Once upon a time, in a certain tsardom there lived a tsar and tsarina who had three fine sons. The three sons grew to manhood and so hand some and strong did they become as tongue cannot say or story tell. The time came for them to marry, and after talking it over at length with his wife, the tsar called his sons and said:
"My sons, my falcons! The time has come for you to marry and to find brides for yourselves.”
"Yes, indeed, Father, you speak true,” the sons said.
"Well, then, my children, take your silver quivers and shoot your copper arrows. Let them fly to distant lands, and wherever they fall there will you find your destined brides."
The sons went outside, drew their bows and let fly their arrows. The eldest of the three was the first to do it, and his arrow shot up with a twang to the very skies, flew to a far-off tsardom and fell in the tsar's garden. Now, it was just about then that the tsar's daughter was out walking in the garden, and she picked up the arrow and looked at it and marvelled. She came to her father and said boastfully:
"Look at this arrow I found, Father, isn't it beautiful!”
"Don't give it to anyone, my child," the tsar said. "Keep it for the one who will marry you."
Some time passed, and the eldest of the princes found his way to the garden and asked the princess to give him back his arrow.
"I can only give it to him who will marry me,” said the princess. "But that is what I have come for," the prince told her.
It was settled between them, and the prince rode away.
The middle brother now shot his arrow, and it flew over the forest and below the clouds and fell in a prince's courtyard. The prince's daughter was sitting on the porch just then, and she picked it up and took it to her father.
"See what a beautiful arrow I have found, Father!” she said.
"Do not give it to anyone, child," the prince said. "Keep it for the one who will marry you.”
Some time passed, and the middle prince came to claim the arrow. The princess told him just what the other princess had to the eldest prince, and the middle prince said:
"I have come here to ask you to marry me.
It was settled between them, and the middle prince rode away.
It was now the youngest prince's turn to shoot his arrow, and Prince Ivan, for that was his name, drew his bow, and his arrow shot up with a twang into the air. It flew neither high nor low but just over the rooftops and it fell neither far nor near but straight into a swamp. Now, on a hummock there sat a frog, and, seeing the arrow, she picked it up.
Some time passed, and Prince Ivan came to the swamp.
"Give me back my arrow," said he to the frog.
"I can only give it to the one who will marry me," the frog said.
"How can I marry a frog!” said Prince Ivan to himself. He stood beside the swamp for a time as sad as sad can be, and then, the tears streaming from his eyes, went home.
The time came for the princes to go to their father and tell him who the brides they found for themselves were. The eldest prince and the middle prince beamed with happiness as they came into their father's presence, but Prince Ivan could not hide his tears.
Said the tsar to his sons:
"Well, my sons, my falcons, speak and tell me who the brides you found for yourselves are."
"I have found myself a tsar's daughter," said the eldest prince.
"I have found myself a prince's daughter,” said the middle prince.
But Prince Ivan just stood there and wept and could not utter a word.
"Why do you weep, Prince Ivan?” the tsar asked.
"How can I help it!" Prince Ivan replied. "My brothers have found themselves proper brides, but my arrow was picked up by a frog, and a frog is no match for me!”
"You will have to marry her all the same," the tsar said. "Such is your lot.”
The weddings took place soon after. The eldest prince married the tsar's daughter, the middle prince married the prince's daughter, and Prince Ivan married the frog.
One day the tsar decided to find out which of his three daughters- in-law was the better needlewoman, and he said to his sons:
"Let your wives each make me a towel by tomorrow morning. I wish to see which of them is the better needlewoman."
Prince Ivan went home weeping and the frog crawled from out of her corner and met him at the door.
"Why do you weep, Prince Ivan?” she asked.
"How can I help it! Father has said that each of his daughters-in-law is to make him a towel by tomorrow morning."
"Do not weep but go to bed. All will be well," said the frog.
Prince Ivan went to bed and was soon asleep, and the frog cast off her frog skin, went out into the yard, gave a whistle and a shout, and lo and behold! – as if out of nowhere a number of women and maids appeared. They made a towel, embroidered it prettily with a pattern of eagles and gave it to her. And she took it and placed it beside Prince Ivan, and, putting on her frog skin, turned into a frog again.
Prince Ivan woke, and there was the towel all ready, and never in his life had he seen one more beautiful! He was overjoyed and took it to the tsar who thanked him warmly for it and hung it over the icon in his chamber. And as for the towels the other two daughters-in-law made him, so plain and ordinary were they that he had them sent to the kitchen.
Some time passed by and the tsar bade his daughters-in-law each to bake him some buns, for he wanted to see which of them was the better cook. Prince Ivan went home, and the frog crawled out from her corner and asked:
"Croak-croak! Why do you weep, Prince Ivan?"
"How can I help it! Father has bidden his three daughters-in-law to bake him some buns, and I know you cannot do it.”
"Do not weep but go to bed. You will have your buns!”
Prince Ivan went to bed and was soon asleep. And the other two daughters-in-law went and stood under the frog's window, for they wanted to see how she would go about her baking. The frog made a thin dough, and then she climbed up onto the stove, made a hole in it and poured the dough down the hole. And the two daughters-in-law hurried home and did just as she had done. Their buns came out messy and charred and were only fit for the dogs to eat.
And as for the frog, she cast off her frog skin, and as soon as the two daughters-in-law had gone, went out into the yard. She gave a whistle and a shout, and lo and behold! – as if out of nowhere her women and maids appeared. She bade them bake her some buns before daybreak, and this they did and brought them to her. The buns were rosy and brown and it made one's mouth water to look at them, and she took them and placed them beside Prince Ivan, put on her frog skin and turned into a frog again.
Prince Ivan woke, and there beside him were the buns, each better than the other. He was overjoyed and took them to the tsar who thanked him warmly for them and had them served at his table. And he had the buns the other two daughters-in-law brought him given to the dogs.
Some time passed, and the tsar ordered his sons to come to a feast which was set for a certain day and to bring their wives with them. The two elder sons were overjoyed, but Prince Ivan hung his head and went home weeping.
The frog crawled out of her corner to meet him.
"Why do you weep, Prince Ivan?" she asked.
"I cannot help it! Father has bidden us to come to a feast with our wives, and how can I take you there!"
"Do not weep but go to bed, Prince Ivan," said she. "We'll find a way of doing it.”
Prince Ivan went to bed and was soon asleep. But when the day arrived on which the feast was to be held he grew sad and pensive again.
"Do not be sad, Prince Ivan, but go to the feast alone, and I will follow later,” the frog said. "When it starts raining you will know that I am washing my face with the rain water; when the lightning flashes you'll know I am dressing myself in the best of my finery; and when the thunder crashes you'll know I am coming to join you.”
Prince Ivan dressed, got in his coach and rode off for the palace. He went inside and looked about him, and there were his elder brothers with their wives! They were richly garbed themselves and their wives were dressed in gold and in silks and velvets and had necklaces of precious stones round their necks.
His brothers saw Prince Ivan and began poking fun at him.
"Why have you come alone, Brother?" they asked. "You could have put your frog in a kerchief and brought her along."
"Don’t laugh, she will come later," said Prince Ivan.
It began to rain, and he said:
"That is my wife washing her face with the rain water."
His brothers laughed harder.
"You must be out of your mind to say such a thing!” they cried.
The lightning flashed, and Prince Ivan said:
"That is my wife dressing herself in her finery."
At this the brothers shrugged their shoulders as if to say that Prince Ivan, whom they knew to be as normal a young man as any, had all at once taken leave of his senses.
All of a sudden the thunder crashed, and so loud were the peals that the palace shook.
"That is my wife coming now!" Prince Ivan said.
And lo and behold! – a coach drawn by six horses flew up to the porch, and out of the coach stepped Prince Ivan's wife. And so beautiful was she that all who were present stood still at the sight of her!
The feast began, everyone took his seat at the table, and the tsar, the tsarina and their two elder sons looked at Prince Ivan's wife and could not have their fill of looking! The brother's wives too never took their eyes off her, and, seeing her put a spoonful of soup in her mouth and another in her left sleeve and then a bit of meat in her mouth and another in her right sleeve, did likewise.
When the feast was over they all went out into the courtyard. The music started, and the tsar invited everyone to join in the dancing. But the wives of the two elder brothers declined to do so and said:
"Let Prince Ivan's wife dance first!”
And lo! – Prince Ivan's wife caught her husband by the hand and stepped out into the circle of guests. So lightly did she dance that she seemed not to touch the ground at all, and her every movement was full of grace. She waved her right sleeve, and a garden appeared, and in the garden a pole, and on the pole a cat. Up the pole it walked and sang a song; down the pole it walked and told a tale. She waved her left sleeve, and a river appeared with swans floating on it. The tsar, the tsarina and all their guests were as wonderstruck as children by the sight of it all, and they stood there and stared.
Prince Ivan's wife sat down for a rest, and his brothers' wives began to dance. They waved their right sleeves, and some bones flew out and struck the tsar in the middle of his forehead; they waved their left sleeves, and a spray of soup hit him in the eye.
"Enough, enough, you'll poke out my eye at this rate!" cried the tsar.
They stopped dancing and sat down on a bench, but the music went on playing, and some of the tsar's courtiers now joined the dancers.
And Prince Ivan kept glancing at his wife and wondering how a frog could have turned into a young woman so beautiful that it was hard to tear one's eyes from her.
He ordered his horse to be brought, sprang on its back and rode home to see if there was anything she had left there that could help him understand how it had all come about. He went into his wife's chamber and what did he see there but the frog skin! He picked it up and threw it into the stove and soon there was nothing left of it but a wisp of smoke. After that he went back to the palace again and was just in time for supper.
The feasting and merrymaking went on well into the night and it was nearly dawn when the guests began leaving for home.
Prince Ivan and his wife left the palace with the rest. They were soon home, and the wife went to her chamber. She looked about her but did not see the frog skin and began to search for it. She searched and she searched and then she went to ask Prince Ivan about it.
"Have you seen my frog skin?” she asked. "I cast it off and left it in my chamber.”
"I burnt it.”
What have you done, Prince Ivan! If you had not touched it I would have been yours forever, but now we shall have to part and may never see each other again.
She wept and she cried and then she said:
Farewell, Prince Ivan! Seek me in the thrice-ten tsardom in the house of Baba-Yaga, the Witch with the Switch.
She waved her hands, turned into a cuckoo-bird, and, the window being open, flew out of it and away.
Prince Ivan grieved and sorrowed for a long time, he wept bitter tears and he kept asking all and sundry what he was to do. But as no one had any advice to offer, he took his silver bow and his copper arrows, filled a basket with bread, hung it over his shoulder and set out to seek his wife.
He walked and he walked and by and by he met an old man with hair as white as snow.
Good morning, Prince Ivan! Where are you going? asked the old man as he came towards him.
I am seeking my wife, Grandpa, and going I know not where,” Prince Ivan replied. My wife is somewhere in the thrice-ten tsardom, in the house of Baba-Yaga, the Witch with the Leg of Stone. Perhaps you know where she is to be found?
I do, my son.
Well, then, take pity on me and tell me, Grandpa.”
What good will that do! Whether I tell you or not, you'll never get there.
No matter! Tell me, and I will always be grateful to you.'
Very well, then. Take this ball of yarn and follow it wherever it rolls. It will take you to the house of Baba-Yaga, the Witch with the Leg of Stone.”
Prince Ivan thanked the old man, sent the ball of yarn rolling and went after it.
He walked and he walked and his way lay through so thick a forest that it was dark all around him. By and by he saw a bear coming towards him. Seizing his silver bow and one of his copper arrows, he made to shoot him, but the Bear said:
Do not kill me, Prince Ivan, who knows but you may have need of me some day!
Prince Ivan took pity on the Bear and did not kill him.
On he went, he came to the edge of the forest, and whom did he see there sitting in a tree but a falcon! Seizing his silver bow and a copper arrow, he made to shoot him, but the Falcon said:
Do not kill me, Prince Ivan! Who knows but you may have need of me some day!
Prince Ivan took pity on the Falcon and did not kill him.
On he went after the ball of yarn, he walked and he walked and he came to the shore of the sea. And there on the shore lay a big-toothed pike, all but dead what with the heat and lack of water. Prince Ivan was about to kill him, but the Pike said:
Do not kill me, Prince Ivan, but throw me into the sea. Who knows but you may have need of me some day!”
Prince Ivan threw the Pike into the sea and went on.
Long did he walk and he never stopped till he came at last to the thrice-ten tsardom. There, standing before him on a chicken leg and propped up with a reed to keep it from falling, was a small hut. Prince Ivan stepped inside, and whom should he see there lying on the stove, her head on its very edge, but Baba-Yaga, the Witch with the Leg of Stone.
Greetings to you, Prince Ivan!” she said. Are you here of your own free will or at another's bidding? Are you hiding from anyone or seeking someone?”
I am seeking my beloved wife, the frog, Grandma.”
Oh, are you now! Well, she is a servant in my brother's house.”
Prince Ivan began begging her to tell him where her brother's house was, and Baba-Yaga said: ,
He lives in a palace, and the palace is on an island in the middle of the sea. But mind that you do not come to harm when you get there. As soon as you see your wife, seize her and make off with her and do not look back.”
Prince Ivan thanked Baba-Yaga and set out on his way.
On and on he walked till at last he came to the shore of the sea. So vast was it that it seemed not to have an end, and how could he tell where the island was!
Up and down the shore with hanging head walked Prince Ivan, and he grieved and sorrowed.
All of a sudden who should come swimming up out of the sea but the Pike.
Why do you grieve, Prince Ivan?” he asked.
There is an island in the middle of the sea, but I cannot get to it!” Prince Ivan replied.
Do not grieve, for I will help you.”
The Pike struck the water with his tail, and lo and behold! – there before them rose a bridge so beautiful that not even the tsar had one like it. Its piles were of silver, its rails of gold, and its floor of the finest of mirror glass.
Prince Ivan walked across the bridge and it brought him to the island.
Now, on the island there was a forest so thick and dark that one could not hope to pass through it. Prince Ivan walked to and fro beside it and he wept and cried. Apart from anything else, he was hungry, for he had eaten the bread he had brought along and there was no more food to be had. Down he sat on the sand and was as sad as sad can be. This is the end of me! thought he.
All of a sudden who should come running out of the forest but a rabbit! It was about to run past when lo and behold! – as if out of nowhere the Falcon appeared. He pounced on the rabbit and killed it, and Prince Ivan took the rabbit, skinned it, baked it over a fire and ate it.
Feeling better now, he began pacing the ground again and trying to think of a way of getting to the palace where Baba-Yaga's brother lived. A long time passed but he could think of nothing. All of a sudden whom should he see coming toward him but the Bear.
Hello there, Prince Ivan! said the Bear. What are you doing here?
I am trying to think how to get to the palace. There seems to be no way of passing through this forest, Prince Ivan replied.
Never fear, I will help you!’’ the Bear said, and he set to uprooting the trees, some of which were so thick that the prince had he tried could not have encircled them with his arms.
The Bear felt tired after a while and went to get a drink of water, but he was back and uprooting the trees again very soon.
The path he was making in the forest was all but ready when he felt thirsty again. He had another drink of water and then set to work with all his strength and did not stop till the path was laid. It led straight to the palace, and Prince Ivan set out on his way and followed it.
He walked and he walked and he came to a beautiful valley in the middle of the forest. A palace of glass rose before him, and Prince Ivan went straight up to it. He opened a door which was made of iron and glanced inside, but there was no one there; he opened another door, one made of silver, but there was no one there either; he opened a third door, one made of gold, and there, spinning cloth, sat his wife, and so sad did she look that the sight of her filled his own heart with sadness.
She saw Prince Ivan and rushed into his arms.
Ah, how I've missed you, my love!” she cried. If you hadn't come when you did but a little later you might never have seen me again.
She wept with joy, and Prince Ivan was so happy that he did not know whether he was on earth or in heaven. They embraced and kissed, and Prince Ivan's wife turned into a cuckoo-bird again, and, taking him under her wing, flew off with him.
They came to his tsardom and she regained her true form and said: It was my father who cursed me and forced me to serve the Dragon for three years. But those three years are up now and I am free.”
So they settled in their house again and lived happily ever after.