Ivanoushka the Simpleton
A day came when the Tsar Pea and his Tsaritza Carrot seriously addressed their daughter on the subject of marriage and said:
“Our beloved child, our very beautiful Tsarevna Baktriana, it is time for thee to choose a bridegroom. Envoys of all descriptions, from kings and tzars and princes, have worn our threshold, drunk dry all the cellars, and thou hast not yet found any one according to thy heart’s wish.”
The Tsarevna answered: “Sovereign, and thou, Tsaritza, my dear mother, I feel sorry for you, and my wish is to obey your desire. So let fate decide who is destined to become my husband. I ask you to build a hall, a high hall with thirty-two circles, and above those circles a window. I will sit at that window and do you order all kinds of people, tsars, kings, tsarovitchi, korolevitchi, brave warriors, and handsome fellows, to come. The one who will jump through the thirty-two circles, reach my window and exchange with me golden rings, he it will be who is destined to become my husband, son and heir to you.”
The Tsar and Tsaritza listened attentively to the words of their bright Tsarevna, and finally they said: “According to thy wish shall it be done.”
In no time the hall was ready, a very high hall adorned with Venetian velvets, with pearls for tassels, with golden designs, and thirty-two circles on both sides of the window high above. Envoys went to the different kings and sovereigns, pigeons flew with orders to the subjects to gather the proud and the humble into the town of the Tsar Pea and his Tsaritza Carrot. It was announced everywhere that the one who could jump through the circles, reach the window and exchange golden rings with the Tsarevna Baktriana, that man would be the lucky one, notwithstanding his rank—tsar or free kosack, king or warrior, tsarevitch, korolevitch, or fellow without any kinfolk or country.
The great day arrived. Crowds pressed to the field where stood the newly built hall, brilliant as a star. Up high at the window the tsarevna was sitting, adorned with precious stones, clad in velvet and pearls. The people below were roaring like an ocean. The Tzar with his Tzaritza was sitting upon a throne. Around them were boyars, warriors, and counselors.
The suitors on horseback, proud, handsome, and brave, whistle and ride round about, but looking at the high window their hearts drop. There were already several fellows who had tried. Each would take a long start, balance himself, spring, and fall back like a stone, a laughing stock for the witnesses.
The brothers of Ivanoushka the Simpleton were preparing themselves to go to the field also.
The Simpleton said to them: “Take me along with you.”
“Thou fool,” laughed the brothers; “stay at home and watch the chickens.”
“All right,” he answered, went to the chicken yard and lay down. But as soon as the brothers were away, our Ivanoushka the Simpleton walked to the wide fields and shouted with a mighty voice:
“Arise, bay horse thou wind-swift steed,
Appear before me in my need;
Stand up as in the storm the weed!”
The glorious horse came running. Flames shone out of his eyes; out of his nostrils smoke came in clouds, and the horse asked with a man’s voice:
“What is thy wish?”
Ivanoushka the Simpleton crawled into the horse’s left ear, transformed himself and reappeared at the right ear, such a handsome fellow that in no book is there written any description of him; no one has ever seen such a fellow. He jumped onto the horse and touched his iron sides with a silk whip. The horse became impatient, lifted himself above the ground, higher and higher above the dark woods below the traveling clouds. He swam over the large rivers, jumped over the small ones, as well as over hills and mountains. Ivanoushka the Simpleton arrived at the hall of the Tsarevna Baktriana, flew up like a hawk, passed through thirty circles, could not reach the last two, and went away like a whirlwind.
The people were shouting: “Take hold of him! take hold of him!” The Tsar jumped to his feet, the Tsaritza screamed. Every one was roaring in amazement.
The brothers of Ivanoushka came home and there was but one subject of conversation—what a splendid fellow they had seen! What a wonderful start to pass through the thirty circles!
“Brothers, that fellow was I,” said Ivanoushka the Simpleton, who had long since arrived.
“Keep still and do not fool us,” answered the brothers.
The next day the two brothers were going again to the tsarski show and Ivanoushka the Simpleton said again: “Take me along with you.”
From Folk tales from the Russian, by Verra de Blumenthal.
Chicago, New York, London: Rand, McNally and Company, 1903.