Russian Folk-Tales/The Sea Tsar and Vasilísa the Wise
THE SEA TSAR AND VASILÍSA THE WISE
Once a Tsar lived with his Tsarítsa beyond thrice-nine lands in the thrice-tenth kingdom. He liked to go hunting and shooting the wild beasts. One day the Tsar went out hunting, and saw a young eagle sitting on an oak; and he was just going to shoot him down, when the eagle begged him, "Do not shoot me, Tsar my master, rather take me to yourself; and at some time or other I shall be of service to you." And the Tsar thought and thought, and he said, "How can you be of any service to me?" And again he wanted to shoot him. And the eagle said to him a second time, "Do not shoot, Tsar my master, rather take me to yourself; and some day I shall be of service to you." And the Tsar thought and thought, and again he could not imagine whatever service the eagle would be to him, and he still wanted to shoot him. So for the third time the eagle spoke to him, "Do not shoot me, Tsar my master, rather take me to yourself, and feed me for three years; and at some time I shall be of service to you."
So the Tsar was mollified, and took the eagle to himself, and he fed him one year and another year, and the eagle ate up so much, ate up all the cattle; and the Tsar had neither a sheep nor a cow left.
Then the eagle said to him, "Let me go free." And the eagle tried his wings, but no, he could not fly; and he asked him, "Now, Tsar my master, you have fed me for two years, even as you said; now feed me one year more. Only go on and feed me, and you will not lose."
So the Tsar did this.
"Go and hire cattle and feed me; you will not lose."
So the Tsar did this. From all countries round he went and hired cattle, and every one helped him to feed the eagle. And afterwards he let him go free at his own will.
Then the eagle rose higher and higher, and he flew and flew, and then he came down to earth and said, "Now, Tsar my master, come and sit on me: we will fly together."
So the Tsar sat on the eagle and they flew on and on. Maybe much time went by, maybe little, but they at last flew to the border of the blue sea. Then the eagle shook the Tsar off himself, and he fell into the sea, and he was wetted up to his knees, only the eagle did not let him drown, but supported him on his wing, and asked, "Why, Tsar my lord, why are you frightened?"
"I was frightened," said the Tsar, "lest I should be drowned."
And so once more they flew on, until they came to another sea. And the eagle shook the Tsar off into the middle of the sea, and the Tsar was wetted up to his waist, but the eagle supported him by his wing and asked him, "Why, Tsar my master, why are you frightened?"
"I was frightened," said the Tsar, "and I was thinking, it may be you are never going to drag me out."
And again they flew on, and they arrived at the third sea, and the eagle threw the Tsar into the great depths, and he was immersed in the water up to his very neck. Again, the third time the eagle held him by the wing and asked him, "Why, Tsar my master, why are you frightened?"
"I was," said the Tsar, "I was thinking if only you would rescue me!"
"Now, Tsar my master, you have learned the fear of death. All this shall be for you in the past, and shall be an old tale. You may recollect how I was sitting on the oak and you wished to kill me. Three times you took up your gun to shoot me, but I asked you to spare me; and I was thinking in my mind, may you not destroy me but have pity and take me to yourself!"
So he then flew across thrice-nine lands, for a very long flight. And the eagle said, "Come and see, Tsar my master, what is over us and what is under us."
And the Tsar looked: "Over us," he said, "is the sky, and under us the earth."
"Look once more: what is there on the left and right-hand sides?"
"On the right-hand side there is an open field and on the left-hand side there is a house."
"We will fly there," said the eagle; "there my youngest sister lives."
So they flew straight to the courtyard, and the sister came to meet them and received her brother, seated him on an oaken table; but she would not look on the Tsar—she left him outside in the courtyard and she let the fleet dogs out to feed on him.
But the eagle was very angry, and he leaped up from the table, laid hold on the Tsar and flew, yet farther. So they flew and flew, and the eagle said to the Tsar, "Look, what is there behind us?"
So the Tsar turned round and looked, and said, "Behind us there is a beauteous house."
Then the eagle said to him, "It is the house of my youngest sister that glitters: she would not receive you, but gave you for food to the fleet hounds."
So they flew and flew on, and the eagle asked him again, "Look, Tsar my master, what is there over us, and what under us?"
"Over us the sky and under us the earth."
"Look, what is there on the right-hand, and what is there on the left?"
"On the right-hand side there is the open field, and on the left-hand side there stands a house."
"There my younger sister lives; we will fly there and be her guests."
So they came down to the open courtyard, and the younger sister came and received her brother, and she seated him on an oaken stool, but she left the Tsar in the courtyard, and she released the fleet hounds on him.
And the eagle was angry, leaped up from the table, laid hold on the Tsar and flew with him yet farther; and they flew on and on, and the eagle said to the Tsar, "Look, what is there behind us?"
"Behind us there is a beauteous house."
"It is the house of my younger sister that glitters," said the eagle. "Now we will fly where my mother and eldest sister live."
So they flew thither, and the mother and eldest sister were ever so glad to see them, and they received the Tsar with honour and affection.
"Now, Tsar my master," said the eagle, "come and rest with us, and afterwards I will give you a ship, and I will repay you all I ate up whilst I was with you; and go home with God's aid." So he gave the Tsar a ship and two coffers, one was red and the other green. And he said, "Take heed, do not open the coffers until you reach home: open the red coffer in the back courtyard and the green coffer in the front courtyard."
So the Tsar took the two coffers, bade farewell to the eagle, and went on the blue sea: and he went on and he arrived at an island, where the ship stopped. He got out on the shore, and he remembered the two coffers, and began to wonder what was in them, and why the eagle had bidden him not to open them; and he thought and thought, and his patience gave way. He so badly wanted to know, and so he took the red coffer, put it on the ground and opened it, and out of it all sorts of cattle came out, so many that the eye could not count, and they almost filled the entire island. When the Tsar saw this he was grieved, and began to weep and say, "Whatever shall I do now? how shall I collect all of this herd into such a tiny coffer?"
And then he saw that out of the water came a man, who went up to him and asked him, "Why are you weeping so bitterly, Tsar my master?"
"Why should I not weep?" answered the Tsar. "How can I put all this great herd into this tiny coffer?"
"If you will I can aid you in your trouble; I will collect all this herd, only on condition that you give me what you do not know of at home."
So the Tsar began to ponder, "What do I not know of at home? It seems to me that I know of everything."
So he thought, and he considered it, and he said, "Go and collect them together, and I will give you what I do not know of at home."
Then the man collected all of the cattle into the box, and the Tsar went on board and sailed on his own journey.
When he reached home he saw that a son had been born to him, the Tsarévich, and he began to kiss him and to fondle him. But then he began to weep bitter tears.
"Tsar my master," said the Tsarítsa, "why do you weep such bitter tears?"
"Out of joy," he said; for he feared to tell her the truth that he must give up the Tsarévich.
So then he went into the courtyard and opened the red coffer, and out of it oxen and kine, sheep and rams, came out. There was a multitude of all sorts of cattle. All the barns and the folds were full. He then came to the forecourt and he opened the green coffer, and in front of him a wonderful garden spread out with every kind of tree in it, and the Tsar was so joyous, and forgot to give his son up.
Many years went by: one day the Tsar wanted to take a walk, and he went to the river; and just then that same man peered up out of the water and said: "You are a very forgetful person, Tsar my master: you should recollect your debts."
Then the Tsar went home with grief in his groaning heart, and he told the Tsarítsa and the Tsarévich all the real truth, and they were afflicted; and they all wept together and resolved that something must be done, and that they must give up the Tsarévich. So they took him to the seashore and left him by himself.
And the Tsarévich looked round, and he saw a path, went on it, trusting God might lead him aright. So he went on and on, and he lost his way in the slumberous forest, and he saw a little izbá in the forest, and in the izbá there lived the Bába Yagá. "I will go in," thought the Tsarévich, and he went into the izbá.
"Good-day, Tsarévich," said Bába Yagá:
"Is it work on your way,
Or for sloth do you stray?"
"Hey, bábushka, give me food and drink, and ask me afterwards."
So she then gave him food and drink, and the Tsarévich told her all his sorrow without any concealment—whither he was going and why.
Then Bába Yagá said to him, "Go, my child, to the sea; there you will find twelve spoonbills flying in the air, they will turn into fair maidens, who will bathe. You go and hide yourself, and seize the shirt of the eldest maiden. When you have made friends with her, go to the Sea Tsar."
The Tsarévich bade farewell to Bába Yagá, went to the spot she named on the seashore, and he hid himself behind the bushes. Then twelve spoonbills flew along, struck the grey earth, and turned into fair maidens, who began bathing. The Tsarévich stole the maiden's shirt, sat behind the bush, and never stirred. The maidens came out of the sea and went on shore: eleven of them struck the earth, turned into birds and flew home: one was left alone, the eldest—Vasilísa the Wise. And when she saw that her sisters flew away she said, "Do not seek me, my dear sisters, but fly home. I am myself to blame; it is all my own fault; I did not look, and I must pay the cost." So the sisters, the fair maidens, struck the grey earth and turned into spoonbills, spread their wings, and flew far away. Vasilísa the Wise was left by herself, and she looked round and said: "Whoever he be who now has my shirt, let him come here: if he be an old man, he shall be as my own father; if he be a middle-aged man, he shall be as my beloved brother; if he be of my age, he shall be my lover."
As soon as he heard this, Iván Tsarévich came out of his lurking-place. So she gave him a golden ring and said, "Iván Tsarévich, how long you have been in coming! The Sea Tsar is wroth with you. That is the road which leads to the kingdom under the sea; come on it boldly. There you will find me as well, for I am Vasilísa the Wise, the daughter of the Sea Tsar." Then Vasilísa the Wise, the eldest, struck the earth, turned into a spoonbill, and flew away from the Tsarévich.
Then Iván went into the under-seas, and he saw light there as it is above, fields and meadows and green arbours; and the sun was hot. Then he came to the Sea Tsar, and the Sea Tsar shrieked out at him: "Why have you been so long? You have been guilty, and you must do me this service: I have a piece of waste ground thirty versts long and broad, and there is nothing on it except ditches, ravines and sharp stones. By to-morrow morning all this must be as smooth as the palm of my hand; rye must be sown and grow so high that a jackdaw might be hidden in it. But if you fail, your head shall roll off your shoulders."
Iván Tsarévich left the Sea Tsar and wept a sea of tears. Out of the window of her room, from a lofty turret, Vasilísa the Wise saw him and asked, "Hail, Iván Tsarévich! why are you weeping?"
"How should I not weep?" answered Iván. "The Sea Tsar has bidden me in a single night level the ravines and clear the stones from a piece of land thirty versts long and broad, and grow rye on it so high that a jackdaw might hide in it."
"That is easy enough: this is no trouble—trouble is still ahead. Come and lie down in peace; the morning is wiser than the evening. All shall be ready."
So Iván Tsarévich went and lay down, and Vasilísa the Wise went to a little window and cried in a thunderous voice, "Hail, my faithful servants, go and level the deep ravines, take away the sharp stones, sow the ground with full-eared rye, so that in the morning it shall grow so high that a jackdaw might hide in it."
In the morning Iván Tsarévich awoke, and when he looked out it was all done: there were no ravines and no crevasses, and the field was as flat as the palm of his hand, and the rye on it was red and so lofty that a jackdaw might hide in it. And he went to report his prowess to the Sea Tsar.
"Thank you," said the Sea Tsar. "You have been able to fulfil me this service. Here is your second work. I have thirty hayricks, and each hayrick contains as much as thirty piles of white-eared barley. Thresh me all the barley clean, quite clean to the last grain, and do not destroy the hayricks nor beat down the sheaves. If you do not do this, your shoulders and your head will part company."
"I will obey your Majesty," said Iván Tsarévich, and again he went to the courtyard and was lost in tears.
"Why are you weeping, Iván Tsarévich, so bitterly?" Vasilísa the Wise asked him.
"Why should I not weep? The Sea Tsar has bidden me thresh clean thirty hayricks of barley without destroying a hayrick or a single sheaf, and all in a single night."
"That is an easy task. Harder tasks are to come. Sleep in peace, for the morning is wiser than the evening."
So Iván Tsarévich went and lay down.
Vasilísa went to her window and cried out in a threatening voice, "Hail, ye creeping ants, as many as there be of you in the white world, all creep here and pick out all the corn of my father's hayricks quite cleanly."
In the morning the Sea Tsar asked Iván Tsarévich if he had done this service.
"I have, your Majesty."
"Let us go and see."
So they went to the barn floor, and there all the hayricks stood untouched; and they went to the granary, and all the lofts were filled to the top with corn.
"Thank you, brother," said the Sea Tsar. "Now you must make me a church out of white wax, to be ready to-night, and this shall be your last task."
Once again Iván Tsarévich went to the courtyard and began to weep.
"Why are you weeping, Iván Tsarévich?"
"Why should I not weep? The Sea Tsar has bidden me in a single night build a church of white wax."
"That is an easy task: harder tasks are near at hand. Lie down in peace, for the morning is wiser than the evening."
So Iván Tsarévich went to sleep.
Then she went to her window and called to her all the bees in the white world, "Hail, ye bees my servants, do ye build me a church of your white wax, and let it be finished before the morning."
In the morning Iván got up, looked, and saw the church stood there made of clean wax, and he went to the Sea Tsar and reported.
"Thank you, Iván Tsarévich: of all the servants I have had, none of them have been able to do as well as you. Now be my heir and the preserver of my kingdom. Now select yourself a bride out of my twelve daughters. They are all alike, face for face, hair with hair, clothing with clothing. If you guess three times the same one, she shall be your bride; if you do not, you shall suffer."
Vasilísa the Wise learned of this, chose her opportunity, and said to the Tsarévich, "The first time I will wave my dress, the second time I will smooth my dress, and the third time there shall be a fly buzzing round my head." Thus he was able to guess Vasilísa all three times. And they were betrothed, and there was a merry feast for three days.
Time went by, may-be little, may-be much. Iván Tsarévich grew anxious to see his father and mother, and he wished to go back to Holy Russia.
"Why are you so grieved, Iván Tsarévich?"
"O Vasilísa the Wise, I am afflicted for my father and my mother, and desire to behold Holy Russia."
"If we go away there will be a mighty chase after us. The Sea Tsar will be wroth, and will give us over to death. We must be cunning." So Vasilísa spat in three corners, and the doors of her room opened, and she, with Iván Tsarévich, ran into Sacred Russia. On the second day, very early, an embassy came from the Sea Tsar to catch the young couple and to summon them into the palace, and they knocked on the door: "Wake up, get up from your sleep; your father is calling you."
"It is yet early: we have not yet had our sleep; come later on," one pool answered.
Then the ambassadors retired, and they waited one hour and another hour, and they knocked again: "This is not the time and season to sleep; this is the time and season to get up."
"Have a little patience, we will get up; we are dressing," the second pool answered.
And the third time the envoys came, saying that the Sea Tsar was angry: "Why are you so long making ready?"
"We will be down soon," answered the third pool.
So the messengers waited and waited, and then again knocked. Then there was no answer and no reply, so they broke in the door, and all was empty. Then they went and sent word to the Sea Tsar that the young folk had run away. He was very angry, and he set a mighty hunt after them.
But Vasilísa the Wise, with Iván Tsarévich, was already very far ahead: they were leaping on swift horses without staying, without taking breath. "Now, Iván Tsarévich, bend your head down to the grey earth and listen. Is there no noise of a hunt from the Sea Tsar?"
Iván Tsarévich leapt down from his horse, put his ear to the ground, and said, "I hear the talk of people, and the tramp of horses."
"This is the hunt after us," said Vasilísa the Wise. And she at once turned the horses into a green meadow, Iván Tsarévich into an old shepherd, and herself into a brooding lamb.
The hunt passed by.
"Ho, old man, have you seen a doughty youth with a fair maiden galloping by?"
"No, good folk, I have not seen them," said Iván Tsarévich. "It is forty years I have been pasturing on these fields; not one bird has ever flown by, not one wild beast has ever rambled by."
So they returned home.
"Your Imperial Majesty, we saw no one on the road; we only saw a shepherd feeding a little sheep."
"Why did you not take it? That was themselves!" said the Sea Tsar. And he sent out a second hunt.
But Iván Tsarévich and Vasilísa the Wise were leaping far off on their swift steeds. "Now, Iván Tsarévich, put your head to the grey earth and listen whether there is no hunt from the Sea Tsar."
Iván Tsarévich leapt off his horse, put his ear to the grey earth and said, "I hear the talk of people and the hoppety-hop of horses."
"This is the chase, that is the steeds," said Vasilísa the Wise; and she turned herself into a church, and Iván Tsarévich into an elderly pope and the horses into trees.
So the hunt went by.
"Ho, bátyushka, have you seen a shepherd with a little lamb passing by?"
"No, good people, I have not. I have been working for forty years in this church; not one bird has flown by, not one beast has rambled by."
So the hunt went back and reached home.
"Your Imperial Majesty, we could not find the shepherd with the little lamb: the only thing we saw on the road was a church and an old man as pope."
"Why did you not break down the church and capture the pope? That was themselves!" the Sea Tsar exclaimed, and he himself leapt out to hunt after Iván Tsarévich and Vasilísa the Wise.
So they went far, and again Vasilísa the Wise said, "Iván Tsarévich, put your ear to the ground; can you hear any hunt?"
Then the Tsarévich leapt down, put his ear to the grey earth, and said, "I hear the talk of people and the thunder of horses' hooves faster than before."
"This is the Sea Tsar himself who is galloping."
So Vasilísa the Wise turned the horses into a mere, Iván Tsarévich into a drake, and herself into a duck. The Sea Tsar came up to the lake and he instantly guessed who were the duck and the drake, so he struck the grey earth and turned into an eagle. The eagle wanted to smite them to death, and it might well have been; but, as soon as ever he struck at the drake, it dived into the water, and whenever he struck at the duck the duck dived into the water, and whatever he might do was all in vain.
So the Sea Tsar galloped back to his own kingdom under the seas, and Vasilísa the Wise with Iván Tsarévich waited a while and then returned to Sacred Russia. It may-be long, it may-be short, at last they came into the thrice-ninth realm. When they arrived home his father and mother were overjoyed to see Iván Tsarévich, for they had given him up as lost. And they made a great feast and celebrated the marriage.
I was there, I drank mead and wine: it flowed up to my beard, but it never entered my mouth.