The Russian Fairy Book/Marya Morevna

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Illustrations by Ivan Bilibin. Other versions: Marya Morevna

MARYA MOREVNA


IN a certain kingdom, in a certain realm, once lived Prince Ivan and his three sisters. One was Princess Marya, the second was Princess Olga, and the third was Princess Anna. Their father and mother were dead. When they were dying they gave this command to their son:

"Whoever comes wooing your sisters first, let them have them. Don't keep them long in your house!"

The prince buried his parents, and full of grief went with his sisters to walk in the green garden. Suddenly a black cloud arose in the sky and a terrible storm came on them.

"Come, let us go into the house, sisters," exclaimed Prince Ivan.

They had hardly got indoors ere the thunder crashed, the ceiling cracked, and a bright Hawk flew down through it into the room where they were. As soon as the Hawk touched the floor, he turned into a fine young man who said:

"Your health, Prince Ivan. Hitherto I have been here as your guest, now I have come as a suitor. I should like to take your sister, the Princess Marya, as my wife."

"If my sister likes you I have no objection. Let her go with you under God's care."

The Princess Marya was willing; so the Hawk took her as his wife and carried her off to his kingdom.

Days followed days, hours trod on the heels of hours. Almost a whole year had passed. Prince Ivan and his two sisters went to stroll in their green garden. Again a cloud came up with a fierce wind, with lightning. "Come, sisters, let us go into the house!" said the prince.

They had hardly got indoors ere a thunderbolt struck the roof, which tumbled in, the ceiling split, and an Eagle flew down. As soon as the Eagle touched the floor it became a fine young man:

"Good day to you, Prince Ivan," he said. "Hitherto I have visited you as a guest, but now I have come as suitor."

And he asked for the hand of Princess Olga. Prince Ivan replied:

"If you please Princess Olga, let her go with you; but I do not force her against her will."

Princess Olga consented and became the Eagle's wife. The Eagle caught her up and bore her away to his kingdom.

Still another year passed. Prince Ivan said to his youngest sister: "Come, let us walk in the green garden."

They had been strolling about a little while when again a cloud appeared with a fierce wind and with lightning.

"Come, sister, let us go home," he said. They went into the house, and hardly had they sat down when there was a crash of thunder, the ceiling split, and a Raven flew down to them. As soon as the Raven touched the floor it turned into a fine young man. The other birds had been fine, but this was the finest of all.

"Well, Prince Ivan," he said, "hitherto I have come as a guest, but now I am here as a suitor. Give me Princess Anna."

"I do not control my sister's will; if you are in love with her, let her go with you."

Princess Anna followed the Raven and he took her to his realm. Prince Ivan remained alone. A whole year he lived without his sisters, and his life became dull to him. Said he: "I am going to find my sisters."

He set out and he travelled and he travelled, and at last he saw before him a great army defeated. Prince Ivan asked: "If there is a man alive here let him answer. Who conquered this great host?"

A living man answered: "Marya Morevna, the beautiful queen, conquered this mighty host."

Prince Ivan proceeded on his way, and he came to white tents, and Marya Morevna, the beautiful queen, came to meet him.

"Your good health, prince," she said, "whither does God bring you—of your own will or against your own will?"

Prince Ivan replied: "Brave young men do not go against their own will."

"Well if your business does not demand haste, come and be my guest in my camp," she replied.

Prince Ivan was glad of that. He spent two nights in the queen's camp, and he fell in love with Marya Morevna and took her as his wife. Marya Morevna, the beautiful queen, took him with her to her kingdom, where they lived together for some time. Then it occurred to the queen to prepare for a war. She entrusted everything to Prince Ivan and gave him this injunction: "Go everywhere and look after everything; only it is forbidden you to look into this storeroom."


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The beautiful Queen came to meet him


That was more than he could bear. As soon as Mary Morevna had gone, he rushed to the storeroom, opened the door, and looked around. And there hung Koshchei the Deathless,[1] fastened with twelve chains.

Koshchei besought Prince Ivan:

"Have pity upon me and give me a drink! For ten years have I been tormented here, and I have had nothing to eat or to drink and my throat is all dried up."

The prince gave him a whole bucket of water. He drank it down with one gulp and asked for more.

"One bucket is not enough to quench my thirst; give me some more!"

The prince gave him another bucket full. Koshchei drank it down also and asked for yet a third. As soon as he had drained the third he regained all his pristine strength, took the twelve chains, and broke them all at once.

"Thank you, Prince Ivan," said Koshchei the Deathless. "Now you will never see Marva Morevna again, no matter how you may long for her!" And with a terrible whirlwind he flew out of the window, fell upon Marya Morevna, the beautiful queen, on the way, seized her, and carried her off.

Now Prince Ivan wept bitterly, and started down the road.

"Whatever happens I will go and find Marya Morevna," he said.

He went one day, he went two days, and at dawn of the third he saw a wonderful palace, and near the palace stood an oak-tree, and on the oak-tree sat a bright Hawk. The Hawk flew down from the oak-tree and as soon as he lighted on the ground he turned into a fine young man and cried out:

"Ah, my beloved brother-in-law! I hope the Lord is good to you!"

The Princess Mary a came running out, and she joyously welcomed Prince Ivan, and began to ask him about his health, and to tell him all about her manner of life.

The prince stayed with them three days, and then said: "I cannot stay any longer with you; I am going in search of my wife, Marya Morevna, the beautiful queen."

"It will be hard for you to find her," said the Hawk. "Leave here your silver spoon at all events; we shall be able to look at it and remember you by it."

Prince Ivan left his silver spoon with the Hawk and went on his way. He went one day, went two days, and at dawn of the third day he saw a palace still finer than the first, and near the palace stood an oak-tree, and on the oak-tree sat an Eagle. The Eagle flew down from the oak-tree, and as soon as it touched the ground it turned into a fine young man who cried out: "Make haste, Princess Olga, our dear brother is coming!"

The Princess Olga came running out to meet him, began to hug him and kiss him, asked after his health, and told him all about her manner of life.

Prince Ivan visited with them three short days, and then said: "I cannot stay any longer; I am going to find my wife, Marya Morevna, the beautiful queen."

The Eagle replied: "It will be hard for you to find her. Leave with us your silver fork; when we look at it we shall have something to remember you by."

He left them his silver fork and started on his way. He went one day, he went a second day, and at dawn of the third day he saw a palace still better than the first two, and near the palace grew an oak-tree, and on the oak-tree sat a Raven. The Raven flew down from the oak-tree, and as soon as he touched foot to the ground he turned into a fine young man who cried out: "Princess Anna, come quickly, here is our brother!"

Princess Anna came running out, met him joyously, began to hug him and kiss him, and asked after his health, and told him all about her manner of life.

Prince Ivan visited with them three short days, and then he said: "Good-bye, I am going off to find my wife, Marya Morevna, the beautiful queen."

The Raven replied: "It will be hard for you to find her. Leave with us your little silver snuffbox; when we look at it we shall have something to remember you by."

The prince gave him his little silver snuff-box, said good-bye, and started on his way. He went one day, and he went a second day, but on the third day he found Marya Morevna. When she saw her husband she threw herself on his neck and burst into tears exclaiming:

"Oh, Prince Ivan, why did you not heed me? Why did you look into the storeroom and let Koshchei the Deathless escape?"

"Forgive me, Marya Morevna! Do not recall what is past and gone. Come, let us go away together, since Koshchei is not in sight. Perhaps he will not overtake us."

So they got their things and started off.

Now Koshchei was out hunting, but toward evening he returned home. His good steed stumbled under him.

"What is the matter with you, you hungry jade? What makes you stumble? Do you scent some misfortune?"

The horse replied: "Prince Ivan has come and carried off Marya Morevna."

"But we can overtake them, can't we?"

"One may sow wheat and wait till it grows, till it is harvested, till it is ground, till it is made into flour, till it is baked into five loaves of bread, and all that time you would be in pursuit of them. But if we are going to try, it is time to start." Koshchei galloped away and overtook Prince Ivan.

"Now look here," said he, "I will forgive you this once on account of your kindness to me in giving me a drink of water, and a second time I will forgive you; but the third time beware. I will chop you up into mincemeat!"

He seized Marya Morevna and carried her off, and Prince Ivan sat down on a stone and wept. He wept and wept and started off again in search of Marya Morevna. When he at last found her again, it happened that Koshchei the Deathless was not at home.

"Let us go, Marya Morevna!" he said.

"Oh, Prince Ivan, he will overtake us!" she replied.

"Let him overtake us then. At any rate we shall have spent a sweet hour together."

They got ready and started off.

Koshchei the Deathless was on his way home, and his good horse stumbled under him.

"What is the matter with you, you hungry jade? What makes you stumble? or do you scent some misfortune?"

"Prince Ivan has come after Marya Morevna and has taken her off with him."

"Well, we can overtake them, can't we?"

"You can sow barley and wait till it has grown, till it is harvested, till it is ground, till it is brewed into beer, till it has made people drunk, and they have slept it off, before you will catch them. But if you are going to do it, we had better make haste."

Koshchei galloped away and overtook Prince Ivan.

"I told you once that you should never see Marya Morevna, no matter how much you might wish to!" he exclaimed.

Then he seized her and earned her off with him.

Prince Ivan was left alone. He wept and he wept, and again he started after Marya Morevna. This time also, by good luck, Koshchei was not at home. "Let us go, Marya Morevna!" he said.

"Oh, Prince Ivan," she exclaimed, trembling, "he will surely catch us, and he will hack you to pieces! "

"Let him hack me to pieces!" he replied fiercely, "I cannot live without you."

So they got ready and started off.

Koshchei the Deathless was on his way home, and his good steed stumbled under him. "Why do you stumble?' said he. "Do you scent some misfortune?"

"Prince Ivan has come after Marya Morevna and has carried her away," the steed answered. Without loss of time Koshchei galloped after them, overtook Prince Ivan, and cut him into mincemeat, and put him into a pitchy cask. He took this cask, fastened it with iron hoops, and flung it into the blue sea; and he carried Marya Morevna off with him.

At this very time the silver articles that Prince Ivan had left at his brothers-in-law turned black.

"Oh," they exclaimed, "some misfortune has evidently taken place!"

The Eagle dived down into the blue sea, seized the cask, and brought it up on shore. The Hawk flew off and brought the Water of Life. The Raven flew off and brought the Water of Death. All three settled down in one place, broke open the cask, took out the bits of Prince Ivan, washed them, and put them together as they belonged. The Raven sprinkled them with the Water of Death; the body grew together again, all in one piece. The Hawk sprinkled it with the Water of Life; Prince Ivan shuddered a little, got to his feet, and said: Oh, how long I have been sleeping!"

You would have slept much longer if it had not been for us," replied his brothers-in-law. "Now come and make us a visit."

"No, brothers, I am going to find Marya Morevna," he answered. So a fourth time he went on his quest, and when he found her he entreated her: "Find out from Koshchei the Deathless where he got such a good steed."

So Marya Morevna seized a favorable opportunity and began to ply Koshchei with questions. Koshchei said in reply:

"Beyond the thrice-nine kingdoms, in the thirtieth realm, beyond the fiery river, lives the Baba Yaga. She has such a mare, and on it every day she flies around the world. And she has many other splendid mares. I served her as a herdsman for three days, and as I did not let one single mare escape, the Baba Yaga gave me one little colt."

"How did you cross the fiery river?"

"Oh, I have such and such a handkerchief, and when I wave it three times toward the right it grows into a high, high bridge, and the fire cannot reach it."

Marya Morevna listened to what he said, and she told it all to Prince Ivan, and she got the handkerchief and gave it to him.

Prince Ivan managed to cross the fiery river, and he went to find the Baba Yaga. Long, long he travelled without eating or drinking. A strange bird happened to meet him with her little ones. Prince Ivan said: "I will eat one of her fledglings."

"Do not eat it, Prince Ivan," besought the strange bird; "sometime I may be able to help you." He went on and on. In the forest he saw a hive of bees. Said he: "I guess I will take a little honey." The little bee-mother begged him not to. "Do not touch my honey, Prince Ivan! Sometime I may be able to help you."

He refrained from touching it, and went on his way, and happened to fall in with a lioness and her cub.

"I have a mind to eat this lioness; I'm so hungry that it makes me sick."

"Do not touch me, Prince Ivan," she entreated, "sometime I may be able to help you."

"Very good, just as you please."

He went on slowly, half-starved, and he went and he went, and at last there stood the Baba Yaga's house, and around the house were a dozen stakes, and on each of the dozen stakes except one was a man's skull.

"Good afternoon, grannie!" he said.

"Good afternoon, Prince Ivan! Why did you come—of your own good will or because you had to?"

"I came to serve you for a gallant horse."

"So be it, prince! You need not serve me for a whole year, but three days will be enough! If you guard my mares well, I will give you a gallant steed. But if not, do not be angry; your head will be stuck on the last of the stakes."

Prince Ivan agreed; the Baba Yaga gave him food and drink and bade him attend to his work.

As soon as he had driven the mares out into the field, they began to switch their tails, and all of them darted in different directions across the meadows. The prince could not follow them with his eyes, so quickly did they disappear from sight. Then he wept and mourned, and he sat down on a stone and fell asleep. The dear sun was already setting when a strange bird flew up to him and awoke him.

"Wake up, Prince Ivan, the mares are at home now!" The prince got up, went home, and the Baba Yaga was making a clamor and shouting to her mares: "What have you come home for?"

"Why shouldn't we come home?" they answered. "Birds came flying from all over the world, and they almost pecked our eyes out."

"Well, then, see that to-morrow you don't go to the meadows, but scatter through the thick forest."

Prince Ivan slept all night, and in the morning the Baba Yaga said to him: "Look here, prince! If you do not watch the mares well, if a single one is lost, your proud head will adorn the stake."

He drove the mares out to pasture. Instantly they switched their tails and scattered through the thick forest.

Again the prince sat down on a stone and wept and wept and fell asleep. The dear sun was sinking behind the forest, when a lioness came running up to him, crying: "Prince Ivan, wake up! the mares are all stabled."

Prince Ivan woke up and went home. The Baba Yaga was scolding worse than before and shouting to her mares: "Why did you come home?"

"Why shouldn't we come home? Fierce wild beasts were running up from all parts of the world, and they almost tore us to pieces."

"Well, to-morrow drive them into the blue sea."

Again Prince Ivan slept all night, and in the morning the Baba Yaga commanded him to pasture her mares: "If you do not watch them well, your proud head will set on the stake!"

He drove the mares out to pasture, and instantly they switched their tails and ran down into the blue sea, and stood in the water up to their necks. Prince Ivan sat down on a stone and cried himself to sleep.

The dear sun was sinking behind the forest, when a bee came flying up to him and said:

"Prince, wake up! The mares are all stabled. But as soon as you go home, do not show yourself to the Baba Yaga. Go into the stable and hide behind the stalls. There you will find a scurvy colt. Steal him and in the deep dead of night leave the place."

Prince Ivan got up, went to the stable, and crept behind the stalls. The Baba Yaga was storming and crying to her mares: "Why did you return home?"

"Why shouldn't we return home? A swarm of bees flew from somewhere out of the whole world and stung us all about till the blood came."

The Baba Yaga went to sleep, and that very night Prince Ivan stole from her the scurvy colt, saddled him, mounted him, and galloped off to the fiery river. As soon as he reached the fiery river he waved the handkerchief three times to the right, and lo and behold! no one knows how, a lofty, splendid bridge arched the river. The prince crossed the bridge and waved the handkerchief onlv twice toward the left, and lo! a small slender bridge remained over the river.

In the morning the Baba Yaga woke up and she could not see her scurvy colt anywhere. She flew into a fury. With all her might and main she leaped into her iron mortar, whipped it up with her pestle, and swept away the tracks with her besom. She galloped up to the fiery river, looked at it, and said to herself: "A fine bridge!"

She galloped out on the bridge, but when she reached the middle, the bridge broke and the Baba Yaga fell with a thud into the river, and there a cruel death overtook her!

Prince Ivan pastured the colt in green meadows, and he grew into a wonderful horse. Then the prince came riding up to Marya Morevna. She came running to meet him, threw herself on his neck, and said: "How did God deliver you?"

"So and so," said he; "come with me."

"I am afraid, Prince Ivan! If Koshchei should catch us, he would make mincemeat of you again."

"No, he will not catch us this time! I have a wonderful and a gallant horse; he flies like a bird."

They mounted on the horse's back and set off.

Koshchei the Deathless was on his way home; his horse stumbled under him.

"What is the matter with you, you hungry jade, that you stumble so? or do you scent some misfortune?"

"Prince Ivan has come and has carried off Marya Morevna."

"Well, we can catch him, can't we?"

"God knows! now Prince Ivan has a gallant horse, better than I am."


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They mounted on the horse's back and set off


"I cannot help that," said Koshchei the Deathless. "I am going in pursuit of him."

Long, long he pursued Prince Ivan before he overtook him. Then he leaped to the ground and was just going to cut him with his keen sabre, but at that instant Prince Ivan's horse kicked Koshchei the Deathless with his hoof and split his head, and the prince finished him with his club. After this the prince piled wood on his chest, kindled a fire, and burnt Koshchei the Deathless on the pyre and he scattered the ashes to the winds.

Marya Morevna mounted on Koshchei's steed and Prince Ivan on his own, and they went first and visited the Raven, then the Eagle, and finally the Hawk. And wherever they came they were received with a joyous welcome:

"Oh, Prince Ivan, we never expected to see you again! But you have not been through all this trouble in vain; for such a beautiful woman as Marya Morevna you might seek throughout the whole world, but you would never find another!"

They feasted them, they entertained them, and then they came home to their own kingdom. When they got there they lived happily ever after.


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  1. Personification of Death.