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Russian fairy tale
Translated by Bernard Isaacs
Illustrated by P.Ponomarenko
Long, long ago there was a Tsar who had three sons. One day, when his sons were grown to manhood, the Tsar called them to him and said: "My dear sons, while yet I am not old I should like to see you married and to rejoice in the sight of your children and my grandchildren."
And the sons replied:
"If that is your wish. Father, then give us your blessing. Who would you like us to marry?"
"Now then, my sons, you must each of you take an arrow and go out into the open field. You must shoot the arrows, and wherever they fall, there will you find your destined brides."
The sons bowed to their father and, each of them taking an arrow, went out into the open field. There they drew their bows and let fly their arrows.
The eldest son's arrow fell in a boyar's courtyard and was picked up by the boyar's daughter. The middle son's arrow fell in a rich merchant's yard and was picked up by the merchant's daughter. And as for the youngest son, Tsarevich Ivan, his arrow shot up and flew away he knew not where. He went in search of it and he walked on and on till he reached a marsh, and what did he see sitting there but a Frog with the arrow in its mouth. Said Tsarevich Ivan to the Frog:
"Frog, Frog, give me back my arrow."
But the Frog replied:
"I will if you marry me!"
"What do you mean, how can I marry a frog!"
"You must, for I am your destined bride."
Tsarevich Ivan felt sad and crestfallen. But there was nothing to be done, and he picked up the Frog and carried it home.
Three weddings were celebrated: his eldest son the Tsar married to the boyar's daughter, his middle son, to the merchant's daughter, and poor Tsarevich Ivan, to the Frog.
Some little time passed, and the Tsar called his sons to his side.
"I want to see which of your wives is the better needle-woman," said he. "Let them each make me a shirt by tomorrow morning."
The sons bowed to their father and left him.
Tsarevich Ivan came home, sat down and hung his head. And the Frog hopped over the floor and up to him and asked:
"Why do you hang your head, Tsarevich Ivan? What is it that troubles you?"
"Father bids you make him a shirt by tomorrow morning."
Said the Frog:
"Do not grieve, Tsarevich Ivan, but go to bed, for morning is wiser than evening."
Tsarevich Ivan went to bed, and the Frog hopped out on to the porch, cast off its frog skin and turned into Vasilisa the Wise and Clever, a maiden fair beyond compare.
She clapped her hands and cried:
"Come, my women and maids, make haste and set to work! Make me a shirt by tomorrow morning, like those my own father used to wear."
In the morning Tsarevidi Ivan awoke, and there was the Frog hopping on the floor again, but the shirt was all ready and lying on the table wrapped in a handsome towel. Tsarevich Ivan was overjoyed. He took the shirt and he went with it to his father who was busy receiving his two elder sons' gifts. The eldest son laid out his shirt, and the Tsar took it and said:
"This shirt will only do for a poor peasant to wear."
The middle son laid out his shirt, and the Tsar said:
"This shirt will only do to go to the baths in."
Then Tsarevich Ivan laid out his shirt, all beautifully embroidered in gold and silver, and the Tsar took one look at it and said:
"Now that is a shirt to wear on holidays!"
The two elder brothers went home and they spoke among themselves and said:
"It seems we were wrong to laugh at Tsarevich Ivan's wife. She is no frog, but a witch."
Now the Tsar again called his sons.
"Let your wives bake me some bread by tomorrow morning," said he. "I want to know which of them is the best cook."
Tsarevich Ivan hung his head and went home. And the Frog asked him:
"Why are you so sad, Tsarevich Ivan?"
Said Tsarevich Ivan:
"You are to bake some bread for my father by tomorrow morning."
"Do not grieve, Tsarevich Ivan, but go to bed. Morning is wiser than evening."
And her two sisters-in-law, who had laughed at the Frog at first, now sent an old woman who worked in the kitchen to see how she baked her bread.
But the Frog was clever and guessed what they were up to. She kneaded some dough, broke off the top of the stove and threw the dough down the hole. The old woman ran to the two sisters-in-law and told them all about it, and they did as the Frog had done.
And the Frog hopped out on to the porch, turned into Vasilisa the Wise and Clever and clapped her hands.
"Come, my women and maids, make haste and set to work!" cried she, "By tomorrow morning bake me some soft white bread, the kind I used to eat at my own father's house."
In the morning Tsarevich Ivan woke up, and there was the bread all ready, lying on the table and prettily decorated with all manner of things: stamped figures on the sides and towns with walls and gates on the top.
Tsarevich Ivan was overjoyed. He wrapped up the bread in a towel and took it to his father who was just receiving the loaves his elder sons had brought. Their wives had dropped the dough into the stove as the old woman had told them to do, and the loaves came out charred and lumpy.
The Tsar took the bread from his eldest son, he looked at it and he sent it to the servants' hall.
He took the bread from his middle son, and he did the same with it. But when Tsarevich Ivan handed him his bread, the Tsar said:
"Now that is bread to be eaten only on holidays!"
And the Tsar bade his three sons come and feast with him on the morrow together with their wives.
Once again Tsarevich Ivan came home sad and sorrowful, and he hung his head very low. And the Frog hopped over the floor and up to him and said:
"Croak, croak, why are you so sad, Tsarevich Ivan? Is it that your father has grieved you by an unkind word?"
"Oh, Frog, Frog!" cried Tsarevich Ivan. "How can I help being sad? The Tsar has ordered me to bring you to his feast, and how can I show you to people!"
Said the Frog in reply:
"Do not grieve, Tsarevich Ivan, but go to the feast alone, and I will follow later. When you hear a great tramping and thundering, do not be afraid, but if they ask you what it is, say:
"That is my Frog riding in her box."
So Tsarevich Ivan went to the feast alone, and his elder brothers came with the wives who were all dressed up in their finest clothes and had their brows blackened and roses painted on their cheeks. They stood there, and they made fun of Tsarevich Ivan.
"Why have you come without your wife?" asked they. "You could have brought her in a handkerchief. Wherever did you find such a beauty? You must have searched all the swamps for her."
Now the Tsar with his sons and his daughters-in-law and all the guests sat down to feast at the oaken tables covered with embroidered cloths. Suddenly there came a great tramping and thundering, and the whole palace shook and trembled. The guests were frightened and jumped up from their seats. But Tsarevich Ivan said:
"Do not fear, honest folk. That is only my Frog riding in her box."
And there dashed up to the porch to the Tsar's palace a gilded carriage drawn by six white horses, and out of its stepped Vasilisa the Wise and Clever. Her gown of sky-blue silk was studded with stars, and on her head she wore the bright crescent moon, and so beautiful was she that it could not be pictured and could not be told, but was a true wonder and joy to behold! She took Tsarevich Ivan by the hand and led him to the oaken tables covered with embroidered cloths.
The guests began eating and drinking and making merry. Vasilisa the Wise and Clever drank from her glass and poured the dregs into her left sleeve. She ate some swan meat and threw the bones into her right sleeve. And the wives of the elder sons saw what she did and they did the same.
They ate and drank and then the time came to dance. Vasilisa the Wise and Clever took Tsarevich Ivan by the hand and began to dance. She danced and she whirled and she circled round and round, and everyone watched and marvelled. She waved her left sleeve, and a lake appeared; she waved her right sleeve, and white swans began to swim upon the lake. The Tsar and his guests were filled with wonder.
Then the wives of the two elder sons began dancing. They waved their left sleeves, and only splashed mead over the guests; they waved their right sleeves, and bones flew about on all sides, and one bone hit the Tsar in the eye. And the Tsar was very angry and told both his daughters-in-law to get out of his sight.
In the meantime, Tsarevidi Ivan slipped out, ran home and, finding the frog skin, threw it in the stove and burnt it.
Now Vasilisa the Wise and Clever came home, and she at once saw that her frog skin was gone. She sat down on a bench, very sad and sorrowful, and she said to Tsarevich Ivan:
"Ah, Tsarevich Ivan, what have you done! Had you but waited just three more days, I would have been yours for ever. But now farewell. Seek me beyond the Thrice-Nine Lands in the Thrice-Ten Tsardom where lives Koshchei the Deathless."
And Vasilisa the Wise and Clever turned into a grey cuckoo-bird and flew out of the window. Tsarevich Ivan cried and wept for a long time and then he bowed to all sides of him and went off he knew not where to seek his wife, Vasilisa the Wise and Clever. Whether he walked far or near, for a Iona time or a little time, no one knows, but his boots were worn, his caftan frayed and torn, and his cap battered by the rain. After a while he met a little old man who was as old as old can be.
Good morrow, good youth!" quoth he. "What do you seek and whither are you bound?"
Tsarevich Ivan told him of his trouble, and the little old man, who was as old as old can be, said:
"Ah, Tsarevich Ivan, why did you burn the frog skin? It was not yours to wear or to do away with. Vasilisa the Wise and Clever was born wiser and cleverer than her father, and this so angered him that he turned her into a frog for three years. Ah, well, it can't be helped now. Here is a ball of thread for you. Follow it without fear wherever it rolls."
Tsarevich Ivan thanked the little old man who was as old as old can be, he went after the ball of thread, and he followed it wherever it rolled. In an open field he met a bear. He took aim and was about to kill it, but the bear spoke up in a human voice and said:
"Do not kill me, Tsarevich Ivan, who knows but you may have need of me some day."
Tsarevich Ivan took pity on the bear, let him go and himself went on. By and by he looked, and lo! -there was a drake flying overhead. Tsarevich Ivan took aim, but the drake said to him in a human voice:
"Do not kill me, Tsarevich Ivan, who knows but you may have need of me some day! "
And Tsarevich Ivan spared the drake and went on. Just then a hare came running. Tsarevich Ivan took aim quickly and was about to shoot it, but the hare said in a human voice:
"Do not kill me, Tsarevich Ivan, who knows but you may have need of me some day!"
And Tsarevich Ivan spared the hare and went farther.
He came to the blue sea and he saw a pike lying on the sandy shore and gasping for breath.
"Take pity on me, Tsarevich Ivan," said the pike. "Throw me back into the blue sea!"
So Tsarevich Ivan threw the pike into the sea and walked on along the shore. Whether a long time passed by or a little time no one knows, but by and by the ball of thread rolled into a forest, and in the forest stood a little hut on chicken's feet, spinning round and round.
"Little hut, little hut, stand as once you stood, with your face to me and your back to the wood," said Tsarevich Ivan.
The hut turned its face to him and its back to the forest, and Tsarevich Ivan entered, and there, on the edge of the stove ledge, lay Baba-Yaga the Witch with the Switch, in a pose she liked best, her crooked nose to the ceiling pressed.
"What brings you here, good youth?" asked Baba-Yaga. "Is there aught you come to seek? Come, good youth, I pray you, speak! "
Said Tsarevich Ivan:
"First give me food and drink, you old hag, and steam me in the bath, and then ask your questions."
So Baba-Yaga steamed him in the bath, gave him food and drink and put him to bed, and then Tsarevich Ivan told her that he was seeking his wife, Vasilisa the Wise and Clever.
"I know where she is," said Baba-Yaga, "Koshchei the Deathless has her in his power. It will be hard getting her back, for it is not easy to get the better of Koshchei. His death is at the point of a needle, the needle is in an egg, the egg in a duck, the duck in a hare, the hare in a stone chest and the chest at the top of a tall oak-tree which Koshchei the Deathless guards as the apple of his own eye."
Tsarevich Ivan spent the night in Baba-Yaga's hut, and in the morning she told him where the tall oak-tree was to be found. Whether he was long on the way or not no one knows, but by and by he came to the tall oak-tree. It stood there and it rustled and swayed, and the stone chest was at the top of it and very hard to reach.
All of a sudden, lo and behold! - the bear came running and it pulled out the oak-tree, roots and all. Down fell the chest, and it broke open. Out of the chest bounded a hare and away it tore as fast as it could. But another hare appeared and gave it chase. It caught up the first hare and tore it to bits. Out of the hare flew a duck, and it soared up to the very sky. But in a trice the drake was upon it and it struck the duck so hard that it dropped the egg, and down the egg fell into the blue sea.
At this Tsarevich Ivan began weeping bitter tears, for how could he find the egg in the sea! But all at once the pike came swimming to the shore with the egg in its mouth, Tsarevich Ivan cracked the egg, took out the needle and began trying to break off the point.
The more he bent it, the more Koshchei the Deathless writhed and twisted. But all in vain. For Tsarevich Ivan broke off the point of the needle, and Koshchei fell down dead.
Tsarevich Ivan then went to Koshchei's palace of white stone. And Vasilisa the Wise and Clever ran out to him and kissed him on his honey-sweet mouth. And Tsarevich Ivan and Vasilisa the Wise and Clever went back to their own home and lived together long and happily till they were quite, quite old.
Author: Russian fairy tale; illustrated by Ponomarenko P.
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