Russian Folk-Tales/The Realm of Stone

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In a certain kingdom, in a certain state, once there lived a soldier who had served long and faithfully and knew all about the Tsar's service, the reviews, and always came up to parade looking clean and smart. The last year of his service came along, and, to his ill-luck, his superior officers, great and small, did not like him, and as a result he was soundly thrashed. This grieved the soldier, and he thought of deserting. So, with his wallet on his back and his gun on his shoulder, he began to bid farewell to his comrades, who asked him, "Where are you going? Do you want to enter a battalion?"

"Do not ask me, my brothers; just buckle my wallet firmly on, and do not think evil of me."

Then the good youth set forth whither his eyes gazed. May be far, may be near, he went on and on, and arrived at another kingdom, saw the sentry-guard and asked "May I rest here?"

So the sentry-guard told the Corporal, the Corporal told the Officer, and the Officer told the General, and the General told the King himself. And the King ordered the soldier to be brought before him in order that he might see him with his own eyes. And the soldier appeared before him in his proper regimentals, with musket on his shoulder, as though he were rooted to the ground.

Then the King asked him, "Tell me on your faith and oath, whence are you and where are you going?"

"Your kingly Majesty, do not have me punished! Bid the word be not spoken." And he told the whole story to the King, and asked to be admitted to the service.

"Very well," said the King; "come and serve me as sentry in my garden. All is not well in my garden: somebody is breaking my best-loved trees, and you must endeavour to preserve them; and, as to the reward for your labour, you shall not fare ill."

So the sentry agreed and stood as sentry in the garden. For a year, for two years, he served on, and all went well. But in the third year, as he went out, he went to look in the garden, and saw that half of the best trees had been shattered. "My goodness!" he thought to himself, "what a fearful misfortune! If the King observes this he will instantly have me pinioned and hanged." So he took his gun in his hand, went to a tree, and began pondering very hard. Then he heard a crackling and a rumbling. So the good youth glimpsed down, and he saw a fearful, huge bird flying into the garden and overthrowing the trees. The soldier fired at the bird, but could not kill it; and could only wing it on the right wing, and three feathers fell out of the wing, but the bird took to flight. After him the soldier dashed. The bird's wings were swift, and very speedily it flew into a pit and vanished from sight. But the soldier was not afraid and dived down after him into the pit, fell into the deep crevasse, fell down flat and lay for whole days unconscious.

When he came to himself he got up and he looked, and he found himself in the subterranean world, where there was the same light as was here. "I suppose there are people here as well," he thought. So he went on and on, and saw a great city and a sentry-box in front of it, and in it a sentry. He began to ask him questions, but never an answer, never a movement! So he took him by the hand, and found that he was all stone. Then the soldier went into the sentry-box: and there were many people, and they stood or sat, only they had all been turned to stone. He then set to wandering in the streets, and everywhere it was the same—not a single live soul to be seen! Soon he came to a decorated, raised, clean-cut palace, marched in there, and looked. Rich rooms; and food and drink of all sorts were on the table; and all was silent and empty. So the soldier ate and drank; sat down to have a rest. Suddenly it seemed to him as though some one had come up the steps. So he shouldered his musket and went to the door.

A fair Tsarévna was coming in with her maids of honour and attendants. The soldier bowed down to her, and she curtsied to him kindly.

"Hail, soldier!" she said. "By what ill doom have you fallen down here?"

So the soldier began to tell her. "I was engaged as sentry in the imperial garden, and a big bird came and flew round the trees and shattered them. I watched him, fired at him, and three feathers fell out of his wing. I began to chase after him, and arrived here."

Then she answered, "That bird is my own sister: she does much evil of every kind and has set an ill doom on my kingdom, having turned all my people to stone. Listen! here is a book for you. Stand here and read it from evening time until the hour when the cocks crow. Whatever suffering may come over you, do your duty; read the book, keep it close to you that they may not tear it from you, otherwise you will not remain alive. If you can stay here for three nights I will come and marry you."

"Very well," said the soldier.

Soon it became dark, and he took the book and began reading it. Then there was a knocking and a thundering, and an entire host appeared in the palace. All his former superiors appeared in front of the soldier, scolded him and threatened him with the punishment of death. And they got their guns and were levelling them at him: but the soldier never looked at them, never let the book drop out of his hand, and simply went on reading. Then the cocks crowed, and it all vanished!

On the next night it was still more terrible, and on the third night worst of all. All the executioners came up with their saws, axes, clubs, and wanted to break his bones, put him on the rack, burn him at the stake, and were devising any means of getting the book out of his hand. It was fearful torture, and the soldier could hardly endure it. Then the cocks crowed, and the demons vanished!

At the same time the entire kingdom awoke, and in the streets and in the houses people bestirred themselves, and in the palace the Tsarévna and her generals and her suite appeared, and all began to thank the soldier, and they made him their king.

On the next day he married the fair Princess, and lived with her in love and joy.

So the soldier, the peasant's son, became a Tsar, and he still reigns.

He is a very good king over his subjects, and is very generous to other soldiers.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.