There once lived a man and his wife who had no children. They did all they could, they prayed to God to help them, but God did not seem to hear them. One day the man went to the forest to gather mushrooms and he met an old man on the way. "I know what's on your mind," the old man said. "You want a child. Well, then, what you must do is go from house to house in your village, ask each of your neighbours for an egg and then put a brood-hen on them. You'll see what comes of it!" The man went back to the village, and as there were forty-one houses there and he made the rounds of them all, he collected forty-one eggs, and, this done, put a brood-hen on them. Two weeks passed, and the couple were amazed to see that forty-one babies, all boys, were hatched out of the eggs. Forty of the boys were strong and healthy, but the forty-first was frail and puny. The man began giving the boys names, but could think of only forty and was at a loss to think of a forty-first. "Well," said he to the forty-first boy, "you're frail and puny, so Puny you shall be!"
The boys grew fast, not by the day but by the hour, and when they had grown to manhood, began to help their mother and father, the first forty working in the field and Puny doing the things that needed to be done in the house. Mowing time came, and the forty brothers cut the grass and made hayricks, and after they had worked for a week, came back home. They had their supper and went to bed, and the father looked at them and said: "Look at those lads! They eat a lot, they sleep soundly, but I don't suppose they've done much work!" "Go to the field and see for yourself before you say that, Father," Puny said. The father harnessed a horse and drove to the meadow, and what was his surprise when he saw forty hayricks there! "Good lads to have cut so much grass and put up so many hayricks in one week!" he cried.
On the following day the father again set out for the meadow, for he wanted to feast his eyes on the hayricks. But when he came there he saw that one of the hayricks was gone! He came back home and told his sons about it. "Never mind, Father, we'll find the thief!" Punny said. "Give me a hundred rubles and Ï1 do it myself." The father gave him a hundred rubles, and he went to a smithy and asked the smith if he could forge a chain long enough to bind a man with from head to toe. "And why not!" said the smith. "Well, then, make it as strong as you can. If I find that it's as strong as I want it to be, you'll get a hundred rubles, but if it breaks, then all your labours will have been in vain." The smith forged an iron chain, but when Puny wound it round
himself and then pulled at it, it up and broke! The smith then forged him another chain, twice as thick, and finding it to be good and strong, Puny took it, paid the smith his hundred rubles and made for the meadow. He sat down under a hayrick and waited to see what would happen.
Midnight came, the wind began to blow, the sea rose in waves, and from out of its depths stepped a mare. She ran up to the first hayrick and began eating the hay. And Puny jumped up, threw his chain round the mare and sprang on her back. The mare kicked and reared and she carried him over hills and dales, but he sat on her back firmly, and, seeing that she could not throw him. she stopped and said: "Since you were able to get the better of me, my brave lad, you shall have my colts for your own!" She ran to the blue sea and gave a loud whinny, the sea rose in waves, and on to the shore stepped forty-one colts. Each of them was better than the other, and you could not find their like even if you were to search all over the world! Morning came, and the father heard a great pounding of hooves and a loud neighing coming from outside. He rushed out into the yard with his sons, and whom should they see there but Puny leading in a whole herd of horses! "Greetings to you, brothers!" Puny said. "There's a horse here for each of us. Let us go to seek brides for ourselves!" "A good idea!" the brothers said. The mother and father blessed them and off they set on their way.
Long did they ride over the wide world, but where could they find so many brides all in one place! For, not wanting to hurt one another's feelings, they had all of them set their hearts on marrying at one and the same time. On rode the brothers, beyond the thrice-nine lands, and they came to a steep mountain on top of which stood a great house of white stone with a high wall around it and forty-one iron pillars at the gate. They tied their horses to the pillars and went in through the gate into the yard, and whom should they see coming toward them but Baba-Yaga the Witch. "How dared you tie your horses to the pillars without asking, you who come here uninvited!" said she. "Why do you shout, old one? First steam us in the baths and give us food and drink and then ask your questions." Baba-Yaga steamed them in the baths and gave them food and drink and then she said: "Come, my brave lads, tell me. have you some purpose in mind or do you come merely to while away the time?" "We have a purpose in mind, Grandma." "And what is it?" "We wish to marry and are seeking brides for ourselves." "I have many daughters," said Baba-Yaga, and she hurried into the house and was soon back, bringing forty-one maids with her.
Each of the brothers then chose himself a bride, a great wedding feast was held, and they all drank and made merry. Evening came, and
Puny went to see how his mare was faring. The mare saw him and said in a human voice: "Mind this, master! Before going to bed you must put on your brides' clothes and have them put on yours! If you do not do this, it'll be the end for all of us." Puny passed on to his brothers what the mare had said, and they put on their brides' clothes and had them put on theirs and went to bed. They were soon asleep, all save Puny who never closed an eye. Midnight struck, and Baba-Yaga called out in a loud voice: "Make haste, my faithful servants, cut off the heads of these guests of ours!" And the servants came running and cut off the heads of Baba-Yaga's forty-one daughters. Puny then woke his brothers and told them what had happened, and they took the heads and stuck them on the iron poles that surrounded the wall. Then they saddled their horses and made off in great haste. Morning came, Baba- Yaga rose and looked out of the window, and there, crowning the poles, were her daughters' heads! She flew into a passion, and, ordering her fiery shield to be brought, rode off in pursuit. Where were the brothers to hide? Ahead of them lay the blue sea, and behind them came Baba-Yaga burning everything in her way with her shield! Death seemed close, but Puny was a clever lad and had not forgotten to take along Baba-Yaga's magic kerchief. He waved the kerchief in front of him, a bridge spanning the blue sea rose before him, and he and his brothers crossed it and were soon on the opposite shore. Then Puny waved the kerchief behind him, the bridge vanished, Baba-Yaga was forced to turn back, and the brothers rode safely home.