The Three Russian Princes

Little children in Russia have their favourite fairy stories they like to listen to repeatedly. This is one of them.

It all began when Shenkal, a greedy and powerful magician, found his way into the palace of Grand-Duke Ivan and kidnapped Princess Olga, his only daughter, who was very beautiful.

Shenkal carried her away to his castle on the top of Black Mountain, believing that the princess would agree to be his wife.

Princess Olga, however, had other ideas. Rather than marry you, I would throw myself into the sea,” she said to Shenkal.

This made the magician very angry. He asked Olga again to be his wife, and she refused a second time, even more scornfully.

“Very well,” growled Shenkal. “You are not the first to disobey me, so now you will join the others.”

Unfastening from around his waist a length of silk rope, he touched the proud princess with the end of it, simultaneously muttering some mysterious magic words. Olga at once changed into a silver-coloured fish, which Shenkal tossed into a fountain pool, where more than a hundred other fish were swimming around.

These were also the many young girls who had refused to marry Shenkal and had been changed into fish by a touch of the magic silk rope.

As Shenkal marched angrily away from the fountain, he was watched by an old gardener who hated him.

Not liking what he had seen, the gardener hurried to the palace of Grand Duke Ivan and told him what had happened in the magician’s castle on Black Mountain.

Ivan knew that three princes, Ratmir, Russmond and Relkor, were in love with Princess Olga, so he called them to him and said: My good friends, the magician Shenkal has kidnapped my daughter and now has changed her into a silver fish, with the aid of the magic silken rope which he always carries round his waist. To rescue her, a man must be brave, for it might even cost him his life.”

“This wicked Shenkal has stolen the girl of my dreams,” declared Ratmir, the first prince. “When I have fought with and beaten him, I will rescue her and make her my wife.”

“You will never do that, for I shall get there first to defeat the evil Shenkal,” Russmond, the second prince, said boldly.

Relkor, the third prince, looked very serious but did not say a word.

“Go then to the black Mountain,” said the Grand Duke. “Olga shall marry the man who rescues her.”

Ratmir started on a swift white horse at once, travelling at a gallop as fast as the wind Itself. After many miles, he came to a pleasant stretch of green grassland where sheep were grazing. A beautiful young shepherdess watched them from a tree stump on top of a mound.

At the sight of her, Ratmir forgot about Olga and his bold promise to rescue her. He jumped off his horse and begged the shepherdess to marry him.

The second prince, Russmond, also rode at a furious gallop on a big white horse. He was still feeling very bold and brave until he came in sight of the magician’s castle on Black Mountain.

He stopped. It looked so an evil and forbidding place he started to shake with fright. All his courage left him. He turned and galloped back faster than a streak of lightning.

Relkor, the third prince, was not impatient like the other two. He thought hard and long about the task of rescuing Olga. He knew that strength and force would not beat Shenkal, for the magician was no ordinary person. The way to beat him was by clever cunning, not rushing around in a great hurry as Ratmir and Russmond had done. Deciding on a plan, he sent his servants out to buy silks: Ribbons, jewellery, and other things which would disguise him as a young woman.

Dressed up and wearing a splendid hat, Relkor made the journey to the magician’s castle, arriving there late evening. He knocked loudly, and Shenkal came to the door. He seemed angry at being disturbed but quickly swallowed his rage at the sight of his visitor.

“Fair maid, what do you want?” he asked.

“Alas, I Was gathering flowers, and I wandered away from my servants,” said Relkor. “Now I am lost. It is almost night, and I am much afraid. Could I please stay here for the night?”

“Willingly, young lady,” replied Shenkal. “Judging by your appearance, you must be the daughter of a very noble person. Please enter.”

Relkor passed through the door and, followed by Shenkal, came into the big garden. “How lovely! What a display of flowers!” he said. “And what a lovely fountain pool- so full of delightful silverfish. Oh, kind sir, please lend me your silken rope to throw into the water to see if I can catch one.”

“What are you saying?” chuckled Shenkal, “You could not catch a fish with a rope like this.”

“Do let me try,” begged Relkor. “It would not take more than a few moments, and if I did catch one of those lovely silver fish, I would be so- happy.”

“Very well,” Shenkal agreed. With a smile, he handed the magic silk rope to Relkor. This was Relkor’s chance. Muttering some magic words, which a kind fairy had taught him, he touched Relkor with the rope and the magician at once turned into a croaking frog.

That done, Relkor touched the water of the fountain pool. The silverfish changed into young women again, and they stepped happily out.

Naturally, Relkor revealed to Olga who he was and how he had come to break the magic spell. Together they returned to the Grand Duke Ivan, and the wedding that followed was the most splendid ever seen in Russia.

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