One lonely evening, Sadko walked sadly beyond the city walls and down along the broad River Volkhov. He came to his favorite spot on the bank and set his gusli on his lap. Gentle waves brushed the shore, and moonlight shimmered on the water.
“My lovely River Volkhov,” he said with a sigh. “Rich man, poor man—it’s all the same to you. If only you were a woman! I’d marry you and live with you here in the city I love.”
Sadko plucked a sad tune, then a peaceful one, then a merry one. The tinkling notes of his gusli floated over the Volkhov.
All at once the river grew rough, and strong waves began to slap the bank. “Heaven help me!” cried Sadko as a large shape rose from the water. Before him stood a huge man, with a pearl-encrusted crown atop a flowing mane of seaweed.
“Musician,” said the man, “behold the King of the Sea. To this river I have come to visit one of my daughters, the Princess Volkhova. Your sweet music reached us on the river bottom, where it pleased us greatly.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” stammered Sadko.
“Soon I will return to my own palace,” said the King. “I wish you to play there at a feast.”
“Gladly,” said Sadko. “But where is it? And how do I get there?”
“Why, under the sea, of course! I’m sure you’ll find your way. But meanwhile, you need not wait for your reward.”
Something large jumped from the river and flopped at Sadko’s feet. A fish with golden scales! As Sadko watched in amazement, it stiffened and turned to solid gold.
“Your Majesty, you are too generous!”
“Say no more about it!” said the King. “Music is worth far more than gold. If the world were fair, you’d have your fill of riches!” And with a splash, he sank in the river and was gone.
The next morning, Sadko arrived at the market square just as the stalls were opening. He quickly sold the golden fish to an astonished merchant. Then hurrying to the piers, he booked his passage on a ship leaving Novgorod that very day.