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.
"What task is that! That is a pleasure, - -the task is ahead. Go thy way; pray to God and lie down to rest; the morning is wiser than the evening; toward daylight all will be ready".
Just at midnight Vassilissa the Cunning went out on the great porch and cried in a piercing voice. In one moment laborers ran together from every side, - myriads of them; one was felling a tree, another digging out roots, another ploughing the land. In one place they were sowing, in another reaping and threshing; a pillar of dust went up to the sky, and at daybreak the grain was ground, the cakes baked. Ivan took the cakes to the breakfast of the Tsar.
"Spendid fellow!' said the Tsar; and he gave command to reward him from his own treasure.
Chumichka the cook was angrier than ever at Ivan, began to talk against him again. "Your Majesty, Ivan the merchant's son boasts that in one night he can make a ship that will fly through the air".
"Well, call him hither".
They called Ivan the merchant's son.
"Why boast to my servants that in one night thou canst make a wonderful ship that will fly through the air, and say nothing to me? See this ship is ready by morning; if not, I have a sword, and thy head leaves thy shoulders".
Ivan the merchant's son from sorrow hung his stormy head lower than his shoulders, and went from' the Tsar beside himself. Vassilissa the Cunning said to him: "Of what art thou grieving; why art thou sad?"
"Why should I not be sad? The Tsar of the Sea has commanded me to build in one night a ship that will fly through the air".
"What sort of task is that? That is not a task, but a pleasure; the task is ahead. Go thy way; lie down and rest: the morning is wiser than the evening; at daybreak all will be done".
At midnight Vassilissa the Cunning went out on the great porch, cried in a piercing voice. In a moment carpenters ran together from every side; they began to pound with their axes, and the work was seething quickly. Toward morning all was ready.
"A hero!' said the Tsar. "Come, now we will take a trip".
They sat on the ship together, and took as a third companion Chumichka the cook; and they flew through the air. When they were flying over the place of wild beasts the cook bent over the side to look out. Ivan the merchant's son pushed him from the ship that moment. The savage beasts tore him into little bits. "Oh," cried Ivan the merchant's son, "Chumichka has fallen off!"
"The devil be with him," said the Tsar of the Sea; "to a dog, a dog's death!" They came back to the palace. "Thou art skilful, Ivan," said the Tsar; "here is a third task for thee. Break my unridden stallion so that he will go under a rider. If thou wilt break him I will give thee my daughter in marriage; if not, I have a sword, and thy head leaves thy shoulders".
"Now that is an easy task," thought Ivan the merchant's son. He went away from the Tsar laughing. Vassilissa the Cunning saw him and asked about everything; he told her.
"Thou art not wise, Ivan," said she; "now a difficult task is given thee, - no easy labor. That stallion will be the Tsar himself: he will carry thee through the air above the standing forest, below the passing cloud, and scatter thy bones over the open field. Go quickly to the blacksmiths, order them to make for thee an iron hammer three poods in weight, and when thou art sitting on the stallion hold firmly and beat him on the head with the iron hammer".
Next day the grooms brought out the unridden stallion. They were barely able to hold him; he snorted, rushed, and reared. The moment Ivan sat on him he rose above the standing forest, below the passing cloud, flew through the air more swiftly than strong wind. The rider held firmly, beating him all the time on the head with the hammer. The stallion struggled beyond his power, and dropped to the damp earth. Ivan the merchant's son gave the stallion to the grooms, drew breath himself, and went to the palace. The Tsar of the Sea met him with bound head.
"I have ridden the horse, your Majesty".
"Well, come to-morrow to choose thy bride; but now my head aches".
Next morning Vassilissa the Cunning said to Ivan the merchant's son, "There are three sisters of us with our father; he will turn us into mares, and make thee select. Be careful, take notice; on my bridle one of the spangles will be dim. Then he will let us out as doves; my sisters will pick buckwheat very quietly, but I will not, - I will clap my wings. The third time he will bring us out as three maidens, one like the other in face, in stature, and hair. I will shake my handkerchief; by that thou mayest know me".
The Tsar brought out the three mares, one just like the other, put them in a row. "Take the one that pleases thee," said the Tsar.
Ivan the merchant's son examined them carefully. He saw that on one bridle a spangle had grown dim; he caught that bridle and said, "This is my bride".
"Thou hast taken a bad one; thou mayest choose a better".
"No use, this will do for me".
"Choose a second time".
The Tsar let out three doves just alike, and scattered buckwheat before them. Ivan saw that one of them was shaking her wings all the time. He caught her by the wing and said, "This is my bride".
"Thou hast not taken the right piece; thou .wilt choke thyself. Choose a third time".
He brought out three maidens, one like the other in face, in stature, and hair. Ivan the merchant's son saw that one waved her handkerchief; he seized her by the hand, "This is my bride".
There was nothing to be done. The Tsar could not help himself, gave Vassilissa the Cunning to Ivan, and they had a joyous wedding.
Not much nor little time had passed when Ivan thought of escaping to his own country with Vassilissa the Cunning. They saddled their horses and rode away in the dark night. In the morning the Tsar discovered their flight and sent a pursuing party.
"Drop down to the damp earth," said Vassilissa the Cunning to her husband; "perhaps thou wilt hear something".
He dropped to the earth, listened, and answered: "I hear the neighing of horses".
Vassilissa turned him into a garden, and herself into a head of cabbage. The pursuers returned to the Tsar empty-handed. "Your Majesty, there is nothing to be seen in the open country; we saw only a garden, and in the garden a head of cabbage".
"Go on, bring me that head of cabbage; that is their tricks".
Again the pursuers galloped on; again Ivan dropped down to the damp earth. "I hear," said he, "the neighing of horses." Vassilissa the Cunning made herself a well, and turned Ivan into a bright falcon; the falcon was sitting on the brink, drinking water. The pursuers came to the well; there was no road beyond, and they turned back.
"Your Majesty, there is nothing to be seen in the open country; we saw only a well, and a bright falcon was drinking water out of that well".
The Tsar himself galloped a long time to overtake them.
"Drop down to the damp earth; perhaps thou wilt hear something," said Vassilissa the Cunning to her husband.
"There is a hammering and thundering greater than before".
"That is my father chasing us. I know not, I cannot think what to do".
Vassilissa the Cunning had three things, - a brush, a comb, and a towel. She remembered them, and said: "God is yet merciful; I have still defence before the Tsar." She threw the brush behind her: it became a great drowsy forest; a man could not put his hand through, could not ride around it in three years. Behold, the Tsar of the Sea gnawed and gnawed the drowsy forest, made a path for himself, burst through it, and was again in pursuit. He is drawing near them, has only to seize them with his hand. Vassilissa threw her comb behind, and it became such a great lofty mountain that a man could neither pass over it nor go around it.
The Tsar of the Sea dug and dug in the mountain, made a path, and again chased after them. Then Vassilissa the Cunning threw the towel behind her, and it became a great, great sea. The Tsar galloped up to the sea, saw the road was stopped, and turned homeward.
Ivan the merchant's son was near home, and said to Vassilissa the Cunning: "I will go ahead, tell my father and mother about thee, and do thou wait here".
"See to it," said Vassilissa the Cunning, "when thou art home, kiss all but thy godmother; if thou kiss her thou 'It forget me".
Ivan came home, kissed all in delight, kissed his godmother, and forgot Vassilissa. She stood there, poor thing, on the road, waited and waited; Ivan did not come for her. She went to the town and hired to do work for an old woman.
Ivan thought of marrying; he found a bride, and arranged a feast for the whole world (jnir1).
Vassilissa heard this, dressed herself as a beggar, and came to the merchant's house to beg alms.
"Wait," said the merchant's wife; "I 'll bake thee a small cake instead of cutting the big one".
"God save thee for that, mother!" said Vassilissa.
But the great cake got burnt, and the small one came out nicely. The merchant's wife gave Vassilissa the burnt cake and put the small one on the table. They cut that cake, and immediately two pigeons flew out.
1 Mir means in Russian the "world," the "universe;" and also the "commune," or village society.
"Kiss me," said the cock-pigeon to the other.
"No, thou wilt forget me, as Ivan the merchant's son forgot Vassilissa the Cunning".
And the second and the third time he asked, "Kiss me".
"No, thou 'It forget me, as Ivan the merchant's son forgot Vassilissa the Cunning".
Ivan remembered then; he knew who the beggar was, and said to his father and mother: "This is my wife".
"Well, if thou hast a wife, then live with her".
They gave rich presents to the new bride, and let her go home; but Ivan the merchant's son lived with Vassilissa the Cunning, gained wealth, and shunned trouble.