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The Firebird and the Wolf
Once upon a time there lived a tsar who had three sons, two of whom were clever and one, the youngest, a fool.
One day they went to their father and asked him to let them travel around the world and see what life was like in other kingdoms. The Tsar listened to their plea, and said, “All right, I’ll let you go. Choose any horses you like from any of my herds (and the tsar, like any tsar should, had many fine horses) and ride to whatever lands you may wish to go.”
A great many horses were brought for the Tsareviches to see and choose from.
The two elder brothers chose the best horses while the younger one opted to choose the worst one. They were ready to go in a short time and off they went, riding along the same road, all of them together.
They rode, rode, and rode till they came to a place where they saw three huge milestones with a different road beginning from each of the stones. One road led straight on, another led to the right and the third to the left. There was an inscription on each of the stones. The brothers came closer and began to read what was written there. The inscription on one of the stones said, “Who goes this way shall go sated and his horse shall go hungry.” The inscription on another stone said, “Who goes this way shall go hungry and his horse shall go sated.” And the third inscription said, “Who goes this way shall have his horse devoured by a wolf.” The eldest brother chose to go where he would be sated and his horse hungry; the middle brother chose to go where he would be hungry and his horse sated; and the youngest, the fool, rode along the road where his horse would be eaten by a wolf.
He rode but a short distance and there out of the blue came a wolf. The wolf growled, “Get down from your horse, I’ll eat him.”
The fool did not argue. He climbed down from his horse, picked up the saddle and went on his way, leaving the horse behind. He walked only a short distance when the same wolf caught up with him, saying, “Get on my back and tell me where you want me to take you to.”
The fool replied, “Take me anywhere you want.”
The fool clambered on to the wolf’s back and the wolf rode a long way over hill, dale, through swamp till they came to a dense and dark forest, and right in the middle of it was a little wooden house, and near the house stood a pole, and there was a cage fixed to the top of the pole, and in the cage there was a bird that shone like fire. The moment the fool saw the bird, he wanted to have it very much. Said he, “How can I get this bird?”
And the wolf replied, “Just climb the pole and take the cage, but make sure you don’t touch the rope that hangs there.”
The fool climbed the pole, reached out to grab hold of the cage and inadvertently touched the rope that hung there. And as he touched the rope, “Ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling” jingled a bell. Out from hiding rushed guards, pulled the fool down form the pole and asked him, “What did you climb this pole for?”
“I wanted to get that bird in the cage,” answered the fool.
“It’s a very special bird,” the guards said, “It’s the Firebird, and you can have it only if you give us a horse, half of which will be silver and the other half gold.”
The fool went back to the wolf, who asked, “Where is the bird you wanted to have so much?”
“I don’t have it,” said the fool, explaining that he could have it only if he brought to the guards a horse, half of which was silver and the other half gold.
“All right,” said the wolf, “get on my back.”
The moment he clambered on to the wolf’s back, they rode off. Up hill, down dale, over seven times seven mountains the wolf galloped, and at last they came to another forest and there the fool saw stone stables with horses in them. The horses began to neigh.
The wolf said, “Go to that stable over there, get the first horse you see by the mane, but don’t touch the halter, and lead him away.”
The fool did as he was told. He came up to the stable, reached out but instead of grabbing the horse’s mane, he got hold of the halter, and immediately the horse’s harness went, “Ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling,” and out rushed the guards from their hiding and seized the fool.
“What did you want to do?” they asked. “I wanted to steal this horse,” said the fool.
“You can have the horse,” they said, “if you bring us a beautiful maiden who lives in the back of beyond in an oak grove.”
The fool returned to the waiting wolf who asks him,
“Where is the horse?”
“No horse,” said the man.
“All right, climb on my back and we’ll go.”
Off they rode. Up hill, down dale, through seven times seven forests the wolf galloped, and at last they saw an oak grove on the top of a hill with a maiden walking in it. They came closer and the fool saw that the maiden had a little girl, her servant, walking by her side.
“Now,” said the wolf, “go over to that maiden and tell her that you are very thirsty. Ask her to send that girl servant to fetch some water for you, and the moment the servant leaves, take her up in your arms, carry her off and bring her here.”
The fool walked over to the maiden and said, “Dear lady, I’m very thirsty. Could you send this servant of yours to fetch some water for me?”
The maiden invited the fool to go with her to her house where he could slake his thirst, but the fool refused to go, saying it’s not fitting for him to do so. “Please send this little servant of yours for water.”
The maiden did so and the fool, without wasting any time, took her up in his arms and carried her back to the wolf. The moment the fool clambered on the wolf’s back with the maiden in his arms, the wolf started running faster than fast. Up hill, down dale, over seven times seven mountains, through seven times seven forests the wolf galloped, and at last they came to the place where the half-silver, half-gold horse was. The wolf told the fool, “Now I shall turn myself into the likeness of a maiden. You take me by the hand and lead me to those guards who watch over the horse. When they let you have the horse, leave and ride away, taking this road that leads to the place where the Firebird is. Don’t worry about me — I’ll catch up with you later.”
The fool did as he was told. The wolf turned himself into a maiden; the fool led her to the guards and they let him have the horse in exchange for the maiden. Then the fool put the maiden that he had carried away from the grove on the horse, climbed behind her and off they went.
The guards, happy to have the girl that the wolf had turned himself into, brought apples, berries and other dainties and gave them to her to eat. When the girl-wolf had her fill, he-she said, “Let me go for a walk, please.”
The guards let her go and no sooner had the maiden come out of the stable, than she turned back into the wolf, who made a break for it and headed for the hills. He ran so fast that the guards immediately lost sight of him, and only billows of dust could be seen in his wake.
The wolf caught up with the fool close to the place where the Firebird was and said to the fool, “Now I’ll turn myself into the likeness of a half-silver, half-gold horse and you exchange this horse for the Firebird. The moment you get the Firebird, return to your horse with the maiden on it, and ride back to the place where you parted with your brothers, and once there, wait for me. But make sure you don’t fall asleep. If you do, your brothers will kill you.”
The fool did as he was told to do. The moment he got the Firebird, he ran back to his horse with the maiden on it and rode away like an arrow from a bow.
He came to the place where the three milestones stood and three roads converged into one. He climbed down from the horse, took down the maiden and let the horse go to graze. The Firebird in the cage sang, and the fool lied down on the grass and closed his eyes. The maiden begged him not to fall asleep. “If you do, your brothers will kill both me and you.”
But the fool couldn’t stay awake and fell into a deep slumber. At that moment, two men on horseback came into sight. The maiden tried to wake the fool, but he slept so fast that she failed to rouse him from his slumber. The two riders came quite close. “Look,” said one of them, “isn’t it our brother the fool sleeping over there? Let’s kill him, take that beautiful maiden and that cage with the bird in it, and ride away with them!”
They killed their brother in his sleep, took away the cage with the bird in it, put the maiden on the horse and rode off. When the wolf came at last to the place where the fool was, he saw a magpie had already begun pecking at the dead fool, and a viper began sucking his blood. The wolf killed the viper, and caught the magpie and said, “If you bring me some healing and resurrecting water, I won’t kill you.”
“I know where to find it, but in what can I bring some of this water to you?”
The wolf used tree leaves to make two receptacles, tied them to the magpie’s feet and then let it go. On the noon of the next day the magpie returned with the water. The wolf poured the healing water over the fool’s wounds and the wounds healed. Then he poured the resurrecting water over him and he came back to life.
“I’ve been sleeping for so long,” exclaimed the fool as soon as he opened his eyes.
“If it were not for me, you’d be sleeping until the end of time,” said the wolf. “Climb on my back fast and we’ll ride to the palace where your elder brother is going to take the beautiful maiden as a wife.”
Off they rode, and soon arrived at the palace. There stood a coach with the half-silver, half-gold horse harnessed to it, right in front of the main entrance. The moment the horse saw the fool, it rushed toward him, pulling the coach behind itself. The moment it saw the fool, the Firebird broke the window, flew out and perched on the fool’s shoulder.
The door opened and out came the maiden, all in tears, and the fool’s brother following her. They were on their way to be wed in church. The moment the maiden saw the fool she rushed over to him, crying, “Here’s the one who kidnapped me and I shall marry only him.”
The Tsar, the fool’s father, was also there. He looked at what was going on and couldn’t make head or tail of it. The fool told him the whole truth about what happened. The Tsar said then, “You can do whatever you want with your brothers.” But the fool took no vengeance on them and let them be. He married the beautiful maiden and ordered to have a whole ram baked for the wolf.
That’s a tale for you and if you liked it, you can give me a handful of bagels to munch on while I think of another story to tell.
Art by Oleksandr Melnyk[Prev][Contents][Next]