Once upon a time there lived an old man who had three sons. The two elder sons kept house. They were handsome, intelligent and dandified; and the youngest son Ivan was silly. Everybody called him Ivan the Simpleton. He liked to pick mushrooms in the forest and almost all the time sat on top of the stove, warming himself.
One day the old man felt that he would die soon and said to his sons: "I am old and soon I will die. I have a favour to ask of you. When I die, I want you to come to my grave and bring me some bread". Saying this, the old man died and was buried.
When the night came, it was the eldest son's turn to come to his father's grave. We don't know whether he was loath to go out or he was frightened by his father's strange request, but we know he didn't come to the grave. He called his young brother and said: "Ivan, replace me this nigh. Come to father's grave and I will buy you a tasty honey-cake". Ivan agreed, took some bread and went to the grave. He reached it and sat near by. At midnight the grave opened and the old man went out and said: "Who is here? Is it you, my eldest son? Tell me what has happened in Russia !"
Ivan didn't want to let his brother down and answered: "Yes, I am your elder son, father. In Russia everything is all right." The father ate his bread and lied into the grave again.
Ivan made his way home, picking mushrooms along the way. At home he told his elder brother what had happened with him. The second night came and it was time for the middle brother to go to the grave to feed his father. He also didn't want to come and asked Ivan: "Ivan go to father instead of me, please, and I will make you bast shoes." Ivan agreed.
He took some bread and went to the grave. At midnight the grave opened once again and the old man came out. "Are you my middle son? What has happened in Russia in my absence?" he asked. "Yes, I am your son. In Russia everything is all right," answered Ivan. The old man ate his bread and lied into the grave. Ivan went home picking mushrooms on the way.
At home the middle brother asked him: "Have you seen father?"
"Yes," answered Ivan.
"Has he eaten bread?"
"Yes, he ate his fill," Ivan replied. The third night came and it was Ivan's turn to go to the grave. He said to his brothers: "Two nights I went to the father's grave instead of you. Please, replace me. I want to rest."
The brothers answered: "Ivan, you are accustomed to visiting our father. You will do it better than we." Again, Ivan agreed. He took some bread to feed his father and went to the grave again. At midnight the grave opened and the old man came out and asked:
"Are you my young son? What has happened in Russia in my absence?"
"Yes, I am. In Russia everything is all right," said Ivan, as usual. The father ate his bread and said:
"I know, Ivan, only you dared to come to my grave. Go to the field and scream: 'Sivka-Burka, magnificent steed, appear before me!'" The wonderful steed will appear and you should climb into his right ear and climb out of his left ear. You will be very handsome. Mount the steed and ride. Sivka-Burka will serve you anytime you wish. Good-bye, Ivan, you need not come any more.
Ivan thanked his father and went home picking mushrooms on the way. At home the brothers again began questioning Ivan if he had seen their father and if the old man had eaten the bread. Ivan told them about the events of the night but said nothing about Sivka-Burka.
One day an announcement was sent out from the Tsar to the entire kingdom. The heralds proclaimed that the Tsar's daughter, Incomparable Beauty, had ordered to build her a high tower. She sat in the highest balcony of the tower and laid down her conditions. Whoever was able to reach the balcony from the ground and could kiss her wonderful lips would be her bridegroom. Having heard this announcement, Ivan's brothers decided to try their luck. They put on their holiday clothes, combed their curls and mounted beautiful steeds. Ivan asked them: "Brothers, I also want to try my luck. Take me with you!"
"Go to the forest to pick your mushrooms! Don't make people laugh!" replied the brothers.
As soon as they left home, Ivan ran in the field and screamed: "Sivka-Burka, magnificent steed, appear before me!". The earth trembled and Sivka-Burka appeared. Sparkles flew from his eyes, fire erupted out his nostrils and smoke belched out of his ears. Ivan climbed into his right ear and climbed out of his left ear. He became very handsome and strong; his old darned clothes turned into a new fashionable costume.
When Ivan came to the Tsar's court, the competition had already begun. Many young men tried to kiss the princess but nobody could reach the balcony. Ivan's brothers also tried, but they couldn't, as the balcony was on the very top of the highest tower of the kingdom. Ivan mounted Sivka-Burka, and at the tower's wall Sivka gave a magnificent leap, high up into the air but he couldn't reach the balcony. Ivan made the second try, reached the balcony, but couldn't kiss the princess. The third time Sivka succeeded to jump higher than at the second try and Ivan was able to kiss the princess.
The princess, Incomparable Beauty, hardly had time to attach a seal to Ivan's forehead and he disappeared. Ivan rode to the field, climbed into Sivka-Burka's left ear, came out of his right ear and again became Ivan the Simpleton. He tied a rag round his forehead to hide the princess's seal and went home picking mushrooms on the way. When he arrived home, his brothers began telling him of the events of the day. They told Ivan about a handsome young Prince who had managed to kiss the princess, Incomparable Beauty.
Ivan said to them: "Maybe it was I whom you saw."
"How could it be you, you simpleton? Sit on the stove and eat your mushrooms!" laughed his brothers.
The next day the Tsar invited all people of the kingdom to come to the great feast. Ivan's brothers also decided to go to the feast. Ivan asked them: "Take me with you."
"Sit at home and eat your mushrooms!" they answered. The brothers rode to the feast and Ivan went there on foot. During the feast, the princess watched all the young men carefully, trying to find a man who had managed to kiss her. She came to Ivan and asked him to take off the rag. Ivan took it off and everybody saw the princess's seal.
"This is my bridegroom!" she exclaimed.
"This dirty man can't be your bridegroom!" said the Tsar.
"Let me wash!" said Ivan to him.
He went to the secluded corner and said: "Sivka-Burka, magnificent steed, appear before me!". When the steed appeared, Ivan climbed into his right ear and climbed out of the left ear. He changed into a handsome young Prince, dressed in beautiful, fashionable clothes and came to the princess.
The next day the greatest feast started in the kingdom. Ivan and the princess, Incomparable Beauty, were married then and they spent many happy years in love and contentment.