Once a long time ago there was a kingdom ruled by a young tsar named Ivan. He had three sisters, Maria, Olga and Anna. Their father, just before he died, asked Ivan to take good care of them. Once when Ivan was walking in the garden with his sister, Maria, there was a clap of thunder and a falcon appeared out of the sky. He landed, turned into a handsome young prince, and asked Maria’s hand in marriage. Ivan gave his blessing and the two were married.
The same thing happened with his other two sisters: Olga married an eagle and Anna married a raven, and all three girls went away to their husbands’ kingdoms.
One day Tsar Ivan decided to visit his sisters. On the way he saw the wonderful palace of a beautiful warrior-princess named Marya Morevna. He stayed there as a guest for several days. The two fell in love with each other and married.
One morning Marya Morevna went to fight with her enemies. She gave him the keys to all the rooms in her palace, but warned him, “Don’t go to the dark room in the cellar.” But after she left, his curiosity got the better of him and he unlocked the door. Inside, he saw Koshchey (kash-chey) the Deathless chained to the wall.
Koshchey begged him, “Give me some water, please. I am so thirsty.” The kind Tsar Ivan felt sorry for him and gave him three pails of water. Koshchey became strong, broke his heavy chains and laughed, “Thank you, Prince Ivan. But from now on you will not see your beloved Marya Morevna any more.” Koshchey flew away like a storm and Tsar Ivan wept.
Ivan was determined to find his beloved wife. On his journey he visited his sister Maria and her husband the hawk and told them everything that had happened. The hawk said, “It will be very difficult to find Marya Morevna and take her from Koshchey. Give us your silver spoon. We will look at the spoon and think of you. If it turns black, we will know something terrible has happened.” After that Ivan visited his sister Olga and the eagle. He left them his silver fork. Ivan then went to the home of his sister Anna and the raven and gave them his silver knife.
Tsar Ivan journeyed for a year and a day and at last came to the palace of Koshchey, who was away from home. Marya Morevna was very happy to see Prince Ivan. He said, “I am so sorry that I didn’t listen to you and that I let Koshchey go free. But now I want you to go with me; maybe he can’t overtake us.” But Koschey did overtake them and cut Ivan into small pieces. Koshchey took Marya Morevna back to his palace.
At the same time Ivan’s brothers-in-law saw that his spoon, fork and knife had turned black and they knew something terrible had happened to Tsar Ivan. The hawk, eagle and raven found him and revived him with the Water of Life. He thanked them and went away in search of Marya Morevna again.
When he came again to Koshchey’s palace he found his beloved Marya Morevna alone again and asked her, “Could you ask Koshchey where he got such wonderfully fast horse?” That night she asked Koschey about the horse. He told her, “Behind the Fire River lives Baba Yaga. She has many good horses. Once I worked as a herdsman for her and she gave me this horse as a present.”
Th next day Prince Ivan decided to go to Baba Yaga and get a horse even better than Koshchey’s. He walked for a long time and became very hungry. All of a sudden he saw a bird with nestlings. He drew an arrow to shoot them for his meal. But the mother bird begged him, “Don’t touch my children, Tsar Ivan. I could be helpful to you.” Ivan had a kind heart and did not kill the small birds. Later in the woods he saw a beehive. But the bees begged him not to take their honey. Then Ivan saw a lioness and her cub. “This is a good dinner,” he thought, aiming his arrow. But the lioness begged him, “Oh, Tsar Ivan, please, don’t kill my baby. I could be useful for you in the future.”
At last, tired and very hungry, Ivan came to the house of Baba Yaga and asked to work for her. She told him, “You can be my herdsman for three days. If you bring all my horses back safely at the end of the day, I will give you the pick of my horses. But if a single horse is missing, I’ll kill you, Ivan.”
The next morning when Ivan opened the stable door, all the horses ran away and disappeared. He started weeping and just lay down to sleep, since there was nothing he could do. At sunset the bird whose nestling he had spared awakened him, saying, “Get up, Tsar Ivan, all your horses are back in the stable!” When Baba Yaga found out, she cursed at her horses, yelling, “Why did you come home?” They answered, “We were frightened back here. All the birds from the whole world came and pecked us!”
The next day the lioness helped Ivan round the horses up when they ran away. Baba Yaga was more furious than before at the horses. “Why did you come home this time?” “Ah, we were so frightened. Wild animals from around the world came and chased us.”
On the third day the bees helped Ivan and one old bee said, “Do not go back to Baba Yaga. Go to the stable, take a scruffy small horse and run away.” He did everything as the bee recommended.
In the morning Baba Yaga discovered the loss and ran after Prince Ivan, but fell down into the Fire River and drowned. Ivan took good care of the small horse and before long it turned into a wonderful, strong horse. Ivan returned to Koshchey’s house and took Marya Morevna away. Koshchey did his best to overtake them. But Ivan’s horse vanquished Koshchey’s. Marya Morevna and Ivan visited his brothers-in-law and then returned home. Everybody was very happy after that.