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Once upon a time there was a mighty tsar named Berendei. He had three sons, two elder ones were bright guys, but the youngest one Ivan had little knowledge about anything. The pride of the tsar's kingdom was a beautiful garden with magnificent apple tree that produced golden apples. However, a mysterious thief started visiting the tsar’s garden at night and steeling his golden apples. His guards failed to catch a thief at night. The Tsar was very angry and disappointed about this whole matter. His three sons gathered together and tried to cheer him up, “Father, do not cry or feel bad anymore, we will go to the garden at night and we will catch this mysterious thief ourselves” “I will watch over the garden tonight,” volunteered the eldest son Vasilyi. So, he hid behind the bushes and waited for the mysterious creature to show up. The night was quite and warm. Vasilyi laid down on soft and silky grass and accidentally fell asleep. Next morning, when the tsar asked him what he saw, Vasilyi replied, “Nothing, Father! I stayed alert all night and did not see an insect passing by.”
In the evening the second eldest son went to the garden, but he fell asleep too just like his older brother a night before. Next morning, Fedor also told his father that he did not see a thing.The third night the youngest son, Ivan Tsarevich, was hiding in the bushes near the apple tree. The night was warm and quiet, the grass was silky and soft. But Ivan was committed to his duty and did not even think about sleep. Suddenly, the whole garden lit up like during the sunrise. At that perfect light Ivan could easily spot a bird that was more beautiful than he ever saw. As the bird started to pluck golden apples off the tree one-by-one, Ivan sneaked up and grabbed it by the tail. But the bird was big and strong. It managed to fly away, leaving the young Tsarevich an only bright red tail feather. The feather was so luminescent that if it were brought into a dark room, the room would be immediately lit up.The firebird never returned to the tsar’s garden again, but the tsar was so astonished by the glowing miracle feather that he sent his sons out again to find the bird and bring it back to him. Two elder brothers could not forgive the young Ivan for managing to deliver the firebird feather to their father before them. They were very jealous and did not want to accept Ivan to be a part of their team. Vasilyi and Fedor went to search for a fire-bird together, but Ivan was on his own. Ivan was riding his horse days and nights on until he grew tired. Tsarevich step down from his horse, tied it to the rock and fell asleep nearby. By the time young Ivan woke up, he realized that his horse was gone. He started calling and looking for it everywhere, but did not get any response nor found anyone, but a pile of bones – all that had left of his horse. Ivan Tsarevich was devastated, but proceeded his journey on his foot. Ivan walked and walked until he got exhausted and set down on the grass knowing that he now must returned to his father’s kingdom empty handed. Suddenly, the gray wolf appeared from out of nowhere and asked young Ivan in a human voice, why he looks so sad. “I have all of the reasons in the world to feel sad,” answered Ivan. “My father sent me out to find and bring him the Fire-Bird, but here I am in a middle of nothing without a horse.” “It was me, who ate your horse,” answered the Gray Wolf. “And I am sorry for doing this to you. You on your horse would never find the Firebird anyway, but I am the only one who knows where it is. Well, since I have eaten your horse, it is my duty now to serve you well. Climb on my back, Ivan Tsarevich, and hold tight,” said the Gray Wolf. After Ivan Tsarevich listen to the Gray Wolf and did what he said, they took off with a speed that no human had experienced ever before. After a while, they have reached a tall fortress that was surrounded by the marble walls. "Climb over that wall, Ivan,” said the Gray Wolf.“ And do not worry this is a perfect moment to do so since all of the guards are asleep now. In the tallest tower you will see a window; by the window stands the golden cage with the Firebird inside. Take the bird, but don't touch its cage. Otherwise you will be caught." Ivan did as the wolf instructed and had the bird in his hand, when a quick thought crossed his mind, “How am I going to carry this bird if I don't take its cage along?” The exact minute he touched the golden cage, all trumpets and countless alarms went off that woke up all of the guards.
They immediately seized lvan and brought him before Tsar Afron who was very angry and demanded explanations. "I'm the youngest son of Tsar Berendei," Ivan said, "and your firebird had been steeling golden apples from my father's garden every night. Therefore I am here to get this bird for my father." "Well, young man, if you had just come and asked me properly, I would have given the bird to you out of respect to your father," the tsar said. "But now you have disgraced yours and your father’s name by being a thief. However, you will be forgiven and redeemed if you perform one task for me. There is a horse with a golden mane that is located at the kingdom of Tsar Kusman. Bring me this horse and you will not only be forgiven, but I also will grant you my firebird along with the golden cage. As soon as Ivan left the fortress, the Gray Wolf that was patiently waiting outside asked him, “Why did you not follow my instructions, Ivan Tsarevich?” “I am really sorry about it, my friend,” Tsarevich said in response. “Now I must deliver a horse with the golden mane.” The Gray Wolf replied,“ What's done is gone. Get up on my back and I will take you to the kingdom of the tsar Kusman.”Ivan set on his back and the wolf took off. After a long time, or maybe a short one, they finally reached the kingdom of Tsar Kusman. When they stood in before the iron walls, the wolf taught Ivan to take the horse with the golden mane and leave without touching the golden bridle. Ivan grabbed the horse’s mane, but could not resist taking the shiny golden bridle as well. But the second he touched it, alarms went off. They all woke the stable boys up who rushed to seize the young man and to take him to their tsar Kusman. The tsar was very angry, but he promised to forgive Ivan and even to grant him the horse with golden mane and bridle in exchange to Yelena the Beautiful, who is a favorite daughter of tsar Dalmat. Ivan Tsarevich went back even more downcast to find the Gray Wolf outside the fortress. “I told you not to touch the golden bridle. Did I not? Why did you not heed my instructions?” “I am deeply sorry for that. Please forgive me,” begged Ivan Tsarevich. “Sorry isn’t…Alright, get back on my back now and let’s go,” said the Gray Wolf. They ran as far as Tsar Dalmat’s kingdom was located. Yelena the Beautiful was walking in her father’s garden surrounded by her nannies and girlfriends. The Gray Wolf said to the young man, “Start walking back now where we came from, I will fulfill this task myself and then I will catch you up.” Ivan Tsarevich did what the Wolf told him. In the meanwhile, the Gray Wolf quickly leapt over the fence and hid behind the bushes. The wolf waited the moment when Yelena the Beautiful fell behind other girls, then he pounced, tossed her over his back and was gone in a matter of seconds. Ivan Tsarevich was walking back towards the kigdom of tsar Kusman when the Gray Wolf suddenly caught up with him. There was Yelena the Beautiful sitting on the wolf’s back. Ivan was overjoyed and excited when wolf asked him to climb on his back next to Yelena in case tsar Dalmat’s guards come after them. After a short time, or maybe a long one, the three of them have reached the fortress of tsar Kusman, but the Gray Wolf noticed that Ivan is not as happy and excited anymore as he used to be, “What is wrong, Ivan,” asked him the wolf. Young Tsarevich explained, "My dear friend, how can I not grieve? Yelena and I are in love now, but I have choice of exchanging her for a horse, or else I will face a great disrepute throughout my father’s kingdom.
None of these is a real option for me.” The Gray wolf replied,” I understand your sorrow, my friend Ivan. I will turn myself into an exact copy of Princess Yelena and you will present me to the tsar Kusman. After you trade me for the horse with a golden mane and bridle, take your trophy and the real Princess Yelena and start riding it towards the kingdom of tsar Afron. Ivan liked the wolf’s great plan, so the wolf as agreed turned into the princess Yelena. Ivan led him to the tsar Kusman, who was overjoyed at seeing who he thought was the real Yelena the Beautiful. Ivan was immediately granted the horse with the golden mane and bridle. He started riding it toward the kingdom of Afron after he picked up the real Princess outside the Kusman’s fortress. For three days, and three nights Ivan and Yelena were riding their horse until the Gray wolf caught up with them. A few days later, Ivan, the princess, the wolf and the golden-manned horse reached the walls of tsar Afron’s kingdom. Here Ivan suggested to the wolf, "My dear friend, you have done so much for me, but could you do one more thing? I would love to have this golden-manned horse to bring back to my father along with the firebird. Would you please turn yourself into a horse now, and we'll play the same trick as we did with the tsar Kusman?" The wolf was willing to help Ivan again. He turned into a golden-manned horse and along with Ivan was on his way to the tsar Afron, who was also overjoyed and happy. The tsar Afron handled the golden cage with the Fire-Bird in it to Ivan. After the young man with the firebird left the Afron’s kingdom, he picked up Yelena the Beautiful and the real golden-manned horse. It didn't take the wolf long to catch up with Ivan and Yelena. They traveled together days and nights through many forests and meadows until they reached the place where Ivan found the bones of his old horse. "Now it's time to split," the wolf said. "You have a horse now, the Fire-Bird and Yelena the Beautiful. I just hope you will remember me and my kind service to you." Ivan thanked the Gray wolf dearly, hugged him and promised to visit him in the future. After that the wolf ran back into the deep forest, but Ivan Tsarevich, the princess Yelena the Beautiful, the firebird and the golden-manned horse headed home. They were still dozens of miles away from the tsar Berendei’s kingdom when they stopped to rest. They tied the horse to a tree and kept the bird beside them. The Berendei’s two elder sons, Vasiliy and Fedor had also been looking for the firebird. It was quite a surprise for both of them to discover sleeping Yelena the Beautiful along with their youngest brother Ivan, golden-manned horse and the Firebird right on their way. Vasiliy and Fedor were about to return to their father’s kingdom empty handed, but discovering their brother’s treasures in the middle of the road, they thought, changed their luck once and for all. They were charmed by the golden-manned horse, astonished by the firebird and impressed by the Yelena’s beauty. Filled with envy and hatred, they executed Ivan and stole Yelena, golden-manned horse and the fire-bird. "If you say at least one word of what happened here to our tsar," they warned Yelena the Beautiful, "and you won't live to see another day!" The breathless body of Ivan was sitting in the field until the gray wolf found him, recognizing the lad by his scent. He wanted to help his friend, but he didn't know exactly how. When he saw a mother crow and her two babies circling around Ivan’s body looking for food, he waited until they landed and grabbed one of the crow’s babies. "Please don't harm my boy," the crow-mother cried. "He's done no harm to you." If you wish to see your baby alive, fly to the kingdom of tsar Dalmat and bring me back some life-and-death water. Your child will be safe if you do what I said fast," the wolf said. The crow had no choice, but to get the task done and flew away.
Next morning, the mother crow returned and brought two vials of water. Without saying a word, the wolf sprinkled some "water of death" on the young crow that was accidentally squished by his teeth when the beast captured it. In a matter of a few seconds the crow's wounds were healed. Next the gray wolf sprinkled some "water of life" on the baby crow, and it came to life, fluttered his wings, and flew away to meet his mother! The wolf did the exact same things with Ivan. Miraculously, the young man came to life, asking, "Oh, how long did I sleep here!" "Quite some time now," the wolf said, "and you would have slept much longer if I did not find you!" He told Ivan the story that had happened and that today his eldest brother Vasiliy was about to marry Yelena the Beautiful. The gray wolf delivered Ivan Tsarevich to the tsar’s Berendei’s kingdom. They arrived just on time since the wedding ceremony for his brother Vasiliy and Yelena the Beautiful was deeply in progress. As soon as the princess Yelena saw her beloved Ivan, she jumped out of the table and ran straight to Ivan Tsarevich. The tsar Berendei was at first confused by this turn of events, but later after Yelena the Beautiful told him the whole story in great details, the tsar was furious and very disappointed with both Vasiliy and Fedor. Berendei ordered his guards to seize his elder sons and throw them in prison. Ivan and Yelena got married and were so happy with each other that they never have been seen apart.