In ancient days, long before our time, in a certain Tzardom of a realm far beyond the blue sea-ocean, there was a Tzar, young in years, named Saltan, who was so handsome and so clever that songs were sung and tales told of him, and beautiful maidens everywhere dreamt of him at night. Minded to rule his Tzardom well, he used to wander forth at dusk in all four directions of his capital, in order to see and hear, and thus he perceived much good and much evil and saw many strange sights. One evening, as he passed the house of a rich merchant, he saw through the window three lovely damsels, the merchant's daughters, sitting at their needlework, and drawing near he overheard their conversation.
The eldest said: " If the Tzar were to wed me, I would grind flour so fine that the like of the bread I would bake from it could not be found in the whole world."
The Tzar, hearing, thought: "That would be good bread truly; however, the bread I eat now is not so bad."
The second said: "If the Tzar were to wed me, I would weave for him a kaftan of gold and silver thread, so that he would shine like the Glowing Bird."
"That would be good weaving, indeed," thought the Tzar; "though little enough need have I for such a splendid coat."
Then the youngest daughter, who was named Marfa, said: "As for me, if the Little Father Tzar became my husband, I know how neither to spin nor to weave, but I would bear him seven hero-sons like bright falcons, that should be the comeliest in his Tzardom; and their legs should be golden to the knee and their arms silver to the elbow, and in their hair should be little stars."
Tzar Saltan, listening, was well pleased with this speech. "Glad would I be to be the father of seven such sons," he said to himself; and returning to his Palace, he summoned his Boyars and Court Ministers, and despatched them to the house of the merchant to bring his youngest daughter, whom he purposed to make his Tzaritza. He ordered a great festival and spread tables of oak, at which all the folk of the Tzardom ate, drank and made merry.
On the third day he and the merchant's daughter were married, and slept on an ivory bed, and began to live together, soul with soul, in all joy and contentment. The two elder daughters of the merchant, however, were envious; one sulked over her oven and the other wept over her loom, and both hated their sister because the Tzar had preferred her over them.
Now there was war in those days and whether after a long time or a short time, it became necessary for Tzar Saltan to take the field. Tzaritza Marfa wept long and would not be comforted; so before he departed he sent for her two sisters to remain with her until his return. And they, although they hated their sister, pretending great love for her, came at once to the Palace.
So the Tzar mounted his good horse and bidding his wife care for herself for his sake, rode away to the fight.
It befell when the Tzar had been three months absent that three babes were born to his Tzaritza‹ such lovely little sons that their like cannot be told or described, but can only be imagined, and each had legs golden to the knee, arms silver to the elbow, and little stars in his hair set close together. And Tzaritza Marfa sent to her husband a fleet messenger to tell him of their birth.
Her sisters, however, kept back the messenger and sent another in his place with this message: " Thy Tzaritza, our sister, who boasted that she would bear thee Princes of gold and silver, hath borne thee now neither sons nor daughters, but instead, three wretched little kittens."
Then they bribed the nurses and attending women, took from the Tzaritza, while she slept, the three boybabies, and put in their jewelled cradles three kittens. As for the beautiful children, they gave them to a Baba-Yaga, and the cruel old witch put them into an underground room, in a forest, under a crooked oak-tree, whose entrance was closed by a great flat stone.
When the Tzar heard the words of the messenger, he was greatly angered. He sent orders to throw the kittens into the sea-ocean, and was minded also to kill his wife. This, however, he could not bear to do, so much did he love her. "I will forgive this fault," he said to himself. " Perchance she may yet give me sons fit for a Tzar."
He returned at length to his Tzardom, and lived with his wife happily as before, till there was held a great hunt on the open steppe, and he rode away to kill wild geese and swans. And scarce had he been gone three days, when two more sons were born to his wife, the Tzaritza Marfa - such lovely babes that one could not look sufficiently at them, - and each had legs golden to the knee, arms silver to the elbow, and little stars in his hair clustering close together.
The Tzaritza sent in haste for a nurse, and the senant, as it happened, met on his way the old witch. "Where dost thou haste so fast ?" she asked him.
"Not far," he replied.
"Tell me instantly," said the Baba-Yaga, grinding her teeth, "or it will be the worse for thee !"
" Well," said the servant, " if thou must know, I go to fetch a nurse to the Palace, for two hero-sons have just been born to our mistress, the Tzaritza."
" Take me as nurse," commanded the witch.
" That I dare not," the servant replied, " lest the Tzar, on his return, strike my head from off my shoulders."
" Obey me," snarled the Baba-Yaga, "or meet a worse fate this instant !"
The servant, trembling for his life, returned with the old witch, who, as soon as she came in to the Tzaritza Marfa, took from her, while she slept, the two lovely babes, put in their place under the sable coverlet two blind puppies, and carried the children to the underground room in the forest. Having done this, she told the two sisters, who, hastening to the Palace, bribed the serving-women and despatched a messenger to the Tzar to say: " Our sister, thy Tzaritza, who boasted that she would bear thee Tzareviches of silver and gold, hath borne thee now neither sons nor daughters, but instead two miserable little puppies."
When the messenger brought him this message, the Tzar's anger waxed hot. He ordered the puppies to be thrown into the sea-ocean, and would have slain his wife but for his great love. However, after his anger had softened, he said to himself: " This second fault also I will pass over. Perchance even yet she will bear me sons fit for a Tzar." And, returning to his capital, he lived happily with her as before.
It happened at length that the Tzar went to a distant Tzardom to pay a visit of ceremony, and this time he set a strong guard about the Palace, with strict command to allow no one whatever to go in or out. When he had been absent six month, two more babes were born to the Tzaritza - sons of a loveliness that is known only in a tale, with legs golden to the knee, arms silver to the elbow, and with little stars in their hair. And the Tzaritza, deeming herself safe by reason of the guard about the Palace, bade them peal all the bells for joy.
Hearing the rejoicing, the sisters guessed what had occurred, and sent at once for the Baba-Yaga, who by a witch's charm caused a deep sleep to fall upon all the guardsmen so that each slumbered where he stood, and she herself entered the Palace. When the Tzaritza saw her, however, she hid one of the babes, whom she had narmed Guidon, in her sleeve, so that the Baba-Yaga, though she carried away the other, did not see it.
In place of the babe, the old witch left a piece of wood, and the sisters, as before, bribed the attendants, and sent a messenger to the Tzar to say: "Thy Tzaritza, our sister, who boasted that she would bear thee sons of gold and silver, hath borne thee now neither son nor daughter, neither is it a frog nor a snake, but a little log of wood."
When the Tzar heard this message, he well-nigh lost his senses in the violence of his rage. After his anger had somewhat subsided, he ordered the log of wood to be thrown into the sea-ocean, and sent a letter to his Prime Minister, bidding him call together his Boyars and Princes of all the Realm to consider the matter on his return.
The messenger rode back with the royal letter, but the two wicked sisters met him on his way, and by stealth stole the letter from his pocket and put in its place another, which read: " I, Tzar Saltan, bid my Boyars without delay to seize the Tzaritza, put her into a chest bound with iron, and cast it into the deepest abyss of the sea-ocean."
The messenger delivered the letter, and at once the Boyars came to the Tzaritza and told her the cruel decree. They pitied her and wept with her, but there was nothing to be done, since the Tzar's will was law, and the same day, with the babe still hidden in her sleeve, she was put into a chest bound with iron, and it was thrown into the wide sea-ocean.
Soon after the Tzar returned, ready, so great was his love, to forgive his wife a third time. But it was then too late, and, thinking that the Tzaritza was drowned, he at length married the elder of the two sisters, and brought them both to live in his Palace.
Whether the chest floated a long time or a short time in the sea-ocean, on smooth water or rough water, the little Guidon, who had been hidden in the Tzaritza's sleeve, was growing like wheat-flour when new yeast is added to it, not by days but by hours, until at length he began to speak.
" Little mother," he said, " I have