IN THAT ancient time when God's world was full of wood-demons, witches, and river-maidens, when rivers of milk were flowing between banks of jelly, when over the fields roast partridges were flying, there lived a Tsar, Goroh by name, with his Tsaritsa, Anastasia the Beautiful; and they had three sons. A misfortune not small happened,--an unclean spirit carried away the Tsaritsa.
Said the eldest son to the Tsar: "Father, give me thy blessing; I will go in search of my mother."
He went away and vanished; for three years there were neither tidings nor report of him.
The second son began to ask: "Father, give me thy blessing for the road, for the journey. Perhaps I may have the luck to find my brother and my mother."
The Tsar gave his blessing. The Tsarevich rode off and also disappeared as if he had sunk in water.
Ivan, the youngest son, came to the Tsar. "My dear father, give me thy blessing for the road, for the journey; perhaps I shall find my brothers and mother."
"Go thy way, my dear son."
Ivan Tsarevich set out for a strange, distant region. He travelled and travelled, and reached the blue sea. He stopped on the shore and thought: "Whither can I hold my way now?" All at once there flew to sea three and thirty spoonbills, struck the earth, and became fair maidens,--all beautiful, but one was better than all the rest. They undressed and rushed into the water. Whether they were bathing a long or short time, Ivan Tsarevich stole up and took the girdle of that maiden who was better than all the rest and hid it in his bosom. When they had finished bathing they came out on shore and began to dress. One girdle was gone.
"Ah! Ivan Tsarevich," said the beauty, "give me my girdle."
"Tell me first where my mother is."
"Thy mother is at the house of my father, Raven son of Raven (Voron Voronovich). Go up along the sea, thou wilt meet a silver bird with a golden crest; wherever it flies do thou follow."
Ivan Tsarevich gave her the girdle and went along the sea; there he met his brothers, exchanged greetings, and took them with him. They went together along the shore, saw the golden-tufted silver bird, and ran after it. The bird flew and flew till it rushed under an iron plate into an opening.
"Well, brothers," said Ivan Tsarevich, "give me your blessing in the place of father and mother. I will let myself down into this opening and discover what a land of strange faith is like,--perhaps our mother is there."
His brothers gave him their blessing. He sat on a rope swing, crawled into that deep opening, and went down no short distance. Just three years was he letting himself down, and then went on his road and way. He went and went, went and went. He saw the Copper Kingdom. In the castle were sitting three and thirty spoonbill maidens. They were embroidering towels with cunning designs, with towns and suburbs.
"Hail, Ivan Tsarevich!" said the Tsaritsa of the Copper Kingdom. "Whither dost thou hold thy way?"
"I am going in search of my mother."
"Thy mother is with my father, Raven son of Raven. He is cunning and wise; over mountains and valleys, over caves and clouds, has he flown. He will slay thee, good youth. Here is a ball for thee. Go to my second sister; hear what she will tell thee. If thou comest back, forget me not."
Ivan rolled the ball and followed; he came to the Silver Kingdom. The Tsaritsa of the Silver Kingdom said: "Till now the Russian odor was not to be seen with sight nor heard with hearing; but now the Russian odor appears visibly. Well, Ivan Tsarevich, art fleeing from work, or seekest work?"
"Ah, fair maiden! I am in search of my mother."
"Thy mother is with my father, Raven son of Raven. Cunning is he and wise; over mountains, over valleys has he flown, over caves, over clouds has he swept. Oh, Tsarevich, he will slay thee! Here is a ball. Go to my youngest sister; hear what she will say to thee, whether to go on or come back."
Ivan Tsarevich came to the Golden Kingdom; there three and thirty spoonbill maidens were sitting embroidering towels. Taller than all, fairer than all, was the Tsaritsa of the Golden Kingdom,--a beauty that could not be told of in a tale or described with a pen.
"Hail, Ivan Tsarevich!" said she. "Whither dost thou hold thy way?"
"I am going to seek my mother."
"Thy mother is with my father, Raven son of Raven. Cunning is he and wise. Oh, Tsarevich, he will slay thee surely! Here is a ball for thee. Go now to the Pearl Kingdom; there thy mother lives. When she sees thee she will be rejoiced, and that moment will say, 'Nurses, and maidens, bring my son green wine;' but take it not. Ask her to give thee wine three years old that is in the cupboard, and a burnt crust for lunch, and do not forget that my father has in the yard two jars of water,--one water of strength, the other of weakness; put each in the place of the other, and drink of the water of strength."
The Tsarevich talked a long time with the Tsaritsa, and they fell in love with each other to such a degree that they hated to part; but there was no help for them. Ivan Tsarevich took farewell of her and went on his journey. He travelled and travelled till he came to the Pearl Kingdom. His mother saw him, was delighted, and cried out, "Nurses and maidens, bring my son green wine."
"I drink no common wine; give me wine three years old, and for a bite a burnt crust." He drank wine three years old, ate the burnt crust, went out in the broad court, put each jar in the place of the other, and fell to drinking the water of strength.
All at once Raven son of Raven flew home, bright as the clear day; but when he saw Ivan Tsarevich he grew gloomier than the dark night. He stooped down to the jar, and began to drink the water of weakness. Then Ivan Tsarevich fell upon his wings, and Raven son of Raven soared high, high; he bore Ivan over mountains, over valleys, over caves, over clouds. "What dost thou need, Ivan Tsarevich? If thou wishest, I will give thee treasure."
"I want nothing but the feather staff."
"No, Ivan Tsarevich, thou wishest to sit in a very wide sleigh." And again Raven son of Raven bore him over mountains, over valleys, over caves, over clouds.
Ivan held firmly, bore down with all his weight, and nearly broke the wings of Raven son of Raven, who screamed, "Break not my wings; take the feather staff!" He gave Ivan the feather staff, became a common raven himself, and flew away to the steep mountains.
Ivan Tsarevich went back, came to the Pearl Kingdom, took his mother, and set out for home. He looked; the Pearl Kingdom had turned into a ball, and was rolling after him. He came to the Golden Kingdom, then to the Silver, and then to the Copper Kingdom. He took and brought with him the three beautiful Tsaritsas, and those kingdoms were wound into balls and rolled after him. He came to the rope swing and sounded a golden trumpet: "My own brothers, if ye are alive, do not betray me."
The brothers heard the call, and drew out into the white world the beautiful soul maiden, the Tsaritsa of the Copper Kingdom. They saw her, and began to fight among themselves; one would not yield to the other.
"Why fight, good youths?" said the maiden. "Down there are better than I."
They let down the rope swing and drew up the Tsaritsa of the Silver Kingdom. Again they began to dispute and fight; one said, "Let her be mine, and come to me;" the other said, "I won't let her be thine."
"Do not fight, good youths; down there is a maiden more beautiful than I."
They stopped fighting, put down the rope swing, and drew up the Tsaritsa of the Golden Kingdom. Again they began to fight; but the Tsaritsa, the beauty, immediately stopped them, saying: "Your mother is waiting for you." They drew out their mother, and let down the rope swing for Ivan Tsarevich; they raised him half way, and cut the rope. Ivan Tsarevich fell into the depth and was terribly shocked; he lay half a year without senses, came to himself, and looked around, remembered everything that had happened to him, took out the feather staff, and struck the earth with it. That moment twelve youths appeared. "What is thy command, Ivan Tsarevich?"
"Take me out into the free world."
The youths seized him under the arms and bore him into the free world. Ivan Tsarevich inquired about his brothers, and heard that they had married long before. The Tsaritsa of the Copper Kingdom married the second brother; the Tsaritsa of the Silver Kingdom, his eldest brother; but his own bride would not marry any man: his old father wanted to marry her. He summoned a council, accused his wife of intimacy with evil spirits, and gave command to cut her head off. After the execution he said to the Tsaritsa of the Golden Kingdom: "Wilt thou marry me?"
"I will when thou makest shoes for me without measure."
The Tsar gave command to issue a call and ask all and each, would any man make shoes for the Tsaritsa without taking her measure. At this time Ivan Tsarevich had come to his own kingdom, and hired as a workman with a certain old man; and he sent him to the Tsar: "Go, grandfather, take this affair on thyself, and I will make the shoes for thee; but do not tell about me."
The old man went to the Tsar. "I," said he, "am ready to undertake the work."
The Tsar gave him leather for a pair of shoes, and asked: "But canst thou do it, old man?"
"Never fear, Gosudár. I have a son who is a shoemaker."
When he came home the old man gave the leather to Ivan Tsarevich, who cut it into bits and threw it out of the window; then he opened the Golden Kingdom and took out shoes already made. "Here, grandfather, take these and carry them to the Tsar."
The Tsar was delighted, and urged the bride: "Shall we go to the crown soon?"
She answered: "I will marry thee if thou wilt make for me robes to fit without measure."
The Tsar again was in trouble; he assembled all the dressmakers, and offered them much money if they would only make robes to fit without measuring the Tsaritsa.
Ivan Tsarevich said to the old man: "Grandfather, go to the Tsar, get cloth; I will sew robes for thee, but do not tell of me."
The old man dragged himself off to the palace, took satin and velvet, came home, and gave it to the Tsarevich. Ivan Tsarevich took scissors straightway, and cut all the satin and velvet to pieces and threw them out of the window. Then he opened the Golden Kingdom and took out the most beautiful robes and gave them to the old man, saying, "Take these to the palace."
The Tsar was delighted. "Well, my beloved bride, is it not time for us to go to the crown?"
The Tsaritsa answered: "I will marry thee when thou wilt take the son of that old man and command that he be boiled in milk."
The Tsar thought awhile, then gave the command; and that day they collected three gallons of milk from each house, filled a great caldron, and boiled it on a hot fire. They brought Ivan Tsarevich. He took farewell of all, bowed to the earth, then threw himself into the caldron, dived once, dived twice, sprang out such a beauty that it could neither be told of in a tale nor described with a pen.
Said the Tsaritsa: "Look, Tsar! Whom shall I marry,--thee, old man, or that gallant youth?"
The Tsar thought awhile. "If I bathe in the milk, I shall become just such a beauty as he." He sprang into the caldron, and was cooked in a minute. But Ivan Tsarevich went to be crowned with the Tsaritsa of the Golden Kingdom; they were crowned, and began to live and live on, gaining wealth.