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439 At the Pike’s Command 167. There lived and dwelt this poor peasant. No matter how he labored, no matter how he worked, he had nothing. “Ach,” he thought to himself, “mine is a bitter fate! Every day I beat myself up with my farming, and just look—I’m going to have to die of starvation. And my neighbor lies about his whole life, and so? He has a big farm, and the quitrents just pour into his pocket. Obviously, I’m not pleasing to God. I shall pray from morning to evening and perhaps the Lord will have mercy.” So he began praying to God. He went hungry whole days at a time, but he kept on praying. Easter came, and they were ringing the bells for matins. The poor man thought,“Everyone will be breaking the Lenten fast, but I haven’t a single bite.I’ll at least go and get some water.I’ll sip some instead of cabbage soup!” So he took a little bucket, went to the well, and tossed it into the water—suddenly there was this huge pike in his little bucket! The peasant was delighted: “Now I’ll have a proper holiday! I’ll make some fish soup and dine to my heart’s content!” The pike spoke to him in a human voice:“Let me go free, good man. I’ll make you lucky. Whatever your heart desires you’ll have! Only say this:‘At the pike’s command and with God’s blessing, let such and such appear,’ and it will immediately appear!”The poor man threw the pike back into the well, went to his hut, sat down at the table, and said,“At the pike’s command and with God’s blessing, let my table be set and dinner ready!” Suddenly, out of nowhere every sort of food and all kinds of drinks appeared on the table. Even if you were entertaining the tsar, you wouldn’t be ashamed. The poor man crossed himself:“Glory to thee, oh Lord! Now there’s something to break the fast with.” He went to church, stood all through the matins and liturgy , came back home, and broke the Lenten fast. He ate and drank, went out the gate, and sat down on a bench. At that very time, the tsarevna decided to go walking through the streets, and she came along with her nannies and her nurses. And because it was Christ’s holy day, she gave out alms to the poor. She gave something to everyone, but she forgot about the peasant. So he said to himself,“At the pike’s command and with God’s blessing, let the tsarevna bear fruit and give birth to a son!”At that word, the tsarevna immediately 440 h At the Pike’s Command became pregnant, and nine month’s later she bore a son. The tsar began asking questions:“Admit it,” he said.“With whom have you sinned?” But the tsarevna wept and swore that she hadn’t sinned with anybody:“I myself don’t know why the Lord has punished me!” No matter how much the tsar questioned her, he found out nothing. Meanwhile, that little boy grew not by the day, but by the hour. In a week, he already began talking. The tsar summoned the boyars and his councilors from throughout the tsardom, showed them the little boy, and asked whether they could discern someone as the father. No, the little boy was silent; he’d name no one as his father. The tsar ordered the nannies and nurses to carry him through all the courtyards and all the streets, and show him to people of all ranks, both married and unmarried. So the nannies and nurses carried the child through all the yards and all the streets. They walked and walked, but he was still silent. Finally, they came to the hut of the poor peasant. As soon as the little boy saw the peasant , he stretched out his arms to him and shouted, “Papa! Papa!” They reported this to the sovereign and led the poor man to the palace. The tsar began questioning him:“Admit it in all good conscience. Is this child yours?”“No, I swear it.”The tsar grew angry, but married the poor man to the tsarevna, and after the wedding he ordered them put in a large barrel together with the child, had the barrel sealed with tar, and sent...


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