A Tale of the Dead

Alexander Afanasyev October 2, 2015
Russian
Easy
11 min read
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    One day a peasant was going by night with pots on his head. He journeyed on and on, and his horse became tired and came to a spot in front of God’s acre. The peasant ungirded the horse, set it to graze, but he could not get any sleep. He lay down and lay down, suddenly the grave began opening under him, and he felt it and leaped to his feet. Then the grave opened and the corpse with the coffin lid got out, with his white shroud on, got out and ran up to the church door, laid the coffin lid at the gate and himself went into the village.

    Now this peasant was a bold fellow : so he took the coffin lid and set it by his telega, and went to see what would come of it. Very soon the corpse came back, looked about him and could not find the coffin lid any-where, and began to hunt for it. And at last he came up to the peasant, and said, ” Give me my coffin lid, or else I will smash you to atoms.”

    “What are you bragging for?” answered the peasant, “I will break you up into little bits.”

    “Do, please, give it me, dear good man,” asked the corpse.

    “Well, I will give it you if you will tell me where you have been and what you have done.”

    “Oh, I have been in the village, and I there slew two young lads!”

    “Well, tell me how to revive them.”

    The corpse had no choice, so he answered, “Cut off the left lappet from my shroud and take it with you. When you come to the ibiza (hut) where the lads have died, scatter hot sparks into a pot and put the piece of my shirt there, then close the door and at the breath of it, they will revive at once.”

    So the peasant cut off the left lappet from the shroud and gave him back the coffin lid. Then the dead man went back into the grave and laid himself down in it. Then the cocks crowed and he could not lock it down properly : one corner of the coffin lid would perk upwards. The peasant noticed all this. Day was breaking, so he yoked his horse and went into the village.

    In a certain house he could hear the sound of lamentation and cries of grief: he went in there, and two youths lay dead. “Do not weep. I can revive them.”

    “Do revive them, kinsman : half of our goods we will give you,” said the relations.

    So the peasant did as the corpse had told him, and the lads revived. The parents were delighted, and they seized hold of the peasant, and they pinioned him with ropes. ” Now, doctor, we are going to take you up to the authorities. If you can revive them it must be you who killed them!”

    “What, good Christians! Have some fear for God!” the peasant shrieked, and he told what he had seen at night.

    Soon the news spread through the village, and the people assembled and rushed up to the cemetery, looked at the grave out of which the corpse had come, tore it up and dug into the dead man’s heart an oaken stake, so that he should never rise up and kill folks. And they rewarded the peasant greatly and led him home with honor.

    Once a carpenter was going home late at night from a strange village: he had been at a jolly feast at a friend’s house. As he came back an old friend met him who had died some ten years before.

    “How do you do? ”

    “How do you do?” said the walker, and he forgot that his friend had long ago taken the long road.

    “Come along with me : let us have a cup together once more. Let us go.”

    “I am so glad to have met you again, let us toast the occasion.”

    So they went into a hut and they had a drink and a talk. “Well, good-bye, time I went home!”

    “Stay, where are you going ? Come and stay the night with me.”

    “No, brother, do not ask me. It is no good. I have business at home tomorrow and must be there early.”

    “Well, good-bye.”

    “But why should you go on foot? Better come on my horse, and he will gallop along gaily.”

    “Thank you very much.”

    So he sat on the horse, and the horse galloped away like a whirlwind.

    Suddenly the cock crowed. It was a very terrible sight! Graves all around, and under the wayfarer a gravestone!

    A TALE OF THE DEAD

    They had discharged the soldier home, and he was going on his road, it may be far, it may be a short way, and he at last was nearing his village. Not far from his village there lived a miller in his mill : in past times the soldier had been great friends with him.

    Why should he not go and see his friend ? So he went. And the miller met him, greeted him kindly, brought a glass of wine, and they began speaking of all they had lived through and seen. This was towards the evening, and whilst the soldier was the miller’s guest it had become dark. So the soldier got ready to go into the village.

    But the miller said to him, ” Soldier, stay the night with me : it is late and you might come by some mishap.”

    “What?”

    “A terrible sorcerer has died, and at night he rises out of the grave, ranges about the village and terrifies the boldest : why, he might give you trouble.”

    What was the use of it ? Why, the soldier was a State servant, and a soldier cannot be drowned in the sea, nor be burned in the fire ! So he answered, ” I will go, for I should like to see my relatives as soon as I can.”

    So he set out ; and the road crossed a grave-yard. As he looked he saw a glow on one grave. “What is it?” he said. ” I must look at this.”

    So he went up, and beside a fire there sat the sorcerer, sewing shoes. “Hail, brother ! ” said the soldier.

    So the wizard looked, and asked, “What are you doing here?”

    “I only wanted to see what you are up to.”

    So the wizard threw down his work, and he invited the soldier to a wedding. “Let us go, brother, let us have a walk : there is a wedding now going on in the village.”

    “Very well,” said the soldier.

    So they went to the wedding, and were royally feasted and given to eat and drink.

    The wizard drank and drank, walked about and walked about, and grew angry, drove all the guests and the family out of the izba (hut), scattered all the wedding guests, took out two bladders and an awl, pricked the hands of the bride and bridegroom and drew their blood, filling the bladders with the blood. He did this and said to the soldier, “Now we will leave the house.”

    On the road the soldier asked him, “Tell me, why did you fill the bladders with the blood?”

    “So that the bride and bridegroom might die. Tomorrow nobody will be able to wake them up : I only know one means of reviving them.”

    “What is that?”

    “You must pierce the heels of the bride and bride-groom and pour the blood again into the wounds, their own blood into each. In my right pocket I have the bridegroom’s blood hidden, and in my left, the bride’s.”

    So the soldier listened and never said a single word.

    But the wizard went on boasting. “I, you know, carry out whatever I desire.”

    “Can you be overcome?”

    “Yes, certainly : if any one were to make a pile of aspen wood, one hundred cartloads in all, and to burn me on the pile, it can be done ; then I should be overcome. Only you must burn me in a cunning way. Out of my belly snakes, worms and all sorts of reptiles will creep ; jackdaws, magpies and crows will fly: you must catch them and throw them on the pile. If a single worm escapes, it will be no good, for I shall creep out into that worm.”

    So the soldier listened and remembered. So they had a long talk, and at last they came to the grave.

    “Now, my brother,” said the wizard, “I am going to tear you to bits ? Otherwise you will tell the tale!”

    “Now! Let’s argue this out! How are you going to tear me to bits; I am a servant of God and the
    Tsar! ”

    So the wizard gnashed his teeth, howled, and threw himself on the soldier. But he drew out his sabre and dealt a backstroke. They tussled and struggled, and the soldier was almost exhausted. Ho, but this is a sorry ending! Then the cocks crowed and the wizard fell down breathless.

    The soldier got the bladders out of the wizard’s pockets, and went to his relations. He went in and he greeted them. And they asked him, “Have you ever seen such a fearful stir?”

    “No, I never have!”

    “Why, have you not heard ? There is a curse on our village: a wizard haunts it.”

    So they lay down and went to sleep.

    In the morning the soldier rose and began asking : “Is it true that there was a wedding celebrated here? ”

    So his kin answered him, “There was a wedding at the rich peasant’s house, only the bride and bridegroom died that same night. No, we don’t know at all of what they died.”

    “Where is the house?”

    So they showed him, and he said never a word, and went there, got there, and found the whole family in tears.

    “What are you wailing for?”

    So they told him the reason.

    “I can revive the bridal couple: what will you give me?”

    “Oh, you may take half of our possessions.”

    So the soldier did as the wizard had bidden him, and he revived the bride and bridegroom, and grief was turned to joy and merriment.

    They feasted the soldier and rewarded him.

    So he then turned sharp to the left and marched up to the starosta (Mayor) 1and bade him assemble all the peasants and prepare one hundred cartloads of aspen boughs. Then they brought the boughs into the cemetery, put them into a pile and raised the wizard out of the grave, put him on the faggots and burned him. And then all the people stood around, some with brushes, shovels and
    pokers. The pile lit up gaily and the wizard began to burn. His belly burst, and out of it crept snakes, worms and vermin of all sorts, and there flew jackdaws and
    magpies. But the peasants beat them all into the fire as they came out, and did not let a single worm escape. So the wizard was burned, and the soldier collected his dust and scattered it to the four winds. Henceforth there was peace in the village.

    And the peasants thanked the soldier.

    He stayed in his country, stayed there until he was satisfied, and then with his money returned to the imperial service : he served his term, went on the re- tired list, and then lived out his life, living happily, loving the good things and shunning the ill.

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