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.
IN a certain kingdom, in a certain state, lived a terrible Tsar. He was famed through all lands, - a terror to kings and princes. The Tsar took a thought to marry, and published an order in every town and village that whoever would find him a bride ruddier than the sun, fairer than the moon, and whiter than snow, would be rewarded with countless wealth. The report of this went through the whole kingdom; and from small to great, all were talking and thinking, but no one offered to find such a beauty.
Not far from the king's castle was a large brewery. The working-men came together for some reason, and began to say that a man might get much money from the Tsar, but where could such a bride be found?
"Well, brothers," said a man, Nikita Koltoma by name, "no one can find a bride for the Tsar without my help; but if I undertake it, then he will find her without fail".
"What art thou boasting of, thou fool? How couldst thou do that deed? There are famous and rich people, not the like of us, and they are afraid.
Thou couldst not do it in a dream, much less in thy senses".
"Well, say what ye please; but I have faith in myself," said he, "and I 'll get her".
"Ah, Nikita, don't boast; thou knowest our Tsar is terrible, and for an empty boast he will put thee to death".
"He won't put me to death; he will reward me with money".
They reported these speeches to the Tsar himself. He was delighted, and gave command to bring Nikita before his bright eyes. The soldiers ran, seized Nikita Koltoma, and hurried him to the palace. His comrades called after him: "Well, brother, thou hast said it; thou thinkest to joke with the Tsar: go now and give answer".
They brought Nikita to the great palace, and the terrible Tsar said to him: "Thou, Nikita, dost boast that thou art able to find me a bride ruddier than the sun, fairer than the moon, and whiter than snow".
"I can, your Majesty".
"Very well, brother. If thou wilt do me that service, I will reward thee with countless treasure and make thee first minister; but if thou hast lied, I have a sword, and thy head leaves thy shoulders".
"I am glad to serve thee, Great Tsar; but command that I have a holiday for a whole month".
The Tsar consented, and gave over his own signature an open order to Nikita, commanding that in all eating-houses and inns they should give him gratis all kinds of food and drink.
Nikita went through the capital to enjoy himself. Whatever inn he entered, he showed the paper; immediately they brought him everything that his soul desired. He caroused one day, a second, a third; a week, a second, a third week. And now the term is passed; 't is time to go to the Tsar.
Nikita took farewell of his friends, went to the palace, and asked the Tsar to collect for him twelve brave youths, the same in stature, in hair, and in voice, and to prepare besides thirteen white woven tents with golden embroidery. Everything was soon ready; the young men were collected at once, and the tents made.
"Now, Great Tsar," said Nikita, "get ready, and we will go for the bride".
They saddled their good steeds, packed the tents on the horses. After that they had a prayer in the church, took leave of the people of the town, sat on their steeds, and galloped away; nothing but a pillar of dust behind them. They travelled one day, a second, and a third. In the open field was a forge. Said Nikita: "Go straight ahead with God, and I will run into the forge and smoke a pipe." He entered the forge; fifteen blacksmiths were forging iron inside, striking with their hammers.
"God aid you, brothers!"
"God save thee, good man!"
"Make me a staff fifteen poods1 weight".
"To make it we are not unwilling; but who will turn the iron? Fifteen poods are no joke".
"That is nothing, brothers; you beat with the hammers, and I 'll turn the iron".
The blacksmiths went to work and forged an iron staff of fifteen poods. Nikita took the rod, went out into the field, and threw it up ninety feet, held out his hand; the iron staff fell on his hand, but was not equal to the strength of the hero, it broke in two. Nikita Koltoma paid the blacksmiths for their work, threw the broken rod to them, and rode away. He caught up with his comrades. They travelled three days more; again there was a forge in the open field.
"Go on, I will enter this forge," said Nikita. He went into the forge. Twenty-five blacksmiths were working inside, forging iron, pounding with their hammers.
"God aid thee, boys!"
"God save thee, good man!"
"Make me a staff twenty-five poods in weight".
"To forge is no trouble; but where is the man with strength to turn so much iron?"
"I will turn it myself".
He took the twenty-five poods weight of iron, heated it red hot, and turned it on the anvil while the blacksmiths pounded with their hammers. They made a staff twenty-five poods in weight. Nikita took that staff, went out into the open field, threw it up one hundred and fifty feet, and held out his hand: the staff struck the hero's hand and broke in two.
1 One pood = 36 pounds.
"No, this will not do," said Nikita. He paid for the work, sat on his horse, and rode away. He overtook his comrades. They travelled a day, a second, and a third. Again there was a forge in the open field.
"Go on," said Nikita; "I will smoke a pipe in this forge".
He entered the forge, where fifty blacksmiths were tormenting an old man. A gray-haired old man was lying on the anvil; ten men were holding him with pincers by the beard, and forty men were pounding him on the sides with hammers.
"Have pity on me, brothers!" cried the old man, with all his strength. "Leave the life in me to do penance!"
"God aid you!" said Nikita.
"God aid thee, good man!" said the blacksmiths.
"Why are ye tormenting the old man? '
"Because he owes each one of us a rouble, and he will not pay it. Why should n't we beat him?"