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.
IN a certain kingdom in a certain land there lived a Tsar; that Tsar had three sons, - two crafty, and the third simple. Somehow the Tsar had a dream that beyond the thrice ninth land, in the thirtieth kingdom, there was a beautiful maiden, from whose hands and feet water was flowing, that whoever would drink that water would become thirty years younger. The Tsar was very old. He summoned his sons and counsellors, and asked: "Can anyone explain my dream?"
The counsellors answered the Tsar: "We have not seen with sight nor heard with hearing of such a beautiful maiden, and how to go to her is unknown to us".
Now the eldest son, Dmitri Tsarevich, spoke up: "Father, give me thy blessing to go in all four directions, look at people, show myself, and make search for the beautiful maiden".
The Tsar gave his parental blessing. "Take," said he, "treasure as much as thou wishcst, and all kinds of troops as many as are necessary".
Dmitri Tsarevich took one hundred thousand men and set out on the road, on the journey. He rode a day, he rode a week, he rode a month, and two and three months. No matter whom he asked, no one knew of the beautiful maiden, and he came to such desert places that there were only heaven and earth. He urged his horse on, and behold before him is a lofty mountain; he could not see the top with his eyes. Somehow he climbed the mountain and found there an ancient, a gray old man.
"Hail, brave youth! Art fleeing from labor, or seekest thou labor?"
"I am seeking labor".
"What dost thou need?"
"I have heard that beyond the thrice ninth land, in the thirtieth kingdom, is a beautiful maiden, from whose hands and feet healing water flows, and that whoever gets and drinks this water will grow thirty years younger".
"Well, brother, thou canst not go there".
"Because there are three broad rivers on the road, and on these rivers three ferries: at the first ferry they will cut off thy right hand, at the second thy left foot, at the third they will take thy head".
Dmitri Tsarevich was grieved; he hung his stormy head below his shoulders, and thought: "Must I spare my father's head? Must I spare my own? I'll turn back".
He came down from the mountain, went back to his father, and said: "No, father, I have not been able to find her; there is nothing to be heard of that maiden".
The second son, Vassili Tsarevich, began to beg: "Father, give me thy blessing; perhaps I can find her".
"Go, my son".
Vassili Tsarevich took one hundred thousand men, and set out on his road, on his journey. He rode a day, he rode a week, he rode a month, and two, and three, and entered such places that there was nothing but forests and swamps. He found there Baba-Yaga, boneleg. "Hail, Baba-Yaga, boneleg!"
"Hail, brave youth! Art thou fleeing from labor, or seekest labor?"
"I am seeking labor. I have heard that beyond the thrice ninth land, in the thirtieth kingdom, is a beautiful maiden, from whose feet and hands healing water flows".
"There is, father; only thou canst not go there".
"Because on the road there are three ferries: at the first ferry they will cut off thy right hand, at the second thy left foot, at the third off with thy head".
"It is not a question of saving my father's head, but sparing my own".
He returned, and said to his father: "No, father, I could not find her; there is nothing to be heard of that maiden".
The youngest son, Ivan Tsarevich, began to beg: "Give me thy blessing, father; maybe I shall find her".
The father gave him his blessing. "Go, my dear son; take troops and treasure all that are needed".
"I need nothing, only give me a good steed and the sword Kladyenets".
Ivan Tsarevich mounted his steed, took the sword Kladyenets, and set out on his way, on his journey. He rode a day, he rode a week, he rode a month, and two and three; and rode into such places that his horse was to the knees in water, to the breast in grass, and he, good youth, had nothing to eat. He saw a cabin on hen's feet, and entered: inside sat Baba-Yaga, boneleg.
"Hail, Ivan Tsarevich! Art flying from labor, or seekest labor?"
"What labor? I am going to the thirtieth kingdom; there, it is said, lives a beautiful maiden, from whose hands and feet healing water flows".
"There is, father; though with sight I have not seen her, with hearing I have heard of her: but to her it is not for thee to go".
"Because there are three ferries on the way: at the first ferry they will cut off thy right hand, at the second thy left foot, at the third off with thy head".
"Well, grandmother, one head is not much; I will go, whatever God gives".
"Ah! Ivan Tsarevich, better turnback; thou art still a green youth, hast never been in places of danger, hast not seen great terror".
"No," said Ivan; "if thou seizest the rope, don't say thou art not strong." He took farewell of Baba-Yaga and went farther.
He rode a day, a second, and a third, and came to the first ferry: the ferrymen were sleeping on the opposite bank. "What is to be done?" thought Ivan. "If I shout, they '11 be deaf for the rest of their lives; if I whistle, I shall sink the ferry-boat." He whistled a half whistle. The ferrymen sprang up that minute and ferried him across the river.
"What is the price of your work, brothers?" "Give us thy right hand".
"Oh, I want that for myself!" Then Ivan Tsarevich struck with his sword on the right, and on the left. He cut down all the ferrymen, mounted his horse, and galloped ahead. At the two other ferries he got away in the same fashion. He was drawing near the thirtieth kingdom. On the boundary stood a wild man, in stature tall as a forest, in thickness the equal of a great stack of hay; he held in his hands an enormous oak-tree.