IN A certain kingdom there once lived a Czar and his wife who had three fine sons. The eldest was called Vasili, the second Fedor, and the youngest Ivan. One day the Czar went with his wife to walk in his garden, and there suddenly came on such a storm that the Czarina was carried off by it, out of her husband’s sight. The Czar was sore grieved, and sorrowed for a long time. When the two eldest sons saw their father’s trouble they came to him, and asked him to let them go forth to look for their mother. So he gave them his blessing, and they set out. They travelled for a long time, and at last came to a great desert. There they pitched their tent, and waited to see if any one would come to tell them the way. For three years they waited, but they saw no one.
Meanwhile the youngest brother, Ivan, went to his father to ask him for his blessing, and took leave of him. He travelled for a long time, until at last he saw some tents in the distance. He rode on, and on coming to them he saw that he had found his brothers.
“Why do you stop on the borders of this dreary waste, brothers?” said he; “let us go on together and seek our mother.”
The others agreed, and they once more set out. When they had gone a long way they saw in the distance a palace built of crystal, with a wall around it of the same material. They drew near to it, and Ivan opened the gate and rode into the courtyard. As he approached the door he saw a pillar to which there were attached two rings, one of gold and the other of silver. He put his bridle through the rings and secured his horse, and then went to the door. There the king of the palace came to meet him. They talked for some time, and the king, discovering that Ivan was his nephew, led him into his room, and brought his brothers in also.
When they had been with him a long time, the king gave them a magic ball, which the brothers threw before them, and following it they came to a high mountain at the foot of which they stopped to rest. It was so high and so steep that no one could climb up it. Ivan rode round it to discover some means of getting to the top, and at last he found a crevice into which he stepped. Then he saw an iron door with an iron ring. When he had opened the door he found some iron hooks which he fastened to his hands and feet. By means of these he contrived to climb to the top of the mountain. When he reached the top he was very tired, and sat down to rest, and as soon as ever he took off the hooks they vanished. Afar off in the mountain he saw a tent of fine cambric, on which was pictured a copper kingdom, and on its summit was a copper ball. On going to the tent he found at the entrance two large lions, which refused to let him pass. Ivan, however, saw two copper basins standing near, so he went and got some water and gave it to the lions, who were thirsty, and then they let him go into the tent. When he had come there he saw a lovely princess on a couch, and at her feet slept a dreadful dragon, whose head Ivan cut off with one blow. The princess thanked him, and gave him a copper egg, in which was contained a copper kingdom. Then the Czarewitch left her and went on.
When he had gone a long way he saw a tent of fine gauze hung from a cedar-tree by silver cords. These cords had tassels of emeralds, and on the tent was the picture of a silver kingdom. On the summit of the tent was a silver ball. At the entrance lay two large tigers. He satisfied their thirst, as he had done that of the lions, and then they let him pass. When he came into the tent he saw a lovely princess dressed in very fine clothes, and very much more beautiful than the former. At her feet lay a dragon with six heads, and twice as large as the first. With one blow Ivan cut off its heads, and the princess rewarded his courage by giving him a silver egg, in which was a silver kingdom. Then Ivan left her and went on.
At length he came to a third tent of silk, on which was pictured a golden kingdom, and on its summit was a ball of pure gold. The tent was hung from a laurel-tree by gold cords, and the tassels of the cords were composed of diamonds. By the entrance lay two large crocodiles which breathed out great flames. The Czarewitch gave them some water, and thus got them to let him enter the tent. Inside he found on a couch a princess who even surpassed the two former ones in beauty. At her feet lay a dragon with twelve heads. Ivan cut off all the heads with one blow of his sword, and the princess, thanking him, gave him a golden egg, in which was a golden kingdom. With it she also gave him her heart. As they talked together, Ivan asked the princess if she could tell him where he should find his mother, and she, showing him where his mother dwelt, wished he would have good fortune in his adventure.
He went on a long way and came to a palace, and going in he passed through many rooms, but he found no one in them. At last he came to a large beautiful hall, and there he saw his mother, dressed in royal robes, sitting on a chair. When they had tenderly saluted, Ivan told her how he and his brothers had travelled very far to seek her whom they loved so much. The Czarina informed Ivan that a spirit would soon come, and told him to conceal himself under her cloak.
“When the spirit appears,” said she, “seize his magic wand with both hands. He will then fly upwards with you, but do not be afraid, and be quiet. After a time he will fall to the earth and be dashed to pieces. You must gather these up, burn them, and scatter the ashes on the field.”
His mother had scarcely finished these words, and hidden him under her cloak, before the spirit appeared. Then Ivan sprang forward as his mother had told him, and laid hold of the magic wand. The spirit seized the Czarewitch, flew with him far up, fell to the ground, and was dashed to pieces. The Czarewitch gathered these together, and burnt them, but kept the magic stick. Then he took his mother and the three princesses whom he had rescued, and, coming to an oak-tree, he let each one of them slide down the mountain-side by means of a linen cloth. When the brothers, who waited at the foot of the mountain, saw that he alone remained on the top, they tore the linen cloth out of his hand, led away their mother and the three princesses to their own kingdom, and made them take an oath that they would tell their father that they had been saved by them.
Ivan was thus left alone on the mountain, and did not know how he could get down. He walked about very sorrowfully, and happening to pass the magic wand from one hand to the other, a man suddenly appeared before him, and said—
“What is your will, Ivan Czarewitch?”
Ivan was much astonished to see the man, and asked him who he was, and how he had come on the mountain.
“I am a spirit,” replied the man, “and was the servant of him whom you have overcome. As you have now his magic stick, and as you have passed it from one hand to the other, as you always must when you want me, I have come to perform what you wish.”
“That is well,” said Ivan to the spirit. “Do me your first service, then, and carry me into my own country.”
Scarcely had he finished these words before he found himself in his father’s city.
He wanted to first know what was going on in the palace, so instead of going straight in he went and began work in a shoemaker’s shop, for he thought no one would quickly recognise him there. The next morning the shoemaker went into town to buy some leather, and came home in the evening very drunk. So tipsy was he that he could not see to the shop, so he left all to his new man. Ivan knew nothing about the work, so he called the spirit to assist him, and told him to set to and make some shoes while he himself went to sleep. When the master awoke early the next morning he went to see what work his man had done, and when he found him still fast asleep, he was very angry, and said—
“Ah! you lazy fellow, do you think I took you into my service to sleep?”
“Do not blame me,” replied Ivan, stretching himself, “go first into the work-room, and see what you find there.”
The shoemaker went off, and how much was he astonished to find there a number of shoes all finished. He went to them and took up a shoe to look at the work, but he was more astonished still, and began to disbelieve his eyes, for there was not a single stitch in the shoes, but they were all of one piece. He took some of the shoes and set off to sell them, and every one who saw the wonderful shoes bought them eagerly. His fame spread, and in a short time the shoemaker became so noted that they sent for him to the palace. There he saw the princesses, who ordered him to make them some dozens of shoes, adding that they must all be ready by the next morning. He told them that it was impossible for him to do what they asked, but they said that if he did not do what they told him he should have his head cut off, for they declared they well knew he made his shoes by some magic means.
The poor shoemaker left the castle, thinking he was as good as a dead man, went into the city, bought some leather, and went a-drinking to drive off care. Towards evening he came home, and throwing the leather down upon the floor, said to his new man—
“Listen, you wretched fellow, to what you have done with your magic work.”
So he told him all that had happened with the princesses, and how he was to be put to death if he did not do what they commanded.
“Don’t be put out,” said Ivan; “lie down and go to sleep. The morning will bring us good luck.”
His master thanked him for what he said, laid himself down on a bench, and very quickly began to snore. Then Ivan called upon his spirit, ordered him to make all ready, and went to sleep himself.
Though the shoemaker had been very drunk, when he awoke early in the morning he remembered that he was to have his head cut off that day. So he went to his man and said—
“Let us have a bottle together, so that I may be more courageous when I am under the axe.”
“Do not fear,” answered Ivan; “go into your workshop. You will find that all is finished, and ready to be taken to the palace.”
The shoemaker walked off to the workshop, not believing what Ivan said; but when he saw all the shoes ready, he was so delighted that he did not know what to do. He embraced Ivan and called him his saviour.
He took the shoes and set off to the palace; and when the princesses saw the shoes, they felt sure that Ivan must be in the town, so they said to the shoemaker—
“You have well performed what you were ordered, but you must do something more for us. This night there must be built opposite our palace a golden castle. There must be a porcelain bridge from the one palace to the other, and this must be covered with velvet.”
The shoemaker was confounded at this, and said—
“I am only a poor shoemaker, how can I do such a thing?”
“If you do not do what we tell you,” said the princesses, “your head shall be cut off.”
The shoemaker went at once from the castle, weeping bitterly. He turned in at an alehouse to drown his care, got drunk, and when he reached home told Ivan what he had been commanded.
“Go to sleep,” said Ivan; “to-morrow will bring us good luck.”
The shoemaker laid himself down on a bench and went to sleep, and Ivan, calling the spirit to him, told him to get everything ready as the shoemaker had been commanded. After that he lay down, and went to sleep also.
Early the next morning Ivan woke his master, and putting the wing of a goose in his hand, said—
“Go at once to the bridge and dust it.”
Ivan himself went into the golden palace. The Czar and his daughters woke very early, and came out on the balcony, and from there they saw everything. The princesses were beside themselves with joy, for they were now sure that Ivan was in the town, and soon after they saw him standing at a window in the golden castle. Then they begged the Czar and his wife to go with them into the castle, and as they were about to go up the steps of the palace, Ivan came out to meet them. His mother and the princesses ran forward to embrace him, and said—
“This is he who rescued us.”
His brothers were ashamed, and looked down on the ground, and the Czar was thunderstruck, so astonished was he. His wife, however, soon explained everything to him, and then the Czar was so angry with his eldest sons that he would have put them to death. Ivan threw himself at his feet, and said—
“My dear father, if you wish to reward me for my labour, grant me the lives of my brothers, and I shall be satisfied.”
Then his father raised him up, kissed him, and said—
“They are really unworthy of thee.”
So they all went back to the castle.
The following day three weddings were celebrated. The eldest son, Vasili, wedded the princess of the copper kingdom. Fedor, the second son, married the princess of the silver kingdom, and Ivan saw them settled in their dominions. He himself and his princess took possession of the golden kingdom. He took the shoemaker with him, and there they all lived for many years prosperous and happy.