Episode 18C – The Ice King Cometh

Episode 18C Show Notes

Source: Slavic Folklore

This week on MYTH, it’s back to Mother Russia for the third and final part of the story cycle begun by Bulat the Brave Companion.  In this episode, you’ll learn that Adventure Time’s Ice King is way creepier than you thought, that Bulat has a ridiculous amount of restraint, and that eggs can be very harmful to your health.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, Froggy went a courtin’ and he did ride, and then he drowned you.  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 18C, “The Ice King Cometh.”  As always, this episode is not safe for work.

 

  • Previously on MYTH, we met Bulat the Brave Companion, a gentleman thief turned helpful killing machine as he helped Prince Ivan Tsarevich get out of a bad contract with his servant so he could become prince again and marry the beautiful princess with more agency than many fairy tale princesses.  This week’s story will pick up decades later, after Princess Marya, where Bulat has managed to get himself into trouble yet again.  
  • One note before we start, this story also features a young man named Ivan, but it’s not the same Ivan as either of the previous two Ivans (although in some versions, it is).  Prince Ivan was a popular hero in Russian folklore, and he pops up as the hero in a lot of stories that cannot possibly be in the same reality, or he would be married happily ever after to at least a half dozen different princesses, as well as being from an equal number of different backgrounds (after all, he’s not actually a prince this time).  As previously mentioned, for the sake of creating a consistent narrative in this story cycle, I’m treating each of the Ivans as a different man with a very common name.
  • After leaving Prince Ivan in the ruins of the third unrealistically large army that the two men had ripped through like a hot knife through butter, Bulat considered his obligation to the man who had freed him met (and he had more than fulfilled their actual bargain), so he went off in search of his fortune.  Instead, he realized that maybe he should have gotten some money from the desperate kingdom he had saved three times before riding off into the sunrise.  He traveled as far as he could for many many years, then set up in a town in a different kingdom to try and make a living.  He had a hunch about what the next big trend in peasant fashion would be and he thought he could make a killing, so he went into debt up to his eyeballs to buy the wares he needed.  
  • It turned out that Bulat was a bad at fashion as he was good at killing (which makes you wonder why he didn’t hire himself out as a mercenary or a guard or something, but maybe he didn’t like wholesale murder despite having slaughtered 1,500,000 men in the course of several months).  He wasn’t able to sell anything, and when the merchant came calling to get his loan repaid, Bulat didn’t have the money.  The merchant was apparently from the New York mobster school of loan sharking, because he decided to beat the ever-loving shit out of Bulat in the market square in punishment for not paying, and as a warning to all other borrowers to pay their fucking debts.  
  • Unsurprisingly, a large crowd gathered to watch a man being flogged, and only one person in the crowd thought that this was bullshit.  His name was Ivan, and he was completely unrelated to Prince Ivan from the last two stories.  He was a merchant, and he’d been doing well recently, so he had a little extra money.  Ivan spoke to the asshole beating a man for not being able to pay his debt, but the fucker wouldn’t quit.  He was determined to beat the money out of the man like he was in Super Mario Brothers, but life doesn’t work that way, so Ivan did the only thing he thought might work: he offered to pay off Bulat’s debt.  
  • The merchant paused to work out the muscles in his tiring flogging arm.  “Well, money is really more useful than beating this dude, as satisfying as it is for a bully like me, and I’ve already gotten in a lot of good whacks.  Plus, this way I get to give the warning AND get the money, so it’s a win-win for me.  Done and done.”  Ivan turned over almost all of his surplus to the greedy merchant and helped Bulat to his feet.  
  • “Oh my god, thank you, sir!  I thought he was going to beat me to death!”  This is not strictly accurate, since we’ve already seen Bulat take on 500,000 men and kill all of them, so the only reason this merchant is alive is because Bulat held back.  Still, Ivan didn’t know that.  “Don’t mention it, buddy.  It was the right thing to do.  Well, off to try and make up that extra money again.”  Ivan had genuinely helped out just to be a good guy, and he didn’t expect any reward.  As you already know, Bulat loves to give lavish rewards for helping.
  • “Hey!  Hey, mister!”  Ivan turned.  “Seriously, I want to thank you.  You didn’t have to get involved, but you did.  And it’s going to work out for you, because if you hadn’t helped me, you’d never meet Vasilissa Kirbit’evna, who is prophesied to be your wife.”  “Wait, what?”  “Yeah, dude, there’s an awesome chick that you’re supposed to meet, but it would only happen if you helped me.  You did, so now I help you.”
  • “Um, alright.  Thanks, I guess.  How do we do this?”  “Easy.  I’ll tell you everything you need to do.  Just do what I tell you.  Get three horses and follow me.”  Ivan walked back to his home, thinking.  This was crazy, right?  He just met this guy, and he was clearly broke.  This could all be a scam.  On the other hand, Ivan thought the guy was on the up and up.  Besides, he kind of hated how monotonous his life had become.  Maybe a little destined adventure was just the thing.  He changed course for the stable, got three horses, and headed back to the town square.  Bulat was waiting for him and smiled as he approached.  “I was hoping you’d come back.  Let’s go find your wife!”
  • The two rode out for many days until they came to the distant kingdom of Tsar Kirbit.  In an isolated corner of the kingdom lay a tower.  Because this is a surprisingly common trope in a lot of different cultures, the maiden was trapped inside by her overprotective father.  Guards roamed the grounds to prevent anyone from stealing her away, but it had been years and they had gotten lazy, so Ivan had plenty of time to talk to the beautiful maiden in the tower.  
  • They connected instantly and soon became fond of each other.  Ivan came back over the course of several days to talk to her.  He tried to convince her to come away with him, but she refused.  “I like you, Ivan, but we did just meet.  Besides, Daddy would be furious.”  That night, Bulat and Ivan sat around their campfire and talked.  “You’re right, Bulat.  Vasilissa is awesome, but how do I make her my wife?  It’s not like I can spend my entire life sneaking around the tower.”  Bulat smiled.  “Of course not.  I have a plan.  Go to town tomorrow and buy a chicken, a duck, and a goose.  I’ll do the rest.”  
  • The next afternoon, Ivan rode back with the three birds, confused as to what was happening.  Bulat just smiled, took the birds, killed all three, and roasted them over the fire.  He asked Ivan to hand him the wing from the chicken, then rode to the tower.  He got Vasilissa’s attention with a rock, cracking the roof, then held up the chicken wing.  “Hungry, princess?  Ivan thought you might be, so he cooked this chicken especially for you.  Here.”  He handed up the wing, and Vasilissa leaned out of the window to grab it.  Then he rode back into the forest.
  • “Duck wing.”  A confused and bemused Ivan handed him the wing from the roasted duck, and Bulat repeated his performance.  Vasilissa had been impressed with how well the chicken had been cooked and was excited to try the duck.  Bulat rode into the forest again.  “Goose.”  Ivan handed him the wing of the last bird, and Bulat rode out again.  “One more, princess?  I saved the best for last.”  Excited about the food, Vasilissa leaned out of the window a third time, reaching for the poultry.  This time, though, Bulat grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her ass clean out of the window.  
  • He caught her as she fell and set her on her feet.  “Now we run.”  Vasilissa had a choice to make.  She could go back and find the guards to get her ass locked back in the tower for probably forever, or she could ride off with these relative strangers into adventure.  For what is definitely a rebellious streak and not at all the woman’s fear about being snatched out of her tower by a dangerous, dangerous man, she decided to not piss of the mysterious swordsman.  When Bulat ran towards the forest, she ran with him.  They climbed onto the three horses and rode off.
  • It didn’t take long for the guards to realize that the tower was empty (even lazy guards noticed the damaged roof), and the Tsar was every bit as angry as his daughter had predicted.  He sent an entire squadron out after the kidnappers, with himself in charge.  He wanted to see these fuckers die with his own eyes.  Honestly, a totally fair reaction.
  • Bulat soon heard the sound of the pursuing horses, and realized he had to do something.  He dropped his ring, rode a few steps, and then pretended to notice.  “Holy shit, guys, hold up.  I lost my ring.  It’s a family heirloom, I have to go back for it.  My dear granny would never forgive me if I lost it!”  Vasilissa offered Bulat her ring instead to keep him from going back for it because she liked her kidnapper, and in no way because she was hoping her father’s guards would catch them and bring her home.  Bulat, ever the gentleman thief, accepted the offered (and much more expensive) ring, but insisted on heading back anyhow.  
  • Bulat rode back towards the approaching guards with a smile.  He had missed this.  It wasn’t long before he saw the dust raised by the soldiers heading his way.  He stopped his horse in the middle of the road, sword drawn, and waited.  The guards correctly figured that this arrogant bastard was one of the vile princess thieves and charged.  Bulat flourished his sword, and ripped through the men’s bodies in a shower of blood, bone, and brains.  He danced a scarlet dance through what used to be dangerous fighting men and when the screaming finally died, he and the Tsar were the only ones left standing.  Or in one piece.  He gave the terrified monarch a blood-drenched grin.  “You get one chance.  Go home, king.  I promise you, you’re daughter is safe with me.”  The Tsar didn’t really have much of a choice.  Sure, he could have charged Bulat himself, but he’d just had a very real demonstration of how terrifying Bulat was in combat.  If he drew his sword, he died.  Tail between his legs, Tsar Kirbit rode for home alone.
  • Bulat rejoined the group, and Vasilissa probably worried more than a little about her dad’s life, especially given the fresh bloodstains on Bulat and his horse, but she said nothing and definitely not because she was scared of the man who had just slaughtered the people who were supposed to be protecting her.  Tsar Kirbit wasn’t ready to give up yet, however.  He wasn’t about to let those bastards take his daughter without a real fight.  When he returned to his palace, he gathered up twice as many man as he had brought before, and he led them back towards his daughter and her two kidnappers as quickly as the horses could run.
  • Ivan and Bulat had stopped to rest, thinking they wouldn’t be pursued again, so the Tsar’s men caught up quickly.  Once again, Bulat heard them coming and again, rather than admit that he was going to go murder the fuck out of her father’s men, Bulat got sneaky.  He dropped his scarf, and insisted he go back for it.  His mother had knit that for him, and he would never forgive himself if he lost it.  He fell back, leaving Ivan and a probably suspicious but unsure Vasilissa to ride ahead.  
  • Again, he met the Tsar and his men, and again he ripped through them in a whirlwind of razor-sharp steel leaving only himself and the Tsar alive.  “Last chance, Tsar.  Go home.  Your daughter is lost to you.”  Surprisingly, the Tsar doesn’t ride back and gather up still more men in spite of the fetish this story has with the rule of threes.  Instead, he goes back home alone to mourn his daughter.  He knows that he won’t possibly be able to raise enough men to stop Bulat, and he gives her up for dead.  
  • Night was falling quickly when Bulat returned, and the three decided to make camp.  They were outside the princess’ kingdom and into strange territory.  Bulat wasn’t sure where they were, exactly, so after a dinner cooked over a campfire, he decided to go scouting.  “None of us have ever been here before, so we don’t know who owns this land or what dangers may lurk in the shadows.  I’m going to go look around and see what I can learn.  Ivan, you stay here with Vasilissa and keep watch all night (which served the dual purpose of protecting the princess and making sure she didn’t try to escape in the night).  Don’t fall asleep now, alright?”  And with that, he was gone into the night.
  • Ivan kept watch as Vasilissa snuggled down under the blankets near the fire and fell asleep.  It was boring.  Like, really, really boring.  Have you ever tried to just stare into the darkness for hours on the off chance that something will happen?  It’s incredibly tedious.  That coupled with the fact that it had been a very long day after weeks of sleeping rough explains completely why Ivan was only able to stay awake for half the night.  Can you really blame him?
  • It turns out, Bulat definitely could.  Ivan woke up in the morning to two uncomfortable facts: first, his back felt like someone had beaten him with a club from sleeping in such an awkward position.  Second, Vasilissa was gone.  Shit.  Ivan, who was not quite naive enough to not realize that as much as Vasilissa liked him from knowing him for a couple of days, she probably wasn’t entirely cool with being kidnapped by him and his dangerous friend to ride out into god knows where to do god knows what, thought she had abandoned him.  Who would blame her?  “Quit your bitchin’, dude.  She didn’t leave, she was abducted.  Again, I mean.  By not us.  I found a landmark I recognized, so I sort of know where we are, and where we are isn’t good.  This land is more or less controlled by Koschei the Deathless, and it was almost probably he that had taken her in the night.
  • A little bit about Koschei, who we met before.  He’s a popular villain in slavic folklore and mythology, and his typical MO is to steal the hero’s wife, usually with the help of his powerful sorcery.  He did that kind of a lot.  You know the Ice King from Adventure Time?  Although I can’t find anything to definitely confirm it, I strongly suspect that he’s based on Koschei.  Koschei, whose name means “skeleton” in the old Krivichi dialect, is almost always described as being tall and although perfectly healthy, emaciated to the point of being almost inhumanly thin.  Also like the Ice King, he’s effectively immortal.  As we saw before, it’s as weird as anything that Adventure Time could have come up with.  Also, for reasons that aren’t really explained, he’s kind of a nudist, especially when kidnapping women.  It’s honestly really creepy.
  • So anyway, Finn and Jake, I mean Ivan and Bulat go in search of the missing princess.  After riding several days in the direction that Bulat remembers vaguely from maps years ago, they come across a pair of herdsmen tending cattle out in a field.  “Hey, fellas, how’s things?  Say, those are some fine looking cows.  Who’s are they?”  “Oh, those belong to Koschei the Deathless.”  “That’s what I hoped you’d say.”  Before the two men could finish looking confused at that cryptic remark, Bulat had disemboweled both of them.  They didn’t have time to more than scrabble weakly, uselessly at the grey, ropy entrails spilling from their stomachs before they both collapsed into the blood-soaked earth.
  • “Dude, what the hell?  We could have just tied them up or something.  Jesus, you didn’t need to kill them.”  Bulat cocked his head.  “Yeah, that might have worked, but what if they had gotten loose and gone to the sorcerer?  We can’t risk being discovered.”  “Discovered?  Discovered doing what?”  Bulat knelt down and began stripping the clothes off of the two cooling bodies.  “Put on their clothes.  Not the shirt, obviously, but the rest of it.  We’re them now.  We’re gonna sneak in.”
  • Ivan was less than sanguine about wearing the clothes of a man his maybe friend had just straight-up murdered, but he didn’t have a better plan to rescue the wife that was his destiny (although Bulat was the only source we have for that particular prophecy, so maybe he’s making his own destiny here).  Dressed in the clothes of dead men, they rode towards Koschei’s castle, driving his cattle before them.
  • Smash cut to Vasilissa wandering alone in a dreary, deserted looking castle.  Picture that early scene of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when we see the inside of the castle for the first time, and you won’t be far wrong.  It’s unclear how long she’s been here, but it’s definitely taken a toll on her spirit, and on her appearance.  She was snatched away with almost none of her things, and banging around inside the empty building all day is eating at her sanity.  To try and find some small piece of normalcy in this insanity, Vasilissa has taken to washing her face in goat’s milk each morning and each night, as a way of keeping her face smooth and lovely.
  • As the two herdsmen were driving the cattle into the castle yard for the night, she sent a maid out to fetch the goats milk for her face bath.  Having other people around, but forbidden to talk to you except to take basic orders was even worse than being truly alone.  At least then, she could have shouted “Fuck Koschei the Deathless!” into the rafters until the castle shook and made herself feel a little better.  Instead, she had to maintain her ruse at all times.
  • The maid dutifully and silently took the pail out to the yard to get goat’s milk.  One of the herdsmen sidled up to her.  “Hey there, pretty lady.  What the bucket for?”  “Goat’s milk.”  “A woman of few words; I like that.  Who’s the milk for?”  “Lady Vasilissa, of course.  Now fuck off.  I’m not gonna blow you, so let me get back to work, okay asshole?”  Bulat, because of course it was Bulat, held up his hands in surrender.  “Whatever you say, pretty lady.  No need to be rude.  I was just making conversation anyway.”  He waited until the bucket was almost full to stroll by one last time.  She glanced at him once, and then made a show of turning her back completely on him.  Bulat smiled.  While her back was turned, he pulled the ring that Vasilissa had given him to spare her father’s life (though she hadn’t said it in so many words, Bulat knew what was up) out of his pocket.  He carefully dropped it in the bucket with a cough to cover the soft bloop as it fell in.  
  • The maid continued to ice him out, so Bulat shrugged and walked over to Ivan, who was, of course, the other herdsman.  When she was sure he was gone, she took the bucket back up to Lady Vasilissa and set it beside the tub silently.  Vasilissa sighed.  This bucket meant that another day had come and gone with no sign of help.  Soon, Koschei would be coming back from his rambles and she would have to play into his whole romantic abduction fantasy.  The man was frighteningly powerful, and she got the feeling he didn’t take kindly to being told ‘no’.
  • She put one hand into the milk, stirring idly to ensure the milk fat didn’t settle, and was surprised to brush a rock at the bottom of the bucket.  “That’s fucking weird,” she said to no one, enjoying her small rebellion against the part of the docile, proper young lady that Koschei preferred.  She pulled the rock out, and was even more shocked to see her own ring.  She’d given that to Ivan’s bodyguard to try and get him to be merciful with her father, and she hadn’t expected to see it again.  If it was here…
  • Before she could finish the train of thought, she was on her feet and running for the yard.  She burst out of the small door from the castle to see Ivan and Bulat waiting there, dressed like herdsmen.  She was so excited to see a friendly face that she forgave them both the whole thing and rushed out to embrace them.  
  • “You came for me!  How did you even find me?  The asshole who kidnapped me again is a powerful sorcerer, and we covered hundreds of miles in a single night!”  Ivan hugged her back.  “Of course I came for you.  I always will.  Bulat figured out that we were near to Koschei the Deathless’ lands and reasoned that he must have taken you.  We’ve been headed this way to save you ever since.”
  • Overcome with gratitude, Vasilissa hugged Ivan again, and even gave a quick hug to Bulat.  Finally, she pulled back.  “Okay, so what now?  Do we run?”  Bulat laughed.  “Oh God no.  He’s way too powerful, and way too fast.  We’ve got to kill that motherfucker.”  “Okay, that shouldn’t be too hard.  You already killed a small army singlehandedly (and a large one, but she doesn’t know that).  You can just, like, cut his head off stab him a lot, right?”  Bulat laughed again.  “I’m good, but I’m not that good.  Dude is called Koschei the Deathless for a reason.  Way I heard it, some guy tried to kill him some years back.   Did it right.  Cut off his head, burned the body, the whole kit and caboodle.  Obviously, it didn’t take.  No, if we want to make him legit deadsies, we need to find out where he hides his soul.”
  • “Wait, what?  His soul?”  “Yeah, his soul.  Guy is a powerful sorcerer and realized that he could live forever if he hid his soul somewhere that wasn’t his body, (which might be where that prissy little pissant Voldemort really got the idea).  We need to know where he hid it.  That’s where you come in, my dear.”  Vasilissa gulped, but she nodded.  “I can do this.  You guys better hide, though.  That skeletal bastard is due back any minute.”
  • She helped them hide in the bowels of the castle so that she could come talk to them if she needed to without raising suspicion by going outside.  Just in time too, because they hadn’t been stashed away for five minutes before she saw Koshcei flying home, silhouetted against a sky growing red with the coming twilight like some massive vulture.  Now came the tricky bit.
  • Vasilissa rushed out to greet Koscehi in the courtyard, all coos and loving eyes.  “My dear sir!  How I’ve missed you today!”  She dashed up to him and threw herself under his long, skeletal arm.  She saw his eyebrows rise in surprise, but he immediately embraced her back.  Sure, he should probably be suspicious, but this was what he had always wanted. He’d always known that if he had just kept up his spree of magical kidnappings, he would find the girl who loved him the way that he had loved all of them.  And yes, he does sound a little like a serial killer.
  • “I’m glad to see you too, poppet.  I’ve missed you today while I was about my business.”  She gave a theatrical shudder.  “Oh, I do hate it when you go out like that.  I worry that something will happen to you.  The people around here are so jealous of you, and they hate you for it.  They would kill you if they could, and I worry that someday you won’t come back to me.”
  • Koschei laughed.  “Seriously?  You do know why they call me ‘Deathless’, right?  I’m immortal!  Unlike the rest of you, I don’t carry my soul around in my body where it can be hurt.  I leave it stashed in a broom in the kitchen.  No one would ever think to look for it there.”  
  • The two went inside, and Koschei retired to his quarters to wash up for dinner.  Vasilissa, meanwhile, went to Ivan and Bulat.  “You were right.  He keeps his soul here during the day in a broom in the kitchen.”  BUlat shook his head.  “Bullshit.  There’s no way a guy that powerful and that full of himself keeps his fucking soul in a fucking broom.  All it would take would be one careless servant leaving it close to the fire and fwoosh!  No more sorcerer.”  Vasilissa frowned.  “He’s testing me.  He’s suspicious that I’m trying to escape and wants to see if I’ll destroy the broom to get to him.”  
  • Bulat grinned widely.  “Right in one.  Fortunately for us, you’re too clever for that.  You need to lull him into security, and get him to tell you where it really is.”  Vasilissa went back upstairs deep in thought.  Then she grinned her own grin.  She had a sneaky idea.  She went and found the broom in the kitchen, a worn and dusty old thing.  She had a little less than two hours to dinner, so she spent the time cleaning and polishing the broom, clipping the bristles to be neat and even, and carving the handle into simple decorative patterns.
  • At dinner, Vasilissa presented the spruced up broom with a flourish.  “My dear sweet Koschie, I was thinking about what you said about hiding your soul in the broom, and I had to go see it.  It looked so lonely and ill-cared for that I just had to make it as nice and lovely as you are.  Here, my dear, please put this somewhere safe, where a careless servant can’t destroy it.  Your soul is far too precious to leave lying about like this.”  
  • At Vasilissa’s words, Koschei’s face split into a huge, cadaverous grin.  “I knew it!  I knew you really liked me, but I had to be sure.  You understand, right?  I’ve been too trusting in the past, and it burned me (if you don’t get that pun, go back to the last episode again).  I would never really be so foolish as to hide my soul in something so easily broken by a servant.  In fact, it’s hidden in the goat that you get the milk for your face baths from.  It helps keep your face as lovely as ever.  Besides, a goat can keep itself from the fire, so it’s much more secure.  They dined in relative quiet, with small, mindless chatter to fill the silence.  Afterwards, Koschei kissed Vasilissa’s hand and they parted for the night.  
  • Once she was sure he was in his room, she rushed downstairs again to tell Bulat and Ivan.  “Yeah, so I buttered him up all nice and sweet, and he admitted he was testing me with that whole broom thing.  This time he says his horcrux is the goat and he’s definitely being honest.  I’m pretty sure he’s still full of shit, but I wanted to get your take.”  Bulat looked at Ivan.  “Yeah, it’s definitely not the goat.  If that little beastie managed to get itself good and dead, and being a goat, it’s not that hard to imagine, Koschei would be fucked.  Wanna go for the hat trick?”  Vasilissa agreed and went back upstairs.  
  • She worked late into the night, braiding ribbons into the goat’s fur, polishing it’s horns, and making it a cute little collar to wear.  It was the wee hours of the morning before she was finally able to collapse into an exhausted sleep.  Even so, she rose with the morning sun to go and greet her kidnapper before he left for the day to go and terrorize the countryside.  As he was eating breakfast, which he usually did alone, she came into the great hall leading the dressed up and super adorable goat behind her.  “My dear sweet Koschie, I was thinking about you hiding your soul in the goat, and I had to go pet it.  It looked so lonely out in the pen all by itself that I just had to bring it inside and dress it up to be as nice and lovely as you are.  Here, my dear, please put her somewhere safe, where a careless accident can’t get her killed.  Your soul is far too precious to leave wandering about like this.”
  • Koschei’s creepy skull head grinned even wider than before.  “I knew it.  I knew this day would come.  You like me!  You really like me!  So you know what I’m gonna do?  I’m gonna tell you where my soul really is.  I know I can trust you.  My soul isn’t in the goat, since that’s way too easy for something to happen to.  I did something much sneakier.  I put my soul inside an egg.  I know what you’re thinking; but Koschei, an egg is super vulnerable.  See, I hid that egg inside a duck.  Yeah, you’re thinking, but how is that better than a goat?  Easy – I hid that duck inside a rabbit.  Okay, but isn’t that still kind of vulnerable?  I hid the rabbit under a great big oak tree on a remote island in the middle of an endless ocean.  No one can get it there!  Am I clever or am I clever?  And sexy to boot.  And now, having divulged my greatest weakness, I must be off to parts unknown for my daily terrorizing.  Avaunt!”
  • Using the power of his newfound love (or more likely, his enormous magical abilities), Koschei sailed off into the sky to go be a bad guy.  Vasilissa watched him go dutifully, then raced back inside to tell Ivan and Bulat.  “Guys, guys!  I know where his soul is.  For real this time.  This shit is too weird for him to have made up.”  She went through the whole Little Old Lady who Swallowed the Fly shenanigans about where the soul was hidden.  Bulat nodded in agreement.  “Yup, that’s the real place.  No one could be crazy enough to just make that up.  Let’s go get us a magical soul egg.”
  • Vasilissa stayed at the castle to keep the obscenely powerful, amoral sorcerer from getting suspicious while Ivan and Bulat went off in search of the crazy hiding place.  There was only one ocean even remotely close to Koschei’s lands, so the two men headed that way. When I say “remotely close”, I still don’t mean it was even a little close.  Ivan and Bulat had restocked their provisions before leaving the castle, but the lands beyond Koschei’s castle were wild, remote, and uninhabited.  They had traveled for weeks without meeting a soul, and and they were almost out of food.  They hadn’t yet reached the point where the other person looked like comically oversized food items, but it was a near thing.  
  • They had tried to hunt, but they hadn’t even really seen any animals, so shit seemed dire.  About that time, they came across a dog crossing the path.  Quick as thought, Bulat drew his bow and aimed at the poor dog.  I mean, I get that you’re starving and all, but it’s a damned dog, man.  Don’t kill the dog, man.  The pupper looked up at Bulat and said “Please don’t kill me, friend.  I’m all skin and bones, so I won’t make much of a dinner and besides, I can be a lot more use to you alive than dead!  If you ever need help, just ask for Spot and I’ll come running.”  No, the dog wasn’t really named Spot, but it doesn’t have a name in the story, so I named it.
  • Bulat, who has a heart that isn’t made of stone, let the poor dog go.  It dashed off into the woods and disappeared.  Ivan was more than happy to see it go.  He might be on the brink of starvation, but eating a dog was rough.  They continued on, stomachs grumbling.  A few hours later, on down the path, they came across an eagle sitting on a tree branch.  Again, Bulat whipped out his bow and again the animal begged for its life, vowing to help out later if they just called out for George the bird.  Again they agreed, and the bird flew off.  
  • Given the obsession with the rule of threes in this whole story cycle, it shouldn’t surprise you that when they finally got to the seashore, they found a lobster there that begged for its life and promised to help out if they just called out the name Sebastian.  They were at the ocean now, so it was a little easier to agree, and the lobster scuttled off.  They were able to catch some fish that, for whatever reason, didn’t beg not to be eaten, and things got a little better for Bulat and Ivan.  Of course, now they had to build a raft and cross the ocean to an uncharted island.  
  • The story doesn’t say how, but they manage to build a raft and sail out to this small island without dying in one of the literally hundreds of possible things that could go wrong.  They wash up on shore and see that the island is pretty much barren except for one massive oak tree growing at the center.  This was the place.
  • Bulat unlimbered the shovel and began to dig at the base of the tree.  The ground was fairly loose, and Bulat was able to dig down fairly easily.  About two feet down, the ground started to shake.  Before Bulat could do more than stop digging and try to pull back, the earth exploded outward as a huge rabbit burst out of its warren and raced off.  
  • There was no way that Ivan and Bulat were going to be able to catch that fucker.  The expression ‘quick like a bunny’ exists for a reason.  Fortunately, Bulat was owed a favor by someone more than fast enough to catch a rabbit.  “Spot!  I need your help now!”  In defiance of all reason, Spot came running up from beyond the horizon (and no, I have no idea how a dog, even a talking one, crossed the ocean).  “We need that rabbit that just ran off.  Can you fetch?”  Spot gave Bulat a look that clearly said “I see what you did there, and I don’t like it,” but he raced off after the bunny anyway.
  • A chase scene ensued, with the rabbit putting up a good fight, but it was a small island, and he never really had a chance.  He zagged when he should have zigged, and Spot’s jaws closed down with crushing force on the poor rabbit’s neck.  A trail of blood and rabbit screams marked the path Spot used to drag the bunny back to Bulat and Ivan.  As he got close, the rabbit’s stomach started to writhe.  Spot hurried, trying to get the rabbit to the two men more quickly, but it wasn’t enough.  The skin split and a duck burst forth and took flight in a shower of torn intestines and viscera.  
  • Spot dropped the dead rabbit at their feet.  “Okay, that wasn’t my fault.  You said to get the rabbit.  You didn’t say anything about a fucking duck ripping through it like a damned xenomorph!  This still counts, though.  We’re even.”  Ivan nodded, and Spot raced off back to wherever the fuck he came from in the first place.  Bulat thought for a second, and then he said “George the bird!  I need your help!”
  • Much more sensibly, an eagle wheeled out of the sky and swooped down to alight on a branch of the oak tree.  “Sup guys?”  “Thanks for coming. We just had a duck fly off and he has something we need.  Can you be a friend and catch him?”  George the eagle gave Bulat the same look that Spot had given him and took off.  It was a small island in a big ocean, so it didn’t take long for George to spot the duck.  He flew up high with his back to the sun, and then swooped down on the unsuspecting waterfowl, who was way out of his element.
  • The duck’s back broke with the crushing impact, and the bird died, but not before laying a huge golden egg that definitely wasn’t a duck egg.  It fell, glimmering in the sunlight, and splashed into the sea.  Ivan cheered and then cursed as the duck was caught and the egg fell.  “Shit, now what?  We’ll never find that fucker now!”  Bulat just looked at Ivan.  “Come on, man.  Haven’t you figured out that everything in the world always happens in threes?  Sebastian the lobster!  Help us out. Bring us that egg that just fell!”
  • Moments later, the lobster scuttled out of the ocean with the golden egg in its claws.  He crawled up onto the beach, and placed the egg safely in the sand above the tide.  He gave a little salute, and then walked back into the sea.  Ivan and Bulat walked over and scooped up the egg carefully.  This was it.  This was Koschei’s soul  Now it was time to head back.
  • Getting back to the palace proved faster and easier than getting there, and they found plenty to hunt by the time the fish they caught ran out, so they made it back to Vasilissa.  It had been weeks at this point, and she was getting a little sick of the doting girlfriend role she’d had to play while they searched.  They rode up in the late afternoon, when Koschei was probably off galavanting around.  “Oh thank God you’re back.  I don’t know how much more of this I could have taken.”  
  • She reached out for the egg, and Bulat handed it over.  She had more right than any of them to want Koshei dead, so she should have the option.  For a long moment, she considered just smashing it then and there, but she hesitated.  If she killed him now, she’d never be completely sure it worked.  Besides, she had a much better idea.
  • Koschei came home that night as usual and walked into the entrance hall to find Vasilissa waiting there as usual. “Honey, I’m home!  Did you miss me?”  She swayed over to him, all lean leg and sultry seduction.  She stopped beside him, and looked him in the eye.  Then she smiled a cold, angry smile.  “I did, you kidnapping, raping son of a bitch!  I needed you to be here one last time so that I could tell you how much I hate you, how much everyone hates you, and how much I’m going to enjoy seeing you die!”  
  • Before he could process what was happening and bring his magic to bear, she pulled the egg from her sleeve and smashed it on his forehead.  He just had time to recognize the vessel for his soul in her hand before it shattered with an otherworldy shriek, like the souls of the damned being scraped on a chalkboard.  With a look of confusion and sadness, his body turned to dust and blew away on the wind.  Koschei the Deathless was dead.
  • With the evil wizard dead, pretty much everyone working in the castle did a version of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and dispersed.  Ivan, Bulat, and Vasilissa raided the larder for supplies and then headed out for Ivan’s home.  During her captivity with Koschei, Vasilissa either decided that she was extremely impressed with the way he had come through for her or finally succumbed to Stockholm syndrome because she agreed to go home with Ivan and get married.  All of this was in fulfillment of the prophesy that Bulat might have just made up.  Because Vasilissa was a princess, when her father died, Ivan became king of the country he kidnapped the heir to, and he made Bulat his most trusted friend and advisor.
  • Things are finally settled, for realsies, so 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 vodyanoi, which literally means “the one in the water”.  He’s not a mermaid, dammit, he’s a merman!  Well, sort of.  The vodyanoi from Slavic mythology is a water-spirit, usually described as a naked old man with a frog-like face, often with black fish scales.  If you’ve ever read Shadow over Innsmouth, you’re on the right track as far as imagery.  Now add a green beard and long hair, caked in river muck, webbed fingers, a fish tail, and red eyes that glow like coals, and you’ve got the vodyanoi.
  • As the name implies, the vodyanoi lives in the water, traveling in the rivers and the lakes on a half-sunken log.  Due to his naked old man body and beard, he’s often dubbed “grandfather” by the locals, but he’s not a kindly figure.  Drownings are usually considered to be his work; not out of any malice, but because he likes humans enough to want to keep them forever and ever and ever.  He also liked to plunder shipwrecks for human baubles (kind of like the Little Mermaid).  He’s a powerful figure, and as such, he likes to be waited on by slaves.  When he needs more, he’ll find someone on his river or lake and drag them into the water, drowning their bodies and allowing him to capture their spirits to serve him in his crystal palace in his underwater realm.  
  • In some versions, he is also served by mermaids and mermen, who are far less powerful than old grandaddy vodyanoi.  He mostly appears at night, where he can be heard splashing loudly on his log as he moves.  Sometimes, he can be seen sitting on the riverbank, combing the muck out of his beard and his hair.  
  • The rules for living with the vodyanoi were fairly simple: stay the fuck away from the water at night if you didn’t want to serve the drowned god.  You also needed to avoid swimming on holidays, and to avoid bragging about your swimming prowess.  If he heard you bragging, he was likely to come for you since you’d be a better servant if you were a powerful swimmer.  Looking at it now, it’s likely that the rules developed to basically avoid situations which were dangerous for completely mundane reasons.  Being near the water in the darkness, particularly in those cold Russian winters, could easily be a death sentence if you were to trip or stumble.  Similarly, lots of people are drunk on holidays, so lots of people probably drowned from basic human stupidity.  As for braggarts, how many people have you known who would do something stupid because they were dared to?  If a braggart were called on his outrageous claims and tried to live up to them, getting tired in the water and drowning wouldn’t be much of a surprise.
  • Apart from the risk of drowning, there were other good reasons to avoid pissing off the vodyanoi.  When angered, he was likely to break dams, wash away river mills, and drown people and livestock.  Lots of millers, farmers, fishermen, and, oddly enough, beekeepers would make sacrifices to the vodyanoi to keep him fat and happy.
  • The version of him in Czech, Slovak, and Slovene folklore is markedly different from the eastern Slavic concept.  There, he was considered to be completely human in appearance and habit except for a few key places.  The Czech version, known as the vodnik, had gills, pale green hair and skin, and webbed fingers.  They wore human clothes, but always just a little odd looking, often described as vagrant-like.  Sometimes the vodnik was dangerous, and sometimes helpful, but always powerful.  Souls of the drowned, they would store in lidded porcelain cups, which they considered their most valuable possessions.  
  • One key difference was that the vodnik had no servants except for the occasional fish or fish-spirit.  Rather than looking for people to capture, they mostly just lazed about, often playing cards or smoking pipes.  Fishermen would often drop a pinch of tobacco in the water before starting, and ask the vodnik to deliver them plenty of fish in return.  They swam about entirely on their own, not bothering to use a half-sunken log like their cousins.  They also stayed the fuck out of the sea, which was poisonous  to them, unlike the vodyanoi.
  • So if you ever find yourself on a Russian lake and in need of assistance, I hope you brought some loose tobacco to dump in the water to bribe the fish spirit living their.  Otherwise, grandaddy vodyanoi might drag you down to sleep with the fishes.  Literally.

 

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.  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.

 

As of this episode, Myths Your Teacher Hated has officially been bringing you all of the best naughty gods and violent heroes for one year.  Woo us!  To celebrate, I’m taking a little vacation to Hawaii, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.  I will literally be going to the islands, but the show will also be making another visit to the Polynesian demigod Maui.  You’ll learn that eels have confusing names, that coconuts are actually creepy as fuck, and that Maui could single-handedly fix the overfishing problem if he wanted to.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the malevolent spirit that will punish you super harshly for chewing gum.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.