By the Will of the Pike – A Russian Folktale
Posted on: May 22, 2021.

Emelya is a lazy lad who lives with his parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law in a remote village in Russia. He does nothing but eat and sleep beside the stove all day, while his brothers and sisters-in-law slog all day.

It is wintertime for the village, and snow is falling. The streets are buried, and layers of snow covers the brown roofs of the wooden houses and bare branches of trees and bushes. Christmas would be coming soon.

To keep the house and the cooking stove warm, the brothers go out to the forest everyday to cut firewood for the large bulky stove’s furnace. At mealtimes, Emelya and his family has its customary cabbage soup.

One day Emelya goes out to catch fish from a waterhole. After no luck for a while, Emelya finally gets a tug on his fishing pole. He jerks the line out of the water, and to his surprise, finds a large pike caught in the hook.

Happy that he would be having pike soup that day instead of cabbage soup, Emelya proceeds to put the pike in his bucket of water and return homeward. But he is astonished to find the pike saying something to him.

The pike offers to grant him a boon in return for throwing him back into the water. All Emelya would have to say is “By the will of the pick, do as I like…” and make his wish. Lazy though he might be, Emelya is no fool.

He would not believe without having tested the boon. The pike accepts. Emelya says, “By the will of the pike, do as I like… Buckets, fill yourselves full of water, and hasten home without spilling a single drop!”

Even as the pike is dangling from the hook, the buckets fill themselves to the brim with water from the hole, gather themselves in a perfectly straight line and dash homeward … without spilling even a drop of water!

Emelya is spellbound and delighted to have received such powers, and returns the favor with gratitude by gently putting the pike back into the ice hole and thanking it.

The family cannot believe their eyes to see a perfectly straight line of buckets zooming homeward, full of water, not a single drop spilling, and arranging themselves in their place indoors.

However, instead of praising Emelya, the conservative and orthodox family is infuriated by his powers. But Emelya is delighted and lies by the stove, commanding from his station, enjoying delicious cabbage soup.

When his sisters-in-law yell at him for bringing firewood, Emelya picks up an axe and ropes, hops on the sledge, and shouts, “By the will of the pike, do as I like … Sledge! Head to the forest at top speed!”

Instantly, the sledge jerks into action, tearing out of the fence at top speed, in a spray of snow and mud that showers on his sisters-in-law, splattering on their hair, face, and clothes! They yell in anger and anguish.

At the forest, Emelya commands the axe to cut firewood, the firewood to arrange themselves neatly on the sledge, the ropes to tie the firewood in neat bundles, and the sledge to return home at top speed.

At home, Emelya commands, “… Axe! Hang up on your nail in the wall! Firewood! Stack yourselves near the stove! Ropes! Untie yourselves and coil into a neat pile!” The family stares in horrified amazement.

The axe jerks, floats through the air, and hangs up itself on its nail in the wall, the firewood bundles neatly stack themselves near the stove, the ropes untie themselves from the firewood and jumps into a neat pile!

News of Emelya’s powers reach the ears of the Tsar, who summons Emelya to the court. But Emelya is lazing by the stove and ignores the Tsar’s orders. The furious Tsar sends his man to beat up and drag him to court.

But Emelya simply commands the cudgel and stick at his house to whack the Tsar’s man all the way back to the Tsar’s palace. The Tsar’s man stares in horror as they float menacingly through the air towards him.

And all the way back to the Tsar’s palace, the stick and cudgel whack the poor man black and blue. The Tsar then sends his crafty minister to trick Emelya into coming, who comes to the house with a bag of goodies.

But Emelya is not enticed by the honey-cakes and the jam tarts. Another minister visits him and offers meat and a good axe. Immediately, Emelya accepts to come with him to meet the Tsar.

“The Tsar has asked you to come as fast as you can to the palace!”, he informs. Emelya commands the large, bulky, family stove, “By the will of the pike, do as I like! … Stove! Ride as fast as you can to the Tsar’s palace!”

To the minister’s horror, the immense stove and its platform, with Emelya lying on it, wobbles and jerks into action, letting off smoke enthusiastically, and shooting forth like a rocket, in a wild spray of snow and mud!

Showering snow and mud on people, cattle, houses, and marketplaces all through town, Emelya reaches the Tsar’s palace even before the minister has started from the house. People shout at him as he passes.

“Emelya the idiot is riding through town on a stove!” Even the Tsar is infuriated that an idiot should so disrespectfully come to visit him, disturbing the townspeople, and riding on a stove, lazing beside it.

The Tsar orders his men to arrest the fool, chain him, and throw him into the dungeons. The palace guards rush towards him, but Emelya simply smiles and mutters under his breath—

“… May the Tsar’s daughter fall helplessly in love with me, and raise a tantrum!” As the guards chain him and drag him into the dungeons to be locked up, the Tsar’s daughter begins to behave hysterically.

Angered, the Tsar orders his guards for his daughter and Emelya to be sealed in a barrel with iron bands and thrown into the sea. At sea, the Tsar’s daughter sobs to Emelya, “What are we going to do now?”

Emelya asks her what she would like. She makes her wish and Emelya commands, “… Barrel! Sail at great speed to an island with golden yellow sands, tumble ashore, and then break open!”

The barrel jerks and bounces, adjusting itself to become seaworthy, and whips through the sea, in a great spray of water in its wake. Before long, it reaches such an island, and bursts into pieces on its shore.

Looking at the desolate island, the Tsar’s daughter wishes for a palace, and on Emelya’s command, a splendid, glittering palace of gold, studded with precious gems, materializes on the golden sands.

She then asks for Emelya to wish for gardens with fountains and fruit trees. Immediately, the palace is surrounded. She then asks for people, and the island is populated with people, cows, sheep, and horses.

The Tsar’s daughter begins to miss her father and wishes to see him. Emelya commands a crystal bridge connecting his magical palace with that of his father-in-law the Tsar, and for the Tsar to come visiting them.

And lo! The Tsar could be seen walking down the crystal bridge with his Queen and the royal entourage, towards them, loaded with horse-carts of invaluable gifts.

For counter-hospitality, Emelya throws a grand feast for the Tsar, as had never before been witnessed by man. The food and wine lasts for days and days. Greatly impressed, the Tsar decrees to have them married.

The newlyweds, the Tsar and his Queen, and the royal entourage walk up the crystal bridge back to their land. Emelya, now a member of royalty, summons his family to live with him in the royal castle…

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