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The Magic Egg






Source: Cossack Fairy Tales And Folk Tales

There was once upon a time a lark who was the Tsar among the birds,
and he took unto himself as his Tsaritsa a little shrew-mouse. They
had a field all to themselves, which they sowed with wheat, and when
the wheat grew up they divided it between them, when they found that
there was one grain over! The mouse said, "Let me have it!" But the
lark said, "No, let me have it!"--"What's to be done?" thought they.
They would have liked to take counsel of some one, but they had no
parents or kinsmen, nobody at all to whom they could go and ask advice
in the matter. At last the mouse said, "At any rate, let me have the
first nibble!" The lark Tsar agreed to this; but the little mouse
fastened her teeth in it and ran off into her hole with it, and there
ate it all up. At this the Tsar lark was wrath, and collected all the
birds of the air to make war upon the mouse Tsaritsa; but the Tsaritsa
called together all the beasts to defend her, and so the war began.
Whenever the beasts came rushing out of the wood to tear the birds to
pieces, the birds flew up into the trees; but the birds kept in the
air, and hacked and pecked the beasts wherever they could. Thus they
fought the whole day, and in the evening they lay down to rest. Now
when the Tsaritsa looked around upon her forces, she saw that the ant
was taking no part in the war. She immediately went and commanded the
ant to be there by evening, and when the ant came, the Tsaritsa
ordered her to climb up the trees with her kinsmen and bite off the
feathers round the birds' wings.

Next day, when there was light enough to see by, the mouse Tsaritsa
cried, "Up, up, my warriors!" Thereupon the birds also rose up, and
immediately fell to the ground, where the beasts tore them to bits. So
the Tsaritsa overcame the Tsar. But there was one eagle who saw there
was something wrong, so he did not try to fly, but remained sitting on
the tree. And lo! there came an archer along that way, and seeing the
eagle on the tree, he took aim at it; but the eagle besought him and
said, "Do not kill me, and I'll be of great service to thee!" The
archer aimed a second time, but the eagle besought him still more and
said, "Take me down rather and keep me, and thou shalt see that it
will be to thy advantage." The archer, however, took aim a third time,
but the eagle began to beg of him most piteously, "Nay, kill me not,
but take me home with thee, and thou shalt see what great advantage it
will be to thee!" The archer believed the bird. He climbed up the
tree, took the eagle down, and carried it home. Then the eagle said to
him, "Put me in a hut, and feed me with flesh till my wings have grown
again."

Now this archer had two cows and a steer, and he at once killed and
cut up one of the cows for the eagle. The eagle fed upon this cow for
a full year, and then he said to the archer, "Let me go, that I may
fly. I see that my wings have already grown again!" Then the archer
let him loose from the hut. The eagle flew round and round, he flew
about for half a day, and then he returned to the archer and said, "I
feel I have but little strength in me, slay me another cow!" And the
archer obeyed him, and slew the second cow, and the eagle lived upon
that for yet another year. Again the eagle flew round and round in the
air. He flew round and about the whole day till evening, when he
returned to the archer and said, "I am stronger than I was, but I have
still but little strength in me, slay me the steer also!" Then the man
thought to himself, "What shall I do? Shall I slay it, or shall I not
slay it?" At last he said, "Well! I've sacrificed more than this
before, so let this go too!" and he took the steer and slaughtered it
for the eagle. Then the eagle lived upon this for another whole year
longer, and after that he took to flight, and flew high up right to
the very clouds. Then he flew down again to the man and said to him,
"I thank thee, brother, for that thou hast been the saving of me! Come
now and sit upon me!"--"Nay, but," said the man, "what if some evil
befall me?"--"Sit on me, I say!" cried the eagle. So the archer sat
down upon the bird.

Then the eagle bore him nearly as high as the big clouds, and then let
him fall. Down plumped the man; but the eagle did not let him fall to
the earth, but swiftly flew beneath him and upheld him, and said to
him, "How dost thou feel now?"--"I feel," said the man, "as if I had
no life in me."--Then the eagle replied, "That was just how I felt
when thou didst aim at me the first time." Then he said to him, "Sit
on my back again!" The man did not want to sit on him, but what could
he do? Sit he must. Then the eagle flew with him quite as high as the
big clouds, and shook him off, and down he fell headlong till he was
about two fathoms from the ground, when the bird again flew beneath
him and held him up. Again the eagle asked him, "How dost thou feel?"
And the man replied, "I feel just as if all my bones were already
broken to bits!"--"That is just how I felt when thou didst take aim at
me the second time," replied the eagle. "But now sit on my back once
more." The man did so, and the eagle flew with him as high as the
small fleecy clouds, and then he shook him off, and down he fell
headlong; but when he was but a hand's-breadth from the earth, the
eagle again flew beneath him and held him up, and said to him, "How
dost thou feel now?" And he replied, "I feel as if I no longer
belonged to this world!"--"That is just how I felt when thou didst aim
at me the third time," replied the eagle. "But now," continued the
bird, "thou art guilty no more. We are quits. I owe thee naught, and
thou owest naught to me; so sit on my back again, and I'll take thee
to my master."

They flew on and on, they flew till they came to the eagle's uncle.
And the eagle said to the archer, "Go to my house, and when they ask
thee, 'Hast thou not seen our poor child?' reply, 'Give me the magic
egg, and I'll bring him before your eyes!'" So he went to the house,
and there they said to him, "Hast thou heard of our poor child with
thine ears, or seen him with thine eyes, and hast thou come hither
willingly or unwillingly?"--And he answered, "I have come hither
willingly!"--Then they asked, "Hast thou smelt out anything of our
poor youngster? for it is three years now since he went to the wars,
and there's neither sight nor sound of him more!"--And he answered,
"Give me the magic egg, and I'll bring him straightway before your
eyes!"--Then they replied, "'Twere better we never saw him than that
we should give thee the magic egg!"--Then he went back to the eagle
and said to him, "They said, ''Twere better we never saw him than that
we should give thee the magic egg.'"--Then the eagle answered, "Let us
fly on farther!"

They flew on and on till they came to the eagle's brother, and the
archer said just the same to him as he had said to the eagle's uncle,
and still he didn't get the egg. Then they flew to the eagle's father,
and the eagle said to him, "Go up to the hut, and if they ask for me,
say that thou hast seen me and will bring me before their eyes."--So
he went up to the hut, and they said to him, "O Tsarevich, we hear
thee with our ears and see thee with our eyes, but hast thou come
hither of thine own free will or by the will of another?"--And the
archer answered, "I have come hither of my own free will!"--Then they
asked him, "Hast thou seen our son? Lo, these four years we have not
had news of him. He went off to the wars, and perchance he has been
slain there."--And he answered them, "I have seen him, and if you will
give me the magic egg, I will bring him before your eyes."--And the
eagle's father said to him, "What good will such a thing do thee? We
had better give thee the lucky penny!"--But he answered, "I don't want
the lucky penny, give me the magic egg!"--"Come hither then," said he,
"and thou shalt have it." So he went into the hut. Then the eagle's
father rejoiced and gave him the egg, and said to him, "Take heed
thou dost not break it anywhere on the road, and when thou gettest
home, hedge it round and build a strong fence about it, and it will do
thee good."

So he went homeward. He went on and on till a great thirst came upon
him. So he stopped at the first spring he came to, and as he stooped
to drink he stumbled and the magic egg was broken. Then he perceived
that an ox had come out of the egg and was rolling away. He gave chase
to the ox, but whenever he was getting close to one side of it, the
other side of it got farther away from him. Then the poor fellow
cried, "I shall do nothing with it myself, I see."--At that moment an
old she-dragon came up to him and said, "What wilt thou give me, O
man, if I chase this ox back again into the egg for thee?"--And the
archer replied, "What can I give?"--The dragon said to him, "Give me
what thou hast at home without thy will and wit!"--"Done!" said the
archer. Then the dragon chased the ox nicely into the egg again,
patched it up prettily and gave it into the man's hand. Then the
archer went home, and when he got home he found a son had been born to
him there, and his son said to him, "Why didst thou give me to the old
she-dragon, dad? But never mind, I'll manage to live in spite of her."
Then the father was very grieved for a time, but what could he do? Now
the name of this son was Ivan.

So Ivan lost no time in going to the dragon, and the dragon said to
him, "Go to my house and do me three tasks, and if thou dost them not,
I'll devour thee." Now, round the dragon's house was a large meadow
as far as the eye could reach. And the dragon said to him, "Thou must
in a single night weed out this field and sow wheat in it, and reap
the wheat and store it, all in this very night; and thou must bake me
a roll out of this self-same wheat, and the roll must be lying ready
for me on my table in the morning."

Then Ivan went and leaned over the fence, and his heart within him was
sore troubled. Now near to him there was a post, and on this post was
the dragon's starveling daughter. So when he came thither and fell
a-weeping, she asked him, "Wherefore dost thou weep?"--And he said,
"How can I help weeping? The dragon has bidden me do something I can
never, never do; and what is more, she has bidden me do it in a single
night."--"What is it, pray?" asked the dragon's daughter. Then he told
her. "Not every bush bears a berry!" cried she. "Promise to take me to
wife, and I'll do all she has bidden thee do." He promised, and then
she said to him again, "Now go and lie down, but see that thou art up
early in the morning to bring her her roll." Then she went to the
field, and before one could whistle she had cleaned it of weeds and
harrowed it and sown it with wheat, and by dawn she had reaped the
wheat and cooked the roll and brought it to him, and said, "Now, take
it to her hut and put it on her table."

Then the old she-dragon awoke and came to the door, and was amazed at
the sight of the field, which was now all stubble, for the corn had
been cut. Then she said to Ivan, "Yes, thou hast done the work well.
But now, see that thou doest my second task." Then she gave him her
second command. "Dig up that mountain yonder and let the Dnieper flow
over the site of it, and there build a store-house, and in the
store-house stack the wheat that thou hast reaped, and sell this wheat
to the merchant barques that sail by, and everything must be done by
the time I get up early next morning!" Then he again went to the fence
and wept, and the maiden said to him, "Why dost thou weep?" and he
told her all that the she-dragon had bidden him do. "There are lots of
bushes, but where are the berries? Go and lie down, and I'll do it all
for thee." Then she whistled, and the mountain was levelled and the
Dnieper flowed over the site of it, and round about the Dnieper
store-houses rose up, and then she came and woke him that he might go
and sell the wheat to the merchant barques that sailed by that way,
and when the she-dragon rose up early in the morning she was amazed to
see that everything had been done which she had commanded him.

Then she gave him her third command. "This night thou must catch the
golden hare, and bring it to me by the morning light." Again he went
to the fence and fell a-weeping. And the girl asked him, "Why art thou
weeping?"--He said to her, "She has ordered me to catch her the golden
hare."--"Oh, oh!" cried the she-dragon's daughter, "the berries are
ripening now; only her father knows how to catch such a hare as that.
Nevertheless, I'll go to a rocky place I know of, and there perchance
we shall be able to catch it." So they went to this rocky place
together, and she said to him, "Stand over that hole. I'll go in and
chase him out of the hole, and do thou catch him as he comes out; but
mind, whatever comes out of the hole, seize it, for it will be the
golden hare."

So she went and began beating up, and all at once out came a snake and
hissed, and he let it go. Then she came out of the hole and said to
him, "What! has nothing come out?"--"Well," said he, "only a snake,
and I was afraid it would bite me, so I let it go."--"What hast thou
done?" said she; "that was the very hare itself. Look now!" said she,
"I'll go in again, and if any one comes out and tells you that the
golden hare is not here, don't believe it, but hold him fast." So she
crept into the hole again and began to beat for game, and out came an
old woman, who said to the youth, "What art thou poking about there
for?"--And he said to her, "For the golden hare."--She said to him,
"It is not here, for this is a snake's hole," and when she had said
this she went away. Presently the girl also came out and said to him,
"What! hast thou not got the hare? Did nothing come out then?"--"No,"
said he, "nothing but an old woman who asked me what I was seeking,
and I told her the golden hare, and she said, 'It is not here,' so I
let her go."--Then the girl replied, "Why didst thou not lay hold of
her? for she was the very golden hare itself, and now thou never wilt
catch it unless I turn myself into a hare and thou take and lay me on
the table, and give me into my mother's, the she-dragon's hands, and
go away, for if she find out all about it she will tear the pair of us
to pieces."

So she changed herself into a hare, and he took and laid her on the
table, and said to the she-dragon, "There's thy hare for thee, and
now let me go away!" She said to him, "Very well--be off!" Then he set
off running, and he ran and ran as hard as he could. Soon after, the
old she-dragon discovered that it was not the golden hare, but her own
daughter, so she set about chasing after them to destroy them both,
for the daughter had made haste in the meantime to join Ivan. But as
the she-dragon couldn't run herself, she sent her husband, and he
began chasing them, and they knew he was coming, for they felt the
earth trembling beneath his tread. Then the she-dragon's daughter said
to Ivan, "I hear him running after us. I'll turn myself into standing
wheat and thee into an old man guarding me, and if he ask thee, 'Hast
thou seen a lad and a lass pass by this way?' say to him, 'Yes, they
passed by this way while I was sowing this wheat!'"

A little while afterward the she-dragon's husband came flying up.
"Have a lad and a lass passed by this way?" said he. "Yes," replied
the old man, "they have."--"Was it long ago?" asked the she-dragon's
husband.--"It was while this wheat was being sown," replied the old
man.--"Oh!" thought the dragon, "this wheat is ready for the sickle,
they couldn't have been this way yesterday," so he turned back. Then
the she-dragon's daughter turned herself back into a maiden and the
old man into a youth, and off they set again. But the dragon returned
home, and the she-dragon asked him, "What! hast thou not caught them
or met them on the road?"--"Met them, no!" said he. "I did, indeed,
pass on the road some standing wheat and an old man watching it, and
I asked the old man if he had seen a lad and a lass pass by that way,
and he said, 'Yes, while this wheat was being sown,' but the wheat was
quite ripe for the sickle, so I knew it was a long while ago and
turned back."--"Why didst thou not tear that old man and the wheat to
pieces?" cried the she-dragon; "it was they! Be off after them again,
and mind, this time tear them to pieces without fail."

So the dragon set off after them again, and they heard him coming from
afar, for the earth trembled beneath him, so the damsel said to Ivan,
"He's coming again, I hear him; now I'll change myself into a
monastery, so old that it will be almost falling to pieces, and I'll
change thee into an old black monk at the gate, and when he comes up
and asks, 'Hast thou seen a lad and a lass pass this way?' say to him,
'Yes, they passed by this way when this monastery was being built.'"
Soon afterward the dragon came flying past, and asked the monk, "Hast
thou seen a lad and a lass pass by this way?"--"Yes," he replied, "I
saw them what time the holy fathers began to build this monastery."
The dragon thought to himself, "That was not yesterday! This monastery
has stood a hundred years if it has stood a day, and won't stand much
longer either," and with that he turned him back. When he got home, he
said to the she-dragon, his wife, "I met a black monk who serves in a
monastery, and I asked him about them, and he told me that a lad and a
lass had run past that way when the monastery was being built, but
that was not yesterday, for the monastery is a hundred years old at
the very least."--"Why didst thou not tear the black monk to pieces
and pull down the monastery? for 'twas they. But I see I must go after
them myself, thou art no good at all."

So off she set and ran and ran, and they knew she was coming, for the
earth quaked and yawned beneath her. Then the damsel said to Ivan, "I
fear me 'tis all over, for she is coming herself! Look now! I'll
change thee into a stream and myself into a fish--a perch."
Immediately after the she-dragon came up and said to the perch, "Oh,
oh! so thou wouldst run away from me, eh!" Then she turned herself
into a pike and began chasing the perch, but every time she drew near
to it, the perch turned its prickly fins toward her, so that she could
not catch hold of it. So she kept on chasing it and chasing it, but
finding she could not catch it, she tried to drink up the stream, till
she drank so much of it that she burst.

Then the maiden who had become a fish said to the youth who had become
a river, "Now that we are alive and not dead, go back to thy
lord-father and thy father's house and see them, and kiss them all
except the daughter of thy uncle, for if thou kiss that damsel thou
wilt forget me, and I shall go to the land of Nowhere." So he went
home and greeted them all, and as he did so he thought to himself,
"Why should I not greet my uncle's daughter like the rest of them?
Why, they'll think me a mere pagan if I don't!" So he kissed her, and
the moment he did so he forgot all about the girl who had saved him.

So he remained there half a year, and then bethought him of taking
to himself a wife. So they betrothed him to a very pretty girl, and
he accepted her and forgot all about the other girl who had saved
him from the dragon, though she herself was the she-dragon's daughter.
Now the evening before the wedding they heard a young damsel crying
Shishki[28] in the streets. They called to the young damsel to go
away, or say who she was, for nobody knew her. But the damsel
answered never a word, but began to knead more cakes, and made a
cock-dove and a hen-dove out of the dough and put them down on the
ground, and they became alive. And the hen-dove said to the
cock-dove, "Hast thou forgotten how I cleared the field for thee, and
sowed it with wheat, and thou mad'st a roll from the corn which thou
gavest to the she-dragon?"--But the cock-dove answered, "Forgotten!
forgotten!"--Then she said to him again, "And hast thou forgotten how
I dug away the mountain for thee, and let the Dnieper flow by it that
the merchant barques might come to thy store-houses, and that thou
mightst sell thy wheat to the merchant barques?" But the cock-dove
replied, "Forgotten! forgotten!"--Then the hen-dove said to him
again, "And hast thou forgotten how we two went together in search of
the golden hare? Hast thou forgotten me then altogether?"--And the
cock-dove answered again, "Forgotten! forgotten!" Then the good
youth Ivan bethought him who this damsel was that had made the doves,
and he took her to his arms and made her his wife, and they lived
happily ever afterward.

[28] Wedding-cakes of the shape of pine-cones.





Next: The Story Of The Forty-first Brother

Previous: Ivan The Fool And St Peter's Fife



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