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Kyrylo Kozhumyaka, a Ukrainian fairy tale
Once upon a time there was a ruler in the city of Kyiv during whose time a Serpent had settled near the city, demanding that every year tribute be paid to him, and threatening destruction if he did not get it. And the tribute was to be either a young man or a young girl. Then came time when it was the Grand Duke’s turn to give his young daughter to the monster. All the residents of the city had already given away their young men and women and the Grand Prince could not refuse to sacrifice his own child.
The girl was so good looking that no words could describe her beauty. The Serpent when he saw her immediately fell in love with her.
Once, choosing a proper moment, she asked him in a gentle voice,
“Tell me, is there anybody in the whole world who would be able to overwhelm you in battle?”
Replies the Serpent, “Yes, there is such a man in Kyiv, the city that stands by the river Dnipro. When he lights fire in his house, the smoke for the chimney rises to the skies, and when he goes to the river to soak hides in the water — for by occupation he is kozhumyaka, dresser of rawhides, then he carries twelve hides at a time, rather than just one. When the hides swell, filled out with water, I sometimes catch hold of these hides and wait for him to come and pull them out of the water, thinking to myself, Will he be able to do it? But he does not seem to notice there’s an extra weight — he pulls so mightily, that if I didn’t let go he’d pull me out of the water too. So, he’s only one I’m afeared of.”
The princess carefully stored what the Serpent had said in her memory and began thinking how she could contrive to send a little message to her father and to the wide free world. But there was no one who could deliver her message, except for her dove whom she had brought with her from Kyiv. She had raised the dove since he was a fledgling.
She kept thinking about what to write and how to get her message to her father for quite some time. Then found a piece of bast and wrote on it, “Father, dear, be advised that there lives in that city of yours, many-domed Kyiv, a man named Kyrylo who also has a nickname, Kozhumyaka. Dear Father, send the elders to him who should ask him whether he would be kind enough to take the Serpent on and fight him and set me, your poor daughter, free. Beg him, my dear Father, to do it, promise him gifts, lest he take offence at some words you say.
She wrote it and fixed the bust under the dove’s wing, and told the dove to fly away all the way to Kyiv and take her message to her Father. The dove soared high and flew on to Kyiv. At last, he arrived at the Prince’s palace and alit in the courtyard. There were Prince’s children, playing in the yard who saw the dove and guessed he had brought a message from their sister.
They rushed to their father with the glad news. The Prince was overjoyed to hear about a message but then he thought the dove had brought bad news. And he grew sorrowful, saying,
“This cursed Serpent must have done my dear child in!”
He gently spoke to the dove, and when the dove let the Grand Duke take him in his hands, the Grand Duke discovered a rolled piece of bast under the bird’s wing.
The Grand Duke read what was written there and summoned all of his senior men brought to him.
“Is there someone in Kyiv who is named Kyrylo Kozhumyaka?” asks the Grand Duke.
“Yes, my lord, there is one so named. He lives by the riverside. But he is all by himself and never takes orders from anyone.”
“Is there a way to approach him in such a manner that he does not take offence and agrees to do what we’ll ask him to do?”
So they held council and asked the Kyiv elders to go to Kozhumyaka’s place and beg him to do battle with the Serpent. The elders went to Kozhumyaka’s house, knocked on the door. But there was no answer. They opened the door and peeped in. Inside they saw a huge man sitting with his back to them on the floor and dressing twelve hides at the same time. One of the elders made a coughing noise to attract Kozhumyaka’s attention. The man turned too fast and inadvertently ripped the hides apart.
The elders begin saying, “Our Grand Duke has sent us to you with a request…”
But Kozhumyaka does not want even to listen to them — he is so angry that because of them he has spoiled twelve hides. The elders keep begging him but they draw no response from the man, and they left, their heads hung low.
The Grand Duke was upset when they told him what had happened.
What should I do, he thinks. He is dismayed and all his senior men are dismayed too. Then he says,
“What if we send younger people to plead with Kozhumyaka?”
The younger people go to see Kozhumyaka but they return empty-handed. He did not want to talk to us, they say, we begged him but he would not listen. He is mad as a hornet.
The Grand Duke thinks hard what to do next and then tells several children to go to Kozhumyaka’s place and plead with him.
The children went to Kozhumyaka’s place and stood around him and began to plead, weeping, and when Kozhumyaka saw their tears he began crying himself, and said,
“All right, I’ll do it for you.”
So he comes to the palace and shaking his great beard tells the Grand Duke,
“I need twelve barrels of tar and twelve wagonloads of hemp.”
When all of it is brought to him, Kozhumyaka wraps himself in hemp and then smears the tar thickly all over the hemp.
Thus attired, Kozhumyaka picks up the biggest mace there is and off he goes to do battle with the Serpent.
The Serpent spots him coming and asks,
“Hey, Kyrylo, have you come to do battle with me or to make peace?”
“No peace with you but only battle,” answers Kozhumyaka.
And they begin to fight so fiercely that the earth shakes and groans. The Serpent lunges forward and wants to sink his teeth into Kozhumyaka but instead of flesh he gets his teeth into the hemp and tar. As the Serpent spits out the mouthful of tarred hemp, Kozhumyaka brings down his war club on the Serpent’s head so hard that the Serpent sinks into the ground.
When the Serpent feels he is getting too hot from fighting this pitched battle he rushes to the water and takes a dip to cool off a bit and assuage thirst, Kozhumyaka puts fresh hemp on himself and spreads a good measure of tar on top. The Serpent gets out of the water and charges at Kozhumyaka but the man lets him have it again hard from his mace. He keeps hitting the Serpent again and again. The earth trembles and groans, the echo travels far and wide. The Serpent gets hotter and hotter inside from the blows, as a piece of metal gets red-hot under the blows delivered by a blacksmith. The Serpent becomes as fiery hot as the furnace in a smithy. Sparks are flying, the earth quakes and rumbles.
And then bang! — the Serpent blows up! The earth heaves and then everything grows quiet. The Serpent is no more.
There were many people standing around who had gathered to watch the battle from the tops of the hills. When they saw the Serpent go up in flames, they cheered mightily,
“Hurrah to Kozhumyaka! Good boy Kozhumyaka!”
And the place where Kozhumyaka lived since then was called Kozhumyaky Dell.
Art by Oleksandr Melnyk