Myths and Folk-tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars | Annotated Tale

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Vassilissa Golden Tress, Bareheaded Beauty

THERE lived a Tsar Svaitozar. This Tsar had two sons and a beauty of a daughter. Twenty years did she live in her bright chamber. The Tsar and Tsaritsa admired her, and so did the nurses and maidens; but no one of the princes and champions had seen her face. And this beauty was called Vassilissa Golden Tress. She went nowhere out of her chamber; the Tsarevna did not breathe the free air. She had many bright dresses and jewels, but was wearied; it was oppressive for her in the chamber. Her robes were a burden, her thick golden silk hair, covered with nothing, bound in a tress, fell to her feet, and people called her Vassilissa Golden Tress, Bareheaded Beauty. The kingdom was filled with her fame. Many Tsars heard of her and sent envoys to Tsar Svaitozar to beat with the forehead and ask the Tsarevna in marriage.

                The Tsar was in no hurry, but when the time came, he sent messengers to all lands with tidings that the Tsarevna would choose a bridegroom; and inviting Tsars and Tsareviches to assemble and collect at his palace to feast, he went himself to the lofty chamber to tell Vassilissa the Beautiful. It was gladsome in the heart of the Tsarevna. Looking out of the sloping window from behind the golden lattice on the green garden, the flowery meadow, she was eager to walk; she asked him to let her go forth to the garden to play with the maidens. "My sovereign father," said she, "I have not seen the world of God yet, I have not walked on the grass, on the flowers, I have not looked on thy palace; let me go with my nurses and maidens to walk in thy garden."

                The Tsar permitted, and Vassilissa the Beautiful went down from the lofty chamber to the broad court. The plank gate was open, and she appeared in the green meadow. In front was a steep mountain; on that mountain grew curly trees; on the meadow were beautiful flowers of many kinds. The Tsarevna plucked blue flowers, stepped aside a little from her nurses; there was no caution in her young mind; her face was exposed, her beauty uncovered. Suddenly a mighty whirlwind rose, such as had not been seen, heard of, or remembered by old people; the whirlwind turned and twisted--behold, it seized the Tsarevna and carried her through the air.

                The nurses screamed and shrieked: they ran and stumbled, threw themselves on every side; they saw nothing but how the whirlwind shot away with her. And Vassilissa Golden Tress was borne over many lands, across deep rivers, through three kingdoms into the fourth, into the dominions of the Savage Serpent.

                The nurses hurry to the palace, covering themselves with tears, throw themselves at the feet of the Tsar. "Sovereign, we are not answerable for the misfortune, we are answerable to thee. Give not command to slay us, command us to speak. The whirlwind bore away our sun, Vassilissa Golden Tress, the Beauty, and it is unknown whither."

                The Tsar was sad, he was angry; but in his anger he pardoned the poor women.

                Next morning the princes and kings' sons came to the Tsar's palace, and seeing the sadness and seriousness of the Tsar they asked him what had happened.

                "There is a sin to my account," said the Tsar. "My dear daughter, Vassilissa Golden Tress, has been borne away by the whirlwind, I know not whither;" and he told everything as it had happened.

                Talk rose among the guests, and the princes and kings' sons thought and talked among themselves. "Is not the Tsar refusing us; is he not unwilling to let us see his daughter?" They rushed to the chamber of the Tsarevna; nowhere did they find her.

                The Tsar made them presents, gave to each one from his treasure. They mounted their steeds, he conducted them with honor; the bright guests took farewell, and went to their own lands.

                The two young Tsareviches, brave brothers of Vassilissa Golden Tress, seeing the tears of their father and mother, begged of their parents: "Let us go, our father,--bless us, our mother,--to find your daughter, our sister."

                "My dear sons, my own children," said the Tsar, without joy, "where will ye go?"

                "We will go, father, everywhere,--where a road lies, where a bird flies, where the eyes have vision; mayhap we shall find her."

                The Tsar gave his blessing, the Tsaritsa prepared them for the journey; they wept, and they parted.

                The two Tsareviches journeyed on. Whether the road was near or far, long in going or short, they did not know. They travelled a year, they travelled two. They passed three kingdoms, lofty mountains were visible and seemed blue; between these mountains were sandy plains,--the land of the Savage Serpent. And the Tsareviches inquired of those whom they met had they not heard, had they not seen, where Tsarevna Vassilissa Golden Tress was. And from all the answer was one: "We know not where she is, and we have not heard."

                The Tsar's sons approach a great town; a decrepit old man stands on the road; crooked-eyed and lame, with a crutch and a bag, he begs alms. The Tsareviches stopped, threw him a silver coin, and asked had he not seen, had he not heard of the Tsarevna Vassilissa Golden Tress, Bareheaded Beauty?

                "Ah! my friend," said the old man, "it is clear that thou art from a strange land. Our ruler, the Savage Serpent, has forbidden strongly and sternly to speak with men from abroad. We are forbidden under penalty to tell or relate how a whirlwind bore past the town the beautiful princess."

                Now the sons of the Tsar understood that their sister was near. They urged on their restive steeds and approached the castle of gold which stood on a single pillar of silver; over the castle was a curtain of diamonds; the stairways, mother-of-pearl, opened and closed like wings.

                At this moment Vassilissa the Beautiful was looking in sadness through the golden lattice, and she screamed out for joy. She knew her brothers from a distance, just as if her heart had told her. And the Tsarevna sent down in silence to meet them, to bring them to the castle; the Savage Serpent was absent.

                Vassilissa the Beautiful was wary; she feared the serpent might see them. They had barely entered when the silver pillar groaned, the stairways opened, all the roofs glittered; the whole castle began to turn and move. The Tsarevna was frightened, and said to her brothers: "The serpent is coming, the serpent is coming; that's why the castle goes round! Hide, brothers!"

                She had barely said this when the Savage Serpent flew in, cried with a thundering voice, and whistled with a hero's whistle: "What living man is here?"

                "We, Savage Serpent," answered the Tsar's sons, without fear; "from our birthplace we've come for our sister."

                "Oh, the young men are here!" shouted the serpent, clapping his wings. "Ye should not die here from me, nor seek your sister to free; her own brothers, champions, are ye, but champions puny I see." And the serpent caught one of them with his wing, struck him against the other, whistled and shouted. The castle guard ran to him, took the dead Tsareviches, threw them both down a deep ditch.

                The Tsarevna Vassilissa Golden Tress covered herself with tears, took neither food nor drink, would not look on the world. Two days and three passed. It was not right she should die, she did not decide to die; she took pity on her beauty, took counsel of hunger. On the third day she ate, and was thinking how to free herself from the serpent, and began to gain knowledge by wheedling.

                "Savage Serpent," said she, "great is thy power, mighty thy flight: is it possible that thou hast no foe?"

                "Not yet," replied the serpent; "it was fated at my birth that my foe should be Ivan Goroh  [John Pea]; and he will be born from a pea."

                The serpent said this in jest; he expected no foe. The strong one relied on his strength; but the jest came true.

                The mother of Vassilissa Golden Tress was grieving because she had no news of her children after the Tsarevna, the Tsareviches, were lost.

                She went one day to walk in the garden with her ladies; the day was hot, she was thirsty. In that garden, from a foot-hill, spring water ran forth in a stream, and above it was a white marble well. They drew, with a golden cup, water pure as a tear. The Tsaritsa was eager to drink, and with the water she swallowed a pea. The pea burst, and the Tsaritsa became heavy; the pea increased and grew. In time the Tsaritsa gave birth to a son; they called him Ivan Goroh, and he grew, not by the year, but by the hour, smooth and plump; he is lively, laughs, jumps, springs on the sand, and his strength is growing in him all the time, so that at ten years he was a mighty champion. Then he asked the Tsar and Tsaritsa if he had had many brothers and sisters, and he heard how it happened that the whirlwind had borne away his sister, it was unknown whither, how his two brothers had begged to go in search of their sister, and were lost without tidings.

                "Father, mother," begged Ivan Goroh, "let me go too; give me your blessing to find my brothers and sister."

                "What art thou saying, my child?" asked the Tsar and Tsaritsa at once. "Thou art still green and young; thy brothers went, they were lost, thou wilt go too and be lost."

                "Mayhap I shall not be lost," said Ivan Goroh. "I want to find my brothers and sister."

                The Tsar and Tsaritsa persuaded and begged their dear son, but he craved, cried, and entreated. They prepared him for the road, let him go with tears.

                Ivan Goroh was free. He went out into the open field, travelled one day, travelled another. Toward night he came to a dark forest; in that forest was a cabin on hen's legs; from the wind it was shaking and turning. Ivan spoke from the old saying, from his nurse's tale. "Cabin, cabin," said he, "turn thy back to the forest, thy front to me;" and the cabin turned around to Ivan. Out of the window an old woman was looking, and she asked, "Whom is God bringing?"

                Ivan bowed, and hastened to ask: "Hast thou not seen, grandmother, in what direction the passing whirlwind carries beautiful maidens?"

                "Oh, young man," said she, coughing, and looking at Ivan, "that whirlwind has frightened me too, so that I sit in this cabin a hundred and twenty years, and I go out nowhere! Maybe he would fly up and sweep me away. That's not a whirlwind, but the Savage Serpent."

                "How could one go to him?" asked Ivan.

                "What art thou thinking of, my world? The serpent will swallow thee."

                "Maybe he will not swallow me."

                "See to it, champion, or thou wilt not save thy head. But shouldst thou come back, give me thy word to bring from the serpent's castle water with which, if a man sprinkles himself, he will grow young," said she, moving her teeth beyond measure.

                "I will get it, grandmother, I give thee my word."

                "I believe thee, on conscience! Go straight to where the sun sets. In one year thou wilt reach the bald mountain there; ask for the road to the serpent's kingdom."

                "God save thee, grandmother!"

                "There is no reason for thanks, father."

                Well, Ivan Goroh went to the land where the sun sets. A story is soon told, but a deed's not soon done. He passed three kingdoms, and went to the serpent's land; before the gates of the town he saw a beggar,--a lame, blind old man with a crutch,--and giving him charity, he asked if the young Tsarevna Vassilissa Golden Tress was in that town.

                "She is, but it is forbidden to say so," answered the beggar.

                Ivan knew that his sister was there; the good, bold hero became courageous, and went to the palace. At that time Vassilissa Golden Tress was looking out of the window to see if the Savage Serpent was coming; and she saw from afar the young champion, wished to know of him, sent quietly to learn from what land he had come, of what stock was he, was he sent by her father or by her own mother.

                Hearing that Ivan, her youngest brother, had come (and she did not know him by sight), Vassilissa ran to him, wet him with tears. "Run, brother, quickly!" cried she. "The serpent will soon be here; he will see thee, destroy thee."

                "My dear sister," answered Ivan, "if another had spoken, I should not have listened. I have no fear of the serpent, no fear of his strength."

                "But art thou Goroh," asked Vassilissa Golden Tress, "to manage him?"

                "Wait, friend sister; first give me to drink. I have travelled under heat, I am tired from the road; I want a drink."

                "What dost thou drink, brother?"

                "Three gallons of sweet mead, dear sister."

                Vassilissa gave command to bring a three-gallon measure of sweet mead, and Goroh drank it all at one breath. He asked for another; the Tsarevna gave orders to hurry, looked, and wondered.

                "Well, brother, I did not know thee; but now I believe that thou art Ivan Goroh!"

                "Let me sit down a moment to rest from the road."

                Vassilissa gave command to bring a strong chair; but the chair broke under Ivan, flew into bits. They brought another all bound with iron, and that one cracked and bent. "Oh, brother," cried Vassilissa, "that is the chair of the Savage Serpent!"

                "Now it is clear that I am heavier than he," said Goroh, laughing.

                He rose and went on the street, went from the castle to the forge; there he ordered the old sage, the serpent's blacksmith, to forge him an iron club of nine tons weight. The blacksmith hastened the work. They hammered the iron; night and day the hammers thundered, the sparks just flying. In forty hours the work was done. Fifty men were barely able to carry the club; but Ivan Goroh, seizing it in one hand, hurled the club to the sky: it flew, roared like a storm, whirled above the clouds, vanished from the eye. All the people ran trembling from terror, thinking if that club falls on the town, it will break the walls and crush the people; if it falls in the sea, it will raise the sea and flood the town. But Ivan Goroh went quietly to the castle, and gave command to tell when the club was coming. The people ran from the square, looked from under the gate, looked out of windows. "Isn't the club coming?" They waited an hour, they waited two; the third hour they ran to say that the club was coming. Goroh sprang to the square, put forth his hand, caught the club as it came, bent not himself, but the iron bent on the palm of his hand. Ivan took the club, pressed it against his knee, straightened it, went to the castle.

                All at once a terrible whistling was heard, the Savage Serpent was racing; Whirlwind, his steed, flying like an arrow, breathes fire. The serpent in shape is a champion, but his head is the head of a serpent. When he flies, the whole castle quivers; when he is ten versts distant, it begins to whirl and dance. But now the castle moves not: it is clear that some one is sitting inside. The serpent grew thoughtful, whistled, shouted; the whirlwind steed shook his dark mane, opened his broad wings, reared and roared.

                The serpent flew up to the castle, but the castle moves not. "Ho!" roared the Savage Serpent, "it is plain there is a foe. Is not Goroh at my house?" Soon came the champion. "I'll put thee on the palm of one hand, and slap with the other: they won't find thy bones."

                "We shall see," said Ivan Goroh.

                He went out with his club, and the serpent cried from his whirlwind: "Take thy place in a hurry."

                "Take thy own place, Savage Serpent," said Ivan, and raised his club.

                The Savage Serpent flew up to strike Ivan, to pierce him with his spear, and missed. Goroh sprang to one side, did not stagger.

                "Now I'll finish thee!" roared Goroh. Raising his club, he struck the serpent a blow that tore him to pieces, scattered him; the club went across the earth, went through two kingdoms into a third.

                The people hurled up their caps and saluted Ivan Tsar. But Ivan seeing the wise blacksmith, as a reward for having made the club quickly, he called up the old man and said to the people: "Here is your head; obey him while doing good, as before ye obeyed the Savage Serpent for evil."

                Ivan got also the water of life and the water of death, sprinkled his brothers; they rose up, rubbed their eyes and thought, "We slept long; God knows what has happened."

                "Without me you would have slept forever, my dear brothers," said Ivan Goroh, pressing them to his restive heart.

                He did not forget to take the serpent's water; he made a ship, and on the Swan's river sailed with Vassilissa Golden Tress to his own land through three kingdoms into the fourth. He did not forget the old woman in the cabin; he let her wash in the serpent's water. She turned into a young woman, began to sing and dance, ran out after Goroh, and conducted him to the road.

                His father and mother met him with joy and honor. They sent messengers to all lands with tidings that their daughter Vassilissa had returned. In the town there was ringing, and in the ears triple ringing; trumpets sounded, drums were beaten, guns thundered.

                A bridegroom came to Vassilissa, and a bride was found for the Tsarevich; they had four crowns made, and celebrated two weddings. At the rejoicing, at the gladness, there was a feast as a mountain, and mead a river.

                The grandfathers of grandfathers were there; they drank mead, and it came to us, flowed on our mustaches, but reached not our mouths. Only it became known that Ivan, after the death of his father, received the crown, and ruled the land with renown; and age after age the name of Goroh was famous.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Vassilissa Golden Tress, Bareheaded Beauty
Tale Author/Editor: Curtin, Jeremiah
Book Title: Myths and Folk-tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars
Book Author/Editor: Curtin, Jeremiah
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1890
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: unclassified

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