IN A certain kingdom in a certain land there lived a Tsar, and in the court-yard of the Tsar was a pillar, and in the pillar three rings, one gold, one silver, and the third copper. One night the Tsar dreamed that there was a horse tied to the gold ring, that every hair on him was silver, and the clear moon was on his forehead. In the morning the Tsar rose up and ordered it to be proclaimed that whoever could interpret the dream and get the horse for him, to that man would he give his daughter, and one half the kingdom in addition.
At the summons of the Tsar a multitude of princes, boyars, and all kinds of lords assembled. No man could explain the dream; no man would undertake to get the horse. At last they explained to the Tsar that such and such a poor man had a son Ivan, who could interpret the dream and get the horse.
The Tsar commanded them to summon Ivan. They summoned him. The Tsar asked, "Canst thou explain my dream and get the horse?"
"Tell me first," answered Ivan, "what the dream was, and what horse thou dost need."
The Tsar said: "Last night I dreamed that a horse was tied to the gold ring in my court-yard; every hair on him was silver, and on his forehead the clear moon."
"That is not a dream, but a reality; for last night the twelve-headed serpent came to thee on that horse and wanted to steal thy daughter."
"Is it possible to get that horse?"
"It is," answered Ivan; "but only when my fifteenth year is passed."
Ivan was then but twelve years old. The Tsar took him to his court, gave him food and drink till his fifteenth year.
When his fifteenth year had passed, Ivan said to the Tsar: "Now give me a horse on which I can ride to the place where the serpent is."
The Tsar led him to his stables and showed him all his horses; but he could not find a single one, by reason of his strength and weight. When he placed his hero's hand on any horse, that horse fell to the ground; and he said to the Tsar: "Let me go to the open country to seek a horse of sufficient strength."
The Tsar let him go. Ivan the peasant's son looked for three years; nowhere could he find a horse. He was returning to the Tsar in tears, when an old man happened to meet him, and asked, "Why dost thou weep, young man?"
To this question Ivan answered rudely; just chased the old man away.
The old man said: "Look out, young fellow; do not speak ill."
Ivan went away a little from the old man, and thought, "Why have I offended the old man? Old people know much."
He returned, caught up with the old man, fell down before him, and said: "Grandfather, forgive me! I offended thee through grief. This is what I am crying about: three years have I travelled through the open country among many herds; nowhere can I find a horse to suit me."
The old man said: "Go to such a village; there in the stable of a poor peasant is a mare; that mare has a mangy colt; take the colt and feed him,--he will be strong enough for thee."
Ivan bowed down to the old man, and went to the village; went straight to the peasant's stable; saw the mare with the mangy colt, on which he put his hands. The colt did not quiver in the least. Ivan took him from the peasant, fed him some time, came to the Tsar, and said that he had a horse. Then he began to make ready to visit the serpent.
The Tsar asked: "How many men dost thou need, Ivan?"
"I need no men," replied Ivan; "I can get the horse alone. Thou mightest give me perhaps half a dozen to send on messages."
The Tsar gave him six men; they made ready and set out. Whether they travelled long or short it is unknown to any man; only this is known,--that they came to a fiery river. Over the river was a bridge; near the river an enormous forest. In that forest they pitched a tent, got many things to drink, and began to eat and make merry.
Ivan the peasant's son said to his comrades: "Let us stand guard every night in turn, and see if any man passes the river."
It happened that when any of Ivan's comrades went on guard, each one of them got drunk in the evening and could see nothing. At last Ivan himself went on guard; and just at midnight he saw that a three-headed serpent was crossing the river, and the serpent called, "I have no enemy, no calumniator, unless one enemy and one calumniator, Ivan the peasant's son; but the raven hasn't brought his bones in a bladder yet."
Ivan the peasant's son sprang from under the bridge. "Thou liest; I am here!"
"If thou art here, then let us make trial;" and the serpent on horseback advanced against Ivan. But Ivan went forth on foot, gave a blow with his sabre, and cut off the three heads of the serpent, took the horse for himself, and tied him to the tent.
The next night Ivan the peasant's son killed the six-headed serpent, the third night the nine-headed one, and threw them into the fiery river. When he went on guard the fourth night the twelve-headed serpent came, and began to speak wrathfully. "Who art thou, Ivan the peasant's son? Come out this minute to me! Why didst thou kill my sons?"
Ivan the peasant's son slipped out and said: "Let me go first to my tent, and then I will fight with thee."
"Well, go on."
Ivan ran to his comrades. "Here, boys, is a bowl, look into it; when it shall be filled with blood, come to me."
He returned and stood against the serpent; they rushed and struck each other. Ivan at the first blow cut four heads off the serpent, but went himself to his knees in the earth; when they met the second time, Ivan cut three heads off and sank to his waist in the earth; the third time they met he cut off three more heads, and sank to his breast in the earth; at last he cut off one head, and sank to his neck in the earth. Then only did his comrades think of him; they looked, and saw that the blood was running over the edge of the bowl. They hastened out, cut off the last head of the serpent, and pulled Ivan out of the earth. Ivan took the serpent's horse and led him to the tent.
Night passed, morning came; the good youth began to eat, drink, and be merry. Ivan the peasant's son rose up from the merry-making and said to his comrades, "Do ye wait here." He turned into a cat, and went along the bridge over the fiery river, came to the house where the serpents used to live, and began to make friends with the cats there. In the house there remained alive only the old mother of the serpents and her three daughters-in-law; they were sitting in the chamber talking to one another. "How could we destroy that scoundrel, that Ivan the peasant's son?"
The youngest daughter-in-law said: "I'll bring hunger on the road, and turn myself into an apple-tree, so that when he eats an apple it will tear him to pieces in a moment."
The second daughter-in-law said: "I will bring thirst on the road, and turn myself into a well; let him try to drink."
The eldest said: "I'll bring sleep and make a bed of myself; let Ivan try to lie down, he'll die in a minute."
At last the old woman said: "I'll open my mouth from earth to sky and swallow them all."
Ivan heard what they said, went out of the chamber, turned into a man, and went back to his comrades. "Now, boys, make ready for the road."
They made ready, went their way, and to begin with a terrible hunger appeared on the road, so that they had nothing to eat. They saw an apple-tree. Ivan's comrades wanted to pluck the apples, but Ivan would not let them. "That is not an apple-tree," said he; and began to slash at it: blood came out. Another time thirst came upon them. Ivan saw a well; he would not let them drink from it; he began to slash at it: blood came forth. Then sleep came on them; there was a bed on the road. Ivan cut it to pieces. They came to the jaws stretched from the earth to the sky. What was to be done? They thought of jumping through on a run. No man was able to jump through save Ivan; and he was borne out of the trouble by his wonderful steed, every hair of which was silver, and the bright moon on his forehead.
He came to a river; at the river was a hut; there he was met by a little man, himself one finger tall, his mustache seven versts in length, who said: "Give me the horse; and if thou wilt not give him quietly, I'll take him by force."
Ivan answered: "Leave me, cursed reptile, or I'll crush thee under the horse."
The little man himself, one finger tall, his mustache seven versts in length, knocked him on to the ground, sat on the horse, and rode away. Ivan went into the hut and grieved greatly for his horse. In the hut was lying on the stove a footless, handless man, and he said to Ivan: "Listen, good hero,--I know not how to call thee by name. Why didst thou try to fight with him? I was something more of a hero than thou, and still he gnawed my hands and feet off."
"Because I ate bread on his table."
Ivan began to ask how he could win his horse back. The footless, handless said,--
"Go to such a river and take the ferry, ferry for three years, take money from no man: then thou mayest win the horse back."
Ivan bowed down to him, went to the river, took the ferry, and ferried three whole years for nothing. Once it happened to him to ferry over three old men; they offered him money, he would not take it.
"Tell me, good hero, why thou takest no money?"
He said, "According to a promise."
"A malicious man took my horse, and good people told me to take the ferry for three years, and receive money from no man."
The old men said: "If thou choosest, Ivan, we are ready to help thee to get back thy horse."
"Help me, my friends."
The old men were not common people; they were the Freezer, the Devourer, and the Wizard. The Wizard went out on the shore, made the picture of a boat in the sand and said: "Well, brothers, you see this boat?"
"We see it."
"Sit in it."
All four sat in the boat.
The Wizard said: "Now, light little boat, do me a service as thou didst do before."
Straightway the boat rose in the air, and in a flash, just like an arrow sent from a bow, it brought them to a great stony mountain. At that mountain stood a house, and in the house lived the little man,--himself one finger tall, his mustache seven versts in length. The old men sent Ivan to ask for the horse. Ivan began to ask.
The little man said: "Steal the Tsar's daughter and bring her to me; then I'll give thee the horse."
Ivan told this to his comrades. They left him at once and went to the Tsar. The Tsar knew what they had come for, and commanded his servants to heat the bath red hot. "Let them suffocate there," said he. Then he asked his guests to the bath. They thanked him and went. The Wizard commanded the Freezer to go first. The Freezer went into the bath and made it cool. Then they washed and steamed themselves, and came to the Tsar. He ordered a great dinner to be given, and a multitude of all kinds of food was on the table. The Devourer began and ate everything. In the night they came together, stole the Tsar's daughter, and brought her to the little man himself, one finger tall, his mustache seven versts in length. They gave him the Tsar's daughter and got the horse.
Ivan bowed down to the old men, sat on the horse, and went to the Tsar. He travelled and travelled, stopped in an open field to rest, put up his tent, and lay down. He woke up, threw out his hand, the Tsar's daughter was by him; he was delighted, and asked, "How didst thou come here?"
"I turned into a pin, and stuck myself into thy collar."
That moment she turned into a pin again. Ivan stuck her into his collar and travelled on; came to the Tsar. The Tsar saw the wondrous horse, received the good hero with honor, and told how his daughter had been stolen.
Ivan said: "Do not grieve, I have brought her back."
He went into the next chamber; the Tsarevna turned into a fair maiden. Ivan took her by the hand and brought her to the Tsar.
The Tsar was still more rejoiced. He took the horse for himself, and gave his daughter to Ivan. Ivan is living yet with his young wife.