A long time ago there was a couple who had three sons. Two of them had hard and selfish hearts but were loved by their parents. The third son was seen as being a fool. This was not because he lacked intelligence but because his heart was open, pure and trusting in a world that was not that way, some say his name was Ivan, some called him Vaniuyshka but we shall call him Peter.
A long way away from them, in many ways, lived the Tsar in his large palace. The Tsar had a problem finding a husband for his only child, the Tsarina Anatola. Many suitor had approached the Tsar and offered gifts of gold and many riches but Anatola had managed to turn them all away. The Tsar was at the end of his wits and was about to force her into marriage when she convinced him that she would marry any man who gave the most worthy gift – and that gift would have to be – a flying ship. The Tsar was so excited at the idea of a flying ship that he sent out the order across the country.
Peter’s brothers saw the order and straight away thought about how to turn this to their advantage. Despite being very poor and having very little, their parents agreed to give them almost all their money, food, valuable and their father’s gun so they could go looking for a flying ship. Off they went, with no intention of looking at all.
They came to a wood and made a small camp. They got out all the food and began to have themselves a feast. Soon an old man approached them. Spare a crust of bread for an old beggar, he said. Away old man, they replied, we have nothing here for you. So I see, he replied and away he went. When the brothers returned to their feast they found that all the food had turned rotten. In the morning they travelled further to sell the valuable and spend it all on more food.
After a while their parents became worried that they had heard nothing of them. Peter said that they should not worry and that he would go and find them. However, they had nothing left to give to Peter and so he began his journey with nothing but a dry crust of bread.
As before, he came to a wood and, not knowing, he set up camp in the same place that his brothers had. Once again the old man came along. Spare a crust for an old beggar, he said. A crust is all I can spare, replied Peter, for a crust is all I have, but come and join me and we shall share it like brothers. The old man was a little shocked by Peter’s kindness and said to him, Thank you for your offer but I think you have more than just a crust in your bag.
When Peter looked in his bag he found a whole loaf of bread and also a roast chicken, still hot, a flask of wine, some cheese and two large apples. How did they get their, he thought, my parents must have sneeked them in, they are too good to me. Come old man, I appear to have more than I thought – come and join me.
So it was that they feasted together. The old man asked Peter what he was doing in the woods. I am looking for a flying ship, replied Peter. At this the old man looked a little sad. I see, said the old man, you want to take it to the Tsar and get lots of riches and the Tsarina for a wife. Not at all, I have no interest in those things, but my brothers have gone missing whilst they are looking for one and I thought that if I can find a flying ship then I will find them a lot easier.
In that case, said the old man, I think that you might well find one, but you need to know that if you do find one, you must go where it takes you and never refuse anyone who wants to travel with you.
Some say that Peter was then told to strike a tree three times with an axe and that a ship made of wood appeared. Some say that he fell asleep and woke to see a ship made of ice and snow in front of him. Either way Peter found himself in front of a ship in the woods all alone. He climbed on to the ship and touched the mast and off the ship flew.
After a while he met a man with very large ears who called to Peter. Peter will you take me with you while you look for your brothers, How do you know I am looking for them? Asked Peter. Because I could hear you talking to the old man. Jump on board said Peter.
A little while later they came across another man who had one leg tied up. Can I join you, he asked. Of course you can, but why do you have one leg tied up? Because it is the only thing that can slow me down, I am very fast, was the reply.
Soon they met two more people, a woodsman with a bundle of sticks and his wife, a rather large lady. They joined them as well and were soon joined by two more people. The first was a cold, short man with a load of straw which had been grown on the frozen lands of Siberia and the second was a man with a bow and arrows and very keen eyes.
As they travelled and talked, Peter learnt that all these people wanted to see the Tsar so that they could be of service to him. Peter thought this a good idea as it made sense to him that his brothers would either be there or that the Tsar may help him find them.
It was not long before the flying ship landed in the Tsars palace ground. Excited to see the ship and expecting a fine Prince to be the captain the Tsar sent his head officer to greet them. The Officer was shocked to see a group of poor peasants and quickly reported this back to the Tsar. The Tsar did not know what to do. He couldn’t give his daughter to a peasant and yet he had made the order himself and here was a flying ship. The Officer suggested that they must prove themselves worthy by passing a challenge, if they failed they would be beheaded and the flying ship would pass to the Tsar. The Tsar agreed and the first challenge was set.
The group of friends were told that a big feast was to be laid before them in their honour, but that they had to eat every bit of it. The friends were hungry after their journey but no hunger could have prepared them for the food that came forth. It was a never ending meal of every type of food and it kept coming. They were all worried for soon their stomachs were full and yet more food kept coming. Don’t you worry about this little snack, said the woodsman’s wife, and she began to get stuck in. The more food came the hungrier she got until all the food in the palace was eaten and there was no more to bring.
Well done, said the officer. You must be dirty after your journey and so you shall have a bath in the Tsars bath house. The friends were pleased at this as they thought a bath would be nice. The big eared friend was worried, wait, he said. This is a trick, they are going to lock us in and then boil us all alive. The straw man told them not to worry and he hid outside the bath house. The others went in and sure enough they were locked in as the guards put on more and more logs and the water got hotter and hotter. As this happened the straw man came out and every time a log was put on the fire he would put on a handful of his frozen straw so that the fire would go out again. By morning the logs had all gone and they were released, feeling much cleaner.
The Tsarina had heard all about this and dressed as a maid came to visit them. She and Peter soon fell in love and found a deep happiness that was shattered when they heard the next challenge. Peter had to fill a flask with silver water from a lake 1000 miles away and bring it back in just 5 minutes. There was no way this could be done.
They were about to give up when the man with one leg tied heard the challenge. This is no problem to me, he said. He took the flask, untied his leg and was gone like lightening. Within a minute he was filling the flask but he did not return. The friends became worried. Big ears said that he had fallen asleep, he knew this and could hear him snoring. The run has tired him out said the archer, I can see him laid at the foot of an apple tree by the lake. The archer raised his bow and fired one arrow. The arrow flew straight and hit an apple off the tree. The apple fell and hit the runner waking him up. Quickly he jumped to his feet and raced back as fast as he could. He gave the flask back to Peter who took it into the palace and gave it to the Tsar with only seconds left.
The Tsar could think of no other challenges and so said to Peter, please take some gold but not my daughter. I do not want your daughter, said Peter, I am already in love with that maid. Peter then pointed straight at the Tsarina.
The Tsar was furious that Peter had thought of the Tsarina as being a maid. He banished the friends from the palace and ordered that Peter be executed in the morning.
As the friends were being removed from the palace the woodsman stood tall and warned that an army far stronger than any they had ever seen would be at their gates by the morning. Those are brave words, said the friends, but how can that possibly be. The woodsman smiled and told them all to take his sticks and plant them around the palace, this they did and there were so many sticks that they took all night in planting them for as many as they planted there were always the same number left.
The Tsar woke in the morning after a night of good sleep. As he opened his window he was alarmed to see a massive army of magical wooden men surrounding him and ready for war. He knew that he had no chance of winning and called the friends back into the palace so that he could surrender.
All the friends wanted was to have Peter back, and all Peter wanted was to marry his Anatola and to find his brothers. The Tsar agreed to this and on hearing of the royal wedding, the brothers soon appeared.
The brothers were given minor jobs that kept them in check, Peters parents were kept in comfort and the Tsar was given the flying ship. However, when he went to the ship he found that it was flying away – with an old beggar holding the mast.
As for peter, he lived his days with his friends and his wife and brought much peace and wisdom to the land and was loved by all, even the Tsar.
I have written a number of books including fiction, art and about Moscow's seven sisters. Click here for more information