IN A certain kingdom, in a certain land, the Tsar had a golden company; in this company served a soldier, Ivan by name, a hero in appearance. The Tsar took him into favor and began to reward him with rank; in a short time he made him colonel. The superior officers envied him. "Why have we served for our rank as we have thirty years, and he has got every rank all at once? We must get rid of him, or he will go ahead of us."
The generals and counselling boyars arranged a trip on the sea, prepared the ship, invited Ivan the colonel to go with them. They sailed out into the open sea, and went around till late in the evening. Ivan grew tired, lay on a bed, and fell into a deep sleep. That was all the boyars and generals were waiting for. They seized him, put him in a boat, pushed him out to sea, and returned home themselves.
Soon dark clouds came up and a storm began to roar; the waves rose and carried the boat it is unknown whither; they carried it far, far away, and cast it out on an island. Here Ivan woke up, looked, saw a desert land, no trace of the ship, and the sea ran terribly high.
"It is clear," thought he, "that the ship has been wrecked by the storm, and all my comrades are drowned. Glory be to God that I am safe myself!"
He went to look at the island, walked and walked. Nowhere did he see a springing beast, a flying bird, or a dwelling of man. Whether it was long or short, Ivan wandered to an underground passage; through this he went down a deep precipice, and came to the underground kingdom, where the six-headed serpent lived and reigned. He saw a white-walled castle, entered. The first chamber was empty, in the second there was no one, in the third the six-headed serpent was sleeping a hero's sleep. At his side stood a table, on the table an enormous book was lying.
Ivan opened the book and read to the page where it was written that a Tsar had never a son, but always a Tsaritsa had sons. He took and scratched out these words with a knife, and in place of them wrote that a Tsaritsa had never a son, but always a Tsar had sons.
In an hour's time the serpent turned to his other side, woke up, opened his eyes, saw Ivan, and asked: "From what place hast thou come? I live so many years in the world and I have not seen one man in my kingdom."
"How from what place? But thou knowest I am thy son."
"How can that be?" asked the serpent. "I will look in the book and see if a Tsar can have a son."
He opened the book, read in it what Ivan had written, and was convinced. "Thou art right, my son."
He took Ivan by the hand, led him through all his treasure-chambers, showed him his countless wealth, and they began to live and live on together.
Some time passed, and the six-headed serpent said: "My dear son, here are the keys of all the chambers; go wherever thy desire may lead thee, but do not dare to look into that chamber which is fastened with two locks, one of gold, the other of silver. I will fly around the world, will look at people, and amuse myself."
He gave the keys, and flew away out of the underground kingdom to wander through the white world. Ivan Tsarevich remained all alone. He lived a month, a second and a third month, and the year was coming to an end, when it became dreary for him, and he thought to examine the chambers; he walked and walked till he came straight in front of the forbidden chamber. The good youth could not restrain himself; he took out the keys, opened both locks, the gold and the silver, opened the oaken door.
In that chamber were sitting two maidens riveted in chains: one was Tsarevna Yelena the Wise, and the other her maid. The Tsarevna had golden wings, and her maid silver wings. Said Yelena the Wise: "Hail, good hero! Do us a service not great: give us each of a glass of spring water to drink."
Ivan, looking at her unspeakable beauty, forgot all about the serpent, pitied the poor prisoners, poured out two glasses of spring water, and gave them to the beautiful women. They drank, shook themselves; the iron rings were broken, and the heavy chains fell. The beautiful women clapped their wings and flew through the open window; then only did Ivan come to his mind. He shut the empty chamber, came out on the porch, sat on the step, hung his stormy head below his mighty shoulders, and grew powerfully, powerfully sad. How was he to give answer? Suddenly the wind began to whistle, a mighty storm rose up, the six-headed serpent flew home.
"Hail, my dear son!"
Ivan answered not a word.
"Why art thou silent; or has something happened?"
"Evil, father,--I did not obey thy command. I looked into that chamber where two maidens were sitting riveted in chains, I gave them spring water to drink, they drank, shook themselves, clapped their wings, and flew out through the open window."
The serpent was terribly enraged; he began to abuse and curse in every fashion. Then he took an iron rod, heated it red hot, and gave Ivan three blows on the back. "It is thy luck," said he, "that thou art my son; if thou wert not, I should eat thee alive."
As soon as Ivan's back had healed he began to beg of the serpent: "Father, let me go out into the world to look for Yelena the Wise."
"What couldst thou do? I was thirty-three years getting her, and barely, barely had I the skill to catch her."
"Let me go, father; let me try my fortune."
"Well, after me if thou pleasest. Here is the carpet that flies of itself: wherever thou wishest, there will it bear thee; only I am sorry for thee, since Yelena the Wise is terribly cunning. If thou catch her she will still overreach and deceive thee."
Ivan sat on the carpet that flies of itself, flew out of the underground kingdom, and hadn't time to wink before he found himself in a beautiful garden. He went to a pond, sat under a laburnum-bush, and began to look and admire the gold and silver fish swimming in the clear water. Before five minutes had passed, Yelena the Wise had flown to the pond with her maid. They took off their wings at once, put them near the bush, undressed, and ran into the water to bathe.
Ivan took the wings quietly, came from under the bush, and cried with a loud voice: "But now ye are in my hands!"
The beautiful women sprang out of the pond, put on their clothes, came to the good youth, and begged him to give back their wings. "No," said Ivan, "I will not give them for anything. Yelena the Wise, thou hast pleased me more than the bright sun; now I will take thee to my father and my mother, I will marry thee, and thou shalt be my wife, and I will be thy husband."
The Tsarevna's maid said: "Hear me, good youth: 'tis thy wish to marry Yelena the Wise, but why detain me. Better give me my wings; I will serve thee in time."
Ivan thought and thought, and gave her the silver wings. She tied them on quickly, sprang up, and flew far, far away. After that, Ivan made a box, put the golden wings into it, and closed it firmly with a lock. He sat on the self-flying carpet, placed Yelena the Wise at his side, and flew away to his own kingdom. He came to his father, to his mother, brought them his bride, and begged them to love and to favor her. Then there was rejoicing such as no one had seen.
Next day Ivan gave his mother the key of the box. "Take care of it for a time," said he, "give it to no one; and I will go to the Tsar and invite him to the wedding."
As soon as he had gone, Yelena the Wise ran in: "Mother, give me the key of the box; I must get clothes to dress for the wedding." The mother, knowing nothing, gave her the key without fear. Yelena the Wise ran to the box, raised the lid, took her wings, put them on, clapped them once and again; that was all they saw of her.
The bridegroom came home. "Mother, where is my bride? It is time to prepare for the crown."
"Oh, my dear son, she has flown away!"
Deeply did the good youth sigh; he took farewell of his father and his mother, sat on his self-flying carpet, and flew to the underground kingdom, to the six-headed serpent, who saw him and said: "Well, daring head, did I speak in vain when I said that thou couldst not get Yelena the Wise; and if thou didst get her she would deceive thee?"
"Thou art right, father; but no matter what comes, I will try again, I will go to get her."
"Ah! thou irrestrainable fellow, knowest thou she has a rule that whoever wants to marry her must hide three times, and if she finds him she will have his head cut off? Many a hero has gone to her, but all to the last man have laid down their stormy heads; and the same is preparing for thee. But here is a flint and steel for thee: when Yelena the Wise makes thee hide, strike the flint with the steel,--strike out a spark, and set fire to the grass of the steppe. At that moment a blue-winged eagle will appear and raise thee above the third range of clouds; if that does not succeed, strike fire again, and let it into the blue sea. A giant pike will swim to land, will take thee and bear thee away to the depth of the sea; and if Yelena the Wise finds thee, then there is no place in which thou canst hide from her."
Ivan Tsarevich took the flint and steel, thanked the six-headed serpent, and flew off on the carpet. Whether it was long or short, near or far, he flew beyond the thrice-ninth land to the thirtieth kingdom, where lived Yelena the Wise. Her palace was flashing like fire; it was made of pure silver and gold. At her gate, on iron points, were the heads of eleven heroes. Ivan the good youth became thoughtful. "Eleven heads on the points, mine will surely be the twelfth." He came down in the broad court, went on the lofty porch, and straight to the chamber.
Yelena the Wise met him. "Thou!" said she, "why art thou here?"
"I want to take thee in marriage."
"Well, all right, try. If thou art able to hide from me, I will marry thee; if not, thou wilt pay with thy head."
Ivan went out in the open field, took his flint and steel, struck fire, and put it to the steppe grass. From wherever he came, a blue-winged eagle flew to him and said, with the voice of a man, "Good youth, sit on me quickly; hold firmly, or thou wilt fall."
Ivan sat on the eagle, grasped firmly with his hands. The eagle clapped his wings, and rose high beyond the third range of clouds. He is well hidden; it seems no one can find him. But Yelena the Wise had a mirror: all she had to do was to look in it, and the whole world was open to her. She knew in a moment where and what was going on in the white world. She stepped up to that mirror, looked in it, and knew every secret.
"Stop, cunning fellow," cried Yelena the Wise, with a loud voice; "I see thou hast flown above the third range of clouds. The blue-winged eagle bore thee; it is time to come down to the earth."
Ivan came to the earth, slipped off the eagle, went to the sea-shore, struck fire, and put it to the blue sea. Suddenly, from wherever he came, a giant pike swam to shore. "Well, good youth, creep into my mouth; I'll hide thee in the bottom of the sea." He opened his jaws, took in the young man, sank with him in the abyss of the sea, and covered him with sand.
"Now," thought Ivan, "perhaps it will be all right." But the point was not there.
Yelena the Wise barely looked in the mirror, and saw everything at once. "Stop, cunning fellow, I see thou hast gone into the giant pike, and thou art sitting now in the abyss of the sea beneath rolling sands; it is time to come to shore." The pike swam to shore, threw out the good youth, and vanished in the sea.
Ivan returned to the broad court of Yelena the Wise, sat on the porch, and grew powerfully thoughtful and sad. At that moment the maid of Yelena the Wise ran up the stairway. "Why are thou sad, good youth?"
"How can I be glad? If I hide not the third time, I must part with the white world; so here I am sitting and waiting for death."
"Grieve not; foretell no evil on thy own stormy head. Once I promised to serve thee; I spoke no empty word. Come, I will hide thee."
She took Ivan by the hand, led him in, and put him behind the mirror. A little later Yelena the Wise ran to the chamber, looked and looked in the mirror. She could not see her bridegroom; the appointed time had passed. She grew angry, and with vexation struck the glass; it fell into fragments, and before her stood Ivan the brave youth.
There was no help for it,--she had to yield this time. At the house of Yelena the Wise there was no need of waiting to make mead or wine; that day they had a noble feast and a wedding. They were crowned, and began to live,--to live on and win wealth.