Long ago in Russia in the days when witches lived in forests, dragons flew over the valleys, and demons hid in the mountains, there lived a lord who owned a magnificent garden. In the centre of the garden there was a beautiful orchard and in the middle of the orchard grew his favourite tree, heavy with golden apples. No one was allowed to touch the golden apple tree except for him. But one night an amazing firebird, with wings of flame and eyes of crystal, came blazing into the orchard and stole some of his precious fruit.
“I will give a fortune to whoever brings me this amazing firebird,” said the lord. “This creature is even more splendid than the Golden Apples she steals!”
Half an hour later, the lord's three sons galloped out of the gates to search for the firebird. The eldest son and the middle sone galloped off together on their horses. They had agreed that they would share the fortune when they found the firebird. But they left the youngest son - Ivan - on his own.
Ivan rode alone for 3 days and 3 nights but didn't see any sign of the firebird. He was running low on food and water and his horse was exhausted. Just as he was thinking things couldn't get worse, he heard a blood-curdling howl, and out of the forest ran a huge grey wolf. Ivan's horse ran and threw him into the dirt but the horse didn't get far. The wolf jumped on the horse and gobbled it up .
“Eat me quickly and get it over with!” cried exhausted Ivan to the wolf.
“I am not going to eat you!” said the wolf. “I have to repay you for eating your very tasty horse. I have to thank you for my dinner. You look worn out. Get on my back and I'll take you wherever you want to go.”
Ivan was too tired and too lonely to argue. He climbed on the grey wolf’s back and told him all about his quest to find the firebird. He had hardly finished speaking when the grey wolf flew away like an arrow. Only a few seconds later, it seemed, they stopped at a stone wall. “Climb this wall and you will see the firebird in a golden cage,” said the wolf. “Take the firebird, but whatever you do, do not steal the golden cage.”
Trembling, Ivan clambered over the stone wall, and found himself in a courtyard. In front of him, hanging from a tree, was a golden cage with the golden firebird inside, just as the wolf said.
He crept over to the cage open the door and take the beautiful firebird. “I really need the cage as well,” he thought, so he reached up and unhooked it. And at that moment, ear-splitting alarms rang out and guards rushed in from all sides. They dragged Ivan to their master.
“You must pay dearly for trying to steal my precious firebird!” said the lord, his face dark with fury. But then he rubbed his beard and thought for a second. “Unless-” he added, “You go to the ends of the earth and get me the horse with the golden mane. If you can do this, I will gladly give you the firebird and your freedom.”
Ivan crept back onto the grey wolf feeling pretty stupid. But when he told her that he had ignored the wolf’s advice and tried to steal the cage, and got caught and now had to get the horse with the golden mane from the ends of the earth, his friend simply said, “Get on my back and I will take you wherever you want to go.”
The grey wolf sped away faster than the wind. After what seemed like just a couple of minutes, they were stopping at a stable yard. “Here we are,” said the wolf. “Go into the stables and take the horse with the golden mane, but whatever you do, do not steal its golden bridle!”
Cautiously Ivan edged into the stables, crept up to the horse with the Golden Mane and began to lead it out of it stable. “Ooo, I really need the bridle as well,” thought Ivan. He lifted down the bridle and suddenly, there was a clanging peal of bells. Soldiers dashed into the stable and grabbed Ivan, dragging him to see their master.
“You will pay dearly for trying to steal my wonderful horse with the golden mane!” shouted this lord. “Unless,” he added, stroking his beard, “you go to the other side of the world and bring me Wanda the Wise to be my bride. I have heard she is smart and witty and thoughtful and wise. If you do this I will gladly give you your freedom and the horse with the golden mane.”
When Ivan returned to the wolf empty-handed, the wolf did not tell him off. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Get on my back and I will take you wherever you want to go.” Ivan jumped on the wolf’s back and they reached the other side of the world as quick as lightning and stopped dropped outside a glorious Palace.
“Ivan,” said the wolf, “This time I will go inside and you will wait.” The wolf leapt over the palace wall in one mighty bound. Ivan hardly had time to draw breath before the wolf jumped back again, this time with Wanda the Wise on her back. Ivan got on as well and off they went, flying through the air like a shooting star.
By the time the three of them arrived back at the palace of the lord with the horse with the golden mane, the grey wolf was surprised to find Ivan in tears. “Why are you crying?” asked the wolf.
“I think Wanda is the wisest, wittiest, most thoughtful and interesting person I have ever met!” said Ivan, “And I think the same about Ivan!” said Wanda. The grey wolf looked at the two of them. “We’d really like to get to know each other better, but now we have to say goodbye,” she said.
“OK,” said the grey wolf, “I am a shapeshifter, so I will pretend to be you, Wanda, and I will go to this lord, so Ivan can get the horse with the golden mane. Once the two of you and the horse have got two mountains away, just think of me and I will appear.” And that is exactly how they tricked the lord with the horse with the golden mane, and very soon Ivan was once again on the back of the grey wolf, while Wanda rode on the horse with the golden mane.
The next place they had to go was the villa of the lord with the golden firebird. Ivan heaved a deep sigh. “Oh grey wolf,” he began, “I would really like to keep this horse with the golden mane, rather than swap it for the firebird. Could you shapeshift yourself into the horse this time, so we can do the same trick again? Then I could swap you for the firebird, and when I am two forests away, I will think of you and you will come back to us. What do you think?” The grey wolf looked at Ivan and smiled. “For you, I will do this,” she said. So that's just what they did, and then Ivan had Wanda, the horse with the golden mane, the firebird AND his friend, the grey wolf.
Eventually, they were back at the very spot where Ivan and the grey wolf had first met, and the wolf had eaten Ivan’s horse. Now it was the grey wolf’s turn to heave a deep sigh. “Well, here we are,” said the wolf. “Now you have everything you wanted, and everything you needed. You no longer need me, and so I must go.” And with that, the grey wolf disappeared Into the woods.
Ivan and Wanda went on their way sadly, missing their lost friend. They stopped to rest and fell asleep. While they slept, two men kept out of the shadows. They were Ivan's brothers. Obviously, they had not found the firebird! They were angry to see that their little brother didn’t just have the firebird, but a horse with a golden mane and Wanda the Wise. The brothers were seized with jealousy and anger. They pulled out their swords and while Ivan and Wanda slept, they stabbed Ivan, kidnapped Wanda and took the firebird and the horse with the Golden Mane. They ran off to their father’s palace to pretend that all these things were theirs. “Breathe a word of this and we'll kill you!” they hissed to Wanda. She said nothng, fully intending to tell Ivan’s dad everything that had happened the moment she met him. As she was dragged away through the snow, she let out a howl. To the borthers, it just sounded like a woman crying. But Wanda was sending a message - she had howled just like a wolf.
Ivan's body lay in the snow. It began to cover him like a blanket. Almost immediately that Wanda and the brothers were out of sight, the grey wolf came bounding out of the forest and saw Ivan lying there, a sword wound in his side. The wolf sniffed at Ivan - was her friend dead? She threw back her head back and let out a spine-chilling howl. Then, slowly and gently the wolf began to lick Ivan’s wound. Suddenly Ivan set up and began to shiver!
“Why am I sleeping in a snowstorm?” he asked grey wolf. “Ride on me,” she said in a gruff voice, “and I will take you where you want to go.”
“Home,” whispered Ivan into his friend’s ear. “I want to go home.” And the moment he finished saying these words, they were there.
Ivan and the wolf reached his home just as his brothers were about to start showing off - just as Wanda was about to tell Ivan’s father what the terrible men had done. Ivan’s father threw the wicked brothers into a dungeon.
Ivan and Wanda became best of friends, and each thought the other one was so marvellous that after a while they were married. At the wedding, Ivan rode on the grey wolf’s back and Wanda arrived on the horse with the golden mane.
And what about the firebird? Well, Ivan's father loved her so much that he even let her eat all the golden apples from his favourite tree, whenever she wanted.
If a friend kept ignoring your advice, would you keep helping them?
Do we stop being someone’s friend when they don’t do what we want?
How did Ivan & Wanda feel about each other? (not “love at first sight” but -?)
What were the real treasures in the story?