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The Fox, the Poor Lad and the Royal Wedding. A Ukrainian fairy tail.
Once upon a time there lived a rich land owner. When one day he needed an extra farm hand he sent for his steward and when the man arrived, he told him,
“I need a good labourer. Go find one for me. Tell him that for his work I will give him a plot of land and one full day a year for raising whatever crop he wants on it. But if he fails to work well, I’ll give him nothing.”
It was difficult to find someone who would accept such conditions, but in one of the nearby villages the steward was told that on the edge of the village there lived in a ramshackle cabin a young and very poor lad who might accept the offer of a job. The steward found the lad and the lad accepted the rich man’s offer.
The lad worked well the whole year and the rich man did give him a plot of land and a full day to plant anything he wanted on it. But the lad had neither plough nor oxen to till his plot of land. He felt at a loss and did not know what to do. And then he decided to go to the rich man and ask for advice.
“Sir, I have worked for you the whole year, and you have given me a plot of land and a day to work on it. But I have neither plough nor oxen to till it. Could you help me with it?”
The rich man said magnanimously that he would have it tilled for the lad by someone else.
And the field was indeed tilled. The lad planted melons and the yield turned out to be surprisingly good. Melons were big and nice to look at. But one day the lad discovered that the biggest and ripest of melons had been eaten with the skin of the melon lying right there at the spot where the melon had been.
The lad was upset and decided to stay for the night in that field to watch for the thief. “I’ll find out who steals my melons and I’ll teach him a lesson!”
He made a tent for himself and crawled into it. He did not have to wait long. Soon after the nightfall, he heard some munching sounds coming from one corner of his melon field. The lad, as quietly as he could, went gingerly in search of the intruder. When he saw who it was the lad was much amazed — it was a fox eating one of his melons! The fox was so absorbed in what he was doing that he did not hear the lad approaching. The lad was quick and deft — he grabbed the fox by the tail and cried out,
“Now I’ve got you! You’re in trouble, friend!” And he raised his clenched fist to deliver a heavy blow.
But the fox cried out plaintively in a human voice, “Please, don’t hit me, good boy, I can be of much help to you!”
“Help? What kind of help? Your best help will be to leave my melons alone! And your fur may sure be of some help too!”
And the young man picked a hoe from the ground and swung it to put the fox out of its misery.
But the fox pleaded again,
“Spare me, and you’ll see how helpful I can be!”
“All right, what can you do for me except rendering your beautiful fur?”
“I can help you find a fiance’e — and she’ll be a princess too!”
And the lad, in his astonishment, believed the fox and let him go.
“A cunning thing that fox is,” he thought to himself later.
And the fox made straight to the czar’s palace.
The guards at the gate refused to admit him but the fox said that he had very important news to deliver to the czar, and he said it with such authority that the guards let him in.
But the czar’s major-domo refused to let the fox see the czar. The fox assumed a grieving air and said,
“If you do not let me in, you’ll be held responsible for failing to prevent a great misfortune.”
The major-domo reconsidered and let the fox in.
The fox kowtowed before the czar, and said,
“Punish me if you will but I bring bad news for you — the dragon from the distant land is on his way here! He will threaten you and your czardom with ruin unless you give him his daughter in marriage!”
“Oh my God!” cried out the czar in horror. “What am I going to do? My army is not yet ready to fight after the last war!”
After he was done with moaning and groaning, the czar shouted to his major-domo, “ Convene the council!”
When the council was convened, the czar began to berate the high officials and generals for not warning him of the impending danger and for not having his army ready to fight.
The council deliberated for a long time, looking for a solution but they failed to find any — it would take days and days to get the army ready to fight.
Seeing this, the fox says to the czar,
“Your Majesty, I’m your humble servant, but I have a piece of advice for you — I know a king’s son who will gladly marry your daughter and will fight the dragon!”
“But neither I nor my daughter have planned getting her married to anyone yet!” But there seemed to be nothing left to do for the czar but to accept the fox’s advice.
“All right, he’ll marry my daughter but on condition he fights that dragon first.”
“I’ll go and bring the young man to you.”
And the fox ran back to the poor lad.
“Look,” said the fox to the lad, “I’ve found you a princess to marry — her father, the czar, promised to give her to you in marriage!”
“Just like that?”
“Yes — but on condition that you fight the dragon that wants to destroy his czardom if he, the czar, does not give his daughter in marriage to him.”
“To fight a dragon? How can I fight a dragon? I’m just a poor boy with no armour or sword! And who will look after my melons? And who will work for the rich man? He may take away my melon field!”
“Don’t you worry! Everything will be fine if you do as I tell you! And if you win the hand of the princess, you will not have to work for that rich man of yours any longer!”
And the poor lad said he would do as the fox would tell him to do.
And off they went.
When they were crossing a meadow, they heard a terrible noise coming towards them.
“Hide in those bushes, and let me handle this”, whispered the fox.
The lad hid in the bushes and no sooner he did it, there appeared on the edge of the forest a fire-spitting monster, riding a chariot pulled by fine horses with manes flowing in the wind.
The fox ran forward to meet the dragon half-way and exclaimed,
“Oh, hi, my dear brother!”
“Hello my dear sister!”
“Good that I’ve met you here,” said the fox. “I was just on my way to your place. I’m coming from the czar’s palace where I learned from the czar himself that he had gathered a big army and is about to march out against you! He wants to grab everything you’ve got — your castle, your servants, your gold! And it’s a mighty army that the czar has! I saw those giants of warriors with my own eyes! You have no chance against them.”
“Oh, what shall I do then?”
“I know a magician who will be able to stop that army! He is over there, in the bushes, reciting his spells. But for him to be successful, he must be wearing your garments and riding in your chariot, And you will have to put on his rags — then you’ll be able to get away unscathed and have your castle and riches intact!”
“Thank you so much for helping me,” cried out the dragon, stripping off his rich garments in a great hurry.
The fox took the dragon’s rich garments to the poor lad and brought back the lad’s rags. The dragon donned them and departed in haste, without even looking back.
The lad attired himself in the golden attire of the dragon and he looked so splendid that any girl who would see him would want to have him for husband.
Then the lad and the fox climbed into the chariot and rode off.
When they arrived at the czar’s palace, the fox went to negotiate.
“Your Majesty,” said the fox, “I’ve done as I promised to do — there is a king’s son waiting at your door. He has fought off the dragon and now he asks for your daughter’s hand in marriage.
The czar was overjoyed to see such a handsome bridegroom for his daughter, attired in such splendid attire. He called his wife to come out and meet their daughter’s fiance’e. The moment she laid her eyes on the lad, the czarina exclaimed, “What a charming boy!”
And it did not take long to persuade the princess to accept her parents’ choice for her husband.
A great wedding party was thrown with a great many guests invited. The fox was there too, of course.
And also I was there. I enjoyed it greatly but there was so much to eat and to drink that I did not know what to begin with and left the party hungry and thirsty — but with a good story to tell you. n
A Ukrainian folk tale retold by Alex Pan
Art by Oleksandr Melnyk