Firebird by Ivan Bilibin

Russian Wonder Tales by Post Wheeler

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

Russian Wonder Tales
by Post Wheeler

Table of Contents


Tsar Saltan

Vasilissa the Beautiful

The Little Humpbacked Horse

Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf

Maria Morevna

Martin the Peasant's Son

The Feather of Finist the Falcon

The Frog-Tsarevna


Little Bear's Son

Vasilii the Unlucky

Tsarevitch Petr and the Wizard

Russian Fairy Tales Main Page

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The Little Humpbacked Horse

ACROSS the wide sea-ocean, on the further side of high mountains, beyond thick forests, in a village that faced the sky, there once lived an old peasant who had three sons. The eldest, Danilo, was the most knowing lad in the place; the second, Gavrilo, was neither clever nor dull; and the youngest, who was named Ivan, was called a dullard, because while his brothers, after they had sowed their wheat and threshed it, drove to town and went merry making, he cared to do nothing but lie in the corner on the stove and sleep. So the whole neighborhood called him "Little Fool Ivan."

Now one morning when the peasant went to his stack, he found to his dismay that someone in the night had stolen some of the hay, so that evening he sent his eldest son to watch for the thief.

Danilo, accordingly, took his ax and his hay-fork and went to the field. On this night there was a biting frost and heavy snow, and he said to himself, "Why should I freeze myself stiff to save a little worthless fodder?" So, finding a warm corner, he lay down, wrapped himself in his thick fur coat and went to sleep.

In the morning he saw that some of the hay had been stolen. He rolled himself well in the snow, went home and knocked at the door till his father let him in.

"Didst thou see the thief?" asked the peasant.

"I heard him prowling not far off," answered Danilo; "but I shouted and he dared not come nearer. However, I have had a terrible night, thou mayst be sure! It was bitter cold and I am frozen to the marrow!"

His father praised him, calling him a good son, and the next night sent his second son to watch.

So Gavrilo took his hatchet and his long knife and went to the field. Now on this night it was raining, and he said to himself, "They say my brother is cleverer than I, but I am at least knowing enough to take care of myself, and why should I stand all night wet to the skin for the sake of a little dried grass?" So, having found a sheltered spot, he lay down, covered himself with his warm cloak and went to sleep.

In the morning he saw that more of the hay had been stolen. He went to a brook, poured water over his clothing so that it was drenched, went home and knocked at the door till it was opened.

"Didst thou see the thief?" asked his father.

"I did," Gavrilo answered, "and laid hold of his coat and gave him such a beating that he will remember it. But the rascal tore away and ran so fast that I could not catch him. But I have had a night for my pains, I can tell you! The rain poured every minute and I am soaked to the bones!"

His father praised him likewise, calling him a brave fellow till he was as proud as a cock with five hens, and the next evening said to the Little Fool Ivan: "Now, my son, it is thy turn to watch, but thou art such a simpleton thou canst not even keep the sparrows from the peas. It will be small use for thee to go."

However, Little Fool Ivan climbed down from the stove, put a crust of bread under his coat and went whistling off to the field. He did not lie down as his brothers had done, but went about the whole field, looking on every side, and when the moon rose he sat down under a bush, counted the stars in the sky and ate his crust with a good appetite.

Suddenly, just at midnight, he heard the neigh of a horse, and looking out from the bush he saw a wonderful mare, as white as snow, with a golden mane curled in little rings.

"So," said Little Fool Ivan to himself, "thou art, then, the thief of our hay! Only come a little nearer and I will be on thy back as tight as a locust!" The mare came nearer and nearer and at last, choosing the right moment, Ivan leaped out, seized her tail and jumped on to her back, wrong side before.

The white mare's eyes darted forth lightning. She curled her neck like a snake, reared on her hind legs and shot off like an arrow. She raced over fields, she flew like a bird over ditches, she galloped like tile wind along mountains and dashed through thick forests. But run as she would, and rear and snort as she might, she could not throw off Little Fool Ivan. He clung to her tail and stuck to her back like a burr.

At last, just as day was beginning to dawn, the mare stopped and, panting, spoke to him with a human voice. "Well, Ivan," she said, "since thou canst sit me, it seems thou must possess me. Take me home and give me a place to rest for three days. Only, each morning, just at sunrise, let me out to roll in the dew. And when the three days are up, I will bear thee three such colts as were never heard of before. Two of them will be Tsar's horses, of brown and gray, and these thou mayst sell if thou choosest. But the third will be a little humpbacked stallion only three feet high, with ears a foot long, and him thou shalt neither sell for gold nor give as a gift to anyone whatsoever. So long as thou art in the white world he shall be thy faithful servant. In winter he will show thee how to be warm, and when thou dost hunger he will show thee where to find bread. In return for these three colts, thou shalt release me and give me my freedom."

Little Fool Ivan agreed. I rode the white mare home, hid her in an empty shepherd's corral, whose entrance he covered with a horse-cloth, and went home and knocked at the door till his brothers let him in.

When they saw him, they began to question him. "Well, no doubt thou didst see the thief! Perhaps thou didst even catch him! Tell us."

"To be sure I did," he replied. "I jumped on the thief's back and laid hold of the villain's tail, and we ran a thousand versts or more. My neck was nearly broken in the end and ye may believe I am tired!" So saying he climbed on to the stove without taking off even his bark sandals, and went to sleep, while his brothers and his father roared with laughter at the story, not a word of which, of course, they believed.

Little Fool Ivan kept the white mare hidden from all other eyes. For three mornings he rose at daybreak and let her out to roll on the dewy meadow and on the fourth morning, when he went to the corral, he found beside her, as she had promised, three colts. Two were most beautiful to see; they were of brown and gray, their eyes were like blue sap phires, their manes and tails were golden and curled in little rings, and their hoofs were of diamond, studded with pearls. But the third was a tiny horse like a toy, with two humps on his back and ears a foot long.

Ivan was overjoyed. He thanked the white mare and she, released, curled her neck like a snake, reared on her hind legs and shot off like an arrow. Then he began to admire the three colts, especially the little humpbacked one which frisked like a dog about Ivan's knees, clapping his long ears together from playfulness and dancing up and down on his little hoofs. He kept them hidden, as he had the white mare, in the shepherd's corral, letting them out each morning at sunrise to roll in the dew and spending many hours petting them, talking to them, currying their coats till they shone like silver and braiding their golden manes.

Time went on (but whether it was three weeks or three years that flew away matters little, since one need not run after them) till it befell, one day, that his eldest brother, Danilo, who had been to town for a holiday, returned late at night and missing his way in the darkness, stumbled into the shepherd's corral. Hearing a sound, he made a light and to his astonishment saw the three young horses.

"So-ho!" he thought. "Now I understand why Little Fool Ivan spends so much time in this old corral!" He ran to the house and woke his brother Gavrilo. "Come quickly," he said, "and see what three horses our young idiot of a brother has found for himself!" And Gavrilo followed him as fast as he could, straight across a nettle-field barefoot, since he did not wait to put on his boots.

When they came to the corral the two fine horses were neighing and snorting. Their eyes were burning like beautiful blue candles and their curling gold manes and tails and their hoofs of diamond and pearls filled the two brothers with envy. Each looked at them so long that he was nearly made blind of one eye. Then Danilo said:

"They say it takes a fool to find a treasure. But where in the white world could Little Fool Ivan have got these marvelous steeds? As for thee and me, brother, we might search our heads off and we would find not even two roubles!"

"That is true," answered Gavrilo. "We should have the horses, and not Little Fool Ivan. Now I have an idea. Next week is the Fair at the capital. Many foreigners will come in ships to buy linen and it is said that even Tsar Saltan will be there. Let us come here by night and take the horses thither and sell them. They will fetch a great price and we will divide it equally between us two. Thou knowest what a good time we could have with the money, and while we are slapping our full purses and enjoying ourselves our dolt of an Ivan will not be able to guess where his horses have gone visiting. What sayest thou? Let us shake hands upon it."

So the two brothers agreed, kissed each other, crossed themselves and went home planning how to spend the money they should get for the horses.

When the next week came round, accordingly, they said a prayer before the holy images, asked their father's blessing and departed to the Fair. When they had gone some distance, however, they returned to the village secretly after nightfall, took the two fine horses out of the corral and again set out for the capital.

Next morning, when Ivan came to the corral, he found to his grief that the beautiful pair had vanished. There was left only the little humpbacked horse that was turning round and round before him, capering, clapping his long ears together and dancing up and down from joy. Ivan began to weep salt tears. "O my horses, brown and gray!" he cried. "My good steeds with golden manes! Did I not caress you enough? What wretch-may he tumble through a bridge!- hath stolen you away?"

At this the humpbacked horse neighed and spoke in a human voice: "Don't worry, little master," he said. "It was thy brothers who took them away and I can take thee to them. Sit on my back and hold fast by my ears, and have a care not to fall off!" So Little Fool Ivan sat on his back, holding up his feet lest they drag on the ground, and laid hold of his ears, and the pony shook himself till his little mane quivered, reared on his hind legs, snorted three times and shot away like an arrow, so fast that the dust curled under his feet. And almost before Ivan had time to take breath, he was versts away on the highroad to the capital.

When his brothers saw Little Fool Ivan coming after them like the wind on his toy horse, they knew not what to do. "For shame, ye rascals!" shouted he as he overtook them. "Ye may be more clever than I, but I have never stolen your steeds!"

"Our dear little brother!" said Danilo. "There is little use denying. We took thy two horses, but we did so with no thought of wrong to thee. As thou knowest, this has been a poor season with our crops and a bad harvest, and for despair I and Gavrilo have been like to hang ourselves. When we came by chance upon these two steeds, we considered that thou hadst little knowledge of bargaining and trading, and doubtless knew not their worth, whereas we could get for them at least a thousand roubles at the Fair. With this money we could help our little father, as thou wouldst wish, and we purposed to buy besides for thee a red cap and new boots with red heels. So if we have erred, do thou forgive us."

Well answered Little Fool Ivan thy words sound fair enough. If this was your thought, go and sell my two horses, but I will go with you." So, though they wished him well strangled, the two brothers had no choice but to take him with them, and thus they came to the capital.

Now when they reached the market place where the traders were assembled, so wonderful were the two steeds that the people swarmed about them, buzzing like bees in a hive, till for the press no one could pass either in or out, and there was great commotion. Perceiving this the head man sent a crier who blew on a gold trumpet and shouted in a loud voice: "O merchants and buyers! Crowd not, but disperse one and all!" But they would not move from the horses. Then the head man rode out himself, in slippers and fur cap, with a body of soldiers who cleared the way with their whips, so that he came to the middle of the market and saw the horses with his own eyes.

"God's world is wonderful!" he cried, rubbing his head. "What marvels doth it hold!" And bidding the crier pro claim that no buyer should buy them, he rode to the Palace, came to the presence of the Tsar, and told him of them.

The Tsar could not sit still for curiosity. He ordered his state carriage and rode at once to the market, and when he saw the horses, tugging at their halters and gnawing their bits, with their eyes shining like sapphires, their curling golden manes, and hoofs of diamond and pearls, he could not take his eyes from them. He examined them on both sides, called to them with caressing words, patted their backs and stroked their manes, and asked who owned them.

"O Tsar's Majesty," said Little Fool Ivan, "I am their master."

"What wilt thou take for them?" asked the Tsar.

"Thrice five caps full of silver," answered Ivan, "and five roubles beside."

"Good," said the Tsar, and ordered the money given him. Then ten grooms, with gray hair and golden uniforms, led the pair to the royal stables. On the way, however, the horses knocked the grooms down, bit to pieces their bridles, and ran neighing back to Ivan.

Then the Tsar called him to his presence, and said: "It seems that my wonderful steeds will be only thee. There is no help but that I make thee my Chief Equerry and Master of my Stables." And he ordered the crier at once to proclaim the appointment. So Little Fool Ivan called his brothers Danilo and Gavrilo, gave to them the fifteen caps full of silver, and the five roubles beside, kissed them, bade them not neglect their father but to care for him in his old age, and led the two horses to the royal stables, while a great throng of people followed, watching the little humpbacked horse who went dancing after them up the street.

The telling of a tale is quick but time itself passes slowly. Five weeks went by, while Ivan wore red robes, ate sweet food and slept his fill. Each morning at sunrise he took the horses to roll in the dew on the open field, and fed them with honey and white wheat till their coats shone like satin. But the more the Tsar praised him, the more envious many in the Court were of him. As the saying is, one need not be rich only so he have curly hair and is clever; and because Little Fool Ivan had succeeded so easily people hated him, and the one who hated him most was the officer who had been the Tsar's Master of Horse before his coming. Each day this man pondered how he might bring about Ivan's ruin, and at night he would creep to the stables and lie hid in the wheat bins, hoping to catch his rival in some fault.

When this failed, he went to all those Court officials who were envious of the new favorite and bade them hang their heads and go about with sorrowful faces, promising, when the Tsar asked the cause, to tell him what would ruin Little Fool Ivan. They did so, and the Tsar, noticing their sad looks, asked:

"O Boyars, why are ye cast down and crestfallen?"

Then he who had given this counsel stood forth, and said: "O Tsar's Majesty! not for ourselves do we grieve, but we fear thy new Master of the Stables is a wizard and an evil-doer and familiar with Black Magic. For he doth boast openly that he could fetch thee, if he chose, in addition to thy two wonderful steeds, the fabled Pig with the Golden Bristles and the Silver Tusks, with her twenty sucklings, who live in the hidden valley of the Land of the South."

Hearing this, the Tsar was wroth. "Bring before me this wild boaster," he said, "and he shall make good his words without delay!" Thereupon they ran to the stables, where Little Fool Ivan lay asleep, and kicked him wide awake and brought him to the Tsar, who looked at him angrily, and said: "Hear my command. If in three days thou hast not brought hither, from the hidden valley of the Land of the South, the Pig with the Golden Bristles and Silver Tusks. together with her twenty sucklings, I will deliver thee to an evil death!"

Little Fool Ivan went out to the stable weeping bitterly. Hearing him coming, the little humpbacked horse began to dance and to clap its ears together for joy, but as soon as he saw his master's tears he almost began to sob himself. "Why art thou not merry, little master?" he asked. "Why does thy head hang lower than thy shoulders?"

Ivan embraced and kissed the little horse, and told him the task the Tsar had laid upon him. "Do not weep," said the pony; "I can help thee. Nor is this service so hard a one. Go thou to the Tsar and ask of him a bucket of golden corn, a bucket of silver wheat, and a silken lasso."

So Ivan went before the Tsar and asked, as he had been bidden, for the wheat, the corn, and the silken lasso, and brought them to the stables. "Now," said the little hump backed horse, "lie down and sleep, for the morning holds more wisdom than the evening."

"Little Fool Ivan lay down to sleep, and next morning the pony waked him at dawn. "Mount me now," he said, "with thy grain and thy silken rope, and we will be off, for the way is far."

Ivan put the silver wheat and the golden corn into stout bags, slung them across the pony's neck, and with his silken lasso wound about his waist, mounted, and the little hump backed horse darted away like an eagle. He scoured wide plains, leaped across swift rivers, and sped along mountain ridges, and after running without pause for a day and a night, he stopped in a deep valley on the edge of a dreary wood, and said: "Little master, this is the Land of the South, and in this valley lives the Pig with the Golden Bristles. She comes each day to root in this forest. Take thou the golden corn and the silver wheat and pour them on the ground in two piles, at some distance apart, and conceal thyself. When the Pig comes she will run to the corn, but the sucklings will begin to eat the wheat, and while the mother is not by, thou mayst secure them. Bring them to me and tie them to my saddle with the silken lasso and I will bear thee back. As for the Pig, she will follow her sucklings."

Little Fool Ivan did all as the little horse bade him. He entered the forest, put the corn and wheat in two piles, hid himself in a thicket near the latter, and rested till evening, when there came a sound of grunting and the Pig with the Golden Bristles and Silver Tusks led her young into the forest. She saw the corn, and at once began to eat it, while the twenty sucklings ran to the wheat. He caught them, one by one, tied them with the silken lasso, and, hastening to the little horse, made them fast to his saddle-bow. Scarce had he mounted when the Pig perceived them, and seeing her suck lings borne away, came running after them, erecting her golden bristles and gnashing her silver tusks.

The little humpbacked horse sped away like a flash back along the road they had come, with the Pig pursuing them, and, after running without stop for a night and a day, they arrived after dark at the Tsar's capital. Little Fool Ivan rode to the Palace courtyard, set down there the twenty suckling pigs, still tied by the silken lasso, went to the stables and fell asleep.

In the morning the Tsar was greatly astonished to see that Little Fool Ivan had performed the task and was de lighted to possess the new treasure. He sent for his Master of Horse and praised him and gave him a rich present, so that the envious ones thereat were made still more envious.

So, after some days, these came to the Tsar and said: "Thy Master of Horse, O Tsar's Majesty, doth boast now that the bringing of the wonderful Pig with her twenty sucklings was but a small service, and that he could, if he but chose, bring to thee the Mare with Seven Manes and her seven fierce stallions that graze on a green meadow between the crystal hills of the Caucasus."

Then, in more anger than before, the Tsar bade them bring Little Fool Ivan to his presence and said sternly: "Heed my royal word. If in seven days thou hast not brought hither from between the crystal hills of the Caucasus the Seven-Maned Mare with her seven stallions, I will send thee where the crows shall pick thy bones!"

Little Fool Ivan went weeping to the little humpbacked horse and told him of the Tsar's new command. "Grieve not, little master," said the other; "let not thy bright head droop. I can aid thee. Nor is this service too hard a one. Go thou to the Tsar and demand that he prepare at once a stone stable with one door opening into it and another opening out. Ask also for a horse's skin and an iron hammer of twelve poods [One pood = about forty pounds] weight."

Ivan obeyed. He demanded the stable, the horse's skin and the iron hammer, and when all was ready the little horse said: "Lie down and sleep now, little master. The morning is wiser than the evening." Little Fool Ivan lay down and slept, and next morning at daybreak the pony waked him. Ivan tied the horse's skin to the saddle-bow, slung the hammer about his neck and mounted, and the little hump backed horse darted away like a swallow, till the dust curled about his legs like a whirlwind. When he had run three days and four nights without rest, he stopped between two crystal hills and said:

"Yonder lies the green meadow whereon each evening grazes the Mare with Seven Manes and her seven fierce stallions. Take now thy horse's skin and sew me within it, and presently the mare will come and will set upon me with her teeth. While she rends the skin from me, do thou run and strike her between her two ears with thy twelve-pood hammer, so that she will be stunned. Mount me then in haste, and thou mayst lead her after thee, and as for the seven stallions, they will follow."

So Little Fool Ivan sewed the little horse in the horse's skin, and when the mare with the seven stallions came, the stallions stood afar off, but the mare set upon him and rent the skin from him. Then Ivan ran and struck her with the iron hammer and stunned her, and instantly, holding by her seven manes, leaped to the back of the little hump backed horse.

Scarce had he mounted, when the seven fierce stallions saw him, and came galloping after them, screaming with rage. But the little humpbacked horse was off like a dart back along the road they had come, and when they had traveled without stopping three nights and four days, they arrived at the Tsar's capital. Little Fool Ivan rode to the stone stable that had been built, went in at one door, and leaving therein the Mare with the Seven Manes, rode out of the other and barred it behind him, and the seven stallions, following the mare, were caught. Then Ivan went to his own place and went to sleep.

When they reported to the Tsar that this time also Little Fool Ivan had performed his task, the Tsar was more rejoiced than before and bestowed high rank and all manner of honors upon him, till, for hatred and malice the envious ones were beside themselves.

They conferred together and coming before the Tsar, they said: "O Tsar's Majesty! to bring thee the mare and the stallions, thy Master of Horse boasteth now, was but a small service, saying that, if he willed, he could fetch thee from across three times nine lands, where the little red sun rises, the beautiful Girl-Tsar, whom thou hast so long desired for thy bride, who lives on the sea-ocean in a golden boat, which she rows with silver oars."

Then was the Tsar mightily angered. "Summon this boaster again before me," he commanded, and when Little Fool Ivan was come in, he bade him bring him the lovely Girl-Tsar within twelve days or pay the forfeit with his head. So, for the third time, Ivan went weeping to the little humpbacked horse and told him the Tsar's will.

"Dry thy tears, little master," said the other, "for I can assist thee. This is not, after all, the hardest service. Go thou to the Tsar and ask for two handkerchiefs cunningly embroidered in gold, a silken tent woven with gold thread and with golden tent-poles, gold and silver dishes, and all manner of wines and sweetmeats."

Ivan lost no time in obeying and when they were ready brought them to the stables. "Lie down and sleep now," said the little horse. "Tomorrow is wiser than today." Accordingly Little Fool Ivan lay down and slept till the little horse woke him at daybreak. He put all that had been pre pared into a bag and mounted, and the little humpbacked horse sped away like the wind.

For six days they rode, a hundred thousand versts, till they reached a forest at the very end of the world, where the little red sun rises out of the blue sea-ocean. Here they stopped and Ivan alighted.

"Pitch now thy tent on the white sand," said the little horse. "In it spread thy embroidered handkerchiefs and on them put the wine and the gold and silver plates piled with sweetmeats. As for thee, do thou hide behind the tent and watch. From her golden boat the Girl-Tsar will see the tent and will approach it. Let her enter it and eat and drink her fill. Then go in, seize and hold her, and call for me." So saying, he ran to hide himself in the forest.

Ivan pitched the tent, prepared the food and wine, and lying down behind the tent, made a tiny hole in the silk through which to see, and waited. And before long the golden boat came sailing over the blue sea-ocean. The beautiful Girl-Tsar alighted to look at the splendid tent and seeing the wine and sweetmeats entered and began to eat and drink. So graceful and lovely was she that no tale could describe her and Little Fool Ivan could not gaze enough. He forgot what the little horse had told him and he was still peering through the hole in the silk when the beautiful maiden sprang up, left the tent, leaped into her golden boat, and the silver oars carried her far away on the sea-ocean.

When the little humpbacked horse came running up, Ivan too late repented of his folly. "I am guilty before thee!" he said. "And now I shall never see her again!" and he began to shed tears.

"Never mind," said the little horse. "She will come again tomorrow, but if thou failest next time we must needs go back without her and thy head will be lost."

Next day Little Fool Ivan spread the wines and sweetmeats and lay down to watch as before; and again the lovely Girl-Tsar came rowing in her golden boat and entered the tent and began to regale herself. And while she ate and drank Ivan ran in and seized and held her and called to the little horse. The girl cried out and fought to be free, but when she saw how handsome Little Fool Ivan was, she quite forgot to struggle. He mounted and put her before him on the saddle, and the humpbacked horse dashed away like lightning along the road they had come.

They rode six days and on the seventh they came again to the capital, and Little Fool Ivan-with a sad heart, since he had fallen in love with her himself-brought the lovely girl to the Palace.

The Tsar was overjoyed. He came out to meet them, took the maiden by her white hand, seated her beside him beneath a silken curtain on a cushion of purple velvet, and spoke to her tender words. "O Girl-Tsar, to whom none can be compared!" he said. "My Tsaritsa that is to be! For how long have I not slept, either by night or in the white day, for thinking of thine eyes!"

But the beautiful Girl-Tsar turned from him and would not answer and again and again he tried his wooing, till at length she said: "O Tsar, thou art wrinkled and gray, and hast left sixty years behind thee, while I am but sixteen. Should I wed thee, the Tsars of all Tsardoms would laugh, saying that a grandfather had taken to wife his grandchild."

Hearing this, the Tsar was angry. "It is true," he said, "that flowers do not bloom in winter and that I am no longer young. But I am nevertheless a great Tsar."

Then she replied: "I will wed no one who hath gray hairs and who lacks teeth in his head. If thou wilt but grow young again then will I wed thee right willingly."

"How can a man grow young again?" he asked.

"There is a way, O Tsar," she said, "and it is thus: Order three great caldrons to be placed in thy courtyard. Fill the first with cold water, the second with boiling water, and the third with boiling mare's milk. He who bathes one minute in the boiling milk, two in the boiling water, and three in the cold water, becomes instantly young and so handsome that it cannot be told. Do this and I will become thy Tsaritsa, but not otherwise."

The Tsar at once bade them prepare in the courtyard the three caldrons, one of cold water, one of boiling water, and one of boiling mare's milk, minded to make the test. The envious courtiers, however, came to him and said: "O Tsar's Majesty! this is a strange thing and we have never heard that a man can plunge into boiling liquid and not be scalded. We pray thee, therefore, bid thy Master of Horse bathe before thee; then mayest thou be assured that all is well." And this counsel seemed to the Tsar good and he straightway summoned Little Fool Ivan and bade him prepare to make the trial.

When Ivan heard the Tsar's command he said to himself, "So I am to be killed like a suckling pig or a chicken!" and he went sorrowfully to the stables and told the little hump backed horse. "Thou hast found for me the Pig with the Golden Bristles," he said, "the Seven-Maned Mare, and the beautiful Girl-Tsar; but now these are all as nothing and my life is as worthless as a boot sole!" And he began to weep bitterly.

"Weep not, little master," said the little horse. "This is indeed a real service that I shall serve thee. Now listen well to what I say. When thou goest to the courtyard, before thou strippest off thy clothes to bathe, ask of the Tsar to permit them to bring to thee thy little humpbacked horse, that thou mayest bid him farewell for the last time. He will agree and when I am brought there I shall gallop three times around the three kettles, dip my nose in each and sprinkle thee. Lose not a moment then, but jump instantly in the caldron of boiling milk, then into the boiling water, and last into the cold water."

Scarcely had he instructed him when the Boyars came to bring Ivan to the courtyard. All the Court Ministers were there to see and the place was crowded with people, while the Tsar looked on from a balcony. The two caldrons were boiling hot and servants fed the great fires beneath them with heaps of fuel. Little Fool Ivan bowed low before the Tsar and prepared for the bath.

But having taken off his coat, he bowed again and said: "O Tsar's Majesty! I have but one favor to ask. Bid them bring hither my little humpbacked horse that I may embrace him once more for the last time!" The Tsar was in good humor thinking he was so soon to regain his youth, and he consented, and presently the little horse came running into the courtyard, dancing up and down and clapping his long ears together. But as soon as he came to the three caldrons he galloped three times round them, dipped his nose into each and sprinkled his master; and without waiting a moment Little Fool Ivan threw off his clothes and jumped into the caldrons, one after the other. And while he had been good-looking before, he came from the last caldron so handsome that his beauty could neither be described with a pen nor written in a tale.

Now when the Tsar saw this, he could wait no longer. He hastened down from the balcony and without waiting to undress, crossed himself and jumped into the boiling milk. But the charm did not work in his case, and he was instantly scalded to death.
Seeing the Tsar was dead, the Girl-Tsar came to the balcony and spoke to the people, saying: "Thy Tsar chose me to be his Tsaritsa. If thou wilt, I will rule this Tsardom, but it shall be only as the wife of him who brought me from mine own!"

The people, well pleased, shouted: "Health to Tsar Ivan!" And so Little Fool Ivan led the lovely Girl-Tsar to the church and they were married that same day.

Then Tsar Ivan ordered the trumpeters to blow their hammered trumpets and the butlers to open the bins, and he made in the Palace a feast like a hill, and the Boyars and Princes sat at oak tables and drank from golden goblets and made merry till they could not stand on their feet.

But Little Fool Ivan, with his Tsaritsa, ruled the Tsardom wisely and well, and grew never too wise to take counsel of his little humpbacked horse.

The text came from:

Wheeler, Post. Russian Wonder Tales. New York: The Century Company, 1912. Buy the book in paperback.

To read more about the changes made to the text and various editions of this book, please see my Notes About This Book.

Available from

Russian Fairy Tales by Post Wheeler

Russian Fairy Tales by Afanasyev

Baba Yaga by Andreas Johns


©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
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