In olden time, in a time long before present days, in a certain Tzardom of an Empire far across the blue seas and behind high mountains, there lived a Tzar and his Tzaritza. The Tzar had lived long in the white world, and through long living had become old. He had three sons, Tzareviches, all of them young, brave and unmarried, and altogether of such a sort that they could not be described by words spoken in a tale or written down with a pen. During the long white days they flew about on their fiery, beautiful horses, like bright hawks under the blue sky. All three were handsome and clever, but the handsomest and cleverest was the youngest, and he was Tzarevich Ivan.
One day the Tzar summoned his three sons to his presence and said: "My dear children, ye have now arrived at man's estate and it is time for you to think of marriage. I desire you to select maidens to be loving wives to you and to me dutiful daughters-in-law. Take, therefore, your well-arched bows and arrows which have been hardened in the fire. Go into the untrodden field wherein no one is permitted to hunt, draw the bows tight and shoot in different directions, and in whatsoever Courts the arrows fall, there demand your wives-to-be. She who brings to each his arrow shall be his bride."
So the Tzareviches made arrows, hardened them in the fire, and going into the untrodden field, shot them in different directions. The eldest brother shot to the east, the second to the west, and the youngest, Tzarevich Ivan, drew his bow with all his strength and shot his arrow straight before him.
On making search, the eldest brother found that his arrow had fallen in the courtyard of a Boyar, where it lay before the tower in which were the apartments of the maidens. The second brother's arrow had fallen in the courtyard of a rich merchant who traded with foreign countries, and pierced a window at which the merchant's daughter ‹a lovely girl soul ‹was standing. But the arrow of Tzarevich Ivan could not be found at all.
Tzarevich Ivan searched in deep sorrow and grief. For two whole days he wandered in the woods and fields, and on the third day he came by chance to a boggy swamp, where the black soil gave way under the foot, and in the middle of the swamp he came upon a great frog which held in her mouth the arrow he had shot.
When he saw this he turned to run away, leaving his arrow behind him, but the Frog cried: "Kwa ! Kwa ! Tzarevich Ivan, - come to me and take shine arrow. If thou wilt not take me for thy wife, thou wilt never get out of this marsh."
Ivan was greatly surprised to hear the frog speak, and was at a loss to know what to do. But at last he took the arrow, picked up the frog, put her in a fold of his coat and went sadly home.
When he arrived at the Palace and told his story, his brothers jeered at him, and the two beautiful maidens whom they were to marry laughed at him also, so that he went weeping to the Tzar and said: "How can I ever take this frog to wife‹a little thing that says - Kwa! Kwa!" She is not my equal. To live one's life long is not like crossing a river or walking over a field. How shall I live with a frog ?" But the Tzar made answer: "Take her, for such was my royal word, and such is thy fate !" And though Tzarevich Ivan wept a long time, there was no further word to be said, since one cannot go contrary to his fate.
So the sons of the Tzar were married --- the eldest to the nobleman's daughter, the second to the daughter of the merchant, and the youngest, Tzarevich Ivan, was married to the frog. When the day came, he went to the Palace in a closed carriage and the frog was carried on a golden dish.
So they lived, a long time or a short time, and Tzarevich Ivan treated the frog with gentleness and kindness till a day came when the Tzar summoned his three sons before him and said: "Dear children, now that ye are wedded, I am minded to try the skill of my daughters-in-law in the arts of housewifery. Take from my storeroom, therefore, each of you, a piece of linen cloth, and his wife shall make of it a shirt which thee shall bring to me to-morrow morning."
The two elder brothers took the linen to their wives, who at once called together their maidservants and nurses and all set to work busily to cut the stuff and to sew it. And as they worked they laughed to think of Tzarevich Ivan, saying:
"What will his little Quacker make for him to bring to the Tzar to-morrow?" But Tzarevich Ivan went home looking as if he had swallowed a needle. "How can my little frog-wife make a shirt?" he thought, "she who only creeps on the floor and croaks!" And his bright head hung down lower than his shoulders.
When she saw him, however, the frog spoke. "Kwa! Kwa! Tzarevich Ivan, why art thou so downcast? Hast thou heard from the Tzar thy father a hard, unpleasant word?"
"How can I fail to be downcast?" answered Ivan. "The Tzar, my father, has ordered that thou shouldst sew a shirt out of this linen for him to-morrow."
"Worry not," said the frog, "and have no fear. Go to bed and rest. There is more wisdom in the morning than in the evening!"
When Tzarevich Ivan had laid himself down to sleep, she called servants and bade them cut the linen he had brought into small pieces. Then dismissing them, she took the pieces in her mouth, hopped to the window and threw them out, saying: "Winds! Winds! Fly abroad with these linen shreds and sew me a shirt for the Tzar, my father in-law!" And before one could tell it, back into the room flew a shirt all stitched and finished.
Next morning when Tzarevich Ivan awoke, the frog presented him with a shirt. "There it is," she said. "Take it to thy father and see if it pleases him." Ivan was greatly rejoiced and putting the shirt under his coat, set out to the Palace, where his two elder brothers had already arrived.
First of all the eldest brother presented his shirt to his father. The Tzar took it, examined it and said: "This is sewn in the common way it is fit only to be worn in a poor man's hut!" He took the shirt which the second son had brought, and said: "This is sewn somewhat better than the other and is perhaps good enough for me to wear when I go to my bath." But when he took the shirt that Tzarevich Ivan presented him, he examined it with delight, for no single seam could be seen in it. He could not admire it enough and gave orders that it should be given him to wear only on the greatest holidays. Ivan went home happy, but his two brothers said to one another: "We need not laugh at Ivan's wife; she is not really a frog, but a witch."
A second time the Tzar summoned his three sons and said: "My dear children, I wish to taste bread baked by the hands of my daughters-in-law. Bring me to-morrow morning, therefore, each of you a loaf of soft white bread."
Tzarevich Ivan returned home looking as if he had eaten something without salt, and his bright head hung lower than his shoulders, and when the frog saw him, she said:
"Kwa! Kwa! Kworax! Tzarevich Ivan, why art thou so sad? Hast thou heard a harsh, unfriendly word from the Tzar thy father?"
"Why should I not be sad?" answered Ivan. "The Tzar my father has bidden that thou bake him for to-morrow a loaf of soft white bread."
"Mourn not, Tzarevich Ivan. Be not sad for nothing. Go to bed and sleep in comfort. The morning is wiser than the evening."
When he was asleep she ordered servants to bring a pastry-pot, put flour and cold water into it and make a paste. This she bade them put into the cold oven, and when they were gone she hopped before the oven door and said:
"Bread, Bread! Be baked! Clean, white, and soft as snow!"
Instantly the oven door flew open and the loaf rolled out, cooked crisp and white.
Now the two Tzarevnas, the wives of the other brothers, hated the frog because of the shirt she had made, and when they heard the command of the Tzar, the wife of the eldest brother sent a little black slavegirl to spy on the frog and see what she would do. The black girl hid herself where she could watch, and went and told her mistress what she had seen and heard. Then the two Tzarevnas tried to imitate the frog. They dissolved their flour in cold water, poured the paste into cold ovens and repeated over and over again:
"Bread, Bread! Be baked! Clean, white, and soft as snow!"
But the ovens remained cold and the paste would not bake.
Seeing this, in anger they gave the poor slavegirl a cruel beating, ordered more flour, made paste with hot water and heated the ovens. But the spilled paste had flowed all about and clogged the flues and made them useless, so that one had her loaf bumed on one side and the other took hers out underbaked.
In the moming, when Tzarevich Ivan woke, the frog sent him to the Palace with his bread wrapped in a towel, and the brothers came also with theirs.
The Tzar cut the loaf of the eldest son and tasted it. "Such bread," he said, "might be eaten only out of misery," and he sent it to the kitchen that it might be given to the beggars. He tasted that of the second son and said: "Give this to my hounds." When Tzarevich Ivan unwrapped his loaf, however, all exclaimed in admiration. For it was so splendid that it would be impossible to make one like it - it could only be told of in tales. It was adorned with all kinds of cunning designs and on its sides were wrought the Tzar's cities with t