This event happened long ago. At that time and in that place Russian or even Bashkirs didn't live. Bashkirs needed green fields and wide steppes for their herds but that place was surrounded with a thick forest. Only brave hunters dared to visit that place and hunt there. The most brave and skillful hunter of them was a Bashkir whose name was Ailyp.
One day Ailyp was galloping through the forest and suddenly saw a red fox. The fox was an insignificant prey for such a skillful hunter as Ailyp. Nevertheless the young man was bored and decided to amuse himself a little and hunt the fox. He tried to overtake the fox but couldn't do it. He tried to shoot an arrow at it but wasn't successful.
Soon the hunter reached such a dense part of the forest that it was impossible to go further on horseback. He dismounted from his steed and started pursuing the fox on foot. The fox seemed to tease Ailyp; it was always so close to him but when he tried to take aim at it, the fox suddenly disappeared behind thick bushes.
At last Ailyp found himself in an unfamiliar place. The fox disappeared somewhere and the hunter decided to climb a high tree to look about. From the top of the tree he saw a small river running merrily along the valley. In some certain place the river was shinning so brightly that it was impossible to look at. Ailyp was very surprised and tried to look at that place more attentively. Suddenly he saw a beautiful girl sitting near the river on a big white stone behind a bush. Her braid was thrown over her shoulder and the tip of it was hanging in the water. The braid was gold and very long, its length was about 10 sazhen (a little over two meters). The gold braid was reflected in the water and made the river shine like the sun.
The girl raised her head, noticed Ailyp and said, "Hello, Ailyp! I know you! My Nanny the Fox has told me about you long ago. You are the most handsome, strong and successful hunter all through the neighborhood. Do you want to marry me?"
"How much bride-money will I have to pay to your father?"
"What are you speaking about? My father is the owner of the whole world's gold! He will never agree to part with me voluntarily. If you want to marry me we must run!"
"I want to marry you very much! I will carry you in my arms! No one will dare to take you away from me!"
As soon as the hunter exclaimed these words, the fox yelped, hid its muzzle in the ground, turned into an old woman and said, "Don't brag! You couldn't even catch me!"
"It's the truth," answered Ailyp "But it is my last negligence."
"It will be very difficult to kidnap my niece the Golden Hair. Her father is Poloz, the owner of all the gold of the world. Her hair is of gold. Try to raise her braid! It is very heavy. The girl is chained to the ground with her hair."
Ailyp pulled the gold braid out of the river's sand and began to wind it round his arm. Then he said, "Now my dear bride the Golden Hair, we are tied together with your braid. Nobody can part us!"
The old woman gave the hunter scissors just in case. Ailyp took the girl in his arms and they began their journey. Ailyp and his bride were rambling in the forest the whole day. The Golden Hair noticed that Ailyp became very tired and said, "Ailyp, you are very tired. Let me go by myself and you will carry my braid. It will be easier for us and we will go faster. May be we will manage to go far and get to the place where my father's power can't reach us. Otherwise my father will pull me into the ground."
"How can he do it? asked the hunter.
"My father possesses the power of attracting gold. He can attract all the gold of the world. If he wishes he may attract my golden hair!"
"Don't be afraid! We will manage to escape!"
The Golden Hair smiled sadly, she knew how strong and insidious her father was.
So, the girl went down on the ground and went by herself. Ailyp took her heavy golden braid and carried it. They went and went and at last got very tired. "Let's rest!" offered Ailyp.
As soon as they sat on the green grass, a mysterious power started to attract them into the ground. The Golden Hair had time to take the scissors that her nanny had given them and snip off the golden braid wound around the hunter's arm. Then the girl suddenly disappeared under the ground together with her beautiful golden hair. Ailyp was left standing alone in the forest glade.
"My bride is taken away! What a terrible shame! I must get her back," thought the hunter and began to dig at the place where his bride had disappeared.
Suddenly the fox appeared in the forest glade. It hid its muzzle in the ground, turned into the old woman and began to mock the hunter. "What are you doing? Are you looking for gold?"
"No," replied Ailyp "I am trying to find my bride, the Golden Hair!"
"What a fool! Your bride is sitting near the river on the big white stone where you saw her for the first time. Her gold braid has become longer and heavier, its length now is about 20 sazhen. Now you won't be able to lift it."
"But what should I do? Please, give me a piece of good advice!" begged Ailyp.
"Go home and wait three years. If you don't forget your bride I will return in three years and show you the place where you can find her. If you begin to look for the Golden Hair by yourself you will never see her!"
Ailyp wasn't used to waiting but there was nothing to do and he had to humble. The three years were dragging on monotonously. Even the spring didn't make the hunter glad. His relatives worried about his health. Every day Ailyp thought about his bride. How he wished to look at her! But he remembered the old woman's words and didn't dare seek her out.
One day he was walking along the village street and met a pretty black haired young girl. He liked that girl very much and thought, "I've lost my bride. If people knew this fact they would scorn me. All the young men my age were married long ago. Maybe I shall marry this pretty black haired young girl?! I will pay bride-money to her parents and they will be glad to arrange our wedding."
Then the hunter remembered the Golden Hair and thought, "However, I can't reconcile the fact that my bride was taken away from me! I must get her back!"
Sooner or later three years passed and Ailyp saw the red fox. He didn't try to shoot an arrow at the fox but followed it closely. On the way to the river he marked the trees and stones they passed by to remember the road. At last they got to the river and Ailyp saw his bride sitting on the big white stone at the place where he had seen her for the first time. He bowed to her and said, "Hello, my dear bride the Golden Hair!"
"Hello, Ailyp! Don't grieve! My braid became much easier because you always thought about me. Only in the end of the third year my braid became a little bit heavier. Have you fallen in love with someone?"
Ailyp was ashamed of confirming the fact that he really had fallen in love with the pretty black haired girl but all the same he decided to tell the truth and honestly told his bride everything about the incident with the black haired girl.
The Golden Hair listened to him attentively and then said, "I am glad that you honestly told me everything. Now I trust you. Let's go! Maybe we will manage to escape to the place where my father's power can't reach us!"
Ailyp pulled the gold braid out of the river's sand, wound it around his arm, took the scissors from the old woman and they began their journey. They were rambling in the forest the whole day long. It grew dark and the hunter offered to rest, "Let's climb that high tree and sleep on the tree branches. May be your father's power won't reach us there."
They climbed the tree and Ailyp tied the girl's braid to the tree branches to keep her from falling. The Golden Hair fell asleep and the hunter began to guard her. Soon he also began to doze. The eagle-owl was hovering near the tree and screaming desperately as if it wanted to alarm the hunter.
Ailyp slept like a log and dreamt that he and the Golden Hair were sitting at home and drinking tea. His bride was beautiful! Her golden braid was shinning like the sun!
At midnight the tree caught fire. Ailyp burnt himself and fell on the ground. He saw how a big sparkling fiery ring appeared from under the ground. The Golden Hair turned into a cloud of fine golden sparkles. The sparkles flew to the fiery ring and disappeared. Ailyp ran to that place trying to find his bride but everything was in vain. He was only able to find the tip of her golden braid.
The young man gave way to despair and began to call the fox. It immediately appeared and said, "If you want to get back the Golden Hair you should wait three years more. I won't come to help you any more. You will have to go look for your bride by yourself. I can advise you only the following: bow to the old eagle-owl and ask it to help you."
At first Ailyp didn't understand what eagle-owl the old woman was speaking about but later he remembered the eagle-owl hovering near the burning tree and understood everything.
The next morning the hunter went to the place where he had seen the old eagle-owl. Having reached the place he began calling it. Soon he heard its voice, "Hoo, hoo! I am here! What do you want?" Ailyp told the old eagle-owl all about his problems and asked it to help him.
"It will be very difficult to return the Golden Hair," answered the old eagle-owl. "Her father Poloz is very strong. He is the owner of the world's gold. He can reach any place where gold deposits are situated with his fiery ring. There is only one place where his power is ineffective. But remember one thing: if you reach that place you will never come back!"
"Please tell me where that place is!" begged the hunter.
"You should find the lake with the big stone in the middle. There is an entrance under that stone that leads to the underwater kingdom. The power of Poloz can't reach you there."
"I know this lake!" cried Ailyp gaily. "It is Lake Itkul !"
"Go to this Lake Itkul to make sure that it is really the lake you need. Remember if you manage to get to the underwater kingdom you will never come back!"
The hunter thanked the old eagle-owl and went home. Later he found Lake Itkul with the big stone in the middle. At the place he realized that it was impossible to run to the lake during the day and at night Poloz can use his power.
"I must build a road to the lake to have a chance to get there by horseback!"
So, the hunter began to chop trees and build the road. Three years passed very quickly, Ailyp barely had time to finish building the road. On the appropriate day he came to the well-known river bank to find his bride. She was sitting on the big white stone at the place where the hunter had seen her for the first time. They saddled the steeds and galloped at full speed. The red fox was running ahead, urging them on. In the evening they got to the Lake Itkul and boarded a canoe. In a flash they reached the stone situated in the middle of the river, found the entry and descended to the underwater kingdom.
As soon as the hunter and his bride entered the shelter, Poloz began to encircle the lake with his fiery rings. But it was all for naught, as he couldn't reach his daughter and Ailyp. His power was ineffective in the underwater kingdom.
Since that time rich gold deposits appeared at the banks of the Itkul Lake that provoked quarrels between Bashkirs and Russian factory owners.
Ailyp and his wife the Golden Hair stayed to live in the underwater kingdom where they possessed horse and sheep herds pasturing in the wild fields and meadows.
Sometimes people chanced to see the Golden Hair. She was sitting on the stone in the middle of the lake. Her golden braid was shinning brightly by the light of the moon. She was incomparably beautiful! .