firebird 2The Firebird part 2
The strange guards capture Prince Ivan, and take him to the throne room of King Kastchei. Before Kastchei can use his magic against the Prince, Ivan produces the magical feather. The Firebird appears, bewitching the King and the guards into a frenetic dance.
Meanwhile, Ivan steals off to find the source of Kastchei’s power—the magic egg. Ivan smashes the egg, and the evil King crumples to the ground, dead. The strange guards turn back into beasts, and Prince Ivan marries Princess Vasilisa.
Initially, I was asked to illustrate only one of the guards—but the guards act as a group, and drawing only one seemed to give one equal standing with the other main characters.
In some versions of the story, the guards are mythical beasts, and in others, human guards. I eventually combined the two ideas. I originally started with a gryffin, a sea serpent, and a manticore—to cover air, sea, and land. When I hit upon the idea of them as beast-men (and bumbling idiots at that) I downgraded the creatures they were based on to a crow, a fish, and a cat, thus making them strange, but not very threatening.
Also, the midnight garden is alluded to in the design on Kastchei’s robe, and the egg motif is hidden throughout the illustrations.