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Ukrainian folk tale
Illustrated by Nataliya Kokhal
One tsar had a golden pear-tree. But hadn't any use from it because someone always stole all the crop.
So the tsar made his sons keep watch over the pear-tree.
The eldest son came to the pear-tree and lay down. A mouse crept up to him and asked:
«Will you give me something to eat, tsarevich?»
He drove her away. Next morning, when he woke at dawn he saw nothing on the tree.
The middle son failed to keep an eye on the pear-tree too.
The tsar also had a third son — Myshko, a simple and quiet lad who said:
«Dad, I'll go to keep watch over the pear-tree!»
He came to the pear-tree, made a fire and sat down to fry some pork fat.
The mouse crept up to him:
«Myshko, give me some bread».
The lad gave her a slice of bread with pork fat.
«Now go to sleep and at twelve o'clock I'll wake you. A golden bird with a golden basket will come flying here to pick pears. And if you come out so that she can't hear you, you should catch her. She isn't timid».
At midnight the mouse woke the lad. He got up and saw there was a fine golden-feathered bird on the pear-tree. She had put a basket among the branches and was picking pears with her beak.
Little by little Myshko climbed the tree, approached the bird and seized her by the tail. But only her tail remained in his hands — the bird flew away.
In the morning Myshko returned home. The tsar asked him:
«Well, have you kept an eye on the pear-tree?»
«Yes! I have, but what is the use? I seized the golden bird by the tail but she broke away. Only the tail and basket were left».
The tsar became angry with the elder sons, gave them horses and ordered:
«Go away! I don't want to know you because you failed to keep watch over the pear-tree!»
The elder sons rode off.
But the youngest also was saddling his horse in preparation for a journey.
«Where are you going, Myshko?»
«To follow the golden bird. I must catch her for she can't steal our pears again».
He rode a long time and in one town met his brothers: they were drinking and carousing in a tavern. Myshko payed no heed to them. He ate his bread, drank his water and went away.
At last he came to some cross-roads where there was a plate with the inscription: «If you go straight ahead you will perish. If you go to the left you will not return. If you go to the right you will be eaten by the Iron Wolf».
Myshko stopped and thought:
«What must I do — return home or go to meet death?» No one way promised life.
Myshko decided to choose the third way. «If the Wolf comes I'll give him my horse — he'll eat the horse and leave me alive».
So he turned to the right and came to some high mountains. Suddenly he heard that something was buzzing. He looked ahead—an enormous wolf with open jaws was running towards him.
The lad jumped off his horse and cried:
«Don't eat me, take my horse!»
The wolf ate the horse and asked:
«Where are you going?»
«Here, there, and everywhere—I am looking for the golden bird that stole our pears».
«Oh, it's a very long way! You can't go yourself. Mount me and hold on fast...»
They came to another country where there was an evil tsar.
The Wolf stopped near the forest and said:
«Well, Myshko, go to the palace. They can't see you from the gate—I made sure. And under the cow-shed is the bird in a cage. But take care, don't touch the cage for then they'll hear you and you'll be caught».
Myshko passed through the tsar's gate. There were up to four guards but no one noticed the lad. He came to the cow-shed, looked—there was the golden bird in the golden cage. He removed the bird and then thought: «What a beautiful cage, it grieves me to leave It!»
As soon as he touched it, a shout was heard immediately. The tsar's servants caught him and brought him to the tsar.
«Who are you?», asked the tsar.
Myshko tried to explain in a round about fashion. The tsar said that he would set him free if the lad would vow to bring him a golden-maned horse from another tsar.
Myshko returned to the Wolf.
«Well, didn't I warn you not to touch the cage? You just escaped death! Well, let's go to the other tsar. You must bring what you have exchanged».
They came to the other tsar and the Wolf instructed Myshko once more:
«The guards at the gate won't notice you entering the stable where the golden-maned horse is, as you'll be invisible. But don't touch the bridle, otherwise you'll be heard, discovered and caught».
Myshko passed through the gate, opened the stable and saw the beautiful horse. He took the horse and thought:« Oh well, I'll take the bridle also! It's so fine...»
Just as he seized the bridle it made a noise and the guards caught Myshko.
The tsar was very angry with the lad.
«You are a robber! You wanted to steal my golden-maned horse, didn't you? I'll put you to death!»
Myshko told him everything — from the beginning to why he had come there.
And the tsar said:
«In one country there is a golden-haired maid. If you bring me her I'll forgive you, and if you don't — I'll find you even at the back of beyond».
Myshko vowed to do his best.
Then he returned to the Wolf.
«You haven't listened again, have you?» — the Wolf asked. And swinging his paw struck him. «Well, mount me and let's go to the third country for the golden-haired maid».
They came to the third country, to the tsar's palace.
The Wolf gave the order: «Wait for me here, I'll go for the maid myself, you can't bring her. If they catch you here you will be killed for sure».
And then, the tsarivna walked around the garden. Then, when all the rest returned to the palace for lunch, the Wolf glanced round to see if somebody saw him and took the maid, put her on his back and sped away.
As he came running to Myshko the lad also mounted the Wolf.
But the tsar saddled a twelve-legged dragon and flew after them.
«Oh, it's burning my shoulder!»
The Wolf advised him:
«Pull out a hair from my tail and throw it behind you without turning back».
Myshko drew out a hair and threw it behind his back. And an iron mountain arose there in the twinkling of an eye. The evil tsar couldn't get over it...
And so they went on. And at last arrived at the mountains where some time ago the Wolf had assaulted Myshko. There the Wolf left them went to get the golden-feathered bird and the golden-maned horse. Soon he brought the bird and the horse, gave them to Myshko and said:
«I'll stay here and you go to your country. But take care, don't fall asleep anywhere otherwise you'll perish».
Myshko mounted the horse with the tsarivna. When they came to a large field they decided to rest a little. They dismounted the horse, lay down and rested. But as they rested they dozed off.
Meanwhile a dog-headed creature arrived. He bewitched Myshko and his horse turning them into stone, and took the maid and the bird with him. He brought the maid to his home and tried to force her to marry him. But the maid didn't want to because she loved Myshko.
A long time passed in this way. Meanwhile the Iron Wolf had called together all the wolves as he was their king. Various wolves told him where they had been. And a lame wolf said:
«I saw a man and a horse turned into stone near the road».
And the Iron Wolf began to ask everyone:
«Who knows where the water of life is!».
Nobody knew but the lame wolf: the water was in the Bad Forest, between hills that constantly struck each other except at noon. The lame wolf made his way there and scooped up some water.
The Iron Wolf splashed the water of life on the two stones and they came to life.
«Well, Myshko, do you remember what I ordered you? You didn't obey and lost the maid and the bird and your life. Now take the path to the ninth mountain. There lives an old woman who will advise you what to do».
Myshko came to the ninth mountain and bowed to the old woman. She was about five hundreds years old. She opened her eyes with :
«What are you looking for, sony?»
«This and that», — said the lad.
«And should I be able to get back the maid and the bird?»
«If you are lucky you'll get them back. But I don't know if you'll return alive. The trouble is that everyone dies in a moment of the dog-headed creature's look, even at five hundreds metres' distance. But cheer up! Near his hovel you'll see a beech tree. Under the beech, beneath its roots, a stick is buried — this is what makes the dog-headed creature strong. When you find this stick don't waste time but quickly break it in two. And the dog-headed creature will lose his power and will remain in bed dying».
And everything happened in this way. Myshko dug up the soil and found the fine stick. He quickly broke it in two. He entered the hovel, and the dog-headed creature began to die. In five minutes it was drawing its last breath. Meanwhile the maid had grown old and pale, she was like a bag of bones — worn out by the dog-headed creature.
Myshko took the bird and the tsarivna. They mounted the horse and set off.
They came to their country, went to the tavern where once Myshko's brothers had caroused. They were now sweeping the streets — this is what they had come to. They recognized their youngest brother but hid from him, feeling a great sense of shame. And what did they decide to do?
«Let's kill Myshko and bring the golden-maned horse, the bird and tsarivna to father telling him that we got it all».
They pulled Myshko off the horse and threatened him to keep silent and to tell their father nothing about their crime. Myshko had no choice but to give his word not to come home for two years and to tell their father nothing. The brothers took the golden-maned horse, the golden-haired maid and golden-feathered bird and went home. The old tsar revised everything and welcomed the sons, he had once exiled.
But the maid was sad, she was grieving for Myshko but didn't dare to tell the tsar the truth about his brothers' crime.
She grew lonely refusing to marry anybody.
In two years Myshko returned — poor, starving and ragged. As soon as the maid saw him she was filled with happiness and brought him to the old tsar. And the tsar wondered how his son could come to such poverty.
«I'll tell you nothing, daddy. Let the maid explain everything».
And the tsarivna explained everything. The elder brothers were torn apart by horses, and Myshko's wedding was celebrated. The tsar handed over the country to him and thus he began to rule over his fathers' throne.
Author: Ukrainian Folk Tale; illustrated by Kokhal N.
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