Roumanian Fairy Tales and Legends, by E.B. Mawr, , at sacred-texts.com
ONCE upon a time, in a certain town there dwelt a gipsy blacksmith, who was the best iron worker in the whole empire.
This gipsy had a son as fair and handsome as a Roumanian fawn, and as strong and as brave as a young lion. He played with the sledge hammer as if it were a toy; twisted the great anvil between his fingers, and broke across his knee a thick iron bar as though it were a reed.
The life of a working blacksmith, however, was not to his taste, athletic sports, and playing at soldiers with his young comrades pleased him better, pretending that he was a great Captain, and strutting about in a coloured paper helmet. He liked racing and wrestling, and running about in the open air all day long,--to quarrel, and to come off victorious. As I have already said, he was very strong, stronger than the strongest man. He did not know the meaning of fear, and was calm and cool in the greatest peril; he laughed at ill the frightful tales of dragons and evil spirits recounted by the old women of the neighbourhood.
So he was called Vasilica the Brave.
His father, seeing that he was not diligent at learning, either his own trade, or any other, thought it best that he should become a soldier. But the boy did not wish to be placed under the command of others, for with his strength he could overcome them all.
Seeing that his father was always urging him to take to some business, and now that he was grown to manhood, the time had arrived for him to gain his livelihood, he made a small bundle of his clothes, and left home without telling anyone where he was going to, or without having come to any conclusion himself on that point.
As he went along the highway, his bundle on a stick slung over his shoulder, he heard in the distance the neighing and shrieking of a horse, enough to make his hair stand on end.
Another in his place would have turned back; he, on the contrary, threw his bundle on the grass, and ran quickly in the direction from whence the sound came, and before he could say "God help me," he reached a large field in the middle of which a terrible
scene met his view. A large and awful dragon was twisting itself round a beautiful horse, squeezing the very life out of its body, beating it with its wings, and biting it with its ferocious mouth, until the poor animal was covered with blood.
The horse, though strong and brave, had only his teeth and hoofs to defend himself with, so that the dragon, having so great an advantage, would soon have finished the strife.
When the horse saw Vasilica appear, he called to him, "quick! quick! come here and save me, I shall be of much use to you in the world."
Then the dragon, said, "mind your own affairs, youngster, if you do not wish to be ground to powder."
Vasilica had no weapon, but hearing the dragon calling to him with so much assurance, fearlessly rushed towards him, careless of his tail, which beat the ground like a thousand whips, seized him by the head from behind, jerked it once upwards, twisted it to the right and to the left, and the dragon's head remained in his hands. The wings of the terrible animal became as powerless as those of a wet turkey, its tail no longer beat the ground, and its body fell in a heap below.
The horse, freed from the terrible grip, shook
FIGHT OF HORSE AND DRAGON.
himself, throwing the foam in all directions, and going up to Vasilica said, "master, I thank thee; be thou my master until death."
Now we find Vasilica with the horse, and such a horse! After having caught his bundle, he mounted quickly, and scratched his ear in hesitation, not knowing what direction to take.
"Where are we going, master?" said the horse, seeing his indecision.
"I scarcely know!" said Vasilica, looking in various directions.
"Where are you going?" again said the horse.
"Where I shall be able to do brave deeds, don't you know that I am the renowned Vasilica?" said he with pride.
"Vasilica the brave! Oh, I have heard mention of this name with fear, and if what you say is true, go where I will take you, and you will find what you seek."
"What sayest thou?"
"I say that if thou art really the renowned Vasilica, then thou must do a brave and good deed, that is, to rescue my mistress and her three sisters from
three fearful dragons, that have held them in their power for so many years."
"Are these dragons formidable?" asked Vasilica,
"Indeed, yes," replied the horse, "no man has yet dared to approach one of them in strength or in power."
"Let me only encounter them; I have a lance in readiness for them," said Vasilica.
"Don't boast, master, for you do not know with whom you have to do, my first master was not to be despised, but nevertheless, he was eaten alive by the weakest of these dragons; had the other taken him in hand, who is the strongest in the world, then what would have become of him?"
"Who was your master?" asked Vasilica.
"He was the son of a powerful emperor, who fell in love with the daughter of a neighbouring emperor, and when he went to ask her in marriage, the father replied, 'first of all you must rescue the two other sisters from the power of the dragons, and when you have done this, I will give you my daughter to wife.' My master joyfully agreed to this proposal, and made his preparations to depart. But during the night, the dragons came and carried off also his intended bride, which only increased his eagerness to depart. The emperor's son was brave,
but imprudent, and lily advice was useless, for he would not listen to me, and so in consequence fell all easy prey to those monsters, who took his life without the slightest remorse. Since then I have been without a master, wandering about, searching for some brave personage of renown, to revenge the death of my master, and to rescue those three unhappy Princesses from life-long captivity. Many years have passed since I began my search, and I have been unable to find any one who dared to put his strength in opposition to that of the dragons. To-day, passing by here, I encountered the hideous monster, who nearly cut the thread of my life, and would have done so had it not been for your valiant and powerful arm."
"Pray tell me, where do these dragons live?" said Vasilica.
"You must traverse nine kingdoms, and cross nine seas; but have no anxiety on that account, for I am a flying horse, and can go like the wind, and gallop as quick as thought. I can transform myself to any shape I please, and have also the same power over others; come with me, rescue these unfortunate sisters from captivity, I am sure you will vanquish these terrible dragons, and become possessed of their boundless treasures, for I have
heard them often say, 'if ever Vasilica the brave crosses our path, our power is at an end."
"Let us go," said Vasilica, with pride; the horse spread his wings, and they disappeared from sight.
AFTER having gone some distance through the clouds, the horse and rider descended in a green field, studded with numberless flowers, in the centre of which stood a castle, all in copper, and which glistened quite dazzling in the sun.
"This is the palace of the biggest dragon," said the horse "go, knock at the gate, and it will be opened by the eldest Princess. Enter without fear, for the dragon is absent, and when he returns, you will know of it, for he will fling his club six miles before him, which club will enter the castle alone, and hang itself up on its own nail in the wall. If you wish to acquaint him with your presence, take up the club, fling it back, and go forwards and meet him."
Vasilica listened attentively, dismounted by the side of the wall, left the horse there to feed, and went straight to the Gate of the Palace, where he knocked three times.
The eldest Princess was walking alone in the court of the palace without attendants, and when she heard the knocking at the gate, she opened it in person.
Since she had been spirited away by the dragon, her eyes had not rested on a human creature, for the palace was situated in an uninhabited country.
Seeing Vasilica, she uttered a cry of surprise, and stood like a statue.
"Good day, Princess!" said Vasilica.
"Thank you! brave knight," stammered she.
"What wind has blown you here?"
"A favourable wind," said he, "the wind of freedom."
"May God hear you! but I cannot believe it," said she, with a sigh.
"Will you allow me, lady, a little rest and shelter?" asked Vasilica, entering the court.
"With very good will," said she, "only you must enter quickly, or the dragon will find you here."
Leave that to me, lady, I am a match for him."
So she sheltered her guest, and offered him all that she had of the best, according to the old Roumanian traditions of hospitality, without asking who he was, from whence he came, or whither he was going.
After he seemed refreshed, she began to question
him of the world in general. While Vasilica was recounting to her what had happened lately, they suddenly heard a tremendous bellowing, followed by a trembling of the ground which shook the castle to its foundations. On hearing this, the Princess became pale as death, and cried, "Woe is me! Where shall I hide you--for the dragon is coming?" "Have no anxiety on my account, for we are safe," answered Vasilica. At that same moment, the gate was flung open, and the dragon's club was thrown in; with a whistling noise it sprung on to a table, and from thence hung itself on a nail.
Vasilica seeing this, seized the club from the nail, and turning it round in a circle three times, flung it beyond the gate twice the distance which it had originally come. The dragon coming along at a rapid pace towards the palace, hearing the roar of his club, stopped and exclaimed to himself, "What can this mean?" Hardly had he finished this exclamation, before his club clove through the air and fell at his feet, and penetrated the earth for a yard deep.
"My club!" cried the dragon, unearthing his weapon with great difficulty. "Who has dared to lay hands on this, and to throw it with all its weight, such a tremendous distance? Only Vasilica the Brave is capable of such an act."
"You have guessed well, monster," answered a voice close by, "Vasilica stands before you! I bow with humility in your presence."
"Ha! it is you," cried the dragon, grinding his teeth; "it is well you have come, for how long have I not thirsted for your blood? Tell me quickly what method of combat do you prefer? Wrestling, or the sword thrust?" "Wrestling is better, because it is more equal," said Vasilica. "Good, so be it," cried the dragon, dashing towards him so as to crush him with the weight of his body; but he had found his match at last though his size was gigantic, while Vasilica appeared slight, but sinewy and well knit. When he closed with the dragon, and flung his arms round him, it was with a grip of iron, and his muscles stood out like the tendons of a bull. The dragon flung himself to the right, but Vasilica twisting to the left nearly overthrow him.
The first struggle did not prove victorious to either, for they were both strong and brave.
They fought hand to hand, three hours, without relaxation; their feet had entered the ground up to their knees; perspiration was pouring from them, as from a fountain; the blood was trickling from their wounds, but neither would yield. Towards sunset, Vasilica concentrated all his force, and with
one mighty push overthrew the dragon, thrust his dagger into his throat, and, finally, beheaded him, flinging the body into the moat. Dragging the head along with him to the palace, at the feet of the Emperor's daughter, he cried, "Princess, behold! Thou art a widow; but thou art free from the demon who kept thee enslaved."
"May God repay you tenfold," replied the Princess, weeping for joy.
Finding herself delivered from the dragon, sunshine returned to the face of the Princess, and she set before her deliverer the best food she had; and entertained him for a week to restore himself, and recruit his strength.
At the end of this time, our hero took leave of the Princess, and mounting his horse flew off into the air. On descending, he saw glittering in the rays of the sun, a palace in pure silver.
"Here," says the horse, "is the residence of the second dragon, and he is more powerful than the one whose head you cut off; and yet he is less formidable than the third dragon. Go to his palace without fear, acquit yourself as you did with the first."
Vasilica departed, and knocking at the gate, it was opened by the second Princess, who remained equally astonished as her eldest sister had been. She received him with joy, and entertained him hospitably. While at the table the club of the second dragon entered, jumped from the table to the hook in the wall; the performance being accompanied by even a louder noise than on the previous occasion.
The Princess became pale, and trembled with fright; but Vasilica, with the greatest coolness, took the club from its resting place, and sent it back with two-fold force.
He set off at once to meet the dragon, who, seeing his club whirling through the air, and burying itself at his feet, in the ground, for a depth of two feet, in his turn became pale and said: "Only Vasilica the Brave, can have done this, and if he has reached so far as here, then surely my eldest brother is dead."
"You are correct in your calculations," said Vasilica, appearing on the scene, "be quick and prepare yourself for battle, I am thirsting to drink your blood, as I drank that of your brother."
"Don't be too sure about that," cried the dragon furiously, "shall we wrestle or fight with swords?"
"Wrestling is more equal," said Vasilica.
They fought for four long hours, and strove one against the other with so much force, that they sank into the ground up to their waists. Rivers of perspiration ran from them, but neither one nor the other would yield.
Towards night-fall, Vasilica, by a superhuman effort, gave the dragon a grip, and throw him heavily down, he made great efforts to rise, but the well-tempered dagger of Vasilica, entered his throat in an instant, and his life-blood welled out and stained the whole field.
Seeing that the dragon did not move, Vasilica cut off his head, and hid the trunk under a bridge.
On entering the palace he was received with great joy by the Princess, and remained her guest for two weeks.
AFTER taking leave of the Princess, Vasilica again mounted his horse, and they flew away into space. On descending towards the earth a third time, a shining golden palace met their view. When they were near it, the horse said to its master, "up to this time we have done our best, and we have come out victorious; but now you must be very cautious, for this is the most terrible of all the dragons, and the strongest creature that ever lived."
"So far I have told you to go forward and conquer, but now I say, reflect, while there is yet time."
"Vasilica does not fly from danger," answered he with pride; "if I turn back, the youngest Princess, who was the intended bride of your first master, and for whom he sacrificed his life, will remain in captivity; how then can you tell me to flee?"
"Do as you like!" said the horse, "only I repeat, reflect! and be careful; I also will try and help you, put faith in me, and with God's blessing, we will be victorious." With this conversation, they arrived in front of the palace, Vasilica dismounted, knocked at the gate, and entered as he had previously done, being received by the youngest daughter of the Emperor.
When at table, the third dragon announced himself by his club; Vasilica seized it, before it had time to place itself on the nail, and threw it out twice as quickly as it came in.
The dragon was approaching the bridge when he saw his club pelting along, and burying itself in the ground at his feet.
"This is the work of Vasilica the Brave," cried the dragon, foaming at the mouth; "he has killed my two brothers, and now I intend to kill him."
"Get to work, then," said Vasilica, obstructing his path.
"Well!" cried the dragon, how shall we fight? by wrestling, or by the sword?"
"Wrestling, as with the others," said Vasilica.
They closed at once, and now it was a fearful trial of strength, and they fought from noon to eventide. They had kicked up the earth until it reached their throats; Perspiration poured from them like a foaming cascade; blood spurted from their veins like water from a pump, and yet neither was victorious.
Fighting in this way, the dragon suddenly jumped from the hole in which he found himself, on to the bridge, and changed himself into a flaming red dragon, with a mouth quite two yards wide, and a seven forked tail. Hardly had this taken place, than Vasilica, by the aid of his horse, took the form of a green dragon, just as formidable as his adversary.
Dashing at each other with open mouths and tails erect, they met in the centre of the bridge, and they began to bite each other, to beat with their wings, and to lash with their tails. This unparallelled combat lasted till midnight: from their bodies oozed streams of black blood, from their eyes shot sparks of fire, from their nostrils sulphur, and from their mouths tongues of flame.
The red dragon became only a wheel of fire, and rolled quickly into the green dragon, so as to cut him in twain.
At the same moment, the green dragon was also a green wheel of flaming fire, and beat into the red wheel with unheard of force.
After this strife had lasted more than two hours, the red wheel demanded respite, seeing that its axle from the rapid motion, had taken fire; but the green wheel would not consent, although sparks of fare were perceptible in its axle also. At this moment, high up in the air above their heads, appeared a vulture.
"Vulture, dear vulture," cried the red wheel, "go down to the river, dip your wings in water, and come and wet my axle, then I will give you a dead body to feed on."
"Vulture, dear vulture," cried the green wheel, "go down to the river, dip your wings in water, and come and wet my axle, and then I will give you three dead bodies to feed on."
The vulture went to the river, clipped his wings, and wetted the axle of the green wheel. Instantaneously its force was redoubled, and it attacked its enemy with renewed power.
The red wheel was one sheet of livid fire, and exploded with a deafening noise.
The green wheel became once more Vasilica, who, dagger in hand, struck the red wheel, which also took its original shape, poured out streams of blood, and fell lifeless.
Vasilica, seeing the monster stretched on the bridge stiff and dead, out off its head, and kicking the carcase towards the vulture, cried, "there, eat this, and afterwards the other two dragons, which I have left near the drawbridges of their palaces." "I do not need them," answered the vulture, who speedily changed himself into the faithful horse.
"How is this?" cried Vasilica. "You, my deliverer?" as he saw his beloved horse by his side. "Yes, Master," said the horse, "I have kept my promise; I changed you into a dragon, and into a wheel of fire, when you needed it, and I have given you all the help in my power."
"You have repaid your debt," said Vasilica, "for you have saved my life, and now we are quits. Let us go and set. at liberty the youngest Princess, and then we will return home."
"He! he! we haven't yet time to go back."
"Why?" asked Vasilica. "We have yet more to do," said the horse; "we have conquered the dragons, but their mother yet remains, and she is more formidable than they."
"Come along," said Vasilica, impetuously, "let us go and vanquish her also."
"Not so fast, my master, we must rest awhile, for we have striven hard, and we have yet much to do."
"Lot us go to the Palace, then," said Vasilica.
The youngest princess, on learning that she was free from captivity, clapped her hands with joy, and entertained her deliverer and his valiant horse for three weeks, with the best that the castle afforded.
After three weeks had elapsed, the horse called his master aside one day, and said to him: "Master, we have had great trouble before we got free from those three monsters, and as yet we have not gained much; for the Princesses for whom we have fought, are even yet in great danger, until we have overcome the artful mother of the dragons."
"Let us set off at once," said Vasilica, vaulting into the saddle.
"It is easy to say 'Go,' but it is rather difficult to attain, for this she-dragon cannot be fought by wrestling, or by the sword, but must be combatted with her own weapons of cunning and deceit; and she is as deceitful as she is wicked. She will meet you with a kiss, and stab you from behind. If we
can entrap her youngest daughter, we may then well say that we have got the upper hand. She has three daughters, all very lovely, but the youngest is perfection. If by fair means or foul, we can entice this young creature away, then the old one is in our power."
"If it be only a question of turning the head of a pretty girl, leave me alone for that, for I am a proficient in the art," said Vasilica, swelling with pride.
"He! he! master," it is not all plain sailing; the girl, perhaps, you maybe able to charm; but the old one has a keen scent, and directly she smells who you are, it is finished with us."
"Come along, and we'll see what happens."
They flew along, over vale, mountain, and forest, until a golden palace, put together with large diamond nails, came in sight. The dragoness had not yet received news of the death of her three sons; had she done so, the earth would have quaked at their approach.
In the beautiful garden, at the back of the palace, she was taking the air with her daughters, when her youngest daughter heard, near to her, the purring of a cat; on looking down, there was a beautiful little white kitten at her feet, playing and rubbing itself against the bottom of her robe.
"Ah! mother," said she, "see what a pretty kitten;" at the same time taking it up in her hands. Her mother not hearing her, she kept the kitten in her arms, entered a kiosque near, and seating herself on a low divan, took it on her lap and began patting and caressing it. The kitten rolled on its back, purring, and tapping her hands with its soft paws, and while playing, her kerchief slipped off her neck.
All at once the mother enters, and sniffing to the right and to the left, exclaimed: "There's the smell of man's flesh here, from the other world!"
"A man," said the girl, astonished, "what do you mean?" and went on playing with the kitten.
"There is no one here, I assure you."
"No one has come? You are stupid my child, it is a pity that you are my daughter. Throw a handkerchief round your neck, for it is not decent to sit there without one."
"But where do you see even the shadow of a man, mother?"
"Where? What is that on your lap?"
"Don't you see? It is a kitten."
"Kitten, kitten," said the mother, "but his eyes sparkle like those of a brave man; put on your kerchief, and you, kitten, take back your own shape, and come to table, for my house is open to all well
meaning travellers. If you don't obey me, I will tear you in a thousand pieces."
The kitten, to whom this was addressed, went on with his play, taking no more notice than an actual kitten would.
This indifference, enraged the dragoness.
"Youngster!" she exclaimed, "if you don't take your original shape, I will fling you into the pond in the garden, which is very deep, and as cold as ice."
Still the kitten remained impassive, so she seized it by the nape of the neck, and carried it to the edge of the pond, again repeating her command. The kitten for reply began to play with a morsel of ribbon hanging from her dress.
"Let him alone, mother! Don't fling him into the pond! Don't you see it is a kitten, like all kittens? If he had been a man, he would have been afraid, and would have obeyed you."
"Don't speak! for you don't know what you say," said the dragoness, and seizing the kitten, she was about to throw it into the water.
The girl cried entreatingly that her kitten might not be drowned; the kitten, seeing its peril, stuck its claws into the dragoness, and scratched her so severely, that she flung it away from her in disgust.
"You are rightly punished," said her daughter, "now are you convinced that it is a kitten?"
"Kitten! kitten! but his eyes are man's eyes," cried the mother, in uncontrollable rage.
"Be so good as to let my kitten alone, for it is the only plaything I have ever had," said the girl, going after it, and holding it to her bosom.
But the dragoness was not easily deceived, and seizing her daughter by the hand, dragged her indoors, entered the kitchen, opened the door of the oven, and taking the kitten from her daughter said, "now sir, if you won't change yourself into a man, I will throw you into the hot oven."
The kitten's only reply was to play with a lighted ember, and burning itself, began to mew with pain, and jumped through the window.
The girl pursued it, hoping to catch and caress it, but the kitten was already over the wall and on the road beyond; the young girl hurried through the gate to catch it, so that it might not escape into the wood.
She was too late, for it was already in the wood, and forgetting the danger incurred, she set off in pursuit.
The kitten enticed the maiden slowly along, but as soon as she tried to catch it, it slipped through
her fingers, and glided gently forwards, so that before she was aware of it, she found herself in the middle of a dense forest.
Then the kitten suddenly transformed himself into Vasilica the Brave, seized the maiden in his arms, sprang with her on to his faithful horse, and journeyed many hours, until he reached his native city.
Who can recount the rejoicings of his parents, the joy of his comrades, the happiness, and the wealth of the young couple? Vasilica, in every palace which he visited, had received gifts of precious stones, so that his leather girdle was as full of diamonds and sapphires, as is his native country now of his valiant descendants.