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Picture by Rousseau

The Tzarevnas of the Underground Kingdom

Page 8

Ivan tumbled down through the shaft and lay stunned in the darkness of the bottom of the shaft. He was unable to move for two days. When he had recovered enough to be able to go on, he was in despair - how would he find a way out?

Hot tears rolled down his cheeks as he stumbled along, wondering which tunnel to take.

He took a different one this time, hoping that it was the right one. This tunnel was very gradual and twisting and he half walked, half slid over piles of rocks. The roof of the tunnel was low in places and he had to crawl on his hands and knees for some time.

After a while the tunnel seemed to grow wider and soon he was standing in a gigantic cave, which seemed to be part of a different world altogether. Although it was dark, he could see fairly well. As the sky was full of low lying cloud, he could not tell whether there were any stars, or even a moon in that kingdom.

He was standing in a forest clearing on the edge of a swamp. It was damp the wind blew cold so he so that he was forced to keep on moving to stay warm. Mushrooms of all sorts and shapes covered the ground.

Just after dawn he came across a tiny old man with a long white beard sitting on a strangely shaped tree root. He told him everything that had befallen him. The little old man pointed a gnarled finger towards an oak grove:

'Do you see that round tower behind those trees?'

Ivan looked in direction the old man was pointing and above the trees he could see the top of a high, narrow tower in the distance.

'Yes,' said Ivan.

'Well, in that tower lives the tall sorcerer; his head almost touches the roof. He will tell you how to get back to Russia.'

After thanking the little old man Ivan hurried towards the tower of the tall sorcerer. As he approached it he saw what he thought looked like fluffy, white wisps of smoke drifting out of the tiny window at the top of the tower.

As he opened the door of the tower, a cloud of silver gossamer particles floated out into his face. He felt as if he had walked into a thousand miniature spider's webs. He wiped the tiny silken threads from his face as best as he could and tried hard to stop sneezing before he went in.

Luckily the door opened outwards, for although the tower was tall, it was extremely narrow and Ivan had to press himself flat against the wall once inside, as there was barely enough room for one person to stand up. It was fortunate that the tall sorcerer was as thin as he was tall.

The tall sorcerer stood there combing his long silver beard with an ivory comb. His wispy silver hair was as long as his beard and on top his head he had a shiny bald patch where it touched the ceiling. The brown sack-like robes he wore were almost entirely covered with a thick coating of fine silver hairs.

He stopped combing his beard when he saw Ivan and began to clean his comb, blowing several small clouds of hair out through the window. More hair clouds drifted about the room, getting everywhere.

Little clouds of them floated all araound the sorcerer's head , so that Ivan could not see all of his face at the same time.

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