Episode 18B – Naked and Afraid

Episode 18B Show Notes

Source: Slavic Folklore

This week on MYTH, we’ll probe deeper into Russian folklore with a continuation of the Prince Ivan stories.  In this episode, you’ll learn that birds make the best brother-in laws, that magical horses can be smartasses, and that Xena was not the first warrior princess.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the black-winged demon that haunted many childhood nightmares.  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 18B, “Naked and Afraid.”  As always, this episode is not safe for work.

  • Prince Ivan, whom we met in the last episode, is a popular character in Russian folklore, which means that he has a lot of stories.  When that happens, you invariably get contradictions and inconsistencies.  Ivan is no different.  For the sake of being able to make these stories hang together, I’m going to treat this Prince Ivan as a different guy who just happens to share a common name.  Just go with it.
  • Once upon a time, in a distant kingdom that was different than the last distant kingdom, there lived a more different Prince Ivan.  He had three sisters: Princess Marya, Princess Olga, and Princess Anna.  Ivan was the eldest, and his parents were getting on in years.  For some inexplicable reason, they both lay on their deathbeds at the same time and called for Ivan.  “You’re in charge now, Ivan, so it’s your job to get your sisters married.  Give them to the first half decent suitors that come along.”  And they died.
  • The prince buried them (or more probably, hired someone to bury them).  It was a lovely service, but Ivan still felt grief-stricken.  To try and feel better, he decided to go with his sisters to take a stroll in the garden.  Shortly after they started walking, dark clouds rolled in and covered the sun.  The winds picked up, and peals of thunder began to sound ominously in the distance.  Ivan didn’t like the looks of this.  “Let’s go home, sisters!” he cried, as lightning split the sky.
  • They raced the downpour to the castle and rushed inside.  Gasping inside the door, they heard a booming crash of thunder that resonated inside the castle.  More out of reflex than anything, the four siblings looked up at the ceiling and were more than a little startled to see the ceiling split open.  A moment later, Ivan realized that the ceiling hadn’t really split; instead, a magical portal had opened at the top of the room.  A beautiful falcon swooped out of the rip in space-time and landed in front of them.  It was far too large to be a normal falcon, and it was shining with an unnatural glow that clearly screamed of magic.
  • The falcon looked the four royal siblings in the eye and executed what was clearly a formal bow.  Then, it smote one wing on the ground with a CRACK and a puff of smoke.  When the smoke cleared, a handsome youth a little older than Ivan, stood in its place.  “Hail, Prince Ivan!  I’ve visited in the past as a guest, but I came today in a display of power to ask for the hand of your sister, Princess Marya, in marriage.”
  • Ivan looked at Marya.  “What do you think, sis?  I mean, it’s a little gauche coming on the day of our parents’ funeral, but it’s up to you.  Their dying wish was to see the three of you well married.  What do you think?”  Marya looked the Falcon up and down, and she smiled a lovely smile.  “I consent.  Let’s get hitched!”  Since Marya wasn’t the new ruler of the kingdom, they were free to do a smaller wedding in a fairly short period of time.  Once the two were wed, the Falcon bore Marya away through his magical portal back to his own kingdom to start a life together.
  • Over the course of the next year, Ivan receives infrequent but happy letters from his sister.  She was fitting in well in her new home.  Ivan was pleased that he had found such a good match for her (even though he really didn’t do anything except not say ‘no’, but whatever.  One day, Ivan’s two sisters were bored and begged their brother to go on a walk through the garden with them.  He was busy with the day-to-day affairs of running the kingdom, but he loved his sisters, so he agreed.  
  • Once he was actually out of the castle, he realized how much he’d needed a break.  As they were nearing the end of their walk, black clouds rolled in and the wind began to rise.  Lightning split the sky, and overhead, he could see the beginnings of a tornado beginning to descend from the heavens.  “Holy shit!  Inside, sisters!”  They rushed inside and slammed the door.  
  • Thunder crashed and echoed in the hall, and the ceiling exploded into a blaze of roiling flames.  The fires split in two, and an eagle soared out of the opening.  It landed on the ground, looked the three siblings in the eye, and performed a graceful bow.  Then, the eagle smote one wing on the ground with a CRACK and a puff of smoke.  When the smoke cleared, a handsome youth about Ivan’s age stood in its place.  “Hail, Prince Ivan!  I’ve visited in the past as a guest, but I came today in a display of power to ask for the hand of your sister, Princess Olga, in marriage.”
  • Ivan looked at Olga. “This is sort of becoming a habit, I guess.  Not sure why they can’t come in a more normal way to visit but still, it’s your choice sis.  You know our mother and father wanted to see you well-married, but it’s your decision.  What do you think?”  Olga looked the Eagle up and down, and she smiled a lovely smile.  “I consent.  I’m gonna get married!”  Like her sister before her, Olga opted for a smaller wedding that could be put together more quickly.  Once the two were wed, the Eagle bore Olga away through his magical portal back to his own kingdom to start a life together.
  • Another year went by much like the last, with Ivan more and more distracted by affairs of state, broken by occasional letters from Marya and Olga.  Anna, either because she was bored or because she hoped she could summon a suitor like her older sisters, suggested that she and Ivan go for a walk in the garden.  Ivan, not willing to fight the inevitable, agreed.  Naturally, because this fairy tale has a serious love affair for the rule of threes, black clouds swept in and the winds picked up.  Thunder began to rumble in the distance, and Ivan could see fat hail stones raining down in the distance and approaching fast.  “Fuck you, rule of threes!  Sister, inside!”
  • No sooner had they ducked inside and shut the door when thunder roared in the room and dark mist gathered at the ceiling hiding it completely.  The fog pulled back like a scroll, and a massive, gorgeous raven plummeted through.  It landed on the ground, looked the last two siblings in the eye, and performed a courtly bow.  Then, the raven smote one wing on the ground with a CRACK and a puff of smoke.  When the smoke cleared, a handsome youth a little younger than Ivan stood in its place.  “Hail, Prince Ivan!  I’ve visited as a guest in the past, but I came today in a display of power to ask for the hand of your sister, Princess Anna, in marriage.”
  • Ivan looked at Anna.  “Shocker, really.  At least this is the last one.  You know our mother and father wanted to see you well-married, but it’s your decision.  What do you think?”  Princess Anna wasn’t about to turn down a magical Raven sorcerer after a year spent basically alone, so she agreed to marry him.  Anna looked the Raven up and down, and she smiled a sultry smile.  “I consent.  I’m gonna get married!”  Like her sisters before her, Anna decided on a smaller wedding that could be put together more quickly.  Once the two were wed, the Raven bore Anna away through his magical portal back to his own kingdom to start a life together.  Now, Ivan was alone.
  • Initially, he was able to distract himself by diving into the affairs of state, of ruling a kingdom, but it didn’t last.  He soon grew lonely.  His family home felt huge and empty without any of his family in it anymore.  A year after his youngest sister went off to live in marital bliss, Ivan decided he’d had enough of rattling around like the last bean in an empty can.  “Fuck this.  I’m gonna go see my sisters and their new homes.  With powerful magicians as husbands, I bet their pads are frickin’ sweet.”
  • He spent a lot of time packing for the trip and making sure that everyone in the castle knew what to do while he was away.  About a month later, Prince Ivan was finally on his way.  He rode for day after uneventful day until he was far beyond the bounds of his own kingdom and into lands he had never seen before.  He had a vague map of where his sisters lived, but this was all new to him.  
  • One day, far from his home, Ivan came across a huge plain swarming with vultures.  As he rode up, they shrieked in protest and took flight.  When they were gone, Ivan could see the blood-soaked earth drenched in the shredded entrails of thousands of dead men.  An entire army had died here.  “Holy shit!  Everyone I see wears the same uniform.  Who killed this huge army without taking a single casualty?”  He raised his voice.  “If there’s anyone left alive, please tell me: who did this?  Who slaughtered this army?”
  • From a little ways into the slaughter, Ivan heard a weak voice.  “Marya.  It was Princess Marya Morevna who slaughtered all of us.”  Just to be clear, this is not Ivan’s sister.  This is a completely different Princess Marya with the same name for no real reason.  Ivan hurried over to the man’s side, but it was clear that he was already dying.  He gave the poor soul water from his pack.  “Which way did she go, man?”  One arm pointed weakly in the direction Ivan had been heading anyway, then dropped exhausted to the ground.  Ivan stayed with the man for the few minutes he had left in this weary world, then traveled on in the wake of the mysterious princess.
  • A few miles past the charnel grounds, Prince Ivan spied a white tent pitched on the side of the road.  He approached it carefully and openly, making plenty of noise to let whomever was inside know for damn sure that he was coming and not trying to be sneaky.  He wasn’t even a little surprised when the tent flap stirred and out stepped a warrior princess.
  • “Hey there, Prince!  What’s God have you doin’?  Is it of your free will or against it?”  “That’s an odd question,” thought Ivan, “but I’m not going to tell someone who can kill an entire army that.”  Out loud, he said “Brave motherfuckers like me never ride against their will.”  “Good to hear prince.  You have anywhere important to be?  If not, you should hang out awhile.  With me.  In my tent.”  Ivan raised an eyebrow.  “Naked, prince.  How much more obvious to I have to be?”  “Oh.  No, I got it.  Sounds awesome.”  
  • And so the prince spent two days hanging with the incredibly dangerous but also incredibly beautiful princess.  He’d never been with a woman who was so self-assured and strong.  He found himself getting surprisingly attached, given how short their time together had been, and Marya found herself falling for Prince Ivan as well.  By the end of only two days, the two decided that they were deeply, madly in love and married each other.  I have no idea who performed the ceremony (maybe they kidnapped a local priest), but afterwards, Prince Ivan left with Princess Marya Morevna to go back to her kingdom.  He had left his kingdom in the hands of his advisors, but I don’t know that he had really thought about how ruling his own land from a distant one was going to work out long term.  Probably, his dick didn’t care and that’s who was doing the thinking at the moment.
  • They had a lovely honeymoon in her castle, and everything was great for a while, but of course it couldn’t last.  Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess knows that wanderlust and bloodlust are in the soul of a warrior princess, and Marya got bored.  To spice things up, she decided to throw a war.  PIcking a kingdom more or less at random, she geared up her army to go and lay siege on the capital.  She maybe didn’t need the army, but it’s hard for one woman to besiege an entire city alone, even one as badass as Marya Morevna.  
  • In a surprisingly progressive turn of events, before Princess Marya marches off to war, she leaves the household in her husband’s hands.  It’ll be his job to keep the homestead in order while she’s off raping and pillaging.  He’s the househusband.  She gives her household staff instructions to listen to the new guy and gives him a goodbye kiss.  “Oh, one more thing: the house is yours, and everyone will do whatever you think is best.  The only thing I ask is that you don’t go looking in the closet over there.”  She pointed at a door he’d never noticed before.  “Of course, dear.  It’s a big-ass castle.  I can’t imagine any reason I would need to go into that closet.  Have fun storming the castle!”
  • As I’ve pointed out before, people give Pandora a lot of shit for looking in the box (see Episode 1B if you’re not sure who that is), but at least she waited weeks before giving into curiosity.  For the second time, when a dude is put in this situation, he lasts for less than a fucking day before diving right the hell in.  In this instance, Ivan waits for a whole thirty seconds after she leaves before rushing over to the closet and flinging the door open in direct defiance of literally the only thing his beloved wife asked of him.
  • He wasn’t sure what he expected to find in the closet, but it definitely wasn’t a wizened old man hanging from manacles chained to his wrists and restrained to massive wood beams around the room by twelve massive chains.  For some reason, he was naked.  Tired eyes struggled to focus on Ivan’s face, and a filthy, bedraggled beard shook as the man tried to speak.  It took several moments for the man to be able to moisten his mouth enough to croak out “Water!  Please, I beg you!  I’m so thirsty!  I’ve been tortured here for ten years, without food, without water, covered in my own piss and shit.  Please, have mercy!”
  • This was horrifying.  Ivan had known his bride was a hardcore warrior, but this was beyond the pale.  This was cruel and unusual torture.  Horrified at the pitiful man’s plight, Ivan hurried off to find a bucket and fill it with water.  He rushed back as quickly as he could while still being careful to not spill.  He held it up to the ragged man’s face and held it there while he chugged the entire damned thing.  Gasping for breath from his long drink, the man looked up at Ivan.  “It’s been ten fucking years, man!  I need more than one bucket of water!”  Ivan rushed off to refill.
  • Again, the skeletal figure drank all of the water offered to him and again asked for more (see the earlier comment about the obsession with the rule of threes).  After finishing the third full bucket of water, the old man sagged back against his chains.  “Oh, that really hit the spot.  Ooh, I feel almost like my old self again.  I mean, I still haven’t eaten anything in ten years, but the water was honestly enough to get most of my old power back.”  With that, the ancient, emaciated man flexed his arms and ripped half the thick chains out of the supporting beams.  Then, he reached down and grabbed the chains holding his legs in place, and ripped them out as well.  He was free.  Fuck.
  • “Ahh, that feels better.  Thanks, Prince Ivan.  You’re a real peach.  Of course, your wife is gonna be pissed.  Fortunately for you, you’ve got about as much chance of seeing your own ears as you do of ever seeing Marya here at home again.  See ya, prince!”  The old man turned and leapt out of a large window that was in the closet for some reason that I’m sure made sense to the crazy fairy tale architect.  Ivan rushed after him, thinking to try and catch him before he fell to his death.  Instead, the old man turned into a goddamned tornado and sailed off into the sky.
  • “Well shit,” said Ivan as he watched the old man tornado sail away.  Then, as he watched aghast, the tornado swerved wildly from its path and darted towards Princess Marya’s army.  He could see her guard try to form up around her as protection, but the whirlwind scattered the men like leaves before the storm.  The old man materialized in the eye of the storm and snatched up the princess.  They both faded from view, and the storm lifted up again and raced off into the distance.  
  • Ivan wasn’t sure what to do.  This was definitely 100% his fault, so he needed to fix it, but he hadn’t the faintest fucking idea where the weirdly powerful old man might have taken his new bride.  Still, he did have at least a vague idea of direction.  It was a start.  He packed up supplies for a long journey, including more than a few weapons, and set out to find his wife.  
  • For two full days, Ivan travelled out of the lands he was sort of familiar with and into lands that he had never been to before.  Shortly after dawn on the third day (again with the threes), he saw a wondrous palace set on a small hill.  Next to the palace stood a magnificent oak tree, and in its branches sat a magnificent golden Falcon.  When Ivan got close, the Falcon dropped down from the tree and smote its wing on the ground.  One puff of smoke later, a handsome man stood there smiling at him.  “Brother-in-law!  How’s it hanging?”
  • Ivan smiled, but before he could answer, he saw his sister (the other Princess Marya) come running out the front door.  She swept her brother up in a big bear hug and began to chatter nonstop. She asked how he was, how the kingdom was, what he’d been up to, and she told him all about her, how life had treated her. Basically, life had been awesome.  Ivan spent (wait for it) three days with his sister and brother-in-law, during which he told them all about his wife and the mysteriously magical old man. On the third day, he told his sister “It’s been awesome, but I can’t stay.  I need to keep searching for Marya Morevna.”
  • The Falcon nodded wisely.  “You’ve got a hard journey ahead of you.  That old man was Koschei the Deathless, a powerful sorcerer.  I don’t know where he lives, but I know it’s still a long ways away.  Tell you what.  I think you should leave your silver spoon here with your sister and I.  That way, we can look at it while you’re out searching and think of you.”  Ivan couldn’t really think of a good reason not to leave the spoon (honestly, he wasn’t sure why he’d brought it in the first place), so he did.  In the morning, he left the palace of the Falcon behind and traveled on.
  • Does anyone want to guess how far he traveled next?  That’s right: three days.  Shortly after dawn of the third day, he saw another palace, larger, fancier, and all around grander than the Falcon’s.  Beside it was another oak tree, larger and older than the Falcon’s, and in it was a large, powerful Eagle.  When Ivan got close, it dove down to the ground and smote its wing upon it.  Smoke puffed, and a handsome youth took the bird’s place.  The man smiled and called out “Get up, Wife Olga!  Your brother has come to visit!”
  • The door was flung open and Olga raced out to her brother.  She leapt into his arms, kissed his cheek, and then began to talk a mile a minute.  She asked about him and their home, and told him all about her life with the Eagle (which was even better than her sister’s).  Prince Ivan was worried about what the sorcerer was doing to his wife, who had imprisoned him for a decade without food or water, but not worried enough to move on without visiting for another three days with his sister and brother-in-law.
  • “This has been fabulous, but I really should be moving on.  I don’t know how dangerous that crazy old man is, but I fear the worst.  I should go find my wife.”  The Eagle nodded.  “I think shit’s going to get worse before it gets better.  Koshcei is a dangerous son of a bitch, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.  Before you leave, I think you should leave your silver fork here with us.  That way, we can look at it while you’re out searching and think of you.”  Again, Ivan couldn’t really think of a good reason not to leave the fork (he didn’t really need a fork if he didn’t have a spoon, right?), so he did.  In the morning, he left the palace of the Eagle behind and traveled on.
  • And does anyone know how long he traveled next?  Say it with me, everyone: ‘three days’!  Just after dawn on the third day, he saw a third palace that was grander and more beautiful than the previous two combined.  Beside it stood an oak tree, a truly huge and ancient thing, and in the upper branches sat a massive Raven.  The bird dropped to the earth and smote its wing upon the ground.  Smoke bellowed forth, and when it cleared, a handsome young man stood there.  “Morning, brother-in-law.  Have you come to see your sister?  Because she’s about to…” but before he could finish, Princess Anna launched into her brother with a tackle hug.  
  • “OMG bro!  It’s great to see you again!”  She told him all about how awesome things were with her new husband, and then she asked him about how things had been going with him.  He was nothing if not a creature of habit, so he again stayed three days with his sister and brother-in-law. “This has been truly incredible, but I need to move on.  My wife could be in danger, and I’m the only one who can save her.”  The Raven nodded gravely.  “You’re absolutely right.  Koschei the Deathless is incredibly powerful.  Good luck rescuing her.  If you’re walking into that kind of danger, I think you should leave your silver snuff box here with us.”  If you’re like me, you were expecting a silver knife.  A snuff box seems a little off-theme, but whatever.  “That way, we can look at it while you’re gone and think of you.”  Ivan kind of wanted to have his snuff with him (because he was too fancy to smoke), but he had left things with his other two sisters, so he could hardly refuse his baby sister.  He left the snuff box and traveled on.
  • They all apparently lived in a weird country where every kingdom was exactly three days apart, because he again rode for three days before coming to a huge, creepy looking castle.  Although everything was solid and in good order, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the thing looked like something out of a ghost story.  This had to be the place.
  • He rode up to the main gate, but there was no one there guarding the entrance, so he rode right in.  He left his horse in the courtyard and went inside.  He wandered around cautiously, expecting at any moment to run into a guard or some dread magical creature, but all he found was cobwebs and dust.  He tried door after door, and eventually, he found a locked one with breathing coming from the other side.  “Marya?  Is that you?”  He heard a gasp.  “Ivan?  Holy shit, Ivan is that really you?  I can’t believe you found me!  Koschei is out hunting, but I don’t know when he’ll be back.  You’ve got to get me out of here.”
  • He backed up, fully intending to try and break it down, but he saw a keyring on the wall outside the door with an antique key hanging off it.  It clicked in the lock, and then Marya Morevna was rushing out into his arms in a flurry of tears and kisses.  Then she smacked him hard in the chest.  “Thank you for coming for me, but why the fuck couldn’t you do the one and only thing I asked of you while I was gone?  You had to know that I wouldn’t lock someone up with twelve massive goddamned chains without a very good reason, right?”
  • Ivan bowed his head in shame.  “I know, wife, and I’m sorry.  I let my curiosity get the better of me, and you have suffered for it.  But we’ll have time to talk about how badly I fucked up later.  Right now, we need to get the hell out of dodge before the crazy powerful sorcerer comes back.  Marya realized that he was absolutely right, so they rushed out the door to Ivan’s horse.  The pair rode double on the horse, hoping that they could get far enough away before he got back to lose him.
  • Now, while all of this was happening, Koschei was out hunting, and because he liked it, he was completely naked.  It hadn’t been a particularly good day, and it was getting late, so he had turned his horse for home when it stumbled unexpectedly.  “What the fuck, horse?  Why the wobbly walk? Do you smell a problem coming?” The horse, which was of course a very magical horse since his owner was a very powerful sorcerer, replied “Prince Ivan has come for his wife, and he has carried off Princess Marya Morevna.”
  • Koschei cursed.  “Do you think we can catch them?”  The horse laughed a whinnying laugh.  “Dude, who do you think you’re talking to?  I could plant wheat, wait for it to grow up, reap it, thresh it, grind it into flour, make five pies of it, eat those pies, and then start chasing them and I could STILL catch them.”  “That was a needlessly if undeniably poetic way of saying ‘fuck yes’, but it’ll do.  Let’s go.”  
  • The horse bolted straight into a gallop and the trees seemed to leap out of his way as he raced towards the fleeing husband and wife.  They caught up to the overburdened horse with ease.  “Ivan, my boy.  Good try.  I can’t blame you for trying to rescue your wife.  Honestly, I would think less of you if you didn’t at least try.  Plus, I do owe you for giving me water to drink, so I will forgive you.  I also owe you for setting me free, so I would forgive you a second time, too.  But if you piss me off three times, I will fillet your flesh from your bones while you scream, and shove your balls down your throat before I finally slit your throat.  Don’t test me, boy.”  With a scowl of warning, he grabbed Marya Morevna off the back of the horse and bolted back to the castle on his magical steed.
  • Ivan stared dumbfounded after his wife and her captor.  No one was around for him to keep a stiff upper lip for, so he sat down in the dust and cried.  “What the fuck can I do?  He’s too powerful.”  He cried out his frustration, then he stood.  “Fuck it.  I have to try.  She’s my wife, damnit.  I can’t abandon her, particularly not when it’s my fault she’s in this situation.  I have to try.”  So saying, he mounted up and headed back to the decrepit castle of Koschei the Deathless.
  • He waited in hiding until he saw Koschei ride out in the morning to go hunting.  As soon as he was out of sight, Ivan rushed inside to find Marya.  She gasped when she saw him.  “Ivan, what…  Why did you come back?”  “For you of course.  Come on, let’s get out of here.”  “Ivan, he’ll catch us.  You saw how fast his horse is.”  “So what?  If he catches us, he catches us.  At least we’ll have a few hours together in the meantime.  It’s worth the risk to me.”  He held out his hand.  “You coming, wife?”  After a moment’s hesitation, she took his hand and they raced outside to Ivan’s waiting horse.
  • Koschei was again out hunting, and like before, as he started for home, his magical horse stumbled.  “What the fuck, horse?  Is something wrong with your legs, or do you smell a problem coming?”  The horse snorted indignantly.  “My legs are fine, as you can tell by the fact that your bony ass is still on my back.  Ivan has fled with Princess Marya again.”  “Do you think we can catch them?”  “Seriously?  You still doubt me?  Dude, we have time to plant barley, wait for it to grow, reap it, thresh it, brew it into beer, get blackout drunk, sleep it off, and then start chasing them, and I’d STILL catch them.”  “You really could just say ‘yes, we can catch them’, horse.  I never should have taught you to talk.  Let’s go.”
  • Once again, the horse leapt in a more or less straight line towards the fleeing couple, and the landscape got the fuck out of his way (if you’re a Harry Potter fan, think the Knight Bus).  Before long, Koschei had once again caught up to his stolen princess and her would-be rescuer.  He snatched her off of Ivan’s horse.  “That’s the last freebie.  I warned you that you would see your own ears before you saw Marya home again, didn’t I?”  And with that, he vanished into the trees, leaving Ivan alone to weep on his horse for the woman he had lost.  Again.
  • For a second time, Ivan sat on his horse, weeping and cursing his inability to save his wife from the motherfucking sorcerer.  When his rage had spent itself, he turned the horse around and went back to the castle.  This time, he waited until Koschei was asleep, and then crept in silently to find Marya Morevna.  She was lying in her bed wide awake, unable to sleep.  “Come with me, wife!  We ride under the cover of night!”  “Ivan, no.  It’s too dangerous.  You heard Koschei.  If he catches you again, he’s going to murder you.  It’s too dangerous!”  “I don’t care.  I’d rather die than know that I abandoned you to this monster that I unleashed.  I can’t live without you, so are you coming or not?”
  • Marya was moved by his words and decided to risk one last desperate ride.  Under the rising moon, they crept out of the house and mounted Ivan’s horse.  Heedless of the risk of breaking their necks in the darkness, they galloped off.  In the morning, Koschei woke and ate, and then went out to the stable to go hunting yet again.  He hadn’t had much luck lately, so he was really in the mood to gut something.  When he got there, his horse gave him a baleful look.  “What?  What could possibly be upsetting you this early in the morning?”  
  • “Ivan snuck back into your house again last night and stole away Princess Marya Morevna.  They’ve been riding all night.”  “Can we catch them?”  The horse gave Koschei a belabored look this time.  “Please.  Look who you’re talking to.  I’m your super fast, super smart, magical talking horse that you, for some reason, never bothered to name.  Of course I can.”  “What, no crazy poetic description this time?”  “They’ve been riding a while.  We need to get moving.”  So Koschei hopped on his back and they galloped off in pursuit.
  • Ivan and Marya had almost reached the border of Koschei’s lands when he came charging up behind them.  Ivan’s poor horse was far too tired to get up to more than a trot, and the evil sorcerer overtook them easily.  On his first past, he scythed the horse’s legs out in a shower of blood, then leapt off his own horse onto Ivan’s chest.  With his hunting knife, he cut off Ivan’s hands so he couldn’t fight back, then cut slices out of his skin until he howled.  When Ivan’s throat was too sore to scream anymore, Koschei finally slit his throat and dismembered him.  Then he dragged Marya and the corpse back to his castle, chopped the pieces into smaller pieces until they fit easily in a medium sized wooden barrel, sealed it and covered it with pitch, bound it with iron chains, and flung it into the ocean.  As the barrel floated off, Marya heard Koschei mutter “I warned you, you dumb, valiant son of a bitch.”
  • And you thought that the rule of threes here meant that he would get away with it the third time, didn’t you?  Instead, Ivan got horribly, horribly murdered.  Unbeknownst to both you and Marya however, at the moment when Ivan died, the three silver objects Ivan had given to his three powerful brothers-in-law turned pitch black (if you didn’t already know, silver is often associated with white magic).  In all three castles, the men looked at their tokens of Ivan and said “Well, shit.  Evil has definitely gone down.”  
  • The Eagle took flight and soared out to the sea.  With his powerful eyes, he saw the barrel and flew down to the ocean.  He seized the barrel in his talons and dragged it ashore.  Meanwhile, the Falcon flew to the utmost east for the Water of Life and the Raven flew to the utmost west for the Water of Death.  When the two return to the seashore, the Eagle breaks open the barrel and pulls out the pieces.  The three turn back into men and assemble the grisly jigsaw puzzle back into a rough resemblance of the dead man.  The Raven sprinkled the gruesome mess with the Water of Death, and the pieces joined back together into a single whole, although still very dead, body.  Then the Falcon sprinkled the corpse with the Water of Life, and a shudder passed through his body and Ivan sat up gasping desperately.  He was back.
  • He stretched and asked “How long was I asleep for?  And what happened?”  “You’d have slept for a lot longer if not for us.  And by longer, I mean forever, because you were deadsies.  You should come visit with us since we did you such a huge solid.”  Ivan looked at them.  “I wish I could, but I still need to help my wife.”  He hugged the three men in thanks, and then began the long walk back to Koschei’s castle.  
  • It took several days, but he made it back.  He waited for Koschei to leave again, and then went into the castle.  There was a long but still too brief reunion filled with tears and kisses, and Ivan filled Marya in on how he had come back.  “I don’t even have a horse anymore, and we definitely can’t get out of here on foot. We need to find out where Koschei got such an incredible horse.  If I can get one like it, we can beat his ass.”  “I’m on it.”
  • That night at dinner, Marya asked her abductor where he had gotten such a magnificent horse.  “It wasn’t easy.  I had to travel 30 fucking kingdoms away, across a fiery river, to where the Baba Yaga lives.  She has a mare awesome enough that she literally flies around the world on it every day, and that horse has a lot of kids that are almost as awesome.  I watched her horse herds for three days without losing a single horse, and in return, the Baba Yaga gave me a foal.”  
  • “That’s incredible.  But how did you cross a flaming river?”  “Oh, that was the easy part.  I’ve got this magic handkerchief.  I just wave it three time with my right hand, and a huge stone bridge appears to cross the fire nice and comfortable.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.”  After dinner, once Koschei was in bed, she told everything she had learned to Ivan.  Then she handed him the magic tissue she’d stolen from Koschei when he wasn’t paying attention.  He kissed her hard.  They finally had a real chance.  He set out immediately for the Baba Yaga.
  • Now, the Baba Yaga is an incredible character in her own right, and she has her own stories to tell, so I won’t get too deep into her tale, but a little backstory is probably called for.  The Baba Yaga is a powerful witch, sometimes the only one, sometimes one of three sisters all with the same name, and sometimes one of any number of powerful witches.  She usually flies around in a mortar with a pestle for a paddle and lives deep in the forest in a house standing on chicken legs.  And it just gets weirder from there.  Sometimes she’s helpful, sometimes she’s the villain, but she’s always dangerous and has a taste for human flesh.
  • He takes as much food as he can carry with him, but he still runs out before he can cross 30 countries.  After several days of not eating, he comes across a strange bird and it’s hatchlings.  “Oh, man, I don’t know what kind of bird that is, but I bet it tastes awesome roasted.”  “Please don’t eat me or my children, Prince Ivan!  I promise that I’ll do you a favor in the future if you don’t.”  This kind of thing happens a lot in fairy tales, so Ivan doesn’t even bother to ask how it knows his name.  “Alright, fine.  I bet you do taste delicious though.”
  • He kept going and eventually saw a beehive hanging from a tree.  “Honey will do the trick.  I’ll break that fucker open and get some nice honeycomb.”  The queen crawled out of the hive.  “Please don’t destroy my home, Prince Ivan.  I promise that I’ll do you a favor in the future if you don’t”  Grumbling to himself that all of the food here is sentient for some reason (probably the powerful witch who lived not too far away), he agrees and moves on.
  • Towards evening, he met a lioness with her cub.  “I’m hungry enough to even eat a lion cub.  Seriously, I think the starvation is starting to actually hurt me.  But I bet you’re gonna complain about it too, aren’t you?”  “Sorry Prince Ivan, but please don’t eat us.  I promise that I’ll do you a favor in the future if you don’t.”  “What good is a future favor if I starve to death now?” he thought, but he wasn’t entirely sure he could fight a lion and win anyhow, so he agreed.  Faint with hunger, he walked on until he came to the river of fire.  He used the handkerchief, which worked as advertised and allowed him to cross.  Shortly thereafter, he came to a house surrounded by twelve poles in a circle. 11 of the poles had a severed human head stuck on the top, eyes bulging and tongues lolling.  He cast a worried look a the empty twelfth pole, but walked up to the house anyway.
  • “Evening, Granny!” “Evening, Prince Ivan.  Why have you come?  Is it of your own will, or have you been forced?”  “I come of my own accord because I have been forced by circumstance.  I seek a powerful steed, and I hear you have the best.”  “I do indeed, young prince.  I normally charge a year’s labor for such a powerful gift, but I’m feeling charitable.  Instead, all I ask is that you watch my horse herd for three days, and take good care of my mares.  If you do, I’ll give you a horse finer than you can get anywhere else.  If not, then you can’t be upset when I chop off your head and mount it on the pole out there.  Cool?”
  • Ivan knew he didn’t have any other way to save his wife, so he agreed to this dangerous bargain.  The witch gave him food and drink, and told him to come to her bright and early.  In the morning, she showed him the herd and told him to get to it.  It seemed straightforward, but as soon as he had driven the mares into the pasture, they cocked up their tails and bolted in a dozen different directions all at once.  Before Ivan could even spin around to try and follow where they went, they were all out of sight.  Fuck.  This does not look good for Ivan.  He sat down in the dust, fully expecting that today was his last day on earth.  He was going to die.  Again.
  • When the sun started to set, he stood up and decided to go meet his end as bravely as he could.  As he started back, the strange bird landed in front of him.  “Hey Ivan.  The mares are all back at home now.”  Ivan thanked the bird and ran back to the house.  He heard Baba Yaga yelling at the horses as he approached.  “Why the fuck did you come home?  You were supposed to scatter!”  “We did, bitch, but these horrible birds chased us all over the world and nearly pecked our eyes out.  They didn’t stop until we came home.”  “Bah.  Well tomorrow don’t go galloping off through the meadows.  Go hide in the forests.  The birds can’t find you as easily there.”  They stopped as they heard Ivan approaching.  Again, she fed him and he lay down to sleep.
  • In the morning, Baba Yaga kicked him awake.  “Rise and shine, sonny.  Remember, if you lose even one mare, your head goes up on the pike.”  Then she cackled as she went inside.  He drove the mares to the pasture again, and again they immediately bolted in different directions.  This time, they all made for the forest.  He tried to grab them as they dashed, but he was much too slow.  He sat down in the dust again, dejected.  No weird bird was going to help him today.  He looked through the forest as much as he could, but he dared not go too deep or he risked getting lost, and he never saw a horse.  He was fucked.  The sun was starting to set, so he started back for the witch’s house, fully prepared to be murdered, when he saw the lioness approaching at a run from the forest.
  • “The mares are all back at home, Prince Ivan.  You’re safe.”  He went back to the creepy cottage, and he could again hear the witch berating the horses.  “What the actual fuck?  I told you to hide in the forest!  Why did you come back?”  “How could we not?  Every fucking predator in the fucking forest was out for our blood. They all but tore us to pieces, and would only leave us alone if we came back here.”  “Bah.  Well, tomorrow, go run out across the sea.  No beasts of prey can hunt you there.”
  • Again Ivan is fed and goes to sleep, and is kicked awake in the morning.  She again cackles about mounting his head, and sends him off with the horses.  As you probably already guessed, as soon as they reach the pasture, they all bolt for the wide ocean.  Ivan chases them as far as the shore, but he can’t run on the waves, so he’s fucked.  He sits above high tide and spends another day preparing himself to die.  No lioness can save him from this.  
  • As the sun is about to set, he stands up and heads back.  As he nears her house, he is approached by a huge swarm of bees.  They buzz at him “hi Ivan.  The mares are all at home now, so you can go back, but don’t let the Baba Yaga see you.  She plans to betray you on a thin pretext.  Instead, sneak behind the stable and hide behind the mangers.  You’ll find a runty little colt rolling in the mud.  Steal it and ride it the fuck away from here in the dead of night.”  Ivan figured they knew what they were about, so he snuck carefully the rest of the way.  As he got close, he could hear her screeching.  “Why the fuck did you come back here again?”  “How could we not?  We were attacked by swarms of bees from all over the world, and they stung us until we came back!”
  • “Well, you technically got hurt, so fuck that boy.  I’m gonna eat him and mount his head as a lawn ornament.  Where is he?”  She didn’t see him though, and eventually got tired of waiting.  When she finally went inside to sleep, Ivan snuck around to the back and found the colt just as the bees had said.  He crept up to it, saddled it, and leapt on its back.  Together, they galloped for the fiery river.  
  • Again, he waved the handkerchief three times with his right hand, and the magical bridge appeared, letting him cross easily.  Safely on the other side, Ivan had a thought.  He switched to his left hand and waved the cloth twice.  The stout stone bridge wavered and shimmered.  Looking closely, he could see that the previously secure bridge was now thin and rickety.  He doubted it would support the weight of a full-grown horse.  With a wicked smile, he galloped on.  
  • In the morning, the Baba Yaga woke and went to look for Ivan again.  She didn’t see him, and she also didn’t see the little colt.  She put two and two together, and with a yowl, she leapt in her magic mortar and charged off after him.  She soon came to the magic bridge, and she could clearly see the hoofprints on either side.  She paddled up the bridge, but had only gotten halfway across before it collapsed underneath her.  With a horrified scream, she fell into the flames and died a horrible, horrible death.  
  • Safely away from the Baba Yaga, Ivan rode incredibly swiftly back to Koschei’s castle.  It took him a lot less time to get back than it had to get there in the first place.  He got there in the morning, just about the time Koshei was on his way out to ramble about.  He rushed in to find Marya Morevna again.  They had another tearful, kiss-filled romantic reunion, but eventually Marya separated.  “DId you find it?  Did you get the horse?”  “I did.  It’s every bit as fast as we hoped.  If we leave now, I don’t think he can catch us.”  They raced outside, climbed on the colt, and raced off.
  • Towards evening, Koschei headed back home after a long day of hunting, and his horse stumbled.  “Okay, seriously, what the fuck.  There’s no way you smelled Ivan taking away Marya again.  I killed his ass but good.”  “You did, but he’s back somehow and he’s definitely taken Marya away again while you were gone.  Maybe you shouldn’t hunt quite so much.  Just a thought.”  “If I want your opinion, horse, I’ll give it to you.  Now tell me the one thing I want to know: can we catch them?”  The horse paused, which was unusual.  “Um…no.  No, we can’t.  Ivan has a much better horse now, I don’t know from where, and he’s too fast for me to catch.”
  • “Koschei stared at his horse.  “Are you fucking kidding me?  You’re a magical horse, and I’m a goddamned sorcerer.  We’re going to catch them.  Somehow, some way.”  With a kick, Koschei wheeled his horse after Ivan.  For a long time, it seemed that the colt was too fast for Koschei’s horse, but eventually they started to get closer.  “The young horse must be getting tired.  I guess going out hunting as much as we do has built up my endurance.  We’ll catch them in the next half hour.”
  • Koschei grinned.  He knew he’d get her back.  Hadn’t he told Ivan that he’d see his own ears before he saw Marya at home again?  Although, come to think of it, when he’d killed Ivan before, he kind of had cut off his ears, so Ivan probably had seen them.  That was as far as his thoughts got before he felt raw pain lancing into the side of his skull.  He toppled from his saddle like a puppet whose strings had been cut and lay in the dirt, dazed.  
  • The sun was blotted out by a dark form that slowly resolved into the form of Ivan.  He dropped the branch he’d used as a club and reached for his sword, clearly intending to spend some time cutting on Koschei in retribution.  He didn’t get the chance, though, because the colt, angry for reasons only a horse could understand, stomped on his head with one heavy hoof, crushing his skull.  Ivan was disappointed, but shit: dead was dead.  So much for deathless.  He was just Koschei the Moderately Hard to Kill (though that admittedly didn’t have the same ring to it).  Still, the man had been a dangerous magician, so Ivan decided to take no chances.  
  • Marya climbed out of the bushes they’d hidden in while setting their trap for Koschei and helped Ivan gather deadwood from the forest floor.  Together, they built a bonfire on the broken, bleeding corpse of Koeschi the Moderately Hard to Kill and set it alight.  Hand in hand, they watched his body burn to ash, and still they weren’t done.  They gathered up the ashes and carried them to the top of the nearby hill, and scattered them on the winds to make sure that fucker stayed good and dead.
  • They had a brief chat with Koschei’s magical horse, who hadn’t really liked Koschei much anyway, and he agreed to carry Marya around.  Ivan mounted his horse beside them, and they rode off together to take a tour through the castles of Ivan’s brothers-in-law and sisters to thank them for bringing him back from the dead.  Each time, the magical man greeted them and said “Ah, now I see why you went to so much trouble for your wife.  She truly is a magnificent, beautiful woman!”  Then they went back home, figured out some perfect but unspecified way to rule both realms, and lived and died in peace.
  • But it was not yet the end.  See, Koschei was called ‘Deathless’ for a reason.  It took him better than a century, but slowly, the winds began to gather the ashes together into a clump, and the clump got larger and larger until it started to look like a body.  Eventually, it reformed into a naked, skeletal man who sat up, hacking his lungs out and trying to get all of his body parts situated correctly.  “Shit, that was a bad one.  Oh well, back to searching for a princess who will truly get me and fall madly in love and stay with me forever.”  That’s right, Koschei was a maniac, but he was a romantic maniac who believed in true love at any cost.  Princess Marya Morevna might be dead and gone by now (and probably not really a looker anymore, so who needed her), but there were other women.  Koschei cackled and started for home.
  • So, yeah.  If someone goes by the nickname ‘Deathless’, it might be worth believing him.  I mean, at least they were thorough, so he wasn’t able to resurrect in their lifetime, but he’s a hard corpse to keep down.  In a lot of analyses, Koschei is seen as an embodiment of the vindictive, cruel, and dangerous parts of nature.  Since you can’t kill a planet’s indifference towards your existence, you can’t kill Koschei.  At least, not without going through some seriously crazy shit first, but that’s a story for the next episode.
  • And with Koschei preparing to kidnap plenty more princesses if someone doesn’t stop him, 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 god is Chernobog.  If you are a Disney fan, or were just a kid in the 80s, you probably know this guy even if you don’t realize it.  
  • Do me a favor: either imagine or, if you’re so inclined, go online and actually play Night on Bald Mountain.  Now tell me, what’s the first image that comes to mind?  Is it a large, frightening looking black demon with huge wings coming out of a volcano?  That, my friend, is Chernobog, and he’s maybe the most memorable moment from Disney’s Fantasia.  He’s a dark god from Slavic mythology, and his name literally means ‘black god’.  Unfortunately, not much is known about him.  All of the original stories have been lost, and the only information we have comes from secondary Christian sources.
  • We do know that he has a brother named Belobog, or ‘white god’, who is as good as Chernobog is evil.  Or maybe evil is the wrong word.  He’s mostly associated with the bleaker aspects of life in northern Russia, including, cold, famine, poverty, and illness.  He’s a less than pleasant god, but still respected among deities.  His power is equal and opposite to his brother’s, and it is said that, during creation, he and his brother fought over the proper shape for the world.
  • The two brothers fought, as brothers throughout history have done, and in their struggle, they formed the polarized world. This competition is responsible for night and day, summer and winter, and the motion of the stars.  They ended up splitting dominion over the earth.  Belobog rules over the brighter, sunnier part of the year and Chernobog rules over the darker, more desolate half.  Of course, a lot of this is basically supposition from writings from the Chronica Slavorum, written by a German priest named Helmold in the 12th Century.  He described a rite where, during feasts and celebrations, the people would pass a bowl around and utter words to try and summon good fortune from the white god and ward off bad fortune from Chernobog.  The name Belobog isn’t actually specified, however, and Svetovid may actually be his opposite number.  
  • The one thing we do know for sure is that, to this day, some South Slavic vernaculars have a phrase do zla boga, which means roughly “to the evil god” and is an exceedingly negative curse.  Regardless of exactly which god the black god opposed, he’s survived in diverse media, from the aforementioned Fantasia, to Marvel’s Thor comics to the fantastic book American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Some gods never die.

 

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.  If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  I also want to thank undecidedly for the feedback on Reddit.  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 an interview for an episode of The Glen and Dean show.  We covered a wide-ranging variety of topics from mythology (naturally) to pop culture and history.  I had a lot of fun talking with the two guys, so I think you’ll have fun listening!

 

Next time, we’ll be meeting a more different man named Ivan and see a reappearance of both Bulat (who survives the century with no real explanation other than ‘myths are weird’) and Koschei the Deathless, who at least makes sense to not be dead.  You’ll see that Bulat has more restraint than most mythological figures, that you can totally make a prophecy come true by believing hard enough, and that mythology has its own answer to the turducken.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the reason that drowning victims weren’t buried in Orthodox cemeteries.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.