Two or three hundred years ago in some kingdom there lived a Tsar who had three sons. One day the Tsar called his sons and said, “My children, all of you have grown up to a manhood. It is time to think about marriages. Each of you should shoot an arrow as far as you can. The girl who catches your arrow will be your bride whom you will marry.”
The eldest son shot an arrow and a boyar’s (nobleman’s) daughter caught it. The middle son shot an arrow and a merchant’s daughter caught it. The youngest son, Ivan Tsarevich, shot an arrow and his arrow fell into a swamp. The two elder brothers found their arrows easily, but Ivan Tsarevich could not find his arrow for a long time. He walked for two days across forests and mountains and on the third day he reached the deep swamp where he saw a Frog holding his arrow in the mouth. Ivan Tsarevich wanted to run away but the Frog said, “Croak-croak, don’t go, Ivan Tsarevich. Take your arrow and marry me, you will not be sorry.” Ivan Tsarevich took the Frog and brought it to his kingdom. The first two brothers were happy, but Ivan Tsarevich was very unhappy. The brothers laughed at him, and the father said, “You cannot help it, you must marry the Frog.” So all three couples were wed according to the custom.
Next day the Tsar wished to see which one of his sons’ wives was the best baker and ordered to each of his daughters-in-law to bake a loaf of bread. Ivan Tsarevich returned to his house being very sad, but his Frog said, “Don’t be sad, the morning is wiser then the evening”. And as soon, as Ivan Tsarevich fell asleep, the Frog cast off her skin and turned into a beautiful princess Vassilissa the Wise. She sieved the flour, kneaded white dough and baked a loaf of bread. It was crisp and soft, decorated with different designs: towns with the palaces, orchards and towers, birds and animals. After she was done, she turned into a Frog again.
In the morning Ivan, proud of such bread, took it to his father. The Tsar looked at the three loaves. The one given by the first brother was burnt, and the Tsar ordered to give it to the dogs. The second brother brought sodden and oblique bread and the Tsar ordered to give it to the beggars. Then the Tsar took the Frog’s bread and said, “Now, this loaf of bread fits to grace a Holy Day!”
Then the Tsar wanted to see which one of his daughters-in-law was the most skillful in handcrafting and ordered to each of them to make a carpet for him. Ivan Tsarevich returned to his house being very sad again, but his Frog said, “Don’t be sad, the morning is wiser then the evening”. And as soon, as Ivan Tsarevich fell asleep, the Frog cast off her skin again and turned into a beautiful princess Vassylissa the Wise. She began to weave a carpet; the first puncture of the needle created a blossoming flower, the second, a beautiful ornament, and the third one, a soaring exotic bird. In the morning Ivan, overjoyed of such carpet, took it to his father. When Tsar looked at the first brother’s carpet, he said, “This carpet is fit only to be a cover for the horses on rainy day!” When he examined the second brother’s carpet, the Tsar said, “This carpet is fit only to be a mat in front of the gates.” And when the Tsar gazed at the carpet brought by Ivan, he said, “Oh, this carpet is fit to be spread in my chambers on Holy Days!”
After that the Tsar decided to see which of his sons’ wives was the best dancer and ordered his sons to come to a feast with their wives. Ivan Tsarevich returned to his house and began to weep bitterly. “Don’t cry, Ivan Tsarevich,” said the Frog. “Go to the ball alone, I will come later.”
Ivan Tsarevich left for the ball alone. His elder brothers came to the feast with their well-dressed wives and began to chuckle at their younger brother, “Why haven’t you brought your Frog in a handkerchief? We would be pleased to listen her croak.” All of a sudden everybody heard a thunderous sound approaching the palace. A golden carriage drove up to the entrance of the palace, the door opened, and Vasilisa the Wise came out from the carriage. To everyone’s surprise, she took the hand of Ivan Tsarevich and walked in with him to the feast. Ivan Tsarevich was overjoyed to see his wife for the first time as a human being!
They began to eat and drink. The Frog Princess drank a little and the rest of drink poured into her left sleeve, she ate a little and slipped the bones and scraps of food into her right sleeve. The elder brothers’ wives noticed this and followed her lead, slipping bones and scraps of food into one sleeve and pouring wine into another. When the dancing time came, Vassylissa the Wise began to dance with her husband, Ivan Tsarevich. She danced light and very gracefully to the delight of all. Then she swung her left sleeve and the lake appeared, when she swung her right sleeve, swans appeared swimming on the lake. The Tsar and the guests were filled with admiration. When she finished dancing, everything disappeared.
Then the wives of the two elder sons began to dance. They wanted to surprise the guests as the Frog Princess did, so they shook their left sleeves, and wine splashed all over the Tsar and the guests. Then they shook their right sleeves, and bones with scraps of food flew out of their sleeves hitting the guests. They’ve made fools out of themselves. Ivan Tsarevich was so overjoyed to have such a wonderful wife that he ran home while everyone was still at the feast and burned his wife’s discarded frog skin so that she would remain beautiful human being.
When Vasilisa returned home and could not find her frog skin, she became sad and said, “Oh, Ivan Tsarevich, you have no idea what you have done. If you had waited three more days, I would have been your real wife forever. But now I must go live as the prisoner of Koshchey the Deathless.” Saying that, she has disappeared.
Ivan Tsarevich became sick at heart. He took his bow and arrows, put on steel boots, put three hardened loaves of bread into his bag and left to search for his wife, Vassylissa the Wise. He walked for a long-long time, he wore out two pairs of boots, gnawed two loaves of bread, and suddenly he met a kind old man. “Good afternoon, young man,” the old man said, “Where are you going?” Ivan Tsarevich told him about his trouble, and the old man gave him a ball of yarn and said, “Here is a ball of yarn, follow it wherever it rolls.” And Ivan Tsarevich followed the ball through the high mountains, dark forests, green valleys and dark swamps. He walked so long that wore out his third pair of boots and gnawed the third loaf of bread when he came to a dense pine forest. There he have met a bear and thought, “I have to kill the bear, ‘cause I have nothing to eat anymore.” He took aim but the bear asked him, “Don’t kill me, Ivan Tsarevich, some day I will be of use to you.” Ivan Tsarevich had pity for the bear and did not kill him. He walked across the open field and saw a big duck flying over his head. He took an arrow, but the duck said, “ Don’t kill me, Ivan Tsarevich, some day I will be of use to you.” Ivan Tsarevich had pity for the duck and did not kill him. He walked on hungry and saw a hare running towards him, he took aim, but the hare said to him, “ Don’t kill me, Ivan Tsarevich, some day I will be of use to you.” Ivan Tsarevich had pity for the hare and did not kill him. Ivan Tsarevich reached the blue sea and saw a pike lying on the shore and not being able to get back to the sea. He said, “Now I will eat the pike, I am dying of hunger,” but the pike asked, “Don’t eat me, throw me in the blue sea and some day I will be of use to you.” Ivan Tsarevich had pity for the pike and threw it into the sea.
He followed his ball of yarn farther. He went by and by and eventually he came across a little hut turning around on a chicken leg. He entered the hut and saw Baba Yaga – Kostyanaya Noga (Witch the “bone-leg”) with huge hooked snout and long teeth. She asked, “Where do you go, Ivan Tsarevich?” He told her that he had set out to rescue Vassylissa the Wise. “I know, I know where she is,” said Baba Yaga, “She is now kept prisoner by Koshchey the Immortal. It is very difficult to reach her, because it’s almost impossible to win Koshchey the Immortal: one cannot kill him neither by arrow nor bullet. But I know where his Death is hidden. It is on the point of the needle, the needle is in the duck’s beak, the duck is inside the hare, the hare is inside the cast iron chest, and the chest is on the top of the Great Old Oak.” Baba Yaga explained to Ivan Tsarevich how to get to the Oak. Ivan thanked her and rushed ahead.
He had walked very long way. At last he saw the huge Oak. Ivan thought, “If the bear would’ve been here, he would’ve helped me!” Just at that moment the bear had appeared and uprooted the Oak. The chest fell down and opened up. The hare jumped out of the chest and took to its heels. “If my hare would’ve been here, he would’ve helped me,” thought Ivan. Just at that moment his hare had appeared, overtook another hare and tore it in half. The duck flew out of the hare and rose high in the sky. “If my duck would’ve been here, it would’ve helped me,” thought Ivan. Just that moment his duck had appeared, overtook another duck and began to peck it right in its head. The other duck dropped the egg, and it fell down into the blue sea. “If my pike would’ve been here, it would’ve helped me,” thought Ivan. Just at that moment his pike had appeared, holding the egg in its teeth. Ivan Tsarevich was very glad; he broke the egg, took the needle and broke off its point, and at that moment Koshchey the Immortal had died. Ivan went to Koshchey’s chambers. Vassylissa came out to him and said, “You are my rescuer! You have managed to find me here and kill Koshchey the Immortal, so from now I will be yours forever!”
Ivan Tsarevich chose the best horse from Koshchey’s stable, and rode back to his kingdom with his sweet and beautiful wife to the delight of all. They lived happily in friendship, love and harmony ever after.