We have all heard of Baba Yaga at some point — in art, literature, even gaming. But Russian lore talks about a lot of interesting witches and sorcerers, about going on life-changing quests and completing impossible tasks. However today we will be looking at one in particular — a certain immortal sorcerer who murdered a prince over and over again until he was defeated. I am, of course, talking about Ivan and Koschei the Deathless.
Their story begins with Ivan’s parent’s death. Ivan’s sisters marry wizards disguised as birds and, after discovering how lonely it is being, well, alone, Ivan sets out to find them. He meets Marya — a warrior woman — along the way whom he marries. However, Marya sets off to war, warning Ivan to not open a specific door. Which, no surprise, he does. Ivan discovers an old, withering man, draped in a dozen chains, begging for water. Ivan brings him barrels of it, which the man uses to revive himself, shedding his disguise, breaking his chains, and revealing himself to be none other than Koschei the deathless. Koschei swears he will kidnap Marya for revenge and disappears, leaving Ivan alone in the now empty room.
This is where the crazy adventure begins. Ivan finds them, saves Marya, only to be caught by Koschei’s faster horses and then murdered. Each time he is killed, however, one of this sisters’ husbands save him until eventually they tell him of a faster horse he can find if he only visits Baba Yaga. So, Ivan sets off to Baba Yaga’s house, survives and passes her three tests, and obtains his incredibly fast horse. He then sets out to save Marya and, eventually, kill Koschei the Deathless once and for all.
Their story is one of adventure, death, and impossible tasks. Koschei the deathless could not defeat Ivan in the end, despite being all-powerful and immortal. And though he was defeated in the end, he will live on in stories as the evil sorcerer, waiting to send the young hero on his quest of self discovery.
For more reading on Ivan and Koschei the Deathless (sources):