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The Death Of Koshchei The Deathless

from The Red Fairy Book





IN a certain kingdom there lived a Prince Ivan. He had three
sisters. The first was the Princess Marya, the second the Princess
Olga, the third the Princess Anna. When their father and
mother lay at the point of death, they had thus enjoined their
son: `Give your sisters in marriage to the very first suitors who
come to woo them. Don't go keeping them by you!'

They died, and the Prince buried them, and then, to solace his
grief, he went with his sisters into the garden green to stroll.
Suddenly the sky was covered by a black cloud; a terrible storm
arose.

`Let us go home, sisters!' he cried.

Hardly had they got into the palace, when the thunder pealed,
the ceiling split open, and into the room where they were came
flying a falcon bright. The Falcon smote upon the ground, became
a brave youth, and said:

`Hail, Prince Ivan! Before I came as a guest, but now I have
come as a wooer! I wish to propose for your sister, the Princess
Marya.'

`If you find favour in the eyes of my sister, I will not interfere
with her wishes. Let her marry you, in God's name!'

The Princess Marya gave her consent; the Falcon married her
and bore her away into his own realm.

Days follow days, hours chase hours; a whole year goes by. One
day Prince Ivan and his two sisters went out to stroll in the garden
green. Again there arose a storm-cloud, with whirlwind and lightning.

`Let us go home, sisters!' cries the Prince. Scarcely had they
entered the palace when the thunder crashed, the roof burst into a
blaze, the ceiling split in twain, and in flew an eagle. The Eagle
smote upon the ground and became a brave youth.

`Hail, Prince Ivan! I Before I came as a guest, but now I have
come as a wooer!'

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

`If you find favour in the eyes of the Princess Olga, then let
her marry you. I will not interfere with her liberty of choice.'

The Princess Olga gave her consent and married the Eagle.
The Eagle took her and carried her off to his own kingdom.

Another year went by. Prince Ivan said to his youngest
sister:

`Let us go out and stroll in the garden green!'

They strolled about for a time. Again there arose a storm-cloud,
with whirlwind and lightning.

`Let us return home, sister!' said he.

They returned home, but they hadn't had time to sit down
when the thunder crashed, the ceiling split open, and in flew a
raven. The Raven smote upon the floor and became a brave
youth. The former youths had been handsome, but this one was
handsomer still.

`Well, Prince Ivan! Before I came as a guest, but now I have
come as a wooer! Give me the Princess Anna to wife.'

`I won't interfere with my sister's freedom. If you gain her
affections, let her marry you.'

So the Princess Anna married the Raven, and he bore her away
into his own realm. Prince Ivan was left alone. A whole year he
lived without his sisters; then he grew weary, and said:

`I will set out in search of my sisters.'

He got ready for the journey, he rode and rode, and one day
he saw a whole army lying dead on the plain. He cried aloud,
`If there be a living man there, let him make answer! Who has
slain this mighty host?'

There replied unto him a living man:

`All this mighty host has been slain by the fair Princess Marya
Morevna.'

Prince Ivan rode further on, and came to a white tent, and forth
came to meet him the fair Princess Marya Morevna.

`Hail, Prince!' says she; `whither does God send you? and is
it of your free will or against your will?'

Prince Ivan replied, `Not against their will do brave youths
ride!'

`Well, if your business be not pressing, tarry awhile in my
tent.'

Thereat was Prince Ivan glad. He spent two nights in the
tent, and he found favour in the eyes of Marya Morevna, and she
married him. The fair Princess, Marya Morevna, carried him off
into her own realm.

They spent some time together, and then the Princess took it
into her head to go a warring. So she handed over all the house-
keeping affairs to Prince Ivan, and gave him these instructions:

`Go about everywhere, keep watch over everything; only do
not venture to look into that closet there.'

He couldn't help doing so. The moment Marya Morevna had
gone he rushed to the closet, pulled open the door, and looked in--
there hung Koshchei the Deathless, fettered by twelve chains. Then
Koshchei entreated Prince Ivan, saying:

`Have pity upon me and give me to drink! Ten years long
have I been here in torment, neither eating nor drinking; my
throat is utterly dried up.'

The Prince gave him a bucketful of water; he drank it up and
asked for more, saying:

`A single bucket of water will not quench my thirst; give me
more!'

The Prince gave him a second bucketful. Koshchei drank it
up and asked for a third, and when he had swallowed the third
bucketful, he regained his former strength, gave his chains a shake,
and broke all twelve at once.

`Thanks, Prince Ivan!' cried Koshchei the Deathless, `now you
will sooner see your own ears than Marya Morevna!' and out of the
window he flew in the shape of a terrible whirlwind. And he came
up with the fair Princess Marya Morevna as she was going her
way, laid hold of her and carried her off home with him. But
Prince Ivan wept full sore, and he arrayed himself and set out a-
wandering, saying to himself, `Whatever happens, I will go and
look for Marya Morevna!'

One day passed, another day passed; at the dawn of the third
day he saw a wondrous palace, and by the side of the palace stood
an oak, and on the oak sat a falcon bright. Down flew the Falcon
from the oak, smote upon the ground, turned into a brave youth,
and cried aloud:

`Ha, dear brother-in-law! how deals the Lord with you?'

Out came running the Princess Marya, joyfully greeted her
brother Ivan, and began inquiring after his health, and telling him
all about herself. The Prince spent three days with them; then he
said:

`I cannot abide with you; I must go in search of my wife, the
fair Princess Marya Morevna.'

`Hard will it be for you to find her,' answered the Falcon. `At
all events leave with us your silver spoon. We will look at it and
remember you.' So Prince Ivan left his silver spoon at the
Falcon's, and went on his way again.

On he went one day, on he went another day, and by the dawn
of the third day he saw a palace still grander than the former one
and hard by the palace stood an oak, and on the oak sat an eagle.
Down flew the Eagle from the oak, smote upon the ground, turned
into a brave youth, and cried aloud:

`Rise up, Princess Olga! Hither comes our brother dear!'

The Princess Olga immediately ran to meet him, and began
kissing him and embracing him, asking after his health, and telling
him all about herself. With them Prince Ivan stopped three days;
then he said:

`I cannot stay here any longer. I am going to look for my
wife, the fair Princess Marya Morevna.'

`Hard will it be for you to find her,' replied the Eagle. `Leave
with us a silver fork. We will look at it and remember you.'

He left a silver fork behind, and went his way. He travelled
one day, he travelled two days; at daybreak on the third day he
saw a palace grander than the first two, and near the palace stood
an oak, and on the oak sat a raven. Down flew the Raven from
the oak, smote upon the ground, turned into a brave youth, and
cried aloud:

`Princess Anna, come forth quickly I our brother is coming.'

Out ran the Princess Anna, greeted him joyfully, and began
kissing and embracing him, asking after his health and telling him
all about herself. Prince Ivan stayed with them three days; then
he said:

`Farewell! I am going to look for my wife, the fair Princess
Marya Morevna.'

`Hard will it be for you to find her,' replied the Raven.
`Anyhow, leave your silver snuff-box with us. We will look at it and
remember you.'

The Prince handed over his silver snuff-box, took his leave, and
went his way. One day he went, another day he went, and on the
third day he came to where Marya Morevna was. She caught
sight of her love, flung her arms around his neck, burst into tears,
and exclaimed:

`Oh, Prince Ivan! why did you disobey me and go looking into
the closet and letting out Koshchei the Deathless?'

`Forgive me, Marya Morevna! Remember not the past; much
better fly with me while Koshchei the Deathless is out of sight.
Perhaps he won't catch us.'

So they got ready and fled. Now Koshchei was out hunting.
Towards evening he was returning home, when his good steed
stumbled beneath him.

`Why stumblest thou, sorry jade? Scentest thou some ill?'
The steed replied:

`Prince Ivan has come and carried off Marya Morevna.'
`Is it possible to catch them?'

`It is possible to sow wheat, to wait till it grows up, to reap it
and thresh it, to grind it to flour, to make five pies of it, to eat
those pies, and then to start in pursuit--and even then to be in time.'
Koshchei galloped off and caught up Prince Ivan.

`Now,' says he, `this time I will forgive you, in return for your
kindness in giving me water to drink. And a second time I will
forgive you; but the third time beware! I will cut you to bits.'

Then he took Marya Morevna from him, and carried her off.
But Prince Ivan sat down on a stone and burst into tears. He
wept and wept--and then returned back again to Marya Morevna.
Now Koshchei the Deathless happened not to be at home.

`Let us fly, Marya Morevna!'

`Ah, Prince Ivan! he will catch us.'

`Suppose he does catch us. At all events we shall have spent
an hour or two together.'

So they got ready and fled. As Koshchei the Deathless was
returning home, his good steed stumbled beneath him.

`Why stumblest thou, sorry jade? Scentest thou some ill?'

`Prince Ivan has come and carried off Marya Morevna.'

`Is it possible to catch them?'

`It is possible to sow barley, to wait till it grows up, to reap it
and thresh it, to brew beer, to drink ourselves drunk on it, to sleep
our fill, and then to set off in pursuit--and yet to be in time.'

Koshchei galloped off, caught up Prince Ivan:

`Didn't I tell you that you should not see Marya Morevna any
more than your own ears?'

And he took her away and carried her off home with him.

Prince Ivan was left there alone. He wept and wept; then he
went back again after Marya Morevna. Koshchei happened to be
away from home at that moment.

`Let us fly, Marya Morevna!'

`Ah, Prince Ivan! he is sure to catch us and hew you in
pieces.'

`Let him hew away! I cannot live without you.

So they got ready and fled.

Koshchei the Deathless was returning home when his good
steed stumbled beneath him.

`Why stumblest thou? Scentest thou any ill?'

`Prince Ivan has come and has carried off Marya Morevna.'

Koshchei galloped off, caught Prince Ivan, chopped him into
little pieces, put them into a barrel, smeared it with pitch and bound
it with iron hoops, and flung it into the blue sea. But Marya
Morevna he carried off home.

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

`Ah!' said they, `the evil is accomplished sure enough!'

Then the Eagle hurried to the blue sea, caught hold of the
barrel, and dragged it ashore; the Falcon flew away for the Water
of Life, and the Raven for the Water of Death.

Afterwards they all three met, broke open the barrel, took out
the remains of Prince Ivan, washed them, and put them together
in fitting order. The Raven sprinkled them with the Water of
Death--the pieces joined together, the body became whole. The
Falcon sprinkled it with the Water of Life--Prince Ivan shuddered,
stood up, and said:

`Ah! what a time I've been sleeping!'

`You'd have gone on sleeping a good deal longer if it hadn't been for us,'
replied his brothers-in-law. `Now come and pay us a visit.'

`Not so, brothers; I shall go and look for Marya Morevna.'

And when he had found her, he said to her:

`Find out from Koshchei the Deathless whence he got so good a steed.'

So Marya Morevna chose a favourable moment, and began
asking Koshchei about it. Koshchei replied:

`Beyond thrice nine lands, in the thirtieth kingdom, on the
other side of the fiery river, there lives a Baba Yaga. She has so
good a mare that she flies right round the world on it every day.
And she has many other splendid mares. I watched her herds for
three days without losing a single mare, and in return for that the
Baba Yaga gave me a foal.'

`But how did you get across the fiery river?'

`Why, I've a handkerchief of this kind--when I wave it thrice
on the right hand, there springs up a very lofty bridge, and the fire
cannot reach it.'

Marya Morevna listened to all this, and repeated it to Prince
Ivan, and she carried off the handkerchief and gave it to him. So
he managed to get across the fiery river, and then went on to the
Baba Yaga's. Long went he on without getting anything either to
eat or to drink. At last he came across an outlandish bird and its
young ones. Says Prince Ivan:

`I'll eat one of these chickens.'

`Don't eat it, Prince Ivan!' begs the outlandish bird; `some
time or other I'll do you a good turn.'

He went on farther and saw a hive of bees in the forest.

`I'll get a bit of honeycomb,' says he.

`Don't disturb my honey, Prince Ivan!' exclaims the queen-
bee; `some time or other I'll do you a good turn.'

So he didn't disturb it, but went on. Presently there met him
a lioness with her cub.

`Anyhow, I'll eat this lion cub,' says he; `I'm so hungry I feel
quite unwell!'

`Please let us alone, Prince Ivan!' begs the lioness; `some
time or other I'll do you a good turn.'

`Very well; have it your own way,' says he.

Hungry and faint he wandered on, walked farther and farther,
and at last came to where stood the house of the Baba Yaga.
Round the house were set twelve poles in a circle, and on each of
eleven of these poles was stuck a human head; the twelfth alone
remained unoccupied.

`Hail, granny!'

`Hail, Prince Ivan! wherefore have yon come? Is it of your
own accord, or on compulsion?'

`I have come to earn from you an heroic steed.'

`So be it, Prince! You won't have to serve a year with me, but
just three days. If you take good care of my mares, I'll give you
an heroic steed. But if you don't--why, then you mustn't be annoyed
at finding your head stuck on top of the last pole up there.'

Prince Ivan agreed to these terms. The Baba Yaga gave him
food and drink, and bade him set about his business. But the
moment he had driven the mares afield, they cocked up their tails,
and away they tore across the meadows in all directions. Before
the Prince had time to look round they were all out of sight.
Thereupon he began to weep and to disquiet himself, and then he
sat down upon a stone and went to sleep. But when the sun was
near its setting the outlandish bird came flying up to him, and
awakened him, saying:

`Arise, Prince Ivan! The mares are at home now.'

The Prince arose and returned home. There the Baba Yaga
was storming and raging at her mares, and shrieking:

`Whatever did ye come home for?'

`How could we help coming home?' said they. `There came
flying birds from every part of the world, and all but pecked our
eyes out.'

`Well, well! to-morrow don't go galloping over the meadows,
but disperse amid the thick forests.'

Prince Ivan slept all night. In the morning the Baba Yaga says
to him:

`Mind, Prince! if you don't take good care of the mares, if
you lose merely one of them--your bold head will be stuck on
that pole!'

He drove the mares afield. Immediately they cocked up their
tails and dispersed among the thick forests. Again did the Prince
sit down on the stone, weep and weep, and then go to sleep. The
sun went down behind the forest. Up came running the lioness.

`Arise, Prince Ivan! The mares are all collected.'

Prince Ivan arose and went home. More than ever did the
Baba Yaga storm at her mares and shriek:

`Whatever did ye come back home for?'

`How could we help coming back? Beasts of prey came
running at us from all parts of the world, and all but tore us utterly
to pieces.'

`Well, to-morrow run off into the blue sea.'

Again did Prince Ivan sleep through the night. Next morning
the Baba Yaga sent him forth to watch the mares.

`If you don't take good care of them,' says she, `your bold head
will be stuck on that pole!'

He drove the mares afield. Immediately they cocked up their
tails, disappeared from sight, and fled into the blue sea. There
they stood, up to their necks in water. Prince Ivan sat down on
the stone, wept, and fell asleep. But when the sun had set behind
the forest, up came flying a bee, and said:

`Arise, Prince! The mares are all collected. But when you
get home, don't let the Baba Yaga set eyes on you, but go into the
stable and hide behind the mangers. There you will find a sorry
colt rolling in the muck. Do you steal it, and at the dead of night
ride away from the house.'

Prince Ivan arose, slipped into the stable, and lay down behind
the mangers, while the Baba Yaga was storming away at her mares
and shrieking:

`Why did ye come back?'

`How could we help coming back? There came flying bees in
countless numbers from all parts of the world, and began stinging
us on all sides till the blood came!'

The Baba Yaga went to sleep. In the dead of the night Prince
Ivan stole the sorry colt, saddled it, jumped on its back, and galloped
away to the fiery river. When he came to that river he
waved the handkerchief three times on the right hand, and suddenly,
springing goodness knows whence, there hung across the river, high
in the air, a splendid bridge. The Prince rode across the bridge and
waved the handkerchief twice only on the left hand; there remained
across the river a thin, ever so thin a bridge!

When the Baba Yaga got up in the morning the sorry colt was
not to be seen! Off she set in pursuit. At full speed did she fly
in her iron mortar, urging it on with the pestle, sweeping away her
traces with the broom. She dashed up to the fiery river, gave a
glance, and said, `A capital bridge!' She drove on to the bridge,
but had only got half-way when the bridge broke in two, and the
Baba Yaga went flop into the river. There truly did she meet with
a cruel death!

Prince Ivan fattened up the colt in the green meadows, and it
turned into a wondrous steed. Then he rode to where Marya
Morevna was. She came running out, and flung herself on his
neck, crying:

`By what means has God brought you back to life?'

`Thus and thus,' says he. `Now come along with me.'

`I am afraid, Prince Ivan! If Koshchei catches us you will
be cut in pieces again.'

`No, he won't catch us! I have a splendid heroic steed now;
it flies just like a bird.' So they got on its back and rode away.

Koshchei the Deathless was returning home when his horse
stumbled beneath him.

`What art thou stumbling for, sorry jade? Dost thou scent any
ill?'

`Prince Ivan has come and carried off Marya Morevna.'

`Can we catch them?'

`God knows! Prince Ivan has a horse now which is better
than I.'

`Well, I can't stand it,' says Koshchei the Deathless. `I will
pursue.'

After a time he came up with Prince Ivan, lighted on the
ground, and was going to chop him up with his sharp sword.
But at that moment Prince Ivan's horse smote Koshchei the Deathless
full swing with its hoof, and cracked his skull, and the Prince
made an end of him with a club. Afterwards the Prince heaped up
a pile of wood, set fire to it, burnt Koshchei the Deathless on the
pyre, and scattered his ashes to the wind. Then Marya Morevna
mounted Koshchei's horse and Prince Ivan got on his own, and they
rode away to visit first the Raven, and then the Eagle, and then
the Falcon. Wherever they went they met with a joyful greeting.

`Ah, Prince Ivan! why, we never expected to see you again.
Well, it wasn't for nothing that you gave yourself so much trouble.
Such a beauty as Marya Morevna one might search for all the
world over--and never find one like her!'

And so they visited, and they feasted; and afterwards they went
off to their own realm.[3]





Next: The Black Thief And Knight Of The Glen

Previous: Soria Moria Castle



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