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Family Folktales: The Whirlwind

Hello, and welcome to Family Folktales from the Nashville Public Library. I’m Susan Poulter, a Librarian at the Main Library.    Today’s story is The Whirlwind, an old Russian tale.  A longer version can be found in Old Peter’s Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome.


Long ago there lived a King who had three lovely daughters.  He loved them so well that he built a palace for them underground, so that they would always be safe.  It was a wonderful palace, with lamps burning, and beautiful stones shining in the light of the lamps.  The three lovely princesses grew up in that palace underground, and had never seen the wonderful world that lies open under the sun.  Indeed, they did not know that there was a world above the shining roof of their palace.

At last a book was given them to read that told of the world: how the sun shines in the sky; how trees grow green; how the grass waves in the wind; how the rivers flow through the meadows, until they come to the blues sea.  They read in that book of the great forests, of the ships upon the rivers, and of the long roads with people moving on them, about the world.

When the King came to see them, they asked him, “Father, is it true that there is a garden in the world?”

“Yes,” said the King.

“And green grass?”

“Yes,” said the King.

“And little shining flowers?”

“Why, yes,” said the King.

Then the three lovely princesses all begged him at once: “Oh, Father, our own little Father, let us out to see this world.  Let us out just so that we may see this garden, and walk on the green grass, and see the shining flowers.”

The King turned his head away, and tried not to listen to them.  But what could he do?  They were the loveliest princesses in the world, and when they begged him just to let them walk in the garden, he could see the tears in his eyes.  After all, he thought, there were high walls to the garden.

So he called up his army, and set soldiers all around the garden, a hundred soldiers to each gate, so that no one could come in.  Then he let the princesses come up from their underground palace, and step into the garden, with ten nurses and maids to each princess, to see that no harm came to her.

The princesses stepped out into the garden, under the blue sky.  At first they were afraid, but soon they were taking hands and running this way and that over the green grass.  They picked the shining flowers, and made crowns to wear, in place of their golden ones.

The King sat and watched them, and was glad to see how happy they were.  After all, he thought, with the high walls and the soldiers at the gates, nothing could get in to hurt them.

But all at once, a strong whirlwind came down out of the blue sky, tearing up trees, and lifting the roofs from the houses.  It did not touch the palace roof, ant it took no trees from the garden.  It raged this way and that, and then with its swift whirling arms, it caught up the three lovely princesses, and carried them up into the air, over the high walls and over the heads of the soldiers.

The King saw them, his daughters, the three lovely princesses, spinning round and round, as if they were dancing in the sky.  Then they were no more than little whirling specks, and then they were out of sight.  The King and all the maids and nurses were alone in the garden.  The noise of the wind had gone.  The only sound in the King’s ears was the weeping of the maids and nurses.

The King sent his soldiers over the country to bring back the princesses, if the whirlwind should tire and set them again upon the ground.  The soldiers went to the very end of the kingdom, but they came back as they went.  Not one of them had seen the three lovely princesses.

Then the King called together all his servants, and promised a great sum of money to any one who should bring back news of the three princesses.  It was the same with the servants as with the soldiers.  Far and wide thy rode out; and one by one they came back, with bent heads and tired horses.  Not one of them had seen the King’s daughters.

Then the king called together his wise men.  They all sat around and listened while the King told them the story.  He said to them, “The wind has not set them down within the kingdom.  No one knows where they may be.  I will give one of my daughters to any one who will bring my daughters back, and I will make him the richest man in the kingdom.”

But the wise men sat and shook their heads.  They were all afraid, and not one of them was willing to follow the whirlwind and rescue the three princesses.

The King wept.  “I see,” he said, “I have no friends in the palace.  My soldiers can not, my servants can not, and my wise men will not, bring back my three sweet maids.”

With that he sent heralds through the kingdom, to ask if there was any poor man who would rescue the three lovely princesses.

Now a poor woman lived in one of the villages of the kingdom, and she had three strong sons.  They were called Evening, Midnight, and Sunrise.  Evening had brown eyes and hair; Midnight was dark, with eyes and hair as black as coal; while Sunrise had hair golden as the sun, and eyes blue as the sky.

As soon as they heard the word of the King, the three brothers kissed their mother, and set off for the palace – Evening on his horse of brown, Midnight on his black horse, and Sunrise on his horse that was as white as clouds in summer.

As they rode along everybody stopped to look at them, but the three brothers looked neither to the right nor to the left, but rode straight to the palace of the King.

They bowed before the King, and said to him, “May you live many years, O King.  We have come at your call.  Let us, O King, ride out to rescue the three princesses.”

“What are your names?” asked the King.

“We are three brothers – Evening, Midnight, and Sunrise.”

“What do you wish to take with you on the road?”

“For ourselves, O King, we want nothing.  Only take care of our mother, for she is old.”

The King sent for the old woman, their mother, and gave her a home at the palace, and made her eat at his table.  He gave her new shoes and new clothes like the dresses of a princess.  No old woman in the kingdom was better looked after than the mother of Evening, Midnight, and Sunrise, while they were away to rescue the three princesses.

The three brothers rode out of the kingdom.  A month they rode together, two months, and in the third month they came to a great plain, where there were no towns, no villages, no farms, and no people to be seen.  They rode over the sand until they came to a dark forest.  There in the forest they saw a hut, with a yard full of cattle and sheep.  They called, but no answer came except the lowing of the cattle and the strong wind in the tree tops.

The three brothers rode through the yard and came to the hut, and knocked on the window.  There was no answer.  They opened the door, and found no one at all.  The hut seemed not to be in use.

“Well, brothers,” said evening, “since no one lives here, let us stay for a while.  We will rest, and then ride farther.”

They tied up their horses, fed them, drew water from the well, and gave them to drink.  Then, tired out, they went into the hut, and lay down to sleep.

In the morning the youngest brother, Sunrise, said to Evening, “Midnight and I are going hunting today, and you may rest here, and see what sort of a dinner you can give us when we come back.”

“Very well,” said Evening, “but tomorrow I shall go hunting, and one of you shall stay here and cook the dinner.”

Evening watched them out of sight.  Then he went into the yard, picked out the finest sheep he could see, caught it, killed it, skinned it, and put it in a pot on the stove, so as to be ready and hot when his brothers should come back from the forest.

All at once he heard a great knocking and bumping, and in walked a little old man a yard high, with a beard seven yards long, flowing out behind him.  Evening began to laugh at the sight of him.

“What are you laughing at?” cried the little old man.  “How dare you come here and laugh at me?”

Evening laughed all the more, and said, “Grow a little bigger, and it won’t be so hard to see you down there.  Till then it will be better for you to take care what you say.”

The little man was more angry than ever.  “What!” he cried.  “I am little, am I?  Well, see what Little does.”

He jumped on Evening’s shoulders, and struck him such a blow that he knocked him to the floor.  Then he took the sheep out of the pot, gobbled it up, and went off again to the forest.

When Sunrise and Midnight came home, they found Evening with his head tied up.

“What are you tied up like that for?” they exclaimed.  “And where is our dinner?”

Evening was ashamed to tell them that he had been knocked down by a little man only about a yard high.  He said, “O my brothers, I made a fire in the stove, and fell ill from the great heat in this little hut.”

The next day Sunrise went hunting with Evening, and Midnight stayed at home.  It was his turn to get the dinner.

He lit the fire.  Then he went into the yard, caught the fattest of the sheep, killed it, skinned it, and set it on the stove.  Soon he heard a great knocking and bumping, and in came the little old man.  He jumped on Midnight’s shoulders, and knocked him over.  Then he gobbled up the sheep, and went off to the forest.

In the evening the brothers rode back, and found Midnight with his head tied up.  Evening looked at him and said nothing.  He thought of his own meeting with the little man the day before.

“What is the matter with you?” asked Sunrise.

“There was never such a stove as this,” said Midnight.  When I lit it, I thought the hut was on fire.  I fell sick from the heat.”

Evening laughed to himself, but Sunrise said, “That is bad, brother.  You shall go hunting tomorrow, and I will stay at home, and see what I can do with the stove."

On the third day Midnight and Evening went hunting, and Sunrise stayed in the hut.  When he had lit the stove, he went out into the yard, caught the best sheep he could find, killed it, skinned it, cut it up, and put it on the stove.

Before long he heard a knocking and a stamping and a bumping.  There in the yard was the little old man, one yard high, with a beard seven yards long.  He was carrying a haystack on his head, and a great tub of water in his arms.  He set down his tub to water the beasts, and then he threw the hay around.  All the cattle and the sheep came together to eat and drink, and the little man stood and counted them.  He counted the oxen, he counted the goats, and he counted the sheep.

When he found that one sheep was gone, he ran into the hut, and jumped on the shoulders of Sunrise.  But Sunrise caught him by his long beard and pulled him down, and tugged him this way and that.  The little man began to cry out.  Sunrise laughed, and pulled him out into the yard, and tied his beard to a great oak tree that lay on the ground.

When Evening and Midnight came home, they were surprised to find their brother looking so well.  He laughed at them, and said, “I think I know now what made this hut so hot.  Come out into the yard and I will show you.”

He took them to the oak tree.  But the little man was not there.  He had torn himself free, and run away into the forest.  But half his beard was left, tied to the tree.

“Tell me, brothers,” said Sunrise, “was it the heat of the stove or was it this long beard that made the hut so hot?”

The brothers laughed, and told him everything.

The brothers could see bits of the torn beard upon the bushes, where the little man had fled through the forest.  They jumped on their horses, and followed his tracks.  For three days they rode through the forest, till they came to a deep pit, a black hole in the earth, going far down into the underworld.  Here the tracks stopped.

Sunrise made a strong rope of grasses, and brought it to the mouth of the pit, and asked his brothers to let him down.  They made a loop in the rope, and Sunrise sat in it.  Down and down he went into the dark, till he came into a world under the world, with a strange light, that was neither sun nor moon nor stars.  He set out walking through the underworld, going where his eyes led them.

He walked and walked, and came at last to a palace of copper, that looked green and red in the strange light.  He went into the palace, and there came to meet him a beautiful maiden.  She was the youngest daughter of the King, and the loveliest of the three princesses.

“Why have you come here, my brave young man?” she asked.

“Your father has sent me to rescue you and your sisters.”

How did you find your way here?” asked the princess.

Sunrise told her of the little old man whose tracks had led to the pit.

“Oh,” said the Princess, “you are indeed strong if you have overcome him.  He is the herdsman of the whirlwind, and his strength is vast.  But stronger still you must be for what lies before you.”

Then the Princess asked him to sit at a table, and gave him food and some water to drink.

Sunrise looked at the lovely Princess, and ate the food she gave him, and felt himself growing stronger every minute.

Soon a great wind rushed through the copper palace, and the Princess trembled.

“The whirlwind that holds me here is coming,” she said.  “He is flying here on his strong wings.”

She took the hand of Sunrise, and drew him into another room, and hid him there.

The copper palace rocked in the wind, and there flew into the hall a great snake, with three heads.  The snake spoke in a whistling voice, like the wind in winter.

“I smell the smell of a man,” he said.  “What friend have you here?”

“How could any man come here?” said the Princess.  “You have been flying over the country, and the smell of the men you have seen is still with you.”

“It is true,” said the snake. “I have been flying far and wide.  Let me eat and drink, for I am both hungry and thirsty.”

The Princess brought meat and drink to him.  The snake ate and drank, and then he began to feel sleepy.  He coiled himself in rings, and dropped into a deep sleep.

The Princess called Sunrise.  The young man rushed in, swung his shining sword three times round his golden head, and cut off all three heads of the snake.

“Fare you well,” he said to the Princess.  “I go to seek your sisters.  As soon as I have found them, I will come back.”

He walked on through the underworld, and came at last to a palace of silver, shining in the strange light.  He went in there, and was met by the second of the three sisters.  In that palace he killed a snake with six heads.  The Princess begged him to stay, but he told her he must find her oldest sister.

He walked and walked, and came at last to a palace of gold, shining in the light of the underworld.  There he killed a snake with twelve heads, and set the Princess free.

The Princess set about packing to go home.  And this was the way of her packing.  She went out into the yard, and waved a red handkerchief.  At once the palace, golden and shining, and the kingdom as well, became little, little, little, till it went into a little golden egg.  The Princess tied the egg in a corner of her handkerchief, and set out with Sunrise, to find her sisters.

The sisters did their packing in the same way.  The silver palace and its kingdom were packed into a little silver egg.  When they came to the copper palace, the youngest of the three lovely princesses, clapped her hands and kissed her sisters, and waved a red handkerchief.  At once the copper palace and its kingdom were packed into a little copper egg.

So Sunrise and the three daughters of the King came to the foot of the deep hole.  And there was the rope with the loop at the end.  They sat in the loop, and Evening and Midnight pulled them up, one by one, into the sunlight.

The three brothers took each of them, a princess with him on his horse, and they all rode together back to the old King.  The Princess from the golden palace rode with Evening on his horse of brown.  The Princess from the silver palace rode with Midnight on his horse as black as coal.  But the Princess from the copper palace, the loveliest of them all, rode with Sunrise on his horse, white as a summer cloud.

At last they came to the palace of the King.  There was the old King, sitting alone.  When he saw them, he was so glad that he laughed and cried at the same time, and the tears ran down his beard.

“Ah, me!” said the King.  “I am old, and you young men have brought back my daughters from the very world under the world.  They will be safer with you than with me, and so you may have them for your wives.  But I have only one kingdom and three daughters, and so I cannot give each one of you a kingdom.”

“Do not think of that,” said the three princesses.  They all rode out together into the open country, and there they broke the three eggs, one after another.  And there were the three palaces of silver and copper and gold, each with wide meadows and cattle and sheep and goats.  There was a kingdom for each of the three brothers.

They made a great feast, and had three weddings, all together.  The old King sat with the mother of the three strong men, sitting at his side.  And the King made Sunrise his heir, so that someday he would wear the crown.


That was The Whirlwind, an old Russian story.  Special thanks to Ginger Sands for our theme music; you can find more of Ginger’s music at iTunes or on her website at And if you’d like to comment on today’s story, send me an email.  I can be reached at Thanks for listening.