Long ago in a faraway kingdom, three sisters were outside in the courtyard
talking, imagining what they would do if they were married to Tsar Saltan.
One said that she would prepare a great feast for the entire world. The
next said that she would weave linen for the entire world. The third said
that she would give the tsar "an heir, handsome and brave beyond compare."
It so happened that the tsar, who was just outside the fence, overheard
the conversation. When he heard the words of the last maiden, he fell
in love and asked her to be his wife. They were married that very same
night and conceived a son soon after. The other sisters were given jobs
as a cook and a weaver.
A few months later the tsar went to war and had to part with his beloved
wife. While he was at war his wife, the queen, gave birth to his son.
A rider was sent to the tsar to convey the good news. However, the two
sisters and a friend named Barbarika were so jealous of their sister's
luck that they kidnapped the rider and replaced him with their own messenger
who carried a note to the tsar which read: "your wife, the queen, has
borne neither a son nor daughter, neither a mouse nor a frog, but had
given birth to an unknown little creature."
When he read this message, the tsar was mortified and sent a letter back
telling his wife to wait for his return before taking any action. The
scheming sisters met the rider on the way back, got him drunk, and replaced
the tsar's actual letter with a fake one that ordered the queen and her
baby to be put into a barrel and thrown into the sea.
Of course, there was no way to disobey an order from the tsar, so the
palace guards put the queen and her son into the barrel and rolled it
into the water. As the queen wept inside the barrel, her son grew stronger,
not by the day, but by the minute. He begged the waves to wash them onto
dry land. The waves obeyed and he and his mother found themselves washed
ashore on a deserted island.
By now they were quite hungry, so the son made himself a bow and arrow,
using small branches from a tree, and went hunting. Near the sea, he heard
a screech and saw a poor swan struggling against a huge black hawk. Just
as the hawk was about to bury its beak in the swan's neck, the youth shot
an arrow, killing the hawk and spilling the bird's blood into the sea.
The white swan swam up to the lad, thanked him and said, "you didn't kill
a hawk at all, but a wicked wizard. For saving my life, I will serve you
The son returned to his mother and told her of his adventure, and then
they both fell soundly asleep, even though they were still hungry and
thirsty. The next morning they awoke and saw a wondrous city standing
before them where there had been nothing before! The two marveled at the
golden domes of the monasteries and churches behind the city's white walls.
"My, look at all the swan has done!" the lad thought. The two walked into
the city and throngs of people greeted them and crowned the young man
a prince, proclaiming him Prince Gvidon.
One day a merchant ship was sailing near the island when its sailors
caught a glimpse of the amazing walled city. The city's cannons signaled
the ship to come ashore. Prince Gvidon welcomed them and offered them
food and drink. He asked what they had for sale and where they were going.
"Our trade is in furs", they said, "and we are headed past the island
of Buyan to the kingdom of Tsar Saltan."
Gvidon asked the merchant sailors to convey his respects to the tsar,
even though his mother had earlier told him about the note that led to
their expulsion from the tsar's kingdom. Still, Prince Gvidon thought
the best of people and could never quite believe that his father could
do such a thing.
As the merchant sailors were preparing to leave the island, the prince
became sad when thinking about his father. "What is wrong? Why are you
so gloomy," the swan said. "I so wish to see my father, the tsar", Gvidon
replied. Then, with a splash of water, the swan turned the prince into
a small gnat so that he could hide himself in a crack of the mast of the
ship en route to see the tsar.
When the ship arrived at the Tsar Saltan's kingdom, the tsar greeted
the merchant sailors and asked them to tell of the lands they had seen.
The sailors told the tsar about the island and the walled city, and spoke
of the hospitable Prince Gvidon. The tsar did not know that this Prince
Gvidon was his son, but expressed a wish to see this beautiful city anyway.
The two sisters and the old Barbarika did not want to let him go, however,
and acted as if there were nothing to marvel at in the sailors' tale.
"What is really amazing," they said, "is a squirrel that sits under a
fir tree, cracking golden nuts containing kernels of pure emerald, and
singing a song. That's something which is truly extraordinary!"
Hearing this, the gnat, really Prince Gvidon, got angry and stung the
old woman's right eye. After he flew back to the island, Gvidon told the
swan the story he heard about the remarkable squirrel. Then the prince
walked into his courtyard and, lo and behold, there was the singing squirrel,
sitting under a fir tree, cracking golden nuts! The prince rejoiced at
this and ordered that a crystal house be built for the little animal.
He placed a guard there to stand watch and ordered a scribe to record
every shell. Profit for the prince, honor for the squirrel!
Some time later, a second ship came to the island enroute to the tsar
and the prince again told the swan that he wished to see his father again.
This time, the swan turned the prince into a fly so that he could hide
in a crack of the ship.
After the vessel arrived in the kingdom, the sailors told Tsar Saltan
about the wondrous squirrel they had seen. Saltan again wanted to visit
this fabled city but was talked out of it when the two sisters and Barbarika
ridiculed the sailors' story and spoke themselves of a greater wonder--of
thirty-three handsome young knights, led by old Chernomor, rising from
out of the raging sea. The fly, Gvidon, became quite angry with the women
and stung Barbarika's left eye before flying back to the island.
Once home again, he told the swan about old Chernomor and the thirty-three
knights, and lamented that he had never seen such a wonder. "These knights
are from the great waters that I know," the swan said. "Don't be sad,
for these knights are my brothers and they will come to you."
Later, the prince went back and climbed a tower of his palace and gazed
at the sea. Suddenly, a giant wave rose high and deep onto the shore,
and when it receded, thirty-three knights in armor, led by old Chernomor,
emerged, ready to serve Prince Gvidon. They promised that they would come
out of the sea each day to protect the city.
A few months later, a third ship came to the island. In his customary
fashion, the prince again made the sailors feel welcome and told them
to send his respects to the tsar. As the sailors prepared themselves for
their journey, the prince told the swan that he still couldn't get his
father out of his mind and wished to see him again. This time the swan
turned the prince into a bumblebee.
The ship arrived in the kingdom and the sailors told Tsar Saltan about
the wondrous city they had seen and how every day thirty-three knights
and old Chernomor would emerge from the sea to protect the island.
The tsar marveled at this and wanted to see this extraordinary land,
but once again was talked out of it by the two sisters and old Barbarika.
They belittled the sailors' tale and said that what was really amazing
was that beyond the seas lived a princess so stunning that you couldn't
take your eyes off of her. "The light of day pales against her beauty,
the darkness of night is lit up by it. When she speaks it is like the
murmur of a tranquil brook. Now that's a marvel!" they said. Gvidon, the
bumblebee, got angry at the women once more and stung Barbarika on her
nose. They tried to catch him, but to no avail. He was safely on his journey
After his arrival there, Gvidon strolled out to the seashore until he
was met by the white swan. "Why so gloomy this time?" the swan asked.
Gvidon said that he was sad because he did not have a wife. He related
the tale he had heard of the beautiful princess whose beauty lit up the
darkness, whose words flowed like a murmuring brook. The swan was silent
for awhile, then said that there was such a princess. "But a wife," the
swan continued, "is no glove that one can simply cast from one's hand."
Gvidon said he understood but that he was prepared to walk the rest of
his life and to all corners of the world to search for the wondrous princess.
At this, the swan sighed and said:
There's no need to travel,
There's no need to tire.
The woman that you desire,
Is now yours to spy.
The princess is I.
With this, she flapped her wings and turned into the beautiful woman
that the prince had heard about. The two passionately embraced and kissed,
and Gvidon took her to meet his mother. The prince and the beautiful maiden
were married that very same evening.
A short time later, another ship came to the island. As usual, Prince
Gvidon welcomed the sailors and, as they were leaving, he asked the sailors
to send his greetings to the tsar and to extend an invitation to him to
visit. Being happy with his new bride, Gvidon decided not to leave the
island this time.
When the ship arrived at the kingdom of Tsar Sultan, the sailors again
told the tsar of the fantastic island they had seen, of the singing squirrel
cracking the golden nuts, of the thirty-three armored knights rising out
of the sea, and of the lovely princess whose beauty was beyond compare.
This time the tsar would not listen to the snide remarks of the sisters
and Barbarika. He called his fleet and set sail for the island immediately.
When he reached the island, Prince Gvidon was there to meet the tsar.
Saying nothing, Gvidon led him, along with his two sisters-in-law and
Barbarika, to the palace. Along the way, the tsar saw everything that
he had heard so much about. There at the gates were the thirty-three knights
and old Chernomor standing guard. There in the courtyard was the remarkable
squirrel, singing a song and gnawing on a golden nut. There in the garden
was the beautiful princess, Gvidon's wife. And then the tsar saw something
unexpected: there standing next to the princess was Gvidon's mother, the
tsar's long-lost wife. The tsar recognized her immediately. With tears
streaming down his cheeks, he rushed to embrace her, and years of heartache
were now forgotten. He then realized that Prince Gvidon was his son, and
the two threw their arms around each other as well.
A merry feast was held. The two sisters and Barbarika hid in shame, but
eventually they were found. They burst into tears, confessing everything.
But the tsar was so happy that he let them all go. The tsar and the queen
and Prince Gvidon and the princess lived the rest of their days in happiness.