Prince Vladimir had many servants and peasants in his household in the city of Kiev, and he also had a nobleman called Danilo. But he was mean to Danilo and treated him unfairly lots of times.
On the eve of Easter Sunday Prince Vladimir summoned Danilo, gave him gave him forty times forty sable skinss, and commanded that he fashioned for his master a fur coat for the holiday. But the sable skins were not prepared, the buttons had not been moulded, and the buttonholes had not been braided. To make matters worse for Danilo, in the buttons he was to mould wild beasts of the wood and into the buttonholes to sew different seabirds.
Danilo despaired over the task, so he hurled it away and went outside and shed tears. An old woman came up to him and said: "Why are you crying, Danilo?"
"Oh, be off with you!" he exclaimed. Then he went a little way off from there and thought, "Why did I tell her to be off?" So he went back to her and said, "Grandmother, forgive me. I weep because Prince Vladimir has given me eighty score of sable skins and bid me to make a fur mantle till tomorrow morning. If only the buttons had been moulded and the silken buttonholes sewn! How am I to set about it?
Then the old woman with her patched skirt said, "Oh, so now you call me Grandmother! Anyway, here is what you must do: Go to the shore of the sea and stand in front of the grey oak where you come. At the midnight hour the sea will boil over and the Old Man of the Sea will come out to you. Take hold of him by his grey beard and ask him as politely as you can to let you see the fair swan and talk with her."
Danilo went to the brink of the sea and stood in front of the greyish oak he found there. At midnight the sea was disturbed and the Old Man of the Sea appeared before him. Danilo seized him by his grey beard and begged: "Oh, let me see the swan."
Very soon the swan swam up to the shore, and Danilo said; "Swan, Prince Vladimir has bidden me sew a fur mantle till tomorrow. But rhe sable skins are not prepared, the buttons are not moulded, and the buttonholes are not sewn."
"Take me with you, and it will all be done in time."
Danilo began to wonder how he could take her with him.
"Now, Danilo, what are you thinking?"
"I want to do as you say, but I wonder how I am to take you with me."
She flapped her wings, moved her little head and said, "Turn to me with your white face! For we will build for ourselves a princely house. Shake your locks, that our house may have rooms."
He did, and at that moment twelve youths appeared, all of them carpenters, sawyers and stone hewers. They set to work, and the house was soon ready. Then the swan changed herself into a beautiful girl.
Danilo took her by her right hand, kissed her sweet lips and led her into the new house. They sat down at a table and refreshed themselves.
"Now, Danilo, go to bed and think of nothing else that it will all be done." She laid him to sleep and went out to the flight of steps. There she waved her flight feathers and shook her little head:
"Father," she cried, "send me your craftsmen!"
The twelve youths appeared and asked, "Swan maiden, what do you want us to do?"
"Sew me this fur mantle at once: the sables are not prepared, the buttons are not moulded, the buttonholes are not sewn."
Tthey set to work at once. Some of them made the sable skins ready and sewed the fur mantle, some of them worked the forge and moulded the buttons, and some of them sewed the buttonholes, In a short while the fur mantle was made.
At dawn the fair Swan maiden woke Danilo: "Get up, dear friend! The fur mantle is ready, and in Kiev the church bells are ringing. It is time to go the prince with the fur mantle." She handed it to him.
Danilo got up, put on the fur mantle and went. She looked out of the window, stayed him a little while to give him a silver staff, and said: "First go to church. After the services, stand on the right side of the choir as the choir leave, raise your hands and strike the fur mantle. Then the birds in its buttons will sing joyously and the button lions will roar fearsomely. Then take the fur mantle off your shoulders and put it on Prince Vladimir. Impressed, he will then summon you as a guest to his castle and give you a glass of wine. Do not drink the glass to the bottom, for if you do, no good will befall you. And do not boast of me and that we built a house together in a single night."
Danilo took the silver staff and hurried off, and she again stayed him on his course. She also gave him three little eggs, two of silver, one of gold, and said, "With the silver eggs give the Easter greeting to the prince and the princess, but keep the golden one and live your life along with it."
Danilo bade farewell to her and went to Kiev. All the people wondered. "Look, Danilo has made the fur mantle and has brought it with him for the feast."
After the Mass he went up to the prince and princess and gave them the Easter greeting, but carelessly took out the golden egg. Alyosha Popovich saw this, As they went out of the church, Danilo struck himself on the breast with the silver staff. AT once the birds sewn into it sang and the button lions roared. All the folk were amazed and gazed at Danilo. But Alyosha Popovich dressed himself as a sorry beggar and asked for alms.
They all gave to him. Danilo said to himself, "What shall I give him? I have nothing to give." But as it was Easter Day, he gave him the golden egg. Alyosha Popovich took that golden egg and quickly dressed up again in his previous garb.
Prince Vladimir summoned them all to his palace to dessert. They ate and drank and were refreshed. Danilo drank till he was drunk. When he was drunk, he boasted of his wife. And Alyosha Popovich bragged at the feast that he knew Danilo's wife. But Danilo said, "If you know my wife you may cut off my head. But if you do not know her, you shall lose your own."
Alyosha Popovich went out and wept. Then the old woman met him on his way and asked,
"Why are you weeping, Alyosha Popovich?"
"Go away, old woman. I have nothing to do with you."
"Yet I can help you."
Then he asked her: "Grandmother, what did you wish to tell me?"
"Ha! Am I a grandmother to you now, all of a sudden?"
"O, I was boasting I knew Danilo's wife!"
She told him to go up to a certain house and invite her to feast with the prince. "She will wash herself, put on a corset, and put a little chain out of the window. Take that chain and show it to Danilo."
So Alyosha Popovich went to her window and called the Swan maiden to dine with the prince. She started to wash herself, put on her corset and make ready for the feast. At that moment Alyosha Popovich seized her little chain, ran up into the palace and showed it to Danilo.
Prince Vladimir said to Danilo, "It seems that you have lost your head."
"Let me go home and bid farewell to my wife."
He went home and said, "Swan maiden, I got drunk and bragged of you and have lost my life. I'm so sorry."
"I know it all, Danilo. Go, summon the prince and princess here as your guests, and the entire army along with them."
But the roads were bad and very bad weather had opened the marshes till they surged, so Danilo asked, "Maybe the prince will not come out in the mud and the mire?"
"You are to tell him: 'Have no fear to come here, Prince Vladimir, for there will be a long hazel-tree bridge across it all to walk on here.'"
Danilo invited them as guests. Meanwhile the Swan maiden stepped out to her window, flapped her wings and shook her little head. At once there was a bridge laid from her house to the palace of Prince Vladimir. Flowers grew and nightingales sang on one side of the bridge, and apple trees and other fruit trees bloomed and ripened on the other side.
The prince and princess made ready to be guests. They set out on their journey with all their servants, guards and other folks with them. When they crossed the first river, it ran with splendid beer. Very many soldiers fell down by that beer.
Then they advanced to the second river, it was discovered that it ran with wonderful mead. More than half of the brave host bent down to drink the mead and rolled on their sides.
The third river ran with glorious wine. Here all the officers bent down and drank till they were drunk.
At the fourth river powerful vodka flowed. After the prince had crossed it he looked backwards and saw that all of his generals were lying on their backs.
The prince was left with just three companions. They were the princess, Aloyshya Popovich and Danilo.
Then the invited guests came to the lofty palace the twelve youths had built. On the tables were tablecloths of silk, and the chairs were painted with many colours. They sat down at the tables: there were all sorts of dishes and of foreign drinks. Prince Vladimir and the princess drank nothing, tasted nothing; only looked on.
When would the swan maiden, come out and keep them company? They sat long at the table, waited for her a long time, till it was time to go home. Danilo called her once, twice and a third time, but she would not come and see her guests.
Alyosha Popovich then said, "If this had been my wife I should have taught her to obey!"
At that the Swan maiden came out, went out on the porch and said as she stood there: "This is how we teach our husbands!" She flapped her wings, moved her little head, soared up, and flew away. At once the guests found themselves sitting on mounds in the bog.
On one side was the sea,
"Prince, put your pride away. Show Danilo respect and let him sit the head of the table from now on," said the swan maiden and left them all.
The party had to walk back all the way to the palace in Kiev, and were covered with mud from head to foot when they came there.