“Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock” comes from Russia, as you can probably tell from the title. The version I read was from Robert Steele in The Russian Garland of Fairy Tales: Being Russian Folk Legends Translated from a Collection of Chapbooks Made in Moscow in 1916. It’s a type of helper story, in this case categorized as “The Grateful Dead.”
There was once a tsar, named Chotei, who had three sons — the first, Aspar Tsarevich; the second, Adam Tsarevich; and the third and youngest son, Sila Tsarevich. All three got their father’s permission to travel and see the world. the three set sail, each on his own ship. When they were out on the open sea, the eldest brother’s ship sailed first, the second brother’s next, and Sila Tsarevich sailed last.
On the third day of the voyage they saw a coffin with iron bands floating on the waves. The two oldest brothers sailed past without paying any attention to it, but as soon as Sila Tsarevich saw the coffin, he ordered the sailors to pick it up, place it on board his ship, and they would carry it to land.
The next day a violent storm arose, and Sila’s ship was driven out of course, and landed on a steep shore in an unknown country. Then Sila ordered his sailors to take the coffin and to carry it on shore. He followed, and buried it. Sila Tsarevich ordered the captain to remain at the spot where the ship was stranded, and await his return for three years. Sila added that should he not come back in that time, the captain would be free to set sail and return home. Sila took leave of his captain and his crew and journeyed on.
He wandered about for a long while, without seeing anyone; eventually he heard a man running after him. Sila Tsarevich turned round and saw a man dressed all in white following him. Sila drew his sword, but the man fell to his knees and thanked Sila for having saved him. Sila asked the man what he had done to deserve his thanks.
The stranger stood and answered, “Ah, Sila Tsarevich, how can I thank you enough? There I lay in the coffin, which you picked up at sea and buried; and had it not been for you I might have remained floating about for a hundred years.”
“But how did you get into the coffin?” asked Sila.
“Listen, and I will tell you the whole story,” replied Ivashka. “I was a great magician; my mother was told that I did great mischief to mankind by my arts, and therefore ordered me to be put into the coffin and set adrift on the open sea. For more than a hundred years I have been floating about, and no one has ever picked me up, but you rescued me. I will help you in any way I can. Let me ask you whether you have a wish to marry. I know the beautiful Queen Truda, who is worthy of being your wife.”
Sila replied that if this queen were indeed beautiful, he was willing to marry her; and Ivashka told him she was the most beautiful woman in the world. When Sila heard this, he begged Ivashka to accompany him to her kingdom. So they set out and traveled on and on till they reached that country.
Now, Queen Truda’s kingdom was surrounded by a palisade; and upon every stake was stuck a man’s head, except one, which had no head. When Sila saw this, he was terrified, and asked Ivashka what it meant; and Ivashka told him that these were the heads of heroes who had been suitors to Queen Truda. Sila shuddered on hearing this, and wished to return home without showing himself to the father of Truda. But Ivashka told him to fear nothing and go with him boldly, so Sila went on. (I’m pretty sure I would have turned around at this point.)
So Sila Tsarevich went into the palace, and, as soon as King Salom saw him, he went to meet him, took him by his hands, led him into the marble halls, and asked him, “Fair youth, from what country do you come, whose son are you, what is your name, and what is your business?”
“I am from the kingdom of my father the Tsar Chotei,” replied Sila, as Ivaashka had instructed him. “My name is Sila Tsarevich, and I am come to ask for your daughter, the beautiful Queen Truda, in marriage.”
King Salom was overjoyed that the son of such a renowned tsar should be his son-in-law, and immediately ordered his daughter to prepare for the wedding. And when the day for the marriage came, the king commanded all of the princes and boyars (aristocrats a rank below prince) to assemble in the palace; and they all went in procession to the church, and Sila Tsarevich was married to the fair Queen Truda. Then they returned to the palace, seated themselves at table, and feasted and made merry.
When the time came to retire to rest, Ivashka took Sila aside and whispered to him, “When you go to rest, beware! Don’t speak a word to your bride or you will not remain alive, and your head will be stuck on the last stake. She will in every way try to make you embrace her, but do not.”
When Sila asked why, Ivashka replied, “She is in league with an evil spirit, who comes to her every night in the shape of a man, but flies through the air in the shape of a six-headed dragon. Now, if she lays her hand upon your breast and presses it, jump up and beat her with a stick until all her strength is gone. I will meanwhile remain on watch at the door of your apartment.”
When Sila Tsarevich heard this, he went with his wife to rest, and Queen Truda tried in every way to get him to kiss her, but Sila lay quite still and spoke not a word. Then Truda laid her hand upon his breast and pressed him so hard that he could scarcely breathe. But up jumped Sila Tsarevich and seized the stick which Ivashka had laid there ready for him, and fell to beating her as hard as he could. (Apparently no one else in the castle heard the hubbub, or Ivashka kept them away.)
Suddenly a six-headed dragon came flying into the room and was going to devour Sila Tsarevich, but Ivashka seized a sharp sword and attacked the dragon, and they fought three hours, and Ivashka struck off two of the dragon’s heads, whereupon the monster flew away. Then Ivashka told Sila to go to sleep and fear nothing. Sila obeyed him, laid himself down, and fell asleep. (Because of course it would be easy to go to sleep after that.)
Early in the morning King Salom went to find out whether Sila was dead or not. When he heard that Sila was alive and well, the king rejoiced; and he instantly ordered Sila to be called, and the whole day was spent in merrymaking.
The following night Ivashka gave Sila Tsarevich the same caution as before, not to speak a word to his wife, and he placed himself on watch at the door. Then it happened as before, and when Sila Tsarevich began to beat the queen, the dragon came flying in, and was going to devour Sila Tsarevich. But Ivashka rushed from behind the door, sword in hand, and fought with the dragon and struck off two more of his heads. Then the dragon flew away, and Sila Tsarevich lay down to sleep. Early in the morning the king commanded Sila to be invited, and they spent this day in the same pleasures as before.
The third night the same happened again, and Ivashka cut off the last two heads of the dragon, and he burnt all the heads and strewed the ashes in the fields.
Time passed, and Sila Tsarevich lived with his father-in-law a whole year, without speaking to his wife or gaining her love. Then one day Ivashka told him one day to go to King Salom and ask permission to return to his native country. So Sila went to the king, who dismissed him, and gave him two squadrons of his army to accompany him as an escort. Then Sila took leave of his father-in-law, and set out with his wife on their journey to his own country.
When they had gone half way, Ivashka told Sila Tsarevich to halt and pitch his tent. So Sila obeyed and ordered the tent to be put up. The next day Ivashka laid pieces of wood in front of Sila’s tent and set fire to them. Then he led Queen Truda out of the tent, unsheathed his sword, and cut her in twain. (No wonder they had to get away from the father – I’m guessing this would not have gone over well in the Queen’s own land.)
Sila Tsarevich shuddered with terror and began to weep; but Ivashka said, “Weep not, she will come to life again.”
And presently all sorts of evil things came forth from the body, and Ivashka threw them all into the fire. Then he said to Sila Tsarevich, “See you not the evil spirits which troubled your wife? She is now relieved from them.” He laid the parts of Truda’s body together, sprinkled them with the water of life, and the queen was instantly sound and whole as before.
Then said Ivashka, “Now, farewell, Sila Tsarevich, you will find that your wife loves you truly, but you will never see me more.” And he vanished.
Sila Tsarevich ordered the tent to be struck, and journeyed on to his native country. And when he came to the place where his ship was waiting for him, he went onboard with the fair Queen Truda, dismissed the escort which accompanied him, and set sail. On arriving at his own kingdom, he was welcomed , and Tsar Chotei came out of his palace and took him and the beautiful Queen Truda by their hands, led them into the marble halls, placed them at table, and they feasted and made merry.
Sila Tsarevich lived with his father two years. Then he returned to the kingdom of King Salom, received from him the crown, and ruled over the country with his Queen Truda in great love and happiness.
I love the happy ending, even if getting there was a bit gruesome. I wonder what happened to the other two brothers. Obviously they didn’t know they were in a fairy tale. In fairy tales, you need to respect the dead, the poor, the elderly and the occasional wild animal to get the best outcome.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.