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Story of Lyubim Tsarevich and the Winged Wolf

Russian Folktale

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In a certain country there once lived a Tsar named Elidarovich, with his wife, Militissa Ibrahimovna, who had three sons. The eldest son was named Aksof Tsarevich, the second Hut Tsarevich, and the youngest, Lyubim Tsarevich; and they grew, not from day to day, but from hour to hour. And when the eldest son was twenty years of age, he begged leave of his parents to travel in other countries, and seek a beautiful princess for his wife. So his parents at last consented, gave him their blessing, and dismissed him to the four quarters of the earth.

Not long after this, Hut Tsarevich in like manner begged permission of his parents to travel; and Tsar Elidar and the Tsarina gave their consent with the greatest pleasure. And so Hut Tsarevich went out into the world too, and they wandered about a long while, until at length nothing more was heard or seen of them, and they were given up for dead.

As the Tsar and the Tsarina were troubled and wept for their lost sons, came the youngest son, Lyubim Tsarevich, and likewise entreated them to let him go forth to seek his brothers. But his parents said to him: “Son, you are too young and cannot undertake so long a journey; and how can we part with you, our only child left to us? We are already in years, and to whom should we leave our crown?” But Lyubim Tsarevich would not be denied; he remained firm to his purpose, and said: “It is needful for me to travel and see the world; for if ever I am called to rule over the country, I must learn to do so with justice.”

When the Tsar Elidar and Tsarina Militissa heard these words from their son, they were overjoyed, and gave him their consent to travel; but only for a short time, and making him promise to have no companions, nor expose himself to any great dangers. Upon taking leave, Lyubim bethought him how to provide himself with a knightly steed and a suit of armour; and as he went musing thus to the city, an old woman met him, who said: “Why are you so sad, my dear Lyubim Tsarevich?” But he did not give her an answer, and passed by the old woman without saying a word. But then he bethought him that old folk are wiser than young ones, turned round, and going up to the old woman, accosted her. And Lyubim Tsarevich said to her: “At the first meeting, mother, I disdained to tell you why I was sad, but it came into my mind that old folk must know more than young ones.” “There it is, Lyubim Tsarevich,” said the old woman, “you can’t easily get away from old folk. Say, why are you sad? Tell the old wife.” And Lyubim Tsarevich said to her: “I have no good horse and no armour, yet I must travel far and wide in search of my brothers.” Then the old woman said: “What think you? There is a horse and a suit of armour in your father’s forbidden meadow,[A] behind twelve gates, and this horse is fastened by twelve chains. On that meadow is also a broadsword and a fine suit of armour.”

[A] The “royal forbidden meadows” were those belonging to the Sovereign, the use of which was strictly forbidden to his subjects. When an enemy came into the country they first pitched their camp in these fields, as a declaration of hostilities.

When Lyubim Tsarevich had heard this, and thanked the old woman, he went straightway, overjoyed, to the forbidden meadow. On reaching the place where the horse was, he stopped, and bethought him, “How shall I break through the twelve gates?” At last he made the attempt, and presently broke down one gate; then the steed perceived by his scent the presence of the brave youth, and with a great effort burst his chains; and then Lyubim Tsarevich broke through three more gates, and the steed trampled down the rest. Then Lyubim Tsarevich surveyed the steed and the armour; and put on the armour, but left the steed in the meadow; after which he went to his home, found his parents, and with great joy told them all that had befallen him, and how an old woman had helped him, and begged their blessing on his travels. So his parents gave him their blessing, and, mounting his good steed, he set forth on his journey. And he went his way, and travelled until he came at length to a place where three roads met; in the centre stood a column, with three inscriptions, which ran as follows: “He who turns to the right will have plenty to eat, but his steed will starve; he who goes straight forward will hunger himself, but his steed will have food enough; and whoever takes the left road will be slain by the Winged Wolf.”

When Lyubim Tsarevich read this, he pondered over it, and resolved to go no other road but to choose the left, and either be slain himself, or destroy the Winged Wolf, and free all those who might be travelling that way. So he journeyed on until he came to the open plains, where he pitched his tent to rest, when on a sudden he perceived in the west the Winged Wolf come flying toward him. Instantly upstarted Lyubim Tsarevich, put on his armour, and leaped upon his steed. And Lyubim rode at the Wolf, which beat him so hard with his wings that he nearly fell from his horse; nevertheless, Lyubim kept his seat, flew into a violent rage, and with his battle-sword struck the Winged Wolf a blow that felled him to the ground, and injured his right wing so that he could no longer fly.

Instantly upstarted Lyubim Tsarevich, put on his armour, and leapt upon his steed.

When the Wolf came to himself he said to Lyubim Tsarevich, in a human voice: “Do not kill me! I will be useful to you and serve you as your trusty servant.” Then Lyubim Tsarevich replied: “Know you where my brothers are?” And the Wolf answered: “They have long ago been slain; but we will bring them to life again when we have won the beautiful Princess.” “How shall we do that?” said Lyubim Tsarevich. “Hark ye,” replied the Wolf; “leave your steed here, and——.”

“How! What shall I do without my horse?” cried Lyubim.

“Only hear me out,” said the Wolf; “I will change myself into a horse, and carry you; but this steed of yours is not fit for the task we have to do; in the city where the Princess lives, there are strings from the walls to all the bells in the city; and we must leap over all these without touching the smallest, otherwise we shall be taken.” Lyubim Tsarevich saw at once that the Wolf spoke wisely, so he consented, and exclaimed, “On then!”

Away they went, until they came to the white stone wall of the city; and when Lyubim Tsarevich looked on it he grew frightened. “How is it possible to leap over this high white stone wall?” said he to the Wolf. But the Wolf replied: “It is not hard for me to jump over this; but afterwards fresh obstacles will arise, from your falling in love; then you must bathe in the water of life, and take some for your brothers, and also some of the water of death.”

Thereupon they leaped safely over the city wall, without touching a stone. Lyubim Tsarevich stopped at the palace and went to the court of the beautiful Princess. And as he entered the first apartment he found a number of chamber women all fast asleep, but the Princess was not there; he found her not. Then went Lyubim Tsarevich into the second room, where he found a number of beautiful ladies-in-waiting, all fast asleep, but the Princess was still not there. Then Lyubim went into the third apartment, and there he saw the Princess herself, sleeping; and his heart was on fire with her beauty, and he fell so deeply in love that he could not tear himself away from her presence. But at last, fearing he might be seized if he remained too long, he went into the garden to fetch some of the waters of life and of death. Then he bathed in the water of life, and taking with him bladders-full of both waters, he returned to his Wolf. And as he was sitting on his Wolf-steed, the Wolf said to him: “You have become very heavy. We cannot leap back over the wall, but shall strike against it and wake everyone up. Nevertheless you shall kill them; and when they are all slain, be sure to seize on a white horse. I will then help you to fight; and as soon as we reach our tent, take your own steed, and I will mount the white horse. And when we have slain all the warriors, the Princess herself will come to meet you and offer to be your wife, professing a violent love for you.”

Thereupon they attempted to leap over the high city wall; but they touched the strings, and instantly the bells rang an alarm through all the city, and the drums beat. Then every one jumped up and ran out of the court with their weapons, whilst some opened the gate that no misfortune might befall the Princess. Presently the Princess herself awoke; and, perceiving that a youth had been in the apartment, she gave an alarm, which soon brought all the courtiers around her. There was speedily gathered a crowd of famous and valiant knights, and she said to them: “Now ye brave warriors, go forth and fetch hither this youth and bring me his head; so shall his boldness be punished!”

And the valiant knights promised her: “We will not rest until we have slain him, and brought his head to you, even if he were in the midst of an army.” So the Princess dismissed them, and went up into her balcony, and gazed after her army and after the stranger who had dared to intrude into the privacy of her court, and caress her in her sleep.

When the alarm was given, Lyubim Tsarevich had already ridden a great distance on his Wolf-steed, and was half-way to his tent before he could be overtaken. As soon as he saw them approach, he wheeled about and grew furious at beholding such an array of Knights in the field. Then they fell upon him; but Lyubim Tsarevich laid about him valiantly with his sword, and slew many, whilst his horse trod down still more under his hoofs, and it ended in their slaying nearly all the little knightlets. And Lyubim Tsarevich saw one single knight mounted upon a white steed, with a head like a beer-barrel, who rode at him; but Lyubim Tsarevich slew him also, leaped on the white horse, and left the Wolf to rest. When they had rested they betook themselves to their tent.

When the beautiful Princess saw Lyubim Tsarevich overcome singly such a large host, she collected a still larger army and sent them forth against him, whilst she went back again to her balcony.

But Lyubim Tsarevich came to his tent, and there the Wolf transformed himself into a valiant knight, such as no one could imagine except in a fairy-tale. And presently the army of the beautiful Tsarevna was seen approaching—a countless host; whereupon Lyubim Tsarevich mounted his white steed, accompanied by his companion the Wolf, and awaited their attack; and when the army of the beautiful Tsarevna was near, Lyubim, taking the right wing, ordered the Wolf to attack the left, and they made ready for the charge. Then on a sudden they fell upon the warriors of the Tsarevna with a fierce onset, mowing them down like grass, until only two persons remained on the field, the Wolf and Lyubim Tsarevich. And after this dreadful fight was ended the brave Wolf said to Lyubim: “See, yonder comes the beautiful Tsarevna herself, and she will ask you to take her to wife; there is nothing more to fear from her; I have expiated my crimes through my bravery; dismiss me now, and let me return to my own kingdom.” So Lyubim Tsarevich thanked him for his service and counsel and bade him farewell.

The Wolf thereupon vanished; and when Lyubim Tsarevich saw the beautiful Princess coming toward him, he rejoiced, and, going to meet her, he took her by her white hands, kissing her honey-sweet mouth, pressed her to his stormy heart, and said: “Did I not love you, my dearest fair Tsarevna, I should not have remained here; but you have seen that my love was stronger than your armies.” Then the fair Tsarevna replied: “Ah! thou valiant knight. Thou hast overcome all my powers, and my strong and famous knights, on whom my hopes relied; and my city is now desolate. I will leave it and go with you; henceforth you shall be my protector.”

“Joyfully do I take you for my wife,” replied Lyubim Tsarevich, “and I will guard and protect you and your kingdom faithfully.” Conversing thus they entered the tent, and sat down to rest and feast.

Early the next morning they mounted their horses and set out on their journey to the kingdom of Elidar; and on the way Lyubim Tsarevich said: “Ah! thou fair Princess, I had two elder brothers, who left our home before I did, in hopes of winning your hand; in these wilds they have been murdered, and where their remains lie I do not know; but I have brought with me the waters of life and death, and will seek and restore them to life; they cannot be far distant from our road; do you therefore ride on to the pillar with the inscriptions, and wait for me. I shall soon rejoin you.”

So saying, Lyubim Tsarevich parted from his fair Princess, and went forth to seek his brothers’ remains. He found them at last among some trees; and after sprinkling them with the water of death, they grew together; then he sprinkled them with the water of life, and his two brothers became alive, and stood up on their feet. Then Aksof and Hut Tsarevich exclaimed: “Ah! brother! how long have we been sleeping here?” And Lyubim Tsarevich said: “Ay, indeed, and you might have still slept on for ever, had it not been for me.” Then he related to them all his adventures—how he had conquered the Wolf, and won the beautiful Princess, and had brought them the waters of life and death. Thereupon they repaired to the tent, where the fair Tsarevna was waiting for them; and they all rejoiced and feasted together.

When they had retired to rest, Aksof Tsarevich said to his brother Hut Tsarevich: “How shall we go to our father Elidar and our mother Militissa, and what shall we say to them? Our youngest brother can boast that he won the beautiful Princess and awakened us from death. Is it not disgraceful for us to live with him? Had we not better kill him at once?” So they agreed, and took the battle-sword and cut Lyubim Tsarevich to pieces, and cast his remains to the winds. Then they threatened the Princess with the same fate if she betrayed the secret to anyone; and, drawing lots, the waters of life and death fell to Hut, and the beautiful Princess to Aksof Tsarevich.

So they journeyed on to their father’s kingdom; and when they reached the forbidden meadows, and had pitched their tents, the Tsar Elidar sent messengers to demand who had encamped there. Then Hut replied: “Aksof and Hut Tsarevich are come, with a beautiful Princess; and tell our father, the Tsar, that we have brought with us the waters of life and death.”

The messenger immediately returned to the Court and told this to the Tsar, who inquired whether all his three sons were come; but the messenger replied: “Only the two eldest, your Majesty; the youngest is not with them.” The Tsar, nevertheless, rejoiced greatly, and hastened to tell the Tsarina, his wife, of the return of their two eldest sons.

Then Tsar Elidar and Tsarina Militissa arose and went to meet their sons in the way, and unarmed them, and embraced them tenderly. And when they returned to the palace a great banquet was made, and they feasted seven days and seven nights. At the end of this time they began to think of the wedding, and to make preparations, and invite the guests, boyars, and brave warriors and knights.

Now, the Winged Wolf, who knew that they had slain their brother, Lyubim Tsarevich, ran and fetched the waters of life and death, collected all the remains of Lyubim, and sprinkled them with the water of death; thereupon the bones grew together, and no sooner had he sprinkled them with the water of life than the brave youth stood up, as if nothing had happened to him, and said: “Ah, what a time I have slept!” Then the Wolf answered: “Ay, you would have slept on for ever had I not come to awaken you”; and he related to Lyubim all that his brothers had done; and, changing himself into a horse, he said: “Hasten after them—you will be sure to overtake them; to-morrow your brother Aksof Tsarevich is to marry the Princess.”

So Lyubim instantly set out, and the Wolf-steed galloped over hill and dale, until they arrived at the city of the Tsar, where Lyubim dismounted. Then he walked through the market, and bought a gusli; and stationed himself in a spot which the Princess would pass. And, as she was being conducted to the church, Lyubim Tsarevich began to sing the events of his youth, accompanying himself on the gusli; and when the beautiful Princess drew nigh, he sang of his brothers, and how cruelly they had slain him and deceived their father. Then the Princess stopped her carriage, and ordered her attendants to call to her the stranger with the gusli, and to ask his name and who he was. But without answering a word, Lyubim went straight to the Princess; and when she saw him, she was overjoyed, and, seating him in her carriage, they drove off to his parents.

When the Tsar Elidar and his wife Militissa, beheld their son Lyubim, they were unspeakably glad; and the beautiful Princess said: “Lyubim Tsarevich it was, and not Aksof, who gained my hand, and it was he, too, who obtained the waters of life and death.” Then Lyubim related all his adventures; and the Tsar and Tsarina, after summoning their sons, Aksof and Hut, asked them why they had acted so unnaturally; but they denied the charge. Thereat the Tsar waxed wroth, and commanded that they should be shot at the gate of the city. Lyubim Tsarevich married the beautiful Princess, and they lived in perfect harmony for many years; and so this story has an end.

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