Prince Ivan and Grey Wolf
A Russian Tale
Once upon a time there was a King named Berendei. He had three sons. The youngest was called Ivan.
And the King had a beautiful garden with an apple-tree in it that bore golden apples.
One day the King found that somebody was stealing his golden apples. The King was very unhappy about this. He sent watchmen into the garden, but they were unable to catch the thief.
The eldest son said: “Today it is my turn to keep watch.”
And he went into the garden. He walked about all evening but saw no one, so he flung himself down on the soft grass and went to sleep.
“No, Father. I did not close my eyes all night, but I saw no one.”
The next night the middle son went out to keep watch, and he, too, went to sleep. On the next morning he said he ha
It was now the youngest son’s turn to go and keep watch. When Prince Ivan went to watch his father’s garden he did not so much as sit down, let alone lie down. If he felt hat he was getting sleepy, he would wash his face in dew and become wide awake at once.
And in the dead of night what should he see but a light shining in the garden. It got brighter and brighter and lit up everything around. And there on the apple-tree sat the Fire-Bird pecking at the golden apples.
Next morning Prince Ivan went to his father.
“Well, son, have you caught the thief?” asked the King.
“Dear Father,” said Prince Ivan, “I have not caught him, but I have discovered who he is. See, he has sent you this feather as a keepsake. The Fire-Bird is the thief, Father.”
The King took the feather, and from that time he cheered up and began to eat and drink again. But one fine day he fell to th
He called his sons and said to them:
“My dear boys, I would have you saddle your trusty steeds and set out to see the wide world. Perhaps you will come upon the Fire-Bird.”
The sons bowed to their father, saddled their trusty steeds and set out. The eldest son took one road, the middle son another, and Prince Ivan a third.
How long Prince Ivan travelled is hard to say, but one hot afternoon he felt so tired that he got off his horse and lay down to rest.
Nobody knows whether he slept for a long time or a short time, but when he woke up his horse was gone. So he went to look for it. He walked and walked, and at last he found the remains of his horse: nothing but bones, picked clean.
Prince Ivan was in great distress. How could he continue on his journey without a horse?
“Ah, well,” he thought, “I must make the best of it.”
And he went on foot. He walked and walked till he was dead tired, when he sat down on the soft grass, sad and dispirited. Suddenly, there’s no telling how, up came running a Grey Wolf.
“Why are you sitting he
“How can I help being sad, Grey Wolf? I have lost my trusty steed.”
“It was I who ate up your horse, Prince Ivan. But I am sorry for you. What are you doing so far from home and where are you going?”
“Father has sent me out into the wide world to seek the Fire-Bird.”
“But you could not reach the Fire-Bird on that horse in three years. I alone know where it lives. So be it—since I have eaten up your horse, I shall be your true and faithful servant. Get on my back and hold fast.”
Prince Ivan got on to his back and Grey Wolf was off like a flash. Green forests swept by, blue lakes skimmed past, and at last they came to a castle with a high wall round it.
“Listen carefully, Prince Ivan,” said Grey Wolf, “and remember what I say. Climb over that wall. You have nothing to fear—we have come at a lucky hour; all the guards are sleeping. In a chamber within the tower you will see a window, in that window hangs a golden cage, and in that cage is the Fire-Bird. Take the bi
Prince Ivan climbed over the wall and saw the tower with the golden cage in the window and the Fire-Bird in the cage. He took the bird out and hid it in his bosom, but could not tear his eyes away from the cage. “Ah, what a handsome golden cage!” he thought longingly. “How can I leave it here!” And he forgot the wolf’s warning. The moment he touched the cage, a hue and cry rose within the castle—trumpets trumpeted, drums drummed, the guards woke up, seized Prince Ivan and marched him off to King Afron.
“Who are you and whence have you come?” King Afron demanded angrily.
“I am Prince Ivan, son of King Berendei.”
“Fie, shame on you! To think of a royal prince being a thief!”
“But you should not have let your bird steal apples from our garden.”
“If you had come and told me about it in an honest way, I would have made you a present of the Bird out of respect for your father, King Berendei. But now I shall spread the ill fame of your family far and wide. Or no—perhaps I will not, after all. If you do me a favor, I shall forgive you. In a certain kingdom there is a King named Kusman and he has a Horse with a Golden Mane. Bring me that Horse and I will make you a gift of the Fire-Bird and the cage besides.”
Prince Ivan, very much put out, went back to Grey Wolf.
“I told you not to touch the cage,” said the Wolf. “Why did you not heed my warning?”
“I am sorry, Grey Wolf, please forgive me.”
“Being sorry won’t do much good. But there, get on my back again. I must not go back on my word.”
And off went Grey Wolf with Prince Ivan. It is hard to say how long they travelled, but at last they came to the castle where the Horse with the Golden Mane was kept.
“Climb over the wall, Prince Ivan, the guards are asleep. Go to the stable and take the Horse, but mind you do not touch the bridle.”
Prince Ivan climbed into the castle. All the guards were asleep, so he went to the stable and caught Golden Mane, but he could not help touching the bridle it was made of gold and set with precious stones—a fitting bridle for such a horse.
No sooner did Prince Ivan touch the bridle than a hue and cry was raised within the castle. Trumpets trumpeted, drums drummed, the guards woke up, seized Prince Ivan and marched him off to King Kusman.
“Who are you and whence have you come?”
“I am Prince Ivan.”
“Fancy stealing a horse! What a foolish thing to do! A common peasant would not stoop to it. But I shall forgive you, Prince Ivan, if you do me a favor. King Dalmat has a daughter named Yelena the Fair. Steal her and bring her to me, and I shall make you a present of my Horse with the Golden Mane and its bridle besides.”
Prince Ivan was more put out than ever and he went back to Grey Wolf.
“I told you not to touch the bridle, Prince Ivan!” said the Wolf. “Why did you not heed my warning?”
“I am sorry, Grey Wolf, please forgive me.”
“Being sorry won’t do much good. But there, get on my back again.”
And off went Grey Wolf with Prince Ivan. By and by they came to the kingdom of King Dalmat. Yelena the Fair was strolling about the castle garden with her maids and attendants.
“This time I shall go,” said Grey Wolf. “You go back the way we came and I will catch you up soon.”
So Prince Ivan went back the way he had come, and Grey Wolf jumped over the wall into the garden. He crouched behind a bush and peeped out. There was Yelena the Fair with all her maids and attendants. As they strolled about the garden, Yelena fell behind her maids and attendants, and Grey Wolf instantly seized her, tossed her across his back, jumped over the wall and was gone in a trice.
Prince Ivan was walking back the way he had come, when all of a sudden he saw Grey Wolf with Yelena the Fair on his back. Was he glad! “You get on my back too, and be quick about it, or they may catch us,” said Grey Wolf. Grey Wolf sped down the path with Prince Ivan and Yelena the Fair on his back. Green forests swept by, blue lakes and rivers skimmed past. How long the Wolf ran it is hard to say, but by and by they came to King Kusman’s kingdom.
“Why are you so silent and sad, Prince Ivan?” asked Grey Wolf.
“How can I help being sad, Grey Wolf? It breaks my heart to part with such loveliness, to think that I must exchange Yelena the Fair for a horse.”
“You need not part with such loveliness. We shall hide her somewhere, I will turn myself into Yelena the Fair and you shall take me to the King instead.”
So they hid Yelena the Fair in a hut in the forest. Grey Wolf turned a somersault, and when he landed on his feet he was the very image of Yelena the Fair. Prince Ivan took him to King Kusman. The King was delighted and ever so grateful.
“Thank you for bringing me a bride, Prince Ivan. Now the Horse with the Golden Mane and the bridle are yours.” Prince Ivan mounted the horse and went for Yelena the Fair. He seated her upon the horse and they rode off. King Kusman held a wedding celebration and feasted the whole day long, and when bedtime came he led Yelena the Fair into the bedroom, but just as he got into bed with her what should he see but the muzzle of a wolf instead of the face of his young wife! The King got such a fright that he tumbled out of bed, and Grey Wolf sprang up and ran away.
Grey Wolf caught up with Prince Ivan and said:
“Why are you sad, Prince Ivan?”
“How can I help being sad? I cannot bear to think of exchanging the Horse with the Golden Mane for the Fire-Bird.”
“Cheer up, I will help you,” said the Wolf.
Soon they came to the kingdom of King Afron. “Hide that horse and Yelena the Fair,” said the Wolf. “I will turn myself into Golden Mane and you shall take me to King Afron.”
So they hid Yelena the Fair and Golden Mane in the woods. Grey Wolf turned a somersault and became Golden Mane, and Prince Ivan led him off to King Afron. The King was delighted and gave him the Fire-Bird in the golden cage.
Prince Ivan walked back to the woods, seated Yelena the Fair upon Golden Mane, took the golden cage with the Fire-Bird in it and set off homewards.
Meanwhile King Afron had the gift horse brought to him, and he was just about to get on to its back, when it turned into a grey wolf. The King got such a fright that he fell down where he stood, and Grey Wolf ran away and soon caught up with Prince Ivan.
“Now good-bye,” said he, “I can go no farther.”
Prince Ivan got off the horse, made three low bows, and humbly thanked Grey Wolf.
“Do not say good-bye for good, you may still have need of me,” said Grey Wolf.
“Why should I need him again?” thought Prince Ivan. “All my wishes have been fulfilled.”
He got on to Golden Mane’s back and rode on with Yelena the Fair and the Fire-Bird. When they reached his own country he decided to stop for a bite to eat. He had a little bread with him, and they drank fresh water from the spring. Then they lay down to rest.
No sooner did Prince Ivan fall asleep than his brothers came by and almost rode him down. They had been to other lands in search of the Fire-Bird, and were now coming home empty-handed.
When they saw that Prince Ivan had got everything, they said:
“Let us kill our brother Ivan, and all his spoils will be ours.”
And with that they killed Prince Ivan. Then they got on Golden Mane’s back, took the Fire-Bird, seated Yelena the Fair on a horse and said:
“See that you say not a word about this at home!”
So there lay poor Ivan on the ground, with the ravens circling over his head. All of a sudden Grey Wolf came by and seized a Raven and her fledgling.
“Fly and fetch me dead and living water, Raven,” said the Wolf. “If you do, I shall let your nestling go.”
The Raven flew off—what else could she do?—while the Wolf held her fledgling. By and by she came back with dead and living water. Grey Wolf sprinkled the dead water on Prince Ivan’s wounds and they healed. Then he sprinkled him with the living water and he came back to life.
“My, I slept like the dead!” said Prince Ivan.
“Aye,” said Grey Wolf, “and but for me you would never have wakened. Your own brothers killed you and took away all your treasures. Get on to my back, quick.”
Off they went in hot pursuit and caught the two brothers up. Grey Wolf tore them to bits and scattered the bits over the field.
Prince Ivan bowed to Grey Wolf and took leave of him for good.
Then Prince Ivan rode home on the Horse with the Golden Mane and brought his father the Fire-Bird and himself a bride—Yelena the Fair.
King Berendei was ever so pleased and asked his son many questions. Prince Ivan told him how Grey Wolf had helped him, and how his brothers had killed him while he slept and Grey Wolf had torn them to bits.
At first King Berendei was sorely grieved, but he soon got over it. And Prince Ivan married Yelena the Fair and they lived happily ever after.