IN A certain kingdom in a certain land there lived a Tsar; that Tsar had three sons,--two crafty, and the third simple. Somehow the Tsar had a dream that beyond the thrice ninth land, in the thirtieth kingdom, there was a beautiful maiden, from whose hands and feet water was flowing, that whoever would drink that water would become thirty years younger. The Tsar was very old. He summoned his sons and counsellors, and asked: "Can any one explain my dream?"
The counsellors answered the Tsar: "We have not seen with sight nor heard with hearing of such a beautiful maiden, and how to go to her is unknown to us."
Now the eldest son, Dmitri Tsarevich, spoke up: "Father, give me thy blessing to go in all four directions, look at people, show myself, and make search for the beautiful maiden."
The Tsar gave his parental blessing. "Take," said he, "treasure as much as thou wishest, and all kinds of troops as many as are necessary."
Dmitri Tsarevich took one hundred thousand men and set out on the road, on the journey. He rode a day, he rode a week, he rode a month, and two and three months. No matter whom he asked, no one knew of the beautiful maiden, and he came to such desert places that there were only heaven and earth. He urged his horse on, and behold before him is a lofty mountain; he could not see the top with his eyes. Somehow he climbed the mountain and found there an ancient, a gray old man.
"Hail, brave youth! Art fleeing from labor, or seekest thou labor?"
"I am seeking labor."
"What dost thou need?"
"I have heard that beyond the thrice ninth land, in the thirtieth kingdom, is a beautiful maiden, from whose hands and feet healing water flows, and that whoever gets and drinks this water will grow thirty years younger."
"Well, brother, thou canst not go there."
"Because there are three broad rivers on the road, and on these rivers three ferries: at the first ferry they will cut off thy right hand, at the second thy left foot, at the third they will take thy head."
Dmitri Tsarevich was grieved; he hung his stormy head below his shoulders, and thought: "Must I spare my father's head? Must I spare my own? I'll turn back."
He came down from the mountain, went back to his father, and said: "No, father, I have not been able to find her; there is nothing to be heard of that maiden."
The second son, Vassili Tsarevich, began to beg: "Father, give me thy blessing; perhaps I can find her."
"Go, my son."
Vassili Tsarevich took one hundred thousand men, and set out on his road, on his journey. He rode a day, he rode a week, he rode a month, and two, and three, and entered such places that there was nothing but forests and swamps. He found there Baba-Yaga, boneleg. "Hail, Baba-Yaga, boneleg!"
"Hail, brave youth! Art thou fleeing from labor, or seekest labor?"
"I am seeking labor. I have heard that beyond the thrice ninth land, in the thirtieth kingdom, is a beautiful maiden, from whose feet and hands healing water flows."
"There is, father; only thou canst not go there."
"Because on the road there are three ferries: at the first ferry they will cut off thy right hand, at the second thy left foot, at the third off with thy head."
"It is not a question of saving my father's head, but sparing my own."
He returned, and said to his father: "No, father, I could not find her; there is nothing to be heard of that maiden."
The youngest son, Ivan Tsarevich, began to beg: "Give me thy blessing, father; maybe I shall find her."
The father gave him his blessing. "Go, my dear son; take troops and treasure all that are needed."
"I need nothing, only give me a good steed and the sword Kládyenets."
Ivan Tsarevich mounted his steed, took the sword Kládyenets, and set out on his way, on his journey. He rode a day, he rode a week, he rode a month, and two and three; and rode into such places that his horse was to the knees in water, to the breast in grass, and he, good youth, had nothing to eat. He saw a cabin on hen's feet, and entered: inside sat Baba-Yaga, boneleg.
"Hail, Ivan Tsarevich! Art flying from labor, or seekest labor?"
"What labor? I am going to the thirtieth kingdom; there, it is said, lives a beautiful maiden, from whose hands and feet healing water flows."
"There is, father; though with sight I have not seen her, with hearing I have heard of her: but to her it is not for thee to go."
"Because there are three ferries on the way: at the first ferry they will cut off thy right hand, at the second thy left foot, at the third off with thy head."
"Well, grandmother, one head is not much; I will go, whatever God gives."
"Ah! Ivan Tsarevich, better turn back; thou art still a green youth, hast never been in places of danger, hast not seen great terror."
"No," said Ivan; "if thou seizest the rope, don't say thou art not strong." He took farewell of Baba-Yaga and went farther.
He rode a day, a second, and a third, and came to the first ferry: the ferrymen were sleeping on the opposite bank. "What is to be done?" thought Ivan. "If I shout, they'll be deaf for the rest of their lives; if I whistle, I shall sink the ferry-boat." He whistled a half whistle. The ferrymen sprang up that minute and ferried him across the river.
"What is the price of your work, brothers?"
"Give us thy right hand."
"Oh, I want that for myself!" Then Ivan Tsarevich struck with his sword on the right, and on the left. He cut down all the ferrymen, mounted his horse, and galloped ahead. At the two other ferries he got away in the same fashion. He was drawing near the thirtieth kingdom. On the boundary stood a wild man, in stature tall as a forest, in thickness the equal of a great stack of hay; he held in his hands an enormous oak-tree.
"Oh, worm!" said the giant to Ivan Tsarevich, "whither art thou riding?"
"I am going to the thirtieth kingdom; I want to see the beautiful maiden from whose hands and feet healing water flows."
"How couldst thou, little pigmy, go there? I am a hundred years guarding her kingdom, great, mighty heroes came here,--not the like of thee,--and they fell from my strong hand. What art thou? Just a little worm!"
Ivan Tsarevich saw that he could not manage the giant, and he turned aside. He travelled and travelled till he came to a sleeping forest; in the forest was a cabin, and in the cabin an old, ancient woman was sitting. She saw the good youth, and said: "Hail, Ivan Tsarevich! Why has God brought thee hither?"
He told her all without concealment. The old woman gave him magic herbs and a ball.
"Go out," said she, "into the open field, make a fire, and throw these herbs on it; but take care to stand on the windward. From these magic herbs the giant will sleep a deep sleep; cut his head off, then let the ball roll, and follow. The ball will take thee to those regions where the beautiful maiden reigns. She lives in a great golden castle, and often rides out with her army to the green meadows to amuse herself. Nine days does she stay there; then sleeps a hero's sleep nine days and nine nights."
Ivan Tsarevich thanked the old woman and went to the open field, where he made a fire and threw into it the magic herbs. The stormy wind bore the smoke to where the wild man was standing on guard. It grew dim in his eyes; he lay on the damp earth and fell soundly asleep. Ivan Tsarevich cut off his head, let the ball roll, and rode on. He travelled and travelled till the golden palace was visible; then he turned from the road, let his horse out to feed, and crept into a thicket himself. He had just hidden, when dust was rising in a column from the front of the palace: the beautiful maiden rode out with her army to amuse herself in the green meadows. The Tsarevich saw that the whole army was formed of maidens alone. One was beautiful, the next surpassed that one; fairer than all, and beyond admiration was the Tsarevna herself.
Nine days was she sporting in the green meadows, and the Tsarevich did not take his eyes from her, still he could not gaze his fill. On the tenth day he went to the golden palace. The beautiful maiden was lying on a couch of down, sleeping a hero's sleep; from her hands and feet healing water was flowing. At the same time her trusty army was sleeping as well.
Ivan Tsarevich took a flask of the healing water. His heroic heart could not withstand her maiden beauty. He tarried awhile, then left the palace, mounted his good steed, and rushed toward home.
Nine days slept the beautiful maiden, and when she woke her rage was dreadful. She stamped, she screamed with a piercing voice: "What wretch has been here?" she sprang on to her fleet-flying mare, and struck into a chase after Ivan Tsarevich. The mare races, the ground trembles; she caught up with the good hero, struck him with her sword, and straight in the breast did she strike. The Tsarevich fell on the damp earth: his bright eyes close, his red blood stiffens. The fair maiden looked at him, and great pity seized her; through the whole world might she search, and not find such a beauty. She placed her white hand on his wound, moistened it with healing water. All at once the wound closed, and Ivan Tsarevich rose up unharmed.
"Wilt thou take me as wife?" asked she.
"I will, beautiful maiden."
"Well, go home, and wait three years."
Ivan Tsarevich took farewell of his betrothed bride and continued his journey. He was drawing near his own kingdom; but his elder brothers had put guards everywhere, so as not to let him come near his father. The guards gave notice at once that Ivan Tsarevich was coming. The elder brothers met him on the road, drugged him, took the flask of healing water, and threw him into a deep pit. Ivan Tsarevich came out in the underground kingdom.
He travelled and travelled in the underground kingdom. When he came to a certain place, a great storm rose up, lightning flashed, thunder roared, rain fell. He went to a tree to find shelter; looked up, and saw young birds in that tree all wet. He took off his coat, covered them, and sat himself under the tree.
When the old bird flew to the tree, she was so large that she hid the light, and it grew dark as if night were near. When she saw her young covered, she asked: "Who has protected my little birds?" Then, seeing the Tsarevich, she said: "It is thou who didst this; God save thee! Whatever thou wishest, ask of me; I will do everything for thee."
He said, "Bear me out into the upper world."
"Make ready," said the bird, "a double box. Fill one half of it with every kind of game, and in the other half put water, so as to have something with which to nourish me."
The Tsarevich did all that was asked. The bird took the box on her back, and the Tsarevich sat in the middle. She flew up; and whether it was long or short, she bore him to this upper world, took farewell of him, and flew home.
Ivan Tsarevich went to his father; but the old Tsar did not like him by reason of the lies which his brothers had told, and sent him into exile. For three whole years Ivan wandered from place to place. When three years had passed, the beautiful maiden sailed in a ship to the capital town of Ivan Tsarevich's father. She sent a letter to the Tsar, demanding the man who had stolen the water, and if he refused she would burn and destroy his kingdom utterly.
The Tsar sent his eldest son; he went to the ship. Two little boys, grandsons of the Tsar, saw him, and asked their mother: "Is that our father?"
"No, that is your uncle."
"How shall we meet him?"
"Take each one a whip and flog him back home."
The eldest Tsarevich returned, looking as if he had eaten something unsalted.
The maiden continued her threats, demanded the guilty man. The Tsar sent his second son, and the same thing happened to him as to the eldest. Now the Tsar gave command to find the youngest Tsarevich.
When the Tsarevich was found, his father wished him to go on the ship to the maiden. But he said: "I will go when a crystal bridge is built to the ship, and on the bridge there shall be many kinds of food and wine set out."
There was no help for it; they built the bridge, prepared the food, brought wines and meat.
The Tsarevich collected his comrades. "Come with me, attend me," said he; "eat ye and drink, spare nothing."
While he was walking on the bridge the little boys cried out: "Mother, who is that?"
"That is your father."
"How shall we meet him?"
"Take him by the hands and lead him to me."
They did so; there was kissing and embracing. After that they went to the Tsar, told him all just as it had been. The Tsar drove his eldest sons from the castle, and lived with Ivan,--lived on and gained wealth.