The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse (2) by Simon R Gladdish & Vladimir Grounine


Afterwards the dolphins seized the scallywag by his spines
And began to swim home with him.
The perch puffed out his chest, shouting and screaming:
‘Be kind to me brothers and give me a chance to fight
Because that carp is a filthy swine.
Yesterday he insulted me in front of noble people
With unseemly words and improper language…’
The perch cried for a long time before falling silent.
The dolphins said nothing but continued dragging
The vicious fish by the fins and at last arrived
In front of the watery Tsar.

The Whale shouts angrily:
‘Why in Neptune’s name have you been so long?
Where have you been hiding, you son of a gun?’
The perch fell to his knees and begged for forgiveness.
The whale says: ‘I suppose God will pardon you.
But first you must obey an order.’
‘With pleasure,’ squeaks the perch.
The whale continues:
‘You are gadding about the seas all day long.
It seems to me you must have some information
Concerning the whereabouts of the fairy queen’s ring.’
‘Of course I know where it is.’
‘Then go immediately and find it!’

The perch gave a low bow and left
But on his way out he quarrelled
With the Tsar’s servants, ran after the roach
And broke the noses of six sardines.
Afterwards he bravely dived into a swirling whirlpool
And in a deep secret place found a heavy chest
Which weighed a ton.
‘Blimey!’ he cried, ‘What a weight!’
And shouted to the herrings for help.

The herrings held their breath
And began to drag the chest;
But however hard they tried,
They simply split their sides.
The wretched chest refused to move an inch.
‘Call yourself herrings!’ screams the perch.
‘You deserve the lash instead of vodka!’
The perch stamped his fins and went
To look for the sturgeons.

The sturgeons came and silently
Shifted the red chest with the ring
Which had been stuck in the sand.
The perch says:
‘Now boys, please be careful.
I want you to take it to the Tsar.
I’m off to the sea bed for a rest;
I’m sleepy and my eyes are closing.’
The sturgeons swam to the Tsar.
As for the playboy perch, he swam
Back to the pond the dolphins had dragged him from.
Perhaps he wanted to finish his quarrel with the carp.
I don’t know and I don’t care because it’s time
To leave him behind and return to Ivan.

The sea is still. Ivan is sitting on the sand,
Waiting for the whale to arrive from the violet ocean.
He sighs like a cat with one life left.
His faithful horse is lying at his feet.
Afternoon turns to evening and the
Falling sun sets fire to the horizon
But still the whale does not arrive.
Ivan thinks:
‘I hope you die, you thief.
You are nothing but a sea monster.
You promised to bring the ring before sunrise
And the sun is already setting.
You scoffer, you mocker, you wall-eyed…,’
But the ocean begins to boil
And the miraculous whale emerges from the froth.
He says: ‘I have fulfilled my promise to you’
And with these words releases the chest
Which lands with a bang on the sands,
That makes the shore shake.
‘So now I’m settling my account.
I shall never forget your good deed.
If ever you need me, just give me a call.
Until then… Goodbye.’
The miraculous whale fell silent,
Flashed his tail and disappeared beneath the waves.

The hunchbacked horse woke up, stood up,
Shook off the sand, looked at Ivan
And jumped four times in the air.
‘What a wonderful whale’ he cried.
‘He has discharged his duty perfectly.
Now, my lord, get dressed and get ready
Because three days have passed
And tomorrow is the last day.
The old Tsar will be dying of anxiety.’
Ivan says:
‘You try moving this chest. It’s impossible to shift.
I think the wretched whale filled it with five hundred devils.
I’ve tried three times to pick it up and can’t budge it an inch.’
The toy horse quietly lifts the chest as though it were a pebble
And puts it on his back and says
‘Ivanushka sit on me. Time is short but
The road home is long.’

Now the fourth day begins to break and our Ivan
Is already in the capital.
The Tsar runs to meet him from the steps and cries
‘What about my ring?’
Ivan dismounts and self-importantly announces:
‘Here is the chest but you will have to call a regiment.
Although this chest looks small it could crush a devil!’
So the Tsar straightaway calls the guards and orders them
To drag the chest into the palace.
The Tsar returns to the fairy queen and purrs:
‘Your ring, my soul, has been found.
So there is no further obstacle to our union.
Tomorrow morning we shall be married.
But maybe, darling, you wish to see your ring
Which is in my chamber.’
The fairy queen says:
‘Yes I know, but we can’t get married yet.’
‘Why not, my honey? I love you with all my heart
And if you’ll excuse my boldness we simply must wed.
Otherwise, by tomorrow, I may die from grief.
Have pity on me, dearest queen.’
The queen replies:
‘Look at yourself. You are grey and I am only fifteen.
How can we possibly get married. Everyone will say
That an old man has married his grand-daughter!’
The Tsar flies into a rage:
‘Let them laugh. I will capture them and kill them all!’
The queen says:
‘Perhaps they won’t laugh but we still can’t marry
Because there are no flowers in winter.
I am beautiful but what have you got to boast about?’
The Tsar answers:
‘I am old but I am bold. Besides, when I smarten
Myself up I look like a young man.
But why should I bother? We just need to get married.’
The queen goes on:
‘I could never marry a plain Ivan,
Nor a grey-haired toothless old man.’
The Tsar scratched his crown and frowned:
’What should I do now, my queen?
I want so much to marry you
But you are giving me nothing but grief.’
‘No I refuse to marry a grey-haired man’ the queen repeated.
‘I will go to the altar with you only
If you become as young as you used to be.’
The Tsar said:
‘My dear queen. It’s impossible to be born again.
Only God can perform this miracle.’
The fairy queen continues:
‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself, and let
Me explain how to become young again.
Tomorrow at sunrise in your wide courtyard
You should order your servants to place three
Copper cauldrons and light a fire under each.
You should fill the first with cold water,
The second with boiling water and the third
With hot milk bubbling over.
If you want to marry me and become young
And handsome again you must undress at sunrise
And bathe yourself in the hot milk;
Afterwards you must rinse yourself in the
Boiling, then the cold water and I assure you
That the years will fall away like tears.

The Tsar’s reply is to call his equerry.
Ivan comes and asks him:
‘What must I do now?
Return to the sea again?
Not on your life, your excellency.
I can’t go on, I’ve had enough.
I refuse to go!’
The Tsar answers:
‘No, Ivanushka, that’s not it.
Tomorrow I’m going to put some cauldrons
In my courtyard. The first will be filled
With cold water; the second with boiling water
And the third with hot milk bubbling over.
I want you to test these three cauldrons for me
By bathing in each of them.’
Ivan says:
‘Boiling is for piglets, chickens and turkeys.
As you can see I am none of these three.
Please don’t try to fool me, your excellency.’
The Tsar, trembling under his beard cries:
‘What! You dare to argue! If you don’t fulfill this order,
Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall arrange your punishment
And dismemberment on the wheel and on the spike.
Get out, cretin!’
Ivan departs crying and heads for the hay loft
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 our old groom’s been up to his tricks again.’
Ivan hung on the horse’s neck,
Embraced him, kissed him
‘Oh misfortune, my dear horse.
The Tsar has decided to destroy me.
He ordered me to bathe in three big cauldrons;
The first one filled with cold water,
The second with boiling water and the third
With hot milk, bubbling over.’
The toy horse says:
‘This is going to be tricky.
Count yourself fortunate to have me as a friend.
This bad luck befell you
Because you wouldn’t listen to me.
Do you remember when we 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.
Please don’t cry. May God be with you.
I would rather die than abandon you.
Somehow we will solve this problem.
Look, Ivan, tomorrow at sunrise
When the Tsar orders you to undress
Before climbing into the cauldrons, say
‘Could your excellency call my hunchbacked horse
Because I need to bid him a final farewell.’
The Tsar will agree to this and when I twitch
My tail and stick my muzzle in the cauldrons
I will sprinkle you twice with milk and water
And whistle very loudly.
Don’t stand around yawning. Jump straight into
The hot milk bubbling over, then the boiling water
And finally the cold water. Now you should pray
And get some sleep.

Early next morning the hunchbacked horse woke Ivan up.
‘Hey my lord. You’ve slept enough. It’s time to do your duty.’
Ivan scratched himself, stretched, stood up, prayed against the fence
And went to the palace to wait for the Tsar.

There were already three copper cauldrons in the courtyard,
Two of them boiling merrily. There were cooks and
Coachmen and servants of the court
Who were diligently stacking firewood,
Gossiping about Ivan and laughing softly.

The palace doors open.
The Tsar appears with the fairy queen
And prepares to watch the spectacle
From the palace steps.
He cries to Ivan:
‘Come on Vanyushka, take off your clothes
And bathe, my brother, in the three cauldrons.’
Ivan does as he is ordered and the fairy queen
Lowers her veil to blur her view.
Ivan wanders over to the cauldrons, looks at them
And scratches himself.
The Tsar cries: ‘Come on Ivan, what are you waiting for?’
Ivan answers: ‘Could your excellency send for my hunchbacked horse
Because I need to say a last farewell.’
The Tsar hesitates before agreeing to send a servant for the horse.
The servant brings the toy horse to Ivan.

So now the hunchbacked horse twitches his tail,
Sticks his muzzle in the cauldrons, sprinkles Ivan twice
And whistles very loudly. Straightaway Ivan jumped
Into the cauldron of boiling milk, then the hot water
And finally the cold water. When he emerged,
He was so handsome that no-one could believe it.
It cannot be told in a tale or written with a quill
How beautiful he had become. He got dressed,
Bowed before the fairy queen, smiled cheerfully
And looked exactly like a prince. The people cried:
‘We have seen a miracle!’

The Tsar ordered his manservant to remove his clothes,
Crossed himself twice, leapt into the first cauldron
And was boiled alive.

The fairy queen stood up and asked for silence,
Raised her veil and said to the servants:
‘The Tsar ordered you to live long and
I would like to be your queen.
If you will have me, tell me now.
I would also like you to recognise
My future husband as joint sovereign.’
She stopped speaking and smiled at Ivan.

‘We accept with all our heart!’ the people cry.
‘We would gladly visit hell for you and wish you
And Tsar Ivan all the happiness in the world.’
The new Tsar takes his Tsarina by the waist,
Leads her into church and walks with his
Young bride around the altar.

Cannons opened fire from the fortress;
Buglers blew their horns; the wine cellars
Were opened and the best barrels of French wine were rolled out.
The people clapped and cheered with all their might,
Singing: ‘ Long live Tsar Ivan
With his beautiful fairy queen!’
There was a sumptuous feast and lavish banquet
Inside the palace with wines as pure as mountain streams
And Boyars and princes drinking and feasting at oak tables.
Yes, I too attended with my glass up-ended.
What can I say? I am only the scribe.
I went to the wedding and didn’t imbibe.
Like the Tsar himself I seldom lie;
I cross my heart and hope to die -
My moustache was drenched but my mouth was dry!


Journal Comments

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