The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse (1) by Simon R Gladdish & Vladimir Grounine





The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse was written by a Russian named Peter Ershov at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was a children’s fairy tale, skillfully written in rhyming couplets. When I was teaching English at The British Council in Kuwait, Vladimir was my next-door neighbour. He turned out to be a real Russian who had studied linguistics and literature at Moscow University. When he found out that I too had studied Russian at university, he suggested that we do some translating together and he proposed that we commence with The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse. Because we were both busy with other commitments at the time it took about a year to complete. Although it is not quite the first translation of Ershov, we both agree that it is one of the best. We hope that you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

The right of Simon R. Gladdish and Vladimir Grounine to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Dedicated to my wife Rusty and to Vladimir’s wife Elena and daughter Anastasia.


Behind the mountains and the forests,
Beyond wide oceans and broad seas,
Against the sky, upon the earth
There lived an old man in a village
The doting father of three sons.
The tallest one was smart enough
The middle sibling quick to bluff,
The youngest one an utter fool,
Too dim to even go to school.
The brothers grew and gathered wheat
Then took it to the nearest town.
They sold the wheat for quite a stash
And returned home with ready cash.

After a long or maybe a short time
Misfortune overtook them.
Somebody was visiting their field
For the freshly-grown wheat
Was all trampled and spoiled.
Such bad luck had never befallen them before.
They started racking their brains
How to capture the thief
And finally decided to go on guard
And lie in wait for the evildoer.

So, as it grew dark
The oldest brother began to get ready.
He took his pitchfork and his axe
And went on guard.
The weather was bad and he was scared.
Because of his fear
He hid himself in a haystack.
Night concluded, day dawned.
The guard wriggled out of the haystack
And poured a pail of water over himself.
He went home and banged
At the door of the house:
‘Wake up! Wake up! You sleepy-heads.
To keep me standing here’s a sin.
The rain has soaked me to the skin.
Open the door and let me in!’
His brothers opened the door
And let the guard in.
They started to ask him:
‘Did you see anything?’
The guard crossed himself
Then bowed from left to right
And clearing his throat, muttered
‘I didn’t sleep all night.
And to add to my misfortune,
The weather, it was shocking.
The rain was raining with all its might,
Look, my shirt is sopping wet
And it was so boring, nothing happened.
In short, everything’s alright.’
His father praised him:
‘You, Danilo are an excellent chap,
Your behaviour has been very good.
Although you went through a difficult time,
You kept your face out of the mud.’

Again it grew dark.
The middle brother began to prepare himself
And went on guard.
The night turned cold.
He started shivering and his teeth began dancing
So he ran like a rabbit
And all night long was the watchful guard
Of his female neighbour’s fence.
The brave young man was terrified.
But now it’s already morning:
And he is near the porch:
‘Wake up! Wake up! You sleepy-heads.
To keep me standing here’s a sin.
Open the door and let me in!
I was keeping guard alone
And now I’m frozen to the bone.’
The brothers opened the door
And admitted the guard.
They started to ask him:
‘Did you see anything?’
The guard crossed himself
And bowed to left and right
And muttered through clenched teeth:
‘I didn’t sleep all night
And to add to my misfortune,
It was freezing till first light.
The cold has chilled my heart,
I was shivering like a kite.
It was terribly inconvenient,
But everything is alright.’
And to him also, his father said:
‘You too, Gavrilo are a fine, upstanding sight.’

The third time it grew dark,
The youngest one should go.
But instead of taking his turn
He sits on the oven singing
‘Your beautiful dark eyes’
With all of his feeble force.
His brothers start to blame him
And push him towards the field
And shout at him for ages
But only lose their voice.
He doesn’t stir from his place.
At last their father comes to him and says:
‘Listen. Go on guard, Vanyushka
And I will buy you a pretty picture
And give you some sweet peas and beans.’
Finally he moves from the stove,
Puts on his coat
Wedges a hunk of bread next to his breast
And goes on guard.

Night set in; the crescent moon arose.
Ivan is patrolling the field looking around.
Then ensconced beneath a bush
He starts counting the stars in the sky
And nibbling at his piece of bread.
Suddenly, in the middle of the night
A horse starts neighing.
Our guard half rose
Peered beneath his hand
And spied a pretty filly
As white as winter snow.
Her gold mane of tiny curly rings
Even reached the ground.
‘Ah ha! I see who our thief is.
Stay still. Stop playing games.
I can easily climb on your back.

Look at this locust.
Don’t worry. I’ll catch you!’
He said, and when he had the chance
He ran up to the filly, seized her curly tail
And leapt upon her back;
The only problem being
He was sitting back to front!
The filly was a yearling
With a mad gleam in her eye.
Her neck was writhing like a snake
And she started to fly like an arrow.
She galloped around the field
And flew above the ditches,
Bucking like a bronco over the mountains
Rearing on her hind legs through the woods.
She is determined by hook or by crook
To lose her unwelcome passenger
But Ivan is no pushover
And tightly grips her tail.

At last the horse is tired.
‘Well, Ivan’ she says,
‘Since you’ve managed to tame me,
You should be my master.
Give me space to live in peace
And take care of me as far as possible.
But for three days
Let me walk round an empty field.
After three days I shall bring you two horses.
Such horses as have never been seen before.
And I will bring you a small horse also,
Less than a foot high.
He will have long floppy ears and two humps on his back.
But keep him close no matter what;
Exchange him not for belt nor hat
Nor for dice.
On the earth and under it,
He will always be your friend.
He will bring you heat in winter
And will cool you down in summer.
In hunger he will give you bread
And when you’re thirsty will supply you mead.
As for me, I’ll go to the field now
And use your fence to make my escape.’
‘Well’, thinks Ivan and drives the filly
Into the shepherd’s hut,
Blocking the entrance with a sheepskin
And only when day breaks
Returns to the village loudly singing
‘A youth was promenading around Presnya’.

Here he is. He goes up to the porch.
Now he grabs the bell
And bangs the door with all his force
Almost dislodging the roof
And yelling for all to hear
As if there was a fire.
His brothers leap from the bench
Stammering and shouting:
‘Who is knocking so hard?’
‘It’s me! Ivan the fool!’
The brothers open the door
And let him in.
Then they start blaming him
For daring to scare them so.
But our Ivan does not remove
Either his bast shoes or his coat.
He goes directly to the stove
And from there begins to talk
About his nocturnal sojourn,
Surprising all who listened.
‘All night long I didn’t sleep.
I was counting the stars.
The crescent moon too was shining in the sky
But I couldn’t be sure exactly.
Suddenly the devil appeared
With long moustaches and bristly beard.
He had a mug like a cat
And eyes like dinner plates.
And this devil started leaping around
And flattening the wheat with his tail.
I wasn’t in the mood for joking
So I jumped up onto his neck.
How he dragged me! He nearly killed me!
As for me, I’m nobody’s fool.
Look at me! I was gripping him like a vice.
The cunning devil was fighting and fighting
Until he began begging
‘Don’t destroy me from the earth!
And in exchange I give my word
I’ll live in peace and not disturb believers’.
As for me, I didn’t argue.
I trusted this devil’.
At this point the narrator stopped speaking,
Yawned and fell asleep.
Although his brothers were furious
They couldn’t stop laughing
Holding their stomachs
At the fool’s story.
Even his father
Was forced to laugh
Until the tears rolled down his cheeks.
(Although for old people to laugh
Is often regarded as a sin.)
A long time or less
Had passed that night.
I can’t say because
No-one has told me
But what does it matter?
A year passed or two.
We shouldn’t chase after them.
Instead, let’s continue with our story.

So what’s going on?
Enter Danilo. It’s a feast day.
He is very drunk and merry
And dragging himself into the shepherd’s hut.
What does he see?
Two gorgeous horses with golden manes
And one toy horse less than a foot high
With two humps on his back and long floppy ears.
‘Ha! At last I know why the fool was sleeping here’.
Says Danilo to himself.
Astonishment sobers him up.
Now he runs home and says to Gavrilo:
‘Go and look how our fool has got hold of
Two beautiful horses with flowing gold manes.
You won’t believe your eyes!’
So Danilo and Gavrilo run barefoot
As fast as they can
Straight through a field of stinging nettles.

Stumbling three times,
Rubbing their swollen eyes
And weaving left and right
They enter the home of the three horses.
The horses neighed and snorted.
Their eyes rolled, red as rubies,
Their gold tails streaming
With their tight, tiny curls
And their diamond hoofs
Inlaid with pearls.
So exquisite they are,
Fit only for a Tsar!
The brothers stared so hard,
They almost went cross-eyed.
‘Where on earth has he got them from?’
The eldest asked the middle one.
‘But it’s often been said
That only fools find treasure.
As for us, we work hard
And don’t receive even two roubles.
So, Gavrilo, next week
Let’s take them to the capital.
There we’ll sell them to some Boyars
And split the profit fifty-fifty.
And with money as you well know
We can drink and have some fun
And fill our purses up with coin.
The holy fool will never guess
Why his colts are on a visit.
Let him seek them here and there,
Let him seek them everywhere!
So, my friend, let’s do a deal.’
The brothers straightaway agreed.
Hugged each other, crossed each other
And then walked home talking excitedly
About the strange steeds.

Time is going and going,
Hour after hour, day after day
And the following week
The brothers travel to the city capital
To sell their ill-gotten gains
And ask at the quayside
If the Germans hadn’t come
With ships laden with fabrics
Or whether Tsar Sultan had arrived
To convert Christians into Moslems.
So the brothers prayed before icons
And received blessings from their father.
They took the horses secretly
And quietly left.

Now evening turns to night,
Ivan prepares to go to sleep.
He walks along the street
Eating a piece of bread and singing.
He approaches the field,
Puts his hands on his hips
And pirouetting like a Polish landlord
Enters the shepherd’s hut.

Everything was as before
Except the horses had disappeared.
Only the toy horse was rubbing his legs,
Dancing and flapping his ears with joy.
Ivan started crying
Supporting himself against the hut wall.
‘Didn’t I pet you my friends?
So what kind of demon stole you?
Let him die like a dog!
Let him die in a ditch!
Let him fall from a bridge
In the other world!
Oh my shining horses!
My dear golden steeds!’
At this the toy horse neighed:
‘Don’t worry Ivan’ he said.
‘It’s a predicament, I agree
But I can help you with this problem.
Don’t blame the devil,
Your brothers stole the horses.
But why speak in vain?
My Ivanushka, keep cool,
Sit on me as soon as you can
And hold on tight.
Although I’m not so big
I can overtake any horse
And when I really start to fly
I can even catch the devil.’

Now the horse lay down in front of Ivan
Who sat on him, grabbed his ears
And rode with all his might.
The hunchbacked horse shook himself,
Stood on his hind-legs, roused himself
Tossed his mane and snorted.
After that he flew like an arrow,
Only dust was underfoot
Like a rushing wind.
And in two seconds or even one
Our Ivan had caught the crooks.

The brothers were terrified.
They started to scratch themselves and cower
As Ivan began to shout:
‘Shame on you to steal my stallions!
Even though you’re cleverer than me,
I am more honest and never stole those horses.’
The oldest one replied:
‘Dear brother Ivasha, why should we lie to you?’
Yes we did, but you must take into account
How we’ve been living up till now.
We planted a lot of wheat
But only harvested a bit
And when it’s not growing we will all die.
So because of this misfortune,
I consulted with Gavrilo all last night
How best to salvage the situation.
We were thinking this and that
And finally decided
To take and sell your horses
For at least a thousand roubles.
And in order to please you
We were going to get you something new
A red hat with a bell and a pair of high-heeled boots.
Please, you have to bear in mind our father
Who isn’t well and cannot work.
We all need to live, you know,
Consider this and let us go.’
‘If this is so then you may go
And sell the gold-maned colts
But you must take me with you’.
The brothers looked at him askance
And had no choice but to agree.

The sky grew dark and cold again
So they decided there to stay
In order not to lose their way.
To the branches of the trees
They tied the horses,
Brought out a sack of sweetmeats,
Drank a little wine and started to relax.

Suddenly Danilo saw a light nearby,
Looked at Gavrilo, winked his left eye
And quietly cleared his throat
Pointing to the light.
Then the other scratched his head:
‘It is very dark’ he said.
‘It would be nice if the moon just for fun
Put in an appearance.
It would be better but as things stand,
We are crouching worse than grouse.
But you know what I can see-
A plume of pale smoke not far off.
Look, Gavrilo, it would be good
To build a fire and light a pipe.
That would be quite wonderful.
So, Vanyushka, why don’t you go
Because as I say, I have no flint’.
But Danilo thinks to himself:
‘It would be good to kill you there.’
And Gavrilo says to himself as well:
‘Who knows what’s behind the light,
Maybe robbers are camped the night.
If so we have reason to rejoice,
Because he will be killed.’

For the fool, everything is simple.
He sat down on the toy horse,
Spurred him on and shook him up
Shouting at the top of his voice.
The horse gathered speed and disappeared.
‘May God be with us’ Gavrilo cried.
‘What kind of devil has Ivan found?’

The light becomes brighter and brighter,
The hunchbacked horse runs faster and faster.
Now he halts in front of the light
Which illuminates the field like day.
Everywhere is bright as white
But there is neither smoke nor heat.
Ivan was amazed.
‘So what is Satan up to?
This light is as big as five hats
But there is neither heat nor smoke
So it must be a miracle!’

The toy horse says to him:
‘It’s a miracle, that’s true.
It’s a feather from a fire bird
But don’t, for good luck, touch the feather,
Let me warn you if you do,
Many ills will follow you.’
‘Tell me stories but I know the truth’
Says the young fool to himself.
He takes the firebird’s feather,
Wraps it up and puts it in his hat
Before riding his horse back.
Now he has returned to his brothers
And is answering their questions.
‘When I reached the place we saw,
I found a smouldering tree trunk.
I was trying, trying, trying,
I almost died trying to get it going
But unfortunately it went out.’
All night long they couldn’t sleep,
Laughing, joking fit to weep.
Ivan lay underneath the cart
Loudly snoring until morning.

So now they ride the horses
Into the capital
Through the market
And stop near the Tsar’s palace.

According to the laws of the capital
It is forbidden to buy or sell
Without the proclamation of the mayor.
Now morning service in the church is over
The lord mayor appears with a hundred guards
In his pantoufles and fur hat.
Next to him a town crier appeared
With a long moustache and bushy beard.
After blowing his golden horn
He cries out in his loudest voice:
‘Dear guests please open your shops.
Begin to buy and sell and start your business.
As for the guards, your job is to keep order,
Keep an eye on things and don’t allow any greedy merchants
To cheat the paying public.’
Now the vendors open up
And ask the folk to come and buy:
‘Hey you people, welcome here!
We have this and we have that!
Choicest goods and finest wares!’
Shoppers come and spend their cash.
The vendors grin and count their takings,
Winking at the guards.

Soon the lord mayor’s troops
Arrive at the horse fair
And see the place is chock-a-block
With neither exit nor entrance.
People are swarming like ants
Laughing, shouting, having fun.
The lord mayor is surprised by this
And orders his guards
To clear the road.
‘Hey you cattle, get out of the way!’
His heralds begin to shout
And start to lash the crowd.
People move, remove their hats
Give way and bow their heads.

Now they can see the pair of horses
Young and black with golden manes
And flowing golden tails
Composed of tightly curling rings.
The lord mayor was no longer young
And spent ages scratching the back of his head.
‘What a miracle!’ he said.
‘There are wonders in this world.’
All the guards bowed and were moved
By this wise speech.
Afterwards the lord mayor said
Not to sell a single steed,
Not to shout and not to stare
Until he went to the palace itself
And gave a report to the Tsar.
He left behind a group of guards
And went to file his report.

Now we see him in the palace:
‘Please pardon me, Father Tsar!’
Says the lord mayor falling to his knees.
‘Please don’t punish me! Let me speak!
The Tsar replies:
‘Make sure you make a pretty speech’.
Now the lord mayor says:
‘I will speak as well as I am able.
I am lord mayor of this city
And a true and honest servant’.
‘Yes I know. Get on with it!’
‘And today I took the guards
And visited the horse fair in the market.
When I arrived there was a crowd
Granting neither entrance nor exit.
What could I do, so I ordered the people
To disperse and not disturb the peace.
So that’s what I did my Tsar, my hope!
And what did I see?
In front of me were a pair of horses,
Young and black with golden manes
And streaming tails with golden curls
And diamond hoofs inlaid with pearls.’

The Tsar became impatient and said:
‘We must go and see these steeds.
It would be good to own them.
Hey you! Fetch my carriage!’
Here’s the carriage near the door.
The Tsar washes his face,
Dons his most dignified apparel
And goes to market with the guards.

He is now at the horse fair.
All the people fall on their knees
And start shouting: ‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’
The Tsar gives the king’s wave
And briefly greets them
Then jumps from his carriage like a young man.
He stares straight at the horses,
Walks round them, whispers pretty words,
Pats them gently on the back,
Caresses their necks and strokes their golden manes.
When he’s finished he asks the people
‘Who’s the owner of these stallions?’
Now Ivan, hands on hips and arms akimbo
Appears from behind his brothers and
Puffing out his chest announces:
‘This pair belongs to me and I am also the owner.’
‘So, this pair I wish to buy. Would you like to sell?’
‘No, I want to change them?’
‘What do you want in exchange?’
‘Five times two pieces of purest silver.’ ‘Do you mean ten?’
The Tsar ordered his manservant to give him the silver
And generously added an extra five roubles.
He was delighted by the deal.

The Tsar’s grey-haired grooms led the horses
Home to the royal stables.
All the grooms wore golden ribbons,
Coloured belts and carried whips
Of the finest morocco leather.
But on the road home
The stallions knocked them down like skittles,
Tore their bridles and cantered back to Ivan.
The Tsar returned to Ivan and said:
‘Brother. Your pair won’t surrender to my servants.
The only solution is for you is to come and live
In my palace and serve me .
Although I’ve plucked you from the gutter,
Your life will turn like cheese in butter,
In luxury, complete and utter.
You will be the royal groom
And I’ll place all my horses beneath your command,
My royal word is my bond.
Do you agree?’
‘So, what’s the deal?
I will live in a palace,
Wear golden stuff and fine clothes.
I will turn like cheese in butter.
And it means that from a kitchen garden
I will become a man of property.
Well, this is strange but let it be.
Sir, I will serve you with all my heart,
Only, please don’t beat me
And give me plenty of time to sleep,
Or else you’ll never see me.’

Afterwards he called his horses
And wandered through the capital,
Swinging his arm and singing;
The horses dancing to his song
And the toy horse too, dancing along
Surprising all who saw them.

As for his brothers,
They sewed their royal windfall
Into their scarves and belts,
Toasted their good fortune and went home.
They divided the money,
Got married immediately,
Began to live well and remembered Ivan.

Now let us leave them and resume our story
For orthodox Christians and good people everywhere.
So, what happened to Ivan during his royal service
At the state stable?
How he was caught by the horse sprite;
How he slept on his feather from the firebird;
How he finally caught a firebird;
How he stole a foreign queen;
How he travelled in search of a ring;
How he became an ambassador in the sky;
How in a distant sun-lit land he sought forgiveness
For a whale from the ocean.
How, in addition to all this, he saved thirty ships;
How he avoided being cooked alive;
How he became extremely handsome-
In short, how he became a Tsar.


Russian proverb: The hare of speech outruns
The tortoise of reality.
(Easier said than done.)

The story starts from Ivan’s prank
With the black horse and the brown one
And the prophetic one.
Goats migrated to the sea;
The mountains were covered by woods;
The horse broke away from his golden reins
And rose up to the sun;
The wood is underfoot;
Nearby is a rain cloud and this cloud
Is spinning around the sky,
Sparkling and spilling thunderstorms.
All these words form part of our story,
So just be patient.
Our real tale will begin in a minute.
In the middle of the ocean
Is an island named Buyan.
On the island is a coffin,
Inside which there is a girl.
A nightingale is singing;
A bear is staring at something in the wood;
This is just a preface but now arrives our story.

So look, my dear people
At how our fine fellow
Has wormed his way into the palace.
How he serves in the royal stable
And never thinks about his father or brothers.
He has left them far behind.
He has beautiful clothes, handsome hats,
Burnished boots – not less than ten boxes!
He eats succulent sweets and sleeps as needs be,
His life is nothing but luxury!
After five weeks the royal valet found out.
We should mention that before Ivan came
This valet was chief groom and a Boyar.
So it’s hardly surprising that he was jealous.
He swore that he would drive Ivan from the palace
Or die in the attempt.
But to be on the safe side
He hid his evil intentions
By pretending to be deaf, dumb and half-blind,
But all the time thinks to himself:
‘Just you wait. I’ll kick you out,
Like a dog in the night, you filthy swine!’

So after five weeks the royal valet found out
That Ivan isn’t looking after the horses.
He doesn’t clean or groom them,
Yet none the less, they still look fresh,
Just as if they’ve been combed and washed.
Their manes are plaited,
Fringes, forelocks neatly brushed
And their coats are smooth as silk.
There are new oats in the manger,
So fresh they look as though they’re growing
And in the drinking bowls floats
Freshly dispensed liquid honey.
‘What’s happening?’ wonders the valet.
‘Perhaps the horse sprite’s visiting.
Let me lie awake tonight.
If only I could lose the fool,
I would say at the royal duma
That our royal groom is an infidel
Who is a black magician and evil,
Who shares his bread and salt with the devil;
Does not attend church, wears a Catholic crucifix
And devours meat during fast days.’

The same evening this valet
(Formerly the royal groom)
Secretly hid himself in the royal stable
Underneath a mound of barley.

Now it’s midnight.
His heart starts beating.
He is lying without breathing.
Only praying in his soul,
Hoping for a miracle.
Suddenly he hears
The doors creaking, the horses’ hoofs
As our hero enters the stable,
Locks the doors, removes his hat.
Puts it on the window-sill
Then takes from it a priceless treasure,
None other than the firebird’s feather!
Such an intense light appears,
The valet almost squeals with fear
And trembles till the barley spills.
But the royal groom doesn’t notice.
He positions the feather and commences
Washing the horses, cleaning them, combing them,
Plaiting their manes and singing different songs.
Now the valet’s teeth are chattering.
Barely alive, he stares at the horse sprite.
This midnight devil had neither horns nor beard
And was a big, strapping fellow,
Well- kempt with ribbons in his hair,
Gold braid on his shirt, boots made from chevron.
In fact, he looks exactly like Ivan!
What a miracle!
He looks again at the horse sprite.
‘So that’s it!’ he says to himself.
‘Tomorrow the Tsar will learn
What the fool has in his head.
Just wait till morning.
You’ll remember me!’
But Ivan is oblivious of the threat;
He plaits and plaits and sings as well.
When he’s finished he fills the manger with hay
And the drinking bowls with honey.
Then he yawns, replaces the feather in the fabric,
Takes his hat, places it under his ear
And falls asleep at the feet of his stallions.

Only when the sun rises,
Does the valet dare to move.
Ivan is snoring like a giant.
Quietly creeping past him,
He feels inside Ivan’s hat,
Grasps the feather and disappears.

The Tsar has just awoken
When the valet enters,
Bangs his forehead on the floor
And says to the Tsar in a sing-song voice.
‘Here am I standing in front of you.
I beg you not to kill me
But give me leave to speak.’
‘Have your say and don’t add anything’
Answers the Tsar, yawning,
‘If you lie, you will be whipped.’
The valet, summoning all his strength, continues:
‘Forgive me my Tsar. Spare me for the love of Christ.
My report is true. Our Ivan, as everyone knows,
Is keeping a secret from you, my father;
It is neither gold nor silver but a feather
From a firebird!,
‘Firebird! Damned fool! How dare he?
He thinks he’s rich. Wait a while you swine,
You’ll see. You shall not escape the lash!’
But the valet hasn’t finished;
Bowing and scraping, he continues:
‘He even boasts of bringing a firebird
To your room, if you so order, my dear Sire.’
And with these words the informer
Bends double like a hoop, approaches the bed,
Hands over the feather and bangs his forehead
Against the floor again.

The Tsar was amazed,
Stroked his beard, laughed to himself,
Tested the feather with his teeth,
Then placed it in a chest,
Shouted impatiently, waving his fist
‘Hey you! Bring me Ivan the fool!’

The courtiers ran to find Ivan,
Collided with each other and fell down.
Thee Tsar laughed like a drain.
Relieved, the courtiers exchanged glances
And did the same again.
This time the Tsar was so amused
He gave them each a hat.
At last they managed to depart
Without mishap.

They reached the stable, yanked open the doors,
Found Ivan and started belting him like a punchbag
But still he wouldn’t wake up.
Eventually a servant woke him
With a broom.
‘What on earth is going on?’
Cries out Ivan, standing up.
‘If I hit you with my whip,
You won’t wake me any more’
But the servants answer:
‘The Tsar asked us to wake you
And take you to him.’
‘Oh the Tsar. Then let me dress
And I will see him when I’m ready’.
He donned his kaftan,
Belted his scarf around his waist,
Washed his face and combed his hair,
Fixed his whip and looked as graceful as a swan.

Now Ivan appears before the Tsar,
Breathing deeply to keep his spirits up;
Grunts a couple of times and asks
‘Why did you want to wake me?’
The Tsar narrows his left eye
And rising to his full height roars:
‘Quiet! You should tell me by what right
You kept hold of royal treasure, by which I mean
The firebird’s feather!
What am I , Boyar or Tsar?
Answer me, accursed Tartar!’
Waving his hand, Ivan replied:
‘Wait a minute. Did I give you my hat?
So how on earth do you know about that?
Who are you? You must be a prophet.
So you can throw me into jail
Or, right now, order my death by flogging.
I don’t have any feather and that’s all.’
‘Tell me the truth or I’ll have you flogged!’
‘I’m trying to explain. There is no feather.’
The Tsar jumped from his bed, opened the chest
And produced the feather.
‘So, you tried to deny it. Don’t try to escape!’
Now Ivan starts trembling like a leaf in a gale
And drops his hat.
The Tsar says:
‘My friend, you are in a difficult position. Let’s see.’
‘Please forgive me! I am guilty.
Please pardon me. I promise I will never cheat
Or lie to you again’.
Ivan buttons up his coat and lies stretched-out on the floor.
‘Well, as it’s a first offence. I will pardon you this time’
The Tsar declares:
‘But don’t under-estimate my anger
And in a fit of temper
Sometimes I cut both hair and head together.
So now, you understand me.
And to cut a long speech short,
I also found out you’re a boaster
Who promised to bring a firebird to my palace
If I so ordered.
Well, don’t waste any more time. Go and find one.’
Ivan got up off the floor and cried:
‘Did I say so? No, I didn’t.
About the feather, you spoke the truth,
But not about the bird.’
The Tsar’s beard trembled:
‘A deal’s a deal!’ he bellowed.
‘If you don’t bring a firebird in three weeks
To my palace, I swear by my beard that
You shall be judged by the lash or
Broken on a wheel or on a spike.
Depart, villain’.
Ivan sobs and goes to the hay loft
Where his toy horse is waiting.

The hunchbacked horse sensing his arrival
Starts dancing but stops when he sees Ivan’s tears.
‘Why are you so sad, Ivan?
Why do you hang your head?’ he asks
Rubbing his back against Ivan’s legs.
‘Don’t hide anything from me.
Maybe I can help.
Perhaps you are sick, my dear master
Or the innocent victim of some trickery.’
Ivan hung on the horse’s neck,
Embraced him, kissed him.
‘Oh misfortune, my dear horse.
The Tsar ordered me to bring a firebird to his palace.
What am I to do, my hunchbacked horse?’
The horse replied:
‘This is a serious misfortune, I agree.
But we can mend this matter.
This bad luck befell you
Because you wouldn’t listen to me.
Do you remember when you found the feather
In the wood, I warned you not to touch it.
I said, ‘Don’t touch it, if you do,
Many ills will follow you.’
Now you know I spoke the truth.
To be honest our task is not impossible,
The real problems will come later.
Now, go to the Tsar and tell him that
We need two big bowls of finest wheat
And foreign wine and ask him to hurry
For tomorrow after sunrise we shall leave.’

Ivan goes to the Tsar and says openly:
‘I need, my Tsar, two big bowls of best bread-wheat
And foreign wine and hurry please because
Tomorrow, after sunrise, we set off.’
Straightaway the Tsar ordered his servants
To supply Ivan’s wants, called him a fine young fellow
And wished him the best of luck.

The next day early in the morning,
The hunchbacked horse woke Ivan up:
‘Hey, my lord, you’ve slept enough
It’s time for action.’
Ivan got up, prepared for the trip.
Took the bowls of wheat and wine,
Put on warm clothes, sat on his horse
And clutching a piece of bread
Flew east to find the firebird.

They travelled for a whole week.
On the eighth day they arrived in a thick forest.
The hunchbacked horse said to Ivan:
Soon you will see a clearing
In the middle of which is a silver mountain.
In this place before sunrise
All the firebirds come to drink
Water from a stream.
We can catch one then.
As he spoke they saw the glade.
So beautiful this place!
The greens are like emeralds;
A gentle breeze blows bearing glittering lights;
Heavenly flowers bloom amidst the grass.
Words cannot describe this paradise.
In the centre of the glade
Is a mountain of pure silver
Like a wave upon the ocean.
The setting sun tinges everything with red
And flows like molten gold along
The contours of the mountain
And sparkles like a candle on the top.
Our toy horse trotted up the slope,
Went a mile, then another one, stopped and said:
‘Night approaches. Soon it will be time
To go on guard. Pour the wine into one bowl,
Mix with the wheat and hide yourself
Under the other one. Watch in silence
And keep your wits about you.
Before the sun rises
The firebirds will assemble here,
They will start to peck the wheat
And cry in their own language.
You must grab the nearest one
But be alert. Then you must shout
With all your might and I will join you.’
‘But I might scorch myself’ says Ivan
‘I must wear some gloves in case the bird is hot
And burns my hands a lot.’
The hunchbacked horse disappears.
Ivan crawls under the oak bowl
And lies there as if dead.

Near midnight the mountain is illuminated.
It looks like mid-day!
The firebirds have arrived.
They run and cry and peck from the bowl
Of wheat and wine.
Ivan, hidden from them, examines the birds
From underneath his dish.
He can’t believe his eyes.
‘What diabolic scene is this?’ he cries.
‘How many fiendish birds have come?
There must be at least fifty of them!
It would be good to catch them all-
Yes, that would be fun!
They are so beautiful with their long red legs
And fantastic tails.
Chickens don’t have tails like that!
But the light’s so bright-it’s just like father’s oven!’
When he’s finished talking to himself,
Ivan slides from his hiding-place
And slithers like a slow-worm or a snake
Towards the bowl with wine and wheat
And grabs an unsuspecting firebird by its tail.
‘Oh my horsey, come to me!
Because I’ve caught the bird!’ cries he.
The hunchbacked horse appears and says:
‘So, my honour, you are great;
Bag it up and tie it tight
And hang it round your neck
Because we must go back.’
Ivan says;
‘Just give me a chance to scare the birds’
And starts lashing everywhere
With the glowing bag.
‘Hear how they cry!’
The whole flock flies off like a forest fire
And makes a ring of flame around the mountain
Before flying behind the clouds.
Ivan runs after them waving his arms
And screaming like a madman
Until all the firebirds disappear.
Afterwards our travellers collect their things
Together with the treasure and set off.

At last they reached the city capital.
‘Well’ said the Tsar to Ivan, looking at the valet,
‘Did you get the firebird?’
The valet was chewing his nails in anticipation.
‘Of course I’ve got it ,’ answered Ivan.
‘So where is it?’
‘Wait a minute, but first close the window
Of the royal bed-chamber to make the daylight dark.’
The royal servant went to close the window.
Ivan placed the bag on the table.
‘Come on out, old girl!’
The light was so bright that
Everybody shut their eyes.
The Tsar cried at the top of his voice
‘Oh my God. We’ve got a fire.
Call the fire brigade immediately!’
‘That’s not a fire, my Tsar
But light from the firebird’ explained the hunter
Laughing his head off.
‘See what fun I’ve brought you!’
‘You know what, my friend Vanyushka.
I like you a lot. You always cheer me up
And therefore I’m going to make you my royal equerry.
Issue the proclamation!’
The cunning valet (and previous royal groom)
Muttered through clenched teeth:
‘Just wait, callow youth.
It won’t take long to trip you up again
By arranging some new misfortune,
And next time you won’t be so lucky!’

One evening, three weeks later
All the royal cooks and servants
Were sitting in the royal kitchen.
They were drinking mead from a barrel
And telling each other tall stories.
One of them says:
‘Listen. My neighbour gave me an amazing book
Today. There are not a lot of pages
And the tales are only five.
But these stories are so beautiful
You couldn’t possibly imagine them!’
Everybody said in one voice:
‘Tell us, brother. Tell us!’
‘Which one do you want to hear?
I said there were five there:
The first one is about a beaver;
The second about a Tsar;
The third, let me think, yes, about an oriental prince;
The fourth is about a king called Bobil
And the fifth one I’ve forgotten,
I can’t remember all the details.’
‘So, leave it’ say the people.
‘Wait a bit, it’s coming back. Yes,
That’s right. It’s about beauty.
It’s all about a beautiful fairy queen.
So which one, dear friends, would you like to hear?’
‘About the fairy queen!’ they all cry.
‘We’ve heard a lot of stories about Tsars.
We’d prefer to hear a tale about a pretty girl.’
The servant requested silence and slowly began his story:
‘There is an ocean far away where only unbelievers go.
You won’t find nobles or ordinary people
On this unclean ocean.
Visitors have told us that a fairy queen lives there
Who is really rather remarkable.
She’s a daughter of the crescent moon
And a sister of the sun.
She travels in a knee-length sheepskin coat
On a silver ship with a golden oar
Which she rows herself.
She sings like a siren and strums a harp.

The valet leapt of the bench and ran
As fast as his little legs would carry him
To the royal palace to find the Tsar.
He banged his forehead on the floor
And began to whine in a sing-song voice.
‘I came here, my dear Tsar, to ease my conscience.
Please don’t kill me but listen to what I have to say.’
‘Speak, but only tell the truth!’
Bellows the Tsar from his four-poster bed.
The cunning valet continues:
‘We’ve been in the kitchen toasting your health
While a servant told us tales. He told us about
A beautiful fairy queen and your royal equerry
Vowed by your beard that he knows this queen
As well as the firebird and boasted about bringing her here.’
The valet hit the floor again.
‘Hey. Fetch the royal equerry!’
The Tsar cries to his messengers.
When the messengers had gone,
The valet hid behind the oven.
They found Ivan asleep and brought him in his nightshirt to the Tsar.

The Tsar begins:
‘Listen, dear friend Vanyusha. I’ve heard a report
About how you vowed to bring us another bird.
In other words, I mean the fairy queen!’
‘Not at all, my dear Tsar’ the royal equerry answers.
‘Unless I was talking in my sleep.
Say what you like, you can’t fool me!’
Trembling under his beard, the Tsar cries:
‘What! You dare to argue!
If you don’t bring the fairy queen
To my palace within three weeks
I swear by my beard you will be punished
On the spike or on the wheel.
You may leave now.’
Ivan starts crying and goes to the stable
Where his toy horse is lying.

The hunchbacked horse, sensing his arrival
Starts dancing but stops when he sees Ivan’s tears.
‘Why are you so sad, Ivan?
Why do you hang your head?’ he asks
Rubbing his back against Ivan’s legs.
‘Don’t hide anything from me.
Maybe I can help.
Perhaps you are sick, dear master,
Or the innocent victim of some trickery’.
Ivan hung on the horse’s neck,
Embraced him, kissed him.
‘Oh misfortune, my dear horse.
The Tsar has ordered me to bring
To his palace, the fairy queen.
What am I to do my hunchbacked horse?’
The horse replied:
‘This is a serious misfortune I agree
But we can mend this matter.
This bad luck befell you
Because you wouldn’t listen to me.
Do you remember when you found the feather
In the wood, I warned you not to touch it.
I said: ‘Don’t touch it. If you do
Many ills will follow you.’
Now you know I spoke the truth.
To be honest our task is not impossible.
The real problems will come later.
All the same you should go to the Tsar and say
That to catch the fairy queen you will need
Two beautiful pieces of material,
A gold-embroidered tent, a dinner service from abroad
And plenty of sweets for refreshment.’

Ivan goes to the Tsar and repeats his request
For two beautiful pieces of material,
A gold-embroidered tent, a dinner service from abroad
And plenty of sweets for refreshment.
‘This is better than saying No!’
The Tsar shouts from his bed
And orders his servants to supply all Ivan’s wants,
Calls him a fine young fellow and wishes him
The best of luck.

The next day early, the toy horse woke his master up:
‘Hey, my lord, you’ve slept enough!
Now it’s time to complete the task.’
Ivan awoke and prepared everything
For the trip: the material, the tent
The dinner service from abroad
And the sweets for refreshment.
He threw them all into a bag and tied
The neck with a rope,
Put on warm clothes,
Sat on the hunchbacked horse,
Grabbed a piece of bread
And headed east to find the queen.

They travelled a whole week
And the next day arrived in a thick wood.
Here the horse said:
‘This is the road to the ocean
Where this beauty spends most of her time.
Twice a year she leaves the sea
And brings a long day to the earth.
You will see it all tomorrow.’
Saying these words
The hunchbacked horse reached the shore
Where wonderful white waves were breaking.
Ivan dismounted and the toy horse said:
‘Go and pitch the tent. Inside it place
The material, the dinner service from abroad
And the sweets for refreshment. Then, hide
Behind the tent and go on guard. Look,
There is a silver ship out at sea. That’s
The fairy queen sailing ashore.
Let her enter the tent, let her eat and drink.
As soon as she starts to play her harp,
Run into the tent and hold her sharp.
Call me and I will come straightaway
And we will leave but you must be careful
Not to oversleep or you will be in deep trouble.’
With these words the toy horse disappeared.
Ivan hid behind the tent and poked himself
A small hole in order to spy on the queen.

Bright midday arrives and the fairy queen
Sails ashore, takes her harp into the tent
And sits down at the table.
The royal equerry, spying on her, thinks:
‘So what does she look like, this fairy queen?
Like the beautiful heroine of a children’s story.
But this one isn’t beautiful at all;
She’s pale; she’s skinny. Her waist is tiny-
It must be less than three inches!
And the amount of food she eats
Wouldn’t keep a chick alive.
Pah! You can keep her. Let someone else
Have her who likes that sort of thing.
As for me, I wouldn’t have her for free!’
Now the queen starts to play her harp
And begins to sing so sweetly that Ivan
Rests his head on his fist and has no choice
But to fall asleep to her soft, sweet voice.
He dreams peacefully.

The sun set slowly in the west
Covering everything with red.
Suddenly the toy horse neighed,
Kicked him angrily and said:
‘Sleep my friend till the stars appear
In the sky and forecast disaster.
Your neck is destined for the spike, not mine.’
Ivan starts to cry and begs the horse to pardon him:
‘Please forgive me, hunchbacked horse.
Next time, I promise, I won’t sleep.’
‘Well, I suppose the Lord forgives you.
Maybe we can try once more but if you fall asleep again
You will lose both life and head.
Tomorrow, early morning, the fairy queen will
Return to eat the sweets and drink the wine.’
With that, the toy horse disappeared.
Ivan went to collect sharp stones and nails
From ship-wrecks to prick himself awake
Whenever he felt drowsy.

Next day, early, the fairy queen
Sails ashore and enters the gold-embroidered tent.
She takes her harp and sits at the table.
Soon she begins to play and sing so sweetly
That Ivan nearly falls asleep.
He pricks himself, stands up and says:
‘You won’t escape this time you worthless woman.
You won’t fool me again!’
He runs into the tent, grabs hold of her hair and cries:
‘Oh my horsey come to me. I need you immediately!’,
The hunchbaked horse appears and says:
‘Master, you’ve surpassed yourself tonight.
Sit on my back and hold on tight.’

Now they arrive in the capital.
The Tsar runs to greet them,
Takes hold of the queen’s slender white hands
And escorts her to his palace.
He seats her at an oak table under a silk canopy,
Looks softly into her eyes and starts speaking sweetly:
‘So, my unbelievably beautiful lady.
Would you consent to be my Tsarina?
As soon as I saw you, a strong emotion
Swept through my soul and I knew your falcon’s eyes
Wouldn’t let me sleep at night and during daylight
Would torment me. Tell me a kind word for
Everything is prepared for our wedding party.
So, my love, we’ll marry in the morning
And spend our lives in clover.’

But the young queen uttered not a word
And turned away from the Tsar.
Far from being angry, this made him love her
All the more. He knelt down, wrung his hands
And resumed his idle speech:
‘Tell me a pretty word. How have I upset you?
Is it because of the violence of my love?’
Now the queen answers:
‘Oh my fate is not a happy one!
If you want me, you must bring
Within three days, my magic ring
From the bottom of the ocean..’
‘Fetch Ivan!’ cries the Tsar
And almost goes himself.

When Ivan appears the Tsar says:
‘Ivan. Go now to the ocean. On the sea-bed
Lies the ring of the fairy queen.
Bring it to me and you can have anything you want.’
Ivan replies:
‘I’m so tired from the first trip,
I can hardly walk a step and now you’re
Asking me to go back to the ocean.’
‘You fool! Why say I shouldn’t hurry?
You know full well I want to marry.’
The Tsar rises in a fury and stamps his feet:
‘How dare you argue with me!
I order you to leave immediately.’
The queen detains him:
‘On the road, stop at my emerald palace
And ask my relatives why for three nights,
My mother hides her bright face from me
And why my beautiful brother is sometimes
Covered by darkness and from misty heights
Sends me not one ray of light. Don’t forget.’
Ivan says:
‘I won’t forget if I remember. But I should know
Who is your mother and your brother so I don’t
Get lost among your relatives.’
The queen answers:
‘The crescent moon is my mother
And my brother is the sun.’
The Tsar adds;
‘Bear in mind you only have three days!’
Ivan departs crying and goes to the stable
Where his toy horse is lying.
The hunchbacked horse, sensing his arrival
Starts dancing but stops when he sees Ivan’s tears.
‘Why are you so sad Ivan?
Why do you hang your head?’ he asks
Rubbing his back against Ivan’s legs.
‘Don’t hide anything from me.
Maybe I can help.
Perhaps you are sick, my dear master
Or the innocent victim of some trickery.’
Ivan hung on the horse’s neck,
Embraced him, kissed him and said:
‘Help me, horsey. You know the Tsar wants to marry
This skinny queen. So he’s sending me to the ocean
And he’s given me three days to find her wretched ring.
And I’ve got to visit her emerald palace, meet the sun
And crescent moon and ask them about something.’
The horse replied:
‘This is a serious misfortune, I agree
But we can mend this matter.
This bad luck befell you
Because you wouldn’t listen to me.
Do you remember when you found the feather
In the wood, I warned you not to touch it.
I said ‘Don’t touch it, if you do
Many ills will follow you!’
Now you know I spoke the truth.
To be honest our task is not impossible,
The real problems will come later.
Now get some rest, tomorrow early
We shall travel to the ocean.

The next day Ivan wakes early,
Puts on warm clothes, sticks three
Onions in his pocket, sits on his horse
And takes off on a long trip…
So while he’s travelling east or west
I think we too should have a rest!


Let’s continue our story of Ivan –
The country bumpkin turned nobleman.

‘Ta ra ra li, ta ra ra!’
Horses escaped from the stable.
Peasants caught them and tied them up.
There is a crow in an oak tree,
Playing a trumpet, entertaining the crowds.
‘Hey you people, listen here.
Once upon a time there was a man and his wife.
He told jokes and let her say the punch-lines.
They threw such good parties that
Everyone had a lot of fun.
This is just an introduction.
There’s a fly near our gate
Who sings a little song:
‘How much will you give me for some news?
Mother-in-law beats daughter-in-law,
Sits her on the hearth and ties her up with rope.
She takes off her shoes, ties her hands to her feet
And shouts: ‘Don’t go out in the mornings
And show off to the young men.’
That is the end of the introduction.
Now our tale begins.

So, our Ivan rides to the ocean
To find the ring.
His hunchbacked horse flies like the wind
And during the first day alone
Runs around a hundred thousand miles
Without any rest.

When they reach the sea shore
The toy horse says to Ivan:
‘Now, Ivanushka, listen to me.
In three minutes or less we will arrive
At an open space near the sea
Where there lives in the water
A miraculous whale.
For the last ten years this whale
Has been suffering without relief.
He will ask you to visit the golden palace
Where the sun lives and request his assistance.
You must give him your word on this
And don’t forget your promise.’

Now they arrived at the open space
Close to the ocean where in the water
Swam the miraculous whale.
His sides were full of holes;
Fences were fixed in his ribs;
On his tail was a wind-swept forest
And on his back was a little village;
Peasants were ploughing on his lips;
Children were playing between his eyes
And in a small wood among his bristles,
Young girls were looking for mushrooms.

The toy horse continues running,
Juddering his hoofs against his bones.
The miraculous whale opens his huge mouth
And breathing heavily says:
‘You are welcome, dear guests.
Where are you from and where are you going?’
The toy horse answers:
‘We are messengers from the fairy queen.
We have come from the capital in the west
And are heading directly for the sun’s golden palace.’
The whale says:
‘My dear friends, will you do me a favour
And ask the sun how long I must remain like this
And what I have done to deserve such torture?’
Breathing bitterly he continues:
‘Be a father to me. See how much I suffer.
I’ve been this way for ten years.
If I’m able to, I will serve you.’
Ivan cries:
‘Well, well, dearest whale.’
Afterwards the toy horse leapt onto the shore
And sped off. All you can see is the sand
Like a whirlwind under his feet.

Maybe they went far, maybe not,
Maybe high or low,
Maybe they saw something, maybe not,
The truth is I don’t know.
Speech is quick as lightning
But events are always slow.
All I can tell you, brothers and sisters is
That the toy horse reached a place
Where I heard from someone
The sky merges with the earth
And peasants spin linen
On a spinning wheel nailed to the sky.

Here Ivan says his goodbyes
And ascends into the heavens.
He looks like a dashing prince
With his hat at a rakish angle
And says to his toy horse:
‘How marvellous our kingdom is
Between the green glades,
But compared to the sky
It’s like the sole of a shoe.
The earth is dark and dirty
But up here, everything is light and blue.’
Again he talks to his horse:
‘Look, my dear hunchbacked horse,
There in the east I can see a sky castle
Shining like a sunrise. It must be very high.’
The toy horse answers:
‘That is a fair lady’s castle
And she will be our future Tsarina.
During the night the sun sleeps here
And at midnight the crescent moon
Goes outside to keep the peace.’
As they approached, they saw at the entrance
A gate made from crystal columns,
Composed of spiral pillars and golden snakes;
With three sparkling stars on top.
There are glorious gardens around the palace
Where birds of paradise in gold-plated silver cages
Sing regal songs.
And the palace with its onion domes
Is like a city surrounded by villages
And there is a Russian orthodox cross
Made out of stars above the main dome.

The toy horse cantered into the courtyard.
Ivan dismounted, entered the palace,
And made a speech to the crescent moon:
‘Good day, Mrs Moon.
My name is Ivanushka Petrovich.
I come from far away and bring you greetings.’
‘Please take a seat, Ivanushka Petrovich’
Says Mrs Moon ‘and tell me the reason
For your visit to our bright land. From whom
Do you come and how did you get here?
Tell me everything and don’t conceal anything.’
Ivan answers:
‘I came from a place called earth,
From a Christian country. I crossed the ocean
With an order from the queen to visit
Your bright palace and bring you greetings.
Your daughter wants to know why you hide
For three nights your white face from her
And why her beautiful brother sometimes
Wraps himself in darkness and from misty heights
Sends her not one ray of light. I think that’s it.
The queen is mistress of fine speech -
I can’t remember her exact words.’
The crescent moon enquires:
‘Which queen do you mean?
Do you mean the fairy queen?’
Ivan answers:
‘This is common knowledge. You can see
I am the Tsar’s equerry who sent me to get her
In three weeks or end my days upon a spike.’
The crescent moon begins to cry,
Embraces Ivan and says:
‘So, Ivanushka Petrovich.
You’ve brought me such happy news
I don’t know how to thank you.
We’ve been so sad to lose the queen.
That’s the main reason why I was hidden
By black clouds for three nights and why
I didn’t sleep for three days or eat any bread;
And for the same reason my lovely son
Shrouded himself in darkness, switched off his rays
And refused to illuminate God’s earth.
Can you tell me if she’s healthy? Not sad or ill?’
‘She’s beautiful but I think she has a wasting illness.
She’s as thin as a splinter- only three inches round her waist
But I think that after her wedding she’ll fatten up a bit,
Because the Tsar wants to marry her.’
The crescent moon cries:
‘What a silly old fool that Tsar is;
He must be over seventy and seriously believes
He’s going to marry a young girl!
I swear he’ll go to his grave as a groom.
What does the old fool want to do?
He wants to harvest where he hasn’t sown!’
Ivan says:
‘I have one more request. It’s about a pardon
For the whale. You know that in the ocean
Lives a miraculous whale. His sides are full of holes;
He has fences fixed in his ribs and this poor creature
Begged me to ask you when his torture will end;
How he can find forgiveness and what his crime was.’
The bright moon answers:
‘He is suffering because, without God’s permission,
He swallowed thirty ships. If he gives them up,
God will take this sickness from him, treat his wounds
And grant him a long life.’

Afterwards Ivanushka rises, says goodbye to Mrs Moon,
Hugs her neck and kisses her three times upon the cheek.
‘Thank you Ivanushka Petrovich’ she says,
‘From me and on behalf of my son, bestow blessings
On our daughter and tell her:
‘Your mother is always with you.
Don’t cry and don’t be sad because soon
Things will change and not an old man but
A handsome young man will take you to the altar.
So, goodbye. May God be with you!’
Ivan bows as well as he is able, sits on his horse,
Whistles like a noble knight and departs.

The following day they reach the sea.
The hunchbacked horse runs onto the whale’s back,
His hoofs juddering against his bones.
The miraculous whale sighs and says:
‘My dear fathers, did you receive a reply
To my request for a pardon?’
The toy horse answers:
‘Just wait a little longer.’

The horse rode into the village on the whale’s back,
Called a meeting and tossing his mane began to speak:
‘Please listen to me, good people.
If you don’t want to visit the water sprite’s prison,
You should leave immediately because soon
You will witness a miracle.
The sea will start boiling and the whale will rotate.’
‘Woe is us!’ cry the people and rush into their houses.
They loaded their waggons with all their possessions
And hurriedly swarmed off the whale.
When morning met midday there was no-one left at all
Just as though the chief of the Tartars had called.

Afterwards the hunchbacked horse ran from the tail
To the whale’s whiskers and yelled at the top of his voice:
‘Miraculous whale your troubles began when
Without God’s permission you swallowed
More than thirty ships.
I’ve been sent to tell you, if you free them
God will end your punishment and torment,
Then He will heal your wounds and grant
You a long and happy retirement.’
When the horse finished speaking he bit
His steel bridle, summoned all his strength
And leaped onto the distant shore.

The miraculous whale, like a slow-moving hill
Began to turn and churn the waters creating colossal waves.
Ship after ship with sails, sailors and oarsmen
Slowly emerged from his mouth.

It became so noisy that Poseidon awoke.
The sailors opened fire with brass cannons,
Blew horns and trumpets, and raised white sails
With colourful flags at the top of the masts.
There was a Russian bishop and some priests
On deck singing hymns and well-known anthems
While the merry oarsmen began another song:
‘Once upon a time upon the ocean,
The wide, wide ocean.’
Whose sound reached the ends of the earth.
The ships set sail.

When they were no longer visible
The ocean swirled. The miraculous whale
Cried out in a high voice while smashing the waves
With his tail. ‘How can I serve you my friends?’
How can I repay your kindness?
Do you need some brightly coloured shells,
Golden fish or pretty pearls?
I will happily find some for you.’
Ivan replies:
‘No miraculous whale. We don’t want these.
The only thing we need is the fairy queen’s ring-
Our future Tsarina.’
‘My dear friend, you may request anything!
I shall find before sunrise the fairy queen’s ring’
Said the whale and sank like a key
Into the depths of the sea .

The whale thrashes with his tail
And calls in his high-pitched voice
All the local sturgeon to a meeting:
‘You must bring me before sunrise
The fairy queen’s ring, which is in a chest
On the bottom of the ocean.
The sturgeon who finds it will receive
An honoured rank and could well become
A privy councillor or even a member of the duma.
On the other hand if you don’t fullfil my order
I will…
The sturgeons curtsied and left in single file.

After several hours, two white sturgeons reappeared,
Smiled nervously at the whale and meekly said:
‘Great Tsar, don’t be angry. We dug the whole sea floor
And couldn’t even find a clue. The only fish
Who can find it is the perch. He is gadding about
All day and surely knows about the ring.
The trouble is we don’t know where he’s hiding.’
‘Find him and bring him to my cabin!’
Cried the whale, twitching his whiskers.
The two white sturgeons bowed and swam
To the local court where they wasted no time
In drawing up a search warrant for the perch.
The bream listened patiently, then wrote the decree
Which was signed by a skate claiming to be a councillor.
A black crayfish folded the decree and stamped the seal.
Afterwards they called the dolphins, gave them the warrant
And said: ‘In the name of the Tsar you must search
All seven seas for this missing perch playboy;
This boaster, brawler and trouble-maker!
And bring him to the sovereign’.
The dolphins bowed and swam off in search of the perch.

They searched for an hour in the seas;
They looked for an hour in the rivers,
They examined every lake and channel
And could find no sign of the perch.
They finally returned in tears.

Suddenly some dolphins in a small pond
Heard loud under-water cries.
They swam to investigate, sank to the bottom
And peered beneath the reeds.
The playboy perch was fighting with a carp.
The dolphins said:
‘Stay still. The devil take you. What an unholy din!’
The perch snarls:
‘Mind your own business. I‘m not joking.
I could kill all of you at once.’
The dolphins answer:
‘How are you, eternal playboy, boaster, brawler
And troublemaker? You’re always out gallivanting.
But we don’t want to get into an argument with you.
We have a warrant for you from the ocean Tsar.
You should swim to him at once.’

Journal Comments

  • minou41
  • Rusty  Gladdish