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.
MANY and many a year ago there was a cottage by the sea, and in this cottage lived a fisherman who caught fish in the sea. By the king's command he was allowed to take fish, not when he liked, but only once a week, and that on Mondays. He was anxious, therefore, to catch many on that day. Fish, of course, are not so crafty as men, but still they know enough to see that there is no fun in being caught. What is to be done with them afterwards they don't know; still, they must suspect that it can hardly be for their amusement. It is no wonder then that they did not crowd into the fisherman's net.
The fisherman worked every Monday till the sweat streamed down his face; and this all the more, since, come what might, he was obliged to bring fish to the king's kitchen each Monday. Once he worked the whole forenoon without catching even a white fish. "I will try once more," thought the tired fisherman; "I will throw everything into the water, and jump around to frighten the fish, they are so stubborn".
He threw the net deeply, and when he pulled it was very heavy. "Now there will be fish," thought he, joyfully; but what was his astonishment when, instead of fish, he drew out a great copper kettle.
The kettle was so well fastened that the fisherman had to work long before he could take off the cover. But how he was frightened! Scarcely had he removed the cover when out of the kettle rushed black smoke, which grew thicker and thicker, till at last it changed to a fiery man.
"Thou hast helped me, and I will help thee," said he to the terrified fisherman; "but in my own way I will destroy thee".
The fisherman lost his head, but soon recovering said: "Oh, I don't care, I am already tired of this world; still thou must do something for me, since I freed thee. I can't understand how thou wert able to live in such a small place, and under the water too, and then change so quickly".
"I 'll show thee in a moment," said the fiery man; and he began to turn into black smoke, and in no long time he was packed into the kettle again.
"Dost see me?" inquired he of the fisherman.
"I see thee," answered the fisherman, laughing; "I see thee, but thou 'It not see me any more".
The cover was already on the kettle and fastened firmly. The fiery man by no means expected to find such cunning among people, and considering his condition in the kettle, began to beg of the fisherman: "Let me out and I will reward thee".
"Swear that thou wilt never destroy me," said the fisherman.
The spirit answered with a solemn voice, "I swear".
The fisherman removed the cover, and black smoke rolled out, growing thicker and thicker, till at last it turned into a fiery man.
"Follow me," said he to the fisherman; and the latter followed without thinking.
In a short time they came to a high cliff in which steps were cut in the stone. The fiery man bent to the earth, plucked an herb, and giving it to the fisherman said: "Keep this with thee always. Put thy foot on this step; immediately after thou wilt be on a high mountain, from which thou wilt see a great lake. In the lake is a wealth of fish, and thou hast the right to catch as many of them as may please thee, but only once a week, on Mondays. When thou hast the wish to come down, climb to the top, and soon thou wilt be at the bottom".
Thereupon the fiery man vanished, but the fisherman went on the steps cut in the rock; in one moment a mighty wind caught him, and in a twinkle he was on a high mountain, from which he saw an altogether unknown country covered with dark forests, in the midst of which was a broad lake; only here and there was a grass-plot to be seen, there were neither hills nor the dwellings of men.
The fisherman went down from the mountain, and when he had reached the lake he found a boat with all the fishing-tackle, as if made ready for him. He went to work willingly, threw in the net, and drew out nothing; he threw it in a second time, drew out as much as before. "That fiery man has fooled me," thought he, "but the third throw is always the best." He cast his net again and drew out three fish; when he saw them in the net, he said bitterly: "Well, this is a wealth of fish! If it goes on in this way I 'll soon leave the place; besides, I don't like travelling by wind." But when he looked at the fish more carefully, and took them in his hand, he found that in all his life he had never seen anything like them. "These are not for me," muttered he, "I must give them to the king; he will soon try them." With that he left the boat, went to the mountain, and had barely touched the summit when a mighty wind seized him, and placed him on level land. He set out for home, and it was time; for his wife had already cooked the dinner and was waiting. As soon as he saw her before the door, he hurried his steps; and when she was in the cottage he began to run. And why did he run, because he feared her? Not at all. He cared nothing for her, as he said himself; but he loved domestic peace, and did everything his wife wanted, but always did it in such fashion that she might not know what he was doing; this was to preserve his own importance in her eyes. He went into the house slowly, and said at the door: "Well, my dear, I have caught a few fish to-day; but I had much trouble, or I should have been home long ago".
"Time for thee," snapped his wife; "if thou art late again I 'll eat alone, leave nothing, and thou wilt find out that I am not thy slave to wait and suffer hunger".
"Oh well, things are not so bad to-day," said the fisherman; "better come and see these wonderful fish".
"They are just like any other fish," cried the woman, "only they look a little different, that's all".
"And for that very reason thou wilt take them to the king. He will pay us well for them; we should not be able to use them".
"Oh, thou couldst soon do away with them," replied his wife, "but that's why I 'll take them to the king; besides, we are up to our ears in fish".