The Tzarevnas of the Underground Kingdom

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"It must be a trap, and he'll let me drop any minute now!' were the thoughts rushing through Ivan's head as he swung wildly around the shaft.

He shut his eyes tightly, covered his face with his arms and tried to imagine he was at home in bed. It didn't work very well, but he began to feel a little calmer.
He wondered whether the dragon was still standing there holding the ropes.

'But he must be, or I would be falling at a much faster rate than this.' Soon the air became difficult to breathe. He felt his eyelids growing heavier.

'I must keep awake, 'he thought, 'it must be a bottomless pit ...'

He gradually drifted into unconsciousness.

When he came to, he was lying on some cold rocks in semi- darkness. There was a faint greenish glow from the sides of the shaft. He realized he still was wearing the harness and unbuckled the thick leather straps.

The air seemed breathable once more, or perhaps he had just become used to it. He looked around, wondereing how he would find his way to the Underground Kingdom. When his eyes had become used to the semi-darkness, he saw several passageways leading off from the shaft.

One of the passages appeared to have a reddish light at the end of it. He decided to walk towards the glow. As he approached the light he realised that it was a copper colour. After a while the passage came to an end and he seemed to be outside again. He found himself walking through a wood of copper beech. He looked up at the sky but could not see the sun. Clouds hung heavily in the thin air and a dull mist wafted over the trees.

When he came out of the wood, the first thing he saw was a palace made of copper. The door of the palace opened and a beautiful Tsarevna came down the steps towards him. Everything in the kingdom seemed to be made of copper. Even the clothes the Tsarevna wore were of thin copper and made a curious metallic sound as she came towards him. Her long hair was also a copper shade. She welcomed him warmly:

'Welcome to the Copper Kingdom! Come into the palace and tell me where you come from and where you are going.'

'Dear lady,' said Ivan as he bowed low before her, feeling suddenly faint from the glare from the copper light that seemed be turning even his own clothes and skin to copper, 'you are asking me so many questions and you haven't offered me anything to eat or drink yet.'

She brought him something to eat and drink. Although it was strange to eat food that was such a peculiar copper shade, it tasted as good as anything he had ever tasted. Perhaps it's all just a trick of the light he thought.

As if she had guessed what he was thinking the Tsarevna smiled and said: 'Don't be fooled into thinking it's a trick of the light: many have made that mistake and tried to swim in our waters - not a good idea! Everything in this kingdom is made of copper - even you yourself are of copper now!

Ivan touched his face and shuddered - she was right: his skin had become hard and cold!

'But I don't want to be a man of metal!' he cried, leaping to his feet. It seemed to him that even his voice had a curious metallic sound.

'But that's just what you are!' she laughed. Suddenly realising that he was not exactly elated at the prospect of being turned into metal she said quickly:

'Don't worry, Ivan - it's only while you are here that this change will take place - it's all part of the enchantment. As soon as we go back to the upper world - we will become normal people again. So now please sit down and tell me all about yourself, I need to know if you're the one who is to free me from here.'

'How long have you been here?' he asked her.

'I cannot remember any other place,' she replied. 'I can only remember vaguely something called a sun and a moon - but that was a long time ago - there's nothing like that here ,' she said sadly.

Ivan began to tell the Tsarevna everything about himself and all about his encounter with the dragon. He also mentioned that he had come to look for a wife and would be quite happy to marry her if she would accept him.

'No,' answered the princess, 'that is not to be, for I can only leave here after the Golden Tsarevna has been freed. You must go back through the beech wood, then continue along the dark tunnel and you will eventually come to the Silver Kingdom, there you will find a Tsarevna who is even more beautiful than I.'

Before he left she gave him a copper ring for protection. Ivan thanked her and went on.

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