UPON an island in the midst of the sea dwelt a princess, and with her lived twelve female attendants. The princess was of extraordinary beauty. Her face was calm and lovely as the moon, her lips were rosy red, and when she spoke her voice was full of music. Her eyes were remarkable. If they looked upon one with favour, her glance filled him with delight; but if they were cast upon one in anger, he was at once changed into a block of ice. All the princess’s attendants were very beautiful, and devoted to their mistress. In time the fame of the princess’s extraordinary loveliness was spread abroad. Folk came from all parts to see her, and the island became full of people.
Many princes sought the princess in marriage, but she rejected them all. Those who took her refusal in good part returned to their homes safe and sound, but woe to him who endeavoured to obtain the hand of Princess Marvel by force! Having landed with an army on the island, he saw his soldiers miserably perish, and he himself, pierced by a glance from the princess’s eye, became a block of ice.
One day the great ogre Koshchei, looking around the world, took it into his head to see all the different kings, queens, princes, and princesses it contained.
All of a sudden his glance fell upon the island where dwelt the princess. He looked, and saw the twelve beautiful attendants, and in their midst the lovely princess, asleep. As she slept the princess dreamt of a man who wore gold armour, was mounted on a fiery charger, and who was armed with an invisible club, and she felt that she loved the chevalier more than life itself.
Meanwhile Koshchei had fallen deep in love with the princess. Stamping three times upon the ground, he was at once transported to the island, but the princess, when he presented himself, rejected him with scorn, for she felt that she could be the wife of none but him whom she had seen in her dream. As Koshchei was determined to carry off the princess by force, if need be, she assembled her troops, and went out to meet him. Koshchei with his poisonous breath laid all the troops prostrate on the ground in a deep sleep. The princess, however, escaped, for, casting one of her angry glances on Koshchei, he was turned into a block of ice, and the princess returned to her palace. Koshchei did not long remain in that condition. When the princess came to her palace she found all the people within it asleep, and Koshchei, following her there, and not daring to appear before her for fear of again feeling the power of her eyes, built a wall of iron around the palace, placed a dragon with twelve heads at its gate, and waited, thinking that the princess would at length tire of being a solitary prisoner, and would agree to become his wife.
All upon the island were asleep, save the princess and Koshchei. Weeks and months passed away and Koshchei came to the gate of the palace time after time to tell the princess that he loved her, that resistance must be vain, and that, as his wife, she should be queen of all the underground world. Princess Marvel, however, listened to him in silence.
Solitary and sad, she thought of him she had seen in her dream. She thought of his shining armour, his fiery horse, his invisible club, and the glances he had cast upon her, assuring her he loved her. She was always thinking of him. One day, as she looked out, she saw a cloud passing along the sky, and said to it—
“Stop on your way through the blue sky, cloud, and tell me where is he whom I love, and whether he ever thinks of me.”
“I do not know,” said the cloud. “Ask the wind.”
The princess, seeing a breath of wind playing amongst the flowers, said to it—
“Wind, you travel far and wide and are so happy in your freedom, have pity upon me, who am so miserable and helpless. Tell me where is he whom I love, and whether he ever thinks of me.”
“Ask the stars,” said the wind. “They know more than I do.”
Princess Marvel lifted up her eyes to the bright, shining stars, and said—
“Stars, that shine so bright, can you see my eyes so full of tears without having pity on me? Tell me where is he whom I love, and whether he thinks of me.”
“You had better ask the moon,” said the stars. “She knows more that goes on upon the earth than we do.”
Then Princess Marvel said to the moon—
“Beautiful moon, look on me for a moment, and tell me where is he whom I love, and whether he thinks of me.”
“Princess,” answered the moon, “I know nothing about your friend. Wait a few hours, and then you will see the sun. Ask him. There is nothing hid from him, and he will tell you all.”
The princess waited till morning, and when the sun rose she said to him—
“Sun, look on me, and tell me where is my love, and if he thinks of me.”
“Princess Marvel,” replied the sun, “dry up your tears and take courage. The prince is coming to you. He has obtained the magic ring from the depths below; he has collected together an innumerable army to come to your rescue, and to punish Koshchei. All will, however, be useless unless the prince takes another course, for Koshchei can overthrow all the prince’s forces. I will go to the prince and give him some advice. Good-bye. I go to him who loves you. Be of good cheer, for he will come and rescue you, and you shall be happy.”
Then the sun looked down upon the country where Prince Junak, clothed in golden armour and mounted on a fiery horse, got ready his army to go and attack Koshchei. Three times had the prince seen the Princess Marvel in his dreams, and he loved her deeply.
“Leave your army,” said the sun to him, “for it will be of no service whatever against Koshchei. You can only deliver the princess from him by killing him, and to learn how you are to do that you must go to old Yaga. She can tell you how he can be killed. I will tell you how to get a horse which will carry you direct to her. Go towards the east until you come to a vast plain in the middle of which grow three oaks. Near to these you will find in the ground an iron door. Open it, and in a corner you will find the horse and the invisible club, which you must have to effect your wishes. You will afterwards learn how to proceed.”
Prince Junak hardly knew what to do, but at length he resolved to take the sun’s advice, so he took off the magic ring from his finger and threw it into the sea. His army at once disappeared, and the prince set out to go to the east. For eight days he went on, and then he came to a large plain, in the middle of which he found the three oaks of which the sun had spoken. He saw the iron door, opened it, and saw before him some winding steps. He went down these till he came to another iron door, which he likewise opened. Then he heard the neigh of a horse in the distance. Twelve other doors opened of themselves, and the prince at last came to the horse, which had been confined there during a great many ages by a magician. When it saw the prince, the horse broke the twelve iron chains that held it, and ran to him.
“Prince Junak,” it said, “I have waited for ages for such a man as yourself. Now I am ready to bear you and serve you faithfully. Leap on my back and grasp the invisible club which is attached to my saddle. You will not, however, have to wield it, for you have only to tell it what you want done and it obeys you of itself. Now let us go. Where shall I take you? Name the place you wish to be at, and we will be off at once.”
The prince leaped on the horse’s back, grasped the invisible club, and set out. The horse took its course through the air, and towards sunset the prince came to the borders of an immense forest in which was the residence of the old Yaga. Huge oaks stood all around. Not a bird sang, not an insect hummed, all was profound silence. The prince went on till he came to a hut which stood upon fowl’s feet, and which kept turning round and round.
“Hut,” said the prince, “turn your front towards me and your back to the forest.”
The hut turned to him and stood still, and the prince, going in, found the old Yaga there. When she saw him, she cried out—
“Why are you come here, Prince Junak, where no one has ever before been?”
“You are a foolish witch to ask questions of me,” said the prince, “and not to welcome me.” Then the Yaga rose and got ready everything that the prince needed. When he had eaten and drunk and rested himself, he told her why he had come.
“You have undertaken a difficult thing, Prince Junak,” said the Yaga, “and you will want all your courage to succeed. I will show you how to overcome Koshchei. In the middle of the ocean is the island of eternal life. In the centre of the island grows an oak, and under it is an iron coffer. In the coffer is a hare, under the hare is a grey duck, and under the duck is an egg in which is contained the life of Koshchei. If the egg is broken, Koshchei dies.”
The Prince at once set off to seek the egg. He rode on his wonderful horse until he came to the seashore. There he found a large fish struggling in a net.
“Prince Junak,” said the fish, “let me loose, and I promise you your kindness shall not be forgotten.”
The prince took the fish out of the net and set it free. Then he stood upon the shore, and thought how he should reach the island of eternal life, whose rocks he saw afar off. As he stood silent and sad, his horse said to him—
“Prince, what is it you are thinking of, and why do you look so sad?”
“How can I be otherwise,” answered the prince, “when I find my journey here all in vain? How can I reach the far-off island?”
“Mount upon my back,” said the horse, “and I will carry you to it. Only hold on well.”
The prince did as the horse told him, and the brave steed, plunging into the sea, carried him over to the island. When he had arrived there, the prince looked around him, and in the middle of the island he saw an immense oak. Going to it, the prince seized it, and, pulling with all his force, the oak was torn up by the roots. The tree groaned as the prince tore it from the earth. In the place its roots had occupied was a large hole in which was an iron coffer. When the prince opened the coffer out sprang the hare, and away flew the duck carrying the egg with it. The duck made towards the sea, and the prince, fearing he should lose the egg, shot at the bird. It fell, and with it also fell the egg into the sea. Then the prince gave a cry of despair, and, running down to the shore, he looked around to see if he could see anything of the egg, but it was not to be seen. All of a sudden a large fish made its appearance. “Prince Junak,” it said, “I have not forgotten the service you did me, for which I now make you some return.”
As it said this the fish placed the egg upon the shore, turned, and disappeared in the sea. Junak was delighted. He went to his horse, leaped into the saddle, and set off to the island where the Princess Marvel dwelt, carrying the egg with him. When he came there he saw the immense iron wall Koshchei had raised around the palace, and the dragon which lay at the gate. Six of the monster’s heads were asleep, while the other six watched. Then the prince commanded his invisible club to slay it. The dragon became furious under the blows. It could not see the club, and so could not tell to what quarter to turn itself. It rolled about, it turned its twelve heads here and there, it darted forth its sharp tongues, but all to no purpose. At length, in despair, it turned its rage upon itself, and with its sharp claws tore itself to pieces. Then the prince went in, and, dismounting and taking the invisible club in his hand, he sought the princess.
“Prince,” said she, when she saw him approach, “I have seen how you have overcome the dragon, but a still more terrible conflict awaits you with my cruel jailer, Koshchei. Be careful, I beseech you, how you engage with him, for, should you fall, I will cast myself down the steep precipice near the palace.”
“Do not fear, Princess Marvel,” replied he, “for I hold the life of Koshchei in my hand.”
Then said he to the invisible club—
“Go, and lay on to Koshchei.”
The club went and commenced to deal such blows upon Koshchei that the king of the underground world commenced to grind his teeth, to roll his eyes, and toss himself hither and thither. None else than Koshchei could have borne the blows for an instant. He looked around him but could see nothing, and his pain was so great that he howled so that the whole island rang again. At length he came to the palace, and there he saw Prince Junak.
“Ah!” said he, “you have put me to all this pain, have you?”
He was about to send his poisoned breath against him, when the prince suddenly squeezed the egg he had in his hand. The shell broke, the yolk sprang out and fell to the ground, and at the same moment Koshchei fell dead. As he did so all his enchantments ceased. All the people in the palace awoke, and the iron wall disappeared.
All then was happiness. In a few days the prince and the princess were married, and they lived joyfully all their days.