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Russian fairy tale
Translated by Dorian Rottenberg
Illustrated by N.Guz
By and by Ivan's own native land came in sight, and there was the old Tsar waiting for them on the front porch of his palace.
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom rode into the courtyard, and the Tsar scuttled down the steps, lifted Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna from the saddle and took her white hands in his.
"All these years," said he, "I've been sending my matchmakers and coming myself to woo you, and you've always refused. But this time you will have to marry me."
And Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna smiled wryly and said:
"You might let me rest from the journey, Your Majesty, before talking of marriage."
The Tsar bustled about and made a great fuss and he sent for the palace nurses, handmaids and chambermaids.
"Is her chamber ready for my most welcome guest, Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna?"
"It has long been ready, Your Majesty."
"Well, know then that she is to be your Tsaritsa, so do her bidding and obey her every word!"
Then the nurses, handmaids and chambermaids led Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna off to her chamber.
Said the Tsar to Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom:
"Well done, Ivan! For doing me this service you shall be my Prime Minister, and I bestow upon you three towns and all the lands round them."
A day passed and another, and the old Tsar grew ever more impatient, and longed to be wed. Said he to Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna:
"On what day is the wedding to be, when shall we go to church?"
And Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna replied:
"How can I be married when I haven't my wedding-ring or coach with me?"
"Oh, if that's all, it can't stop us," said the Tsar. "There are enough coaches and to spare in my tsardom, and rings too. You can have your choice. But if none of them please you, we can send a messenger to the lands beyond the sea to fetch you such as will."
"No, Your Majesty, I won't go to church in any but my own coach and I won't be wed with any but my own ring."
"And where may they be, your wedding-ring and your coach?"
"My ring is in my travelling trunk, my travelling trunk in my coach, and my coach near the Isle of Buyan, at the bottom of the Ocean-Sea. And until you get them, better not talk of marriage."
The Tsar took off his crown and scratched the back of his head.
"But how am I to get your coach from the bottom of the Ocean- Sea?"
"I don't care how you do it as long as you do it."
And off she swept to her own chamber.
The Tsar was left alone. He thought and thought till he remembered Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom.
"That's who will get me the ring and the coach!" said he.
And he sent straight for Ivan and said to him:
"Now, my faithful servant Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom, listen to what I say. You it was who got me the Self-Playing Psaltery, the Dancing Goose and the Glee-Maker Cat. You it was, too, who brought me Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna. Now do me a third service —bring me her wedding-ring and coach. The ring lies in the travelling trunk, the travelling trunk in her coach, and her coach, near the Isle of Buyan at the bottom of the Ocean-Sea. If you fetch me the ring and the coach, I shall make you lord over a third of my tsardom."
Said Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom:
"But, Your Majesty, I'm not a whale-fish. How can I go down to the sea bottom to look for the ring and coach?"
The Tsar flew into a temper, stamped his feet and shouted:
"None of that talk, now! Who's the Tsar here, you or I? It's for me to order and for you to obey! If you fetch me the ring and coach, I shall reward you royally; if you don't, then I'll have your head cut off!"
Off went Ivan to the stables, and he began saddling his Mare with the Golden Mane, and the Mare asked:
"Is it far you are going, Master?"
"I don't know myself yet, but go I must. The Tsar has ordered me to fetch him the Tsarevna's ring and coach. The ring lies in her travelling trunk, her travelling trunk in her coach, and the coach, near the Isle of Buyan at the bottom of the Ocean-Sea. And it is there we must go."
Said the Mare with the Golden Mane:
"This is a harder task than any that we have done so far. The way is not far, but it may end in woe. I know where the coach is, but it is not easy to get it. I shall go down to the bottom of the Ocean-Sea, and hitch myself to the coach. And I'll pull it out if the Sea-Horses don't see me. For if they do, they'll tear me to shreds, and you'll never see me or the coach any more."
At this Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom fell a-thinking. He thought and he thought, till at last he found a way out.
He went to the Tsar and said:
I need twelve ox-hides. Your Majesty, twelve poods of tarred rope, twelve poods of tar and a cauldron."
"Take anything you want," said the Tsar, "only make haste and get on with your task."
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom loaded the ox-hides, the rope and the big cauldron of tar on to a cart, hitched on his Mare and set out on his way.
They came to the seashore, to the Tsar's own meadows, and Ivan began covering the Mare with the hides and binding them with the rope.
"Even if the Sea-Horses do catch sight of you, they won't be able to bite through the hides so soon," said he.
And he wrapped the Mare up in all of the twelve hides and used up all the twelve poods of rope to tie them on with. Then he warmed up the tar and poured it on top—all the twelve poods of it.
"Now the Sea-Horses can't harm me," said the Mare with the Golden Mane. "Stay here in the meadows and wait for me for three days. Play on your psaltery and don't close your eyes."
And she plunged into the sea.
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom was left all alone on the seashore. A day passed, and another, and still he kept awake, playing on his psaltery and keeping his eyes glued to the sea.
But on the third day he began to feel drowsy, and even the psaltery couldn't help him. He struggled against sleep for a time, but it overpowered him at last, and before he knew it he had dozed off.
Whether he slept for a long or a little time nobody knows, but all of a sudden he seemed to hear the clatter of hoofs. He started up, and who should he see but the Mare with the Golden Mane bounding out on to the shore and pulling the coach behind her, while six golden-maned Sea-Horses hung to her sides.
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom rushed towards her, and the Mare with the Golden Mane said:
"If you hadn't covered me with the ox-hides and tied and tarred them, you would never have seen me again. A whole herd of Sea- Horses fell on me. They tore nine of my twelve hides to shreds and bit through two others. And six of the horses got their teeth stuck so fast in the ropes and tar that they couldn't break loose. But that's all right, for you will find them useful.''
Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom bound the Sea-Horses' feet so they could not run away and, pulling out his whip, set about teaching them reason. And as he flogged them he said:
"Will you take me for your master? Will you obey me? If you won't, I shall flay you alive and throw your carcasses to the wolves."
The Sea-Horses fell on their knees and began pleading with Ivan to spare them.
"Don't beat us any more, bonny lad," cried they. "We will obey your every word and serve you faithfully; and if ever you are in trouble, we shall come to your help."
So Ivan left off beating them and, hitching all seven horses to the coach, drove home.
They dashed up to the front door of the Tsar's palace, and then Ivan took the Mare and the Sea-Horses to the stables and himself went to the Tsar.
"Come and take the coach, Your Majesty, it's waiting at your porch with all the dowry in it."
Out the Tsar rushed and straight to the coach, and he picked up the trunk and took it to Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna. But he did not say so much as a word of thanks to Ivan.
"Well, Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna," said he, "I have carried out all your wishes and whims. Here are your ring and trunk, and the coach stands waiting outside. Now say when the wedding is to be and for what day I am to invite the guests."
Said Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna in reply:
"I don't mind marrying you, and we can have the wedding soon. But I don't like being seen going to church with anyone so old and grizzly. What will people say? They'll surely laugh at us: 'Look at that old man marrying a young girl!' they'll say. 'Doesn't he know what he is letting himself in for! Why, he'll only be doing other men a favour.' And gossips' mouths are hard to stop, you know. Now if only you grew younger before we married, all would be well."
"Nothing would please me more," the Tsar said. "But you must teach me how to do it. It's something no one has heard of in our tsardom."
"You must take three big copper cauldrons and fill one with whole milk and the other two with spring water. The cauldron with milk and one of the cauldrons with water should be heated, and just as they start boiling, you must first jump into the milk, then into the hot water and last into the cold. And when you have had a dip in all of the three cauldrons, you will come out as young and handsome as a man of twenty."
"But won't I get scalded?" asked the Tsar.
"In my tsardom there are no old people at all. Everyone does it, and no one ever got scalded."
So the Tsar went and had everything made ready as Alyona had told him.
But when the milk and water came to the boil he was frightened and couldn't make up his mind to jump in. He walked round and round the cauldrons, and then he slapped his forehead and said:
"What can I be thinking of! Let Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom have a bathe first, and if it all comes out well, I shall dive in myself. If not, and he gets scalded, I won't have lost anything. All his horses will be mine, and I won't have to share my tsardom with him as I promised.''
And he sent for Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom.
"What is it you want, Your Majesty?" Ivan asked. "Why, I haven't even rested from my journey yet."
"I will not keep you long—just take a dip in these cauldrons and then go and rest," said the Tsar.
Ivan looked into the cauldrons. The two with the milk and water were seething and boiling, and only in the third was the water calm and cool.
"You don't want to boil me alive, Your Majesty, do you?" he said. "Is that your reward for my faithful service?"
"Oh, no, Ivan. You see, if an old man takes a dip in them he becomes as young and handsome as a man of twenty."
"But I'm not old, Your Majesty, I don't need to get any younger."
The Tsar was angry.
"Dear me, what a fellow you are to argue! Always ready to cross me! If you don't jump in of your own free will. I'll have you thrown in. I see you want to taste the rack, my lad!"
Just then Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna ran out from her chamber and, catching a moment when the Tsar was not looking, whispered to Ivan:
"Tell your Mare with the Golden Mane and the Sea-Horses that you are going to do it before you dive in. Then you may bathe without fear."
And to the Tsar she said:
"I came to see if everything had been made ready for you as I told you."
And she went up to the cauldrons and looked in.
"I see it is all as it should be," she said. "Have your bathe now, and I will run off to get ready for the wedding."
And off she went to her chamber. Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom shot a look at the Tsar and said:
"Very well, I shall do as you say one last time. One can only die once. But let me go and have a last look at my Mare with the Golden Mane. It may be the last time I see her, and we've travelled far and long together."
"Very well, you may go, but don't be long there."
So Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom went to the stables and told his Mare and Sea-Horses everything.
"When you hear us snort three times," said they, "dive in and fear nothing."
Ivan went back to the Tsar.
"I'm quite ready now. Your Majesty," he said, "I'll dive in right away."
Just then the horses gave three snorts, and in he went with a splash into the hot milk. Then he dived out and plunged into the hot water, and last he dipped into the cold water. And he came out of the third cauldron as handsome as the sky at dawn, the handsomest youth that ever was born.
The Tsar saw him and wavered no more. Up he scrambled on to the platform, plunged into the milk, and was boiled alive.
Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna hurried down from the porch and took Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom by the hands and slipped her ring on his finger.
Then she smiled and said:
"You carried me off by order of the Tsar, but he is dead, you may do as you will: if you like, you may take me back; and if not, you may keep me for yourself."
And Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom took her white hands in his and called her his own dear bride and slipped his ring on her finger.
After that he sent messengers to his village to call his mother and father and his brothers to the wedding. And soon after his mother and father and the thirty-two bonny lads, his brothers, came to the palace.
And then they were wed and there was a grand feast, and Ivan—Young of Years, Old of Wisdom and Alyona the Lovely Tsarevna lived happily ever after and took good care of Ivan's mother and father.
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