There was once upon a time a lark who was the Tsar among the birds, and he took unto himself as his Tsaritsa a little shrew-mouse. They had a field all to themselves, which they sowed with wheat, and when the wheat grew up they divided it between them, when they found that there was one grain over! The mouse said, “Let me have it!” But the lark said, “No, let me have it!”––“What’s to be done?” thought they. They would have liked to take counsel of some one, but they had no parents or kinsmen, nobody at all to whom they could go and ask advice in the matter. At last the mouse said, “At any rate, let me have the first nibble!” The lark Tsar agreed to this; but the little mouse fastened her teeth in it and ran off into her hole with it, and there ate it all up. At this the Tsar lark was wrath, and collected all the birds of the air to make war upon the mouse Tsaritsa; but the Tsaritsa called together all the beasts to defend her, and so the war began. Whenever the beasts came rushing out of the wood to tear the birds to pieces, the birds flew up into the trees; but the birds kept in the air, and hacked and pecked the beasts wherever they could. Thus they fought the whole day, and in the evening they lay down to rest. Now when the Tsaritsa looked around upon her forces, she saw that the ant was taking no part in the war. She immediately went and commanded the ant to be there by evening, and when the ant came, the Tsaritsa ordered her to climb up the trees with her kinsmen and bite off the feathers round the birds’ wings.
Next day, when there was light enough to see by, the mouse Tsaritsa cried, “Up, up, my warriors!” Thereupon the birds also rose up, and immediately fell to the ground, where the beasts tore them to bits. So the Tsaritsa overcame the Tsar. But there was one eagle who saw there was something wrong, so he did not try to fly, but remained sitting on the tree. And lo! there came an archer along that way, and seeing the eagle on the tree, he took aim at it; but the eagle besought him and said, “Do not kill me, and I’ll be of great service to thee!” The archer aimed a second time, but the eagle besought him still more and said, “Take me down rather and keep me, and thou shalt see that it will be to thy advantage.” The archer, however, took aim a third time, but the eagle began to beg of him most piteously, “Nay, kill me not, but take me home with thee, and thou shalt see what great advantage it will be to thee!” The archer believed the bird. He climbed up the tree, took the eagle down, and carried it home. Then the eagle said to him, “Put me in a hut, and feed me with flesh till my wings have grown again.”
Now this archer had two cows and a steer, and he at once killed and cut up one of the cows for the eagle. The eagle fed upon this cow for a full year, and then he said to the archer, “Let me go, that I may fly. I see that my wings have already grown again!” Then the archer let him loose from the hut. The eagle flew round and round, he flew about for half a day, and then he returned to the archer and said, “I feel I have but little strength in me, slay me another cow!” And the archer obeyed him, and slew the second cow, and the eagle lived upon that for yet another year. Again the eagle flew round and round in the air. He flew round and about the whole day till evening, when he returned to the archer and said, “I am stronger than I was, but I have still but little strength in me, slay me the steer also!” Then the man thought to himself, “What shall I do? Shall I slay it, or shall I not slay it?” At last he said, “Well! I’ve sacrificed more than this before, so let this go too!” and he took the steer and slaughtered it for the eagle. Then the eagle lived upon this for another whole year longer, and after that he took to flight, and flew high up right to the very clouds. Then he flew down again to the man and said to him, “I thank thee, brother, for that thou hast been the saving of me! Come now and sit upon me!”––“Nay, but,” said the man, “what if some evil befall me?”––“Sit on me, I say!” cried the eagle. So the archer sat down upon the bird.
Then the eagle bore him nearly as high as the big clouds, and then let him fall. Down plumped the man; but the eagle did not let him fall to the earth, but swiftly flew beneath him and upheld him, and said to him, “How dost thou feel now?”––“I feel,” said the man, “as if I had no life in me.”––Then the eagle replied, “That was just how I felt when thou didst aim at me the first time.” Then he said to him, “Sit on my back again!” The man did not want to sit on him, but what could he do? Sit he must. Then the eagle flew with him quite as high as the big clouds, and shook him off, and down he fell headlong till he was about two fathoms from the ground, when the bird again flew beneath him and held him up. Again the eagle asked him, “How dost thou feel?” And the man replied, “I feel just as if all my bones were already broken to bits!”––“That is just how I felt when thou didst take aim at me the second time,” replied the eagle. “But now sit on my back once more.” The man did so, and the eagle flew with him as high as the small fleecy clouds, and then he shook him off, and down he fell headlong; but when he was but a hand’s-breadth from the earth, the eagle again flew beneath him and held him up, and said to him, “How dost thou feel now?” And he replied, “I feel as if I no longer belonged to this world!”––“That is just how I felt when thou didst aim at me the third time,” replied the eagle. “But now,” continued the bird, “thou art guilty no more. We are quits. I owe thee naught, and thou owest naught to me; so sit on my back again, and I’ll take thee to my master.”
They flew on and on, they flew till they came to the eagle’s uncle. And the eagle said to the archer, “Go to my house, and when they ask thee, ‘Hast thou not seen our poor child?’ reply, ‘Give me the magic egg, and I’ll bring him before your eyes!’” So he went to the house, and there they said to him, “Hast thou heard of our poor child with thine ears, or seen him with thine eyes, and hast thou come hither willingly or unwillingly?”––And he answered, “I have come hither willingly!”––Then they asked, “Hast thou smelt out anything of our poor youngster? for it is three years now since he went to the wars, and there’s neither sight nor sound of him more!”––And he answered, “Give me the magic egg, and I’ll bring him straightway before your eyes!”––Then they replied, “’Twere better we never saw him than that we should give thee the magic egg!”––Then he went back to the eagle and said to him, “They said, ‘’Twere better we never saw him than that we should give thee the magic egg.’”––Then the eagle answered, “Let us fly on farther!”
They flew on and on till they came to the eagle’s brother, and the archer said just the same to him as he had said to the eagle’s uncle, and still he didn’t get the egg. Then they flew to the eagle’s father, and the eagle said to him, “Go up to the hut, and if they ask for me, say that thou hast seen me and will bring me before their eyes.”––So he went up to the hut, and they said to him, “O Tsarevich, we hear thee with our ears and see thee with our eyes, but hast thou come hither of thine own free will or by the will of another?”––And the archer answered, “I have come hither of my own free will!”––Then they asked him, “Hast thou seen our son? Lo, these four years we have not had news of him. He went off to the wars, and perchance he has been slain there.”––And he answered them, “I have seen him, and if you will give me the magic egg, I will bring him before your eyes.”––And the eagle’s father said to him, “What good will such a thing do thee? We had better give thee the lucky penny!”––But he answered, “I don’t want the lucky penny, give me the magic egg!”––“Come hither then,” said he, “and thou shalt have it.” So he went into the hut. Then the eagle’s father rejoiced and gave him the egg, and said to him, “Take heed thou dost not break it anywhere on the road, and when thou gettest home, hedge it round and build a strong fence about it, and it will do thee good.”
So he went homeward. He went on and on till a great thirst came upon him. So he stopped at the first spring he came to, and as he stooped to drink he stumbled and the magic egg was broken. Then he perceived that an ox had come out of the egg and was rolling away. He gave chase to the ox, but whenever he was getting close to one side of it, the other side of it got farther away from him. Then the poor fellow cried, “I shall do nothing with it myself, I see.”––At that moment an old she-dragon came up to him and said, “What wilt thou give me, O man, if I chase this ox back again into the egg for thee?”––And the archer replied, “What can I give?”––The dragon said to him, “Give me what thou hast at home without thy will and wit!”––“Done!” said the archer. Then the dragon chased the ox nicely into the egg again, patched it up prettily and gave it into the man’s hand. Then the archer went home, and when he got home he found a son had been born to him there, and his son said to him, “Why didst thou give me to the old she-dragon, dad? But never mind, I’ll manage to live in spite of her.” Then the father was very grieved for a time, but what could he do? Now the name of this son was Ivan.
So Ivan lost no time in going to the dragon, and the dragon said to him, “Go to my house and do me three tasks, and if thou dost them not, I’ll devour thee.” Now, round the dragon’s house was a large meadow as far as the eye could reach. And the dragon said to him, “Thou must in a single night weed out this field and sow wheat in it, and reap the wheat and store it, all in this very night; and thou must bake me a roll out of this self-same wheat, and the roll must be lying ready for me on my table in the morning.”
Then Ivan went and leaned over the fence, and his heart within him was sore troubled. Now near to him there was a post, and on this post was the dragon’s starveling daughter. So when he came thither and fell a-weeping, she asked him, “Wherefore dost thou weep?”––And he said, “How can I help weeping? The dragon has bidden me do something I can never, never do; and what is more, she has bidden me do it in a single night.”––“What is it, pray?” asked the dragon’s daughter. Then he told her. “Not every bush bears a berry!” cried she. “Promise to take me to wife, and I’ll do all she has bidden thee do.” He promised, and then she said to him again, “Now go and lie down, but see that thou art up early in the morning to bring her her roll.” Then she went to the field, and before one could whistle she had cleaned it of weeds and harrowed it and sown it with wheat, and by dawn she had reaped the wheat and cooked the roll and brought it to him, and said, “Now, take it to her hut and put it on her table.”
Then the old she-dragon awoke and came to the door, and was amazed at the sight of the field, which was now all stubble, for the corn had been cut. Then she said to Ivan, “Yes, thou hast done the work well. But now, see that thou doest my second task.” Then she gave him her second command. “Dig up that mountain yonder and let the Dnieper flow over the site of it, and there build a store-house, and in the store-house stack the wheat that thou hast reaped, and sell this wheat to the merchant barques that sail by, and everything must be done by the time I get up early next morning!” Then he again went to the fence and wept, and the maiden said to him, “Why dost thou weep?” and he told her all that the she-dragon had bidden him do. “There are lots of bushes, but where are the berries? Go and lie down, and I’ll do it all for thee.” Then she whistled, and the mountain was levelled and the Dnieper flowed over the site of it, and round about the Dnieper store-houses rose up, and then she came and woke him that he might go and sell the wheat to the merchant barques that sailed by that way, and when the she-dragon rose up early in the morning she was amazed to see that everything had been done which she had commanded him.
Then she gave him her third command. “This night thou must catch the golden hare, and bring it to me by the morning light.” Again he went to the fence and fell a-weeping. And the girl asked him, “Why art thou weeping?”––He said to her, “She has ordered me to catch her the golden hare.”––“Oh, oh!” cried the she-dragon’s daughter, “the berries are ripening now; only her father knows how to catch such a hare as that. Nevertheless, I’ll go to a rocky place I know of, and there perchance we shall be able to catch it.” So they went to this rocky place together, and she said to him, “Stand over that hole. I’ll go in and chase him out of the hole, and do thou catch him as he comes out; but mind, whatever comes out of the hole, seize it, for it will be the golden hare.”
So she went and began beating up, and all at once out came a snake and hissed, and he let it go. Then she came out of the hole and said to him, “What! has nothing come out?”––“Well,” said he, “only a snake, and I was afraid it would bite me, so I let it go.”––“What hast thou done?” said she; “that was the very hare itself. Look now!” said she, “I’ll go in again, and if any one comes out and tells you that the golden hare is not here, don’t believe it, but hold him fast.” So she crept into the hole again and began to beat for game, and out came an old woman, who said to the youth, “What art thou poking about there for?”––And he said to her, “For the golden hare.”––She said to him, “It is not here, for this is a snake’s hole,” and when she had said this she went away. Presently the girl also came out and said to him, “What! hast thou not got the hare? Did nothing come out then?”––“No,” said he, “nothing but an old woman who asked me what I was seeking, and I told her the golden hare, and she said, ‘It is not here,’ so I let her go.”––Then the girl replied, “Why didst thou not lay hold of her? for she was the very golden hare itself, and now thou never wilt catch it unless I turn myself into a hare and thou take and lay me on the table, and give me into my mother’s, the she-dragon’s hands, and go away, for if she find out all about it she will tear the pair of us to pieces.”
So she changed herself into a hare, and he took and laid her on the table, and said to the she-dragon, “There’s thy hare for thee, and now let me go away!” She said to him, “Very well––be off!” Then he set off running, and he ran and ran as hard as he could. Soon after, the old she-dragon discovered that it was not the golden hare, but her own daughter, so she set about chasing after them to destroy them both, for the daughter had made haste in the meantime to join Ivan. But as the she-dragon couldn’t run herself, she sent her husband, and he began chasing them, and they knew he was coming, for they felt the earth trembling beneath his tread. Then the she-dragon’s daughter said to Ivan, “I hear him running after us. I’ll turn myself into standing wheat and thee into an old man guarding me, and if he ask thee, ‘Hast thou seen a lad and a lass pass by this way?’ say to him, ‘Yes, they passed by this way while I was sowing this wheat!’”
A little while afterward the she-dragon’s husband came flying up. “Have a lad and a lass passed by this way?” said he. “Yes,” replied the old man, “they have.”––“Was it long ago?” asked the she-dragon’s husband.––“It was while this wheat was being sown,” replied the old man.––“Oh!” thought the dragon, “this wheat is ready for the sickle, they couldn’t have been this way yesterday,” so he turned back. Then the she-dragon’s daughter turned herself back into a maiden and the old man into a youth, and off they set again. But the dragon returned home, and the she-dragon asked him, “What! hast thou not caught them or met them on the road?”––“Met them, no!” said he. “I did, indeed, pass on the road some standing wheat and an old man watching it, and I asked the old man if he had seen a lad and a lass pass by that way, and he said, ‘Yes, while this wheat was being sown,’ but the wheat was quite ripe for the sickle, so I knew it was a long while ago and turned back.”––“Why didst thou not tear that old man and the wheat to pieces?” cried the she-dragon; “it was they! Be off after them again, and mind, this time tear them to pieces without fail.”
So the dragon set off after them again, and they heard him coming from afar, for the earth trembled beneath him, so the damsel said to Ivan, “He’s coming again, I hear him; now I’ll change myself into a monastery, so old that it will be almost falling to pieces, and I’ll change thee into an old black monk at the gate, and when he comes up and asks, ‘Hast thou seen a lad and a lass pass this way?’ say to him, ‘Yes, they passed by this way when this monastery was being built.’” Soon afterward the dragon came flying past, and asked the monk, “Hast thou seen a lad and a lass pass by this way?”––“Yes,” he replied, “I saw them what time the holy fathers began to build this monastery.” The dragon thought to himself, “That was not yesterday! This monastery has stood a hundred years if it has stood a day, and won’t stand much longer either,” and with that he turned him back. When he got home, he said to the she-dragon, his wife, “I met a black monk who serves in a monastery, and I asked him about them, and he told me that a lad and a lass had run past that way when the monastery was being built, but that was not yesterday, for the monastery is a hundred years old at the very least.”––“Why didst thou not tear the black monk to pieces and pull down the monastery? for ’twas they. But I see I must go after them myself, thou art no good at all.”
So off she set and ran and ran, and they knew she was coming, for the earth quaked and yawned beneath her. Then the damsel said to Ivan, “I fear me ’tis all over, for she is coming herself! Look now! I’ll change thee into a stream and myself into a fish––a perch.” Immediately after the she-dragon came up and said to the perch, “Oh, oh! so thou wouldst run away from me, eh!” Then she turned herself into a pike and began chasing the perch, but every time she drew near to it, the perch turned its prickly fins toward her, so that she could not catch hold of it. So she kept on chasing it and chasing it, but finding she could not catch it, she tried to drink up the stream, till she drank so much of it that she burst.
Then the maiden who had become a fish said to the youth who had become a river, “Now that we are alive and not dead, go back to thy lord-father and thy father’s house and see them, and kiss them all except the daughter of thy uncle, for if thou kiss that damsel thou wilt forget me, and I shall go to the land of Nowhere.” So he went home and greeted them all, and as he did so he thought to himself, “Why should I not greet my uncle’s daughter like the rest of them? Why, they’ll think me a mere pagan if I don’t!” So he kissed her, and the moment he did so he forgot all about the girl who had saved him.
So he remained there half a year, and then bethought him of taking to himself a wife. So they betrothed him to a very pretty girl, and he accepted her and forgot all about the other girl who had saved him from the dragon, though she herself was the she-dragon’s daughter. Now the evening before the wedding they heard a young damsel crying Shishki (wedding cakes) in the streets. They called to the young damsel to go away, or say who she was, for nobody knew her. But the damsel answered never a word, but began to knead more cakes, and made a cock-dove and a hen-dove out of the dough and put them down on the ground, and they became alive. And the hen-dove said to the cock-dove, “Hast thou forgotten how I cleared the field for thee, and sowed it with wheat, and thou mad’st a roll from the corn which thou gavest to the she-dragon?”––But the cock-dove answered, “Forgotten! forgotten!”––Then she said to him again, “And hast thou forgotten how I dug away the mountain for thee, and let the Dnieper flow by it that the merchant barques might come to thy store-houses, and that thou mightst sell thy wheat to the merchant barques?” But the cock-dove replied, “Forgotten! forgotten!”––Then the hen-dove said to him again, “And hast thou forgotten how we two went together in search of the golden hare? Hast thou forgotten me then altogether?”––And the cock-dove answered again, “Forgotten! forgotten!” Then the good youth Ivan bethought him who this damsel was that had made the doves, and he took her to his arms and made her his wife, and they lived happily ever afterward.