“Ah me!” says the old King, “I am old, and you young men have brought my daughters back from the very world under the world. Safer they will be if they have you to guard them, even than they were in the palace I had built for them underground. But I have only one kingdom and three daughters.”
“Do not trouble about that,” laughed the three princesses, and they all rode out together into the open country, and there the princesses broke their eggs, one after the other, and there were the palaces of silver, copper, and gold, with the kingdoms belonging to them, and the cattle and the sheep and the goats. There was a kingdom for each of the brothers. Then they made a great feast, and had three weddings all together, and the old King sat with the mother of the three strong men, and men of power, the noble bogatirs, Evening, Midnight, and Sunrise, sitting at his side. Great was the feasting, loud were the songs, and the King made Sunrise his heir, so that some day he would wear his crown. But little did Sunrise think of that. He thought of nothing but the youngest Princess. And little she thought of it, for she had no eyes but for Sunrise. And merrily they lived together in the copper palace. And happily they rode together on the horse that was as white as clouds in summer.
One evening, when they were sitting round the table after their supper, old Peter asked the children what story they would like to hear. Vanya asked whether there were any stories left which they had not already heard.
“Why,” said old Peter, “you have heard scarcely any of the stories, for there is a story to be told about everything in the world.”
“About everything, grandfather?” asked Vanya.
“About everything,” said old Peter.
“About the sky, and the thunder, and the dogs, and the flies, and the birds, and the trees, and the milk?”
“There is a story about everyone of those things.”
“I know something there isn’t a story about,” said Vanya.
“And what’s that?” asked old Peter, smiling in his beard.
“Salt,” said Vanya. “There can’t be a story about salt.” He put the tip of his finger into the little box of salt on the table, and then he touched his tongue with his finger to taste.
“But of course there is a story about salt,” said old Peter.
“Tell it us,” said Maroosia; and presently, when his pipe had been lit twice and gone out, old Peter began.
* * * * *
Once upon a time there were three brothers, and their father was a great merchant who sent his ships far over the sea, and traded here and there in countries the names of which I, being an old man, can never rightly call to mind. Well, the names of the two elder brothers do not matter, but the youngest was called Ivan the Ninny, because he was always playing and never working; and if there was a silly thing