This section is from the book "Myths And Folk-Tales Of The Russians, Western Slavs, And Magyars", by Jeremiah Curtin. Also available from Amazon: Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and the Magyars.
"But where was I to go, your Majesty? Some fool might have spent ten years in sailing over the seas and got nothing; but I, instead of spending six years, did the work in ten days. Would you be pleased to look at the golden-horned deer?"
Straightway they brought the cage from the ship and let out the golden-horned deer. The king saw that the sharpshooter was right; he could not touch him, he let him go home. The sailors had a holiday for six years; no one could ask them to work during that time, for the voyage was counted as six years, and they had served their time.
Next day the king called the mayor into his presence and threatened him: "What meanest thou; art making sport of me? 'T is clear thy head is not dear to thee. Do what thou pleasest, but find means of putting Fedot to a cruel death".
"Let me think, your Majesty; we may mend matters." The mayor went his way, betook himself to back lanes and waste places, met the Baba-Yaga.
"Stop, servant of the king! I know thy thoughts: dost wish I will help thee in trouble?"
"Oh, help me, grandmother! Fedot has brought the deer with golden horns".
"Oh, I have heard that already. It would be as easy to put Fedot out of the way as to take a pinch of snuff, for he is simple; but his wife is terribly cunning. Well, we '11 give them another riddle that they will not solve so quickly. Tell the king to send the sharpshooter to the verge of destruction and bring back Shmat-Razum, - that's a task he will not accomplish to all eternity; he will either be lost without tidings, or come back empty-handed".
The mayor rewarded the old witch with gold and hurried to the king, who heard him and summoned Fedot.
"Fedot," said the king, "thou art a hero, the best shot I have. Thou hast brought me the deer with golden horns, now thou must do me another service; and if thou wilt not do it, I have a sword, and thy head leaves thy shoulders. Thou must go to the verge of destruction and bring back Shmat-Razum".
Fedot turned to the left, walked out of the palace, went home sad and thoughtful.
"My dear," asked his wife, "why art thou sad, has some misfortune happened?"
"Ah," said he, "one woe has rolled from my neck and another rolled on! The king sends me to the verge of destruction to bring back Shmat-Razum. For thy beauty I bear all this trouble and care".
"That," said she, "is no small task, - nine years to go there, and nine to come back, eighteen in all. Will good come of it? God knows. But pray to the Lord and lie down to sleep; the morning is wiser than the evening. To-morrow thou 'It know all".
After Fedot had lain down, his wife opened her magic book and asked the two unknown youths if they knew how to go to the verge of destruction and bring back Shmat-Razum. They answered: "We know not." In the morning she roused her husband and said, "Go to the king and ask for the road golden treasure, - thou hast eighteen years to wander; when thou hast the money come home for the parting".
Fedot got the money from the king and returned to take farewell of his wife. She gave him a towel and a ball, and said: "When thou goest out of the town throw the ball down before thee, and wherever it rolls do thou follow. Here is a towel of my own work; no matter where thou art, wipe thy face with it after washing".
Fedot took farewell of his wife and comrades, bowed down on all four sides, and went beyond the barrier. He threw down the ball before him; it rolled, rolled on, and he followed after.
About a month had passed, when the king summoned the mayor and said: "The sharpshooter has gone to wander over the white world for eighteen years; it is evident that he will not come back alive. Eighteen years, as thou knowest, are not two weeks; many a thing may happen on the road. He has much money, and robbers will fall upon him perhaps, strip him, and give him to a savage death. I think we can begin at his wife now. Take my carriage, drive to the soldier's quarters, and bring her to the palace".
The mayor drove to Fedot's house, entered, saluted the sharpshooter's wife, and said: "Hail, witty woman, the king has ordered us to present thee at the palace".
She went. The king received her with gladness, led her to a golden chamber, and spoke these words: "Dost thou wish to be queen? I will take thee in marriage".
"Where has it ever been seen or heard of," asked she, "that a wife was taken from her living husband? Though he is a simple soldier he is my lawful husband".
"If thou wilt not yield of thy free will, I will take thee by force".
The beautiful woman laughed, struck the floor, became a blue dove, and flew out through the window.
Fedot journeyed over many lands and kingdoms, the ball rolling ahead of him all the time. When he came to a river the ball became a bridge; whenever he wanted rest it became a soft couch. Whether it is long or short, a story is soon told, but a deed is not soon done; the sharpshooter arrived at a splendid palace, the ball rolled to the gate and disappeared. Fedot went straight up the stairs into a rich chamber, where he was met by three maidens of unspeakable loveliness.
"Whence comest, good man, and for what?"
"Oh, beautiful maidens, ye have not let me rest after the long journey, but have begun to inquire. First ye should give me to eat and drink, put me to rest, and then make inquiry".
Straightway they set the table. When he had eaten and drunk and rested, they brought him water, a basin, and an embroidered, towel. He took not the towel, but said, "I have one of my own." When they saw it they asked: "Good man, where didst thou get that towel?"
"My wife gave it me".
"Then thy wife is our own sister".
They called their aged mother. The moment she saw the towel she recognized it. "Why, this is my daughter's work." She asked the guest all sorts of questions. He told her how he had married her daughter, and how the king had sent him to the verge of destruction to bring back Shmat-Razum.