Ivan the Fool does nothing all day but sit on the stove, and go out occasionally to gather mushrooms in the forest. His two elder brothers, however, are all things admirable, and it seems certain that they will do well and prosper. When their father dies, he makes a strange request of his sons – he asks them to come to his grave for the next three nights, with bread for him to eat. Whether they are simply lazy or too afraid, the eldest sons choose not to go. Instead they send Ivan the Fool in their stead. Each night he is there when at midnight their father rises from the grave. He assures his father that all is well with the kingdom of Russia and watches as his father eats his fill of bread.
As a reward for his loyalty – his father tells Ivan how he can summon a magical horse – called Chestnut Grey. "When the horse appears before you, climb into his right ear, and come out his left, and you will turn into as comely a lad as ever was seen," promises his father.
Now, Ivan took the bridle his father gave him, thanked him and went home, stopping to gather some mushrooms on the way. He reached home and his brothers asked him:
"Did you see our father, Ivan?"
"Yes, I did," Ivan replied.
"Did he eat of the bread you brought?"
"Yes, he ate till he could eat no more and he bade me not to go to his grave any more."
Now, at this very time the Tsar had a call sounded abroad for all handsome, unmarried young men to gather at court. The Tsar's daughter, Tsarevna Lovely, had ordered a
castle of twelve pillars and twelve rows of oak built for herself. And there she meant to sit at the window of the top chamber and await the one who would leap on his steed as high as her window, and place a kiss on her cheek. To him who succeeded, whether of high or low birth, the Tsar would give Tsarevna Lovely in marriage, and half his kingdom besides.
News of this came to the ears of Ivan's brothers, who agreed between them to try their luck.
They gave a feed of oats to their goodly steeds and led them from the stables and themselves put on their best apparel and combed down their curly locks. And Ivan, who was
sitting on the stove ledge behind the chimney, said to them:
"Take me with you, my brothers, and let me try my luck too."
"You silly sit-on-the-stove!" laughed they. "You will only be mocked if you go with us. Better go and hunt for mushrooms in the
The brothers mounted their goodly steeds, cocked their hats, gave a whistle and a whoop and galloped off down the road in a cloud of dust. And Ivan took the bridle his father had given him, went into the open field and shouted as his father had told him:
"Chestnut Grey, hear and obey!
I call thee nigh to do or die!"
And lo and behold! A charger came running towards him and the earth shook under his hoofs, and his
nostrils spurted flames, and clouds of smoke poured from his ears. The charger galloped up to Ivan, stood stock-still and said:
"What is your wish, Ivan?"
Ivan stroked the steeds neck, bridled him, climbed into his right ear and came out through his left. And lo! He was turned into a youth as fair as the sky at dawn, the handsomest youth that was ever born. He got up on Chestnut Grey's back and set off for the Tsar's palace. On went Chestnut Grey with a snort and neigh, passing mountain and dale with a swish of his tail, skirting houses and trees as quick as the breeze.
When Ivan arrived at court, the palace grounds were teeming with people. There stood the castle of the twelve pillars and twelve rows of oak logs, and in the highest attic, at the window of her chamber, sat Tsarevna Lovely.
To be continued ...