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

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BEFORE our grandfathers had learned anything, before their grandfathers were born, there was, in the Court of the Tsar of a far Tsardom, a young bowman named Taraban who was the cleverest of all the royal archers. Each day he went hunting in the fens and marshes for wild swans for the Palace table, and one evening, as he wandered with his bow and arrows, he saw seven white ducks with silver wings resting beneath a tree. So beautiful were they that he would not shoot them, but when they flew away followed them afoot, thinking: "Perhaps when they alight again I may catch one alive." The ducks alighted on the shore of the sea-ocean and there they laid aside their silver wings and becoming transformed into lovely maidens, threw them selves into the water and began to bathe.

The archer crept noiselessly near and without being seen, took the silver wings of the one he thought the most beautiful, and hid himself.

Presently the damsels finished their bathing and coming from the water, ran to put on their silver wings, and behold one pair was missing. Then she who owned them called to the others and said: "Fly abroad, my little sisters! Fly abroad and linger not for me! I must stay and search for my wings. If I find them I will overtake you, but if not, when our mother asks of me, tell her I remained to listen to the song of the nightingale."

The six maidens thereupon put on their silver wings and turning again to white ducks, flew away over the sea-ocean while the one who remained began to weep. Weeping, she cried: "Show thyself, I pray, thou who hast evilly taken my silver wings. If thou art a girl, I will be to thee a sister. If warrior or lady, I will be thy daughter. And if a youth, I will be thy wife. Only give me back my silver wings!"

When Taraban heard her words he was filled with pity, and showing himself at once, gave her the wings. "I would not cause thee grief or sorrow, damsel," he said. "Take them and be free for all of me. And for thy tears I ask thy forgiveness."

Then the maiden looked on him wonderingly and said: 'Right kindly dost thou speak, though I have been taught that men were hard and cruel. Nevertheless a word given cannot be recalled and if thou art so minded, I will wed thee. Perhaps I shall not repent."

The archer rejoiced and kissed and caressed her, and they lay down, each under a little shrub, and slept till day break, when he took her to the capital and they were married. Then Taraban bethought himself of his duty, and leaving her at home, went to the Palace and prostrated him self before the Tsar.

"Health to thee, my best bowman!" said the Tsar. "What wouldst thou ask?"

"O Tsar's Majesty!" he said, "I am guilty before thee! I have wedded a wife without thy royal permission."

"Well," said the Tsar, "thy fault is not a great one. Come hither tomorrow, however, and bring thy wife that she may salute me. Then I may know whether she whom thou hast chosen will ornament my Court."

So, next day, Taraban brought his wife to the Palace, and her beauty was such that it made the other ladies of the Court look like crows. The Tsar could not gaze sufficiently at her, and the instant she had gone felt himself seized with a violent love for her. He sent in hot haste for his Court Ministers, his Boyars, and his great Generals, and said: "Here are the keys of my royal treasury. Take as much gold as ye require to search throughout the four corners of the white world. Only fetch me, to become my Tsaritsa, such another beauty as the wife of my archer!"

They answered: "O Tsar's Majesty! we are already in the latter half of our lives and never have we seen one to be compared with her!" The Tsar, however, headstrong and evil-tempered, would not listen, and bidding them go at once and begin the search, sent them from his presence in displeasure.

The Boyars and Counsellors scratched their gray heads and stroked their beards. They were so depressed that their very noses drooped, but they had, perforce, to go upon the high way to search. While they were thus engaged a ragged beggar approached them. "Why are ye so cast down, O Boyars and gentlemen?" he asked.

"Get thee gone, thou bundle of rags!" they said.

"Best not to drive me away," the beggar replied. "Rather give me a piece of gold, and I will point you out the road of cleverness."

Thereupon one of them gave him the piece of gold, when he crossed himself and said: "O Boyars and gentlemen, well do I know thy quest. However, another maiden as lovely as the wife of Taraban the archer ye will not find in the whole world. Sooner will beards grow from the palms of your hands. It is of no use to search for her, and as the Tsar will be satisfied with nothing less, your heads will pay for your failure. Go ye back therefore to the Tsar and bid him command the archer to journey across three times nine lands to the little forest monster Muzhichek, who is as high as the knee, with mustaches seven versts long, and to bring hither his invisible servant, Schmat-Razum, who lives in his master's pocket and doth all that he orders him. Bid the Tsar demand this of the archer, and he shall have his will. For while Muzhichek indeed exists, no man can find his dwelling nor perceive his invisible servant, and Taraban will wander all his life long, though he live forever, without accomplishing the task, and the Tsar may have his beautiful wife."

The Boyars and Ministers were rejoiced. They loaded the beggar with gold and returning to the Palace, advised the Tsar to act upon this counsel, and he, being cruel and wicked of heart, did so. He summoned the archer and said:

'Taraban, my well-loved bowman, and best of my archers! On account of thy loyalty, I have chosen thee out for an especial service. Across three times nine lands dwells the forest monster Muzhichek, who is as high as the knee, with mustaches seven versts long. Bring to me his servant Schmat-Razum, who lives in his pocket, and thou shalt be chiefest of all my Boyars. But as thou lovest thy life, mind thou return not without him!"

The archer went home in great distress and his wife, noticing his sorrowful look, asked: "What has saddened thee? Hast thou had an unfriendly word from the Tsar? Or per chance do I no longer please thy fancy?"

"Thou pleasest me but too well, my dearest wife," he answered, 'hut thy beauty now has brought ruin upon me!" And he began to weep. She besought him to tell what had befallen, and when be had told her, she said: "The Tsar is indeed thy prime enemy and hath set thee a grievous task, and there is no one in the white world who can aid thee un less it be my little mother. I will send thee to her for advice. Go first to the Tsar and ask for a purse of money sufficient for a year and come back to me."

Taraban did so, and returned with the purse to his wife, when she gave him a crystal ball and a silken handkerchief. "After thou art well out of the city," she said, "throw this ball upon the ground, and follow whither it rolls. It will lead thee to my little mother. As for the handkerchief, as often as thou dost wash, dry thy face upon it and upon no other."

So the archer bade her farewell and set out. He threw down the ball, which rolled always before him, and it led him across three times nine countries till he had journeyed for the space of a whole year.

Now when he had been absent three months, the Tsar called his Ministers and said: "The archer has been gone a fourth part of a year, and no doubt he will never return. I see not why I should wait longer. Go ye, therefore, and bring his wife to the Palace." They went, accordingly, and brought her to him and he straightway began to speak endearing words to her; but she repulsed him and cried out upon him, saying: "Though thou art a great Tsar, yet I am a wife and Taraban thy archer is my husband, and I will have no other!"

"If thou wilt not love me willingly, then will I compel thee!" swore the Tsar, and bade them build a square tower beside the blue sea-ocean, and shutting her within it, locked its door with seven locks and surrounded it with soldiers and with ships till she should look kindly upon him. So she abode alone in the square tower, watching always for the return of her husband.

As for the archer, when he had journeyed a year, following the crystal ball, he reached at length an empty land which had no trace of a human footstep, where was naught for to see or ear to hear, and crossing this he came to the sea-ocean, where, white and dazzling on the beach, stood a vast and splendid Palace to whose gate the ball led him. He entered and there met six lovely damsels, who greeted him kindly and seeing that he was travel-worn and wearied, gave him food and drink and made him lie down and rest.

When he rose they brought him a golden washbasin and an embroidered towel, but the towel he would not use, drying his face on the handkerchief he carried with him. No sooner did he show this, however, than they looked at it and cried: "This handkerchief we know! Where didst thou obtain it?"

"It was given me by my wife," he replied.

"Then thou hast wedded our little sister!" they exclaimed, and led him to their mother, where she sat in a silver chair. To her he recounted how he had won his wife and how they had lived happily together till the Tsar had sent him on his present quest, and how she had given him the crystal ball that had brought him thither.

The old mother said: "My dear son-in-law, I have lived nine-tenths of my life on this earth, and I, indeed, know of Muzhichek, the forest monster, but where he lives I can not tell, and never have I heard of his servant Schmat-Razum. Perhaps, however, I may discover for thee where he may be found." Then going to a balcony which overlooked the land, she cried with a piping voice: "Harken, all ye fowls and flying things, ye bees and insects! Come to me!" And immediately there came flying to her from every side all manner of birds and insects till the sky was dark with them. Then she cried: "O ye, my friends, who fly everywhere in all four directions, have ye by chance heard tell of Schmat-Razum?" And the birds and insects answered with one voice: "No, we have not heard of him."

She dismissed them to their bowers and coverts, and going to a balcony which overlooked the sea-ocean, she cried: "Harken, all ye fish and swimming things! Come to me!" And straightway there came swimming toward the shore, from every part of the water, all the fish of the sea-ocean, till the blue waves were not to be seen for the number of them. Then she cried: "O ye, my friends, who swim everywhere in all waters salt and fresh, have ye perchance heard of Schmat-Razum?" And they replied, all together "No, we know nothing of him."

She bade them go back to their deep sea caves, and descending to the garden, cried: "Harken, all ye beasts and creeping things! Come hither!" And at once there came hastening from all sides every kind of beast and reptile till the ground was black with them. "O ye, my friends, who run and creep everywhere in all lands," she cried, "have ye ever heard of Schmat-Razum?" And all answered in one voice: "No, we have never heard of him."

She sent them away to their jungles and thickets, when an aged frog, who from lameness had arrived behind the others, hopped forward and said: "I have heard of Schmat-Razum, the servant of Muzhichek, the forest monster. His master lives on a mountain in a forest in the Tsardom of Tsar Zmey, and the forest I know well. But it is at the very end of the world and I cannot travel so far in less than fifty years."

The old mother bade her daughters fetch a jar of milk and put into it the frog and gave it to the archer. "Take this with thee," she said, "and the frog will show thee the road." So Taraban took the jar and bidding the old mother and her six daughters farewell, set out.

Whether the way was short or long, or its end far or near, he came at length to the Tsardom of Tsar Zmey, to where was a high mountain covered with a forest. He ascended the mountain, and at its very top was an iron door. "Now, good youth," said the frog, "this door is the entrance to the cavern which is the abode of Muzhichek. As to Schmat-Razum, his servant, go with God, for I can not aid thee!"

The archer thanked the frog, set the jar on the soft moss, and opening the iron door, entered the cavern. Within, it was dark enough to put one's eyes out. Groping about, he found under a table an empty chest in which he hid himself and waited to see what would happen.

He lay there one hour, he waited another and a third, when suddenly there came a rumbling from without, the door was nearly torn from its hinges, and in came the forest monster. He was as high as a knee, had swine's bristles for hair, and his mustaches, seven versts long, floated far out of the cavern behind him.

Muzhichek sat himself down at the table and thundered: "Ho! Schmat-Razum! Out of my pocket and fetch me my supper!" Instantly lamps lit themselves on the walls, plates laid themselves on the table covered with cooked flesh and fowl of every description, and bottles of wine appeared and poured their contents into goblets. The forest monster ate and drank to surfeit, making a noise like a mill, till there was nothing left. Then he shouted: "Ho! Schmat-Razum! Clear my table!" And immediately the empty plates and goblets disappeared and the lamps on the walls went out. Muzhichek then bade him remain and keep his house for him till his return, and rushed away down the mountain.

The archer crept out of the chest then, and seating him self at the table, shouted: "Ho! Schmat-Razum! Bring me food and drink!" At once the lamps reappeared and the table was spread as before. Then he said: "Ho! Schmat-Razum! Thou shouldst be hungry, too. Sit thee down and eat and drink with me for company's sake."

Then, though Taraban saw no one, a voice answered him and said: "Whence comest thou, good youth? For three times nine years have I served my master here and never has he asked me, as dost thou, to sup with him!"

"Nevertheless, Schmat-Razum," said the archer, "sit thee down. Perhaps I like thy company better than doth thy master." He began to eat and drink and opposite him the plates and wine-glasses emptied themselves, so that he knew the invisible servant was also eating and drinking. When the meal was finished the archer said: "Ho! Schmat-Razum! it seems to me thy master, the forest monster, doth not use thee too well. Wilt thou be my servant, instead? I will not use thee worse."

"Why not?" answered the other. "I am right tired of this cavern. I see thou art a good companion besides."

"Come with me at once, then," said the archer, "for my home is far away."

He left the cavern, picked up the jar with the frog and shouted for his servant. "Here I am, master," said a voice at his elbow. "Thou canst not see me, yet I shall be ever by thee to execute thy commands."

Taraban set out and made such good speed that even had Muzhichek known what direction his servant had taken, he would have had trouble enough to overtake him. They came to the deserted land where stood the splendid Palace, and rested there three weeks, and Schmat-Razum feasted the archer and his mother-in-law and her six daughters every day. Taraban left there the aged frog, whom the old mother promised, for her services, three jars of fresh milk every nine days forever. Then, with his invisible servant, Taraban set out again for his own Tsardom.

He journeyed six months without stopping and at the end of that time was so wearied that he could scarce set one foot before the other, and at length he sank down on the ground, saying: "Schmat-Razum, my faithful servant! Thou must find another master, for I am utterly exhausted and I fear me I shall never see my own Tsardom and my dear wife again!"

"Why didst thou not tell me thou wast wearied?" said Schmat-Razum; "I will carry thee as far and as swiftly as thou desirest!" And instantly Taraban felt himself lifted as if by a whirlwind, and borne through the air with such exceeding swiftness that he could scarce see the rivers and forests, the towns and villages, flying past. Presently he perceived far beneath him the waves of the blue sea-ocean and there their pace slackened and Schmat-Razum said: "Master, wilt thou not bid me here make thee a resting- place?"

"Do so," said Taraban; and at once there was a mighty whirlpool in the sea below and a green island appeared clothed with a pleasant wood. At its edge was a garden full of flowers of seven colors and glowing shrubbery, and in the garden was a golden summer-house, with silken awnings of many hues, and windows looking out over the sea-ocean. They descended and Schmat-Razum said: "Rest here, master, I pray thee, and refresh thyself for some days and then we will resume our journey."

So there they rested. Next day a merchant vessel came sailing by and the ship's master saw the island and put in near shore and cast anchor. Taraban welcomed him, took him into his golden summer-house and brought him a stool to sit upon. "Abide here," he said, "and divert thy self with me for a season, for there is no one with me save my servant here."

The shipman said: "But I see no servant."

"Thou shalt presently understand," said the archer, and called: "Ho! Schmat-Razum! bring hither wine and savory meats!" and immediately a table was spread with all kinds of delicacies. The master of the ship was much astonished and admired greatly the invisible servant, and for the space of a whole day besought the archer to sell him, offering for him a great store of gold. When Taraban would not, he fetched from his ship a little crystal casket. He raised its lid and immediately the wind began to blow and the waves rose, till the level of the water was ten feet higher than before; he closed the lid, and the waves grew still and the water subsided. In addition to his gold, the ship's master offered this casket in exchange for Schmat-Razum, but the archer would not part with him.

The next day a second ship came sailing across the sea-ocean and stopped at the island. It carried a rich merchant, who had himself rowed ashore in a skiff and, like the first, was welcomed by Taraban. He, too, desired the in visible servant, and for two days tried to persuade the archer to sell him. He offered for him a heap of precious Stones without number and at length, returning to his ship, brought an earthen bowl which he offered in exchange. He tapped the bowl's side and it produced a full rigged ship-of-war with all its sailors and fighting men. He tapped fifty times and with each tap it brought forth a like ship, with sails spread and mariners and soldiers in their places, till a fleet of fifty lay off the island. Then he turned the bowl upside down and ships and men at once disappeared. But the archer would not exchange Schmat-Razum for the magic bowl.

'While both ships lay at anchor there came a third vessel, bearing a trader from a distant Tsardom, and he, too, came to rest on the island. So much did he desire to possess the archer's servant that after he had bargained for the space of three days, he offered Taraban the value of his whole ship's cargo; and when that did not suffice, he drew from his pocket a golden horn which he offered in addition. He blew into one end of it and instantly a great host appeared, both horsemen and footmen, with spears and armor shining like gold. The officers of the host waved their bright swords and the musicians played warlike music, and the foot soldiers marched and the troopers galloped past; then the tradesman blew into its other end and all in an instant vanished. But neither for the wonderful horn would Taraban give up his servant Schmat-Razum.

Now the three vessels prepared to put out to sea, and presently Schmat-Razum came to the archer, and said: "Master, thy three guests, the captain, the merchant and the tradesman, purpose to do thee ill. I but now heard them plotting together how they may slay thee, because thou wilt not trade me to them. Now exchange me, I pray thee, for the casket, the bowl and the horn, and let them take me away. For at any moment thou desirest me I will return."

Accordingly Taraban went to the three men and said: "Thy wonders seemed to me to be less than mine, but it has occurred to me that with fleets and hosts I can take high service under some Tsar, and fighting is my trade. So if ye will exchange for him, ye may have my servant."

The three conferred together. "It is much," they said; "but after all, we are merchantmen, and of what use to us are high tides, hosts and ships-of-war? With Schmat-Razum, however, we may live together in plenty all our lives and have whatever our hearts desire." So they gave the archer the casket, the bowl and the horn, and he bade Schmat-Razum go with them, and they boarded one of their vessels and sailed away in company across the blue sea-ocean.

For three little days they regaled their crews and themselves feasted royally, drinking their fill each night and sleeping heavily, while the archer sat alone in the golden summer-house on the island. On the fourth evening, Tara ban, finding loneliness sit heavily upon him, sighed and said to himself: "Oh, Schmat-Razum, my faithful servant! How long will it be before I hear thy voice again?" And at that moment Schmat-Razum replied at his elbow, "Here I am, master; I but waited thy call."

The archer rejoiced. "It is time for us to go to my own Tsardom," he said. And in a twinkling, island and summer-house vanished and the whirlwind lifted him and bore him away.

Next morning the captain, the merchant and the trader awoke on the vessel. "Ho! Schmat-Razum!" they cried, "bring us a cooling drink!" But there was no answer and the service was not rendered. They ran hither and thither and shouted and bawled, but the invisible servant was gone. In anger they put about and returned to the place where the archer's island had been, but no trace of it could they find. Then they said to one another: "This was a magician and he has cheated and fooled us! May the devil take him!" And weeping and lamenting, they spread their sails and departed, each in a different direction.

Meanwhile the archer was carried by the whirlwind across the sea-ocean to his own Tsardom, and there on the shore he perceived the square tower which the Tsar had built, surrounded by its ships and soldiers. "Leave me here, Schmat-Razum," he said, "and go and see who is guarded in that tower."

He felt himself set gently on the sea beach, and presently Schmat-Razum returned and said: "Master, some beauteous princess sits in the tower's upper chamber, bemoaning the absence of her husband whom the Tsar has sent across three times nine lands, because he desires to possess her himself."

"It is doubtless my own lovely wife!" the archer exclaimed, and sent his servant to her with a message bidding her be of good cheer. Then he ordered Schmat-Razum to take him into the Tsar's Palace, and at once was set down under the royal windows. There he lifted his voice and cried: "O thou wicked Tsar! Thou stealer of thy subjects' wives! Come thou out to me that I, thy archer, may tell thee to thy face what thou art!"

The captain of the Palace Guard, hearing, thought him mad and sent a soldier to seize him, but the soldier Schmat-Razum overthrew in an instant. The captain sent a squad and them he also stretched on the ground like sheaves of barley, while the archer did not so much as lift a hand, but continued to shout against the Tsar.

Hearing the uproar, the Tsar himself at length came to the window and seeing the archer and hearing his words, waxed exceedingly wroth. "Wilt thou suffer this insolent bowman," he cried, "to revile me before my own Palace?" And he sent in haste for his soldiers. They assembled, but as they came, the archer took his golden horn and blew it and at once the invincible host appeared, horse and foot, glittering in bright armor. He began to rap on his earthen bowl and instantly ships-of-war were along all the coast. He opened his crystal casket and the waves rose and the water lifted ten feet, so that the ships came sailing up to the very walls of the capital.

The watchmen sitting on the Tsar's watch-towers cried to those beneath that a hundred warships had arrived under sail and were coming to attack the capital, and they hastened to tell the Tsar. Furious, he mounted his horse and rode out at the head of all his army and bade them open battle.

Taraban called the captains of his host and gave them orders. The musicians began to play and the horses to chafe and fume, the drummers beat their drums, and the horsemen and footmen moved forward like a great river. Nothing could stop them. The enchanted swords cut down the Tsar's men like grain and the gleaming spears pierced through their armor, so that soon all his army was in flight. The Tsar himself was caught between the two forces, dashed from his horse and trampled to death in an instant.

Then the archer called together his host, while the Ministers and Boyars, terror-stricken, besought him to Spare their lives and rule the Tsardom. He consented and marching to the tower, brought his wife in all honor to the Palace, where, when all had kissed her hand as their Tsaritsa, he ordered a great festival. For three weeks the whole realm feasted till the royal bins were empty and the cellars ran dry, while the host encamped round about the capital and the ships-of-war flocked under its walls.

On the twenty-first night, at midnight Taraban went to his chamber, turned upside-down the earthen bowl, blew into the golden horn and closed the casket, and at the same moment the sea receded, the great host and the fleet of warships vanished, and all was as before.

So Taraban the archer began his reign, and his rule was wise and terrible. He subdued other Tsardoms and begat many children and lived in joy all the days of his life, with his Tsaritsa and his faithful servant, Schmat-Razum.

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


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