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Oh: The Tsar Of The Forest






Source: Cossack Fairy Tales And Folk Tales

The olden times were not like the times we live in. In the olden
times all manner of Evil Powers[1] walked abroad. The world itself was
not then as it is now: now there are no such Evil Powers among us.
I'll tell you a kazka[2] of Oh, the Tsar of the Forest, that you may
know what manner of being he was.

[1] Div. This ancient, untranslatable word (comp. Latin deus) is
probably of Lithuanian origin, and means any malefic power.

[2] A folk-tale; Russ. skazka, Ger. Maerchen.



Once upon a time, long long ago, beyond the times that we can call to
mind, ere yet our great-grandfathers or their grandfathers had been
born into the world, there lived a poor man and his wife, and they had
one only son, who was not as an only son ought to be to his old father
and mother. So idle and lazy was that only son that Heaven help him!
He would do nothing, he would not even fetch water from the well, but
lay on the stove all day long and rolled among the warm cinders. If
they gave him anything to eat, he ate it; and if they didn't give him
anything to eat, he did without. His father and mother fretted sorely
because of him, and said, "What are we to do with thee, O son? for
thou art good for nothing. Other people's children are a stay and a
support to their parents, but thou art but a fool and dost consume our
bread for naught." But it was of no use at all. He would do nothing
but sit on the stove and play with the cinders. So his father and
mother grieved over him for many a long day, and at last his mother
said to his father, "What is to be done with our son? Thou dost see
that he has grown up and yet is of no use to us, and he is so foolish
that we can do nothing with him. Look now, if we can send him away,
let us send him away; if we can hire him out, let us hire him out;
perchance other folk may be able to do more with him than we can." So
his father and mother laid their heads together, and sent him to a
tailor's to learn tailoring. There he remained three days, but then he
ran away home, climbed up on the stove, and again began playing with
the cinders. His father then gave him a sound drubbing and sent him to
a cobbler's to learn cobbling, but again he ran away home. His father
gave him another drubbing and sent him to a blacksmith to learn
smith's work. But there too he did not remain long, but ran away home
again, so what was that poor father to do? "I'll tell thee what I'll
do with thee, thou son of a dog!" said he. "I'll take thee, thou lazy
lout, into another kingdom. There, perchance, they will be able to
teach thee better than they can here, and it will be too far for thee
to run home." So he took him and set out on his journey.

They went on and on, they went a short way and they went a long way,
and at last they came to a forest so dark that they could see neither
earth nor sky. They went through this forest, but in a short time they
grew very tired, and when they came to a path leading to a clearing
full of large tree-stumps, the father said, "I am so tired out that I
will rest here a little," and with that he sat down on a tree-stump
and cried, "Oh, how tired I am!" He had no sooner said these words
than out of the tree-stump, nobody could say how, sprang such a
little, little old man, all so wrinkled and puckered, and his beard
was quite green and reached right down to his knee.--"What dost thou
want of me, O man?" he asked.--The man was amazed at the strangeness
of his coming to light, and said to him, "I did not call thee;
begone!"--"How canst thou say that when thou didst call me?" asked the
little old man.--"Who art thou, then?" asked the father.--"I am Oh,
the Tsar of the Woods," replied the old man; "why didst thou call me,
I say?"--"Away with thee, I did not call thee," said the man.--"What!
thou didst not call me when thou saidst 'Oh'?"--"I was tired, and
therefore I said 'Oh'!" replied the man.--"Whither art thou going?"
asked Oh.--"The wide world lies before me," sighed the man. "I am
taking this sorry blockhead of mine to hire him out to somebody or
other. Perchance other people may be able to knock more sense into him
than we can at home; but send him whither we will, he always comes
running home again!"--"Hire him out to me. I'll warrant I'll teach
him," said Oh. "Yet I'll only take him on one condition. Thou shalt
come back for him when a year has run, and if thou dost know him
again, thou mayst take him; but if thou dost not know him again, he
shall serve another year with me."--"Good!" cried the man. So they
shook hands upon it, had a good drink to clinch the bargain, and the
man went back to his own home, while Oh took the son away with him.

Oh took the son away with him, and they passed into the other world,
the world beneath the earth, and came to a green hut woven out of
rushes, and in this hut everything was green; the walls were green and
the benches were green, and Oh's wife was green and his children were
green--in fact, everything there was green. And Oh had water-nixies
for serving-maids, and they were all as green as rue. "Sit down now!"
said Oh to his new labourer, "and have a bit of something to eat." The
nixies then brought him some food, and that also was green, and he ate
of it. "And now," said Oh, "take my labourer into the courtyard that
he may chop wood and draw water." So they took him into the courtyard,
but instead of chopping any wood he lay down and went to sleep. Oh
came out to see how he was getting on, and there he lay a-snoring.
Then Oh seized him, and bade them bring wood and tie his labourer fast
to the wood, and set the wood on fire till the labourer was burnt to
ashes. Then Oh took the ashes and scattered them to the four winds,
but a single piece of burnt coal fell from out of the ashes, and this
coal he sprinkled with living water, whereupon the labourer
immediately stood there alive again and somewhat handsomer and
stronger than before. Oh again bade him chop wood, but again he went
to sleep. Then Oh again tied him to the wood and burnt him and
scattered the ashes to the four winds and sprinkled the remnant of the
coal with living water, and instead of the loutish clown there stood
there such a handsome and stalwart Cossack[3] that the like of him can
neither be imagined nor described but only told of in tales.

[3] Kozak, a Cossack, being the ideal human hero of the Ruthenians,
just as a bogatyr is a hero of the demi-god type, as the name
implies.

There, then, the lad remained for a year, and at the end of the year
the father came for his son. He came to the self-same charred stumps
in the self-same forest, sat him down, and said, "Oh!" Oh immediately
came out of the charred stump and said, "Hail! O man!"--"Hail to thee,
Oh!"--"And what dost thou want, O man?" asked Oh.--"I have come," said
he, "for my son."--"Well, come then! If thou dost know him again, thou
shalt take him away; but if thou dost not know him, he shall serve
with me yet another year." So the man went with Oh. They came to his
hut, and Oh took whole handfuls of millet and scattered it about, and
myriads of cocks came running up and pecked it. "Well, dost thou know
thy son again?" said Oh. The man stared and stared. There was nothing
but cocks, and one cock was just like another. He could not pick out
his son. "Well," said Oh, "as thou dost not know him, go home again;
this year thy son must remain in my service." So the man went home
again.

The second year passed away, and the man again went to Oh. He came to
the charred stumps and said, "Oh!" and Oh popped out of the tree-stump
again. "Come!" said he, "and see if thou canst recognize him now."
Then he took him to a sheep-pen, and there were rows and rows of rams,
and one ram was just like another. The man stared and stared, but he
could not pick out his son. "Thou mayst as well go home then," said
Oh, "but thy son shall live with me yet another year." So the man went
away, sad at heart.

The third year also passed away, and the man came again to find Oh.
He went on and on till there met him an old man all as white as milk,
and the raiment of this old man was glistening white. "Hail to thee,
O man!" said he.--"Hail to thee also, my father!"--"Whither doth God
lead thee?"--"I am going to free my son from Oh."--"How so?"--Then
the man told the old white father how he had hired out his son to Oh
and under what conditions.--"Aye, aye!" said the old white father,
"'tis a vile pagan thou hast to deal with; he will lead thee about
by the nose for a long time."--"Yes," said the man, "I perceive that
he is a vile pagan; but I know not what in the world to do with him.
Canst thou not tell me then, dear father, how I may recover my
son?"--"Yes, I can," said the old man.--"Then prythee tell me,
darling father, and I'll pray for thee to God all my life, for
though he has not been much of a son to me, he is still my own flesh
and blood."--"Hearken, then!" said the old man; "when thou dost go to
Oh, he will let loose a multitude of doves before thee, but choose
not one of these doves. The dove thou shalt choose must be the one
that comes not out, but remains sitting beneath the pear-tree pruning
its feathers; that will be thy son." Then the man thanked the old
white father and went on.

He came to the charred stumps. "Oh!" cried he, and out came Oh and led
him to his sylvan realm. There Oh scattered about handfuls of wheat
and called his doves, and there flew down such a multitude of them
that there was no counting them, and one dove was just like another.
"Dost thou recognize thy son?" asked Oh. "An thou knowest him again,
he is thine; an thou knowest him not, he is mine." Now all the doves
there were pecking at the wheat, all but one that sat alone beneath
the pear-tree, sticking out its breast and pruning its feathers. "That
is my son," said the man.--"Since thou hast guessed him, take him,"
replied Oh. Then the father took the dove, and immediately it changed
into a handsome young man, and a handsomer was not to be found in the
wide world. The father rejoiced greatly and embraced and kissed him.
"Let us go home, my son!" said he. So they went.

As they went along the road together they fell a-talking, and his
father asked him how he had fared at Oh's. The son told him. Then the
father told the son what he had suffered, and it was the son's turn to
listen. Furthermore the father said, "What shall we do now, my son? I
am poor and thou art poor: hast thou served these three years and
earned nothing?"--"Grieve not, dear dad, all will come right in the
end. Look! there are some young nobles hunting after a fox. I will
turn myself into a greyhound and catch the fox, then the young
noblemen will want to buy me of thee, and thou must sell me to them
for three hundred roubles--only, mind thou sell me without a chain;
then we shall have lots of money at home, and will live happily
together!"

They went on and on, and there, on the borders of a forest, some
hounds were chasing a fox. They chased it and chased it, but the fox
kept on escaping, and the hounds could not run it down. Then the son
changed himself into a greyhound, and ran down the fox and killed it.
The noblemen thereupon came galloping out of the forest. "Is that thy
greyhound?"--"It is."--"'Tis a good dog; wilt sell it to us?"--"Bid
for it!"--"What dost thou require?"--"Three hundred roubles without a
chain."--"What do we want with thy chain, we would give him a chain
of gold. Say a hundred roubles!"--"Nay!"--"Then take thy money and
give us the dog." They counted down the money and took the dog and
set off hunting. They sent the dog after another fox. Away he went
after it and chased it right into the forest, but then he turned into
a youth again and rejoined his father.

They went on and on, and his father said to him, "What use is this
money to us after all? It is barely enough to begin housekeeping with
and repair our hut."--"Grieve not, dear dad, we shall get more still.
Over yonder are some young noblemen hunting quails with falcons. I
will change myself into a falcon, and thou must sell me to them; only
sell me for three hundred roubles, and without a hood."

They went into the plain, and there were some young noblemen casting
their falcon at a quail. The falcon pursued but always fell short of
the quail, and the quail always eluded the falcon. The son then
changed himself into a falcon and immediately struck down its prey.
The young noblemen saw it and were astonished. "Is that thy
falcon?"--"'Tis mine."--"Sell it to us, then!"--"Bid for it!"--"What
dost thou want for it?"--"If ye give three hundred roubles, ye may
take it, but it must be without the hood."--"As if we want thy hood!
We'll make for it a hood worthy of a Tsar." So they higgled and
haggled, but at last they gave him the three hundred roubles. Then the
young nobles sent the falcon after another quail, and it flew and flew
till it beat down its prey; but then he became a youth again, and went
on with his father.

"How shall we manage to live with so little?" said the father.--"Wait
a while, dad, and we shall have still more," said the son. "When we
pass through the fair I'll change myself into a horse, and thou must
sell me. They will give thee a thousand roubles for me, only sell me
without a halter." So when they got to the next little town, where
they were holding a fair, the son changed himself into a horse, a
horse as supple as a serpent, and so fiery that it was dangerous to
approach him. The father led the horse along by the halter; it pranced
about and struck sparks from the ground with its hoofs. Then the
horse-dealers came together and began to bargain for it. "A thousand
roubles down," said he, "and you may have it, but without the
halter."--"What do we want with thy halter? We will make for it a
silver-gilt halter. Come, we'll give thee five hundred!"--"No!" said
he. Then up there came a gipsy, blind of one eye. "O man! what dost
thou want for that horse?" said he.--"A thousand roubles without the
halter."--"Nay! but that is dear, little father! Wilt thou not take
five hundred with the halter?"--"No, not a bit of it!"--"Take six
hundred, then!" Then the gipsy began higgling and haggling, but the
man would not give way. "Come, sell it," said he, "with the
halter."--"No, thou gipsy, I have a liking for that halter."--"But, my
good man, when didst thou ever see them sell a horse without a halter?
How then can one lead him off?"--"Nevertheless, the halter must remain
mine."--"Look now, my father, I'll give thee five roubles extra, only
I must have the halter."--The old man fell a-thinking. "A halter of
this kind is worth but three grivni[4] and the gipsy offers me five
roubles for it; let him have it." So they clinched the bargain with a
good drink, and the old man went home with the money, and the gipsy
walked off with the horse. But it was not really a gipsy, but Oh, who
had taken the shape of a gipsy.

[4] A grivna is the tenth part of a rouble, about 2-1/2 d.



Then Oh rode off on the horse, and the horse carried him higher than
the trees of the forest, but lower than the clouds of the sky. At last
they sank down among the woods and came to Oh's hut, and Oh went into
his hut and left his horse outside on the steppe. "This son of a dog
shall not escape from my hands so quickly a second time," said he to
his wife. At dawn Oh took the horse by the bridle and led it away to
the river to water it. But no sooner did the horse get to the river
and bend down its head to drink than it turned into a perch and began
swimming away. Oh, without more ado, turned himself into a pike and
pursued the perch. But just as the pike was almost up with it, the
perch gave a sudden twist and stuck out its spiky fins and turned its
tail toward the pike, so that the pike could not lay hold of it. So
when the pike came up to it, it said, "Perch! perch! turn thy head
toward me, I want to have a chat with thee!"--"I can hear thee very
well as I am, dear cousin, if thou art inclined to chat," said the
perch. So off they set again, and again the pike overtook the perch.
"Perch! perch! turn thy head round toward me, I want to have a chat
with thee!" Then the perch stuck out its bristly fins again and said,
"If thou dost wish to have a chat, dear cousin, I can hear thee just
as well as I am." So the pike kept on pursuing the perch, but it was
of no use. At last the perch swam ashore, and there was a Tsarivna[5]
whittling an ash twig. The perch changed itself into a gold ring set
with garnets, and the Tsarivna saw it and fished up the ring out of
the water. Full of joy she took it home, and said to her father,
"Look, dear papa! what a nice ring I have found!" The Tsar kissed her,
but the Tsarivna did not know which finger it would suit best, it was
so lovely.

[5] Russian Tsarevna, i.e. a Tsar's daughter.

About the same time they told the Tsar that a certain merchant had
come to the palace. It was Oh, who had changed himself into a
merchant. The Tsar went out to him and said, "What dost thou want, old
man?"--"I was sailing on the sea in my ship," said Oh, "and carrying
to the Tsar of my own land a precious garnet ring, and this ring I
dropped into the water. Has any of thy servants perchance found this
precious ring?"--"No, but my daughter has," said the Tsar. So they
called the damsel, and Oh began to beg her to give it back to him,
"for I may not live in this world if I bring not the ring," said he.
But it was of no avail, she would not give it up.

Then the Tsar himself spoke to her. "Nay, but, darling daughter, give
it up, lest misfortune befall this man because of us; give it up, I
say!" Then Oh begged and prayed her yet more, and said, "Take what
thou wilt of me, only give me back the ring."--"Nay, then," said the
Tsarivna, "it shall be neither mine nor thine," and with that she
tossed the ring upon the ground, and it turned into a heap of
millet-seed and scattered all about the floor. Then Oh, without more
ado, changed into a cock, and began pecking up all the seed. He pecked
and pecked till he had pecked it all up. Yet there was one single
little grain of millet which rolled right beneath the feet of the
Tsarivna, and that he did not see. When he had done pecking he got
upon the window-sill, opened his wings, and flew right away.

But the one remaining grain of millet-seed turned into a most
beauteous youth, a youth so beauteous that when the Tsarivna beheld
him she fell in love with him on the spot, and begged the Tsar and
Tsaritsa right piteously to let her have him as her husband. "With no
other shall I ever be happy," said she; "my happiness is in him
alone!" For a long time the Tsar wrinkled his brows at the thought of
giving his daughter to a simple youth; but at last he gave them his
blessing, and they crowned them with bridal wreaths, and all the world
was bidden to the wedding-feast. And I too was there, and drank beer
and mead, and what my mouth could not hold ran down over my beard, and
my heart rejoiced within me.





Next: The Story Of The Wind

Previous: Wirreenun The Rainmaker



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