Russian Folk-Tales/The Legless Knight and the Blind Knight

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THE LEGLESS KNIGHT AND THE BLIND KNIGHT


In a certain kingdom in a certain land a Tsar and his Tsarítsa lived. They had a son called Iván Tsarévich, and the son had an attendant who was called Katomá Dyádka[1] of the oaken cap. When the Tsar and the Tsarítsa had reached a great age both of them became ill, and they felt that they would never become hale again. So they called Iván Tsarévich, and said to him: "If we die, always follow Katomá's advice, and do well by him, then you will live happily; but if you do not, you will falter and fail like a fly."

Next day the Tsar and the Tsarítsa died. Iván Tsarévich buried his parents, heeded their advice, and always took counsel with Katomá before undertaking any enterprise.

Very soon, maybe a long time, maybe short, he grew up, and he wanted to marry. He said to Katomá: "Katomá, Oaken-cap, it is so melancholy living by oneself; I want to marry."

"Tsarévich," Katomá replied, "you are of the age at which you ought to look for a bride: go into the great hall, where you will see pictures of all the Korolévny[2] and Tsarévny in the world. Gaze on them carefully, and select for yourself a bride, one who pleases you, and you shall marry her."

Iván Tsarévich went into the great hall, looked at the pictures, and he was most delighted with Anna the Fair. She was so fair that she was fairer than any princess in the world. But under her portrait there was a legend: "He who can set her a riddle she cannot solve is to marry her. Anyone whose riddle she solves dies."

Iván Tsarévich read the legend, and was very sad. He went up to Katomá and said: "I was in the great hall, and I selected as my bride Anna the Fair: but I do not know whether I can woo her."

"Yes, Tsarévich, it will be hard for you; if you had to go there by yourself, you would never win her. Take me. Do what I say, and all will go well."

Then Iván Tsarévich begged Katomá Oaken-cap to fare there with him, and pledged him his word of honour he would obey him in joy and sorrow.

So they set out on the way to seek Anna the Fair Tsarévna. They journeyed for one year, the second year, and the third year, and they traversed many lands. Iván Tsarévich said, "We have been so long on the journey and are at last approaching the realms of Anna the Fair, and still we have not thought out any riddles for her!"

"Time enough yet," Katomá replied.

So they rode on, and Katomá saw a purse lying on the road and said: "Iván Tsarévich, there is your riddle for the Tsarévna; give her this riddle to solve: 'Good lies on the road: we took the good with good, and set it down to our good.' That she will never solve all her life long, for every riddle she has solved at once, for she had only to look in her magical book; and she would then have your head cut off."

At last the Tsarévich and Katomá came to a lofty castle, where the fair Tsarévna lived. She was just standing at her balcony, and sent her messengers to meet them, to know whence they came and what was their will.

Iván Tsarévich answered: "I have come from my distant realm in order to woo Anna Tsarévna the Fair."

This she was told, and she bade the Tsarévich be introduced into her castle: he was to set her a riddle in front of all her councillors and her princes and boyárs.[3] "For I have sworn," she said, "to marry him who sets me a riddle I cannot solve: but if I guess it, then he must die." The fair Tsarévna listened to the riddle: "Good lies on the road; we took the good with good, and set it down to our good."

Anna the Fair took her conjuring book and searched it through for the riddle—looked the whole book through in vain. So the princes and boyárs decided that she must marry the Tsarévich. But she was very gloomy over it, yet still had to make ready. But in her heart of hearts she kept thinking: "How could I postpone the date and get rid of my bridegroom?" So she decided to tire him out through severe tasks. One day she called Iván Tsarévich to her and said: "Dear Iván Tsarévich, my chosen mate, we must get ready for the marriage. Do me a small service. In my realm there stands in a certain village a great iron column: bring it to the great kitchen and split it up into little logs as firewood for the cook."

"What do you want, Tsarévna? Have I come to cut down fuel for you? Is that my duty? Oh, my servant can see to that!" So he called Katomá, and he told him to bring the iron column into the kitchen and to hew it into small logs as fuel for the cook.

Katomá at once went, took the pillar in his two hands, brought it into the kitchen and split it up. But he kept back four iron shafts and put them into his pocket, for he thought: "Later I may make use of them!"

Next day the Tsarévna said, "Dear Tsarévich, my chosen husband, to-morrow we shall marry. I shall go in a carriage to church, and you will have a fine prancing steed given you. You must get him ready yourself."

"I must get the horse ready! Oh, my servant can do that!"

So Iván Tsarévich called Katomá, and said: "Come into the stable and command the grooms to bring the horse out; ride it, and to-morrow I will go to church on it."

But Katomá could see the guile in the Tsarévna's heart, and instantly went into the stable and ordered them to bring the horse out. Twelve grooms opened the twelve locks, undid twelve doors, and led the magical horse out by twelve chains. Katomá went up to him, and as soon as ever he had swung himself on to the horse's back the steed rose high into the air, higher than the tree-tops in the forest, lower than the clouds in heaven. But Katomá had a firm seat, and with one hand he held the mane, and with the other he fetched an iron sheet out of his pocket and struck the palfrey between the ears.

One sheet broke, then he took a second and a third; and after the third broke he was taking the fourth. The horse was so tired that it could not resist him any more, but spoke in a human voice: "Father Katomá, leave me some life, and I will come down to earth and whatever you will I will do."

"Listen then, wretched animal!" Katomá answered. "To-morrow Iván Tsarévich will ride you to his wedding. Listen! When the servants take you into the broad courtyard, and he comes up to you and lays his hand on you, stand still: do not prick your ear. When he mounts, kneel down with your hoofs on the ground, and step under him with a heavy tread as if you were bearing a burdensome load." So the horse sank half-dead on to the earth. Katomá, seated by the tail, hailed the grooms and said, "Ho, you there! grooms and coachmen, take this carrion into the stable."

Next day came, and the hour for going to church. The Tsarévna had a carriage ready, and the Tsarévich was given the magical horse. And from all parts of the country the people had assembled in multitudes, countless multitudes, to see the bride and bridegroom leave the white stone palace. And the Tsarévna went into the carriage and was waiting to see what would happen to Iván Tsarévich. She thought to herself that the horse would prance him up against the winds, and that she could already see his bones scattered in the open fields.

Iván Tsarévich went up to the horse, laid his hand on its back, put his foot into the stirrup, and the magical horse stood there as though he were made of stone, and never pricked an ear. The Tsarévich mounted it, and the horse bowed deep to the earth. Then his twelve chains were taken off. And he stood with a heavy even tread, whilst the sweat ran down his back in streams.

"What a hero he is! What enormous strength!" all the people said as Iván Tsarévich paced by.

So the bride and the bridegroom were betrothed, and went hand-in-hand out of the church.

The Tsarévna still wanted to test her husband's strength, and squeezed his hand, but she squeezed so hard that he could not stand it, and his blood mounted to his head, and his eyes almost fell out of their sockets. "That's the manner of hero you are!" she thought. "Your man, Katomá Oaken-cap, has deceived me finely. But I shall soon be even with him."

Anna Tsarévna the Fair lived with her God-sent husband as a good wife should, and always listened to his words. But she was ever thinking how she might destroy Katomá. If she knew that, she could very easily dispose of the Tsarévich. But, however many slanders she might think of to tell him, Iván Tsarévich never believed her, but held Katomá fast.

One year later he said to his wife: "Dear wife, beautiful Tsarévna, I should like to go home with you."

"Yes, we will go together. I have long wished to see your kingdom."

So they set out, and Katomá sat behind the coachman. As they drove out Iván Tsarévich dozed off.

Then Anna the Fair suddenly roused him from his sleep and complained. "Listen, Iván Tsarévich: you are always asleep and notice nothing. Katomá will not obey me, but is purposely taking the horses over all the cobbles and into all the ditches, as if he wanted to destroy us. I spoke to him very gently, but he only laughs at me. I will not go on living if you do not punish him!"

Iván Tsarévich was drowsy, and very angry with Katomá, and said to the king's daughter: "Do with him as you will."

So the king's daughter at once made her servants cut off Katomá's legs. He submitted to his torturers and thought: "If I must suffer, still the Tsarévich will soon learn something of what trouble is."

His two legs were cut off: the Tsarévna looked round and noticed a lofty stump at the edge of the road. She bade her servants set Katomá on it. And as to the Tsarévich, she tied him to a rope behind the carriage, and so returned to her own kingdom. Katomá sat on his tree stem and wept bitter tears.

"Farewell, Iván Tsarévich: forget me not!"

Iván Tsarévich had to leap behind the carriage, and knew very well that he had made a mistake, but it could not be cured.

When Anna the Fair had again reached her kingdom the Tsarévich had to mind the cows. Every morning he drove them into the open field, and every evening drove them back into the royal courtyard; and the Tsarévna sat on the balcony and saw that none of the cows was missing. Iván Tsarévich had to count the cows and to stable them all, and to give the last one a kiss under its tail. The cow knew what was expected of her, and remained standing at the door and lifted her tail up.

Katomá all day long sat on his tree-stump without meat or drink, but could not descend, and he thought: "I must die of hunger." But near by there was a thick forest, and there a knight lived who was blind but very strong. This knight used to scent the animals which ran by, run after them and catch them, not minding whether it were a rabbit, or fox, or a bear. He could roast them for lunch. And he could run so fast, faster than any animal that leaps. One day a fox came by, and the knight heard him and ran after him. The fox ran up to the tree on which Katomá sat, and turned round there. In his haste the blind man struck the tree so hard with his forehead that it fell out with its roots. Katomá tumbled down and asked: "Who are you?"

"I am the blind knight, and for three years I have lived in the wood, feeding myself on the animals I can catch and bake on my fire; otherwise I should have died of hunger."

"Were you blind from birth?"

"No; Anna the Fair put my eyes out."

"Brother!" said Katomá, "she also cut off my legs, both of them."

So the two knights decided they would live together and aid each other.

The blind man said to Katomá, "Sit on my back and show me the way: I will serve you with my feet and you me with your eyes." The blind man lifted Katomá up, and the legless man cried out, "Left; right; straight on!" So for a long while they lived in the wood and used to catch rabbits, foxes and bears for their food.

One day Katomá said: "Why should we live alone here? I am told that there is in the town a rich merchant and his daughter. She, they say, is indescribably kind towards the poor men and cripples, and gives them alms with her own hands. Brother, we must carry her off. She shall live with us as the mistress of the house."

So the blind man took a barrow, put the legless knight into it, and ran him into the town, up to the merchant's house. When the daughter looked out of the window she instantly rushed out in order to give them alms. She came to Katomá and said, "Take this as God's blessing!"

He accepted her gift and laid hold of her hand, dragged her into the barrow, and cried out to the blind man, who ran away so fast, faster than any horses could overtake him. It was all in vain for the merchant to try to overtake the two knights. The knights brought the merchant's daughter to their izbá[4] in the wood and said: "Stay with us as our sister, and become the mistress of the house. We poor folk have no one to cook our food or to do the washing. God will not desert you therefor."

So the merchant's daughter remained with them, and the two knights honoured and loved her as though she were their own sister. Sometimes they went a-hunting, and then the sister remained alone in the house looking after the domestic service, cooking the food and doing the washing. But one day Bába Yagá with the bony legs came into the hut and sucked the blood out of the fair maiden's breast. And whenever the two knights went away on the chase, Bába Yagá came back, so that very soon the merchant's fair daughter became thin and feeble. But the blind man did not notice: only Katomá noticed that something had gone wrong, so he told his companion, and both asked their sister what was the cause.

Bába Yagá had forbidden her to tell them anything about it; she was therefore much too frightened for a long time to tell them what was her trouble. But at last they persuaded her, and she told them: "Every time when you go out on the chase an ancient hag comes into the hut. She has an evil face and long grey hairs. She hangs her head down over me and sucks my white breast."

"Oh," said the blind man, "that is the Bába Yagá! Wait a little bit. We must deal with her in her own fashion. To-morrow we must not go hunting: we will try to catch her in the house and to capture her."

Next morning both of them went out. "Creep under the bench," said the blind man to Katomá, and sit still. I will go into the courtyard, and wait under the window. And you, Sister, sit down. If Bába Yagá comes, whilst you are combing her hair weave a part of her hair and hang the knot on to the window. I will then seize her by her grey tresses." It was said and done. The blind man seized Bába Yagá by her grey tresses, and cried out, "Ho, Katomá! come out and hold the evil hag till I get into the hut."

Bába Yagá heard it, and she wanted to lift her head and leap away, but she was unable. She tore and grumbled, but it was no good. Katomá crept out from the bank and turned round on her, threw himself on her like a mountain of iron. He strangled her until the heavens appeared to her as small as a sheepskin.

The blind man sprang out of the hut and said: "We must build a big faggot-heap and burn the old hag and scatter her ashes to the four winds."

Bába Yagá besought them: "Father, doveling, forgive me. Whatever you will I will do!"

"Very well, ancient witch," said the knights, "show us the well with the waters of Life and Death."

"If you will only not lay me low, I will show it you."

Then Katomá mounted the blind man's back and he took Bába Yagá by her hair. So they fared into the deepest part of the slumberous forest, and she there showed them a well and said: "This is the healing water that renders life."

"Take care, Katomá, do not make a mistake. If she deceives us this time we may not be able to repair it all our life long."

So Katomá broke off a twig. It had hardly fallen into the water before it flamed up.

"Ah! that was a further deceit of yours!"

So the two knights made ready to throw Bába Yagá into the fiery brook. But she still prayed for mercy as before, and swore a great oath she would not deceive any more.

"Really and truly I will show you the right water!"

So the two knights were ready once more to adventure it, and Bába Yagá took them to another well. Katomá broke off a dry twig from the tree and threw it into the well. The twig had hardly fallen into the water before it sprouted up and became green and blue. "This water is right," said Katomá, so the blind man washed his eyes and could at once see. And he put the cripple into the water, and his legs grew on to him.

Then they were both very glad, and said, "Now we are healthy, we will again talk of our own rights; but we must first settle our account with Bába Yagá. If we now forgive her, we shall get no good thereby, for she will strive ever against us all her life." So they took her back to the fiery brook and threw her into it, and she was burned to death.

Katomá then married the merchant's daughter, and all three went back into the kingdom of Anna Tsarévna the Fair to free Iván Tsarévich. They went into the capital, and there he met them with his herd of cows.

"Stay, herd," said Katomá, "whither are you driving the cattle?"

"Into the Queen's courtyard; the Tsarévna counts them every day to see whether all the cows have come home."

"Herd, put on my clothes; I will put on yours and will drive the cows home."

"No, brother, that will never do. Should the Tsarévna notice it, I should suffer."

"Fear nothing; nothing will happen, you will come by no harm; Katomá is your surety."

Iván sighed: "O good man! if only he were here I should not be herding cows."

Then Katomá showed himself who he was, and the Tsarévich embraced him tenderly and wept bitterly. "I never expected I should see you any more!"

So they changed clothes, and Katomá drove the cows into the royal courtyard. Anna Tsarévna came out on to her balcony and counted the cattle. Then she commanded to take them all into the stable. All the cows went into the stable: only the last stayed behind and raised her tail. Katomá sprang up at her and cried out, "Wretched animal! why are you stopping here?" So he gripped and snatched the tail so mightily that the entire skin remained in his hand.

When Anna Tsarévna saw this she cried out aloud, "What is that wretched herdsman doing? Lay hold of him and bring him to me."

So the attendants laid hold on Katomá and dragged him into the castle. Katomá suffered it without resistence and relied on his strength.

He was taken up to the Tsarévna, who looked at him and said, "Who are you?"

"I am Katomá, whose legs you once cut off and then set on a tree trunk."

Then the Tsarévna thought, "If he can get his legs back, I can do no more against him." And she asked for forgiveness from him and the Tsarévich. She repented of her sins and swore an oath that she would ever love Iván Tsarévich and obey him in all things.

Iván Tsarévich forgave her, and forthwith they lived in peace and unison. The knight who was once blind stayed by them. But Katomá went away with his wife to the rich merchant and abode in his house.


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. Uncle: term of affection.
  2. Princesses.
  3. Earls.
  4. Hut.