King Longbeard

: Stories To Read Or Tell From Fairy Tales And Folklore

A story about King Berendey; his son Prince Ivan; about the cunning of the

immortal King Koshchey, and about the wisdom of his daughter, Princess


Once upon a time there lived King Berendey, called Longbeard, for his beard

reached far below his knees. He lived very happily with his wife the queen,

but God gave no children to them, and this grieved the king very much.

The king had to vis
t his kingdom. He bade farewell to his queen, and

stayed away for a long time. At the end of the visit on a very warm

afternoon, when he was approaching his capital, he decided to stop for a

rest in the meadow. He felt very thirsty and wanted some cold water to

drink, but there was no water around. What should he do? He was all dried

up with thirst. So the king decided to ride all over the meadow, perhaps

he would strike a spring. And sure enough, he soon found a well.

Hurriedly he jumped down from his horse, and looked into the well. It was

full of water to the brim, and upon its surface there was floating a golden

cup. The king reached his hand after the cup, but he could not grasp it.

The cup swam away from his reach. He grasped impatiently at the amber

handle now with his right hand, now with his left; but the handle, quickly

turning to the left or to the right, as if but mocking the king, could not

be caught. What was the matter? The king waited until the cup stood up

again straight in the water, grasped it at once from the right and the

left, but in vain! Slipping out from his hands like a fish, the cup dived

straight to the bottom, and again it was swimming on the surface as if

nothing had happened.

"Now wait," thought King Longbeard, "I will drink without you," and

stretching himself upon the grass, he began to drink with eagerness the

cold spring water, forgetting about his beard, which was drowned in the


When he had drunk enough, he wanted to raise his head, but he could not do

it: somebody was holding the king's beard and did not want to let it go.

Leaning upon the fence of the well, he tried to get himself loose, shook

himself, turned his head, but all was in vain; he could not free his beard.

"Let me go," cried he. No answer. Only a terrible monster looked up to him

from the bottom, two big eyes shining like emeralds; the widely open mouth

queerly smiling, two rows of shining pearly teeth, and a red tongue

sticking out between them. The monster was laughing at the king. With its

paws it was firmly holding the king's beard.

At last a hoarse voice said from under the water, "It is no use trying,

King. I shall not let you go. But if you want to be free, give me that

which you possess, but which you do not know about."

The king thought, "What could that be that I have and do not know about? It

seems to me that I know everything," so he answered the monster, "All

right, I agree."

"Very well," the hoarse voice was heard to answer once more, "but look out,

keep your word, that no harm may happen to you." With the last word the

claws disappeared, with the monster.

Having freed his beard, the king mounted his horse, and continued his

journey. As he entered his capital, all the people came out to meet him,

cannons were playing, and all the bells were ringing from the city towers.

The king approached his gilded palace. The queen was standing upon the

balcony, near her the prime minister; in his arms he held a brocaded pillow

upon which there was lying a baby, fair and beautiful like the moon.

Then the king guessed and groaned, "There is what I did not know about! O,

you monster, you will be the death of mine!" So thought the king and cried


All wondered, but no one said a word. Taking the baby into his arms, King

Longbeard admired it long, carried it into the palace, put it into the

cradle, and hiding his sorrow, he began to rule over his country as

formerly. Nobody knew the king's secret. But everybody saw the king was

sad--he was always expecting somebody to come for his son. During the day

he found no rest, at night he could not sleep. The time was passing

meanwhile, and nobody came. The young prince grew very rapidly and

developed into a beautiful youth. The king himself forgot all that happened

at the well--but not everybody was so forgetful.

Once the prince, while hunting, came into a very thick forest. He looked

around: a wild glade was before him. Upon it stood a hollow lime tree. A

rustling came from the hollow, and a very queer looking old man came out

with a green beard and green eyes.

"Hello! Prince Ivan," said he, "we were looking for you. It is time to

think of us."

"Who are you?" asked Ivan.

"I will tell you later about it. Now do this for me: give my regards to

your father, King Longbeard, and ask him whether it is not time for him to

pay his debt? The term has passed long ago. He will understand the rest.

Now good-bye," and the bearded old man disappeared.

Prince Ivan, very sad and thoughtful, left the dark forest. He went

straight to his father, King Longbeard.

"Dear father king," said he, "a miracle occurred to me,"--and he told him

what he had seen and heard.

The king became pale like a ghost. "Woe to me, my dear son Ivan," cried he

weeping bitterly, "I see that we must part!" and he told to his son the

terrible story about his given oath.

"Do not cry, do not worry, father," answered the prince. "The calamity is

not so great. Give me a steed. I will go and you wait for me; keep the

secret, that nobody may know about it, not even my mother the queen. But if

I do not come back to you in a year, know that I am no longer alive." The

prince was fitted out for the journey. King Longbeard gave him gold armor,

a sword, and a steed. The queen gave him her blessing and a golden cross

upon his neck--and the young prince departed. What is going to happen to


He rode for one day, for another, for a third, and on the fourth day right

after sunset, he came to a lake. The lake was smooth like glass; the water

was on a level with the shores; everything around was desert. The water was

covered with the rosy evening glow and the green shores with the thick

reeds were reflected in it. Everything seemed as if in a dream. The air did

not move; the reeds did not stir, there was no rustle upon the light

streams. The prince looked around and what did he see? Thirty crested white

ducks were swimming near the shore, upon the shore were lying thirty white

gowns. The prince dismounted very cautiously at some distance. Hidden by

the grass he crept towards the gowns and quickly took one of them. Then he

rested himself behind a bush to see what was going to happen. The ducks

swam and splattered in the stream, played, dived, and at last got to the

shore. Twenty-nine of them ran to the white gowns, knocked themselves upon

the ground, and all turned themselves into fair maidens, dressed and went

away. But the thirtieth duck ran up and down with a pitiful cry. Shyly

stretching her neck forward, she looked here and there, now flying up, now

coming down again. The prince felt pity for her. He came out from behind

his bush, and behold, she spoke to him in a human voice.

"Prince Ivan, give me back my gown and I will be useful to you."

The prince did not let her wait, but put the gown upon the grass and

suddenly what did he see? A maiden in white robes, young and beautiful. She

gave him her hand and with downcast, bashful eyes said to him:

"Thank you, good prince, for your kindness to me. You did me a favor, but

it will be of good service to you also. I am the daughter of the immortal

King Koshchey, Princess Mary. He has thirty daughters altogether. He is the

ruler of the underground kingdom. He has expected you as his guest for a

long time, and is very angry at your delay. But do not worry. Only follow

my advice. Now listen. As soon as you shall see King Koshchey, kneel and

creep before him upon your knees. He will stamp with his feet, but do not

be frightened. When he scolds you, do not listen, but keep on creeping

before him. What will happen, you will see later. Now we must go."

Princess Mary struck the ground with her small foot, the earth opened, and

they went down into King Koshchey's underground kingdom. They came to the

palace. It was built of precious stones and shone under the ground brighter

than the earthly sun. Boldly the prince entered. King Koshchey sat upon his

throne wearing a glittering crown, his eyes shone like emeralds. His hands

were like claws. Ivan immediately fell upon his knees. King Koshchey

stamped with his feet, his green eyes glittered frightfully, and he howled

so loudly that the vaults of his underground kingdom trembled. Remembering

the words of the Princess Mary, Ivan crept upon his knees toward King

Koshchey's throne.

The king howled and the prince kept on creeping. Finally it seemed funny to

the king. "Good for you, rogue," said he, "if you could succeed in making

me laugh, I will quarrel with you no longer. You are welcomed to our

underground kingdom, but know that for your disobedience you will have to

do three services for us. We will settle our accounts to-morrow. It is too

late to-night. Go!"

The courtiers quickly and politely took Ivan under his arms, and carried

him to a chamber, opened the door, bowed, and left him all to himself. He

lay down upon the bed and soon fell asleep. The next morning very early

King Koshchey called for Prince Ivan. "Well, Prince Ivan, now let us see

what you can do. For instance, build for us a palace for to-morrow. The

roof must be of gold, the walls of marble, the windows of crystal; around

it a regular garden, and in the garden a fish-pond. If you do it, you will

get into our favor; if not, do not blame us, but you shall be executed."

"O, you cruel King Koshchey!" thought Ivan. "This is an impossible thing

for me to do."

Greatly grieved he went to his room and thought his sad thoughts. In the

evening a bright bee came flying to his window, flapped against the pane,

and he heard a voice saying "Let me in!" He opened the window, the bee flew

inside and turned into Princess Mary.

"Hello, Prince Ivan! Why are you so sad?"

"I have good reasons to be so. Your father wants to have me executed."

"What have you decided to do?"

"Nothing. Let him do it. Go where you can and die where you must."

"No, my dear Prince Ivan. We must not lose our courage. There are still

greater calamities in the world than yours. Go to sleep, and get up very

early. The palace will be built for you. You will only have to go around

it, and knock with your hammer at the walls as if finishing your work."

And so it was. Very early in the morning Ivan came out of his chamber, and

behold! The palace was all built for him.

King Koshchey was surprised. He did not believe his own eyes. "O, you are a

very skillful fellow indeed. Now let us see whether you are just as

clever. I have thirty daughters, beautiful princesses. To-morrow I will

place all of them in a row; you will pass three times before them and tell

me which is the youngest of them. If you don't guess, you shall die. Now


"Is that hard to guess?" thought the prince, "I certainly will recognize

Princess Mary."

"It is very hard," said the princess, who flew as a bee into his room, "and

if I do not help you, you will get into trouble. We thirty sisters look all

alike. So great is the resemblance between us, that our father can

recognize us only by our dress."

"What am I to do then?"

"I will tell you what: I will be the one who has a small black fly on the

right cheek. But beware! Look very carefully; it is easy to make a

mistake." And the bee disappeared.

The next day the prince was again called to King Koshchey. All the

princesses were there, and all dressed alike stood in a row with downcast


"Well," said the king, "pass three times before these beauties and tell us

which of them is Princess Mary."

Ivan looked at them and thought, "What a resemblance." He passed the first

time and saw no fly; passed for the second time--still no fly; passed the

third time and saw a tiny fly stealing its way across the fresh burning

cheek of one of the princesses. The prince blushed and his heart was

beating with joy. "Here she is, Princess Mary," said he, giving his hand to

the beauty with the fly upon her cheek.

"Ah, ah! I see there must be something wrong about it," grumbled King

Koshchey, looking angrily at the prince with his big green eyes. "It is

true you did recognize Princess Mary, but how did you guess it? Wait now, I

will soon find out the truth. In three hours come back to us. You will be

welcomed as our guest, but you will have to prove to us your wisdom by

deeds. I will light a straw, and you will have to make here upon the spot

while the straw is burning, a pair of shoes. It is not hard for you. But

remember if you fail to do it, you shall pay for it with your life."

Very much irritated, Ivan returned to his room. The bee-princess was

waiting for him.

"Why are you so sad again, my dear Prince Ivan?"

"How can I be joyful?" answered he. "Your father is plotting a new trick

against me. He wants me to make a pair of boots while a straw is burning.

Am I a shoemaker? I am a king's son, not worse by birth than he is. He is

immortal, but does this give him a right to treat me so badly?"

"So, Prince Ivan, what are you going to do now?"

"What can I do? I cannot make the boots. Let him take my head off. I do not

care any longer!"

"Oh, no, my dear prince! Are we not now bride and bridegroom? I will try to

save you. We will both be saved or both perish. We must run away." Saying

this the princess breathed upon the window. Her breath immediately froze to

the panes. Then she and the prince left the room, locked the door, and

threw the key far away.

Arm in arm they went up, and in a minute they were in the place of entrance

to the underground kingdom. The same lake, low grassy shore, fresh meadow,

and upon it the good steed of Prince Ivan. As soon as the sturdy steed felt

its rider, it neighed, jumped, ran straight towards him, and stood as if

rooted to the spot. Ivan did not think long, but mounted the horse, lifted

the princess, and off they went as quick as lightning.

Meanwhile King Koshchey sent his courtiers at the appointed hour for Prince

Ivan. They came to the door and found it locked. They knocked, and from

behind the Princess' breath answered in the voice of Prince Ivan, "I am

coming." The servants took the answer to the king. He waited and waited and

no prince came. The angry King Koshchey sent his servants again and they

brought the same answer. Nobody came, King Koshchey was almost mad with


"Does he want to mock me? Run, break the door, and take by force that

ill-bred fellow."

The servants ran, the door was broken up. What a surprise! Nobody was

inside, but the breath was loudly laughing at them.

King Koshchey almost burst with anger. "O, you miserable thief! Come here,

my people! All to me, my servants! Run, all of you, in pursuit of them.

They have departed."

"I hear the tramping of horses feet," whispered the princess, clasping the


He dismounted, and putting his ear against the ground said, "Yes, I hear

the chase, and it is quite near."

"Then we must not lose our time," said Princess Mary, and in a minute she

turned into a river, the prince into an iron bridge the steed into a black

raven, and the large road was divided into three smaller roads.

Swiftly the chase was coming by the fresh tracks, but when they came to the

river, they stopped perplexed. Up to the bridge they could follow the

track, but beyond it the track was lost. Nothing could be done. They had

to go back.

King Koshchey was terribly angry when he heard about their failure. "You

fools!" cried he. "The river and the bridge must have been they. Couldn't

you guess it, you idiots! Go again, and do not fail to bring them with


The pursuit started anew.

"I hear the tramping of horses," said Princess Mary to Prince Ivan.

He dismounted again, put his ear against the ground and said, "Yes, they

are tramping, and pretty near us."

In a second Princess Mary, together with Prince Ivan and the steed, turned

into a wild dark forest. In that forest there were numberless paths, and a

horse with two riders seemed to gallop through it. Now the chase came by

the fresh track to the forest. They saw the riders and ran after them. The

forest reached as far as King Koshchey's underground kingdom. The chase was

flying and the horse with the two riders was always before them. Now they

almost reached them, now they only had to grasp them,--but no, the steed

was again far behind them. And see! There they were again before the

entrance to King Koshchey's kingdom at the same place where they started

their chase; and everything disappeared,--no more horse, no more forest.

With empty hands the pursuers appeared before King Koshchey. Like one mad

the king tossed about. "Wait until I catch that wretch! I will go myself

now. Let us see how they are going to escape me!"

Again Princess Mary whispered to Prince Ivan, "I hear tramping."

Again he answered her, "Yes, they are approaching us."

"Woe to us! This is my father himself; but his power reaches only to the

first church. Give me the cross you wear upon your neck."

The prince took from his neck the golden cross, the gift of his mother,

gave it to the princess, and in a minute she turned into a church, he into

a monk, and the steed into a bell-tower.

Right after King Koshchey came with his suite. "Did you not see any

travelers pass by, my venerable man?" he asked the monk.

"Just now Prince Ivan and Princess Mary passed by; they went into the

church to pray, and asked me to pray for your help, and to remember them to

you if you should come to me."

"Oh, I wish they would break their necks, the wretches!" cried King

Koshchey. Turning his horse like one possessed, he returned home with his

suite. After his arrival he cruelly whipped all his servants.

Ivan with the princess went further, no longer fearing the pursuit. They

were riding very slowly. The sun was setting, and suddenly in the evening

rays they beheld a beautiful city. Ivan was very anxious to go inside.

"Prince Ivan," said the princess, "do not go; not in vain does my heart

ache. A misfortune will happen to us."

"What are you afraid of, dear princess? Let us go in just for a very short

time. Let us see the city and then continue the journey."

"It is not hard to get in, but it will be hard to get out. Do as you

please. Go, and I will remain here, lying as a white stone upon the road.

Look out, my dear, be careful. The king, queen, and their daughter will

come out to meet you with a beautiful child; do not kiss that child. If you

do, you will immediately forget me; then I will live no longer; I will die

from grief, and you will be the cause of my death. Here at the road I will

wait for you for three days. If you do not come--but good-bye now. Go."

Bidding her farewell, the prince went into the city. At the road as a white

stone remained Princess Mary. One day passed, another passed, at last the

third day passed. The prince did not come. Poor Princess Mary! He did not

follow her instructions. In the city he met the king, queen, and their

daughter. With them came a beautiful child, a curly-headed boy, very

lively, his eyes shining like bright stars. He ran straight into Ivan's

arms. The prince was so charmed with his beauty that, losing his mind, he

began to kiss his warm cheeks, and at the same time his memory was

darkened and he forgot about Princess Mary.

She was seized with grief, "You left me, and I do not want to live any

longer." In a moment she turned into a sky-blue flower. "Here by the road I

will remain, perhaps somebody passing by will tread me down into the

earth," said she, and tears like dew-drops glittered upon the blue petals.

An old man passed that place. He saw the blue flower. Delighted with its

delicate beauty, he dug it carefully out with the roots, carried it into

his hut, planted it in a flowerpot, watered it and cared for it tenderly.

What happened? From that time everything was changed in the poor man's hut.

Something wonderful was going on there. When the old man awoke, he found

the hut all cleaned and in perfect order. There was nowhere a grain of dust

to be found. At noon when he came home, the dinner was cooked and the table

neatly set; he had only to sit down and eat. He wondered but could not

explain matters. At last he was frightened and went to an old fairy to ask

for advice.

"I will tell you what to do," answered the fairy, "get up very early at

dawn, before the cocks' sing, and look about the hut. Whatever begins to

move first, cover it with this kerchief. What happens, you will see."

The whole night the old man lay sleepless in his bed. The sun began to

rise, and there was light in the hut. Suddenly he saw that the blue flower

moved, flew off its thin stalk and began to fly about the room. Everything

went right away to its place, everything was dusted and cleaned, and a

bright fire began to burn in the stove. Quickly jumped the old man off his

bed and covered the flower with the fairy's kerchief and before him there

appeared the beautiful Princess Mary.

"What have you done?" said she. "Why did you bring me to life again? My

bridegroom, Prince Ivan, left me and I am forgotten by him."

"Your Prince Ivan is getting married to-day. The wedding-feast is all ready

and all the guests have arrived."

Princess Mary cried bitterly. Then she wiped her tears. Putting on a

"sarafan" (Russian national dress for women) she went into the city as a

country girl. She came into the king's kitchen. The cooks were running here

and there in their white caps and aprons. There was plenty of noise,

bustle, and clatter. She went up to the chief cook, and with an imploring

face and a voice as sweet as a flute said, "Cook dear, allow me to bake the

wedding cake for the prince."

The cook, disturbed in his work, wanted to refuse her, but no angry word

could escape his lips when he looked at her, and he answered very kindly,

"Very well, fair maiden, do what you please; I myself will serve your cake

to Prince Ivan."

At the feast when all the guests were sitting around the table, the chief

cook put before Ivan a large cake upon a beautiful silver plate. All the

guests were surprised at the skill of the baker. But as soon as Ivan cut

off the top of it, a new wonder! A pair of pigeons flew out of it. The gray

male pigeon was walking upon the table, and the white female after him

cooing. "Pigeon, my pigeon, stop, do not run away; you will forget me just

as Prince Ivan has forgotten Princess Mary."

Ivan groaned when he heard this. He jumped up like mad, and ran to the door

behind which Mary was waiting. Before the palace the black steed all

saddled and bridled, was impatiently stamping the ground. They did not

tarry. Ivan and his princess rode away. After a long journey they arrived

in King Longbeard's kingdom, where the old king and queen gave them a

joyful reception. They prepared for the wedding; guests were invited and a

great feast feasted. And I was there and feasted with them, and that is the

end of the whole story.