Russian Folk-Tales/Alyósha Popóvich

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In the sky the young bright moon was being born, and on the earth, of the old prebendary, the old pope Leon, a son was born, a mighty knight, and he was called by name Alyósha Popóvich, a fair name for him.

When they began to feed Alyósha, what was a week's food for any other babe was a day's food for him, what was a year's food for others was a week's food for him.

Alyósha began going about the streets and playing with the young boys. If he touched the little hand of anyone, that hand was gone: if he touched the little nose of anyone, that nose was done for: his play was insatiate and terrible. Anyone he grappled with by the waist, he slew.

And Alyósha began to grow up, so he asked his mother and father for their blessing, for he wished to go and to fare into the open field.

His father said to him, "Alyósha Popóvich, you are faring into the open field, but we have yet one who is even mightier than you: do you take into your service Marýshko, the son of Parán."

So the two youths mounted their good horses and they fared forth into the open field. The dust rose behind them like a column, such doughty youths were they to behold.

So the two doughty youths went on to the court of Prince Vladímir. And Alyósha Popóvich went straight to the white stone palace, to Prince Vladímir, crossed himself as is befitting, bowed down in learned-wise in all four directions, and especially low to Prince Vladímir. Prince Vladímir came to meet the doughty youths and set them down at an oaken table, gave the doughty youths good food and drink, and then asked their news. And the doughty youths sat down to eat baked ginger-bread and to drink strong wines.

Then Prince Vladímir asked the doughty youths, "Who are ye, doughty youths? Are ye mighty knights of prowess or wandering wayfarers bearing your burdens? I do not know either your name or your companion's name."

So Alyósha Popóvich answered, "I am the son of the old prebendary León, his young son Alyósha Popóvich, and my comrade and servant is Marýshko, the son of Parán."

And when Alyósha had eaten and drunk he went and sat on the brick stove to rest from the midday heat, whilst Marýshko sat at the table.

Just at that time the knight, the Snake's son, was making a raid and was ravaging all the kingdom of Prince Vladímir. Túgarin Zmyéyevich[2] came to the white stone palace, came to Prince Vladímir. With his left leg he stepped on the threshold and with his right leg on the oaken table. He drank and ate and had conversation with the princess, and he mocked Prince Vladímir and reviled him. He put one round of bread to his cheek and piled one on another; on his tongue he put an entire swan, and he thrust off all the pastry and swallowed it all at a gulp.

Alyósha Popóvich was lying on the brick stove, and spake in this wise to Túgarin Zmyéyevich: "My old father, León the pope, had a little cow which was a great glutton: it used to eat up all the beer vats with all the lees; and then the little cow, the glutton, came to the lake, and it drank and lapped all the water out of the lake, took it all up and it burst, and so it would also have torn Túgarin to bits after his feed."

Then Túgarin was wroth with Alyósha Popóvich and burst on him with his steel knife. Alyósha turned aside and stood behind an oaken column. Then Alyósha spoke in this wise: "I thank you, Túgarin Zmyéyevich; you have given me a steel knife: I will break your white breast, I will put out your clear eyes, and I will behold your mettlesome heart."

Just at that time Marýshko Paránov leapt out from behind the table, the oaken table, on to his swift feet, seized Túgarin, and fell on his back and threw him over; lifted up one of the chairs and hurled in the white stone palace, and the glass windows were shattered.

Then Alyósha Popóvich said from the brick stove, "O Marýshko, son of Parán, thou hast been a faithful servant!"

And Marýshko the son of Parán answered, "Do you give me, Alyósha Popóvich, your steel knife, and I will break open the white breast of Túgarin Zmyéyevich, I will close his clear eyes, and I will gaze on his mettlesome heart."

But Alyósha answered, "Hail, Marýshko Paránov, do you not sully the white stone palace; let him go into the open field wherever he may, and we will meet him to-morrow in the open field."

So, in the morning early, very early, Marýshko the son of Parán arose, together with the little sun, and he led out the stout horses to water them in the swift stream. Túgarin Zmyéyevich flew into the open and challenged Alyósha Popóvich to fight him in the open field. And Marýshko Paránov came to Alyósha Popóvich and said: "God must be your judge, Alyósha Popóvich: you would not give me your steel knife; I should have carved out the white breast from that pagan thief, I should have gouged out his bright eyes, and I should have taken out his mettlesome heart and gazed on it. Now, what will you make of Túgarin? He is flying about in the open."

Then Alyósha Popóvich spake in this wise: "That was no service, but treachery."

So Alyósha led out his horse, saddled it with a Circassian saddle, fastened it on with twelve silken girths, not for the sake of decoration, but for the sake of strength. And Alyósha set out into the open field. Alyósha set out into the open field, and he saw Túgarin Zmyéyevich, who was flying in the open.

Then Alyósha made a prayer: "Holy Mother of God, do thou punish the black traitor, and grant out of the black cloud a thick gritty rain that shall damp Túgarin's light wings, and he may fall on the grey earth and stand on the open field!"

It was like two mountains falling on each other when Túgarin and Alyósha met. They fought with their clubs, and their clubs were shattered at the hilts. Their lances met, and their lances broke into shreds. Then Alyósha Popóvich got down from his saddle like a sheaf of oats, and Túgarin Zmyéyevich was almost striking Alyósha down. But Alyósha Popóvich was cautious. He stood between his horse's feet and, turning round to the other side from there, smote Túgarin with his steel knife under his right breast, and threw Túgarin from his good horse. And then Alyósha Popóvich cried out, "Túgarin, I thank you, Túgarin Zmyéyevich, for the steel knife: I will tear out your white breast, I will gouge out your bright eyes, and I will gaze on your mettlesome heart."

Then Alyósha cut off his turbulent head, and he took the turbulent head to Prince Vladímir. And as he went on he began playing with that little head, flinging it high up in the air and catching it again on his sharp lance.

But Vladímir was dismayed. "I see Túgarin bringing me the turbulent head of Alyósha Popóvich: he will now take captive all of our Christian kingdom."

But Marýshko Paránov gave him answer: "Do not be distressed, oh bright little sun, Vladímir, in thy capital of Kíev. If Túgarin is coming on earth and is not flying in the skies he is putting his turbulent head on my steel lance. Do not be afraid, Prince Vladímir; whatever comes I will make friends with him."

Then Marýshko the son of Parán looked out into the open field, and he recognised Alyósha Popóvich, and he said, "I can see the knightly gait and youthful step of Alyósha Popóvich. He is guiding his horse uphill and he is playing with a little head: he is throwing the little head sky-high, and is catching the little head on the point of his sharp lance. He who is riding is not the pagan Túgarin, but Alyósha Popóvich, the son of the old prebendary, the pope León, who is bringing the head of the pagan Túgarin Zmyéyevich."

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. This is a prose version of a bylina: Alyósha Popóvich is one of the Kíev cycle.
  2. The strong man, the Serpent's son.