Episode 18A – The Worst Servant in Russia

Episode 18A Show Notes

Source: Slavic Folklore

This week on MYTH, we’ll be trying to beat the summer heat (depending on when and where you listen to this episode) with a trip to wintry Russia.  In this episode, you’ll learn that contracts signed under torture are binding, that it’s totally fair to go all emo over a lost arrow, and that murder is a valid alternative to divorce.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the hairy kindergartner who might do your chores for you if he doesn’t murder you in your bed.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 18A, “The Worst Servant in Russia.”  As always, this episode is not safe for work.

 

  • The mythologies and folklore of the Slavic peoples aren’t as well known to most audiences as some of the others that we’ve covered so far, which is a shame.  The stories are weird, wild, and unpredictable, often with a sardonic twist to the tellings.  There are a number of cool characters who deserve episodes (and they’ll get them), but I want to start off with one of my favorite crazy characters, Bulat the Brave Companion.  There is a cycle of stories around Bulat, so for the next three episodes, we’ll be covering the story of how Bulat the Brave Companion reformed his ways and became a hero and how his two friends both named Ivan got involved with Koschei the Deathless.  I don’t want to spoil anything by getting into details, so let’s jump right in.
  • Once upon a time, there was a Tsar named Chodor, whose only son was Prince Ivan Tsarevich.  When the prince was young, his father had provided him with all of the teachers and instructors that money could buy to teach the future noble all of the knightly and princely things he would need to know.  Ivan thought the statecraft lessons were boring as hell, but he loved combat training.  He had a knack for beating the shit out of people (and the fact that no one wanted to get in trouble with the Tsar for braining the little shit had nothing at all to do with it).  Once he reached what he thought was a good age (around 16), he went to his father and asked permission to ride out into foreign lands to show off his skill and bravery, and to win renown for himself, his father, and his kingdom.  Glad to see that his son wasn’t a coward, he agreed, and told his son to go with his blessing.  
  • Smiling at his upcoming adventure, Ivan went to the stables to find a gallant steed to carry him around on his travels.  Deciding that mounting a horse was kind of a pain in the ass, Ivan resolved to look for a horse whose back he could put his hand on without the horse getting on its knees.  I don’t know if you’ve ever met a horse, but they’re big fucking animals.  Unsurprisingly, Ivan was not able to find such a horse in the Tsar’s stable.  Rather than just pick one that was a little taller than he’d like, but still a perfectly good horse, Ivan got all emo and mopey, which helped nobody.  Pissed off that his rich, powerful daddy didn’t have exactly the right horse for him, he gathered up his bow and arrows and went out to the field.
  • Like teenagers throughout history, Ivan figured that destroying some random shit would make him feel better.  Overhead, he saw a majestic swan gliding between the clouds.  “Fuck that swan in particular.  I’m gonna kill him because I’m misplacing my anger over not finding exactly the right horse!”  He drew his favorite arrow and loosed at the poor swan.  Don’t worry, he missed.  The arrow fired by the pissy teen arched into the air and sailed off into the distance, lost to sight.
  • Ivan wept, surprisingly broken up about losing his favorite arrow.  I mean, I get that they had to be made by hand back then, and that getting one that flew true was important, but he’s the son of a tsar.  I’m sure he has others that are perfectly fine.  Either way, crying over the missing arrow, Ivan started to search the field for it.  He went a long ways from where he’d started with no luck, when he came to a little hill.  He didn’t see the arrow, and was about to move on when a voice rang out.  “Hey Ivan!  Ivan Tsarevich!  Come here!”  Ivan looked around, but there was no one there but him and the hill.  The voice wouldn’t shut the hell up though, so Ivan walked towards it, around the hill, and saw a small barred window set into the hill.  Inside, he could see a man sitting in what looked to be a fairly cramped space with his face pressed to the bars.  He probably should have been a little curious about who the hell this guy was and how he knew who Ivan was if he was trapped in a hill, but I guess Ivan was too used to being famous and powerful to notice.
  • “Ivan Tsarevich, it’s good to see you!  Honestly, it’s good to see anyone.  Why are you so bummed out, man?”  “How could I not be sad, dude?  I lost my favorite arrow trying to kill a swan for no reason, and on top of that, I couldn’t find a single horse I liked in my father’s huge stable of horses.”  Honestly, talk about privilege.  The little shit is complaining about not being able to have the exact right thing that he doesn’t need, even though he has hundreds that he’s just not in the mood for, to a man currently trapped inside a hill.
  • “Come on, man, that’s nothing to get upset about.  I can get you an awesome horse and give you back your arrow since it flew down to me here in my little hill (which seems awfully unlikely, but it’s a fairy tale, so just accept it).  Of course, nothing is free in this world, so what will you do for me if I help you?”  “If you get me a horse and an arrow that I could literally replace by just asking daddy?  I’ll give you anything you want.”  This is a good way have something truly horrible happen to you in a myth or fairy tale, since he put no conditions whatsoever on what this strange prisoner could ask, but Ivan was lucky like only the rich ever seem to be.
  • “Awesome sauce, man.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to be my sex slave or anything, which would be totally within the bounds of this deal.  I just want you to get me out of this prison.  Deal?”  “Even though I’ve kind of already agreed to this, I want to know who locked your ass up, and why.”
  • The man sighed.  “It was your dad, the Tsar.  I used to be a famous bandit and all around handsome scoundrel known as Bulat the Brave Companion.  I pissed him off for stealing something from a girl he fancied, and he had the fucking army capture me alive and thrown into this tiny-ass jail cell for the last 33 years.  It pretty much sucks, and I don’t think I deserved quite all of this.”
  • “Oh, shit dude.  If my dad was the one that locked you up, I can’t let you out.  He’ll be mad at me and ground me or something.”  “Come on, Ivan, how’s he gonna know?  There’s no one out here but you and me, and I’m sure as shit not going to go tell him.  Plus, as soon as you let me out, I’m hightailing it the hell out of here.  I don’t need a pissed off Tsar on my ass.”  Ivan thought about it, and decided that trusting the word of the self-admitted thief who had every reason to want revenge was a fantastic idea.  “Alright, Bulat, we have a deal.  Give me back my arrow, and tell me how to get a bitchin’ horse, and I’ll let you out.”
  • Bulat did as much of a little dance as his confined space allowed.  “You won’t regret this. Go out into the field until you come to three green oaks; on the ground beneath the trees, you’ll see an iron door with a copper handle.  The door leads to an underground stable with a truly magnificent horse shut into his stable by twelve iron doors with twelve steel locks.  Why put that much security on any horse that isn’t amazing, right?  Break the locks and open the doors, and you’ll be able to mount the horse.  Ride him back here and let me out, and then I’ll give you your arrow as promised.”
  • Ivan thought that seemed fair, so that neither was likely to cheat the other.  He followed Bulat’s directions and found the three green oaks with a door set in the ground as promised.  He pulled on the copper ring, and the door opened without any of the squealing of rusted hinges he should have expected, but didn’t.  He went through the iron doors inside, knocking off all of the locks, and came into the stable proper.  
  • Inside, he found a beautiful horse that was just the right height standing next to a suit of armor.  Ivan put on the armor, because of course it’s in his size.  Don’t they come one size fits all or something?  When the horse saw Ivan, dressed in his armor and weapons, it neighed loudly.  Ivan put his hand on the horse’s back, and instead of kneeling down on it’s knees, it only bent them a little.  Why this matters so much to Ivan, I really don’t know.  He saddled and bridled the horse, which it allowed the armor it recognized to do, then led it out to the open air.  
  • Taking up the battle axe and sword that came with the armor, Ivan leapt into the saddle (which is hard as hell to do in full armor) and raced off to see Bulat.  Of course, first he wanted to try out the horse.  You know, give it a little test drive.  He clicked his heels on the horse’s flanks, and had to hold on for dear life as it leapt forward at his command.  His new steed ran like the motherfucking wind, leaping small streams in a single bound.  Ivan smiled.  This would do.  He turned the horse back to Bulat’s hill.  
  • “Oh, good!  You came back, Ivan!  How’s the horse?  As awesome as I said it would be?”  “Yeah.  Yeah it is.”  Ivan broke down the wall of the hill prison, freeing Bulat.  The former robber, ecstatic to be able to stand up again, stretched and worked out the kinks in his back, then reached back into the hill to retrieve the missing arrow.  “Here you are, prince.  We’re square.  It feels really good to be free though, so I’ll through in a freebie.  Whenever you are in any difficulty and need my help, call out ‘Where is my Bulat, the Brave Companion?’ and I will come to you instantly to help out.”  There is absolutely no need for Bulat to do this since he completely fulfilled the terms of their bargain, but he’s just a really nice, appreciative guy.  He was clearly a gentleman thief rather than a cutthroat brigand.
  • Having given Prince Ivan his magical gift for no apparent reason, Bulat called out “Sivka Burka, he!/Fox of Spring, Appear!/Like a blade of grass, here/Stand before me!”  Even though he clearly summoned a fox, a steed instead appears instantly in front of Bulat.  Deciding that shit wasn’t weird enough already, Bulat climbed into his horse’s ear, ate and drank his fill (of what, I don’t think I want to know), and climbed back out the other ear.  The man who crawled out, though, was a devastatingly handsome young man that reinforced the whole gentleman thief thing.  This was a man who would steal a woman’s heart along with her jewelry.  The story says he was more beautiful than it is possible for a story to tell, so use your sexual imagination.  He’s hotter than that.
  • Ivan watched Bulat ride off, shouting “Until later, Ivan Tsarevich!”.  Then he got up on his own horse and rode for home.  He told his father the bare bones of what had happened (leaving out Bulat completely, so it sounded like he stumbled across this incredible stallion by accident while looking for his arrow) and said a tearful goodbye.  He then left to go out and seek adventure, renown, and fortune, taking his squire with him because no knight could really function all that well without one.
  • Together, Ivan and his squire rode out into foreign lands.  One day, they came to a wood, a long way from home.  The day had been a bright, scorching one where it feels like the sun is mad at you, personally, and Ivan was parched.  Ivan figured they could find water in the woods (a reasonable assumption), and they rode in looking for some.  At length, they found a deep well just off the path, and good news, it still had some water in it.  The well had a rope hanging down into the depths, but the bucket seemed to be missing.  “Alright, squire, go down into the well and fetch me some water.  I’ll hold the rope in place while you climb so you don’t drown.  I’m thirsty, and being my intern is basically your job as a squire.”  The squire looked down into the well, and shook his head.  “That’s a bad idea, Ivan Tsarevich.  I’m heavier than you, and stronger.  You’ll drop me, and you won’t be able to pull me back up.  No, sir, YOU go down into the well, and I’ll hold the rope.”
  • Ivan thought about it, but thinking wasn’t his strongest suit, and he could come up with no reasonable objection to his squire’s plan, so he climbed into the well and let the squire lower him down.  When he got to the bottom, he was able to lean down and drink to his heart’s content, and cool off a little by wading in the surprisingly deep water.  “Okay, squire.  I’m good.  Bring me back up.”  “Yeah…no.  I really can’t believe you fell for that so easily.  See, what’s going to happen here is that I am riding out of here as the crown prince.  You are either going to sign a contract saying that you are my servant and that my name is Ivan Tsarevich, or you get to see how long you can swim in the darkness as I ride off alone.  Which do you prefer?”
  • Ivan didn’t really have a lot of choice, so he agreed to the terms of that traitorous bastard who used to be his squire.  “I don’t want to drown, so I guess I’ll do it.  Pull me up.”  “How do I know you won’t get up here and just beat my ass?  Swear an oath that you agree to this bargain.”  It’s not surprising that the guy doing all of the double crossing was afraid of being double crossed, and to be fair, that’s probably what Ivan would in fact have done.  “Alright, asshole.  I swear on my honor as knight.”  That was good enough for the former squire, and he hauled the prince up.  Since both characters are now going to be called Ivan, to avoid confusion I’ll refer to the true Ivan as Prince Ivan and the imposter Ivan as Not-Ivan.  
  • Not Ivan pulled Prince Ivan out of the well, and had him sign a sheet of paper that Not-Ivan had written up, detailing their agreement.  It was hardly fair, but it was in line with what Prince Ivan had agreed to, so he signed it.  “Cool.  Now give me your clothes.”  “Wait, what?  I didn’t agree to that!”  “A, you’re my servant now so you have to do what I say, so fuck you.  B, no one will believe I’m the prince if my servant is dressed like that.  Now strip and hand it over.”  Prince Ivan realized he sort of had agreed to this, so grumbling the whole time, he handed over his cloak and shirt, and exchanged it for Not-Ivan’s.  Now stuck in an unwilling Prince and the Pauper situation, the two men rode on.
  • They soon came to the kingdom of Tsar Panthui.  Word soon reached the Tsar that Prince Ivan Tsarevich, heir to a powerful kingdom, had come to visit.  He sent word to invite the prince and his servant to the castle to meet with the Tsar.  Not-Ivan, enjoying his fancy new role, agreed immediately.  When he entered, flanked by the real Prince Ivan, the Tsar grasped his hands in friendship and led him into the grand hall, where an impromptu feast was being held in his honor.  “Come, sit with me, Prince Ivan.  Eat, drink, and be merry!”  After enjoying the incredible food (and tossing a few meager scraps to his servant, Prince Ivan, with glee), Not-Ivan and the Tsar sat back to discuss matters of import.  “So, my new friend, what brings you to my kingdom?”
  • “My gracious lord.  Word has reached me even in my distant kingdom, of the beauty of your daughter Tseria.  I am a man now, and my father agrees that it is time I took a wife.  I can think of no better woman than your daughter, even though I know literally nothing about her except that she’s pretty.”  The Tsar was delighted to hear that this powerful prince would ally with his kingdom through marriage.  He didn’t know much about this man, other than how rich and powerful he was, but that was all he really needed to know to agree to marry off his daughter.  Whether he was a good man who would treat his daughter well didn’t even enter into it.  It was not a shining era for women’s rights, after all.  “Yes, of course!  I pronounce you engaged!”
  • “I thank you, my lord.  You will not regret your decision.  How can I repay you?  I know it is a poor repayment for your gorgeous daughter’s hand, but how about I have my servant do all of the shittiest, most back-breaking labor in the kitchen?  You can save your people the effort, and honestly you’d be doing me a favor.  This uppity little asshole got on my nerves on the way here.”  The Tsar thought that was a fabulous idea, since servants weren’t fully-fledged people and it was totally the Prince’s prerogative to punish his servant for whatever imagined slight he had cooked up.  He immediately ordered his own servants to take the real prince down into the kitchen to get to work.
  • Three days went by this way, with Not-Ivan feasting and drinking on his soon-to-be father-in-law’s dime, and Ivan mucking about in filth I can’t even begin to describe and hating every second of it.  On the third day, word came to the Tsar from the walls that an army had been spotted marching for the city.  The banners marked it as belonging to a rival kingdom, and the Tsar knew that it was here to lay waste to his city and take him prisoner.  Shit had gotten real, so the Tsar summoned Prince Ivan over to him.  “My future son-in-law, a super hostile army has come calling on us, and they want to destroy the city and piss on the ruins.  Even though we already agreed that you would marry my daughter, I think it only fair that you prove your worth by driving back this enemy and saving my lands.  After all, if the bad guys get through, they’ll take me prisoner, but they’ll probably rape and murder my daughter.  You want her?  Then save her.”
  • Not-Ivan thought about it.  “Okay, that sounds reasonable.  I’ll do it, but only if I can fight at night.  I always seem to have bad luck in fights during the day.”  The Tsar thought it an odd request, but if it got these bastards off his back without having to throw his small army into the meat grinder, it would be worth it.  If it didn’t, well, he always had the army as a fallback.  It was already late in the day, so it wasn’t long before the castle was asleep.  Not-Ivan went down into the empty courtyard and summoned Prince Ivan.  The dirty, bedraggled Ivan came begrudgingly.  “What the fuck, man?  You’re already torturing me.  Can’t I at least get some goddamned sleep?”  
  • “Heya, buddy!  Look, sorry about the whole identity theft and torture thing.  It was a bad idea.  Tell you what.  I’ll tear up the contract and give you back everything if you agree to let bygones be bygones.  Oh, and also drive off the huge invading army that wants to kill all of us.  Cool?”
  • Prince Ivan stared at his former servant.  “Seriously?  Just let it all go, because you didn’t want to do the hard part of being a prince?  Go hide in your bed, coward.  I’ll take care of it.”  The squire went up to the richly appointed suite the Tsar had set aside for the prince’s use (so much for giving back everything, huh) and went to sleep.  Ivan waited until the traitor was gone before calling out “where is my Bulat, the Brave Companion?”  
  • In an instant, Bulat stood before him without bothering to cover the intervening distance.  “Hey, Ivan.  What’s up?  What do you need?”  Ivan filled him in on everything that had happened.  Bulat nodded.  “Okay, I can handle that.  Go saddle your horse and put on your armor.  Sivka Burka, he!/Fox of Spring, Appear!/Like a blade of grass, here/Stand before me!”  The horse appeared on the horizon, galloping hard enough to shake the ground.  As he got closer, way faster than seemed natural, Ivan could see steam rising from the horse’s ears and flames belching forth from his nostrils.  He approached at a dead run, and Ivan thought for a moment that he was about to become roadkill, but the horse stopped still in front of Bulat, barely breathing hard.  
  • Bulat hopped up on the horse, and Ivan mounted his own, and the two rode off out of the castle.  Neither looked up as they left, so neither saw the small figure of Princess Tseria sitting in her window overlooking the courtyard.  She had been too worried about the kingdom to sleep easily, so she had sat up watching the stars.  She had overheard everything that had gone on between Ivan and the squire, and then between Ivan and Bulat.  She watched thoughtfully as he rode out.
  • “So what’s the plan, Bulat?”  “Simple.  We split up.  You take everyone on the right, and I’ll take everyone on the left.”  “Shouldn’t we have some back up?  Like a fucking army or something?”  “Don’t need one.  You’ve got Bulat the Brave Companion!”  Bulat heeled his horse and raced off to the left flank.  Cursing, Ivan wheeled to the right to charge into battle.  He fought like a madman, and he seemed charmed.  He mowed down enemy soldiers like wheat under the reaper’s scythe, and no blade was able to pierce his armor.  
  • After an exhausting, gore-drenched hour of gutting, beheading, and otherwise killing the shit out of an entire army, one hundred thousand men lay dead in the dust.  A bare handful were left, and had fallen back around their king, terrified of the two men, soaked in the blood of their friends, approaching them with grace and confidence.  The king, also terrified, ordered a hasty retreat, which quickly turned into a rout.  Ivan and Bulat watched them go, then turned back to the castle.  The sun had not yet risen, and Prince Ivan had been up all night, so after unsaddling, brushing, and feeding his horse (he’s entitled, but he’s not a total asshole), Ivan thanked Bulat and went down into the kitchen to grab some much needed sleep.
  • The rising sun woke the Tsar from a restless sleep.  He rose and looked out the palace window and was more than a little surprised to see ravens and crows feasting on the hundred thousand dead rotting in the charnel house that used to be his front yard.  “He did it.  That glorious son of a bitch did it!”  He raced from his room calling for a servant, whom he sent to fetch Not-Ivan.  
  • The former servant answered the summons to the Tsar, where he was thanked most heartily for his incredible feat of derring-do in taking out an entire goddamned army while the castle slept.  He presented the fake prince with rich but useless gifts and promised that soon, he and Princess Tseria would be wed.  
  • While Not-Ivan was reveling in the fruits of the real Ivan’s labors, having more or less forgotten his promise to switch back, the Tsar of the rival kingdom, who we’ll call Tsar Boris Bad Guy since he isn’t given a name, ran home with his tail between his legs.  This wasn’t how things were supposed to go.  How had he lost to a pair of knights?  On the way home, safely out of reach of the two men, he decided it must have been a fluke.  He couldn’t just let an insult like that pass, could he?  No, no he couldn’t or his name wasn’t Tsar Boris Bad Guy!  He quickly raised another army (from where, I have no idea since trained soldiers don’t exactly grow on trees, and an army of one hundred thousand was simply massive for that time period) and marched on Tsar Panthui again.
  • Two weeks after his last defeat, his new army came into sight of the city and laid siege.  Tsar Panthui was again worried about his city, since he didn’t have an army nearly that big (and really, where the fuck did he get two armies of such massive size on short notice, huh?).  He called up Not-Ivan, figuring that this worked last time so it was worth a shot.  Because pretty much everyone in this story except for the escaped convict refuses to honor their agreements,  the Tsar again tells Not-Ivan that this time he will definitely be able to marry his daughter if he just gets rid of this new army.  Immediately this time.
  • Not-Ivan agrees, and again sends the real Ivan out to fight with a promise that this time he’ll definitely tear up the contract and go back to being the servant.  For realsies.  Prince Ivan agrees, though I doubt he really expects the asshole to follow through.  Probably, he just doesn’t want to die when the army rampages through.  Again, he summons Bulat, and again the two men ride out in the night and rip through the army in a whirlwind of steel, blood, and death.  Again, the Tsar gives lavish gifts to Not-Ivan, but not his daughter, and again Not-Ivan takes all the credit leaving Prince Ivan toiling in the kitchen.  
  • This story has a real fetish for the rule of threes, so somehow, Tsar Boris Bad Guy raises a third massive army from god knows where and attacks Tsar Panthui.  The same sequence of events plays out, which results in Bulat and Ivan riding out in the night for a third time to rain destruction down on the invading army.  By this time, both Bulat and Ivan are sick of this shit, so when Tsar Boris Bad Guy tries to retreat and regroup again, the two men share a look, and then ride that motherfucker down.  With the evil Tsar finally dead, this expensive cycle of violence comes to an end.
  • Exhausted and drenched in other men’s blood, Ivan and Bulat ride back to the castle.  They unsaddle and care for their horses, and put them in the stable to rest.  Once they were safely put up, Bulat turned to Prince Ivan.  “Okay, Prince.  I think I’ve more than fulfilled my promise to come to your aid, so consider us even.  You’re a decent man and a hell of a fighter.  It’s been an honor to ride beside you, Prince.  Have a good life.  We won’t meet again.”  Prince Ivan clasped Bulat’s arm in thanks and watched as Bulat saddled up his horse again and rode off into the coming dawn.  Once he was gone, Ivan went down into the kitchen to sleep off his third massacre after a brief discussion with Not-Ivan, who needed some time to figure things out before tearing up the contract.  Shocking, right?
  • When the sun rose, awakening Tsar Panthui, he looked out over butchered bodies in front of his castle with delight.  Again, his kingdom was safe without risking a single soldier.  He summoned Not-Ivan, who told him that Tsar Boris Bad Guy was dead.  The tsar, who thought he couldn’t be any happier, realized that he had been wrong.  It did get better.  “Alright, my son.  You have well and truly proven your worth.  It is time for the reward that I promised you.  We start preparations today for your wedding to my daughter!”
  • Several days passed in a flurry of bakers, tailors, and decorators as an epic, elegant wedding feast was put together.  Not-Ivan was dressed in expensive wedding clothes, provided by the Tsar, and stood at the altar to receive his new bride.  Princess Tseria dutifully walked down the aisle to her fiancé disappointed.  She knew that he hadn’t done what he claimed, but she had no idea who the real hero was, and this was a powerful alliance for her kingdom.  She knew her duty, and she held her nose and performed it.  The two were married in the church and went off to the banquet hall for the feast.  
  • Prince Ivan, meanwhile, was slaving away in the kitchens to prepare a wedding feast that his former servant had only earned by stealing credit for Ivan’s incredible feats.  This was bullshit, but he really couldn’t do anything.  He was honor-bound to adhere to the contract.  He heard the church bells ringing out for the wedding, and begged the head cook to allow him to go up to the feast to see his master and his new bride begin their new life.  The cook, who was not a bad man, agreed to let him go, and even provided some clothes that were not filthy from doing all of the worst jobs in the castle.  
  • Prince Ivan changed, reflecting on his dramatic change in fortune and wondering how in the hell he was going to get out of this damnable contract with that traitorous bastard.  He entered the banquet hall after most of the guests, but before the bride and groom, so he found a spot near the back.  There weren’t any seats left for lowly menials like him, so he stood to watch Not-Ivan break his word to the prince yet again.
  • He watched as Not-Ivan and Princess Tseria entered the ballroom to a flourish of music, and he couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful princess that his former servant had married using Ivan’s deeds as collateral.  It was almost as though she felt the heat of his gaze, for as he stared, Tseria looked up across the banquet hall and met Ivan’s eyes.  He saw her eyes widen as she saw him, though he had no idea why (but you do, don’t you?).  
  • The hall went silent as the bride rushed from the side of her newly minted husband to the back of the room.  She ran up to Prince Ivan and took his hand.  “It’s you.  I saw what happened in the night when you saved our kingdom, but I didn’t know how to find you.”  She raised her voice loud enough to be heard in the deathly quiet hall.  “This is the true hero of the last three battles, the true savior of our kingdom.  While this man rode out valiantly with only his one true friend beside him to defend us from Tsar Boris Bad Guy, my cowardly husband hid in his room by night and then took credit for another’s deeds by day!”
  • Tsar Panthui was understandably confused by all of this.  “What do you mean, my daughter? Who is this man?  And why do you say he is our real hero?”  In a voice that carried easily over the hush of the enthralled audience, Tseria told her father what she had seen and heard from her bedroom window.  She told how her new husband had promised to free this man if he defeated the invading army, which he did three times.  She told how each time, he had welched on his promise and instead taken credit for valor he didn’t have to trick the Tsar into letting him marry his daughter under false pretenses.  
  • By the end of her story, the hall was universal in its approval as the Tsar and the princess ushered Ivan up to the head table.  Guards seized Not-Ivan and dragged him from the banquet hall to cheers.  The Tsar had decided that this man should be his son-in-law, but unfortunately she was technically married and divorce wasn’t an option.  Fortunately, he was the tsar, so what WAS an option was ordering the guards to drag Not-Ivan into the street and having him shot for cowardice and treason.  No one complained (except probably Not-Ivan, but he had tricked multiple lawful nobles, so no one gave a shit what he thought about the situation), and as soon as Not-Ivan’s brains were splattered across a nondescript wall, a second wedding ceremony was performed.  Thus, Ivan was married to Tseria, and the two returned to his father’s kingdom.  For reasons the story completely neglects to explain, Tsar Chodor decides that his son clearly needs to be in charge now, rather than after he dies, so he crowns the newlyweds himself shortly thereafter, and the new Tsar and Tsarina ruled over the kingdom in peace, love, and harmony.
  • This story is delightfully odd and inconsistent.  When we first meet the young Prince Ivan, he’s kind of a self-centered asshole.  It’s a little shocking to me that, given his personality and his entitled upbringing, he completely abides by a contact that was obtained under a death threat.  I don’t think anyone would have blamed him for stabbing Not-Ivan as soon as he got out of the well, but he decides to abide by his honor.  It’s a total 180, and the story expects you to accept it with absolutely no explanation.  The same goes for Bulat.  The man was apparently enough of a thief for the Tsar to go to the trouble of imprisoning him inside a fucking hill (and apparently sending someone to feed him), but when freed he makes a promise to help out Ivan above and beyond what was actually in the bargain they struck, for again no apparent reason.  I guess Bulat was just a really good guy who became a thief for completely needful reasons and had absolutely no rancor in his heart for the family that had locked him up presumably for the rest of his life.  Good Guy Bulat.
  • Although Bulat doesn’t ever meet with this Ivan again, he absolutely shows up later with a completely unrelated Ivan for more epic adventuring, but that’s a story for a later episode.  And with that, it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.  This week’s monster is the domovoi, and he might already be inside the house.  Don’t worry though, because in Russia, you do not fear monster; monster fears you!
  • The Domovoi is a protective house spirit in Salvic folklore, and his name literally means “he from the house”.  Domovye are typically described as small, bearded man completely covered in hair (kind of like a tiny bigfoot the size of a kindergartner).  On special occasions, he might wear a red shirt and blue pants and suspenders (like Super Mario).  His beard is usually white, his hair is usually yellow (not blonde, yellow), and his eyes glow in the darkness.  In some versions, he also has horns and a tail, although that might have been the influence of early Christianity.  He usually hides out behind the big brick oven that formed the centerpiece of a traditional Russian home.  In some accounts, a Domovoi will have a wife, known as a domovikha, who lives in the cellar or the henhouse.  In a home where peace and happiness reign, the Domovoi is a helpful spirit and a rather pleasant addition to the house.  If your family starts to become dysfunctional though, or if your neighbors become assholes, he becomes a fearsome poltergeist.  
  • When your Domovoi is happy, he’s helpful.  There are stories of Domovoi taking on the form of members of the household in order to take care of chores.  Neighbors will report seeing the head of the house out mowing the lawn when, in fact, everyone is still asleep in bed.  Other times, the Domovoi will take on the form of the family pet to drive away vermin or intruders.
  • Despite it’s helpful nature, you’ll almost never see the Domovoi in your own house, and certainly not in his own form.  In fact, if you do see the Domovoi, it’s usually taken as an omen of death coming for someone in the house.  He’ll usually announce his presence through bangs and knocks, or by moving things around when no one is in the room.  These mysterious rearrangements can range from helpful to playfully mischievous.  
  • The Domovoi is usually seen as helpful enough that Russian peasants would try to win the favor of the Domovoi by making offerings, such as leaving milk, biscuits, or bread in the kitchen overnight for the helpful monster.  If they moved, they would leave extra offerings to try and convince the Domovoi to switch homes with them.  The Domovoi loves food, and a happy Domovoi is a helpful Domovoi.  If you keep him happy and well-fed, he will act as a guardian for the home, help out with the chores, feed your pets and farm animals, and drive away would be burglars.  Small messes will get cleaned up while you’re not paying attention, plants will stay healthy even if you can’t garden for shit, and he’ll even go all Home Alone on intruders and leave nasty surprises for those Wet Bandits.  He’ll also bring your house good fortune in more subtle, harder to detect ways.  
  • Don’t go thinking that this is a perfect servant or any bullshit like that.  Dobby is a free elf, and if you piss him off, he can fuck up your world.  If you forget to feed him, or if you start fighting with your family a lot, or even if you don’t keep up your house, you’ll piss him off.  Lazy people. loudmouths, rude assholes, or people who use a lot of profanity also upset him.  Basically, I’m very happy that my home doesn’t have one.  
  • Once you piss off your Domovoi, it will let you know in subtle and not so subtle nastiness.  Things can start with disruptive banging and knocking when you’re trying to sleep, breaking your favorite shit, moving things around to try and hurt you, blighting your crops, killing off your livestock and, in extreme cases, straight up murdering you in your bed by suffocation.  Ignoring the rules the Domovoi sets for the home can also lead you on the path to ruin.  One story tells of a woman whose Domovoi would braid her hair every night, but told her to never undo the braid.  The woman went for thirty years without washing or combing her hair until her wedding night.  Quite reasonably, in my opinion, she wanted to look good and feel good that day, so she unbound her hair to clean it.  The Domovoi was not as understanding as I am.  He was pissed off enough to strangle the poor woman to death with her own hair.
  • So all in all, I think it’s probably a good thing that the Domovoi faded out of popular belief in the late Nineteenth Century.  Still, maybe you should leave out a little snack by your stove for the bearded man who might be hiding behind it.  He’ll make it worth your while.  

 

That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  I want to thank M. W. Holliday and Troy Ramos from the Arthouse Radio Podcast for the reviews on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.

 

I recently did a guest spot on the fabulous Falling in Love Montage podcast to talk about the mythology and general 80’s wackiness in the 1987 rom-com, Mannequin.   The episode dropped today, so it’s definitely already out by the time you listen to this.  Check it out, why don’t ya?

 

Next time, we’ll be continuing the fantastic story of the multiverses of Ivan with the story of Koschei the Deathless, a powerful, nudist sorcerer who likes to kidnap random princesses. You’ll learn that nothing is sexier than mass murder, that birds make excellent husbands, and that if someone goes by the name ‘Deathless’, you should probably believe him.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.