“Sadko” is a version of the tale translated by Arthur Ransome in Old Peter’s Russian tales (1916). Kate Blakey’s translation of a variant, “Sadko, the Rich Merchant Guest”, appeared in the Slavonic Review (1924).
Sadko of Novgorod played the gusli on the shores of a lake and river.[lower-alpha 1] The Tsar of the Sea[lower-alpha 2] enjoyed his music, and offered to help him. Sadko was instructed to make a bet with the local merchants about catching a gold-finned fish in the lake; when he caught it (as provided by the Sea Tsar), the merchants had to pay the wager, making Sadko a rich merchant.[lower-alpha 3]
Sadko traded on the seas with his new wealth, but did not pay proper respects to the Tsar as per their agreement. The Tsar stopped Sadko’s ships in the sea. He and his sailors tried to appease the Sea Tsar with gold, to no avail. Sadko realizes a sacrifice of a live soul was being demanded. All the shipmates drew lots, but Sadko draws the unlucky lot as if by fate or magic, so he is sent overboard and he sinks into the sea.
In the sea world, Sadko played the gusli for the Sea Tsar, whose dancing roughened the seas, so that all the sailors prayed to Mikola Mozhaisky (Mikula Mozhaysk, patron of mariners; or the name Saint Nicholas is called by in variants), and the saint instructed Sadko to quit playing, and break the strings if the Tsar will not let him stop. As the Tsar was bound to offer him a choice of maidens to wed in order to detain him, Mikola advised him to choose the last one, with the warning not to embrace her as a wife (consummate the marriage) if he hoped ever to return to Russia. The Tsar showed Sadko a selection of 900 (or 300) maidens, and Sadko picked out Chernava (diminutive: Chernavushka) who appeared last. The two then wed, but the groom made no overture to the bride on their wedding night, and Sadko the next day woke up in his hometown, reunited with his terrestrial wife.
The Chernava is explained as the nymph of the River Chernava. In Ransom’s version, the Sea Tsar’s youngest daughter is named Volkhov, which is the river Sadko has always cherished.