Russian Folk-Tales/The Tsarevich and Dyád'ka

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Once upon a time, in a certain kingdom, in a city of yore, there was a King who had a dwarf son. The Tsarévich was fair to behold, and fair of heart. But his father was not good: he was always tortured with greedy thoughts, how he should derive greater profit from his country and extract heavier taxes.

One day he saw an old peasant passing by with sable, marten, beaver, and fox-skins; and he asked him:

"Old man! whence do you come?"

"Out of the village, Father. I serve the Woodsprite with the iron hands, the cast-iron head, and the body of bronze."

"How do you catch so many animals?"

"The Woodsprite lays traps, and the animals are stupid and go into them."

"Listen, old man; I will give you gold and wine. Show me where you put the traps."

So the old man was persuaded, and he showed the King, who instantly had the Woodsprite arrested and confined in a narrow tower. And in all the Woodsprite's forests the King himself laid traps.

The Woodsprite-forester sat in his iron tower inside the royal garden, and looked out through the window. One day, the Tsarévich, with his nurses and attendants and very many faithful servant-maids, went into the garden to play. He passed the door, and the Woodsprite cried out to him: "Tsarévich, if you will set me free, I will later on help you."

"How shall I do this?"

"Go to your mother and weep bitterly. Tell her: 'Please, dear Mother, scratch my head.' Lay your head on her lap. Wait for the proper instant, take the key of my tower out of her pocket, and set me free."

Iván Tsarévich did what the Woodsprite had told him, took the key; then he ran into the garden, made an arrow, put the arrow on a catapult, and shot it far away. And all the nurses and serving-maids ran off to find the arrow. Whilst they were all running after the arrow Iván Tsarévich opened the iron tower and freed the Woodsprite. The Woodsprite escaped and destroyed all the King's traps.

Now the King could not catch any more animals, and became angry, and attacked his wife for giving the key away and setting the Woodsprite free. He assembled all the boyárs, generals, and senators to pronounce the Queen's doom, whether she should have her head cut off, or should be merely banished. So the Tsarévich was greatly grieved; he was sorry for his mother, and he acknowledged his guilt to his father.

Then the King was very sorry, and didn't know what to do to his son. He asked all the boyárs and generals, and said: "Is he to be hanged or to be put into a fortress?"

"No, your Majesty!" the boyárs, and generals, and senators answered in one voice. "The scions of kings are not slain, and are not put in prison; they are sent out into the white world to meet whatever fate God may send them."

So Iván Tsarévich was sent out into the white world, to wander in the four directions, to suffer the midday winds and the stress of the winter and the blasts of the autumn; and was given only a birch-bark wallet and Dyád'ka, his servant.

So the King's son set out with his servant into the open fields. They went far and wide over hill and dale. Their way may have been long, and it may have been short; and they at last reached a well. Then the Tsarévich said to his servant, "Go and fetch me water."

"I will not go!" said the servant.

So they went further on, and they once more came to a well.

"Go and fetch me water—I feel thirsty," the Tsarévich asked him a second time.

"I will not go."

Then they went on until they came to a third well. And the servant again would not fetch any water. And the Tsarévich had to do it himself. When the Tsarévich had gone down into the well the servant shut down the lid, and said: "You be my servant, and I will be the Tsarévich; or I will never let you come out!"

The Tsarévich could not help himself, and was forced to give way; and signed the bond to his servant in his own blood. Then they changed clothes and rode on, and came to another land, where they went to the Tsar's court, the servant-man first, and the King's son after.

The servant-man sat as a guest with the Tsar, ate and drank at his table. One day he said: "Mighty Tsar, send my servant into the kitchen!"

So they took the Tsarévich as scullion, let him draw water and hew wood. But very soon the Tsarévich was a far finer cook than all the royal chefs. Then the Tsar noticed and began to like his young scullion, and gave him gold. So all the cooks became envious and sought some opportunity of getting rid of the Tsarévich. One day he made a cake and put it into the oven, so the cooks put poison in and spread it over the cake. And the Tsar sat at table, and the cake was taken up. When the Tsar was going to take it, the cook came running up, and cried out: "Your Majesty, do not eat it!" And he told all imaginable lies of Iván Tsarévich. Then the King summoned his favourite hound and gave him a bit of the cake. The dog ate it and died on the spot.

So the Tsar summoned the Prince and cried out to him in a thundering voice: "How dared you bake me a poisoned cake! You shall be instantly tortured to death!"

"I know nothing about it; I had no idea of it, your Majesty!" the Tsarévich answered. "The other cooks were jealous of your rewarding me, and so they have deliberately contrived the plot."

Then the Tsar pardoned him, and he made him a horseherd.

One day, as the Tsarévich was taking his drove to drink, he met the Woodsprite with the iron hands, the cast-iron head, and the body of bronze. "Good-day, Tsarévich; come with me, visit me."

"I am frightened that the horses will run away."

"Fear nothing. Only come."

His hut was quite near. The Woodsprite had three daughters, and he asked the eldest: "What will you give Iván Tsarévich for saving me out of the iron tower?"

"I will give him this table-cloth."

With the table-cloth Iván Tsarévich went back to his horses, which were all gathered together, turned it round and asked for any food that he liked, and he was served, and meat and drink appeared at once.

Next day he was again driving his horses to the river, and the Woodsprite appeared once more. "Come into my hut!"

So he went with him. And the Woodsprite asked his second daughter, "What will you give Iván Tsarévich for saving me out of the iron tower?"

"I will give him this mirror, in which he can see all he will."

And on the third day the third daughter gave him a pipe, which he need only put to his lips, and music, and singers, and musicians would appear before him.

And it was a merry life that Iván Tsarévich now led. He had good food and good meat, knew whatever was going on, saw everything, and he had music all day long: no man was better. And the horses! They—it was really wonderful—were always well fed, well set-up, and shapely.

Now, the fair Tsarévna had been noticing the horse-herd for a long time, for a very long time, for how could so fair a maiden overlook the beautiful boy? She wanted to know why the horses he kept were always so much shapelier and statelier than those which the other herds looked after. "I will one day go into his room," she said, "and see where the poor devil lives." As every one knows, a woman's wish is soon her deed. So one day she went into his room, when Iván Tsarévich was giving his horses drink. And there she saw the mirror, and looking into that she knew everything. She took the magical cloth, the mirror, and the pipe.

Just about then there was a great disaster threatening the Tsar. The seven-headed monster, Ídolishche, was invading his land and demanding his daughter as his wife. "If you will not give her to me willy, I will take her nilly!" he said. And he got ready all his immense army, and the Tsar fared ill. And he issued a decree throughout his land, summoned the boyárs and knights together, and promised any who would slay the seven-headed monster half of his wealth and half his realm, and also his daughter as his wife.

Then all the princes and knights and the boyárs assembled together to fight the monster, and amongst them Dyád'ka. The horseherd sat on a pony and rode behind.

Then the Woodsprite came and met him, and said: Where are you going, Iván Tsarévich?"

"To the war."

"On this sorry nag you will not do much, and still less if you go in your present guise. Just come and visit me."

He took him into his hut and gave him a glass of vódka. Then the King's son drank it. "Do you feel strong?" asked the Woodsprite.

"If there were a log there fifty puds, I could throw it up and allow it to fall on my head without feeling the blow."

So he was given a second glass of vódka.

"How strong do you feel now?"

"If there were a log here one hundred puds, I could throw it higher than the clouds on high."

Then he was given a third glass of vódka.

"How strong are you now?"

"If there were a column stretching from heaven to earth, I should turn the entire universe round."

So the Woodsprite took vódka out of another bottle and gave the King's son yet more drink, and his strength was increased sevenfold. They went in front of the house; and he whistled loud, and a black horse rose out of the earth, and the earth trembled under its hoofs. Out of its nostrils it breathed flames, columns of smoke rose from its ears, and as its hoofs struck the ground sparks arose. It ran up to the hut and fell on its knees.

"There is a horse!" said the Woodsprite. And he gave Iván Tsarévich a sword and a silken whip.

So Iván Tsarévich rode out on his black steed against the enemy. On the way he met his servant, who had climbed a birch-tree and was trembling for fear. Iván Tsarévich gave him a couple of blows with his whip, and started out against the hostile host. He slew many people with the sword, and yet more did his horse trample down. And he cut off the seven heads of the monster.

Now Marfa Tsarévna was seeing all this, because she kept looking in the glass, and so learned all that was going on. After the battle she rode out to meet Iván Tsarévich, and asked him: "How can I thank you?"

"Give me a kiss, fair maiden!"

The Tsarévna was not ashamed, pressed him to her very heart, and kissed him so loud that the entire host heard it!

Then the King's son struck his horse one blow and vanished. Then he returned to his room, and sat there as though nothing had happened, whilst his servant boasted that he had gone to the battle and slain the foe. So the Tsar awarded him great honours, promised him his daughter, and set a great feast. But the Tsarévna was not so stupid, and said she had a severe headache.

What was the future son-in-law to do? "Father," he said to the Tsar, "give me a ship, I will go and get drugs for my bride; and see that your herdsman comes with me, as I am so well accustomed to him."

The Tsar consented; gave him the ship and the herdsman.

So they sailed away, may be far or near. Then the servant had a sack sewn, and the Prince put into it, and cast him into the water. But the Tsarévna saw the evil thing that had been done, through her magic mirror; and she quickly summoned her carriage and drove to the sea, and on the shore there the Woodsprite sat weaving a great net.

"Woodsprite, help me on my way, for Dyád'ka the servant has drowned the King's son!"

"Here, maiden, look, the net is ready. Help me with your white hands."

Then the Tsarévna threw the net into the deep; fished the King's son up, took him home, and told her father the whole story.

So they celebrated a merry wedding and held a great feast. In a Tsar's palace mead has not to be brewed or any wine to be drawn; there is always enough ready.

Then the servant in the meantime was buying all sorts of drugs, and came back. He came to the palace, was seized, but prayed for mercy. But he was too late, and he was shot in front of the castle gate.

The wedding of the King's son was very jolly, and all the inns and all the beer-houses were opened for an entire week, for everybody, without any charge.

I was there. I drank honey and mead, which came up to my moustache, but never entered my mouth.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

  1. Affectionate term for old servant, equivalent to uncle.