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1891 (pub): The Footless and Blind Champions

The following Russian folk-tale was first presented in English by Jeremiah Curtin in 1891:

In a certain kingdom, in a certain land, there lived a Tsar with his Tsaritsa. They had a son, Ivan Tsarevich, and Katoma of the Oaken Cap was appointed tutor to care for and guard Ivan.

        The Tsar and Tsaritsa attained to ancient years, fell ill, and had no thought to recover. They summoned Ivan Tsarevich and said: “When we die, do thou obey in all things Katoma of the Oaken Cap and honor him. If thou obeyest him, thou 'lt be happy; but if disobedient, thou wilt perish like a fly.”

        Next day the Tsar and Tsaritsa died. Ivan buried his parents and lived according to their command: whatever he did, he always held counsel with his tutor. Whether it was long or short, the Tsarevich grew to years of manhood and thought of marrying. He came to Katoma of the Oaken Cap and said: “I feel dreary alone; I wish to marry.”

        “Well, Tsarevich, where is the halt? Thy years are such that it is time to think of a bride. Go to the great chamber, — there the portraits of all Tsars’ daughters and all kings’ daughters are collected. Look at them and choose; if any please thee, propose for that one.”

        Ivan Tsarevich went to the great chamber, examined the portraits; and Princess Anna the Beautiful suited his mind, — such a beauty that in the whole world there was not her equal. Under her portrait was written that if any man gave her a riddle and she could not solve it, she would marry the man; and whose riddle she solved, off went his head. Ivan Tsarevich read this inscription, grew very sorrowful, and went to his uncle. “I have been,” said he, “ in the great chamber, and have found for myself a bride, — Anna the Beautiful; but I know not how to get her."

        “Yes, Tsarevich, it is difficult to win her. If thou go alone, thou wilt never succeed; but if thou take me and will do what I say, perhaps the affair may be settled.”

        Ivan Tsarevich begged Katoma of the Oaken Cap to go with him, and gave his faithful word to obey him in sorrow and in joy.

        They prepared for the road and the journey, and went to ask Princess Anna the Beautiful in marriage. They travelled one year, travelled a second, then a third, and passed over many lands. Ivan Tsarevich said: “Uncle, we are travelling now so long a time, are nearing the land of Anna the Beautiful, and we know not what riddle to give her.”

        “Oh, we will think of one yet.”

        They went farther. Uncle Katoma looked on the road, and there was lying a purse with gold. He took it up, poured all the money out of it into his own purse, and said: “Here is the riddle, Ivan Tsarevich. When thou comest to the princess, give her the riddle in these words: ‘We were travelling along, and we saw good lying on the road. We took good with good and put it in our good.’ She'll not solve that riddle all her life; and every other one she would know in a moment, — she would just look into her magic book, and as soon as she knew the riddle she would have thy head cut off.”

        Well, Ivan Tsarevich with his uncle came at last to the lofty palace where the beautiful princess was living. At that very time she was on the balcony, saw the travellers, and sent out to know whence they were, and what they had come for.

        Ivan Tsarevich replied: “I have come from such and such a kingdom, and I wish to ask Anna the Beautiful in marriage.”

        They reported this to the princess. She gave answer that the Tsarevich should come to the palace and give, in the presence of all her counselling princes and boyars, a riddle. “With me,” said she, “this order is established, that if I solve not the riddle of a man, I will marry him; but if I solve any man’s riddle, I give him to a cruel death."

        “Hear my riddle, beautiful princess,” said Ivan. “We were going along, we saw good lying on the road, we took good with good and put it in our good.”

        Anna the Beautiful took her magic book, began to examine it and look for riddles; she went through the whole volume and found nothing. Then the counselling princes and boyars decided that the princess must marry Ivan Tsarevich. Though sorry, she had to give way, and began to prepare for the wedding; but plotting to win time and get rid of the bridegroom, she thought, “I will trouble him with difficult tasks.” She called Ivan Tsarevich and said: “Oh, my dear Ivan Tsarevich, my betrothed husband, we must prepare for the wedding; do me a small service. In my kingdom in such a place stands a great iron pillar; bring it to the palace kitchen and cut it into small pieces as fuel for the cook.”

        “My princess, is it possible that I have come here to cut fuel? Is that my business? I have a servant for that, — Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap.”

        The Tsarevich called Uncle Katoma straightway, and commanded him to bring the iron pillar to the kitchen and cut it into small pieces as fuel for the cook.

        Uncle Katoma went to the place mentioned, took the pillar in his arms, brought it to the palace kitchen, and cut it into small pieces. Four pieces of iron did he put in his pocket, saying, “They will be good in the future."

        Next day the princess said to Ivan: “My dear Tsarevich, my betrothed husband, to-morrow we must go to the crown: I will go in a carriage, and thou on an heroic steed. Meanwhile thou shouldst try the steed.”

        “Shall I try a horse when I have a servant for that?” Ivan Tsarevich called Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap.

        “Go,” said he, "and order the stable-boys to lead forth the heroic steed; sit on him and ride him around. To-morrow I will go to the marriage on him."

        Uncle Katoma saw through the cunning of the princess, without talking long. He went to the stable and ordered them to lead forth the heroic steed. Twelve men went: they opened twelve locks, opened twelve doors, and led out the magic horse by twelve iron chains.

        Uncle Katoma went to the horse: the moment he sat on him the magic steed left the earth and rose higher than the standing forest, lower than the moving clouds. Katoma sat firmly; with one hand he held the mane, with the other he took from his pocket one of the iron bars and began to pound the horse between the ears with it. He broke one bar, took another, broke that, took a third, broke that. The fourth entered service; and Katoma so hammered the steed that he could not endure, but spoke with the voice of a man: “Father Katoma, let me even live in the white world; whatever thou wishest, command, — everything shall be as thou sayest.”

        “Listen, dog’s meat!” answered Uncle Katoma. “To-morrow Ivan Tsarevich will ride thee to the marriage: see to it when they lead thee to the broad court, when the Tsarevich approaches and puts his hand on thee, that thou standest quietly, movest not an ear; and when he sits on thy back, sink to thy fetlocks, and walk under him with a heavy tread, as if an immeasurable burden were on thee.”

        The heroic steed heard the command and came down barely alive to the earth. Katoma took him by the tail and threw him to the side of the stable, saying, “Oh, coachmen and grooms, take this dog’s meat to the stable!”

        The next day rose, the hour of marriage came. They gave a carriage to the princess, and led out the heroic steed for Ivan Tsarevich. The people ran from every side in thousands. The bridegroom and the bride came forth from the white-walled palace. The princess sat in the carriage and waited for what would happen to Ivan Tsarevich. The magic steed, she thought, would scatter his hair to the wind and drag his bones over the field.

        Ivan Tsarevich approached the steed, put his hand on his back, his foot in the stirrup; the horse stood as if fixed to the earth, moved not an ear. Ivan sat on his back; the horse sank in the ground to the fetlocks. They removed the twelve chains from him; the horse began to walk with a slow and heavy tread, the sweat rolled from him like rain.

        "Oh, what a champion, what immeasurable strength!” said the people, looking at the Tsarevich.

        They crowned the bridegroom with the bride.

        They were coming out of the church, took each other by the hand, and the princess thought of testing once more the strength of Ivan Tsarevich. She pressed his hand with such force that he could not endure; the blood rushed to his face, his eyes went up under his forehead.

        “So this is the kind of hero thou art!" thought the princess. “Thy uncle has deceived me grandly; but this will not go with thee for nothing.”

        Anna the Beautiful lived with Ivan Tsarevich as was befitting a wife with a God-given husband, and she in every way flattered him with words, but thought only of one thing, — how to destroy Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap. It was not difficult for her to manage the Tsarevich without the uncle. No matter how much calumny she invented, Ivan did not yield to her speeches; he had pity on his uncle. In a year’s time he said to his wife: “My dear consort, beautiful princess, I should like to go with thee to my own kingdom.”

        “Very well, let us go; I have long wished to see thy kingdom.”

        They got ready and went, making Uncle Katoma coachman. They travelled and travelled. Ivan Tsarevich fell asleep on the way. All at once Anna the Beautiful began to rouse him and complain: “Now, Tsarevich, thou art sleeping all the time, hearest nothing. But thy uncle will not obey me; he drives the horses on purpose over hillocks and into holes, just as if trying to kill me. I spoke to him kindly, and he laughed at me. I will not live unless thou punish him.”

        Ivan in his drowsiness grew very angry at his uncle, and gave him over entirely to the princess. “Do with him as thou desirest.” The princess gave orders to cut off his feet. Katoma allowed himself to be maltreated by her. “Let me endure,” thought he; “and the Tsarevich will know what it is to suffer sorrow.” They cut off Katoma’s feet. The princess looked around and saw a high stump on one side; she called the servants and ordered them to seat him on that stump. Ivan Tsarevich she tied by a rope to the carriage, turned back, and went to her own kingdom. Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap was sitting on the stump, shedding bitter tears. “Farewell, Ivan Tsarevich,” said he, “thou wilt remember me;” and Ivan Tsarevich ran jumping behind the carriage. He knew himself that he had made a mistake, but he could not turn back.

        Anna the Beautiful came to her own kingdom, and she made Ivan Tsarevich herd cows. Every morning he went with the herd into the open field, and in the evening he drove them back into the princess’ yard; and at that time she sat on the balcony and counted the cows, were they all there? She counted them, and ordered the Tsarevich to kiss the last cow on the tail; and the cow was so well trained that when she came to the gate she stopped and raised her tail.

        Uncle Katoma was sitting on the stump one day, a second, a third, without food or drink. He could in no way slip down, and it was coming to him to die of hunger. Not far away was a thick wood, and in that wood lived a blind, mighty hero; and he nourished himself only with this, that when he knew by the smell that a beast was running past, — a hare, fox, or bear, — that moment he ran, caught it, and his dinner was ready. The hero was very swift of foot, and no running beast could escape him. Behold, it happened thus: a fox was slipping by; the hero heard it and pursued; the fox ran to the tall stump and turned aside. The blind champion hurried, and in the run-struck his forehead against the stump so that he drove it out of the ground with its roots.

        Katoma was thrown to the earth, and asked, “Who art thou?”

        “The blind hero; I live in this forest thirty years, and I nourish myself only in this way. If I seize a beast, I roast it on the fire; otherwise I should have died of hunger long since."

        “Is it possible that thou art blind from birth?”

        “No, not from birth; Anna the Beautiful put out my eyes.”

        “Well, brother,” said Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap, “and I through her am footless; she cut off my two feet, the cursed woman."

        The two heroes talked to each other, and agreed to live together and find food in common. The blind said to the footless: “Sit on me and show the way; I will serve thee with my feet, and thou shalt serve me with thy eyes.”

        He took the footless and carried him. Katoma sat, looked on both sides, and cried out: “To the right; to the left; straight ahead.” They lived in this way some time in the forest and caught food, — hares, foxes, and bears.

        Once the footless asked: “Is it possible that we shall live all our lives without company? I have heard that in a certain town there is a rich merchant with his daughter, and the daughter is very charitable to poor people and cripples, and gives alms herself to all. Let us carry her off, brother; let her live with us as a housekeeper."

        The blind man took a Wagon, put the footless in it, and drew him to the town. They went straight to the house of the rich merchant. The merchant’s daughter saw them through the window. Straightway she sprang up and went to give them something. She went to the footless: “Take this, poor man, for Christ’s sake.” While taking the gift he seized her by the hand and into the wagon with her. He called to the blind man, who ran so swiftly that no horseman could come up with him.

        The merchant sent a party in pursuit, but no one could overtake the two men. The heroes brought the merchant’s daughter to their hut in the forest, and said to her: “Be to us in the place of our own sister; live with us, keep the house, for we have no one to cook a meal for us or to wash our shirts. God will not forget thee for doing this.”

        The maiden remained with them. The heroes respected and loved her, and considered her as their own sister. The way was, they used to go hunting, and she was always at home, took care of the housekeeping, cooked for them, washed for them. Now a Baba-Yaga, bone-leg, began to come to the hut and suck the blood of the merchant's daughter. The moment the heroes went to hunt, Baba-Yaga was there. Whether it was long or short, the fair maiden's face fell away; she grew thin and poor.

        The blind man saw nothing, but Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap noticed that something was wrong. He spoke of it to the blind man, and they questioned their adopted sister. They began to urge her to answer. The Baba-Yaga had strictly forbidden her to confess. For a long time she was afraid to tell of her trouble; long she resisted. At last they persuaded her, and she confessed everything. “Whenever ye go away to hunt, an ancient old woman comes, evil-faced, long-haired, gray; she makes me search in her head, and then sucks my blood.”

        “Ah!” said the blind man, “that is Baba-Yaga. Wait, we must settle with her in our own fashion; to-morrow we will not go to hunt, we will try to come upon her and catch her.”

        Next morning they did not go to hunt.

        “Well, footless uncle," said the blind man, “crawl thou under the bench; sit quietly. I will go outside and stay under the window. And thou, sister, when Baba-Yaga comes, sit right here in this window, search in her head, separate her hair gradually, and let it out of the window. I will catch her by the gray locks.”

        It was said and done. The blind man caught the Baba-Yaga by the gray locks and cried, “Ei! Uncle Katoma, crawl from under the bench and hold the viperous old hag till I go into the house.”

        Baba-Yaga heard trouble, wanted to jump up, and raised her head. What could she do? She had no chance; she tore and tore, — no use.

        Then Katoma crawled from under the bench, threw himself on her like a stone mountain, and began to smother Baba-Yaga. She was frightened out of her wits.

        The blind man sprang into the house, and said to the footless: “We must make a big fire now, burn the old outcast, and scatter her ashes to the wind.”

        Baba-Yaga implored. “Father, dove, forgive me; whatever thou wishest I'll do.”

        “Well, old witch,” said the heroes, “show us the well of living and healing water.”

        “Only don’t beat me, and I'll show you this moment.”

        Uncle Katoma sat on the blind man, the blind man took Baba-Yaga by the hair, and she led them to the forest depth, brought them to a well, and said: “Here is the healing and living water.”

        “See to it, Uncle Katoma,” said the blind man, “make no mistake; if she deceives us now, we cannot mend matters while we live."

        Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap broke from a tree a green branch and threw it into the well; the branch had not reached the water when it burst into a blaze.

        “Ah, thou hast turned to deceit! ”

        They began to choke the old woman, and wanted to throw her into the fiery well. She implored more than before, and gave an awful oath that now she would play no tricks. “’Pon my true word, I will lead you now to good water."

        They agreed to try once more, and the old woman brought them to another well.

        Uncle Katoma broke a dry branch from a tree, and threw it into the well; the branch had not reached the water when it gave out buds, grew green, and blossomed.

        “Oh, this is good water!” said Uncle Katoma.

        The blind man moistened his eyes with it, and in a moment he saw. He let the footless down into the water, and his feet grew out.

        Both were rejoiced, and said: “Now we will restore everything; but first we must settle with Baba-Yaga. If we forgive her now, we shall not see good ourselves; she will plot evil against us all our lives.”

        They returned to the fiery well and threw Baba-Yaga into it, so that she perished. Then Uncle Katoma married the merchant’s daughter, and all three went to the kingdom of Anna the Beautiful to liberate Ivan Tsarevich.

        They were approaching the capital town. They looked, Ivan Tsarevich was driving a herd of cows.

        “Stop, herdsman!” said Uncle Katoma. “Whither art thou driving these cows?”

        “I am driving them to the royal castle. The princess always counts them herself, to see if all the cows are there.”

        “Well, herdsman, here are my clothes; put them on. I 'll put on thine, and drive the cows.”

        “No, brother, that is impossible; if the princess should know it, woe to me.”

        “Never fear, nothing will come of it; Uncle Katoma is security for thee in that.”

        Ivan Tsarevich sighed, and said: “Oh, kind man, if Uncle Katoma were living I should not be herding cows in this field.”

        Then Uncle Katoma confessed to him who he was. Ivan Tsarevich embraced him firmly and shed tears, “I did not think to see thee.”

        They changed clothes. Uncle Katoma drove the cows to the princess’s yard. Anna the Beautiful came out on the balcony, counted to see if all the cows were there, and gave command to drive them into the shed. All went in but the last one; she stopped at the gate. Katoma jumped up. “What art thou waiting for, dog’s meat?” caught her by the tail, and pulled her skin off.

        The princess saw this and cried: “What is that scoundrel of a herdsman doing? Seize him; bring him to me!”

        Here the servants caught Katoma and dragged him to the palace. He made no excuse, for he was confident in himself. They brought him to the palace. She looked at him and asked: “Who art thou? Whence art thou here?”

        “I am the man whose feet thou didst cut off, and thou didst seat me on a stump; they call me Uncle Katoma of the Oaken Cap.”

        “Well,” thought the princess, “if he has brought back his feet, there is no use in playing tricks with him;” and she begged forgiveness of him, was sorry for her sins, and took an oath to love Ivan Tsarevich forever and obey him in all things.

        Ivan Tsarevich forgave her, and began to live with her in peace and harmony. The blind hero lived with them, and Uncle Katoma went with his wife to the rich merchant and lived in his house.