
- Tell me everything.
And she pointed at the mirror. And such an unexpected, but
indomitable will has sounded in her voice, that the simple-hearted
woman dared not refuse, she told the princess everything; about
the ugly and kind princes, about the grief of the queen who bore an
uncomely daughter, about her touching care, with which she tried
to lead the heavy strike of fate away from her daughter, and the
royal decree to destroy the mirrors. The wet nurse cried as she
talked, ripped at her hair and cursed the hour when she, to the harm
of her beloved Erna, hid, because of stupid female weakness, a
shard of a forbidden mirror in the secret box
Hearing her out to the end, the princess said with a sad smile:
- In Ernoterra no one dares to lie.
And she left the house. The worried wet nurse wanted to follow
her. But Erna has ordered harshly:
The wet nurse has obeyed. And how could she refuse? In that
single word she heard not the usual gentle voice of the little Erna
she once nursed, but an order of the proud princess, whose
ancestors have ruled over her people for a thousand years.
Poor Erna walked the steep mountain roads, and the wind was
blowing about her long blue dress. She was walking at the very
edge of a sheer cliff. Underneath her feet the dark blue haze of the
abyss was visible, and the dull roar of the falls, as if hanging from
above in white ribbons, was sounding. The clouds wandered under
her feet as thick gloomy mists. But Erna, gliding above the abyss
on her accustomed light feet, neither saw nor wanted to see
anything. And her tumultuous feelings, her anguished thoughts on
that lonely road? Who could have understood them and described
them in detail? If only perhaps another princess, another daughter
of a mighty monarch, whom the blind doom has struck a blow just
as sudden and as undeserved…
Thus she reached an abrupt turn, under which the long since
collapsed rocks were piled in a menacing disorder, and suddenly
stopped. Some unusual sound was reaching her from below,
through the roar of a waterfall. She bent over the cliff and listened.
Somewhere deep under her feet, a groaning and calling human
voice sounded. At this point, forgetting her grief, Erna started
descending into the abyss, jumping from ledge to ledge, from rock
to rock, from scar to scar as lightly as a young deer, until she
reached a small ledge a bit wider than a millstone. There was no
way to descend further. Nor was there any possibility to climb
back, but Erna, eager to help, didn’t even consider that.
The groaning man was somewhere very close, under the ledge.
Lying upon the rock and hanging her head down, Erna saw him.
He was half lying-half hanging off a peak of a rock, gripping it
with one arm, and the thin trunk of a crooked mountain pine with
the other; his left leg was set in a crack, the right one had no
support. From his clothing, he wasn’t an Ernoterran, since the
princess never saw before neither silk, nor lace, nor chamois
leggings, nor leather boots with spurs, nor belts decorated with
She shouted out to him:
- Ahoy! Stranger! Hold fast, I’ll help you.
The stranger, groaning, raised his pale face, the features of which
were indiscernible in the semidarkness, and nodded his head. But
how could the selfless princess help him? Descending further was
both unthinkable and pointless. If only she had a rope!.. A height of
only two large men separated the princess from the traveler. What
could be done?
And them, like lightning, Erna was struck by one of these thoughts
that appear during danger in the heads of brave and strong people.
She quickly removed her beautiful blue dress, made from the
strongest and prettiest linen; with her hand and teeth, she ripped it
to wide long strips, spun them into thin ropes and tied them
together. And, lying upon the coarse rocks, scratching her arms and
legs on them, she lowered down the self-made rope, and laughed
happily, seeing there was not merely enough of it, but plenty to
spare as well. And, upon seeing that the stranger, barely managing
to keep balance between the crack and the pine trunk, managed to
tie the end of the rope to his buffalo hide belt, Erna began to
carefully pull the rope up. The stranger aided her in that, clutching
at every roughness of the rock and pulling his body up. But as soon
as the head and the chest of the stranger cleared the edge of the
rock, his strength left him, and it was only through great effort that
Erna managed to pull him onto even ground.
Since the ledge was too small for both of them, Erna was forced,
sitting, to pull the stranger’s head upon her chest, and her arms
around his weakened body.
- Who are you, oh marvelous creature? – The young man
whispered with his white pale lips. – An angel, sent to me from
heavens? Or a good fairy of these mountains? Or are you one of
the beautiful pagan goddesses?
The princess did not understand his words. However, the gentle,
grateful and admiring look of his black eyes spoke a clear
language. But that very moment, his long eyelashes closed, deathly
paleness spread upon his face, and the stranger fainted upon
Princess Erna’s chest.
And she was sitting, forced to be still, not letting him out of her
arms, and not diverting the blue stars of her eyes from his face.
And, secretly, Erna was thinking:
“He is as unsightly, this poor traveler, as myself, as my glorious
ancestor Ern the Great. It seems all three of us are people of the
same strange breed, the physical ugliness of which differs so
sharply and badly from the classic beauty of the people of
Ernoterra. But why was his gaze, directed at me, so entrancingly
sweet? How pitiful it makes the touching gazes cast yesterday by
our youngsters at the girls they were dancing with? They were like
a flickering of a candle before the shine of a hot midday sun. And
why does the blood rush so fast in my veins, why do my cheeks
burn, and my heart beats, why is my breath so deep and joyful?
God! It is your will that you made me unsightly, and I blame you
not. But just for him, I would love to be prettier than all the girls in
Then, voices sounded above them. It took a while for the wet nurse
to come out of the shock caused by the imperious order of the
princess. But as soon as she recovered, she ran after her beloved
daughter. Seeing Erna leaping down the rocks, and hearing the
groans coming from the abyss, the smart woman realized
immediately what the matter was and what should be done. She
returned to the village, roused her neighbors, and soon forced them
all to run to the precipice with poles, ropes and ladders. The
unconscious traveler was recovered from the abyss without harm,
but before the princess was pulled out, the wet nurse used a rope to
lower to her the best clothes she had. After that, the strange youth
was carried to the palace by Erna’s order and put in the best room.
Examination has shown a few heavy bruises and a dislocated arm;
also, he was running a fever. The princess herself undertook the
tasks of caring for and treating him. Nobody was surprised;
everyone at the court knew her compassion toward the sick and
respected her medical knowledge. Also, the sick youth, while most
unsightly, made the impression of a noble lord.
Should we tell in length and detail what happened next? How,
thanks to Erna’s constant care, the stranger has finally woken up
from his unconsciousness, and recognized his savior with delight.
How he started to recover quickly. How impatiently he awaited
each visit of the princess, and how difficult it was for Erna to leave
him each time. How they learned from each other the words of a
foreign tongue. How once, the stranger’s gentle voice said the
sweet word “aime”, and how Erna repeated it in a timid whisper,
blushing from happiness and shame. And is there a single girl in
the world who will not understand that the word “aime” means
“love”, especially if this word is followed by a first kiss?
Love is the best teacher of language. By the time the youth, having
left the bed, could walk the alleys of the royal garden, they knew
about each other all they needed. The stranger Erna saved turned
out to be the only son of a powerful king reigning over a rich and
beautiful state – France. His name was Charles. A passionate love
for travels and adventures brought him into the inaccessible and
dangerous mountains of Ernoterra, where his cowardly guides have
left him once, and he himself, falling off a cliff, almost lost his life.
He also remembered to tell Erna about the horoscope composed for
him at his birth by the great French foreteller Nostradamus, which,
among others, contained the following phrase:
“…and in the wild mountains to the north-east you shall first see
death, then a blue star; it shall shine for you all your life”.
Erna has also, as much as she could, told Charles the history of
Ernoterra and the royal house. Not without pride, she showed him
once the armament of the great Ern. Charles looked at them with
appropriate respect; easily performed a few fencing moves with the
heavy royal sword, and found that the images of Erna’s forefather
are depicting a man equally gifted with beauty, wisdom and
grandeur. Upon reading the writing carved by Ern the First upon
the wall, he smiled a merry and sly grin.
- What are you laughing at, prince? – The worried princess asked/
- Dear Erna – Charles answered, kissing her hand, - I will certainly
tell you the reason for my laugh, but a bit later.
Soon, Prince Charles asked the king and the queen for their
daughter’s hand; her heart belonged to him for a long lime already.
His proposal was accepted. Any Ernoterran girl of age was
completely free to choose her husband, besides, the young prince,
in all of his behavior, has shown certain sign of civility, nobility
On the account of the betrothal, there were many holidays both for
the court and the people, where both the old and the young
rejoiced. The queen-mother alone remained quietly sad in her
rooms. “Poor beings!” – She thought. - “What ugly children will
be born to them!..”
One of those days, looking along with her fiancé at the dancing
couples, Erna has told him once:
- My beloved! For you, I wish so much I resembled even the
ugliest woman of Ernoterra.
- God spare you from such a misfortune, oh my blue star! –
Charles objected in fear. – You are beautiful!
No, - Erna objected sadly in return, - Do not console me, my dear. I
know all my defects. My legs are too long, my feet and hands are
too small, my waist is too high, my eyes are too big, and are of
ugly blue, rather than wonderful yellow color, and my lips, instead
of being flat and narrow, are curved like a bow.
But Charles was kissing without end her white hands with blue
veins, and told her thousands of refined compliments, and, looking
upon the dancing Ernoterrans, was laughing like mad.
Finally, the holidays have ended. The king and the queen have
blessed the happy couple, showered it with rich gifts, and saw
them off (before that, the kind people of Ernoterra spent a month
building mountain roads and temporary bridges across streams and
chasms). And a month later, Prince Charles was already entering
with his fiancée into his ancestors’ capital.
It is well known that good news travel faster than the fastest
horses. All the people of the great city of Paris came out to greet
the crown prince, whom everyone loved for his kindness,
innocence and generosity. And there was not a man that day, nor
even a single woman, who didn’t recognize Erna as the first beauty
in the kingdom, and therefore on all Earth. The king himself,
meeting his future daughter-in-law at the gates of the palace, has
embraced her, kissed her forehead and said:
- My child, I dare not say which is the best in you; your beauty or
your virtue, for they both seem perfect to me…
And the modest Erna, accepting these honors and endearments,
“It is very good that fate brought me into a kingdom of the ugly; at
least I will never have a reason to be jealous.”
And she held that opinion for a very long time, despite the
minstrels and troubadours praising all over the word the beauty of
her face and soul, and all the knights of the kingdom wearing blue
in honor of her eyes.
But a year has passed, and the serene bliss of Charles and Erna’s
marriage had another wonderful joy added to it; Erna bore a very
healthy and very noisy boy. Showing him to her beloved husband
for the first time, Erna said bashfully:
- My love! I am ashamed to admit, but I… I find him beautiful,
despite the fact that he looks like you, looks like me, and doesn’t
look at all like my kind fellow countrymen. Or is that a mother’s
To which Charles answered, with a merry and sly grin:
- Do you remember, my goddess, the day when I promised to
translate to you the writing Ern the Wise carved on the wall of his
hunting trophy room?
- Yes, my love!
- Then listen. It was made in the ancient Latin language, and said
as follows: “The men of my country are smart, loyal and diligent;
the women – honest, kind and understanding. But – God forgive
them – both are ugly”.
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