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Ivan the Dragon Slayer. A fairy tale
Once upon a time, a serpent, huge, hideous and terrible, turned up in one part of a country where a lot of people lived and began eating them, and never stopped until there was only one old man left alive.
“For now I’m sated, but tomorrow I’ll have you for breakfast,” says the Serpent.
There happened to be a poor boy hiking across that country. He stopped at the old man’s house and asked whether he could stay for the night.
“Yes, you can, if you do not care for your life,” says the old man.
“How do you mean?” says the poor boy.
The old man then told the boy that a serpent, huge, hideous and terrible, had eaten all the people in the vicinity and promised to come the next day and eat the old man too.
“Never fear, he won’t,” says the boy.
The next morning the Serpent comes as promised. He sees the boy and exclaims, “That’s good! I thought there’d only one to eat, but now I’ve got two!”
But the boy says, “That’ll be too much for you.”
The Serpent was surprised at the audacious answer.
“I’ll eat both of you,” the Serpent bellows.
“No, you won’t. You don’t have enough strength.”
The surprised Serpent roars, “Not enough strength? Look!” And he grabs a stone and crushes it in his paw so that it turns into dust.
“Big deal,” says the boy. “Squeeze liquid out of a stone, can you? Now, look!” And he picks a chunk of soft cheese from a bowl and squeezes whey out of it. “See that? Now you squeeze water out of a stone!”
The bewildered Serpent only stared.
“Well,” he says, “join me and be my buddy!”
“I can join you only as your superior.”
“All right,” says the Serpent.
And off they went.
The Serpent asks, “What’s your name?”
“Ivan the Dragon Slayer.”
And the Serpent thinks to himself, “Well, he looks small, but what if he really slays me?”
Around dinner time, the Serpent says, “How about having something to eat? Go get a good ox and we’ll fix a dinner.”
The boy went to look for an ox. He found several of them in the Serpent’s corral but they were so huge the boy would not be able to bring one leg, let alone a whole ox. So he got down to tying the tails of several oxen together. The Serpent waited and waited but the boy did not come. So he went to look for the boy.
“What is it you are doing, boy?” the Serpent asks.
“I thought I’d bring several oxen at once because one would not be enough for dinner.”
The Serpent picked up a couple of oxen himself and carried them away to the place where they were to have dinner.
“Now, you go and bring some water,” says the Serpent and gives the boy a huge watertight skin to bring water in.
The boy staggers under the weight of the water-skin and drags it to the well. When he tries to fill it with water, the skin slips out of his hands and falls into the well. No way of getting it out! The boy makes a little wooden spade and starts digging around the well.
The Serpent who lost patience waiting for him, came running.
“What is it that you are doing?”
“I decided to bring the whole well instead of just one skinful of water.
“What a crazy idea!” exclaims the Serpent. Trying not to reveal that he is very much scared of the strength of the boy, the Serpent gets the water-skin out of the well and fills it with water.
“Now,” says the Serpent, “bring some wood for the fire. There’s an old, dead oak standing close by. Get it — it’ll be just enough.”
“But I can’t be bothered with carrying around such little sticks! If you told me to bring a score of trees, I might.”
And the boy pretended he was angry at the Serpent’s request.
The Serpent got the tree himself, made a fire, cooked dinner and invited the boy to join him. But the boy would not budge, still pretending he was mad at the Serpent. The boy knew that if the Serpent saw how little he could eat, the Serpent would immediately understand that the boy was much weaker than he was.
When the boy saw that there was very little left, he joined the Serpent and then said angrily,
“But there’s nothing to eat! And I’m very hungry!”
“In that case,” says the Serpent, “let’s go to my mother’s place, she’ll cook a good meal for us.”
“All right, but let’s hurry up then — I’m mighty hungry!” says the boy, thinking to himself, “That’s too bad — it’ll be the end of me.”
When they arrived at her place, the Serpent’s mother put out twenty barrels full of dumplings stuffed with cheese, and when he saw the food, the Serpent fell to eagerly. The boy leaned low over a barrel and pretended he was eating but was stuffing the dumplings into his shirt and pants instead.
“I’ve had my fill,” says the Serpent. “What about you?’
“Me too,” says the boy.
“Then let’s go and jump around a little to get the food settled in our stomachs!”
“All right, let’s go,” says the boy.
When they got to a rocky place, the Serpent began whirling around so fast that sparks flew in all directions.
“Big deal! Can you squeeze water out of a rock?” And the boy began to press himself so hard against the rock that the whey from the cheese in many dumplings in his pants flowed. The harder the boy pressed himself against the rock, the more whey there was.
When the Serpent saw it, he grew much affrighted. He said, “All right, all right, now let’s whistle — who can whistle louder?”
“Let’s do it,” says the boy thinking to himself, “This time it looks I’ve had it.”
The Serpent whistled so loudly that the trees bent and the ground shook. The boy looked around, saw a hefty rock lying on the ground and said, “Close your eyes because when I begin to whistle, your eyes can pop out and you’ll go blind!”
The Serpent closed his eyes and the boy quickly picked up the rock and hit the Serpent as hard as he could between the eyes. The Serpent shuddered and said, “Good I closed my eyes! If I had not done that, I’d surely have gone blind!”
The Serpent did not want to challenge the boy any more and built him a little house in a secluded place and the boy settled down to live there.
But the Serpent had no peace of mind and turned to his mother for advice. They put their heads together thinking hard how they could do the boy in.
“When he falls asleep, let’s set his house on fire and he will burn to death,” they decided.
But the boy overheard what they were saying, and putting his own effigy into his bed instead of himself, he stayed away from his house for that night.
The Serpent and his mother set fire to the boy’s house. The boy waited in a hiding place until the fire subsided and then came back up to the smoldering ruins. There he stood, pretending he was shaking off the ash from his clothes.
The Serpent also came to have a look — and he was greatly surprised to see the boy safe and sound.
“Is that you, boy? How come you are alive?”
“I’m alive all right but I did not have a good sleep this night — something was bothering me all the time, mosquitoes were buzzing around.”
When the Serpent heard this, he thought to himself, “Even the fire could do no harm to this boy, we’d better keep away from him.” And he and his mother fled that country in a hurry, never to come back.
Art by Oleksandr Melnyk