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.
THERE lived in a village a son with his mother, and the mother was a very old woman. The son was called Ivan the Fool. They lived in a poor little cottage with one window, and in great poverty. Such was their poverty that besides dry bread they ate almost nothing, and sometimes they had not even the dry bread. The mother would sit and spin, and Ivan the Fool would lie on the stove, roll in the ashes, and never wipe his nose. His mother would say to him time and again: "Ivanushka, thou art sitting there with thy nose unwiped.' Why not go somewhere, even to the public-house? Some kind man may come along and take thee to work. Thou wouldst have even a bit of bread, while at home here we have nothing to keep the life in us".
"Very well, I'll go," said Ivan. He rose up and went to the public-house. On the way a man met him.
"Where art thou going, Ivan?"
"I am going to hire out to work".
"Come, work for me; I 'll give thee such and such wages, and other things too".
Ivan agreed. He went to work.
The man had a dog with whelps; one of the whelps pleased Ivan greatly, and he trained it. A year passed, and the time came to pay wages for the work. The man was giving Ivan money, but he answered: "I need not thy money; give me that whelp of thine that I trained".
The man was glad that he had not to pay money, and gave the whelp.
Ivan went home; and when his mother found what he had done, she began to cry, saying: "All people are people, but thou art a fool; we had nothing to eat, and now there is another life to support".
Ivan the Fool said nothing, sat on the stove with unwiped nose, rolling in the ashes, and the whelp with him. Some time passed; whether it was short or long, his mother said again: "Why art thou sitting there without sense; why not go to the public-house? Some good man may come along and hire thee".
"Very good, I 'll go," said the Fool.
He took his dog and started. A man met him on the road.
"Where art thou going, Ivan?"
"To find service," said he; "to hire out".
" Come, work for me".
"Very well," said Ivan.
They agreed, and Ivan went again to work; and that man had a cat with kittens. One of the kittens pleased the Fool, and he trained it. The time came for payment.
Ivan the Fool said to this man: "I need not thy money, but give me that kitten".
"If thou wilt have it," said the man.
Now the Fool went home, and his mother cried more than before. "All people are people, but thou wort born a fool. We had nothing to eat, and now we must support two useless lives!"
It was bitter for Ivan to hear this. He took his dog and cat and went out into the field. He saw in the middle of the field a fire burning in a great pile of wood, - such an awful pile of wood! When he drew nearer he saw that a snake was squirming in it, burning on hot coals.
The snake screamed to him in a human voice: "Oh, Ivan the Fool, save me! I will give thee a great ransom for my life".
Ivan took a stick and raised the snake out of the fire.
When he had thrown it out, there stood before him, not a snake, but a beautiful maiden; and she said: "Thanks to thee, Ivanushka. Thou hast done me great service; I will do thee still greater. We will go," said she, "to my mother. She will offer thee copper money: do not take it, because it is coals, and not money; she will offer thee silver coin: do not take that either, for that will be chips, and not silver; she will bring out to thee gold: take not even that, because instead of gold it is potsherds and broken bricks. But ask of her in reward the ring with twelve screws. It will be hard for her to give it; but be firm, she will give it for my sake".
Behold, all took place as she said. Though the old woman grew very angry, she gave the ring. Ivan was going along through the field, thinking, "What shall I do with this ring?"
He was looking at it, when that same young girl caught up with him and said: "Ivan, whatever thou wishest, thou wilt have. Only stand in the evening on the threshold, loosen all the twelve screws, and before thee twelve thousand men will appear: whatever thou wishest, command; all will be done".
Ivan went home, said nothing to his mother, sat on the stove, lay in the ashes with unwiped nose. Evening came; they lay down to sleep.
Ivan waited for the hour, went on the threshold, unscrewed the twelve screws, and twelve thousand men stood before him. "Thou art our master, we are thy men: declare thy soul's desire".
Said Ivan to the men: "Have it made that on this very spot a castle shall stand such as there is not in the world, and that I sleep on a bedstead of gold, on down of swans, and that my mother sleep in like manner; that coachmen, outriders, servants, and all kinds of powerful people be walking in my court and serving me".
"Lie down for thyself in God's name," said the men; "all will be done at thy word".
Ivan the Fool woke up next morning; and was frightened even himself. He looked around; he was sleeping on a golden bedstead on down of swans, and there were lofty chambers and so rich that even the Tsar had not such. In the courtyard were walking coachmen, outriders, servants, and all kinds of mighty and important people who were serving him. The Fool was amazed, and thought, "This is good." He looked in the mirror, and did not know his own self; he had become a beauty that could not be described with a pen or be told of in a tale. As was fitting, the lord was as fine as his chambers.
When the Tsar woke up at the same hour, - and the Tsar lived in that town, - he looked, and behold opposite his palace stood a castle just gleaming in gold.
The Tsar sent to learn whose it was. "Let the owner come to me," said he, "and show what sort of man he is".
They informed Ivan, and he said: "Tell him that this is the castle of Ivan Tsarevich; and if he wants to see me, he is not so great a lord, let him come himself".