Page:The Red Fairy Book.djvu/68
THE DEATH OF KOSHCHEI THE DEATHLESS
'Please let us alone, Prince Ivan!' begs the lioness; 'some time or other I'll do you a good turn.'
'Very well; have it your own way,' says he.
Hungry and faint he wandered on, walked farther and farther, and at last came to where stood the house of the Baba Yaga. Round the house were set twelve poles in a circle, and on each of eleven of these poles was stuck a human head; the twelfth alone remained unoccupied.
'Hail, Prince Ivan! wherefore have you come? Is it of your own accord, or on compulsion?'
'I have come to earn from you an heroic steed.'
'So be it, Prince! You won't have to serve a year with me, but just three days. If you take good care of my mares, I'll give you an heroic steed. But if you don't—why, then you mustn't be annoyed at finding your head stuck on top of the last pole up there.'
Prince Ivan agreed to these terms. The Baba Yaga gave him food and drink, and bade him set about his business. But the moment he had driven the mares afield, they cocked up their tails, and away they tore across the meadows in all directions. Before the Prince had time to look round they were all out of sight. Thereupon he began to weep and to disquiet himself, and then he sat down upon a stone and went to sleep. But when the sun was near its setting the outlandish bird came flying up to him, and awakened him, saying:
'Arise, Prince Ivan! The mares are at home now.'
The Prince arose and returned home. There the Baba Yaga was storming and raging at her mares, and shrieking:
'Whatever did ye come home for?'
'How could we help coming home?' said they. 'There came flying birds from every part of the world, and all but pecked our eyes out.'
'Well, well! to-morrow don't go galloping over the meadows, but disperse amid the thick forests.'
Prince Ivan slept all night. In the morning the Baba Yaga says to him:
'Mind, Prince! if you don't take good care of the mares, if you lose merely one of them—your bold head will be stuck on that pole!'
He drove the mares afield. Immediately they cocked up their tails and dispersed among the thick forests. Again did the Prince