IN A certain kingdom a soldier served in the mounted guard of the king. He served twenty-five years in faithfulness and truth; and for his good conduct the king gave orders to discharge him with honor, and give him as reward the same horse on which he had ridden in the regiment, with all the caparison.
The soldier took farewell of his comrades and set out for his native place. He travelled a day, a second, and a third. Behold, a whole week had gone; a second and third week! The soldier had no money; he had nothing to eat himself, nothing to give his horse, and his home was far, far away. He saw that the affair was a very bad one; he wanted terribly to eat, began to look in one direction and another, and saw on one side a great castle. "Well," thought he, "better go there; maybe they will take me even for a time to serve,--I'll earn something."
He turned to the castle, rode into the court, put his horse in the stable, gave him hay, and entered the castle. In the castle a table was set with food and wine,--with everything that the soul could wish for.
The soldier ate and drank. "Now," thought he, "I may sleep."
All at once a bear came in. "Fear me not, brave hero; thou hast come in good time. I am not a savage bear, but a fair maiden, an enchanted princess. If thou canst endure and pass three nights in this place, the enchantment will be broken, I shall be a princess as before, and will marry thee."
The soldier consented. Now, there fell upon him such a sadness that he could not look on the world, and every moment the sadness increased; if there had been no wine he could not have held out a single night, as it seemed. The second night it went so far that the soldier resolved to leave everything and run away; but no matter how he struggled, no matter how he tried, he found no way out of the castle. There was no help for it, he had to stay in spite of himself.
He passed the third night. In the morning there stood before him a princess of unspeakable beauty. She thanked him for his service, and told him to make ready for the crown (marriage). Straightway they had the wedding, and began to live together without care or trouble. After a time the soldier remembered his native place; he wanted to spend some time there. The princess tried to dissuade him.
"Remain, stay here, my friend, go not away. What is lacking to thee?"
No, she could not dissuade him. She took farewell of her husband, gave him a sack filled with seeds, and said: "On whatever road thou mayest travel, throw these seeds on both sides. Wherever they fall, that moment trees will spring up; on the trees precious fruit will be hanging in beauty, various birds will sing songs, and tom-cats from over the sea will tell tales."
The good hero sat on his horse of service and went his way. Wherever he journeyed he cast seeds on both sides, and after him forests were rising, just creeping out of the damp earth. He rode one day, he rode a second, a third, and saw in the open field a caravan. On the grass merchants were sitting playing cards, near them a great kettle was hanging, and, though there was no fire under the kettle, it was boiling like a fountain within the pot. "What a wonder!" thought the soldier; "there is no fire to be seen, and in the kettle it is boiling like a fountain,--let me look at it more closely." He turned his horse to the place and rode up to the merchants.
"Hail, honorable gentlemen!" He had no suspicion that these were not merchants, but all unclean. "That is a good trick of yours,--a kettle boiling without fire; but I have a better one."
He took out a seed and threw it on the ground,--that moment a full-grown tree came up; on the tree were precious fruits in their beauty, various birds were singing songs, and tom-cats from over the sea were telling tales. From this boast the unclean knew him.
"Ah," said they among themselves, "this is the man who liberated the princess! Come, brothers, let us drug him with a weed, and let him sleep half a year."
They went to entertaining him, and drugged him with the magic weed. The soldier dropped on the grass and fell into deep sleep from which he could not be roused. The merchants, the caravan, and the kettle vanished in a twinkle.
Soon after the princess went out in her garden and saw that the tops of all the trees had begun to wither. "This is not for good," thought she; "it is evident that evil has come to my husband."
Three months passed. It was time for his return, and there was nothing of him, nothing. The princess made ready and went to search for him. She went by that road along which he had travelled,--on both sides forests were growing, birds were singing, and tom-cats from over the sea were purring their tales. She reached the spot where there were no more trees, the road wound out into the open field; she thought, "Where has he gone to? Of course he has not sunk through the earth."
She looked, aside by itself was one of the wonderful trees, and under it her dear husband. She ran to him, pushed, and tried to rouse him. No, he did not wake. She pinched him, stuck pins in his side, pricked and pricked him. He did not feel even the pain,--lay like a corpse without motion. The princess grew angry, and in her anger pronounced the spell: "Mayest thou be caught by the stormy whirlwind, thou good-for-nothing sleepy head, and be borne to places unknown!"
She had barely uttered these words when the wind began to whistle, to sound, and in one flash the soldier was caught up by a boisterous whirlwind and borne away from the eyes of the princess. She saw too late that she had spoken an evil speech. She shed bitter tears, went home, lived alone and lonely.
The poor soldier was borne by the whirlwind far, far away beyond the thrice-ninth land, to the thirtieth kingdom, and thrown on a point between two seas; he fell on the very narrowest little wedge. If the sleeping man were to turn to the right, or roll to the left, that moment he would tumble into the sea, and then remember his name.
The good hero slept out his half year,--moved not a finger; and when he woke he sprang straight to his feet, looked on both sides. The waves are rolling; no end can be seen to the broad sea. He stands in doubt, asking himself, "By what miracle have I come to this place? Who dragged me hither?" He turned back from the point and came out on an island; on that island was a mountain steep and lofty, touching the clouds with its peak, and on the mountain a great stone. He came near this mountain and saw three devils fighting; blood was just flowing from them, and bits of flesh flying.
"Stop, ye outcasts! What are ye fighting for?"
"But seest thou our father died three days ago and left three wonderful things,--a flying carpet, swift-moving boots, and a cap of invisibility; and we cannot divide them."
"Oh, ye cursed fellows, to fight for such trifles! If ye wish I'll divide them between you, and ye shall be satisfied; I'll offend no one."
"Well then, countryman, divide between us if it please thee."
"Very good. Run quickly through the pine woods and gather one hundred poods of pitch, and bring it here."
The devils rushed through the pine woods, collected three hundred poods of pitch, and brought it to the soldier.
"Now bring me from your own kingdom the very largest kettle that is in it." The devils brought the very largest kettle,--one holding forty barrels,--and put the pitch into it. The soldier made a fire, and when the pitch was boiling he ordered the devils to take it on the mountain and pour it out from the top to the bottom. The devils did this in a flash. "Now," said the soldier, "push that stone there; let it roll from the mountain, and follow it. Whoever comes up with it first may take any of the three things; whoever comes up second will choose from the two remaining ones whichever he likes; and the last wonder will go to the third." The devils pushed the stone, and it rolled from the mountain quickly, quickly. One devil caught up, seized the stone, the stone turned, and in a flash put him under it, crushed him into the pitch. The second devil caught up, and then the third; and with them it happened as with the first,--they were driven firmly into the pitch.
The soldier took under his arm the swift boots and the cap of invisibility, sat on the flying carpet, and flew off to look for his own country. Whether it was long or short, he came to a hut, went in. In the hut was sitting a Baba-Yaga, boneleg, old and toothless. "Greetings to thee, grandmother! Tell how I am to find my fair princess."
"I have not seen her with sight, I have not heard of her with hearing; but pass over so many seas and so many lands, and there lives my second sister. She knows more than I do; mayhap she can tell thee."
The soldier sat on his carpet and flew away. He had to wander long over the white world. Whenever he wanted to eat or drink, he put on the cap of invisibility, let himself down, entered a shop, and took what his heart desired; then to the carpet and off on his journey. He came to the second hut, entered; inside was sitting Baba-Yaga, boneleg, old and toothless. "Greetings to thee, grandmother! Dost thou know how I can find my fair princess?"
"No, my dove, I do not know."
"Ah, thou old hag! how many years art thou living in the world? All thy teeth are out, and thou knowest no good."
He sat on the flying carpet and flew toward the eldest sister. Long did he wander, many seas and many lands did he see. At last he flew to the end of the world, where there was a hut and no road beyond,--nothing but outer darkness, nothing to be seen.
"Well," thought he, "if I can get no account here, there is nowhere else to fly to." He went into the hut; there a Baba-Yaga was sitting, gray, toothless.
"Greetings to thee, grandmother! Tell me where must I seek my princess."
"Wait a little; I will call all my winds together and ask them. They blow over all the world, so they must know where she is living at present."
The old woman went out on the porch, cried with a loud voice, whistled with a hero's whistle. Straightway the stormy winds rose and blew from every side; the hut just quivered.
"Quieter, quieter!" cried Baba-Yaga; and as soon as the winds had assembled, she said: "My stormy winds, ye blow through all the world. Have ye seen the beautiful princess anywhere?"
"We have not seen her anywhere," answered the winds in one voice.
"But are ye all here?"
"All but South Wind."
After waiting a little, South Wind flew up. The old woman asked: "Where hast thou been lost to this moment? I could hardly wait for thee."
"Pardon, grandmother; I went into a new kingdom, where the beautiful princess is living. Her husband has vanished without tidings, so now various Tsars and Tsars' sons, kings and kings' sons are paying court to her."
"And how far is it to the new kingdom?"
"For a man on foot thirty-five years, ten years on wings; but if I blow I can put a man there in three hours."
The soldier implored South Wind tearfully to take him and bear him to the new kingdom.
"I will, if it please thee," said South Wind, "provided thou wilt let me run around in thy kingdom three days and three nights as I like."
"Frolic three weeks if thou choosest."
"Well, I will rest for two or three days, collect my forces and my strength, and then for the road!"
South Wind rested, collected his strength, and said to the soldier: "Well, brother, make ready, we'll go straightway; but look out, have no fear, thou wilt arrive in safety."
All at once a mighty whirlwind whistled and roared, caught the soldier into the air, and bore him over mountains and seas up to the very clouds; and in three hours exactly he was in the new kingdom, where his beautiful princess was living. South Wind said,--
"Farewell, good hero; out of compassion for thee I will not frolic in thy kingdom."
"Why is that?"
"Because if I frolic, not one house will be standing in the town, not one tree in the gardens; I should put everything bottom upward."
"Farewell then; God save thee!" said the soldier, who put on his cap of invisibility and went to the white-walled castle. Behold, while he was absent from the kingdom all the trees in the garden had stood with withered tops, and the moment he appeared they came to life and began to bloom. He entered the great hall; there were sitting at the table various Tsars and Tsars' sons, kings and kings' sons who had come to pay court to the beautiful princess. They were sitting and entertaining themselves with sweet wines. Whoever filled a glass and raised it to his lips, the soldier that moment struck it with his fist and knocked it from his hand. All the guests wondered at this; but the beautiful princess understood in a moment the reason.
"Surely," thought she, "my friend is here." She looked through the window; all the tree-tops in the garden had come to life, and she gave a riddle to the guests. "I had a home-made casket with a golden key; I lost this key, and did not think to find it: but now this key has found itself. Who guesses the riddle, him will I marry."
The Tsars and Tsars' sons, the kings and kings' sons were long breaking their wise heads over this riddle, and could not solve it in any way.
The princess said: "Show thyself, dear friend."
The soldier removed his cap of invisibility, took her by the white hand, and began to kiss her on the sweet mouth.
"Here is the riddle for you," said the fair princess: "I am the home-made casket, and the golden key is my faithful husband."
The wooers had to turn their wagon-shafts around. They all drove home, and the princess began to live with her husband, to live and win wealth.