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Russian fairy tale
Translated by Dorian Rottenberg
Illustrated by N.Guz
On the following day Baba-Yaga woke up her guest before dawn, and she gave him food and drink and saw him out into the yard. And Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom thanked her, took his leave and set out on his way.
A tale is short a-telling and long a-doing, but the ball of yarn rolled on and on, and Ivan went after it.
A day passed, and another, and a third, and the ball of yarn rolled up to a little hut on a sparrow's foot with a spindle for a heel. Here it stopped, and Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom called out:
"Little hut, little hut, turn your back to the trees and your face to me, please."
The hut turned round, and Ivan went up on to the porch. He opened the door, and a gruff voice said:
"Ugh, ugh, Russian blood, never met by me before, now I smell it at my door. Who comes here? Where from? Where to?"
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom showed Baba-Yaga the ball of yarn, and she cried out in wonder:
"Dear me, so you're not a stranger at all, but a welcome guest sent by my sister. Why didn't you say so at once?" And she flew about laying the table with dainties and drinks for her guest, and made him welcome.
"Eat and drink your fill," she said, "and lie down to rest. Then we'll talk about business."
So Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom ate and drank his fill and then he tumbled down to rest, while Baba-Yaga, the second witch-sister, sat down at his bedside and began asking him all about everything. And he told her who he was, whence he came, and whither he was going.
"The way is not far, but I don't know whether you'll get there and live. The Self-Playing Psaltery, the Dancing Goose and the Glee- Maker Cat all belong to our nephew Zmei Gorinich, the Dragon of the Mountains. Many a fine lad has gone there, and never a one came back, for they all fell prey to the Dragon. Now, he is the son of our eldest sister, and we'll have to ask her to help you, or you will not come back alive, either. I know what to do. I shall send her my messenger the Wise Raven to warn her. But now go to bed, for I shall wake you up early tomorrow."
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom had a sound night's sleep, and early in the morning he rose, washed and ate what Baba-Yaga set before him. After that she gave him a ball of red wool and came out to show him the way, and here they said good-bye. The ball of wool began to roll, and Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom went after it.
On and on he walked from sunrise to sunset and from sunset to dawn. Whenever he grew weary he would take up the ball of wool and sit down for a rest and a bite to eat. He would eat a crust of bread and drink a drop of spring water, and then set off on his way again.
By the end of the third day the ball of wool stopped at a large house. The house was built on twelve stones and propped by twelve pillars, and it was surrounded by a tall paling.
A dog barked, and Baba-Yaga, the eldest witch-sister, ran out on the porch. She quietened the dog, and said:
"I know all about you, my bonny lad. My sister's messenger the Wise Raven has been here. I'll find a way to help you in your need. But come in and have some food and drink, you must be hungry and footsore."
And she showed him in and gave him food and drink.
"Now you must hide," said she. "My son Zmei Gorinich is coming soon. He is always very cross and hungry when he comes, so I fear he may gobble you up."
And opening a trap-door, she added:
"Go down into the cellar and sit there till I call you."
Scarcely had she closed the trap-door, when there came a terrible noise and clatter. The door burst open, and in flew Zmei Gorinich, making such a din that the very walls shook.
"I smell Russian flesh!" he roared.
"Oh, no, my son, how can that be! It's years since even a grey wolf came prowling here or a falcon flying. It is you yourself have been flying about the wide world and brought the smell with you."
And she bustled about, setting the table. She pulled a roast bull from the oven and she fetched a pail of wine from the pantry. And Zmei Gorinich drained the pail at a single draught and gobbled up the roast bull and became more cheerful.
"Ah, Mother, I wish I could have a bit of fun, play cards with someone or something."
"I could find you someone to play cards with and to have fun with, but I fear you will harm him."
"Then call him in. Mother, and have no fear. I won't harm anyone, for I'm dying for a game of cards, and a bit of fun."
"Well, son, mind that you keep your promise," Baba-Yaga replied and she went and lifted the trap-door.
"Come up, Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom, do your host a favour and play cards with him."
They sat down at the table, and Zmei Gorinich said:
"Let us play, and mind: the winner eats the loser."
All night they played, and Baba-Yaga helped Ivan, so that by morning he had won the game.
Said Zmei Gorinich in pleading tones:
"Stay with us a while more, my fine lad, that I may try and win my own back. We can have another game when I get home tonight."
He flew away, and Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom had a sound sleep, and a good meal to follow it.
At sundown Zmei Gorinich came back, and he ate another roast bull, drank a pail and a half of wine and said:
"Well, now let's sit down and play, and I'll try and win my own back."
They sat down to play, but Zmei Gorinich hadn't slept all that night and had flown about the world all day, so he soon became drowsy. And Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom won again with Baba-Yaga's help. Said Zmei Gorinich:
"Now I must fly off on business, but we shall have a third game in the evening."
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom had a good rest and a sound sleep, and Zmei Gorinich had not slept for two nights and had flown all over the wide world, so he came home all tired out. He ate a roast bull and drank two pails of wine and he called to his guest:
"Sit down, my bonny lad, and I'll try and win my own back."
But he was so weary and drowsy that Ivan soon won for the third time.
Zmei Gorinich was very frightened, and he fell on his knees and he cried in pleading tones:
"Don't eat me up, don't kill me, Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom! I shall do you any service you like."
And then he fell on his knees before his mother and begged her too to persuade Ivan to spare him. And of course that was all Ivan wanted.
"Well, now, Zmei Gorinich," said he, "I've won three games of you, but if you give me your three wonders: the Self-Playing Psaltery, the Dancing Goose and the Glee-Maker Cat, we shall call it a bargain."
Zmei Gorinich laughed out with joy, and he set to hugging his guest and his old mother Baba-Yaga.
"You can have them, and welcome!" he cried. "I can get myself still better ones."
And Zmei Gorinich held a grand feast and he treated Ivan handsomely and called him brother. He even offered to carry him home.
"Why should you tramp on foot and carry the Self-Playing Psaltery, the Dancing Goose and the Glee-Maker Cat? I can take you wherever it is you want to go in a twinkling."
"That's right, son,'' said Baba-Yaga. "Take your guest to your aunt, my youngest sister. And don't forget to call on your other aunt on the way back. It's quite a time since they both saw you."
The feast came to an end, and Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom took his marvels and said good-bye to Baba-Yaga, and Zmei Gorinich caught him up and soared into the blue sky.
Before an hour had passed they came down again beside the hut of the youngest of the three Baba-Yagas. And Baba-Yaga ran out on to the porch, and very glad she was to see them. Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom wasted no time but saddled his Mare with the Golden Mane and, taking leave of the youngest Baba-Yaga and her nephew Zmei Gorinich, started back to his own tsardom.
He came home and he brought all the three wonders with him safe and sound. And the Tsar was having guests just then: three tsars with their tsareviches, three kings with their princes, and ministers and boyars besides.
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom came into the chamber and he gave the Tsar the Self-Playing Psaltery, the Dancing Goose and the Glee-Maker Cat. And wasn't the Tsar pleased!
"Well, Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom, you have done me a fine service indeed, and I praise you for it. Here is your reward: until now you were my Chief Groom. From this day I make you my Councillor."
At this the boyars and ministers frowned and they said to each other:
"A groom to sit among us! Such a disgrace! What can the Tsar be thinking of!"
But here the Self-Playing Psaltery struck up a tune, the Glee-Maker Cat began to sing and the Dancing Goose to dance. And there began such merriment that none of the noble guests could sit still, but they all jumped up and went into a dance.
Some time passed by, but they went on dancing. The kings' and tsars' crowns slid off to one side and sat askew on their heads, the princes and tsareviches wheeled round and round in a squat, and the boyars and ministers sweated and gasped. On and on they danced and could not stop. And at last the Tsar waved his hand and begged:
"Stop the fun, do, Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom. We are all tired out!"
So Ivan put the three marvels away in a bag, and at once a quiet fell on the company.
The guests dropped down on the benches and sat there puffing and gasping.
"Now wasn't that a treat!" they cried. "Did anyone ever see the like of it!"
The kings and princes from foreign lands all envied the Tsar who was pleased as pleased could be.
"Now all the tsars and kings will learn about this and burst with envy," thought he.
"Not one of them has such wonders as these."
But the Tsar's boyars and ministers said to each other:
"If this goes on, the bumpkin'll be the first man in the tsardom soon. If we don't get rid of him, he'll give all the state offices to his bumpkin kinsmen, and he'll drive us, noblemen, to death."
And so on the next day the boyars and ministers got together and sat thinking of a way of ridding themselves of the Tsar's new Councillor. They thought and they thought, till at last one old boyar said:
"Let us call the drunkard, he's an old hand at such things."
They called the drunkard who came and bowed and said:
"I know what your honours want me for well enough. If you stand me a half-pail of wine. I'll teach you how to get rid of the Tsar's new Councillor."
"Speak up, and the half-pail is yours," said the boyars and ministers.
They gave him a cupful for a start and the drunkard drained it and said:
"It is forty years since our Tsar became a widower. Since then he has tried many times to woo Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna, but without success. Three times he waged war on her tsardom and lost ever so many soldiers, but he could not win her even by force. Let him send Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom after her. He will go, but will never come back."
The boyars and ministers took heart, and when morning came they went to the Tsar.
"How wise you were, Your Majesty, to find such a clever Councillor! It was no easy task to get the wonders he brought, but now he boasts he can carry off and bring you Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna."
When the Tsar heard the name of Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna, he couldn't sit still, but jumped off his throne.
"Now why didn't I think of it before!" he cried. "He is the very man to send after her."
He called his new Councillor and said:
"You are to go at once beyond the Thrice-Nine Lands to the Thrice-Ten Tsardom and fetch me Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna."
And Ivan-Young of Years, Old of Wisdom replied:
"But, Your Majesty, Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna is not the Self-Plaving Psaltery, or the Dancing Goose, or the Glee-Maker Cat. You can't stuff her into a bag. Besides, she might not want to come here."
But the Tsar stamped his feet and waved his hands, and his beard shook.
"Don't you argue with me!" cried he. "I won't listen to any such talk. Do what you will, only bring her here. If you do, I shall give you a town to rule, with all the lands round it, and shall appoint you minister. But if you don't—I'll have your head cut off!''
Thoughtful and sad was Ivan when he left the Tsar. He began saddling his Mare with the Golden Mane, and the Mare asked:
"Why are you so sad and thoughtful, Master? Are you in trouble?"
"Not in any great trouble, no, but there's nothing to be pleased with, either," Ivan replied. "The Tsar has ordered me to fetch him Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna. He himself spent three years wooing her and all in vain, and he waged three wars to win her but could not, and now he sends me to fetch her all by myself."
"Oh, well, that's nothing to grieve about," said the Mare with the Golden Mane. "I'll help you, and we'll manage this between us somehow."
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom didn't take long to get ready, and was soon off. And the last that folk saw of him was how he mounted his steed—none were quick enough to see him pass through the gate.
Whether he rode far or near, for a long or a little time nobody knows, but at last he came to the Thrice-Ten Tsardom, and a tall paling blocked his way. But his Mare with the Golden Mane leapt over it easily, and Ivan found himself in the Tsar's own garden.
Said the Mare with the Golden Mane:
"I shall turn myself into an apple-tree with golden apples, and you must hide beside me. Tomorrow Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna will come out for a walk, and she will want to pluck a golden apple. Now, don't you lose a minute when she's near but seize her, get on my back—I'll be ready at hand-and away we'll go. And mind, if you blunder, we'll both be dead."
On the following morning Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna came to the gar¬ den for a walk. She saw the apple- tree with its golden fruit and cried to her nurses, handmaids and chambermaids:
"Oh, look what a lovely apple- tree! And its apples are all gold! Stay here and wait till I go and pluck one."
Up she ran to the tree, and Ivan- Young of Years, Old of Wisdom jumped out as if from nowhere and he seized Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna. And that very minute the apple-tree turned back into the Mare with the Golden Mane, and she beat the ground with her hoofs to remind Ivan that he must make haste. And Ivan leaped into the saddle and drew Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna up with him, and that was the last her nurses, handmaids and chambermaids saw of them.
The woman raised a cry, and the guards came running, but Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna was gone. The Tsar learned of it, and he sent out horsemen in all directions. But they all came back empty-handed. They had ridden their horses to death but had not even caught sight of the Tsarevna or the man who had carried her off.
Meanwhile Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom had galloped through many lands and left many lakes and rivers behind him.
At first Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna struggled and fought, but then she gave it up and wept quietly.
She'd weep for a spell, and then look at Ivan, weep some more, and then look at him again. On the second day she spoke to him.
"Tell me, stranger," said she, "who are you and where do you come from? Where is your native land, and who are your kinsmen, and what is the name you go by?"
"My name is Ivan, and they call me Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom. I come from such and such a Tsardom, and my father and mother are peasants."
"Say then, Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom, have you carried me off because you want me for yourself or was it by anyone's orders?"
"It was the Tsar who ordered me to fetch you," said he.
At this Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna wrung her hands and cried:
"Never in my life will I marry that old fool! For three years he wooed me and couldn't win me: he waged three wars against my tsardom and lost a host of troops and couldn't get me; and he will not have me now, either."
These words pleased Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom well, but he said nothing and only thought to himself:
"If only I had a wife like that!"
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