A moujik (peasant) was once ploughing a field with a miserable, lame mare. The poor beast was greatly tormented by gadflies and gnats. The moujik raised his whip, and with one stroke of the thong killed thirty-three gadflies, and a great number of gnats. The moujik reflected a little, and said to himself:—
“O-ho! I’ve become a hero. At one blow I’ve killed thirty-three knights and no end of common soldiers.”
The moujik was called Gol (the naked, or needy). Gol began to think himself a great man; he unharnessed his mare, scrambled on to her back, and rode on till he came to a high road. There he dismounted, cut down a tree, and set it up as a sign-post with the following inscription: “Here passed Gol Voyansky. He encountered the infidels, and at one blow killed thirty-three knights and a countless multitude of common soldiers. Should any knight pass this way, let him read this inscription, and follow Gol Voyansky.” He then remounted his mare and started off afresh.
Soon afterwards, Churila Plenkovich passed by the post, and, having read the inscription, was greatly surprised at the announcement of such astonishing prowess. Although he had never heard of Gol before, he was very anxious to make friends with so valiant a knight. Churila galloped after Gol, and soon overtook him.
“Did not a knight called Gol Voyansky pass this way?” he cried.
“I am Gol,” answered the moujik. “And who may you be?”
“Churila Plenkovich,” the young knight replied, with a bow, saying to himself as he did so, “Well, this is something wonderful! A common moujik on a sorry horse! Why, it is really disgraceful to be found in such company!”
“Go on my left side,” said Gol.
Churila, full of wonder, did so, staring all the time at our hero and his miserable steed.
Meanwhile Eruslan Lazarevich came to the post, and having also read the inscription, galloped after Gol. He soon came up with him, and seeing his friend Churila, asked him whether he had seen Knight Gol. Churila pointed to his companion. Eruslan Lazarevich bowed to Gol. He, too, was greatly surprised at the appearance of the self-made knight!
“Go on my right side,” said Gol to him.
At that moment another knight approached; it was Prince Bova, who, having read the inscription, was anxious to find Gol, the famous conqueror of the infidels. He, also, was much astonished at the sight of a moujik on a wretched beast, and two valiant knights riding by his side, and conversing with him. Gol was saying to them,—
“You are welcome, companions in arms!”
Prince Bova bowed to Gol, and asked his name.
“Gol Voyansky,” answered the moujik. “And your name?”
“I am Prince Bova,” replied the knight.
“Come and join us in our adventures,” said Gol; “you are neither too soon nor too late. Ride by the side of Eruslan.”
The knights followed Gol, and soon reached some forbidden meadows belonging to a heroine princess.
“We must not enter here,” said Eruslan.
“Nonsense!” cried Gol. “Let the horses go on into the field.”
“Gol Voyansky,” said Eruslan, “the Princess is very powerful. She has at her command twenty-two knights and a dragon called Zilant, the brother of Tugarin.”
“That’s a mere trifle for me,” said Gol. “You are not afraid of them? I could kill them all as easily as flies.”
“Very well,” said Eruslan; “if that is the case, let us go into the meadows. We shall soon have to fight.”
They entered the field, dismounted, and let their horses loose to graze. Seeing a white, empty tent, they went into it, sat down at the opening, and began to look about them. Gol, being tired, took off his jacket, lay down on the ground, and was soon fast asleep.
“Gol has great confidence in himself,” remarked Prince Bova.
Meanwhile the alarm was raised in the Princess’s castle; bells rang and trumpets sounded. A company of soldiers was despatched, headed by three knights fully armed, to fight the trespassers.
“Get up, Gol!” cried Churila, “the enemy is upon us!”
Gol opened his eyes, and gaping, cried,—
“What’s the matter? Three knights—three gadflies; a company of soldiers—gnats. They won’t let me sleep, eh? Here, Churila, go you and fight them. Kill them all but one; send him to the Princess, and let him tell her that I, Knight Gol Voyansky, am come to marry her.” Having said this he went to sleep again.
Churila mounted his horse, fought for a long time, and finally succeeded in slaying his opponents. He spared one man only, and sent him to the Princess with Gol’s message. But instead of a verbal answer, the Princess sent out six knights and three companies of soldiers.
The knights again awakened Gol.
“That’s nothing!” cried our hero. “At one blow I could kill them all. Here, Prince Bova, go you and make an end of them; spare one, and send him to the Princess.”
Prince Bova killed the knights and routed the little army. Hereupon the Princess sent out twelve knights and six companies of soldiers. They advanced amid the clash of arms and the sound of trumpets.
“O-ho!” cried Gol, getting up; “how many are there of them? Twelve gadflies and a great many gnats. Here, Eruslan, go and fight them; if you can’t beat them, I’ll come and help you.”
Eruslan mounted his steed, and drew his trusty sword. How he hewed about him—right and left! He slew all the knights; the soldiers, terrified, fled from the field. The Princess saw it was a hopeless case. As a last resource, however, she sent out Zilant the Dragon.
Zilant roared tremendously as he came out of his iron nest. It was suspended in the air by twelve iron chains, tied to twelve oak trees. He flew out like an arrow, and called upon the intruders to prepare for the fight.
“It’s my turn now,” said Gol to his knights-companions. ” Alas!” he thought within himself, “I must go—to die! It’s all over with me, but I shall at least fall like a hero.”
Having devoutly crossed himself, he mounted his mare, waved his axe, and, shutting his eyes, rode to meet the dragon.
Zilant roared more furiously than ever at the sight of Gol, thinking the moujik was sent out to mock him. Meanwhile, poor Gol, whispering to himself, “Oh, my father and brothers! remember my name—think of me when I am gone!” awaited the approach of death.
Zilant stared at the peasant. “Surely,” he thought, “there is some trickery here. A moujik—and on such a beast—sent out to fight me! Why, with a click of a little finger he could be tossed half a dozen yards.”
In his fear of treachery he stooped, and began to examine Gol’s saddle. In an instant Gol rose up, and gave the dragon such a tremendous blow on the head with his axe that he fell down stunned, and rolled over on the sand. Then Gol cut and chopped at him until he had hewn him into pieces like so much wood. Having killed the dragon, Gol took his helmet, and returned with it to his companions. Hereupon the Princress ordered the gates of her palace to be opened, and invited the knights to an entertaiment. When she saw Gol she greatly wondered wherein his strength lay. She put her hand upon his shoulder, and pressed him down so heavily that Gol could with difficulty stand under it.
“Welcome, valiant knight!” cried the Princess. “I have always admired courage.”
Then she squeezed his hand so hard that the poor fellow ground his teeth together to prevent his streaming out with pain.
“Defend our kingdom,” continued the Princess, “and be our guardian.”
Gol said to himself, “Would that I could be sure to keep a whole bone in my skin.”
The Princess ordered some strong, old mead to be brought, in order to try her visitors; but Gol would not touch a drop of it, saying that when his work was done he only drank of the water of heroes.
“We have some of the water of heroes preserved,” said the Princess.
“How much have you?” asked Gol.
“A bottleful,” answered the Princess.
“Is it of the same size as ours?” asked Gol. “Our bottles contain barely a glassful.”
“Try it,” said the Princess. She ordered the bottle to be brought in, together with a golden cup.
Gol filled the cup, and drank the water; his strength greatly increased. The Princess wished to know how he liked it.
“I’ve hardly tasted it,” said Gol. He then drank three cups of the water, one after another.
“You have drunk enough,” cried the Princess; “there will be none left for me.”
“Glorious Water of Heroes!” exclaimed Gol, walking about and spreading out his arms. “Now let me try my strength.”
He ordered a thick rope, like a ship’s cable, and twisted it into an open noose. Then he mounted a splendid charger from the Princess’s stable, galloped about for a time, and jumped headlong into the middle of the noose. The cable burst asunder into fragments.
From that day Gol became a valiant knight. He assumed the manners suitable to his high position, and married the Princess. They had two daughters, whose names were “Daring,” and “Success.” Gol felt very proud whenever he looked at them; and there was no one living who ever doubted that he had killed thirty-three knights at a blow.