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Ivan the Dragon Slayer

 

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.

Today Ive had a bellyful, but tomorrow Ill have you for breakfast, said the Serpent to the old man.

There happened to be a poor boy hiking across that country. He stopped at the old mans house and asked whether he could stay for the night.

Yes, you can, if you do not care for your life, said the old man.

Hows that? said 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 wont, said the boy.

The next morning the Serpent came as promised. He saw the boy and exclaimed, Thats good! I thought thered be only one to eat, but now Ive got two!

But the boy said, Thatll be too much for you.

The Serpent was surprised at the audacious answer.

Ill eat both of you, the Serpent bellowed.

No, you wont. You dont have enough strength.

The surprised Serpent roared, Not enough strength? Look! And he grabbed a stone and crushed it in his paw so that it turned into dust.

Big deal, said the boy. Squeeze liquid out of a stone, can you? Now, look! And he picked a chunk of soft cheese from a bowl and squeezed whey out of it. See that? Now you squeeze water out of a stone!

The bewildered Serpent only stared.

Well, he said, join me and be my buddy!

I can join you only as your superior.

All right, said the Serpent.

And off they went.

The Serpent asked, Whats your name?

Ivan the Dragon Slayer.

And the Serpent thought to himself, Well, he looks small, but what if he really slays me?

Around dinner time, the Serpent said, How about having something to eat? Go get a good ox and well fix a dinner.

The boy went to look for an ox. He found several of them in the Serpents corral but they were so huge the boy would not be able to bring one leg, let alone a whole ox. So he began 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 are you doing, boy? the Serpent asked.

I thought Id 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, said the Serpent and gave the boy a huge watertight skin to bring water in.

The boy staggered under the weight of the water skin and dragged it to the well. When he tried to fill it with water, the skin slipped out of his hands and fell into the well. No way of getting it out! The boy made a little wooden spade and started digging around the well.

The Serpent, who lost patience waiting for him, came running.

What are you doing?

I decided to bring the whole well instead of just one skinful of water.

What a crazy idea! exclaimed the Serpent. Trying not to reveal that he was very much scared of the strength of the boy, the Serpent got the water skin out of the well and filled it with water.

Now, said the Serpent, bring some wood for the fire. Theres an old, dead oak standing close by. Get it itll be just enough.

But I cant 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 Serpents 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 theres nothing to eat! And Im very hungry!

In that case, said the Serpent, lets go to my mothers place, shell cook a good meal for us.

All right, but lets hurry up then Im mighty hungry! said the boy, thinking to himself, Thats too bad itll be the end of me.

When they arrived at her place, the Serpents 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 he was stuffing the dumplings into his shirt and pants instead.

Ive had my fill, said the Serpent. What about you?

Me too, said the boy.

Then lets go and jump around a little to get the food settled in our stomachs!

All right, lets go, said 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 very afraid. He said, All right, all right, now lets whistle who can whistle louder?

Lets do it, said the boy, thinking to himself, This time it looks Ive 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 youll 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, Id 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 get rid of the boy.

When he falls asleep, lets 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 boys house. The boy waited in a hiding place until the fire subsided and then came back 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?

Im 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 not harm this boy. Wed better keep away from him. And he and his mother fled that country in a hurry, never to come back again.

 

Art by Oleksandr Melnyk

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