Russian Folk-Tales/By Command of the Prince Daniel

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Once upon a time there was an aged queen who had a son and a daughter, who were fine, sturdy children. But there was also an evil witch who could not bear them, and she began to lay plots how she might contrive their overthrow.

So she went to the old Queen and said: "Dear Gossip, I am giving you a ring. Put it on your son's hand, and he will then be rich and generous: only he must marry the maiden whom this ring fits."

The mother believed her and was extremely glad, and at her death bade her son marry only the woman whom the ring fitted.

Time went by and the boy grew up: he became a man and looked at all the maidens. Very many of them he liked, only as soon as he put the ring on their finger it was either too broad or too narrow. So he travelled from village to village and from town to town, and searched out all the fair damsels, but he could not find his chosen one, and returned home in a reflective mood.

"What's the matter, brother?" his sister asked him. So he told her of his trouble, explained his sorrow. "What a wonderful ring you have!" said the sister. "Let me try it on." She tried it on her finger, and the ring was firmly fixed as if it had been soldered on, as though it had been made for her.

"Oh, sister! you are my chosen bride, and you must be my wife."

"What a horrible idea, brother! That would be a sin."

But the brother would not listen to a word she said. He danced for joy and told her to make ready for the wedding. She wept bitter tears, went in front of the house, and sat on the threshold and let her tears flow.

Two old beggars came up, and she gave them to eat and to drink. They asked what her trouble was, and she needs must tell the two. "Now, weep no more, but do what we say. Make up four dolls and put them in the four corners of the room. After your brother calls you in for the betrothal, go; and if he calls you into the bridal chamber, ask for time, trust in God, and follow our advice." And the beggars departed.

The brother and sister were betrothed, and he went into the room and cried out, "Sister mine, come in!"

"I will come in in a moment, brother; I am only taking off my earrings."

And the dolls in the four corners began to sing:

Coo-Coo—Prince Danílo
Coo-Coo—'Tis a brother
Coo-Coo—Weds his sister:
Coo-Coo—Earth must split asunder
Cooo—And the sister lie hid under.

Then the earth rose up and slowly swallowed the sister.

And the brother cried out again, "Sister mine, come in to the feather-bed!"

"In a minute, brother. I am undoing my girdle."

Then the dolls began to sing:

Coo-Coo—Prince Danílo
Coo-Coo—'Tis a brother
Coo-Coo—Weds his sister:
Coo-Coo—Earth must split asunder
Cooo—And the sister lie hid under.

Only she had vanished now, all but her head. And the brother cried out again: "Come into the feather-bed."

"In a minute, brother; I am taking off my shoes."

And the dolls went on cooing, and she vanished under the earth.

And the brother kept crying, and crying, and crying. And when she never returned, he became angry and ran out to fetch her. He could see nothing but the dolls, which kept singing. So he knocked off their heads and threw them into the stove.

The sister went farther under the earth, and she saw a little hut standing on cocks' feet and turning round. "Hut!" she cried out, "Stand as you should with your back to the wood."

So the hut stopped and the doors opened, and a fair maiden looked out. She was knitting a cloth with gold and silver thread. She greeted the guest friendlily and kindly, but sighed and said, "Oh, my darling, my sister! Oh, I am so glad to see you. I shall be so glad to look after you and to care for you as long as my mother is not here. But as soon as she flies in, woe to you and me, for she is a witch."

When she heard this the maiden was frightened, but could not fly anywhere. So she sat down and began helping the other maiden at her work. So they chattered along; and soon, at the right time before the mother came, the fair maiden turned her guest into a needle, stuck her into the besom and put it on one side. But scarcely had this been done, when Bába Yagá came in.

"Now, my fair daughter, my little child, tell me at once, why does the room smell so of Russian bones?"

"Mother, there have been strange men journeying past who wanted a drink of water."

"Why did you not keep them?"

"They were too old, mother; much too tough a snack for your teeth."

"Henceforth, entice them all into the house and never let them go. I must now get about again and look out for other booty."

As soon as ever she had gone, the maidens set to work again knitting, talking and laughing.

Then the witch came into the room once more. She sniffed about the house, and said, "Daughter, my sweet daughter, my darling, tell me at once, why does it so smell of Russian bones?"

"Old men who were just passing by who wanted to warm their hands. I did my best to keep them, but they would not stay."

So the witch was angry, scolded her daughter, and flew away. In the meantime her unknown guest was sitting in the besom.

The maidens once more set to work, sewed, laughed, and thought how they might escape the evil witch. This time they forgot how the hours were flying by, and suddenly the witch stood in front of them.

"Darling, tell me, where have the Russian bones crept away?"

"Here, my mother; a fair maiden is waiting for you."

"Daughter mine, darling, heat the oven quickly; make it very hot."

So the maiden looked up and was frightened to death. For Bába Yagá with the wooden legs stood in front of her, and to the ceiling rose her nose. So the mother and daughter carried firewood in, logs of oak and maple; made the oven ready till the flames shot up merrily.

Then the witch took her broad shovel and said in a friendly voice: "Go and sit on my shovel, fair child."

So the maiden obeyed, and the Bába Yagá was going to shove her into the oven. But the girl stuck her feet against the wall of the hearth.

"Will you sit still, girl?"

But it was not any good. Bába Yagá could not put the maiden into the oven. So she became angry, thrust her back and said, "You are simply wasting time! Just look at me and see how it is done." Down she sat on the shovel with her legs nicely trussed together. So the maidens instantly put her into the oven, shut the oven door, and slammed her in; took their knitting with them, and their comb and brush, and ran away.

They ran hard away, but when they turned round there was Bába Yagá running after them. She had set herself free. "Hoo, Hoo, Hoo! there run the two!" So the maidens, in their need, threw the brush away, and a thick, dense coppice arose which she could not break through. So she stretched out her claws, scratched herself a way through, and again ran after them. Whither should the two poor girls flee? They flung their comb behind them, and a dark, murky oak forest grew up, so thick, no fly could ever have flown its way through. Then the witch whetted her teeth and set to work. And she went on tearing up one tree after another by the roots, and she made herself a way, and again set out after them, and almost caught them up.

Now the girls had no strength left to run, so threw the cloth behind them, and a broad sea stretched out, deep, wide and fiery. The old woman rose up, wanted to fly over it, but fell into the fire and was burned to death.

The poor maidens, poor homeless doves! did not know whither to go. They sat down in order to rest, and a man came and asked them who they were. He told his master that two little birds had fluttered on to his estate; two fairest damsels similar in form and shape, eye for eye and line for line. One was his sister, but which was it? He could not guess. So the master went to both of them. One was the sister—which? The servant had not lied; he did not know them, and she was angry with him and did not say.

"What shall I do?" asked the master.

"Master, I will pour blood into an ewe-skin, put that under my armpit[1] and talk to the maiden. In the meantime I will go by and will stab you in the side with my knife; then blood will flow; then your sister will betray herself who she is."

"Very well!"

As soon as it was said it was done. The servant stabbed his master in the side, and the blood poured forth, and he fell down.

Then his sister flung herself over him and cried out, "Oh, my brother! my darling!"

Then the brother jumped up again healthy and well. He embraced his sister, gave her a proper husband, and he married her friend, for the ring fitted her just as well. So they all lived splendidly and happily.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

  1. Russian: положите его себе под мышку (put it under your armpit) (Wikisource contributor note)