The Humpbacked Pony (Konyok-Gorbunok)
Once upon a time, there were three brothers who lived in a small Russian village. They all were farmers and made their living working days and nights on their father’s fields. One summer, they noticed that some creature or a mysterious beast comes every night to trample their wheat field and therefore kept ruining the harvest. The brothers thought of a solution. Each brother would go to guard the field for one night. The eldest brother went on the first night, hid behind the bushes and started watching the field. But the night was warm and the grass was soft and silky, so the young man soon fell asleep before he knew that. In the morning, when others asked him if he managed to see anyone, he was embarrassed to tell the truth and said that he simply did not see anyone. The exact same thing happened to the second eldest brother when it was his turn to watch the field on the second night. But the youngest brother Ivan took his challenge seriously and knew that he could not fail. Right around midnight, Ivan heard a mysterious noise coming toward him. Suddenly, a white wild horse appeared from out of nowhere.
It started walking on the field and eating the farmers’ wheat. Ivan sneaked up to it and managed to jump on its back. Ivan rode front-to-back by holding onto the beast’s tail. The horse knew that the young man on its back is an experience rider and will not let go so it offered Ivan to set it free for a ransom. The horse would grant Ivan two white foals with the golden manes and one humpbacked pony which ears are longer than the hare’s ones. The wild horse also warned Ivan not to part with the pony while he could do anything he wanted with two other foals. Next morning Ivan went home, but he said that he did not see anyone last night either. Ivan started spending more and more time at the stable with his new friend, the humpbacked pony and two other foals. His elder brothers were suspicious and one day, when Ivan was not there, they discovered his secret. The young men were only interested in two golden-manned foals and did not care about the pony. They took both horses by a bridle and went to the town market hoping to sell the animals fast and split the profit between two of them. As soon as Ivan realized that his horses were missing he rushed to ask the pony about what had happened and the little pony told him the truth. Ivan and the pony rode off and soon caught up with the elder brothers.
Ivan was very sad and disappointed about their behavior, but both brothers convinced him that in order to survive the family needed the money more than these horses. Ivan agreed. The night had come and all three brothers were exhausted when they decided to camp on the ground to rest and continue on their journey tomorrow again. When brothers were asleep, Ivan thought that he saw some light a few miles ahead. He rode his pony to the spot and discovered the golden Fire-bird feather lying in the grass. The humpback pony begged Ivan to leave the feather where it is since picking it up would only result in troubles and misfortune. But Ivan did not listen to the friendly advice and took the feather anyway. Once again, the young Ivan did not kept it in secret from his elder brothers. Next day, all three brothers arrived to the market. The Tsar happened to pass by and fell in love with the gorgeous animals. He paid the brothers more money that they asked for and when the transaction was complete, the tsar’s archer tried to lead the horses toward the royal stables. However, shortly after, both horses broke loose and ran back to his master Ivan. The tsar had no other choice but hire Ivan as his new archer. Despite the fact that Ivan worked really hard at his new job, the former archer was very mad at him since he blamed young Ivan for stealing his job. The wicked man saw Ivan playing with the Fire-Bird feather one night and decided to tell about it to the Tsar. The Tsar accused the poor Ivan of failing to tell him the truth and as a punishment, he ordered the young man to deliver the Fire-Bird itself to his palace in not less than three days, otherwise Ivan would be executed.
Poor Ivan left the palace in tears. But his humpbacked pony cheered him up by saying, "There is no reason to be sad, Ivan, ask the tsar for several begs of corn seeds tonight.” Ivan got his premium seeds and dumped them all on the open field near the area where he found the feather. Ivan and Pony hid behind the bushes at that night and waited. Suddenly, the Fire-Bird showed up, landed on the field and started pecking the corn seeds. Ivan sneaked from behind and caught the precious bird with a rope. Next morning, the tsar was very delighted by Ivan’s delivery that he decided to promote Ivan and reward him with gifts and foods. As soon as the former royal archer found out about Ivan, he got even more mad and jealous than ever. He told the tsar an old Russian fairy tale about Vasilisa the Beautiful and convinced the old man that Ivan knows her and knows where to find her. The tsar became obsessed with an idea of finding the beautiful maiden and marrying her. He as usual called Ivan and commanded the young man to bring the girl to him if he wanted to live another week. The humpbacked horse cheered its Master up, “Do not worry, Ivan, I will help you to fetch Vasilisa. We need to rush though since she lives in the middle of the earth and it is quite a way from here.” They rode days and nights until finely they arrived to the middle earth. They set up a tent with plenty of fine food and drinks inside of it and waited until the moment when the Russian beauty showed up and went inside the tent to try the exotic treats. Ivan did not hesitate to grab her and put on his pony. A few days later, Ivan presented Vasilisa to the tsar. The old man begged the girl to marry him, but Vasilisa refused, “How can I marry you, tsar, when you are such an old man. If you would become young and handsome for me again, I would marry you.” “My dear Princess,” cried the tsar, “you know better than me that it is not possible to turn the time back.” The Princess Vasilisa said to him, “You will regain your youth, tsar, if you brave enough to dip yourself in boiling water once, than jump into the boiling milk and finally, take a bath in icy cold water.”
The old tsar immediately ordered his guards to prepare three cauldrons with boiling and icy water along with boiling milk. But the old foolish tsar was scared to jump into the boiling waters himself and ordered Ivan to do it first, but his humpbacked pony was there for him to help. It whistled three times and shook each cauldron with its head before Ivan jumped. To everyone’s astonishment, when Ivan came out of the last cauldron, he looked more handsome than it was possible to describe here. The young Princess Vasilisa could not resist Ivan’s charm and fell in love with him.After the old tsar saw Ivan’s magical transformation, he rushed to cauldrons himself, jumped in and was scalded to death in the very first cauldron. After the old tsar was buried, Ivan was elected instead of him. Later he married princess Vasilisa and they lived in harmony and piece.