Tsarevitch Petr and the Wizard
Tsarevitch Petr and the Wizard
IN old, olden times, when God's world was full of wizards and forest monsters, and when the rivers ran with sweet milk, there lived a Tsar named Bel-Belianin with his Tsaritsa and their three sons, Alexei, Dimitri and Petr, lads comely and clever, all three of them.
One day the Tsaritsa, who had gone to walk on the open steppe, failed to return to the Palace, and though wide search was made, no trace could be found of her. She had disappeared as completely as if she had fallen into the water. Then Tsar Bel-Belianin called together his Ministers and Boyars, his sages, his grandees and counsellors, and asked their advice, and when they had deliberated for three weeks the eldest among them came before him and said:
"O Tsar's Majesty! it is clear that the Tsaritsa has been spirited away by Koshchei, the most powerful of all the wizards. While his own Realm and castle are beyond three times nine lands, he possesses strongholds many and various in other Tsardoms, and it has long been known that his most splendid Palaces are upon the tops of the highest, most inaccessible mountains in the next Tsardom to thine own. It is, however, bootless to war against him, for his Palaces are, each and every one, surrounded by enchantment, and Koshchei himself cannot be killed by mortal means, since he carries his life not in his body, but in a secret place that is known only to himself. We counsel thee, therefore, to choose another wife, for thy lost Tsaritsa thou wilt never regain as long as the world lasteth."
The Tsar was deeply saddened by this-speech. So much did he love his vanished Tsaritsa that he would not choose another in her place, but sent criers into far Tsardoms, offering wealth and honors to him who should restore her to him. Daring heroes and great generals came in response from all sides, each promising valiant deeds, and Tsar Bel-Belianin bade each take from the royal treasury sufficient gold for his needs. But though scores arrived thus and rode away, there came no news of the missing Tsaritsa.
One day, as the Tsar sat musing, sad and troubled at heart in his summer-house, his three sons came into the garden and not knowing that he was within hearing, began to converse. "Methinks our little father is bereft of his reason," said Alexei, the eldest. "These boasting heroes who come from afar are galloping off with all his treasures. He is a fool to put faith in them. I warrant I could do as well as they."
Dimitri, the second son, said: "Doubtless they are but sorry scoundrels who play upon our Tsar-father's credulity. With a tenth of the sum that has been given them I myself would find our little mother."
But Petr, the youngest, said: "Not so, my brothers. If Koshchei the Wizard has her, it will need a stout heart to bring her back, and who knoweth where that may be found? Would, however, that our little father would send us abroad to do our best!"
When the lads had left the garden, Tsar Bel-Belianin re entered the Palace and summoned them to his presence. "My dear sons," he said, "ye know how the loss of your mother oppresses my heart and soul. Many brave heroes have searched for her vainly and I am minded now to send one of you forth. Thou, therefore, Alexei, who art my eldest, take my fatherly blessing, with as much gold and as many troops as thou requirest, and try thy fortune in the quest. If thou dost succeed, thou shalt inherit my Tsardom."
So, boasting much, Tsarevitch Alexei took from the treasury a full purse and with fifty thousand soldiers armed with iron lances, set out from the capital. He rode one day, he rode one week, he rode a month, and two and three, asking questions of all he met, until he had passed beyond the borders of his father's Tsardom, but no one had heard of the lost Tsaritsa or of the strongholds of Koshchei the Wizard. At length he came, through fen and morass, to a desert land where only earth and sky were to be seen and the sand was as hot as cinder-cakes, and here his host vanished one by one till but ten remained. Beyond the desert was a forest and on the skirt of the forest, in a patch of wild hemp and bramble, he came upon an old gray-beard, a yard tall, sitting on a Stone.
"Health to thee, Grandfather," said Tsarevitch Alexei.
"Health to thee, Tsarevitch," replied the old man. "Where doth God carry thee? Art thou come hither to shirk a task or to find one?"
"To find one," answered Tsarevitch Alexei. "I seek the stronghold of Koshchei the Wizard, who has stolen away my little mother."
"Thou art on the right track," said the other, "but thou wilt not be able to reach it."
"Why not?" asked the Tsarevitch.
"Because," said the gray-beard, "there are three broad rivers between, over which thou must be ferried, and the price asked is a great one."
Tsarevitch Alexei threw the old man a piece of money. "I have gold and to spare," he said haughtily, and spurring forward, rode on to the first of the three rivers. There waited on its bank a ferryman covered with scales of copper like a tortoise, with a head like a cask and so huge of stature that the horses that carried the Tsarevitch's ten men snorted with terror and turning, galloped away with their riders. The Tsarevitch approached trembling and asked: "O ferry- man, wilt thou ferry me over?"
"If thou pay me my price," answered the ferryman.
"And what is thy price?" asked the Tsarevitch.
"I will bring thee back for naught," said the other, "but for carrying thee across, I shall strike off thy right hand."
Tsarevitch Alexei saw the sharp sword girded at the ferryman's side and his rebellious head drooped lower than his broad shoulders. "Of small use to myself should I be without my good right hand," he thought. "Yet, if I succeed, I shall be Tsar, and a Tsardom is worth the price."
So he bade the other take him across and on the further side the ferryman drew his sword and struck off his right hand, and bemoaning its loss the Tsarevitch spurred on alone. He rode one day, he rode two, and three, and came to the second river, and on its bank waited a ferryman as tall as a fir-tree, armored with plates of silver and of such a countenance that Tsarevitch Alexei's heart fainted for very fear, and turning, he struck spurs to his steed and rode back the way he had come, to his own Tsardom.
When he reached the capital, he entered the Palace, and coming to his father, said: "Gracious Sir! I have searched, these months through, in many lands, till there remains not a single man of the great host I took with me, while I myself have lost my right hand, but no trace of Koshchei the Wizard or of the Tsaritsa, my little mother, could I find!"
Then Tsar Bel-Belianin embraced him and wept over him and summoning his second son, said: "My dear son take my blessing, with gold and troops as much and many as thou wilt, and go thou forth and try. And if thou dost succeed, thou shalt have my Tsardom after me."
And Dimitri, vowing he would do better than his brother, took a knapsack full of gold and a hundred thousand soldiers officered by captains of captains, and set out. He, too, came at length through swamp and bog, to the desert of hot sand, and here his men vanished till there were left but a score. And on the edge of the further forest, in the acre of wild hemp and bramble, he came upon an old woman, a yard tall, sitting on a stone.
"Health to thee, Grandmother!" said he.
"And to thee, Tsarevitch!" she answered. "Where doth God carry thee? Why comest thou hither? To escape a task or to meet one?"
"To meet one," he replied. "I seek the retreat of the Wizard Koshchei, who has stolen away my little mother."
"Thou goest in the right direction," the old woman said, "but all the same thou wilt never reach it."
"Why not?" asked the Tsarevitch.
"Because," answered the old woman, "there are three wide rivers between, on each of which is a ferry, and the price asked thee will be great."
Tsarevitch Dimitri threw her two pieces of gold. "I have a plenty of such," he said scornfully, and rode on to the river When they saw the gigantic ferryman, however, with his frame covered with copper armor, the horses his twenty men rode, stricken with terror, galloped away and the Tsarevitch approached him trembling, lie, too, was ferried over at the cost of his right hand, and lamenting its loss, rode on alone to the second river. And there, though the fierce aspect of the ferryman made his horse sweat and his own heart shake, he approached and asked, "O ferryman, wilt thou ferry me over?"
"If thou wilt pay my price," answered the ferryman.
"And what is thy price?" asked the Tsarevitch.
"I will bring thee back for naught," said the other, "but for ferrying thee over, I shall strike off thy left foot."
The Tsarevitch's bright head hung lower than his stalwart shoulders. "I have already given my right hand," he thought, "and a foot is not so much more when a Tsardom is the reward." So he bade the other carry him over and when they had crossed the ferryman drew his sword and struck off his left foot, and Tsarevitch Dimitri rode on.
He went one day, and two, and three, and came to the third river, on whose bank stood a ferryman as tall as a tower, with legs like buttresses, clad all in golden armor and with a face so fierce and terrible that the Tsarevitch's courage died within him. So he turned his horse about and in mortal fear spurred back the way he had come to his own Tsardom. There, coming before his father, he said:
"Gracious Sir! I have wandered these many months through strange lands, till there is left not one of the great army I took with me. As for me, I have, as thou seest, lost my right hand and my left foot, but I found no sign of the Wizard or of my little mother, the Tsaritsa!"
Tsar Bel-Belianin kissed him and grieved over him and then, sending for his youngest son, bade him also take what he required and go and search.
"I have need of neither gold nor army, little father," said Tsarevitch Petr. "Give me only a horse of my own choosing and a sword fit for a hero."
His father bade him choose the best blade from his armory and the finest steed in his stables. Tsarevitch Petr went to the armory accordingly and tested the blades for a month, till he had picked the keenest and the strongest; then he bade the stable grooms collect all the Tsar's stud horses and drive them to the blue sea-ocean, and watched to see what they would do. One swam far out and began to wrestle with the waves till the water boiled and dashed against the shore as in a tempest, and him Tsarevitch Petr chose. He took his father's blessing, girded on the keen sword, and mounting the horse, set out.
He rode for a day and a night, for a week, for one month and for three. He passed the quagmire and the fiery desert, and at the edge of the forest, in the plot of wild hemp and briar, met the little old man and the little old woman sitting on two stones. He told them of his errand and the gray beard said: "Thou hast a keen sword and the horse of a hero, but all the same thou wilt not get to Koshchei."
"Why not?" asked the Tsarevitch.
"Because," replied the other, "thou must first pass three rivers. At each river is a ferry, and the price each ferryman asks is a great one, for the first will strike off thy right hand, the second thy left foot, and the third thy head."
"Well," answered Tsarevitch Petr, "a man can die but once!" And he thanked him and made to ride on, but the old man stopped him.
"Thou art both brave and courteous too," he said, "and perchance thou mayest cross the three rivers. If thou dost, ride straight on till thou reachest a high mountain, on whose top are the four Palaces of Koshchei. At the base of the mountain is a cave with an iron door. Enter it and thou wilt find four iron claws. Bind these to thy hands and feet and it may be thou wilt be able to reach the top."
The Tsarevitch bade the old man and the old woman farewell, rode to the first river, and demanded to be ferried over.
"Wilt thou pay me my price?" asked the huge ferryman.
"Time enough to talk of price when thou hast served me thy service," said the Tsarevitch, and rode his horse into the boat. So they crossed and when they came to the other side he asked: "What is there to pay?"
"Stretch forth thy right hand," said the ferryman, and drew his sword.
"Nay," answered Tsarevitch Petr. "I need my hand my self." And he whipped out his own blade and struck the ferryman such a blow that the steel pierced through the copper armor and killed him. He fell with a crash into the water, and the Tsarevitch, pulling the boat high up on the shore, rode on to the second river.
There the like happened. When the gigantic ferryman bade him stretch forth his left foot, the Tsarevitch, drawing sword, sprang upon him before his blade had left its scab bard and smote him with a blow that cleaved through the silver plates of his armor and killed him. Then the Tsarevitch secured the boat and rode on to the third river. And on its bank stood a wild man, as tall as a giant and as thick as a haystack, with a shield, helmet and breastplate all of gold, and with an oak club in his hand.
Tsarevitch Petr, however, was not daunted nor did his horse show fear. He rode aboard and bade the giant ferry him over, and when they were come to the other side he asked: "What is there to pay?"
"Stretch out thy neck," said the ferryman, "that I may strike off thy head,"
But even as he lifted his huge oak club, the Tsarevitch sprang in under his shield and dealt him such a blow with his tested sword that the point shivered the gold breast plate and killed him. Tsarevitch Petr fastened the boat and rode on, and presently he came to a mountain so high that its top was propped against the sky and he could scarce lift his eyes to its summit. He turned out his good horse to graze on white summer wheat on the open steppe, searched till he came upon the iron door and entered the cave. Here he found the four iron claws, and binding them to his hands and feet, began to climb the mountain.
For a whole month he climbed, higher and higher, and finally he reached the top, which was so high that from it one could see the whole world, with all its countries, spread out as if on the palm of the hand. Here he took off his iron claws, thanked God, and after resting three days, went straight before him.
Whether the way was long or short, he came at length to a vast Palace built all of copper. No guard stood at its gate, and he entered. Each room through which he passed was of copper. In the inmost chamber sat a maiden on a copper chair, embroidering upon a copper frame, and the scissors, the thimble and the needle she used were of copper also. He greeted her and told her his quest.
"This is indeed a Palace of Koshchei, good youth," said the damsel. "I, too, was stolen away from my father's Tsardom by the Wizard, who comes hither to visit me once every three months. I know naught of thy little mother, but if thou goest further, to Koshchei's second Palace, perchance thou mayest hear of her. The Wizard is hard to conquer, however, and thou art the first who has been able to come thus far. Shouldst thou succeed, I pray thee to remember me and take me back with thee to the white world."
Tsarevitch Petr promised her this, and setting out, traveled for the space of a day till he came to a Palace more splendid than the first, built all of silver. It, too, was unguarded, and entering, he found in its further chamber a damsel sitting on a silver stool, weaving on a silver loom with thread of pure silver. Her, also, he greeted and told his errand.
"I, too," she said, "was stolen away from my father's realm by the Wizard, and brought to this Palace, whither he comes to visit me once every two months. I have not seen thy little mother, but go thou to Koshchei's third Palace, beyond this, and perchance thou mayest hear of her. If thou meetest and art victor over him, forget me not, I beseech thee, but take me with thee to the white world."
The Tsarevitch gave the damsel his promise and set out at once, and the next day came to a Palace wealthy and magnificent which blazed like fire in the sunlight, for it was built entirely of gold. Like the others, it was unguarded, so he entered and explored it and in its inmost chamber he found a damsel sitting on a golden divan, making lace upon a golden pillow, and both the shuttle and the thread were of pure gold. The damsel was of such beauty that it could not be described but only told in a tale, and Tsarevitch Petr could not look at her enough.
"Health to thee, beautiful maiden!" he said.
"Health to thee, Tsarevitch," she replied. "But how comest thou hither? By thine own will or by force?"
"By mine own will," he answered. "I seek my little mother who has been stolen away from my father's Tsardom by Koshchei. Canst thou tell me where she is?"
"Why should I not be able?" she rejoined. "I, too, was stolen from my father's Tsardom by the Wizard, who visits me here once each month. But thy little mother he keeps in his fourth Palace, which is built of pearl, and thither thou must go. But, I implore thee, if thou dost overcome and slay the monster, remember me and take me with thee out into the white world."
Sooner than leave thee here to Koshchei would I give mine own life!" he answered. "Never fear that I could ever forget thee!"
"Harken, now," she said. "When thou comest to the last of the Wizard's Palaces, thou wilt see that it lies in a garden which is surrounded like a wall by an enormous serpent coiled with its tail in its mouth. Take this bundle of herbs and when thou comest into the open field about the Palace, choose a spot whence the wind doth blow from thee toward the serpent, and there build a fire and throw some of the herb into the flame. Mind that thou dost not use it all and that thou thyself stand behind the wind. The smoke will cause the serpent to fall asleep and thou mayest then climb over its body and enter the Palace."
Tsarevitch Petr bade her farewell and set out, and when he had traveled a day he came to a Palace which rose dazzling white from the midst of a green garden, and all about the garden lay coiled a huge snake, a living, scaly wall. He went into the meadow, built a fire and threw upon it some sprigs of the herbs, and from it arose a great volume of smoke which the wind drove toward the serpent, causing it to fall asleep. He then climbed over it and entered the Palace of pearl.
He passed through room after room till he came to the inmost of all, and there he saw his little mother sitting on a high pearl throne, dressed in a robe of brocade sewn with seed pearls, and wearing a Tsaritsa's pearly crown.
When she saw him she ran to him, and embracing him, fell to weeping. "How hast thou found me here," she cried, "my brave and beloved son? For I, thy mother, am in the power of this mighty Wizard who comes to me each day. Thou wilt strive to overcome him, yet is he strong in his enchantments, while thou art but an untried youth, so that I greatly fear for thee!"
"The wind doth not blow forever," said the Tsarevitch, and he comforted his mother and they kissed and caressed one another, when there rose a roaring of wind so that all the crystal windows rattled. "Koshchei comes even now," she said. "Hide thee quickly beneath my mantle!"
He concealed himself and scarce had he done so when the Wizard entered, green-eyed, naked and hairy, with a bared sword in his hand and a nose curved like a scimitar. He hastened to the Tsaritsa and began to pet and fondle her. "Hast thou been lonely, light of mine eyes?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered. "Thou travelest far and hast many enemies and I fear for thy life."
"No fear of that," he said. "My life I carry not in my body but in another place."
"Where is that place?" she asked.
"It is in the broom that stands beside the door," he answered; "but now I am tired and I would sleep."
He laid his head on the Tsaritsa's knees and slept, while the Tsarevitch lay hidden, and when he woke he bade her farewell till the morrow and departed in a whirlwind from the Palace.
Then the Tsaritsa went and fetched the broom, and bringing a quantity of precious stones, bade Tsarevitch Petr sew them all about it. This he did, when she returned it to its place and they spent the afternoon in conversation.
Next day, as they sat together, there came again the sound of the howling wind and a second time she concealed the Tsarevitch beneath her mantle, when the Wizard entered and began to fondle her as before. Presently he saw the broom and asked: "Why, thou dearest of women, hast thou sewn a common broom with jewels?"
"Because," she replied, "thou didst tell me that in it was contained thy life and thy life is more precious to me than many jewels!"
Then he embraced her more tenderly and said he: "I did but tell thee that to try thee. My life is not in the broom but is in the hedge that rings the garden." Then, when he had slept and refreshed himself, he bade her farewell till the morrow and departed in his whirlwind.
The Tsaritsa at once fetched a quantity of gold and said to the Tsarevitch: 'Go thou and cover the garden hedge with this, every twig and leaf." He did so and they spent the afternoon in conversation as before.
Next day there came again the sound of the shrieking wind, the Tsarevitch concealed himself for a third time, and Koshchei entered and began to fondle the Tsaritsa. "Love of my heart," he said, "as I came hither I saw that thou hadst covered the garden hedge with gold. Why hast thou done so?"
"For the reason," she answered, "that thou didst tell me thy life was contained within it and thy life is more dear to me than much gold!"
The Wizard caressed her in the most tender fashion. "I did but tell thee that," he said, "to try thee still further. Now, however, I am assured that thou dost truly love me. Know that my life is in neither the broom nor the hedge, but is in an egg. The egg is in a duck, and the duck is in a hare, and the hare nests in a great hollow log that floats in a pond in a forest of the island Bouyan." Having thus spoken, Koshchei put his head on the Tsaritsa's knees and slept, and soon, awaking, bade her farewell and departed.
Then Tsarevitch Petr came from his concealment and his mother said: "This time, my dear son, Koshchei has told truly wherein his wicked life lies. Only when thou hast found the egg canst thou overcome him. Go, therefore, with God, for here thy life is in danger each moment."
So he embraced her, and burning in the garden some of the herb which the maiden of the golden Palace had given him, climbed over the serpent and went his way. He passed the gold, the silver, and the copper Palaces without stop ping, found his iron claws and began to climb down the mountain. At the end of a month he reached its foot, left the iron claws in the cave, found his horse grazing on the open steppe, and set out for the island Bouyan.
He rode a long way and he rode a short way, and at length he came to the sea-ocean. On the sand, gasping out its life, lay a stranded pike-fish, and pitying its plight, the Tsarevitch dismounted, picked it up and threw it into the water. Then remounting his good horse, he spurred it into the water and it began to swim to the island Bouyan. It swam one day, it swam two, and on the third it reached the island, and leaving his steed to rest, Tsarevitch Petr went straight to the forest.
He had scarce entered it when he came upon a great bear whose paw was caught beneath a fallen tree. Drawing his sword, he cut the creature loose and went on, and presently he saw an otter fast in a snare. He released the otter, and a little further on he found a hawk struggling in a tangle of vines. He freed the hawk also, and pressing on, soon came to the pond.
In the middle of it floated a great branchless log, but it was beyond his reach. While he wondered what he should do, a heavy rain began to fall and the water of the pond rose. He climbed a tree and when the log floated near he secured it. When the rain ceased and the water fell, he attacked the log with his sword, but so huge was it that he could not cut it through. Suddenly, while he labored, the bear he had befriended rushed from the wood and tore the log asunder with its great paws. Out of the log leaped a hare, but the otter he had released sprang from the thicket, pursued the hare and caught it and tore it to pieces. From the hare flew a duck, but the hawk he had freed darted after it into the sky and seized it. The duck thereupon laid an egg, and the egg fell into the sea, but while the Tsarevitch was bemoaning its loss with tears, there came swimming to the shore the pike-fish whose life he had saved, bringing the egg in its mouth. Then Tsarevitch Petr put the egg in his belt, mounted his horse, which swam back with him across the sea-ocean, and having rested, set out again for the mountain of Koshchei.
The telling is easy but the labor is hard. Whether he rode a week or a month, he came at length to the mountain, left his horse to graze on the steppe, and binding the iron claws to his hands and feet, climbed to the summit and hastened to the Palace of pearl. Again he burned some of the drowsy herb, climbed over the serpent, entered and embraced his mother and showed her the egg.
Before long there arose the sound of the whistling wind and in came Koshchei. He ground his teeth when he saw the Tsarevitch, and would have rushed at once upon him, but Tsarevitch Petr squeezed the egg in his hand, ever so slightly, and as he did so the fierce light grew dim in the Wizard's eyes. The Tsarevitch tossed the egg from the right hand to the left, and Koshchei was hurled violently from one corner of the room to the other. With a last effort the wicked Wizard strove to reach his enemy with his sword, but Tsarevitch Petr threw the egg on the floor. It broke, and instantly Koshchei fell down dead and the serpent that coiled about the garden vanished.
The Tsarevitch made a great pyre, burned the body of the Wizard to ashes and scattered the ashes to the winds. Then with his mother he set out on their return. The lovely damsel of the gold Palace met them with joy, and her the Tsarevitch kissed on her sugar-sweet mouth and they plighted their troth that moment. Taking her with them, they visited the Palaces of silver and copper, and the maidens imprisoned there welcomed them with gladness and accompanied them.
When they came to the brink of the steep descent, Tsarevitch Petr found his iron claws once more, donned them, and tearing into strips the outer robes of the three maidens, twisted a rope by means of which, as he climbed, he lowered them, with his mother, down the mountain. When they reached the level ground, he caught his good steed, set his mother upon it and they and the three Tsarevnas set out for the Tsardom of his father.
In the forest which skirted the desert of hot sand, they came upon the little old man and woman sitting upon two stones. "So thou hast slain Koshchei!" said the gray-beard. "Now I rejoice also, for he was my greatest enemy." He gave them four noble steeds, a milk-white mare to bear the Tsaritsa and stallions of gold, of silver and of copper-color for the three Tsarevnas, and in this wise they rode to the Tsardom of Tsar Bel-Belianin.
When they drew near to the capital, the Tsarevitch sent in advance a swift messenger to the Tsar with this message: "Little father! I, thy son Petr, am returning home, bringing with me my mother the Tsaritsa, my own bride-to-be, who is a maiden as lovely as the stars, and Tsarevnas for my two brothers. Come thou out to meet us."
The Tsar, hearing the message, could not believe his ears. He mounted and rode out of the capital at the head of all his Ministers and Boyars and his army, and when he saw that it was indeed true and that his well-loved Tsaritsa was alive, his joy knew no bounds. He ordered the musicians to play their instruments and the drummers to beat their drums, and bringing them to the Palace decreed a great festival whose splendor made the whole Tsardom wonder.
When the feastings were ended, Tsarevitch Petr wedded the lovely damsel of the golden Palace, and the maidens of the silver and copper Palaces were wed to his brothers the Tsarevitches Alexei and Dimitri. And soon after Tsar Bel-Belianin laid down his scepter, and Tsarevitch Petr ruled the Tsardom after him. He rejoiced in his good fortune without boasting; his subjects loved and feared him, and his life was long and his reign glorious.
The text came from:
Wheeler, Post. Russian Wonder Tales.
New York: The Century Company, 1912.
To read more about the changes made to the text and various editions of this book, please see my Notes About This Book.