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.
Vassilissa the Beautiful was wary; she feared the serpent might see them. They had barely entered when the silver pillar groaned, the stairways opened, all the roofs glittered; the whole castle began to turn and move. The Tsarevna was frightened, and said to her brothers: "The serpent is coming, the serpent is coming; that's why the castle goes round! Hide, brothers!"
She had barely said this when the Savage Serpent flew in, cried with a thundering voice, and whistled with a hero's whistle: "What living man is here?"
"We, Savage Serpent," answered the Tsar's sons, without fear; "from our birthplace we 've come for our sister".
"Oh, the young men are here!" shouted the serpent, clapping his wings. "Ye should not die here from me, nor seek your sister to free; her own brothers, champions, are ye, but champions puny I see." And the serpent caught one of them with his wing, struck him against the other, whistled and shouted. The castle guard ran to him, took the dead Tsare-viches, threw them both down a deep ditch.
The Tsarevna Vassilissa Golden Tress covered herself with tears, took neither food nor drink, would not look on the world. Two days and three passed. It was not right she should die, she did not decide to die; she took pity on her beauty, took counsel of hunger. On the third day she ate, and was thinking how to free herself from the serpent, and began to gain knowledge by wheedling.
"Savage Serpent," said she, "great is thy power, mighty thy flight: is it possible that thou hast no foe?"
"Not yet," replied the serpent; "it was fated at my birth that my foe should be Ivan Goroh [John Pea]; and he will be born from a pea".
The serpent said this in jest; he expected no foe. The strong one relied on his strength; but the jest came true.
The mother of Vassilissa Golden Tress was grieving because she had no news of her children after the Tsarevna, the Tsareviches, were lost.
She went one day to walk in the garden with her ladies; the day was hot, she was thirsty. In that garden, from a foot-hill, spring water ran forth in a stream, and above it was a white marble well. They drew, with a golden cup, water pure as a tear. The Tsaritsa was eager to drink, and with the water she swallowed a pea. The pea burst, and the Tsaritsa became heavy; the pea increased and grew. In time the Tsaritsa gave birth to a son; they called him Ivan Goroh, and he grew, not by the year, but by the hour, smooth and plump; he is lively, laughs, jumps, springs on the sand, and his strength is growing in him all the time, so that at ten years he was a mighty champion. Then he asked the Tsar and Tsaritsa if he had had many brothers and sisters, and he heard how it happened that the whirlwind had borne away his sister, it was unknown whither, how his two brothers had begged to go in search of their sister, and were lost without tidings.
"Father, mother," begged Ivan Goroh, "let me go too; give me your blessing to find my brothers and sister".
"What art thou saying, my child?" asked the Tsar and Tsaritsa at once. "Thou art still green and young; thy brothers went, they were lost, thou wilt go too and be lost".
"Mayhap I shall not be lost," said Ivan Goroh. "I want to find my brothers and sister".
The Tsar and Tsaritsa persuaded and begged their dear son, but he craved, cried, and entreated. They prepared him for the road, let him go with tears.
Ivan Goroh was free. He went out into the open field, travelled one day, travelled another. Toward night he came to a dark forest; in that forest was a cabin on hen's legs; from the wind it was shaking and turning. Ivan spoke from the old saying, from his nurse's tale. "Cabin, cabin," said he, "turn thy back to the forest, thy front to me;" and the cabin turned around to Ivan. Out of the window an old woman was looking, and she asked, "Whom is God bringing?"
Ivan bowed, and hastened to ask: "Hast thou not seen, grandmother, in what direction the passing whirlwind carries beautiful maidens?"
"Oh, young man," said she, coughing, and looking at Ivan, " that whirlwind has frightened me too, so that I sit in this cabin a hundred and twenty years, and I go out nowhere! Maybe he would fly up and sweep me away. That's not a whirlwind, but the Savage Serpent".
"How could one go to him?" asked Ivan.
"What art thou thinking of, my world? The serpent will swallow thee".
"Maybe he will not swallow me".
"See to it, champion, or thou wilt not save thy head. But shouldst thou come back, give me thy word to bring from the serpent's castle water with which, if a man sprinkles himself, he will grow young," said she, moving her teeth beyond measure.
"I will get it, grandmother, I give thee my word." "I believe thee, on conscience! Go straight to where the sun sets. In one year thou wilt reach the bald mountain there; ask for the road to the serpent's kingdom".
"God save thee, grandmother!" "There is no reason for thanks, father." Well, Ivan Goroh went to the land where the sun sets. A story is soon told, but a deed's not soon done. He passed three kingdoms, and went to the serpent's land; before the gates of the town he saw a beggar, - a lame, blind old man with a crutch, - and giving him charity, he asked if the young Tsarevna Vassilissa Golden Tress was in that town.
"She is, but it is forbidden to say so," answered the beggar.
Ivan knew that his sister was there; the good, bold hero became courageous, and went to the palace. At that time Vassilissa Golden Tress was looking out of the window to see if the Savage Serpent was coming; and she saw from afar the young champion, wished to know of him, sent quietly to learn from what land he had come, of what stock was he, was he sent by her father or by her own mother.
Hearing that Ivan, her youngest brother, had come (and she did not know him by sight), Vassilissa ran to him, wet him with tears. "Run, brother, quickly!" cried she. "The serpent will soon be here; he will see thee, destroy thee".
"My dear sister," answered Ivan, "if another had spoken, I should not have listened. I have no fear of the serpent, no fear of his strength".
"But art thou Goroh," asked Vassilissa Golden Tress, "to manage him?"
"Wait, friend sister; first give me to drink. I have travelled under heat, I am tired from the road; I want a drink".
"What dost thou drink, brother?"
"Three gallons of sweet mead, dear sister".
Vassilissa gave command to bring a three-gallon measure of sweet mead, and Goroh drank it all at one breath. He asked for another; the Tsarevna gave orders to hurry, looked, and wondered.
"Well, brother, I did not know thee; but now I believe that thou art Ivan Goroh!"
"Let me sit down a moment to rest from the road".
Vassilissa gave command to bring a strong chair; but the chair broke under Ivan, flew into bits. They brought another all bound with iron, and that one cracked and bent. "Oh, brother," cried Vassilissa, "that is the chair of the Savage Serpent!"
"Now it is clear that I am heavier than he," said Goroh, laughing.
He rose and went on the street, went from the castle to the forge; there he ordered the old sage, the serpent's blacksmith, to forge him an iron club of nine tons weight. The blacksmith hastened the work.
They hammered the iron; night and day the hammers thundered, the sparks just flying. In forty hours the work was done. Fifty men were barely able to carry the club; but Ivan Goroh, seizing it in one hand, hurled the club to the sky: it flew, roared like a storm, whirled above the clouds, vanished from the eye. All the people ran trembling from terror, thinking if that club falls on the town, it will break the walls and crush the people; if it falls in the sea, it will raise the sea and flood the town. But Ivan Goroh went quietly to the castle, and gave command to tell when the club was coming. The people ran from the square, looked from under the gate, looked out of windows. "Is n't the club coming?" They waited an hour, they waited two; the third hour they ran to say that the club was coming. Goroh sprang to the square, put forth his hand, caught the club as it came, bent not himself, but the iron bent on the palm of his hand. Ivan took the club, pressed it against his knee, straightened it, went to the castle.
All at once a terrible whistling was heard, the Savage Serpent was racing; Whirlwind, his steed, flying like an arrow, breathes fire. The serpent in shape is a champion, but his head is the head of a serpent. When he flies, the whole castle quivers; when he is ten versts distant, it begins to whirl and dance. But now the castle moves not: it is clear that some one is sitting inside. The serpent grew thoughtful, whistled, shouted; the whirlwind steed shook his dark mane, opened his broad wings, reared and roared.
The serpent flew up to the castle, but the castle moves not. "Ho!" roared the Savage Serpent, "it is plain there is a foe. Is not Goroh at my house?" Soon came the champion. "I'll put thee on the palm of one hand, and slap with the other: they won't find thy bones".
"We shall see," said Ivan Goroh.
He went out with his club, and the serpent cried from his whirlwind: "Take thy place in a hurry".
"Take thy own place, Savage Serpent," said Ivan, and raised his club.
The Savage Serpent flew up to strike Ivan, to pierce him with his spear, and missed. Goroh sprang to one side, did not stagger.
"Now I 'll finish thee!" roared Goroh. Raising his club, he struck the serpent a blow that tore him to pieces, scattered him; the club went across the earth, went through two kingdoms into a third.
The people hurled up their caps and saluted Ivan Tsar. But Ivan seeing the wise blacksmith, as a reward for having made the club quickly, he called up the old man and said to the people: "Here is your head; obey him while doing good, as before ye obeyed the Savage Serpent for evil".
Ivan got also the water of life and the water of death, sprinkled his brothers; they rose up, rubbed their eyes and thought, "We slept long; God knows what has happened".
"Without me you would have slept forever, my dear brothers," said Ivan Goroh, pressing them to his restive heart.
He did not forget to take the serpent's water; he made a ship, and on the Swan's river sailed with Vas-silissa Golden Tress to his own land through three kingdoms into the fourth. He did not forget the old woman in the cabin; he let her wash in the serpent's water. She turned into a young woman, began to sing and dance, ran out after Goroh, and conducted him to the road.
His father and mother met him with joy and honor. They sent messengers to all lands with tidings that their daughter Vassilissa had returned. In the town there was ringing, and in the ears triple ringing; trumpets sounded, drums were beaten, guns thundered.
A bridegroom came to Vassilissa, and a bride was found for the Tsarevich; they had four crowns made, and celebrated two weddings. At the rejoicing, at the gladness, there was a feast as a mountain, and mead a river.
The grandfathers of grandfathers were there; they drank mead, and it came to us, flowed on our mustaches, but reached not our mouths. Only it became known that Ivan, after the death of his father, received the crown, and ruled the land with renown; and age after age the name of Goroh was famous.