The Tsar and the Soldier
In a certain kingdom in a certain state, there once lived two brothers. The older brother was quite happy being an only child, and as sometimes happens, was jealous when a younger brother was born to him. This jealousy continued as he grew, despite the fact that his younger brother was kind to him in all ways. So it was that when a Recruiting Sergeant from the Tsar’s army came – the elder brother did not mind being drafted into the army.
The older brother worked hard in the army and made a good soldier. He followed orders, was a good leader and was promoted. In a few years, he became a general. The time came when more soldiers were needed, and the general’s younger brother was drafted into the army. He was even placed into the same regiment as his older brother. The soldier saw his older brother and tried to greet him with love, as a brother should.
The older brother refused to recognize his younger brother. Cruelly he said, “I do not know you. You are not to talk to me. You are not to tell anyone we are brothers.” After that, the general began to assign hard tasks every day to his brother. The younger brother was made to work harder than any other soldier. He even was given less to eat and drink. It was not fair. His brother, the general, was no longer good at his job.
One day the younger brother was standing guard duty near the general’s tent. His brother, the general, was throwing a giant party. Men came and went, each one filled with delicious food. The younger brother began to cry. “Why is it that I stand here with an empty stomach while my brother, the general, feeds so many and pretends I do not exist?”
The guests told this to the general. “He is a liar,” said the general. Then the general ordered his younger brother to be tied up and whipped for telling ‘lies’ about a general.
The younger brother could take no more. He threw away his uniform and dressed as a civilian. He deserted the army and left the camp without permission. If he was caught, he could be hanged for desertion. But, he did not care. He ran far away and hid in the woods. He could not go back to the camp. He could not go home. He was a man with no future. He wandered for days, eating berries and roots of plants and finding different places to sleep at night.
At the same time and in the same woods, the Tsar was out with nobles hunting deer. The hunters blew their loud horns. The sound of the horns scared a stag, a male deer. It leaped and ran to get away from the hunters. The Tsar was far out in front of the other hunters as he chased the stag. He ran through the trees and jumped over running water as it ran through creeks. Then the stag jumped into a river. The Tsar’s horse stopped suddenly and threw the Tsar into the water, then ran off. The sound of the horns began to grow faint, and the Tsar realized he was alone. He could see neither the stag, nor his fellow hunters. He was far from his palace, and he was alone. What should he do?
The Tsar wandered trying to find his way. He searched path after path but was lost. It began to grow dark, and the air grew colder. “Hello, good stranger,” said a voice. It was the voice of the runaway soldier. “Where are you going in these woods?”
“I was hunting,“ said the Tsar. “I have lost my way. Can you help me find my way out of these woods?”
“Who are you?” asked the runaway soldier.
“I am a servant of the Tsar,” said the Tsar. He did not want to admit who he was.
“It is getting late,” said the soldier. “Let us find a place to sleep. Then I will help you find your way out of the woods in the morning.” The two walked until they saw a light. “God has given us a fire to sleep by tonight,” said the soldier. The two men walked towards the light until they came to an old woman’s hut. “Hello, Babushka (Grandma),” he said to the old woman. “We need something to eat and permission to sleep by your fire.”
“You are welcome to the fire. But I have no food.”
The look in her eyes told the soldier she was not being truthful. And the smell in the air told the soldier where a meal was hidden. “If we are going to protect you, a meal will be our pay,” he said. Despite talking tough, the soldier believed on paying for what he ate. The two men chopped firewood to help the old woman before lying down to sleep.
The soldier noticed the old woman looking out the window. “Are you expecting someone, Babushka,” he asked. She said no but kept looking out the windows. It looks like the old woman is waiting for someone. We should take turns keeping watch in order to stay safe. You go first,” he told the Tsar. “I will sleep first then relieve you later.” He handed his sharp sword to the Tsar and lay down by the fire. But after only about an hour, he woke up and looked for the hunter.
The Tsar’s eyes were just beginning to close. “Wake up,” said the soldier. I would have been whipped if I had closed my eyes like that on watch.”
“I was merely blinking my eyes,” said the Tsar. He was not used to having to remain awake. But, he was not going to let this stranger know it.
The soldier went to sleep again. After only an hour, he woke once more. The Tsar’s were closing once more. “I would have been executed in the Tsar’s army for falling asleep on duty.” He told the Tsar how he had served in the army loyally and how he had finally run away after being treated so unfairly by his brother, the general. Then he told the Tsar to go to sleep. “I will keep watch the rest of the night,” he said and took back his sword.
It was not long before he heard voices. The old woman was whispering from the upstairs window to someone outside. “I don’t have food for you. Two men came and ate it all. They are sleeping by the fireplace right now.”
The soldier decided they must be robbers, and this must be their hideout. “Well, I am going inside and kill the men who ate our food said one of the voices.” The man came through the door and “whack”, the soldier killed the man. When the robber did not come out, one of his friends followed him through the door. “Whack” went the sword again. The soldier used his training to kill that man and two more robbers who followed him.
When the Tsar awoke, he saw four bodies on the floor. When he asked, he was told how the four robbers had entered the house with murder in their hearts and met their own deaths. He realized that the run-away soldier had saved his life.
The soldier called to the woman. “You have been hiding robbers, and you almost had us killed. Give us any gold you are holding for the robbers, and we will let you live.” The old woman gave him a bag of gold. The soldier offered to give half of the gold to his new friend.
“No, thank you,” said the man. “The Tsar has enough gold for those who serve him. The soldier was true to his word. He helped the Tsar find his way out of the woods and told him how to get back to the Tsar’s palace.
“Where will you go?” asked the Tsar.
“I cannot go back to the army,” said the soldier. “I cannot go home. I cannot stay here where more robbers will be looking for me now that I have gold. I do not know.”
“Come to the palace,” said the Tsar. I have friends who will protect you. I will tell the Tsar how you helped me. He will take pity on you and spare your life.”
So it was that the runaway soldier made his way to the Tsar’s palace. The guards at the gate bowed to him. They directed him to go to the palace. The guards at the palace door bowed to him and told him to go to the throne room. The soldier walked to the throne room not knowing what to expect. There on the throne sat his new friend, the Tsar.
“You helped me. You saved my life even though you did not know I was the Tsar. You are forgiven for running away from the army. In fact, I want to make you my personal guard. I will pay you well and will be grateful that I am protected by the sword of a friend. You shall have the rank of general and will be treated like a brother.”
The soldier’s real older brother was removed from his own position of general and reduced in rank. He was then told his younger brother who he has treated so badly was the one who had spared his life when the Tsar ordered him killed for abusing his power.