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 was no other way, and so the merchant promised with an oath to give what he had at home but knew it not. The Tsar of the Sea put the palace in the golden casket at once. The merchant took the casket and went his way. Whether it was long or short, he came home, his wife met him. "Oh, be thou hearty, my world. Where wert thou lost?"
"Well, where I was I am not now".
"But while thou wert gone the Lord gave us a son".
"Ah! that is what was at home and I knew it not," thought the merchant; and he grew very sad and sorrowful.
"What is the matter? Art thou not glad to be here?" insisted his wife.
"Not that," said the merchant; and he told her all that had happened to him, and they grieved and wept together. But people of course cannot cry all their lives. The merchant opened his golden casket, and before them stood a great castle cunningly adorned, and he began to live with his wife and son and gain wealth.
Ten years passed and more; the merchant's son grew up, became wise, fine-looking, a splendid fellow. One morning he rose up in sadness and said to his father: "My father, I had a bad dream last night. I dreamed of the Tsar of the Sea; he commanded me to come to him. 'I am waiting long,' said he; 'it is time to know thy honor.'"
The father and mother shed tears, gave him their parental blessing, and let him go to a strange land. He went along the road,, along the broad road; he walked over clear fields and wide steppes, and came to a dreamy forest. It was empty all around, not a soul to be seen; but there stood a small cabin by itself, with front to the forest and back to Ivan. "Cabin, cabin," said he, "turn thy back to the forest, thy front to me." The cabin obeyed, and turned its back to the forest, its front to Ivan. He entered the cabin, inside was Baba-Yaga, bone-leg, lying from corner to corner. Baba-Yaga saw him and said: "Before now, nothing of Russia was heard with hearing or seen with sight, but now Russia runs to our eyes. Whence dost thou come, good hero, and where dost thou bear thy way?"
"Oh, thou old hag, thou hast given neither meat nor drink to a wayfaring man, and art asking for news!"
Baba-Yaga put drink on the table and various meats; she fed him, she gave him to drink, and put him to rest. Early next morning she roused him, and then she put questions. Ivan the merchant's son told the whole secret, and said: "Teach me, grandmother, how to go to the Tsar of the Sea".
"It is well that thou hast come to me; hadst thou not, thou wouldst have lost thy life, for the Tsar of the Sea is terribly angry because thou didst not go to him long ago. Listen to me: go by this path; thou wilt come to a lake, hide behind a tree and wait a while. Three beautiful doves, maidens, will fly there, - they are the daughters of the Tsar of the Sea; they will loose their wings, undress, and bathe in the lake. One will have many-colored wings: watch the moment, seize the wings, and do not give them up till she consents to marry thee; then all will be right".
Ivan the merchant's son took farewell of Baba-Yaga and travelled the path she had shown, walked and walked, saw the lake, hid himself behind a thick tree. After a time three doves came flying, one with many-colored wings; they struck the earth, turned into beautiful maidens, removed their wings, and took off their dresses. Ivan the merchant's son kept his eyes open; he crept up in silence and took the many-colored wings. He watched to see what would happen. The fair maidens bathed, came out of the water, two of them dressed straightway, put on their wings, turned into doves, and flew away. The third remained to find her wings. She searched, singing the while: "Tell who thou art, thou who hast taken my wings! If an old man, thou wilt be a father to me; if of middle years, my uncle dear; if a good youth, I will marry thee".
Ivan the merchant's son came from behind the tree. "Here are thy wings!"
"Now tell me, good youth, betrothed husband, of what stock or race art thou, and whither dost thou bear thy way?"
"I am Ivan the merchant's son, and I am going to thy own father, to the Tsar of the Sea".
"And my name is Vassilissa the Cunning".
Now, Vassilissa was the favorite daughter of the Tsar, and was first in mind and beauty. She showed her bridegroom how to go to the Tsar of the Sea, sprang away as a dove, and flew after her sisters.
Ivan the merchant's son came to the Tsar of the Sea, who made him serve in the kitchen, cut wood, and draw water. Chumichka, the cook, did not like him, and told lies to the Tsar. "Your Majesty," said he, "Ivan the merchant's son boasts that in one night he can cut down a great dense forest, pile the logs in heaps, dig out the roots, plough the land, sow it with wheat, reap that wheat, thresh it, grind it into flour, make cakes of the flour, and give these cakes to your Majesty at breakfast next morning".
" Well," said the Tsar, "call him to me".
Ivan the merchant's son came.
"Why art thou boasting that in one night thou canst cut down a thick forest, plough the land just like a clean field, sow it with wheat, reap the wheat, thresh it, and make it into flour, the flour into cakes for my breakfast next morning? See that by tomorrow morning this is all done; if not, I have a sword, and thy head leaves thy shoulders".
No matter how Ivan protested, it was no use; the order was given, it had to be carried out. He went away from the Tsar, and hung his stormy head from grief. Vassilissa the Cunning, the daughter of the Tsar, saw him, and asked: "Why art thou grieved?"
"What is the use in telling thee? Thou couldst not cure my sorrow!"
"How knowest? Maybe I can".
Ivan the merchant's son told her what task the Tsar had put on him.