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by Arthur Rackham

 

The Tzarevnas of the Underground Kingdom

Page 4

'I've never heard of them - what are they?' asked Ivan.

'Don't you know? Among others, the Copper Kingdom, the Silver Kingdom and the Golden Kingdom. In each kingdom there is a Tsarevna.'

'Well, that's nice to know!' said Ivan. 'So where's this wife I'm supposed to marry when I pass the test?'

'Down below! You must marry one of the Tsarevnas.'

'Marry one of them? No thanks! I'm not going down into the underground realms! I might be killed down there!'

Suddenly the dragon roared out: 'That's what you're here for Ivan! You must free the princesses!'

Somewhat shaken at the dragon's sudden fierceness, and wishing that he was safely back at home, Ivan muttered:

'I'll have to think about it first.'

Hoping that the dragon would get bored after a while and leave, he stood for a while looking down the the shaft. He noticed that at the sides of the shaft there was a harness hanging down from two long ropes.

'What's that?' he found himself asking in spite of himself.

The dragon answered: 'Climb into the harness and I will let you down. If you don't like the look of it, I'll pull you back up again.'

By now curiosity getting the better of him, Ivan decided to give it a try.

'But if I should pull twice on the ropes, you must immediately pull me up!' he told the dragon.

After giving Ivan his promise that he would pull him back up if required, the dragon let Ivan slowly down by the harness.

Ivan swung down, down through the blackness of the deep shaft, wondering if it was ever going to end. He glanced up once and caught a last glimpse of the light that was the Russian sky. He began to wonder if he would ever see it again.

It became deadly quiet inside the shaft. Crystals shimmered from the walls, although there seemed little light to reflect. He yelled to the dragon to draw him back up again immediately, in his panic quite forgetting that he was meant to pull twice on the ropes. His own voice echoed back to him down the shaft and increased his terror. The harness began to swing wildly. Any movements he made only served to dash him roughly against the sides of the shaft and pieces of earth and rock tumbled down into the depths of the pit.

He listened for the sound of the rocks hitting the bottom and heard nothing. An awful thought occurred to him.

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