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Folktales

The Dun Horse

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

Long ago there was an old man who had three sons. The older sons looked after the farm, but the youngest, Ivan the Fool, just sat all day on the great kitchen stove. One day the father knew he was dying. He called his sons and said: "When I am dead, bring bread to my grave for three nights, as is the custom of our fathers."

The first night after the father's death was the eldest son's turn to bring the bread to the grave, but the night was dark, the wind was howling, and he was afraid to go. So he said: "you go, Ivan. Nothing ever happens to fools." Ivan went fearlessly and laid the bread on his father's grave. The father's ghost came out, thanked him kindly, ate the bread and disappeared. The next night was the second's brother's turn, but the night was dark, the wind was howling, and he was afraid to go. Again Ivan went, and the father's ghost graciously accepted the gift.

The third night was dark, the wind was howling, and it was Ivan's own turn. The ghost ate the bread and said: "Ivan, do not come back to my grave, as I am now going to heaven. You were the only son who kept the faith, so I shall reward you. Go to the field and call: 'Dun horse, magic horse, come when I call you!' And when he comes, mount him. God bless you, my son."

The next day, the Tsar issued a proclamation. All the young unmarried men were to come to the Tsar's courtyard. In the window of the tallest tower the Tsar's only daughter would be sitting. The young men would jump their horses right up to her. If one could reach her and kiss her lips, he would be her husband and the next Tsar. The two older brothers immediately put on their finest clothes and mounted the best horses, completely forgetting Ivan. So Ivan went to the field and called: "Dun horse, magic horse, come when I call you!"

The Dun Horse
Image drawn exclusively for the
Encyclopedia Mythica by Patricia J. Wynne

Thundering hooves, flying tail and flame streaming from his nostrils, the dun horse came. Ivan mounted him and immediately turned into a handsome young man, dressed in the finest clothes! He rode to the Tsar's courtyard, and watched as the young men were defeated, one by one, in their efforts to reach the princess. Then he rode to the window and looked at her, so high above, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. The princess smiled at him. She liked the handsome young man on the fabulous dun horse very much!

Without word, Ivan turned the horse. A hush fell over the crowd as he circled the courtyard, urged the horse on and took the jump at full gallop. Like an arrow he shot to the window and kissed the princess on her lips!

The Tsar gave the greatest wedding banquet ever seen in Russia. He thought he was blessed to have such a magician for a son-in-law! Ivan's brothers certainly did not think he was a fool anymore, and were proud of him. Ivan and his princess lived happily ever after, and ruled Russia better than anyone before or after.


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