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Stories

Feather of the Firebird
By: Leslie Slape

The Feather of the Firebird

Long ago in Russia, there lived a brave huntsman who had a horse that could talk. Every day, he would ride into the dark forest and bring back wonderful things for his master, the Tsar.

One day, he saw something glowing in the darkness. It looked like fire. But when he drew close, he saw it was not fire, but a feather. The feather of the Zhar-ptitsa – the Firebird.

The huntsman knew the old tales. If a man is lucky enough to snatch a feather from the tail of the Zhar-ptitsa, he will have good luck all his days. But as he bent to pick up the feather, his horse spoke:

Stop! Don’t pick up the feather of the Zhar-ptitsa. You will know trouble!”

But the huntsman said, “It is not for myself that I pick it up, but for my master.” And he picked up the feather of the Zhar-ptitsa and brought it to the Tsar, who said:

Well done, my huntsman! No other Tsar in all the lands in all the world possesses such a treasure as the feather of the Zhar-ptitsa! But … what good is only a feather … when I could have the Zhar-ptitsa herself! Go, my huntsman! Go and bring me back the Zhar-ptitsa. And if you fail, I will have your head.”

The huntsman was most distressed! He told the horse what the Tsar had commanded, and the horse said:

What did I tell you? ‘Don’t pick up the feather of the Zhar-ptitsa, you will know trouble!’ But fear not, grieve not, this is not the real trouble. The real trouble lies ahead. Go ask the Tsar for a golden net, and a golden cord, and a hundred measures of grain.” Then the horse took the huntsman far into the forest and out into a great meadow. The huntsman spread the hundred measures of grain over the meadow, and then he hid in the trees while the horse grazed. Suddenly the earth began to shake and the trees to tremble, and the Zhar-ptitsa flew down from the sky and began to eat the grain. The horse stepped on her wing, and the huntsman threw the golden net over her, and bound her with the golden cord. Then he put her on the back of his horse and took her to the Tsar.

Well done, my huntsman! No other Tsar in all the lands in all the world possesses such a treasure as the Zhar-ptitsa! But … what good is the Zhar-ptitsa, without a wife to share my glory? I should have the most beautiful woman in the world as my wife! Go, my huntsman! Go and bring me the Princess Vasilissa, who lives in the thrice ninth kingdom at the edge of the world on the blue, blue sea. And if you fail, I will have your head.” The huntsman was most distressed! He told the horse what the Tsar had commanded, and the horse said:

What did I tell you? ‘Don’t pick up the feather of the Zhar-ptitsa, you will know trouble!’ But fear not, grieve not, this is not the real trouble. The real trouble lies ahead. Go ask the Tsar for a tent with a golden roof, and all manner of fine food and drink.”

Then the horse took the huntsman to the thrice ninth kingdom at the edge of the world, and there he set up the tent with the golden roof on the sand beside the blue, blue sea. Out on the sea was a silver boat with a golden sail, and in the boat was the Princess Vasilissa.

She saw the golden roof shining in the sun and came to shore.

She saw the huntsman and liked what she saw. He invited her into the tent and gave her much fine food to eat and fine wine to drink, and she became sleepy. As she slept, he tied her up with a golden cord, placed her on the back of his horse and took her to the Tsar. Well done, my huntsman! No other Tsar in all the lands in all the world possesses such a treasure as the Princess Vasilissa! We shall be married tomorrow!”

But the Princess Vasilissa took one look at the Tsar – and he was terribly ugly – and stamped her pretty foot.

I cannot marry the Tsar. I cannot marry anyone without my wedding dress, and no one will be able to find it, for it lies at the bottom of the blue, blue sea, under a stone which no man can lift.”

The Tsar said to the huntsman, “Fool! How could you bring me the Princess Vasilissa without her wedding dress? Go, my huntsman! Go back to the thrice ninth kingdom and bring me the wedding dress of the Princess Vasilissa, which lies at the bottom of the blue, blue sea under a stone which no man can lift. And if you fail, I will have your head.”

The huntsman was most distressed! He told the horse what the Tsar had commanded, and the horse said:

What did I tell you? ‘Don’t pick up the feather of the Zhar-ptitsa, you will know trouble!’ But fear not, grieve not, this is not the real trouble. The real trouble lies ahead.” The horse took the huntsman back to the thrice ninth kingdom, and there at the edge of the blue, blue sea was a crab. The horse placed his hoof above the crab and said, “Crab! Crab! Go to the bottom of the blue, blue sea, you and your brother crabs and sister crabs, mother crabs and father crabs, and lift the stone which no man can lift. And bring to me the wedding dress of the Princess Vasilissa.”

The crab said, “Master, I obey.” And he went to the bottom of the blue, blue sea, and with him all the brother crabs and sister crabs, mother crabs and father crabs, and they lifted the stone which no man can lift, and they took out the wedding dress of the Princess Vasilissa and brought it to the horse. And the huntsman put it on the back of his horse and brought it to the Tsar.

Well done, my huntsman! No other Tsar in all the lands in all the world possesses such a treasure as the Princess Vasilissa and her wedding dress! We shall be married tomorrow!”

But the Princess Vasilissa took another look at the Tsar – and he was terribly, terribly ugly – and stamped her pretty foot.

I cannot marry the Tsar. I cannot marry anyone while the huntsman lives.”

For she saw how the Tsar valued the huntsman, who brought him everything he wanted, and she thought the Tsar would never kill him.

But the Tsar said, “Huntsman! You have offended the Princess Vasilissa, and so you must die. Tomorrow before my wedding, I will have a great cauldron of boiling water placed in the square, and you will climb in it.”

The huntsman was most distressed! He told the horse what the Tsar had commanded, and the horse said:

What did I tell you? ‘Don’t pick up the feather of the Zhar-ptitsa, you will know trouble!’ And this is trouble! But fear not, I can still save you. Search my saddle blanket until you find a single silken thread from the wedding dress of Princess Vasilissa, and a single golden hair from her head, and a tiny downy feather from the breast of the Zhar-ptitsa. Hide these things in your beard and they will keep you safe.”

The huntsman searched all the night, and found the three things just as the king’s guards arrived. He hid them in his beard and went to the square, where a ladder was set up against a cauldron with a fire blazing beneath. He climbed up the ladder and touched the water – and it did not burn him. He climbed into the cauldron – and the water did not burn him. He ducked all the way down into the water. And when he stood up, all were amazed, for not only was he not dead, he was younger, and stronger, and handsomer than ever before.

And Princess Vasilissa liked what she saw.

The Tsar said, “If a simple huntsman can step into the cauldron and come out as handsome as a Tsar, then what will happen when the Tsar steps into the cauldron?” And he ran up the ladder and plunged into the boiling water – and then he was in trouble! Then the people needed a new Tsar, and who better than the huntsman? And he and the Princess Vasilissa were married. Such a wedding it was!

Then they took the Zhar-ptitsa back to the great meadow, and untied the golden cord and took off the golden net. The earth began to shake and the trees to tremble, and the Zhar-ptitsa flew into the sky … letting fall one bright, shining feather.

The huntsman looked at the feather, then turned to go. But the horse said:

Stop! This time, the feather is for you.”

And so the huntsman had many more adventures, of which I will tell you another time.

Author Information:
Name: Leslie Slape
Website: http://www.storyteller.net/tellers/lslape
All stories are under the copyright of the author. Do not use without written permission.

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