The Wise Little Girl

Two brothers were travelling together. One was poor and one was rich, and each one had a horse, the poor one a mare, the rich one a gelding. They stopped for the night, one beside the other. The poor man’s mare bore foal during the night, and the foal rolled under the rich man’s cart.

In the morning, the rich man roused his poor brother, saying “Get up brother. During the night my cart bore a foal.”

The poor brother rose, and said “How is it possible for a cart to give birth to a foal? It was my mare that bore the foal!”

The rich brother said: “If your mare were his mother, he would have been found lying beside her.”

To settle their quarrel they went to the authorities. The rich man gave the judges money, and the poor man presented his case in words.

Finally, word of the affair reached the Tsar himself. He summoned both brothers before him and proposed them four riddles: “What is the strongest and swiftest thing in the world? What is the fattest thing? What is the softest thing? And what is the loveliest thing?” He gave them three days time and said: “On the fourth day come back with your answers.”

The rich man thought and thought, then remembered his godmother, and went to ask her advice.

She bade him sit down to table, treated him to food and drink, and then asked: “Why are you so sad, my godson?” “The Sovereign has proposed for me four riddles, and given me only three days to solve them.” “What are the riddles? Tell me?” “Well Godmother, this is the first riddle: ‘What is the strongest and swiftest thing in the world?’” “That’s not difficult! My husband has a bay mare. Nothing in the world is swifter than she is; if you lash her with a whip she will overtake a hare.”
“The second riddle is: ‘what is the fattest thing in the world?” “We have been feeding a spotted boar for the last two years; he has become so fat that he can barely stand on two legs.”
“The third riddle is: ‘What is the softest thing in the world?’” “That’s well known – Eiderdown – you cannot think of anything softer”
“The fourth riddle is: What is the loveliest thing in the world?” “The loveliest thing in the world is my grandson Ivanushka.”
“Thankyou godmother, you have advised me well. I shall be grateful to you for the rest of my life.”

As for the poor brother, he shed bitter tears and went home. He was met by his 7 year old daughter, his only child, who said: “Why are you sighing and shedding tears, father?” “The Tsar has proposed four riddles to me, and I shall never be able to solve them.”
“Tell me, what are these riddles?” “Here they are, my little daughter: ‘What is the strongest and swiftest thing in the world? What is the fattest thing? What is the softest thing, and what is the loveliest thing?”

“Father, go to the Tsar and tell him that the strongest and fastest thing in the world is the wind; the fattest thing is the earth, for she feeds everything that grows and lives; the softest of all is the hand, for whatever a man may lie on, he puts his hand under his head; and there is nothing in the world lovelier than sleep.”

The two brothers, the poor one and the rich one, came to the Tsar. The Tsar heard their answers to the riddles, and asked the poor man: “Did you solve these riddles yourself, or did someone solve them for you?” The poor man said: “Your majesty, I have a seven year old daughter, and she gave me the answers.”
“If your daughter is so wise, here is a silken thread for her; let her weave an embroidered towel for me by tomorrow morning.”

The peasant took the silken thread and came home grieving. “We are in trouble,” he said to his daughter. “the Tsar has ordered you to weave a towel from this thread. It must be done tomorrow.” “Grieve not, Father” said the little girl. She broke off a little twig from a broom, gave it to her father, and told him: “Go to the Tsar and ask him to find a master who can make a loom from this twig; on it I shall weave his towel.”

The peasant did as his daughter told him. The Tsar listened to him and gave him a hundred and fifty eggs, saying: “Give these eggs to your daughter. Tell her to hatch a hundred and fifty chicks by tomorrow.”

The peasant returned home, even more sad and grieving than the first time. “Ah, my daughter,” he said, “you are barely out of trouble before another is upon you.” “Grieve not, father,” answered the seven-year-old girl. She baked the eggs for dinner and supper, and sent her father to the king. “Tell him,” she said to her father, “that one-day grain is needed to feed the chicks. In one day let a field be ploughed and the millet sown, harvested and threshed; our chicks refuse to peck any other grain.”

The Tsar listened to this and said: “Since your daughter is so wise, let her appear to me tomorrow morning – and I want her to come neither on foot nor on horse-back, neither naked nor dressed, neither with a present nor without a gift.”

“Now,” thought the peasant, “even my daughter cannot solve such a difficult riddle. We are lost.” “Grievenot” his seven year old daughter said to him. “Go to the hunters and buy me a live hare and a live quail.” The father bought her a hare and a quail.

Next morning the seven year old took off her clothes, draped a net over herself, sat upon the hare, and went to the palace. The Tsar met her at the gate. She bowed to him, saying: “Here is a little gift for you majesty”and handed him the live quail. The Tsar stretched out his hand, but the quail shook her wings and – flap flap! – was gone.

“Very well” says the Tsar, “You have done as I ordered you to do. Now tell me – since your father is so poor, what do you live on?” “My father catches fish from the sand, and I make fish soup in my skirt.” “Now that is foolish” the Tsar roared angrily, “fish never live in sand, only in the water!”

The seven-year-old held his gaze, and calmly said: “And you, your majesty, are you wise? Whoever saw a cart bearing foals? Not a cart but a mare bears foals!”

The Tsar awarded the foal to the poor peasant, and took the daughter into his own palace; and when she grew up he married her and she became Tsarina.

Russian anon

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