Sixty Folk-Tales From Exclusively Slavonic Sources by A. H. Wratislaw
Stories From Bosnia
Stories From Carniola
Kurent and Man
L. Kurent and Man
KURENT and man contended which should rule the earth. Neither Kurent would yield to man nor man to Kurent, for he (man) was so gigantic--he wouldn't even have noticed it, if nine of the people of the present day had danced up and down his nostrils. 'Come,' said Kurent, 'let us see which is the stronger; whether it is I or you that is to rule the earth. Yonder is a broad sea; the one that springs across it best shall have both the earth and all that is on the other side of the sea, and that is, in faith, a hundred times more valuable than this wilderness.' Man agreed. Kurent took off his coat and jumped across the sea, so that just one foot was wetted when he sprang on to dry land. Now he began to jeer at the man; but the man held his tongue, didn't get out of temper, neither did he take off his coat, but stepped without effort and quite easily over the sea, as over a brook, and came on to dry land without even wetting a foot. 'I'm the stronger,' said man to Kurent; 'see how my foot is dry and yours is wet.' 'The first time you have overcome me,' answered Kurent; 'yours are the plains, yours is the sea, and what is beyond the sea; but that isn't all the earth, there is also some beneath us and above us; come, then, let us see a second time which is the stronger.' Kurent stood on a hollow rock, and stamped on it with his foot, so that it burst with a noise like thunder, and split in pieces. The rock broke up, and a cavern was seen where dragons were brooding. Now the man also stamped, and the earth quaked and broke up right to the bottom, just where pure gold flowed like a broad river, and the dragons fell down and were drowned in the river. This trial, too, is yours,' said Kurent; but I don't acknowledge you emperor till you overpower me in a third fierce contest. Yonder is a very lofty mountain. It rises above the clouds; it reaches to the celestial table, where the cock sits and watches God's provisions. Now, then, take you an arrow and shoot, and so will I; the one which shoots highest is the stronger, and his is the earth, and all that is beneath and above it.' Kurent shot, and his arrow wasn't back for eight days; then the man shot, and his arrow flew for nine days, and when, on the tenth day, it fell, the celestial cock that guarded God's provisions fell also, spitted upon it. 'You are emperor,' said cunning Kurent. 'I make obeisance to you, as befits a subject.' But the man was good-natured, and made a covenant of adoptive brotherhood with Kurent, and went off to enjoy his imperial dignity. Kurent, too, went off, but he was annoyed that the man had put him to shame; where he could not prevail by strength, he determined to succeed by craft. 'You are a hero, man,' he would say, 'I am witness thereto; but beware of me, if you are a hero also in simplicity; I go to bring you a gift, that I have devised entirely by myself.'
He said and squeezed the vine, his stick, and pure red wine burst out of it. 'Here's a gift for you; now, then, where are you?' He found the man on the earth the other side of the sea, where he was enjoying a bowl of sweet stir-about. 'What are you doing, my lord?' said Kurent. 'I've mixed a bowl of stirabout from white wheat and red fruit, and, see, here I am eating it and drinking water.' 'My poor lord! you are emperor of the world and drinking water! hand me a cup, that I may present you with better drink, which I, your humble servant, have prepared for you myself.' The man was deceived, took the cup with red wine, and drank some of it. 'Thank you, adopted brother; you are very kind, but your drink is naught.' Kurent was disgusted, went off again, and thought and thought how to cheat the man. Again he squeezed his stick, again red wine burst forth from it, but Kurent did not allow it to remain pure, but the rascal mixed hellebore with it, which Vilas and prophetesses pluck by moonlight to nourish themselves with. A second time he went in search of the man, and found him at the bottom of the earth, where the pure gold was flowing like a broad river. 'What are you doing, my lord?' asked Kurent. 'I am getting myself a golden shirt, and I am tired and very thirsty; but there's no water here, and it's a long way to the world--seven years' journey.' 'I am at your service,' said Kurent; 'here's a cup of wine for you; better never saw the red sun.' The man was deceived, took it, and drank it up. 'Thank you, Kurent; you are good, and your drink is good, too.' Kurent, was going to pour him out a fresh cupful, but the man would not allow it, for his nature was still sober and sensible. Kurent was disgusted, and went off to see whether he could not devise something better. For the third time he squeezed his stick; wine burst out more strongly, but this time it did not remain pure nor without sin. The rascal applied an arrow, opened a vein and let some black blood flow into the wine. Again he went in search of the man, and found him on the high mountain at God's table, where he was feasting on roast meat, which had not been roasted for him, but for God himself. 'What are you doing, my lord?' asked Kurent in amazement and joy, when he saw that the man was sinning abominably. 'Here I am, sitting and eating roast meat; but take yourself off, for I am afraid of God, lest he should come up and smite me.' Never fear!' was Kurent's advice; 'how do you like God's roast meat?' 'It's nice, but it's heavy. I can scarcely swallow it.' 'I am at your service,' said Kurent; 'here is wine for you, the like of which isn't on earth or in heaven, but only with me.' The third time the man was deceived, but cruelly. 'Thank you, Kurent,' he said; you are good, but your drink is better; draw me some more, as becomes a faithful servant.' Kurent did so, and the man's eye became dim and his mind became dim, and he thought no more of God, but remained at table. Suddenly God returned, and seeing the man dozing and eating roast meat at his table, became angry, and smote him down the mountain with his mighty hand, where he lay, half dead, for many years, all bruised and hurt. When he got well again his strength had diminished; he could neither step across the sea, nor go down to the bottom of the earth, nor up-hill to the celestial table. Thus Kurent ruled the world and man, and mankind have been weak and dwarfed from that time forth.
The text came from:
Wratislaw, A. H. Sixty Folk-Tales From Exclusively Slavonic Sources. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, & Company, 1890.