The evil sorcerer, Kaschei the Immortal, appeared in this story and turned the beautiful maiden, Maryushka, into an exquisite firebird. He swept her away and carried her in his steel claws high above the clouds to his castle. She was to live with him in his prison and belong to him forever. Firebird couldn’t bear her tragic fate and lost her will to live. As she traveled high in the sky in Kaschei’s steel claws, she dropped her brilliant feathers, one by one, and they floated down across the beautiful Russian landscape. Then Firebird died. Her feathers can be seen to this day, but only by those who make beauty for others to see and enjoy. Firebird flies across the pages of Russian fairy tales as an embodiment of love and beauty. She represents the noble character of the Russian people.
Once upon a time there lived a tsar who had three sons. The youngest was called Ivan. There was a beautiful garden with golden apples, but then one day something flew into the garden to steal the golden apples. The tsar sent his sons to keep watch. The older sons sat and sat and fell asleep, but the youngest son caught sight of the thief — Firebird — but he was unable to succeed in catching the bird. All that he managed to get into his hands was a feather. The tsar was angry about this and sent his sons off to catch Firebird and bring it back. The children saddled their trusty steeds and set off, each taking a path in a different direction. The youngest son, Ivan, rode and rode for a long time. He grew tired and lay down to sleep. When he awoke, he looked and saw that all that was left of his dear steed was some small bones. Ivan was very sad but there was nothing he could do about it. He walked along farther on foot. Suddenly a gray wolf spoke from behind the bushes, “Do not be sad, little Ivan, that I ate your steed. Sit astride me. I know where Firebird lives.” So Ivan mounted the old wolf and they flew off, high above the forest and the mountain.
They came upon a high wooden palace dwelling. The wolf said to Ivan, “Take Firebird but do not touch the golden cage or you will get yourself in trouble.” Prince Ivan Tsarevich did not listen. He took Firebird and the golden cage. Well, horns began to blow and drums began to play. Guards ran in and grabbed little Ivan and took him to Tsar Afon. The tsar was furious but after thinking about it for a while said, “I’ll pardon you and give you this Firebird if you get me the Golden-Maned Steed.”
Ivan and Gray Wolf galloped up to a fortress. Again the wolf said, “Take the steed but do not touch the golden bridle or you will get yourself into trouble.” Once again Ivan did not listen to the wolf. He caught the steed and wanted to take the bridle. Again horns began to blow and drums began to play. The guards woke up, caught Ivan and took him to Tsar Kusman. “I’ll pardon you and give you the Golden-Maned Steed if you will bring Elena the Beautiful to me.” Ivan was not happy about this and went to Gray Wolf.
Again they galloped off. They rode and rode until they reached Tsar Dalmat. Elena the Beautiful was playing in the garden. Gray Wolf jumped over the garden wall, seized Elena the Beautiful and ran away. They all set off across rivers, lakes, fields and forests. Finally they reached Tsar Kusman. Little Ivan again was very sad to give up Elena the Beautiful for he had fallen in love with her. And again the wolf helped him.
Gray Wolf turned himself into Elena the Beautiful. The tsar was pleased and gave Ivan the Golden-Maned Steed with the golden bridle. Ivan rode away and the tsar sat down at his wedding table with Elena the Beautiful. Suddenly Elena turned back into Gray Wolf and ran away. The wolf caught up with Prince Ivan Tsarevich. He saw that Ivan did not want to give up the Golden-Maned Steed. Gray Wolf turned into the steed and Ivan brought him to Tsar Afon. The tsar was pleased and gave Ivan the golden cage with Firebird.
Prince Ivan sat Elena the Beautiful upon the Golden-Maned Steed, took the golden cage with Firebird and rode home. Just as Tsar Afon began to ride the Golden-Maned Steed, it turned back into Gray Wolf and ran off. Gray Wolf caught up with Prince Ivan and they said farewell to each other. Prince Ivan returned home on the Golden-Maned Steed and brought Firebird to the tsar, his father. And for himself, he took Elena the Beautiful as his bride and they had a very happy wedding.