Down the Volkhov the ship sailed, across Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland, and into the Baltic Sea. As it sped above the deep water, Sadko peered over the rail.
“In all the wide sea,” he murmured, “how can I ever find the palace?”
Just then, the ship shuddered to a halt. The wind filled the sails, yet the ship stood still, as if a giant hand had grasped it.
Some of the sailors cursed in fear, while others prayed for their lives. “It must be the King of the Sea!” the captain cried. “Perhaps he seeks tribute—or someone among us.”
“Do not be troubled,” called Sadko. “I know the one he seeks.” And clutching his gusli, he climbed the railing.
“Stop him!” shouted the captain.
But before any could lay hold of him, Sadko jumped from the ship and plunged below the waves.
Down sank Sadko, down all the way to the sea floor. The red sun shone dimly through the water above, while before him stood a white stone palace.
Sadko passed through a coral gate. As he reached the huge palace doors, they swung open to reveal a giant hall. The elegant room was filled with guests and royal attendants—herring and sprats, cod and flounder, gobies and sticklebacks, sand eels and sea scorpions, crabs and lobsters, starfish and squid, sea turtles and giant sturgeon.
Standing among the guests were dozens of maidens—river nymphs, the Sea King’s daughters. On a shell throne at the end of the hall sat the Sea King and his Queen.
“You’re just in time!” called the King. “Musician, come sit by me—and let the dance begin!”
Sadko set his gusli on his lap and plucked a merry tune. Soon all the fish swam in graceful figures. The seafloor crawlers cavorted. The river maidens leaped and spun.
“I like that tune!” declared the King. He jumped to the center of the hall and joined the dance. His arms waved, his robe swirled, his hair streamed, his feet stamped.
“Faster!” cried the King. “Play faster!”