The story of the merchant-musician Sadko retold in my picture book The Sea King’s Daughter is actually several legends loosely strung together, and in creating a unified retelling, I had to leave some out. In one legend, for example, the merchant Sadko—now older and fabulously wealthy—bets he is rich enough to buy up all the goods in the city and leave none for sale. But he finds that what he buys each day has been replaced the next morning by imports and by local goods newly made. At last he concludes, “Sadko is great, but greater still is Novgorod.”
Here is another legend, as it appeared in an earlier version of my retelling, published in Cricket, January 1995. In this, as in the original story, Sadko becomes a merchant before he visits the Sea King’s palace. The piece begins during Sadko’s first meeting with the Sea King at the River Volkhov.
“Musician,” he said, “behold the King of the Sea. To this river I have come to visit my daughter, the Princess Volkhova. Your sweet music has reached my ear, and I wish you to play at a feast.”
“Gladly, Your Majesty,” stammered Sadko. “But when is it? And where?”
“In one year’s time,” said the King, “in my palace under the sea. But you need not wait so long for your reward. Make a wager with your city’s merchants. Tell them that the Volkhov has a fish with golden scales. Then throw a net and pull up what you will.”
The next morning, Sadko rushed to the market square. “A fish with golden scales!” he called. “The Volkhov has a fish with golden scales!”
A crowd soon gathered around him, laughing and jeering. “You must be crazy!” shouted a merchant.
“Then wager against me,” said Sadko. “If I can’t prove it, I’ll forever be a slave to the winners.”
“I’ll bet a ship,” said the merchant.
“I’ll bet the goods to fill it,” declared a second.
“I’ll bet the gold to pay a crew,” said a third.
Sadko led the crowd to the pier and told them, “Throw a net.”
They cast one in the river. And when they pulled it up, it held one fish—a fish with golden scales.
And so Sadko became a merchant. He sailed his ship down the Volkhov, across Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland, and into the Baltic Sea. There he visited many ports. He bought and he sold, and at night he played sweet music for his crew.