Russian Story Book: Containing Tales from the Song-Cycles of Kiev and Novgorod and Other Early Sources, The | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in August 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Peerless Beauty the Cake-Baker

IN A far-off land lived a Tsar and a Tsaritza who had one son, whom they named Ivan. They were very glad when he was born, and placed him in a beautiful oaken cradle among pillows of the softest down, covering him with a little eider-down quilt of silk from Samarcand. The pillow on which rested his little head was ornamented with drawn-thread work and all was cosy and comfortable, but try as they would the nurse-maidens--and they were pretty ladies of the highest degree--could not rock Ivan Tsarevich to sleep. Softly they sang and sweetly they crooned, but the young prince roared lustily, tossed off the coverlet, kicked out the pillow, and beat the sides of the cradle with his little fists.

               At last the nurse-maidens lost all patience and they cried out to the Tsar, "Little Father, Little Father, come and rock your own son." So the Tsar sat down by the side of the cradle, placed his great toe upon the rocker, and said:

               "Sleep, little son, sleep, sleep, sleep. Soon you will be a man, and then I will get you Peerless Beauty as a bride. She is the daughter of three mothers, the granddaughter of three grandmothers, and the sister of nine brothers."

               He made this promise once only, and it had such a soothing effect upon the restless Tsarevich that he went to sleep and continued sleeping for three days and three nights, during which time the nurse-maidens sat and praised his beauty among themselves. But they ceased talking as soon as he woke up again, for now he cried more loudly than ever, tossed off the coverlet, kicked out the pillow, and beat the sides of the cradle with his little fists.

               Once again the nurse-maidens tried to console him and to rock him to sleep, for they loved and admired him best in his slumbers; but he refused to sleep, and they were forced to call out, "Little Father, Little Father, come and rock your own son."

               The Tsar came once more to the cradle of his son and made the wonderful promise, whereupon the child fell asleep again and slept for three days and three nights.

               But when he woke up he was as naughty as before, and for a third time the nurse-maidens had to call in the help of the Little Father.

               When the Tsarevich awoke the third time he stood upon his cradle and said, "Bless me, Little Father, for I am going to my wedding."

               "My dear son," said the Tsar in great wonderment, "you are altogether only nine days old. How can you marry?"

               "That shall be as it is," said the Tsarevich, "and if you will not give me your blessing I fear I must marry without it."

               "Well, well," said the Tsar, "may all good go with you." Then he was not in the least surprised to see his son step down from the cradle a full-grown youth of goodly shape, call for clothes suitable to his age--they were all ready to hand--and then go forth to the stable. On the way across the courtyard he met an old man who looked at him and said:

               "Young man, where are you going?"

               "Mind your own business," said the young prince. But when he had gone forward a little he stopped and said to himself, "That was a mistake. Old people know many useful things." So he turned again and went after the old man.

               "Stop, stop, grandfather," he said, "what was the question which you put to me?"

               "I asked you," said the ancient, "where you were going, and now I add to my question. Are you going there of your own free will or against your will?"

               "I am going of my own free will," said the Tsarevich, "and twice as much against my will. I was in my cradle when my father came to me and promised to get me Peerless Beauty as a bride. She is the daughter of three mothers, the granddaughter of three grandmothers, and the sister of nine brothers. So I suppose I must go to seek her."

               "You are a courteous youth," said the old man, "and deserve to take advantage of the knowledge of the aged. You cannot go on foot to seek out Peerless Beauty, for she lives at the edge of the white world at the place where the sun peeps up. It is called the Golden Kingdom of the East."

               "What shall I do?" asked the Tsarevich, thrusting his hands into his belt and standing with feet wide apart. "I have no horse of mettle or whip of silk for such a ride."

               "Why, your father has thirty horses of the best," said the old man, "and the trouble with you will be to make a wise choice. Go to the stables and tell the grooms to take the thirty to bathe in the deep blue sea. When they come to the shore you will see one of them push forward into the water up to its neck and drink. When this happens watch with care to see if the waves rise high and break in foam upon the beach. If so, take that horse, for it will bear you safely to the edge of the white world and to the place where the sun peeps up, which is called the Golden Kingdom of the East."

               "Thanks and thanks again, good grandfather," said the Tsarevich, who went on to the stables and selected his heroic steed in the manner described by the old man. On the following morning the Tsarevich was preparing this horse for the journey when it turned its head and spoke to him in the speech of Holy Russia:

               "Ivan Tsarevich," it said, "fall down upon the lap of moist Mother Earth and I will push you three times." The youth was so much astonished to hear the horse speak that he found it no difficult matter to fall down. Then the horse pushed him once and pushed him a second time, but after that it looked at the youth for a little time and said, "That will suffice, for if I push you a third time moist Mother Earth will not be able to bear you." So the Tsarevich rose to his feet, saddled his horse, and set out. His father and those about him saw him as he mounted, but they did not see him as he rode. It was only a smoke wreath on the open boundless plain and he was gone. Far, far away he rode until the day grew short and the long night came on. As the darkness fell the rider came to a house as large as a town, with rooms each as big as a village. At the great door he got down from his horse and tied the bridle to a copper ring in the door-post. Then he went into the first room and said to an old woman whom he found there:

               "May God be good to this house. I should be glad to be permitted to spend the night here."

               "Where are you journeying?" asked the old woman.

               "That is not the first question," said the Tsarevich. "Give me food to eat and wine to drink, then put me next into a warm sleeping chamber. In the morning ask me whether I have slept in peace and then ask where I may be journeying." And the old woman did so, just as the Tsarevich had said.

               Next morning she asked him the second question and he replied, "I was in my cradle when my father came to me and promised to get me Peerless Beauty as a bride. She is the daughter of three mothers, the granddaughter of three grandmothers, and the sister of nine brothers."

               "Good youth," said the old woman, "I am nearly seventy years of age, but of Peerless Beauty I have never heard. But farther on the way lives my elder sister. Perhaps she knows." Then Ivan Tsarevich went out of the great house, and, after taking courteous leave of the old woman, rode far away across the open steppe. All day he rode, and as night was coming on he came to a second house as large as a town, with each room as large as a village. He dismounted from his horse, tied the bridle to a silver ring in the door-post, and asked an old woman whom he met in the first room if he might have a night's lodging. And here it happened as it had happened before, only the old woman was eighty years of age.

               "Farther on the road," she said, "lives my elder sister and she has givers of answers. The first givers of answers are the fishes and other dwellers in the heaving restless sea; the second givers of answers are the wild beasts of the dark forests; and the third givers of answers are the birds of the open air. Whatever is in the whole white world is obedient to the will of my elder sister."

               Once again Ivan Tsarevich set out and came to a house where he tied his horse to a golden ring, and was received by an old, old woman who screamed at him in a voice like a flock of peacocks:

               "O you man of boldness, why have you tied your horse to a golden ring when an iron ring would be too good for you?"

               "Patience, good grandmother," said the Tsarevich gently, "it is easy to loose the bridle and tie the horse to another ring."

               "Ah, my good youth," said the old woman gently, and as one would speak to a child, "did I frighten you? Sit down now on the bench and take food and drink." Ivan did so, and then without being asked he told the old woman where he was going and what was his quest.

               "Go to your rest," she said shortly. "In the morning I will call my givers of answers."

               Next morning the old woman and the young man sat in the porch, and the former gave a heroic whistle, whereupon the blue sea heaved in a great heap, and the fishes, large and small, sea-serpents and sea-dragons, rose upon the surface and made for the shore.

               "Come no farther," said the old woman, raising her right hand. "Tell me where this good youth can find Peerless Beauty." Then the answer came from a million mouths, "We have not seen or heard of her."

               The old woman blew her whistle and the forests echoed to the sound of a million voices of wild beasts, but the answer to her question was, "We have not seen or heard of her."

               "Come hither," said the grandmother, "all ye birds of the air." And in a moment the light of the sun was hidden and the sound of flapping wings was like a tempest. But the answer of the birds to the question was, "We have not seen or heard of her."

               "My givers of answers fail me," said the ancient woman as she took Ivan by the lily-white hand and led him into the house. Then there flew through the open window the Mogol Bird which fell to the ground at her feet.

               "Ah, Mogol Bird," said the old woman, "whither hast thou come?"

               "I come from the home of Peerless Beauty," was the tired reply, "and I have been dressing her for Mass in the Cathedral."

               The old woman clapped her hands in delight. "That is the news I seek," she said. "Now, Mogol Bird, do me a favour. Carry this young man, Ivan Tsarevich, to the home of Peerless the Beauty."

               "That I will," was the reply, "but we shall need a great deal of food."

               "How much?" asked the old woman.

               "Three hundredweight of beef," was the answer, "and a keg full of water."

               Ivan filled a large keg with water and placed it upon the back of the Mogol Bird with the heaped-up piles of beef round about it. Then he ran to the forge and told the smith to make him a long iron lance, and with this weapon in his hand he sat on the edge of the keg with the beef all round about him. Up rose the Mogol Bird and once it was under way it flew so steadily that the top of the water in the keg remained always level, but now and again the bird would slowly turn its head and look at Ivan, when he would at once give it a large piece of beef upon the point of his long iron lance.

               Onward, and ever onward, flew the Mogol Bird, feeding on the beef and drinking the water from Ivan's cap, which he extended at the point of his lance, until all the meat and water were finished, whereupon the Tsarevich threw the keg overboard.

               "O Mogol Bird," he said, "haste to finish your journey, for there is no more beef and there is no more water."

               "I cannot go down to earth in this spot," said the bird, "for beneath us there is nothing but a bog like glue. And I must have more meat. If you cannot get beef, veal will do." So Ivan cut off the calves of his own legs, and when the bird had refreshed itself it flew on till it came to a green meadow with tall silken grass and blue flowers. Here it flew down to earth, and Ivan alighted, but, of course, walked very lame.

               "What makes you halt, Ivan Tsarevich?" asked the Mogol Bird, and when the young man told what he had done the bird blew upon the back of his legs and restored him to his former condition.

               On went the young man, eager to finish his quest, until he came to a great town, where he entered a narrow street and found an old woman in a poor, mean house, who seemed to be expecting him.

               "Go to bed and sleep soundly after your flight, Ivan," she said, "and when the bell rings I will call you."

               The young man lay down and slept soundly, so soundly that when the bell rang for early morning prayers not all the calling nor all the shaking, nor all the shouting nor all the beating could rouse him. Then the bell rang again for Mass, and the old grandmother tried once more, calling, shaking, shouting, beating, but all with no result, until she took a tiny feather and tickled the sleeper's nose. Then he awoke with a start, washed himself very clean, dressed himself very carefully, and went to Mass in the cathedral. He bowed first to the high altar, then to North, South, East, and West, and especially to Peerless Beauty, who knelt alone in the church. So Ivan Tsarevich knelt beside her and then stood beside her while she prayed. When the service was over the young man looked at Peerless Beauty, and looked again and yet again without speaking, and while he looked six brave heroes came up from the sea-shore and stood at the great door of the cathedral. Peerless Beauty went to meet them with Ivan Tsarevich close behind her.

               "What country clown is this?" cried the brave heroes, but Ivan stepped before Peerless Beauty and swung his right arm in a circle three times round; and when he stopped the heroes were lying at the feet of the Princess in a heap of confusion.

               Then Ivan Tsarevich went back to the old grandmother, who put him to bed. On the second day it all fell out as on the first occasion. Peerless Beauty looked at Ivan as he knelt in silence by her side, and as she looked she blushed. On the third day it all fell out as on the first in every particular except that when Ivan entered the church Peerless Beauty gave him a silent salutation and then came and stood at his left hand; and when the young man had laid low six more scornful heroes Peerless Beauty took him by the hand, and together, without a word, they went up to the priest and took the golden crowns. After that they went home and feasted, and then prepared to set out for the home of Ivan Tsarevich. Over the open boundless plain they rode, speaking little, but looking much and smiling frequently, until Peerless Beauty grew weary and lay down to rest, while Ivan Tsarevich guarded her slumber. When she awoke refreshed the bridegroom said:

               "Now guard my slumbers, Peerless Beauty, for I am very weary."

               "Will your sleep be short or long?" asked the bride.

               "I shall sleep," said Ivan, "for no longer and no shorter than nine days and nine nights. If you try to arouse me I shall not wake, but when the end of the time comes I shall wake without any arousing."

               "I shall be weary of waiting and watching, Ivan Tsarevich," said Peerless Beauty with a sigh.

               "Weary or not, it cannot be set aside or gainsaid or altered," said Ivan Tsarevich. Then he lay down and slept for nine days and nine nights. And while he slept there came a rushing whirlwind across the open steppe, and in the heart of the whirlwind, where was the point of peace, rested Koschei Who Never Dies, who bore away Peerless Beauty to his kingdom beyond the sea. And Ivan Tsarevich awoke without any arousing to find himself alone.

               Sadly he gazed across the empty boundless plain, and when he arose, went back to the town, sought out the old woman in the poor, mean house, who seemed to be expecting him, and told her all his tale of sadness.

               "I had all things," he said, "and now I have nothing."

               "Go to bed and sleep soundly after your sorrow, Ivan," she said, and he went to bed, but could sleep neither soundly nor restlessly. But at midnight there came a rushing whirlwind across the open steppe, and in the heart of the whirlwind, where was the point of peace, rested Koschei Who Never Dies, who bore away Ivan Tsarevich to his kingdom beyond the sea.

               At the gate of the palace Ivan knocked--tock, tock--and the wicket-gate in the large gate was opened by Peerless Beauty, who peeped out with eyes like violets wet with the rain, and cheeks like roses in the morning sun, and a brow like a seed pearl of priceless lustre. She opened the little wicket-gate wide, and Ivan stepped in. Then they went to an upper room, where the bridegroom said to the bride:

               "When Koschei comes home, ask him where his death is."

               Then Koschei came in at one door and Ivan went out at another door.

               "Phu! phu!" said Koschei Who Never Dies, "I smell the blood of a Russian. Was it Ivan Tsarevich who was with you just now, at this moment, and recently?"

               "Why, Koschei Who Never Dies," said Peerless Beauty clasping her hands, "Ivan Tsarevich has long ago been devoured by wild beasts of the plain, at least it must have been so and not otherwise." So they sat down to supper, and when Koschei had eaten well and drunk better Peerless Beauty said to him, "Tell me, now, Koschei, where is your death?"

               "It is tied up in the broom, silly one," said Koschei; "why do you wish to know?"

               Next morning Koschei Who Never Dies went out at the head of his men to fight, and as soon as he had gone Ivan Tsarevich came to Peerless Beauty and kissed her sugar lips. Then she took the broom from the corner near the stove and gilded it all over with pure beaten gold. When this was done--and it took a long time to cover each twig of the birch boughs with the gold--Ivan left his bride and Koschei Who Never Dies came in by another door.

               "Phu! phu!" he said, "I smell the blood of a Russian. Was it Ivan Tsarevich who was with you just now, at this moment, and recently?"

               "Why, Koschei Who Never Dies," said Peerless Beauty clasping her hands, "you have been flying through Russia and have caught up the odour of the country on your own garments. Where should I see Ivan Tsarevich?" Then they sat down to supper, and Koschei saw the gilded broom lying across the threshold. "What does this mean?" he asked sternly.

               "See how I honour you," said Peerless Beauty, "for I gild even Death for you."

               "Little simpleton, I fooled you," said Koschei. "My death is not in the broom, but is concealed in the oak fence."

               Next day it fell out as before. Peerless Beauty, helped by Ivan Tsarevich, gilded the fence, and when Koschei saw it burning like fire in the evening sun, he laughed and said to Peerless Beauty:

               "Little simpleton, I fooled you. My death is in an egg, the egg is in a downy duck, and the duck is in the stump of a tree which floats upon the open sea."

               Next day Peerless Beauty rose very early, before the sun was up, and went to the stove in the kitchen. "I must send Ivan Tsarevich," she said, "on the long search for that downy duck. He has a long way to go, so I must bake him a love cake." So she baked him not one love cake but three, and as she kneaded the dough, she spoke a love-spell into it so that Ivan Tsarevich should fare well on his journey. The cakes were browned and buttered and wrapped in a napkin of fine white linen, with edges of drawn thread-work, when Ivan came into the kitchen just as the sun rose. Then he put his arms about the cake-baker, and she whispered into his ear where to look for the death of Koschei. And Ivan kissed her honey mouth and went out with the cakes in his pouch.

               Onward he went and ever onward, until he came to the margin of the ocean sea, and then he knew not how to go farther. He had eaten all the cakes and was very hungry, so very hungry that when a hawk flew up above his head, he cried: "Hawk, hawk, I will shoot you dead and eat you without cooking."

               "Why eat me?" asked the hawk in the speech of Holy Russia, "I can be of good service to you."

               Then a great bear came shambling along with its fore-paws turned inwards to show that it was a bear of good breeding. "Bear, bear," said Ivan, "I will shoot you dead and eat you without cooking."

               "Why eat me?" asked the bear in the speech of Holy Russia, "I can be of good service to you."

               Then Ivan saw a great pike leap from the ocean sea and lie floundering upon the shingle shore. "Pike, pike," said he, "I will kill you and eat you without cooking."

               "Better, far better, and much the best," said the pike, "if you cast me into the sea."

               "It seems to me," said Ivan Tsarevich, "that the cakes of Peerless Beauty have wrought a spell, and that I am to have nothing further to eat. Well, then, in the strength of those cakes I will go on with it." So he flung the floundering pike back into the ocean sea, and when it splashed the great water boiled up and began to race along and up the shore so quickly that Ivan was forced to run before it with all his might and main.

               Onward he ran and ever onward, with the water racing at his heels and occasionally washing them. [1] Onward he ran and ever upward, until he came to a tall tree upon a high bank of sand. Upward he climbed and ever upward, and then saw that now the waters of the ocean sea were quickly falling; and when they had gone back within their own boundaries Ivan saw that they had left high up on the shore a huge stump of a tree.

               The bear ran up, raised the stump in its arms, and hugged it until it cracked--snap, smash--and from the inside of it flew out a downy duck, which soared high and ever higher, until it looked like a dark green bottle with a long neck. Then the hawk flew up and caught it, whereupon an egg fell into the sea, which was caught by the pike, which swam to the beach and laid it gently at Ivan's feet.

               The young man placed the egg in the warm napkin within his pouch and ran forward, ever forward, until he came to Peerless Beauty, who was stooping over the stove in the kitchen. Ivan put his arms about the cake-baker, who grasped his hands and pressed them; and when she stood upright the egg was in her left palm.

               Ivan turned and saw Koschei sitting on the window ledge and scowling at him, because he expected that the cakes and baked meats that Peerless Beauty was cooking were all for him. But as the two rushed to the grip, Peerless Beauty dropped the egg upon the stove. It broke, and as the shell cracked, Koschei's heart broke also, and he fell down dead.

               Then the bride and bridegroom went to the eating room, and Ivan Tsarevich feasted on cakes and baked meats which Peerless Beauty had prepared when he was on his journey to the ocean sea; and after that they went to the country of Ivan's father, who rubbed his eyes when he saw them and said, "Why, Ivan Tsarevich left home when he was only nine days old, and now he brings Peerless Beauty to me as my daughter. Well, I never!"

               "Well, we never!" cried the nurse-maidens in a chorus, as they ran to get ready for the second wedding, which was to be celebrated with great splendour. "Really, we never did! Whoever would have thought it?"

               There is very little doubt that Ivan Tsarevich was the first "nine days' wonder" that ever was.




{1]: No doubt this was the first person who ever showed "a clean pair of heels."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Peerless Beauty the Cake-Baker
Tale Author/Editor: Wilson, Richard
Book Title: Russian Story Book: Containing Tales from the Song-Cycles of Kiev and Novgorod and Other Early Sources, The
Book Author/Editor: Wilson, Richard
Publisher: Macmillan and Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1916
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: unclassified

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