In a certain country there lived a Tsar with his wife, who had three handsome sons; the eldest was named Vasili Tsarevich, and the second Fedor Tsarevich, and the youngest son Ivan Tsarevich. One day the Tsar went out with his Tsarina for a walk in the garden, and on a sudden a violent storm came on, which carried off the Tsarina from his sight. The Tsar was very much grieved, and mourned a long time for his wife; and the two eldest sons, seeing their father’s sorrow, begged his blessing and permission to go forth and wander in search of their mother. So he consented, and dismissed them.
The two sons travelled for a long time, until at length they came to a wide desert, where they pitched their tents, and waited until some one should pass who might show them the way. For three whole years they waited, but saw no one.
Meanwhile the youngest brother, Ivan Tsarevich, grew up, and went likewise to his father, begged his blessing, and took leave. And he wandered for a long time, until at length he discerned in the distance some tents, up to which he rode; and there he discovered his brothers. “What brings you to such a desolate place, brothers?” said he; “let us join company and travel in search of our mother.” The others followed his advice, and they all journeyed on together.
They rode on and on for many days, until at length they saw afar off a palace, built of crystal, and surrounded by a fence of the same material. So they rode up to the palace, and Ivan Tsarevich opened the gate, and entered the courtyard; and at the entrance-door he saw a pillar, into which were fastened two rings, one of gold and the other of silver. Then drawing his bridle through both these rings, he tied up his steed, and went up the stairs. At the head of the stairs the King himself came to meet him; and, after a long conversation, he found out that Ivan Tsarevich was his nephew. So he conducted him into his hall, and invited in his brothers also.
After remaining in the palace a long time, the King gave the brothers a magic ball, which they bowled away, and then rode after it, until they came to a mountain, so high and steep that they could not ascend it. Ivan Tsarevich rode round and round the mountain, until at last he found a cleft. He stepped into it and beheld an iron door, with a copper ring; and on opening this he perceived some iron hooks, which he fastened to his hands and feet, and by their aid he climbed up the mountain. On reaching the top he was very tired, and sat down to rest; but no sooner had he taken off the hooks than they disappeared.
In the distance upon the mountain Ivan beheld a tent of fine cambric, upon which was represented a copper kingdom, and on its top was a copper ball. Then he approached the tent; but at its entrance there lay two huge lions, which allowed no one to enter. Ivan Tsarevich seeing two copper basins standing close by, poured some water into them, and quenched the thirst of the lions, who then let him freely enter the tent. And when he got in, Ivan beheld a beautiful Queen lying on a sofa, and sleeping at her feet a dragon with three heads, which he cut off at a single blow. The Queen thanked him for this service, and gave him a copper egg, in which was contained a copper kingdom, whereupon the Tsarevich took his leave and went his way further.
After travelling for a long time, he descried a tent of fine gauze, fastened to a cedar tree by silver cords, with knobs of emeralds; upon the tent was represented a silver kingdom, and on the top was a silver ball. At the entrance lay two immense tigers, to which he in like manner gave to drink, and they permitted him to pass. On entering the tent he beheld, seated on a sofa, a Queen richly attired, who far surpassed the first one in beauty. At her feet lay a six-headed dragon, as large again as the other. Then Ivan Tsarevich struck off all the heads at a blow, and, as a reward for his valor, the Queen presented him with a silver egg, in which was enclosed a silver kingdom. Thereupon he took leave of the Queen and journeyed on.
After a time Ivan came to a third tent, made of silk, upon which was embroidered a golden kingdom, and on its top was placed a ball of pure gold. The tent was fastened to a laurel tree with golden cords, from which hung knobs of diamonds. Before the entrance lay two huge crocodiles, which breathed forth flames of fire. The Tsarevich gave them some water to drink, and thus gained an entrance into the tent, in which he beheld a Queen, who in beauty far surpassed the former ones. At her feet lay a dragon with twelve heads, all of which Ivan Tsarevich struck off at two blows. The Queen, in return for this service, gave him a golden egg, which contained a golden kingdom; and with the egg she gave him also her heart. As they were conversing together, Ivan asked the Queen whether she knew where his mother was; then she showed Ivan her dwelling, and wished him success in his enterprise.
After travelling a great distance, Ivan Tsarevich came to a castle; he entered, and went through many apartments, but without finding anyone. At length he came to a spacious hall, where he beheld his mother sitting, arrayed in royal robes. Ivan embraced her tenderly, telling her how he had travelled far and wide with his brothers in search of her. Then the Tsarina told Ivan Tsarevich that a spirit would soon appear, and bade him hide himself in the folds of her cloak. “When the spirit comes and tries to embrace me,” she added, “try all you can to seize his magic wand with both hands: he will then rise up with you from the earth; fear not, but remain quiet, for he will presently fall down again, and be dashed to pieces. These you must collect and burn, and strew the ashes in the field.”
Scarcely had the Tsarina spoken, and wrapped Ivan in her cloak, when the Spirit appeared and offered to embrace her. Then Ivan Tsarevich started up, as his mother had directed, and seized the magic wand. In a furious rage the Spirit flew with him high up into the air, but soon fell to the ground and was dashed in pieces. Then the Tsarevich gathered up the remains and burned them, and kept the magic wand; after which he took with him his mother and the three Queens he had rescued, came to an oak tree, and let them all slide down the mountain in a linen cloth. When his brothers saw him left alone on the mountain, they pulled the cloth from his hands, conducted their mother and the Queens back to their own kingdom, and made them promise solemnly to tell their father that it was the elder brothers who had found and rescued them.
Ivan Tsarevich was thus left alone on the mountain, and knew not how to get down. Lost in thought he wandered about; and, throwing by chance the magic wand from one hand to the other, on a sudden a man stood before him, who said: “What is your pleasure, Ivan Tsarevich?” Thereat Ivan wondered greatly, and asked the man who he was, and how he had come to that uninhabited mountain. “I am a Spirit,” replied the figure, “and was subject to him whom you have destroyed; but as you now possess his magic wand, and have changed it from one hand to the other—which you must always do when you have need of me—I am here ready to obey you.” “Good!” said Ivan Tsarevich; “then do me now the first service, and carry me back to my own kingdom.”
No sooner had Ivan uttered these words than he found himself at once transported to his native city. He wished first to know what was passing in the castle; but instead of going in directly, he went and took work in a shoemaker’s shop, thinking that he should not be easily recognised in such a place. The next morning the shoemaker went into the city to buy leather, and returned home so tipsy that he was unable to work, and left it all to his new assistant. But Ivan, being quite ignorant of shoemaking, called the Spirit to his aid, ordered him to take the leather and make it into shoes, and then lay down to sleep.
Early the next morning, when the shoemaker awoke, he went to see what work Ivan had done; but, perceiving him still fast asleep, he flew into a rage, and exclaimed: “Up, you lazy loon! have I engaged you only to sleep?” Ivan, stretching himself slowly, replied: “Have patience, master; first go to the workshop, and see what you shall find.” So the shoemaker went to the shop; and what was his astonishment at beholding a quantity of shoes all made and ready! And when he took up a shoe, and examined the work closely, his amazement only increased, and he could scarcely believe his eyes, for the shoes had not a single stitch, but were just as if cast in a mould.
The shoemaker now took his goods, and went into the city to sell them; and no sooner were these wonderful shoes seen than they were all bought in the twinkling of an eye. In a short time the man became so renowned that his fame reached the palace; then the Princesses desired him to be summoned, and ordered of him many dozens of pairs of shoes; but they were all to be ready without fail the next morning. The poor shoemaker in vain assured them that this was impossible; they only threatened that, unless he obeyed their will his head should be struck off, as they saw clearly that there was some magic in the affair.
The shoemaker left the castle in despair, and went into the city to buy leather. Late in the evening he returned home, threw the leather on the floor, and said to Ivan: “Hark ye, fellow, what a piece of work you have made with your devilish tricks!” Then he told Ivan what the Princesses had ordered him to do, and how they had threatened him unless he fulfilled their commands. “Do not trouble yourself,” said Ivan Tsarevich, “go to bed and sleep—an hour in the morning is worth two at night.” The shoemaker thanked him for his advice, threw himself on the bench, and soon began to snore aloud. Then Ivan Tsarevich summoned the Spirit, ordered him to have the work done and in readiness by the morning, and then lay down to sleep.
Early the next morning, when the shoemaker awoke, he called to mind that he was to lose his head that day; so he went in despair to Ivan to bid him farewell, and asked him to come and have a drink so that he could bear up. But Ivan said: “Fear nothing, man; go into the workshop and take the work which was ordered.” The shoemaker went distrustfully into the shop; but when he beheld all the shoes ready made, he capered about, not knowing what to do for joy, and embraced his companion. Then he took all the shoes, and hastened to the castle.
When the Princesses saw all this they were more than ever convinced that Ivan Tsarevich must be in the city; and they said to the shoemaker; “You have well and truly fulfilled our orders; but there is another service which you must render us; to-night a golden castle must be built opposite to ours, with a porcelain bridge from one to the other, covered with velvet.” The shoemaker stood aghast on hearing this demand, and replied: “I am indeed only a poor shoemaker, and how can I possibly do such a thing?” “Well,” replied the Princesses, “unless you fulfil our wish your head shall assuredly be struck off.”
The poor fellow left the castle overwhelmed with grief, and wept bitterly. On his return home, he told Ivan Tsarevich what a feat he had been ordered to accomplish. “Go quietly to bed,” replied Ivan; “the morning sun shall see it done.” So the shoemaker lay down on the bench and fell fast asleep. Then Ivan called up the Spirit, and desired him to fulfil the command of the King’s daughters, after which he went to bed.
Early the next morning Ivan Tsarevich awoke his master, and giving him a goose’s wing, bade him go on to the bridge and sweep off the dust. Meanwhile Ivan went into the Golden castle. And when the Tsar and the Princesses went out early on to the balcony they were amazed at beholding the Castle and the bridge; but the Princesses were out of their wits with joy, for they were now quite sure that Ivan Tsarevich was in the city; and presently after, indeed, they saw him at a window in the golden castle. Then they begged the Tsar and Tsarina to go with them into the castle; and as soon as they set foot on the staircase, Ivan Tsarevich came out to meet them. Thereupon his mother and the three Princesses ran and embraced him, exclaiming: “This is our deliverer!” His brothers looked down ashamed, and the Tsar stood dumb with amazement; but his wife soon explained it all to him. Thereat the Tsar fell into a passion with his eldest sons, and was going to put them all to death; but Ivan fell at his feet and said: “Dear father, if you desire to reward me for what I have done, only grant my brothers their lives, and I am content.” Then his father raised him up, embraced him, and said: “They are truly unworthy of such a brother!” So they all returned to the castle.
The next day three weddings were celebrated. The eldest son, Vasili Tsarevich, took the Princess of the copper kingdom; Fedor Tsarevich, the second son, chose the Princess of the silver kingdom, and Ivan Tsarevich settled with his Princess in the golden kingdom. He took the poor shoemaker into his household, and they all lived happily for many years.
Notes: Contains 17 Russian folktales, gathered form various Russian booklets.
Editor: Robert Steele
Publisher: A. M. Philpot, Limited, London; Robert M. McBride, NY