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

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Koshchéi Without-Death

THERE was a Tsar who had one son, and when the Tsarevich was an infant his nurses and maids used to sing to him, "Baiyú, baiyú, Ivan Tsarevich; when thou'lt grow up a man thou'lt find thee a bride in the thirtieth kingdom, beyond the thrice ninth land, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna, and her marrow flows from bone to bone."

                Fifteen years had passed for the Tsarevich, and he went to ask leave to search for his bride. "Where wilt thou go?" asked his father. "Thou art still too small."

                "No, father; when I was small the nurses and maids sang to me, and told where my bride lives; and now I am going to find her."

                The Tsar gave his blessing and sent word to all kingdoms that his son, Ivan Tsarevich, was going for his bride.

                Well, the Tsarevich came to a town, gave his horse to be cared for, and went himself to walk along the streets. He walked, and saw that on the square they were punishing a man with a whip. "Why," asked he, "do ye flog him?"

                "Because," answered they, "he went in debt ten thousand to an eminent merchant, and did not pay in season. And whoso redeems him, that man's wife Koshchéi Without-Death will bear away."

                Now the Tsarevich thought and thought, and then went off. As he was walking through the town he came out again on the square, and they were still beating that man. Ivan Tsarevich pitied him and resolved to redeem him.

                "I have no wife," thought Ivan; "there is no one to take from me." He paid the ten thousand and went to his lodgings.

                All at once the man whom he had redeemed ran after him and called: "God save thee, Ivan Tsarevich! If thou hadst not redeemed me, thou couldest not have gained thy bride in a lifetime; but now I will help thee. Buy me a horse and saddle straightway."

                The Tsarevich bought him a horse and saddle, and asked: "What is thy name?"

                "They call me Bulat the hero."

                They sat on the horses, went their way and road. When they came to the thirtieth kingdom, Bulat said: "Well, Ivan Tsarevich, give orders to buy and roast chickens, ducks, and geese, so that there may be plenty of everything, and I will go to get thy bride. And see to it: every time I run to thee, cut the right wing of a bird, and hand it to me on a plate."

                Bulat the hero went to the lofty tower where Vassilissa Kirbítyevna was sitting, threw a stone lightly, and broke the summit of the gilded tower. He ran to the Tsarevich and said to him: "What, art thou sleeping? Give me a hen."

                Ivan Tsarevich cut off the right wing and gave it on a plate. Bulat took the plate, ran to the tower, and cried out: "Hail, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna! Ivan Tsarevich gave command to bow to thee, and asked me to give thee this hen."

                Vassilissa was frightened, and sat in silence. Bulat gave answer to himself instead of her: "Hail, Bulat the hero! Is Ivan Tsarevich in good health?

                "Glory be to God, in good health.

                "But why stand there, Bulat the hero? Take the key, open the cupboard, drink a glass of _vodka_, and go with God."

                Bulat the hero ran to Ivan Tsarevich and said: "Art sitting here? Give me a duck."

                He cut off the wing, and gave it on a plate.

                Bulat bore it to the tower and said: "Hail, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna! Ivan Tsarevich gave command to bow to thee, and sent thee this duck."

                She sat there, said nothing; but he answered instead of her: "Hail, Bulat the hero! Is Ivan Tsarevich well?

                "Glory be to God, he is well.

                "But why stand there, Bulat the hero? Take the key, open the cupboard, drink a glass, and go with God."

                Bulat ran again to Ivan Tsarevich. "Art thou sitting here? Give me a goose."

                Ivan cut off the right wing and gave it on a plate. Bulat the hero bore it to the tower. "Hail, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna! Ivan Tsarevich gave command to bow to thee, and sent thee this goose."

                Vassilissa Kirbítyevna took the key quickly, opened the cupboard, and reached a glass of _vodka_. Bulat the hero took not the glass, but seized the maiden by the right hand, drew her out of the tower, and seated her on the Tsarevich's steed. They galloped away, the good hero and the beautiful soul-maiden, with all horse-speed.

                Next morning Tsar Kirbít woke and rose. He saw that the top of the tower was broken and his daughter stolen; he grew powerfully angry, and gave command to pursue over all roads and ways.

                Whether our heroes travelled much or little, Bulat took the ring from his hand, hid it, and said: "Go on, Ivan Tsarevich; but I will turn back and look for my ring."

                Vassilissa Kirbítyevna began to implore: "Do not leave us, Bulat the hero; if it please thee, thou shalt have my ring."

                "Impossible, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna; my ring was priceless. My own mother gave it me, and when giving, she said: 'Wear and lose it not; forget not thy mother.'"

                Bulat the hero galloped back and met the pursuers on the road. He slew them all straightway, left but one man to take news to the Tsar, hurried back, and caught up with the Tsarevich.

                Whether they went much or little, Bulat hid his handkerchief and said: "Oh, Ivan Tsarevich, I have lost my handkerchief! Ride on thy road and way; I will soon come up with thee."

                He turned back, went some versts, and met pursuers twice as many; he slew them all, and returned to Ivan, who asked: "Hast found the handkerchief?"

                "I have found it."

                Dark night overtook them. They pitched a tent; Bulat lay down to sleep, left Ivan Tsarevich on guard, and said to him: "If need be, rouse me."

                Ivan Tsarevich stood and stood, grew tired; sleep began to bend him; he sat down at the tent and fell asleep.

                From wherever he came, Koshchéi Without-Death bore away Vassilissa Kirbítyevna. Ivan Tsarevich woke up at dawn, saw that his bride was gone, and began to weep bitterly. Bulat the hero woke up and asked: "Why art thou weeping?"

                "Why should I not weep? Some one has borne away Vassilissa Kirbítyevna."

                "I told thee to keep watch. That is the work of Koshchéi Without-Death. Let us set out in search of her."

                Long and long did they ride, till they saw two shepherds herding a flock. "Whose herd is that?"

                The herdsmen answered: "This is the herd of Koshchéi Without-Death."

                Bulat and Ivan Tsarevich asked the herdsmen if Koshchéi Without-Death lived far from there, how to go to his house, what time they went home with the flock, and how they shut it in. Then they came down from their horses, wrung the necks of the shepherds, dressed themselves in their clothes, drove the herd home, and stood at the gate.

                Ivan Tsarevich had a gold ring on one of his fingers, Vassilissa had given it to him. Vassilissa had a goat, and she washed herself morning and evening with the milk of that goat. The maid ran with a vessel, milked the goat, and was carrying the milk. Bulat took the Tsarevich's ring and threw it into the vessel.

                "Oh, my dove," said the maid, "thou art getting impudent!" She came to Vassilissa Kirbítyevna and complained. "Now," said she, "the herdsmen have begun to make sport of us,--they threw a ring into the milk."

                "Leave the milk; I will strain it myself," said Vassilissa. She strained the milk, saw the ring, and gave command to send the herdsmen to her. The herdsmen came.

                "Hail, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna!" said Bulat the hero.

                "Hail, Bulat the hero! Be well, Tsarevich! How did God bring you?"

                "We came for thee, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna; thou wilt hide from us nowhere. We should find thee even on the bottom of the sea."

                She seated them at the table, gave them every sort of food and all kinds of wine.

                Said Bulat the hero: "When Koshchéi comes home from hunting, ask him, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna, where his death is. And now it would not be amiss for us to hide."

                As soon as the guests had hidden, Koshchéi Without-Death was flying home from the hunt. "Tfu-tfu!" said he; "of old there wasn't a sign of Russia to be heard with hearing or seen with sight; but now Russia runs into one's eyes and mouth."

                Said Vassilissa: "Thou hast been flying through Russia thyself, and art full of its odor; so to thy thinking dost find it here."

                Koshchéi ate his dinner and lay down to rest. Vassilissa came to him, threw herself on his neck, fondled him, and kissed him, saying: "My dear love, hardly was I able to wait for thee. I did not expect to see thee alive; I feared that savage beasts had devoured thee."

                Koshchéi laughed aloud. "Simple woman! her hair is long, but her wit is short. Could savage beasts eat me?"

                "But where is thy death, then?"

                "My death is in the broom which lies around at the threshold."

                As soon as Koshchéi had flown away, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna ran to Ivan Tsarevich.

                Bulat asked: "Well, where is Koshchéi's death?"

                "In a broom thrown around at the threshold."

                "No, he lies with design; thou must ask him more cunningly."

                Vassilissa Kirbítyevna formed a plan. She took the broom, gilded it, adorned it with various ribbons, and placed it on the table. When Koshchéi Without-Death flew home, he saw the broom on the table, and asked why that was done.

                "How was it possible," answered Vassilissa Kirbítyevna, "that thy death should roll around at the threshold? Better let it lie on the table."

                "Ha, ha, ha! The woman is simple; her hair is long, but her wit is short! Could my death be here?"

                "Where is it, then?"

                "My death is hidden in the goat."

                As soon as Koshchéi went off to the hunt, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna took the goat and adorned it with ribbons and bells, and gilded its horns. Koshchéi saw the goat; again he laughed. "Oh, the woman is simple; her hair is long, but her wit is short!"

                "My death is far from here. On the sea, on the ocean, is an island; on that island stands an oak; under the oak is buried a chest; in the chest is a hare, in the hare a duck, in the duck an egg, and in the egg my death," said he, and flew away.

                Vassilissa Kirbítyevna told all this to Ivan Tsarevich. They took supplies and went to find Koshchéi's death. Whether they travelled long or short, they ate all their provisions and began to be hungry.

                A dog with her whelps happened in their way. "I will kill her," said Bulat the hero; "there is nothing else to eat."

                "Do not kill me," said the dog, "do not make my children orphans, and I will serve thee myself."

                "Well, God be with thee."

                They went farther. On an oak was an eagle with eaglets. Said Bulat the hero: "I will kill the eagle."

                "Kill me not," said the eagle, "make not my children orphans; I will serve thee myself."

                "Let it be so; live to thy health."

                They came to the ocean sea wide; on the shore a lobster was crawling. Said Bulat the hero: "I will kill it with a blow."

                "Strike me not, good hero; there is not much good in me. Wilt eat me, thou'lt not be satisfied. The time will come when I will serve thee myself."

                "Well, crawl off with God," said Bulat the hero. He looked on the sea, saw a fisherman in a boat, and shouted, "Come to shore." The fisherman brought the boat. Ivan Tsarevich and Bulat the hero sat in it and went to the island; they landed, and came to the oak. Bulat the hero caught the oak with his mighty hands and tore it out with the roots. They took the chest from under the oak, opened it; out of the chest sprang a hare, and ran with all its breath.

                "Ah!" said Ivan Tsarevich, "if the dog were here now, she would catch the hare."

                Behold, the dog is bringing the hare. Bulat the hero tore it open; out of the hare flew the duck and rose high in the air.

                "Ah!" said Ivan Tsarevich, "if the eagle were here, she would catch the duck." And already the eagle was bringing the duck.

                Bulat the hero tore open the duck; an egg rolled out and fell into the sea.

                "Ah!" said Ivan Tsarevich, "if the lobster would pull it out." The lobster was crawling and bringing the egg. They took the egg, went to Koshchéi Without-Death, struck him with the egg on the forehead; that moment he stretched out and died.

                Ivan Tsarevich took Vassilissa Kirbítyevna, and they went their way. They travelled and travelled; dark night overtook them; they pitched their tent. Vassilissa Kirbítyevna lay down to rest. Said Bulat the hero, "Lie down too, Tsarevich, and I will stand guard."

                At dark midnight twelve doves appeared, struck wing against wing, and became maidens.

                "Well, Bulat the hero and Ivan Tsarevich, ye killed our brother, Koshchéi Without-Death, ye carried away our sister-in-law, Vassilissa Kirbítyevna; but no good will come to you either. When Ivan Tsarevich comes home, he will give command to bring out his favorite dog, the dog will break away from the keeper and tear the Tsarevich into small pieces; but whoso hears this and tells Ivan what we have said will become stone to the knees."

                In the morning Bulat the hero roused the Tsarevich and Vassilissa Kirbítyevna; they made ready and went their road and way. A second night overtook them; they pitched their tent in the open field. Again Bulat said: "Lie down to sleep, Ivan Tsarevich; I will stand guard." In the dark midnight twelve doves came flying, they struck wing against wing, and became maidens.

                "Well, Bulat and Ivan Tsarevich, ye killed our brother, Koshchéi Without-Death, ye carried away our sister-in-law; but no good will come to you, for when Ivan Tsarevich comes home he will give command to bring out his favorite horse, on which he has ridden since childhood. The horse will tear away from the groom and beat the Tsarevich to death; and whoso hears this and tells him will become stone to the girdle."

                Morning came, again they travelled on. A third night overtook them. They pitched their tent and stopped in the open field. Bulat said: "Lie down to sleep, Ivan Tsarevich; I will stand watch." Again at midnight twelve doves came flying, struck wing against wing, and became maidens.

                "Well, Bulat and Ivan Tsarevich, ye killed our brother, Koshchéi Without-Death, and carried away our sister-in-law; but no good will come to you. When Ivan Tsarevich comes home he will give command to lead out his favorite cow, on whose milk he has been nourished since childhood. She will tear away from the herder and raise the Tsarevich on her horns. But whoso sees and hears us, and tells him this, will become altogether stone." They finished the sentence, turned into doves, and flew home.

                In the morning Ivan Tsarevich and Vassilissa set out on the road. The Tsarevich came home, married Vassilissa Kirbítyevna; and in a day or two he said to her, "I will show thee my favorite dog, with which I played all the time when I was little."

                Bulat the hero took his sword, ground it sharp, sharp, and stood at the porch. They were bringing the dog. It tore away from the keeper and ran straight to the porch; but Bulat drew his sword and cut the dog in two. Ivan Tsarevich was angry, but for Bulat's former service he was silent.

                The next day he ordered them to bring out his favorite horse. The horse broke his halter, tore away from the groom, and galloped straight at Ivan Tsarevich. Bulat the hero cut off the horse's head.

                Ivan Tsarevich was still more in anger, and gave command to seize Bulat and hang him; but Vassilissa Kirbítyevna interceded. "Had it not been for him," said she, "thou wouldst never have won me."

                On the third day the Tsarevich gave command to lead out his favorite cow. She tore away from the herder and ran straight at the Tsarevich. Bulat cut off her head too.

                Now Ivan Tsarevich was so enraged that he would listen to no one, gave orders to call the headsman to put Bulat to death on the spot.

                "Oh, Ivan Tsarevich, if 'tis thy wish to put me to death by the executioner, better let me die of myself; only let me speak three speeches."

                Bulat told about the first night, how twelve doves flew to them in the open field, and what they said. That moment he was stone to the knees; he told of the second night, and was stone to the girdle. Now Ivan Tsarevich begged him not to speak to the end. Bulat answered: "'Tis all the same now, I am stone to the girdle; it is not worth while to live." He told of the third night, and was all stone.

                Ivan Tsarevich put him in a chamber apart, went there each day with Vassilissa, and wept bitterly.

                Years passed on. Once Ivan Tsarevich was weeping over the stone hero Bulat, and heard a voice coming out of the stone: "Why dost thou weep? It is hard for me even as I am."

                "Why should I not weep? How can I help it? Thou knowest I destroyed thee."

                "If thou wishest, thou canst save me. Thou hast two children,--a son and a daughter. Kill them, pour their blood into a vessel, and rub this stone with the blood."

                Ivan Tsarevich told this to Vassilissa Kirbítyevna. They grieved and mourned; decided to kill their children. They killed them, gathered the blood, and rubbed the stone.

                When Bulat the hero came to life he asked the Tsarevich and his wife, "Were ye grieved for the children?"

                "We were grieved, Bulat."

                "Well, let us go to their room."

                They went, and behold, the children were alive! The father and mother were delighted, and in their delight gave a feast to all.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Koshchéi Without-Death
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: ATU 302: The Ogre's (Devil's) Heart in the Egg

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