Russian Folk-Tales/A Tale of the Dead (3)

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They had discharged the soldier home, and he was going on his road, it may be far, it may be a short way, and he at last was nearing his village. Not far from his village there lived a miller in his mill: in past times the soldier had been great friends with him.

Why should he not go and see his friend? So he went.

And the miller met him, greeted him kindly, brought a glass of wine, and they began speaking of all they had lived through and seen. This was towards the evening, and whilst the soldier was the miller's guest it had become dark. So the soldier got ready to go into the village.

But the miller said to him, "Soldier, stay the night with me: it is late and you might come by some mishap."


"A terrible sorcerer has died, and at night he rises out of the grave, ranges about the village and terrifies the boldest: why, he might give you trouble."

What was the use of it? Why, the soldier was a State servant, and a soldier cannot be drowned in the sea, nor be burned in the fire! So he answered, "I will go, for I should like to see my relatives as soon as I can."

So he set out; and the road crossed a grave-yard. As he looked he saw a glow on one grave. "What is it?" he said; "I must look at this." So he went up, and beside a fire there sat the sorcerer, sewing shoes. "Hail, brother!" said the soldier.

So the wizard looked, and asked, "What are you doing here?"

"I only wanted to see what you are up to."

So the wizard threw down his work, and he invited the soldier to a wedding. "Let us go, brother, let us have a walk: there is a wedding now going on in the village."

"Very well," said the soldier.

So they went to the wedding, and were royally feasted and given to eat and drink.

The wizard drank and drank, walked about and walked about, and grew angry, drove all the guests and the family out of the izbá,[1] scattered all the wedding guests[2], took out two bladders and an awl, pricked the hands of the bride and bridegroom and drew their blood, filling the bladders with the blood. He did this and said to the soldier, "Now we will leave the house."

On the road the soldier asked him, "Tell me, why did you fill the bladders with the blood?"

"So that the bride and bridegroom might die. To-morrow nobody will be able to wake them up: I only know one means of reviving them."

"What is that?"

"You must pierce the heels of the bride and bridegroom and pour the blood again into the wounds, their own blood into each. In my right pocket I have the bridegroom's blood hidden, and in my left, the bride's."

So the soldier listened and never said a single word.

But the wizard went on boasting. "I, you know, carry out whatever I desire."

"Can you be overcome?"

"Yes, certainly: if any one were to make a pile of aspen wood, one hundred cartloads in all, and to burn me on the pile, it can be done; then I should be overcome. Only you must burn me in a cunning way. Out of my belly snakes, worms and all sorts of reptiles will creep; jackdaws, magpies and crows will fly: you must catch them and throw them on the pile. If a single worm escapes, it will be no good, for I shall creep out into that worm."

So the soldier listened and remembered. So they had a long talk, and at last they came to the grave.

"Now, my brother," said the wizard, "I am going to tear you to bits? otherwise you will tell the tale!"

"Now! Let's argue this out! How are you going to tear me to bits; I am a servant of God and the Tsar!"

So the wizard gnashed his teeth, howled, and threw himself on the soldier. But he drew out his sabre and dealt a backstroke. They tussled and struggled, and the soldier was almost exhausted. Ho, but this is a sorry ending! Then the cocks crowed and the wizard fell down breathless.

The soldier got the bladders out of the wizard's pockets, and went to his relations. He went in and he greeted them. And they asked him, "Have you ever seen such a fearful stir?"

"No, I never have!"

"Why, have you not heard? There is a curse on our village: a wizard haunts it."

So they lay down and went to sleep.

In the morning the soldier rose and began asking: "Is it true that there was a wedding celebrated here?"

So his kin answered him, "There was a wedding at the rich peasant's house, only the bride and bridegroom died that same night. No, we don't know at all of what they died."

"Where is the house?"

So they showed him, and he said never a word, and went there, got there, and found the whole family in tears.

"What are you wailing for?"

So they told him the reason.

"I can revive the bridal couple: what will you give me?"

"Oh, you may take half of our possessions."

So the soldier did as the wizard had bidden him, and he revived the bride and bridegroom, and grief was turned to joy and merriment.

They feasted the soldier and rewarded him.

So he then turned sharp to the left and marched up to the stárosta[3] and bade him assemble all the peasants and prepare one hundred cartloads of aspen boughs. Then they brought the boughs into the cemetery, put them into a pile and raised the wizard out of the grave, put him on the faggots and burned him. And then all the people stood around, some with brushes, shovels and pokers. The pile lit up gaily and the wizard began to burn. His belly burst, and out of it crept snakes, worms and vermin of all sorts, and there flew jackdaws and magpies. But the peasants beat them all into the fire as they came out, and did not let a single worm escape. So the wizard was burned, and the soldier collected his dust and scattered it to the four winds. Henceforth there was peace in the village.

And the peasants thanked the soldier.

He stayed in his country, stayed there until he was satisfied, and then with his money returned to the imperial service: he served his term, went on the retired list, and then lived out his life, living happily, loving the good things and shunning the ill.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

  1. Hut.
  2. Russian: усыпил повенчанных (put the newlyweds to sleep). (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. The Mayor.