There was once a merchant who had two sons, Dmitri and Ivan. One night, when their father was giving them his blessing, he said: "If you should have a dream tonight, my children, you must tell me it in the morning. He who conceals his dream will be punished." The next morning the elder son came and told his father: "I dreamed that brother Ivan was flying o'er the sky on twelve eagles, Father; and that your favourite sheep was missing." "And you, Ivan, what did you dream?" "I cannot tell!" Ivan replied. No matter how his father urged him, he remained firm, meeting all remonstrances with: "I cannot tell!" The merchant grew angry, summoned his stewards and bade them take the recalcitrant son, strip him naked and tie him to a post on the highroad.
The stewards seized Ivan and bound him naked to a post as they had been bidden. The good youth fared badly: he was scorched by the sun, bitten by mosquitoes and tormented by hunger and thirst. The king's son happened to be driving along the highroad. He saw the merchant's son, took pity on him and bade them untie him. Then he dressed him in his own robes, took him back to the palace and asked of him: "Who tied you to the post?" "My father was angry with me." "What had you done wrong?" "I refused to tell him my dream." "How stupid of your father to punish you so harshly for such a trifle... What was your dream?" "I cannot tell you, my prince!" "You cannot tell me? I saved your life, and you would insult me? Tell me at once, or it will be the worse for you." "I could not tell my father, and I cannot tell you!" The prince ordered him to be cast into a dungeon. Straightway the soldiers came and threw him into a stone cell, poor soul.
A year passed, and the prince resolved to marry. He set off for a distant land to woo Elena the Fair. Now the prince had a sister, and not long after his departure she happened to be walking near the dungeon. Ivan saw her through the window and shouted in a loud voice: "Take pity, Princess, and let me out. I may be of service! I know the prince has gone to woo Elena the Fair, but without me he will not marry her, only lose his head. You must have heard how cunning Elena the Fair is and how many suitors she has already sent to their doom." "Are you ready to help the prince?" "I would gladly, but my falcon wings are tied." The princess ordered him to be released from the dungeon forthwith. Then Ivan the merchant's son chose him some companions, and there were twelve of them altogether counting Ivan, as alike as blood brothers in height, voice and hair. Then they put on identical
cloaks, sewn to the same pattern, mounted their trusty steeds and set off on their way.
They rode for one day, then another and a third. On the fourth day they came to a dense forest and heard some terrible cries. "Stay here, lads!" said Ivan. "Wait while I go to see what the din is about." He leapt off his horse and ran into the forest. There he saw three old men quarrelling in a glade. "Good-day to you, old men! Why are you quarrelling?" "Ah, callow youth! We were left three magic objects by our father, an invisible cap, a flying carpet and a pair of a seven-league boots. We have been quarrelling for seventy years and still cannot decide how to share them out." "Shall I decide for you?" "Please be so kind! "So Ivan the merchant's son drew his bow, took three arrows and sent them speeding in different directions. He bade one old man run to the right, another to the left and the third straight ahead. "The first to bring back an arrow will get the invisible cap, the second will have the flying carpet, and the third the seven-league boots." The old men ran off after the arrows, and Ivan the merchant's son took the magic objects and returned to his companions. "Let your horses loose, lads," he said, "and mount the flying carpet with me."
So they mounted the flying carpet and sped to the realm of Elena the Fair. Arriving at her capital, they alighted by the city gates and went in search of the prince. They found his chambers. "What can I do for you?" asked the prince. "Take us, trusty youths, into your service. We shall be your servants loyal and true." The prince took them into his service, appointing one to be the cook, another the groom,-and so on. That very day the prince donned his best clothes and went to present himself to Elena the Fair. She greeted him warmly, plying him with all manner of fine food and drink, then asked him: "Tell me truly, Prince, why you have honoured us with this visit." "I have come to woo you, Elena the Fair. Will you be my wife?" "Perhaps I will, indeed. Only first you must perform three tasks. Succeed and I shall be yours, but if you do not your head is for the chopping block." "Tell me the first task." "I shall have something with me tomorrow. What it is I will not say. So use your wits, Prince, and bring your own to form a pair with my unknown."
The prince returned to his chambers downcast and sad of heart. Ivan the merchant's son asked him: "Why so sad, Prince? What has Elena the Fair done to vex you so? Share your grief with me; that will make it lighter." "Elena the Fair has set me a puzzle that the wisest man in the world could not solve." "Oh, that's nothing to worry about! Say your prayers and go to bed; morning is wiser than evening. We'll settle the matter tomorrow." The prince lay down to sleep, but Ivan the
merchant's son donned the invisible cap and the seven-league boots and strode quickly to Elena the Fair's palace: he marched straight into her chamber and listened. Elena the Fair was instructing her favourite chambermaid: "Take this precious material to the shoemaker and bid him make a slipper for my foot as fast as he can."
The chamber-maid set off as she was told, with Ivan following behind her. The shoemaker got down to work forthwith, made the slipper quickly and placed it on the window-sill. Ivan the merchant's son seized it and slipped it quietly into his pocket. The poor shoemaker just couldn't believe his eyes—his work had vanished right under his nose; he turned the place upside down, but all in vain. "Well, I never!" he thought. "Can it be the devil up to his tricks?' There was nothing for it. He picked up his needle, made another slipper and took it to Elena the Fair. "Fancy taking all that time over the slipper! You are a slow coach!" she said. Sitting down at her work-table, she began embroidering the slipper with gold and trimming it with pearls and precious stones. Straightway Ivan appeared, took out his slipper and copied her. Whatever stone she chose, he took one like it, wherever she placed a pearl, he placed one too. When she had finished, Elena the Fair smiled and said: "What will the prince bring with him tomorrow?" "Just you wait," thought Ivan, "we'll see who outwits whom!"
He returned home and went to bed. The next morning he rose with the dawn, dressed and went to rouse the prince. He woke him and gave him the slipper. "Go to Elena the Fair," he said, "and show her this slipper. This is her first task." The prince washed, attired himself and drove to the palace. A great company was assembled there, all the noblemen and counsellors of the realm. When the prince arrived, the music struck up, the guests rose from their seats, and the guards presented arms. Elena the Fair brought out the slipper embroidered with pearls and precious stones, and smiled mockingly at the prince. Then the prince said to her: "A fine slipper indeed, but no good at all without a mate! I see I shall have to give you one to match!" So saying, he took the second slipper from his pocket and placed it on the table. The guests clapped loudly and cried: "Well done, Prince! He is worthy to marry our sovereign lady, Elena the Fair." "We shall see!" replied Elena the Fair. "Let him perform the second task."
Late that evening the prince returned home even gloomier than before. "Do not grieve, Prince," said Ivan the merchant's son. "Say your prayers and go to bed; morning is wiser than evening." He put him to bed, then donned the seven-league boots and the invisible cap and hurried to the palace of Elena the Fair.
At that very moment she was instructing her favourite chamber- maid: "Go quickly to the poultry yard and bring me a duck." The chamber-maid hurried off to the poultry yard with Ivan following her. She caught a duck, Ivan caught a drake, and they returned by the same path. Elena the Fair sat down at her work-table, took the duck and bedecked its wings with ribbons and its neck with diamonds. Ivan the merchant's son watched her and did the same with the drake. The next day there were guests and music at the palace as before. Elena the Fair brought out her duck and asked the prince: "Have you guessed my task?" "I have, Elena the Fair! Here is a mate for your duck!" And he brought out the drake. Whereupon the noblemen cried: "Well done, young prince!" He is worthy to take Elena the Fair to be his bride." "Wait, let him perform the third task."
That evening the prince came home so gloomy he could hardly speak. "Do not worry, Prince. Just go to bed; morning is wiser then evening," said Ivan the merchant's son. He quickly donned the invisible cap and the seven-league boots and hurried to Elena the Fair. She got into her carriage and drove like the wind down to the deep blue sea, with Ivan the merchant's son following close behind. Elena the Fair came to the sea and called to her grandfather. The waves surged up and out of the watery depths appeared an old man with a golden beard and silver hair. He came onto the shore: "Hello, granddaughter! It's an age since I last saw you; see if there's anything in my hair, will you?" He put his head on her lap and dozed off happily. Elena the Fair looked carefully at his hair, with Ivan the merchant's son standing close behind her.
Seeing that the old man had fallen asleep, she pulled three silver hairs from his head; but Ivan the merchant's son pulled out a whole handful. Her grandfather woke up and cried: "Have you taken leave of your senses? That hurts!" "Forgive me, Grandfather dear! It's an age since I combed your hair and it's got all tangled." Her grandfather calmed down and soon began to snore again. This time Elena the Fair pulled three golden hairs from his beard; but Ivan the merchant's son grabbed his beard and nearly pulled it off. The old man gave a terrible howl, leapt up and dived into the sea. "Now the prince is doomed for sure," thought Elena the Fair. "He'll never be able to get the same hairs." The next day the guests assembled once more at the palace. The prince came too. Elena the Fair showed him the three silver and three golden hairs and asked: "Have you ever seen the like before?" "That's nothing. I can give you a whole ball of that, if you like." So saying he handed her a tuft of golden and a tuft of silver hair.
Elena the Fair flounced off to her bed-chamber in a rage and consulted her magic book to find out if the prince had guessed the tasks himself or someone had helped him. The book told her that it was his servant, Ivan the merchant's son, who was so cunning, not he. Returning to the guests, she begged the prince: "Send me your favourite servant." "I have twelve of them." "Send the one called Ivan." "They are all called Ivan." "Then let them all come," said Elena the Fair. "I'll find the guilty one without you," she thought to herself. The prince gave the order, and straightway his servants loyal and true, the twelve trusty young men, appeared in the palace; all alike in appearance, height, voice and hair. "Which of you is in charge?" asked Elena the Fair. "Me!" "Me!" they all shouted. "This will be no easy matter," she thought and bade them serve eleven ordinary goblets and the gold one from which she always drank. Then she filled the goblets with good wine and bade the young men partake of it. Not one of them picked up an ordinary goblet. They all reached for the gold one and began to snatch it from one another, making a great din and spilling the wine.
Seeing that her ruse had failed, Elena the Fair ordered the young men to be given food and drink and put to bed in the palace. That night, when they were fast asleep, she went to them with her magic book, consulted it and straightway found out which one was Ivan. Then she took a pair of scissors and cut off his forelock. "I shall recognise him by this tomorrow and have him executed." Next morning Ivan the merchant's son awoke, put his hand to his head and found that his forelock had been cut off. He jumped out of bed and woke his companions. "Up you get, lads, there's trouble brewing! Take some scissors and cut off your forelocks." An hour later Elena the Fair summoned them and began to look for Ivan the merchant's son. But wonder of wonders! The whole bunch of them had their forelocks cut off! She was so angry that she took her magic book and threw it in the stove. After that she could prevaricate no longer and had to marry the prince. The wedding was a gay affair; for three whole days the people revelled, for three whole days the inns and taverns held open house— and all who liked could eat and drink there at the state's expense.
When the feasting was over, the prince set off home with his young bride, sending the twelve young men on ahead. Outside the city gates they unrolled the magic carpet, mounted it and flew up high above the clouds. On and on they sped until they reached the dense forest where they had left their trusty steeds. No sooner had they alighted from the magic carpet, than the first old man came running up with an arrow. Ivan the merchant's son gave him the invisible cap. Hot on his heels
came the second old man and received the magic carpet, then the third, who got the seven-league boots. Then said Ivan to his companions: "Saddle your horses, lads, it is time we were on our way." They found their horses, saddled them and rode off to their native land. Straightway they went to the princess. She was overjoyed to see them and asked them about her brother, the wedding and if he was coming home soon. "How can I reward you for such a service?" she asked. "Put me back in the dungeon where I was," replied Ivan the merchant's son. All the princess's efforts to dissuade him were in vain, so the soldiers took him back to the dungeon.
A month later the prince arrived with his young bride. They were given a splendid reception: the music played, the cannons fired, the bells rang and the people thronged the streets. All the noblemen and counsellors came to greet the prince; he looked around him and asked: "Where is Ivan, my faithful servant?" "He is in prison," they said. "In prison? Who dared to put him there?" Then the princess told him: "It was you who got angry with him, brother, and had him locked up. You asked him about a dream, and he refused to tell you, remember?" "Was that Ivan?" "Yes, it was. I let him out for a while to go and serve you." The prince bade them fetch Ivan the merchant's son, embraced him and begged his forgiveness for the wrong that had been done to him. "You know, Prince," said Ivan. "I knew all along what was going to happen to you. I saw it in my dream; that was why I could not tell you about it." The prince made him a general, bestowed rich estates upon him and let him live in the palace. Ivan the merchant's son summoned his father and elder brother there, too, and they all lived together happily ever after.