A certain king had a copper man with arms of steel and a head of iron, a very artful character, whom he kept locked up in prison. The king's son, Prince Ivan, was still a little boy. One day as he walked past the prison, the old man called him over and said to him: "Please give me a drink, Prince Ivan!" Prince Ivan was too small to know better, so he got some water and gave it to him, whereupon the old man slipped out of the prison and vanished. Word of this reached the king, who ordered Prince Ivan to be banished from the realm. The king's word is law. So Prince Ivan was banished forthwith and set off on his wanderings.
On and on he went until he came to another kingdom, went straight to the king and asked him for work. The king took him in and made him a stable-boy. He did nothing but doze all day in the stables and would not look after the horses. The head groom often beat him. But Prince Ivan bore it all patiently. Then another king asked for this king's daughter in marriage and was refused, so he declared war. Our king went off with his army, leaving his fair daughter Princess Martha to rule the land. She had noticed that the stable-boy was not of common stock and sent him off to be the governor of somewhere or other.
Prince Ivan went to live and rule there. One day he decided to go hunting. He had just set off when the copper man with arms of steel and a head of iron popped up out of thin air. "Good-day, Prince Ivan!" Prince Ivan returned his greeting. "Come and be my guest," said the man. So off they went. The old man took him to a rich house and called to his youngest daughter: "Bring us food and drink, and a gallon-sized goblet of liquor!" They began to dine. The daughter brought in the gallon-sized goblet of liquor and took it up to Prince Ivan. He refused it, saying: "I couldn't manage all that!" The old man told him to have a try. So he picked up the goblet and suddenly found the strength to drain it in a single draught.
Then the old man took him out to try his strength. They came to a stone weighing five hundred poods. "Pick up this stone, Prince Ivan," the old man said. "I can × lift that," Prince Ivan thought to himself. "But I'll have a go." He picked it up and tossed it like a feather. "Where did I get the strength?" he wondered again. "It must have been in that liquor the old man gave me." They strolled on for a while, then turned back. When they came back to the house, the old man called to the middle daughter to bring two gallons of liquor. Prince Ivan grasped the goblet boldly and drained it in a single draught. They went out for
a walk again and came to a stone weighing a thousand poods. "Now toss this stone!" said the old man. Prince Ivan picked up the stone and tossed it like a feather. "What strength I have inside me!" he thought to himself.
Then back they went, and the old man called to the eldest daughter to bring a three-gallon goblet of liquor. Prince Ivan drained this too in a single draught. He and the old man went out for a walk. Prince Ivan tossed a stone weighing two thousand poods with the greatest of ease. Then the old man gave him a magic table-cloth and said: "There is great strength inside you now, Prince Ivan. Your horse cannot carry you! Strengthen the porch of your house, for it will not bear your weight either. Get new chairs. And put more supports under the floors. God be with you!" People laughed to see the governor returning from the hunt on foot, leading his horse by the bridle. When he got home, he ordered them to put more supports under the floors and make new chairs. He sent away the cooks and chambermaids and lived on his own like a hermit. Nobody cooked for him, and people marvelled that he did not need to eat. The magic table-cloth was feeding him all the time, of course.
He never went visiting, and indeed how could he? The houses could not bear his weight.
Meanwhile the king returned from the wars, heard that Prince Ivan was a governor and had him replaced and sent back to the stables. There was nothing for it, so Prince Ivan became a stable-boy again. One day the head groom gave him some orders and hit him. Prince Ivan lost his temper, seized the head groom and knocked his head off. Word of this reached the king. He summoned Prince Ivan. "Why did you strike the groom?" asked the king. "He hit me first, Your Majesty, so I hit him back, not very hard, on the head. And his head just fell off." The other stable-boys said the same thing. The head groom had hit Prince Ivan first, and Prince Ivan Mt him back; but not very hard. The king did nothing to Prince Ivan, only made him a soldier instead of a stable-boy. So Prince Ivan went off to the army.
Not long after this a thumb-sized mannikin with a long, long beard brought a letter bearing three black seals from the Water King. It said that if the king did not deliver his daughter, Princess Martha, to such- and-such an island on such-and-such a day to marry the Water King's son, he would kill the lot of them and burn the whole kingdom to ashes. A three-headed dragon would collect Princess Martha. The king read the letter and sent a reply to the Water King consenting to the match. He saw the mannikin off and summoned together his senators and ministers to think up a way of saving his daughter from the three-
headed dragon. If he did not deliver her to the island, the whole kingdom would be destroyed by the Water King. A proclamation was issued calling for someone to save Princess Martha from the dragon. The king promised his daughter's hand in return for this service.
A fine gentleman volunteered. He took a regiment of soldiers and set off with Princess Martha for the island. There he left her in a cabin and waited outside for the dragon. Meanwhile Prince Ivan heard that Princess Martha had been taken to the Water King and he set off for the island too. He came to the cabin, where Princess Martha was weeping. "Do not weep, Princess," he said to her. "God is merciful!" He lay down on the bench with his head on Princess Martha's lap and fell fast asleep. Suddenly the dragon began to rise out of the water, sending up a wave ten feet high. The fine gentleman was with the soldiers. When the water began to rise, he ordered: "Quick march, into the forest." Off scurried the soldiers into the forest. The dragon came out and made straight for the cabin. Princess Martha saw it coming for her and woke Prince Ivan. He jumped up, cut off the dragon's three heads with one fell swoop, and went away. The fine gentleman took Princess Martha home to her father.
Not long after that the thumb-sized mannikin with the long, long beard came out of the water again bearing a letter with six black seals from the Water King asking the king to deliver his daughter to a six- headed dragon on the self-same island. If he did not, the Water King threatened to flood the whole kingdom. The king once more wrote consenting to deliver Princess Martha. The mannikin went away. The king issued a proclamation, and notices were put up all over the land, calling for someone to save Princess Martha from the dragon. The same fine gentleman turned up and said: "I'll save her, Your Majesty, only give me a regiment of soldiers." "Don't you need more than that? It's a six-headed dragon this time." "That will do. It's more than enough for me."
They made ready and went off with Princess Martha. Prince Ivan learnt that Princess Martha was in danger again and, remembering her kindness in making him a governor, he set off once again, on foot or horseback, I cannot say. He found Princess Martha in the cabin and went in to her. She was waiting for him and was overjoyed to see him. He lay down and fell fast asleep. Suddenly the six-headed dragon began to rise out of the water, sending up a wave twenty feet high. The fine gentleman and the soldiers were safe in the forest. The dragon made for the cabin. Princess Martha woke Prince Ivan. He and the dragon grappled and fought. Prince Ivan cut off one head, another, a third, then all the rest, threw them into the water and walked away as
cool as a cucumber. The fine gentleman came out of the forest with the soldiers, went back and told the king that the Lord had helped him to save Princess Martha. He must have threatened her in some way, for she dared not say that someone else had rescued her. The fine gentleman wanted them to fix the wedding day there and then. But Princess Martha said they must wait. "Give me time to get over the shock," she said. "I had a really nasty fright."
Suddenly the thumb-sized mannikin with the long, long beard came out of the water again bearing a letter with nine black seals that asked the king to deliver Princess Martha to a nine-headed dragon on such- and-such an island and such-and-such a day and said that if he did not his whole kingdom would be flooded. The king again wrote his consent, then set about looking for someone to save the princess from the nine-headed dragon. The same fine gentleman volunteered again and set off with a regiment of soldiers and Princess Martha.
Prince Ivan heard of this, made ready and set off to where Princess Martha was waiting for him. When he arrived, she was overjoyed and asked him who he was, what he was called and who his parents were. He said nothing, but lay down and fell fast asleep. Then the nine- headed dragon began to rise out of the water, sending up a wave thirty feet high. "Quick march into the forest!" the fine gentleman ordered the soldiers. Off they scurried. Princess Martha tried to wake Prince Ivan, but in vain. The dragon was on the threshold. She burst into tears; for she could not rouse Prince Ivan. The dragon slithered up to Prince Ivan! He lay fast asleep. Now Princess Martha had a penknife. She gashed Prince Ivan's cheek with it. He awoke, sprang to his feet, and grappled with the dragon. The dragon began to get the better of Prince Ivan. Suddenly out of thin air up popped the copper man with arms of steel and a head of iron. Together they chopped off all the dragon's heads, threw them into the water and went away. The fine gentleman was as pleased as punch; he hopped out of the forest, went back to his kingdom and began pestering the king to fix the wedding day there and then. Princess Martha kept saying: "Wait till I've got over the shock. That was a really nasty fright."
The thumb-sized mannikin with the long, long beard brought another letter. The Water King demanded to have the guilty person. The fine gentleman didn't want to go to the Water King, but they made him. A boat was prepared and off they set. Prince Ivan happened to be serving in the navy and somehow managed to be on the same boat. Suddenly they met another boat, flying like the wind. "Who is the guilty one? Who is the guilty one?" came the shouts from it as it sped past. A little later they met another boat. "Who is the guilty one? Who
is the guilty one?" Prince Ivan pointed to the fine gentleman. They beat him to within an inch of his life and sailed on.
Then they came to the Water King. The Water King ordered an iron bath to be filled to the top with boiling water and the guilty person to be put into it. The fine gentleman took fright. His heart sank into his boots! This was the end! But with Prince Ivan was a man from the navy who had seen that Prince Ivan was not of common stock and stayed to serve him. Prince Ivan said to him: "Go and sit in the bath." The servant ran off and did as he was told, and nothing happened to the devil. He came back unscathed. Again the guilty one was summoned, this time to appear before the Water King himself. They took the fine gentleman to him. The Water King cursed him roundly, beat him soundly, and bade them take him away. So back home they all went.
At home the fine gentleman was more conceited than ever and kept pestering the king to name the wedding day. The king agreed and the date was fixed. You should have seen how high and mighty the fine gentleman got then, strutting around and looking down his nose at everybody. But the Princess said to her father: "Have all the soldiers lined up, Sire. I want to inspect them." No sooner said than done. Princess Martha walked up and down until she came to Prince Ivan. She looked at his cheek and saw the scar from the cut with the penknife. Then she took Prince Ivan by the hand and led him to her father. "Here is the man who rescued me from the dragon, Sire. I didn't know who he was, but now I recognise him by the scar on his cheek. The fine gentleman hid in the forest with the soldiers!" Straightway the soldiers were asked if this were really so. "Yes, Your Majesty," they replied. "The fine gentleman was scared out of his wits!" So the fine gentleman was stripped of all his honours; but Prince Ivan married Princess Martha and they lived happily ever after.