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Ukrainian folk tale

The Magic Egg

The Magic Egg

Translated by Irina Zheleznova
freebooksforkids.net
Illustrated by J.Mitchenko

The Magic Egg

In the days when the Lark was king and the Mouse was queen they had a field of their own which they planted with wheat. As soon as the wheat was ripe they reaped it and began dividing it between them, and when it was all done, one little grain was left.

"Let me have it!" said the Mouse.

"No, let me!" said the Lark.

They did not know what to do, for neither would let the other have the grain, and there not being anyone higher than they in the land, could not take the matter to court.

"I'll bite the grain in two and then there'll be a half for each of us," the Mouse said.

To this the Lark agreed, but no sooner did the Mouse have the grain between her teeth than away she ran with it to her hole!

The Lark was very angry, and, calling the birds together, led them against the Mouse. But the Mouse, not to be outdone, summoned the animals and mustered an army of her own. The two armies met in the forest, and the battle that was waged was unlike any that had ever been seen before!

The birds were the better off, for they could take to the air under attack and hide in the trees, while the animals had nowhere to hide and were killed in great numbers.

The fighting went on all day and was stopped in the evening to give both sides a chance to rest. It was then that, the Mouse inspected her army, and, seeing that there were no ants in it, ordered them to join her at once. The ants came running, and she told them to climb the trees under cover of darkness and bite the feathers off the birds' wings.

Morning came, and the Lark shouted:

"Time to fight again, everybody!"

At this they all rose, but the birds, whose wings were now bare of feathers, could not fly. They fell to the ground, the animals pounced on and killed them, and the war was won by the Mouse.

But there was an Eagle among the birds who, seeing how dangerous it was to fly, made no move to do so but stayed up in a tree. A Hunter saw him there, and lifting his gun, made to shoot him, but the Eagle said:

"Do not kill me, Hunter! I will help you if ever you are in trouble."

The Eagle's words only stopped the Hunter for a moment, and he took careful aim and made to shoot him again, but the Eagle began pleading with him not to kill him.

"Take me with you and feed me, and you will not regret it, Hunter!" said he.

But even this did not stop the Hunter and he was about to shoot the Eagle when the Eagle said:

"Do not kill me, Hunter! Take me with you, and you will see how great a service I will do you!"

The Magic Egg

The Hunter believed him. He climbed the tree, took down the Eagle and carried him off with him.

Said the Eagle:

"Take me home with you, Hunter, and feed me on nothing but meat till my wings grow out again."

Now, the Hunter had two cows and a bull, and he slaughtered one of the cows in order to feed the Eagle. The meat lasted the Eagle a full year, and when he had eaten it all, he said to the Hunter:

"Set me free and let me fly around for a bit, for I want to see if my wings have grown out enough."

The Hunter set him free, and the Eagle practiced flying all morning and came back to the Hunter again at midday.

"I am still weak," said he. "You must slaughter your other cow for me."

The Hunter slaughtered the second cow, and the Eagle ate up all of the meat in a year's time and went flying again. He spent nearly the whole of the day at it, and it was getting on toward evening when he came flying back to the Hunter.

"I am not yet strong enough," said he. "You must slaughter your bull for me."

The Hunter was of two minds about it. "Should I do as the Eagle asks or not?" he asked himself.

He thought it over and said:

"Ah, well, I gave up my cows, so I might as well give up the bull!"

He slaughtered the bull and gave the meat to the Eagle, and the Eagle ate it all up in a year's time and at once soared up to the clouds! Round and round he flew for a long time, but came flying back at last and said to the Hunter:

"Many thanks to you, Hunter. You have fed me well, and made me strong again. And now get on my back!"

"Why should I do that?" the Hunter asked.

"Get on my back and you'll see!" the Eagle said.

The Hunter got on his back, and the Eagle carried him straight up to the clouds and then hurled him downward. But when the Hunter was still some distance away from the ground he caught and held him.

The Magic Egg

"Well, how did you like it?" he asked.

"I felt I was more dead than alive," the Hunter replied.

That's the way I felt too when you made to shoot me the first time. Come, now, get on my back again!"

The Hunter was not at all eager to do it, but he knew there was no help for it and got on the Eagle's back. And the Eagle carried him into the very thick of the clouds, dropped him as he had before and only caught him again when the Hunter was some twelve feet from the ground.

"Well, how did you like it?" he asked.

"I felt as if all my bones had turned to sand," the Hunter replied.

"That is the way I felt too when you made to shoot me the second time," the Eagle said. "Come, now, get on my back again!"

The Hunter got on his back, and the Eagle carried him higher than the clouds, hurled him downwards and only caught him again when he had all but been dashed against the ground.

"Well, how did you like it?" he asked.

"I felt as if there was no more life left in me," the Hunter replied.

"That is the way I felt too when you made to shoot me the third time," the Eagle said. "But we are quits now. So get on my back and I will take you to my house for a visit."

Away they flew and only stopped when they got to the Eagle's uncle's house.

Said the Eagle to the Hunter:

"Go into the house, and if they ask you if you have seen me just say: 'I'll bring him here if you give me the magic egg.'"

The Hunter went into the house, and the first thing they asked him was if he had come there of his own free will.

"A true Cossack never goes anywhere but of his own free will," the Hunter replied.

"Have you heard anything about our nephew?" they asked him. "He has been away at war for three years now and we have had no news of him."

"I will bring him here if only you give me the magic egg," the Hunter said.

"No, that we cannot do. Better that we never see him again."

The Hunter went back to the Eagle empty-handed and told him what had been said.

"Let us be on our way!" the Eagle cried.

On they flew and did not stop till they got to the Eagle's brother's house. The Hunter told him just what he had told their uncle and aunt, but the Eagle's brother would not give him the magic egg either.

They flew on to the Eagle's father's house and when they got there the Eagle said:

"Go into the house and when they ask about me tell them you have seen me and can bring me to them."

The Hunter came into the house, and the first thing they asked him was whether he had come there of his own free will.

"A true Cossack never goes anywhere but of his own. free will!" the Hunter replied.

"Have you seen our son? It is three years now that he has been away at war and we don't know if he is alive or dead."

Said the Hunter:

"I have seen your son and can bring him to you if only you give me the magic egg."

"What do you need it for!" said the Eagle's father. "We will give you sacks of gold instead."

"I don't want a ransom, I want nothing but the magic egg!" the Hunter said.

"Well, then, bring us our son, and you shall have it!"

The Hunter brought in the Eagle, and so glad were the Eagle's mother and father to see him that they gave the Hunter the magic egg.

"Only don't break it till you get home," said they, "and be sure to build a high fence around it first."

The Hunter set out on his way, he walked and he walked and oh, how thirsty he felt! He came to a well, but just as he bent over the bucket to take a drink of water he knocked the magic egg against its side and broke it. And what should come pouring out of the egg but a whole herd of cows! The Hunter was quite at a loss how to stop them from running away from him. He rushed at them first from one side and then
from the other, shouting at the top of his voice all the time, but could do nothing.

The Magic Egg

All of a sudden a Snake crawled up to him.

"What will you give me, my good man, if I get the cows back into the egg again?"  asked she in a human voice.

"What would you like?" the Hunter asked.

"Will you give me that which appeared in your house while you were away?"

"I will!"'

The Snake drove the cows back into the egg, glued the broken shell together again and gave the egg to the Hunter.

The Hunter came home and when he learnt that a son had been born to him while he was away he clutched his head in fright.

"It is you, my son, that I promised to give up to the Snake!" he cried.

He and his wife grieved and sorrowed for a time, and then they said:

"There is nothing to be done, and grieving about it won't help!"

So they built a fence around the egg and then broke the egg and let the cows out of it, and so large was the herd that they prospered and grew rich.

The years went by, and before they knew it their son was a grown man.

"You told the Snake that you would give me to her, Father, so you must keep your word! " said he.

And off he went to see the Snake.

"I will give you three tasks to do," the Snake said. "If you do them you can go home; if you don't, I will eat you up!"

Now, the Snake's house was surrounded by a huge, forest-grown plot of land that stretched as far as the eye could see.

"See that plot?" the Snake asked. "Well, you must clear it of trees, plough it and plant it with wheat, reap the wheat and gather it into stacks all within one night. And you must bake some bread out of the selfsame wheat and place it on the table for me to eat when I get up in the morning."

Away went the Hunter's son with hanging head and he came to a pond. Now, close beside it rose a stone pillar, and in the enchanted pillar, the Snake's daughter was held captive.

The Hunter's Son stood by the pillar and wept, and the Maid heard him and asked why he was weeping.

"How can I help it when the Snake has bidden me to do what I can never do in the space of one night!" said he.

"And what is that?"

The Hunter's Son told her everything, and the Maid said:

"Marry me, and I will do all she has asked of you."

"Very well."

"Well, then, go to bed now, for you must be up early tomorrow to take the bread to her."

The Magic Egg

The Hunter's Son went to bed, and' the Maid went to the forest and whistled, and lo! — the trees began creaking and groaning, and the land was cleared of them at one end at the same time as it was sown with wheat at the other. Morning had not yet dawned when the bread was baked, and the Hunter's Son took it from the Maid, carried it to the Snake's hut and placed it on the table.

The Snake woke, she came out into the yard, and instead of the forest there was a field around it with nothing but stubble and stacks of wheat on it.

"You've done what I told you to do, I see," said she to the Hunter's Son. "And now here is your second task. First dig a great passage under that mountain yonder and send the Dnieper flowing through it, and then put up some storehouses on the Dnieper bank and fill them with wheat. The boats will come sailing up bringing merchants to trade with you, and you will sell them all of it. And this must be done by the time I am up in the morning!"

Off went the Hunter's Son to the stone pillar, and he wept and cried.

"Why do you weep?" the Maid asked him.

He told her about the task the Snake had set him, and she said:

"Go to bed, and I will do everything."

She gave a whistle, and in no time at all a passage was dug under the mountain, the Dnieper was sent flowing through it, and storehouses were built on the Dnieper shore. And morning had not yet dawned when she came to wake the Hunter's Son and tell him that the merchants were waiting and he had to make haste and load the boats.

The Snake rose and was much surprised to see that everything was done as she had bade.

"And now here is your third task," said she to the Hunter's Son. "As soon as night comes you must catch a golden rabbit and bring it to me before morning."

Off went the Hunter's son and he wept and cried. He came to the stone pillar, and the Maid asked him what the third task was that the Snake had set him. He told her what it was, and she said:

"Now, that is a harder task than any she set you before! But let us go to that rock yonder. I will drive the rabbit out of his burrow, and you must try to catch him. And mind that you seize whoever it is that comes out of the burrow, for it can only be he!"

She climbed down into the burrow and began trying to drive out the rabbit, and the Hunter's Son stood there and waited.

All of a sudden who should come crawling out of the burrow, hissing as it crawled, but an adder. The Hunter's Son let it crawl away without trying to stop it, and soon after that the Maid climbed out of the burrow and came back to him.

"Didn't anyone come out before me?" she asked.

"An adder did, but I was afraid it might bite and let it go!"

"What a fool you are! That was the golden rabbit in the adder's guise! Well, I'm going back again now, and if anyone comes out of the burrow and tells you that there is no golden rabbit there, don't you believe him but seize and hold him fast!"

She climbed down into the burrow again and began driving out the rabbit, and lo! — who should come out of it but a wrinkled old woman.

"What are you looking for, my son?" asked she of the Hunter's Son.

"The golden rabbit, Grandma."

"What a one to look for! There's no golden rabbit there."

The old woman went away, and the Maid climbed out of the burrow and came back to the Hunter's Son.

"What, no rabbit? Didn't anyone come out of the burrow?" she asked.

"No one but a very old woman who asked me what I was looking for. When I told her what it was, she said there was no golden rabbit there, and I let her go."

"You shouldn't have, for it was the golden rabbit in the guise of an old woman. You won't be able to find him anywhere now, so I am going to turn into a rabbit myself, and you must take me to the Snake and place me on a chair in front of her. But mind you don't let her touch me, for if you do she will know me for what I am and will kill both you and me."

She turned into a golden rabbit, and the Hunter's Son took it to the Snake and placed it on a chair in front of her.

"Here is your golden rabbit," he said. "And now I think I will be leaving you."

"Go ahead!" said the Snake.

Away went the Hunter's Son, and as soon as the Snake left the house the Maid took her own shape again. She rushed outside and joined the Hunter's Son, and on they ran together as fast as they could!

The Snake returned, and, seeing that she had been tricked, sent her husband after them.

The Maid and the Hunter's Son felt the earth quaking and rumbling beneath them, and the Maid said:

"They are coming after us! I am going to turn myself into a field of wheat and you into an old watchman, and when they ask you if you saw a man and a maid passing by here you must say that you did, but that it was when the wheat was being planted."

The Magic Egg

The He-Snake was not long in coming, and he went straight up to the old watchman.

"Did you see a man and a maid passing by here?" he asked.

"I did," the watchman replied.

"When was that?"

"When the wheat was being planted."

"The wheat is ready to be reaped, and they only ran away yesterday."

And with that he turned back.

And the Maid and the Hunter's Son regained their true form and ran on again.

Some time passed, and the He-Snake came home.

"You haven't caught them, I see!" said the Snake. "Didn't you meet anyone on the way?"

"No one but an old man who was keeping watch over a wheat field. I asked him if he had seen a man and a maid passing by there and he told me he had, but that it was when the wheat was being planted. So I turned back because I saw that the wheat was ready to be reaped."

"You should have killed the watchman and trampled the wheat field underfoot, for it was the Maid and the Hunter's Son in their shape. Go after them again and kill them this time!"

The He-Snake flew after the runaways, and the Maid felt the earth quaking and rumbling beneath them and said:

"He is after us again and getting close! I am going to turn myself into an old, broken-down monastery and you into a monk, and when the He-Snake asks you if you saw a man and a maid passing by you must tell him you did but that it was when the monastery was being built."'

The He-Snake came flying up, and, seeing a monk before him, flew straight up to him.

"Did you see a man and a maid passing by here?" he asked.

"I did, but it was when the monastery was being built," the monk replied.

"That must have been at least a hundred years ago, and they ran away only yesterday!"

And with that the He-Snake turned back and went home.

"I saw a monastery and an old monk beside it, and I asked him about the runaways," said he to his wife, "and when he said he saw them when the monastery was being built, I knew they weren't the ones we were after, for the monastery was at least a hundred years old."

“You should have killed the monk and torn down the monastery, for it was the Hunter's Son and the Maid in their shape," said the She-Snake. "I'll go after them myself now!"

She was off in a flash, and so fast did she run that the earth quaked and rumbled beneath her, and when the Maid passed her hand over the ground it felt hot to her touch.

"We are lost, for it is the She-Snake herself who is after us this time!" she cried. "I am going to turn you into a stream and myself into a perch."

This she did, and when the She-Snake came flying up and saw the stream she turned herself into a pike and went after the perch. But every time she tried to seize it, the perch would turn its spiky fins toward her and force her to move away. So then she gave up chasing it and decided to drink up all of the water in the stream. She drank and she drank till at last she was so full of water that her belly burst and she dropped dead.

The Maid and the Hunter's Son got back their proper shape, and the Maid said:

"Now we have no one to fear! Let us go to your house, and when you meet your people you must kiss and embrace them all save only your uncle's child, for if you kiss it you will forget me."

They came to his village, and the Maid hired herself out as a servant to one of the villagers. And the Hunter's Son went to his own house and kissed and embraced all who were there save his uncle's child. But then, thinking that this might displease his family, he kissed it too, and at once forgot all about the Maid.

Half a year or so passed and he decided to marry. A pretty maid was found for him, and he wooed and won her and never remembered the Maid who had saved him from the Snake's clutches.

On the eve of the wedding all the young girls of the village, the Maid among them, were invited to the groom's house to bake buns. They set to work, and the Maid made two buns in the shape of doves. She placed them on the floor, and they came to life and cooed softly.

"Do you not remember that I uprooted a whole forest and planted wheat there and made bread out of it for you to take to the Snake?" one of the doves asked.

And its mate replied:

"No, I remember none of it!"

"Do you not remember that I dug a passage under a mountain and sent the Dnieper flowing through it so that the merchants might come sailing up in their boats and trade with you?" the first dove asked.

And its mate replied:

"No, I remember none of it!"

"Do you not remember how we hunted the golden rabbit together?" the first dove asked again.

And its mate replied:

"No, I remember none of it!"

It was then that the Hunter's Son recalled all that had been. He broke his promise to his bride and married his true love instead, and they lived happily ever after.

The Magic Egg

Author: Ukrainian folk tale; illustrated by Mitchenko J.

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