Russian Folk-Tales/The Story of Ilyá Múromets and the Nightingale Robber

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Russian Folk-Tales by Alexander Nikolaevich Afanasyev, translated by Leonard Arthur Magnus
The Story of Ilyá Múromets and the Nightingale Robber


Once in the famous city of Múrom [1] in the village of Karachárovo, a peasant lived who was called Iván Timoféyevich; he had one beloved son, Ilyá Múromets. And he sat down in a house as a stay-at-home for thirty years, and after the thirty years had gone by he began to walk on his feet mightily, and he gained great strength. Then he made himself the trappings of war and a lance of steel, and got himself a good steed, a knightly horse; he then went up to his mother and father and asked their blessing. "Ye, my masters, my mother and father, let me go into the famous city of Kíev, to pray to God and to do homage to our prince at Kíev."

The mother and father gave him their blessing, and made him swear a mighty oath, and they enjoined a mighty service upon him. And they spake in this wise: "Do you go straight to the city of Kíev, straight to the city of Chernígov, and on your journeying do no one any hurt, spill no Christian blood vainly."

Ilyá Múromets took the blessing of his father and mother, prayed to God, bade farewell to his father and mother, and set forth on his way and road. And he journeyed far in the dark woods, and lighted on a camp of robbers. Those robbers saw Ilyá Múromets, and were envious in their robber-like hearts for his knightly horse, and began to speak amongst themselves how they might take that horse; for steeds so fine were not seen in those parts, and now some unknown man was passing by on one. So they set on Ilyá Múromets, ten at once and then by twenties. And Ilyá Múromets stopped his knightly horse, took a tempered dart and set it on his strong bow. He let the tempered dart fall on the earth, and it tore into the earth fifty feet.

And seeing this, the robbers were afraid, and collected in a circle, fell on their knees and prayed him, "Master, our father, youth mighty of prowess, we are guilty in thine eyes; and, for this our guilt, as it pleaseth thee, inflict on us a fine as much as is fit, whether it be coloured clothes or droves of horses."

Ilyá smiled at them and said: "I need no garments, but, if ye wish to enjoy your life, henceforth take no more hazards."

And he went on his road to the famous city of Kíev. And Ilyá Múromets set out on the road; when he came under the walls of the city of Sébezh he saw three Tsarévichi from foreign parts, who had a host of thirty thousand men; they wished to capture the city of Sébezh and to take the Tsar of Sébezh prisoner. So Ilyá Múromets set out after the three Tsarévichi, and he pursued them down to the seashore and slew all the rest of the army, but captured the Tsarévichi alive and returned to the city of Sébezh, and the citizens saw him and gave news of this to their Tsar.

When he arrived at the city of Chernígov, under the walls of the city of Chernígov there was a Saracen host too many to count besieging the city of Chernígov: they were going to sack it and to set God's churches aflame, and to take captive the Prince, the Duke of Chernígov. And at that mighty host and fray, Ilyá Múromets was afraid, but he placed himself at the will of the Saviour, and thought how he would sacrifice his head for the Christian faith. Then Ilyá Múromets began to lay low the Saracen host with his lance of steel, and he routed all of the pagan host and took the Tsarévich of the Saracens captive and led him into the city of Chernígov. As he entered, all the citizens of the city of Chernígov met him and gave him honour, and the Prince and Duke of Chernígov himself came out to receive the doughty youth with honour and to give thanks to the Lord God for sending such unexpected succour to the city and not letting them all perish helplessly before the mighty Saracen host. They received him into their palace and they gave him a great feast, and set him on his way.

Ilyá Múromets went to the city of Kíev straight from Chernígov on the road by the village of Kutúzovo, which the Nightingale Robber had been oppressing for thirty years, not letting any man pass, whether on horseback or on foot, and assailing them not with any weapon, but only with his robber's whistle. Ilyá Múromets rode into the open field and saw the scattered bones of knights and warriors. He rode over them and arrived at the Bryánski woods,[2] the miry swamp, to the hazel-tree bridges, and to the Smoródina river. The Nightingale Robber heard his end approaching, and felt a foreboding of a terrible ill; and before Ilyá Múromets had advanced twenty versts, he whistled with his powerful robber's whistle. But the valorous heart of Ilyá was not afraid, and before ever he had advanced ten versts more the Nightingale Robber whistled more terribly than before, and the horse of Ilyá Múromets stumbled at the sound.

At last Ilyá arrived at the nest, which was spread above twelve oaks, and the Nightingale Robber was sitting in the nest, saw the white Russian knight approaching, and began to whistle with all of his might, essaying to smite Ilyá Múromets to death. Ilyá Múromets took out his strong bow, put a tempered dart to it, and shot it at the nest of the Nightingale Robber; it fell into his right eye and went beyond. And the Robber-Nightingale fell down from his nest like a sheaf of oats. Ilyá Múromets took the Robber-Nightingale, tied him strongly to his steel stirrup and rode to the famous city of Kíev.

On his way he passed the palace of the Nightingale Robber, and as soon as he came up to the Robber's palace the windows were opened and out of these windows the Nightingale Robber's three daughters were looking. The youngest daughter saw him, and cried out to her sisters: "Here is our father coming back with booty: he is bringing us a man tied to his steel stirrup."

But the elder sister looked out and cried bitterly: "That is not our father; some unknown man is coming along and is dragging our father after him."

Then they cried out to their husbands, "Masters, do ye go and meet that man and slay him for the slaying of our father, lest our name be disgraced."

Then their husbands, mighty warriors, set out to face the white Russian knight. They had good horses, sharp lances, and they wished to hoist Ilyá aloft on their lances.

The Nightingale Robber saw them, and said, "My beloved sons, do not dishonour nor take such a bold knight, and so all receive your death from him; it would be better to ask his forgiveness in humbleness and to ask him into my house to have a goblet of green wine."

So at the invitation of the sons-in-law Ilyá returned home and received no evil of them.

The eldest daughter raised an iron storm-board of chains for him to stumble against; but Ilyá saw her on the gates, struck at her with his lance, and he smote her to death.

When Ilyá arrived at the city of Kíev, he went straight to the Prince's courtyard, entered the white stone palace, prayed to God and did homage to the Prince.

The Prince of Kíev asked him, "Say, doughty youth, how do they call thee? Of what city art thou?"

And Ilyá Múromets returned answer: "My lord, they call me Ílyushka, and by my father's name Ivánov; I live in the city of Múrom in the village of Karachárovo."

Then the Prince asked him, "By what road didst thou come?"

"From Múrom by the city of Chernígov, and under the walls of Chernígov I routed a Saracen host too many to count, and I relieved the city of Chernígov. And from there I went straight and I took the mighty Nightingale Robber alive and dragged him along at my steel stirrup."

Then the Prince was angry and said, "Why art thou telling such tales?"

When the knights Alyósha Popóvich and Dobrýnya Nikítich heard this, they dashed out to look, and assured the Prince that this was really so.

Then the Prince bade a goblet of green wine be given to the doughty youth. The Prince, however, wished to hear the whistle of the Robber-Nightingale. Ilyá Múromets put the Prince and Princess into a sable shúba, seized them under the arm, called in the Nightingale Robber and bade him whistle like a nightingale with only half his whistle; but the Nightingale Robber whistled with all his robber's whistle, and he deafened all of the knights, so that they fell to the ground, and as a punishment for this was slain by Ilyá Múromets.

Ilyá Múromets swore blood brotherhood with Dobrýnya Nikítich, then they saddled their good horses and rode forth on the open fields; and they journeyed on for about three months and found no opponent worthy of their steel: they had only gone in the open field. Then they met a passer-by, a beggar singing psalms. His shirt weighed fifteen pud, and his hat ten pud, and his stick was ten sazhéns long. Ilyá Múromets set on him with his horse, and was going to try his mighty strength on him.

Then the passing beggar saw Ilyá Múromets and said: "Hail, Ilyá Múromets! Do you recollect? I learned my letters with you in the same school, and now you are setting your horse on me, who am only a beggar, as though I were an enemy, and you do not know that a very great misfortune has befallen the city of Kíev. The infidel knight, the mighty man, the dishonourable Ídolishche, has arrived. His head is as big as a beer cauldron, and his shoulders a sazhén broad. There is a span length between his brows, and between his ears there is a tempered dart. And he eats an ox at a time and he drinks a cask at a time. The Prince of Kíev is very aggrieved with you that you have left him in such straits."

So Ilyá Múromets changed into the beggar's dress and rode straight back to the palace of the Prince, and cried out in a knightly voice: "Hail to thee, Prince of Kíev! give me, a wandering beggar, alms."

And the Prince saw him and spoke in this wise: "Come into my palace, beggar. I will give you food and drink and will give you gold on your way."

So the beggar went into the palace and stood at the stove and looked round.

Ídolishche asked to eat, so they brought him an entire roasted ox and he ate it to the bones; then Ídolishche asked for drink, so they brought him a cauldron of beer; and twenty men had to bring it in. And he held it up to his ears and drank it all through.

Ilyá Múromets said, "My father had a gluttonous mare; it guzzled until its breath failed."

Ídolishche could not stand this affront, and said, "Hail, wandering beggar! Do you dare me? I could take you in my hands; if it had been Ilyá Múromets I would even have braved him."

"Well," said Ilyá Múromets, "that is the kind of man he was!" And he took off his cap and struck him lightly on the head, and he nearly knocked through the walls of the palace, took Ídolishche's trunk and flung it out. And in return the Prince honoured Ilyá Múromets, praised him highly, and placed him amongst the mighty knights of his court.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

  1. v. note to p. 125.
  2. A great forest in Central Russia, once impenetrable and always legendary.