FROM far beyond the deep blue sea, from India the Glorious, came Lord Diuk the son of Stephen. Like a white hawk his ship skimmed lightly across the heaving waters, and like a white ermine coursing he rode across the boundless open plain. As he rode jauntily onward his bow-case and his quiver beat against his hips, and like a flaming arrow from that same bow was the speed of his good steed, Rough-Coat. His helmet and his armour were of gleaming silver, his shirt of mail, close fitting, was of ruddy gold woven in chains as fine as silk from Samarcand. When he came to a river he asked for no bridge or ford, for Rough-Coat leapt from shore to shore at a single bound.
Now as Lord Diuk rode onward he hunted, and the foxes, martens, eagles, geese, white swans and downy ducks knew and told each other by their cries that a practised hunter was abroad. When an arrow sped from his bow a shaft of light seemed to rend the heavens, and where the flaming darts fell to earth a radiance streamed as from the pale cold moon shining across the white world of the snowy steppe. He shot three times a hundred arrows and three times one, and though he found the three hundred shafts he did not find the three; and this appeared to him to be a very great wonder.
"The three arrows which I have lost," he said to himself, "are of priceless value. They were made of the graceful reeds and were covered with gold beaten finer than the parchment of the holy monks, and set with precious stones so that in their flight they shone like the rays of the sun at early dawn. The feathers were those of the blue-grey eagle, which is swifter in its flight than all the birds of the air, and flies across the deep blue sea to visit its eyrie on the tall burning white stone which flashes for a thousand miles. Its feathers are hard to come by, being more precious than satin or cut velvet, or silk from Samarcand."
Thinking deeply and somewhat depressed at his heavy loss, Diuk once more mounted Rough-Coat and gave him the rein for home. As he sped onward he overtook a company of one and thirty wandering pilgrims, and reining in his horse demanded:
"Ho, there, you greybeards, are you thieves or robbers or travellers, midnight prowlers or plunderers of churches?"
Then the psalm-singers replied:
"Young Diuk, we are neither thieves, nor robbers, prowlers nor plunderers of churches, but pilgrims on the long journey from Kiev town to India the Glorious."
"Is the journey long?" asked Diuk in a more respectful tone.
"We have indeed come a long way from Kiev town," was the quiet answer. "It is a journey of a year on foot and then three months on the bosom of the deep blue sea."
With a low reverence to the holy pilgrims, Diuk rode to his home, which he reached in a short space of time; and on the next day after having been to vespers he sought out his lady mother.
"Mother mine," he said, "must I stay always at home engaged in childish pursuits while my manhood calls me, calls me ever and ever more loudly across the boundless plain? I ought to ride with head aloft and shoulders squared upon my dapple bay steed Rough-Coat, and prove my manhood by my fearless deeds. I have seen some fair cities, but never have I seen Kiev the Great nor beheld with my own eyes the beauty of the Princess Apraxia whom all men praise. Give me leave, lady mother, leave and your good blessing, and let me go to Kiev town at once and now."
Then the mother's heart grew tender, and in her eagerness to keep him by her side she magnified the dangers of the way and thus, all unknowing, added to his eagerness to go.
"Alas, my dear son," she said, "you have not yet ridden far across the boundless plain nor heard the roar of the wild beast and the fierce cry of the accursed Tatar. Never will you return in safety from the dangers of the open steppe. As for Kiev, the city of Vladimir, the people of that place are not worthy to keep company with such as you. They will look upon you as a purse to be picked, for they are traders, sons of merchants, traffickers in goods which your forefathers would win with sword and mace and lance. I will not give you leave and blessing to go to the Court of Vladimir, that ruler of shop-keepers."
Diuk's eyes had gleamed as his mother spoke of the way in which his ancestors had won their wealth; and seeing this she tried another course.
"Besides," she went on quickly, "there are three great barriers on the way to Kiev city. The first is the barrier of the moving mountains, which clash together and catch the unwary traveller in their strong grip. The second is the barrier of the ravenous birds, which will tear thee and thy good steed to a thousand pieces. The third barrier is the Mountain Dragon with twelve tails, each with a sting in it. He will devour you if indeed you have been fortunate enough to pass the clashing mountains and the ravenous birds."
Each fresh terror which she described added to the young man's eagerness to set out upon the journey to Kiev town; and having done reverence to his weeping mother he went to the stable and combed the coat of his faithful steed with a fine comb of fishes' teeth, as well as the mane and tail, which brushed the bosom of moist Mother Earth as he passed on his flight and swept away all traces of his hoofs. Then he saddled his good horse and plaited bright jewels in his mane, standing off to admire his handiwork, speaking meanwhile to the animal in human speech; and in human speech the horse replied to him saying:
"Tear not my sides with spurs, dear master; lash me not with your whip of silk; tighten not the bridle upon my faithful head; but when I speed cling to my mane and fear not when I leap from mountain-top to mountain-top, when I clear a great lake at a bound and a river at an easy jump. So shall I be your friend and helper as was Cloudfall to Ilya of Murom the Old Cossáck."
Then Diuk prepared himself for the heroic journey and went to say farewell to his lady mother, who had wept till her eyes were bright again, and she was ready to give both leave and blessing to her bold and fearless son. She gave him also a warning. "My dear son," she said, "when you come to Kiev town and to the Court of Prince Vladimir and he makes a banquet in your honour, boast not of your wealth, or of me your mother." Then she kissed him upon his honey mouth and he rode away with happy heart. They saw him as he mounted Rough-Coat but they did not see him as he rode, so swift was his flight--it was only a wreath of smoke, a pillar of dust far off upon the boundless plain, and he was gone.
Now in due time he came to the first barrier of the moving mountains, which, of course, could not always be meeting, but must also part to meet once more; and watching for the time when they parted, Rough-Coat darted between them so quickly that they only caught a long hair from his flowing tail. Then they came to the second barrier of the ravenous birds, which swooped down upon them. But Rough-Coat dipped his head and flung up his hind feet so that they pecked only at his hoofs and found no sweetness in that meal; and with two heroic leaps the brave steed was far beyond the reach of the pecking birds. Last of all they came so suddenly upon the barrier of the dragon that before he could rouse himself and uncoil his stinging tails one by one Rough-Coat was far beyond the reach of their malice.
So the three terrible barriers were safely passed without the loss of a single arrow, and Diuk rode onward singing gaily of the great deeds of Svyatogor and Ilya of Murom the Old Cossáck. On he went across the boundless open plain until he came to a ring-barked oak on which sat a raven as black as night, croaking, croaking, croaking. Diuk looked up with impatience, for in his heart he feared an omen more than clashing mountains, pecking birds, or dragons with twelve stinging tails.
"Thou bird of evil," he cried, "I will scatter thy sable feathers upon the open plain. I will spill thy blood upon the ring-barked oak and give thee over to croaking Death."
But the raven answered him in the speech of Holy Russia, "Shed not my blood, young Lord Diuk. Ride on across the open steppe and you will find an adversary worthy of your stout bow and your shining arrows."
This speech filled the heart of the young hero with gladness and with the hope of meeting an adventure worthy of his ancestry. He rode on again until he came upon the hoof-prints of a horse deeply marked on the broad lap of moist Mother Earth, so deeply that it was clear to all eyes that a hero of mighty stature had recently passed that way. A few more leaps of Rough-Coat, and Diuk came to a pavilion of fair white linen embroidered with gold, beside which strayed a shaggy charger eating fine white Turkish wheat, which was heaped freely upon the ground for his solace and entertainment.
When Diuk saw this his heart failed him and he said to himself, "My courage leaves me and I dare not enter that pavilion, for the hero who sits therein will assuredly cut off my head. But I will place Rough-Coat by the side of this charger and he also shall stoop to the wheat. If the two horses eat together in peace, I will take it as a sign that the hero will do me no harm. But if the horses begin to quarrel I shall know that it is time for me to return to my lady mother." For a strange dread and fear was upon the young man who had set out so boldly but who now felt that he was within the circle of a spell. And well he might, as we shall see.
The two chargers ate in peace, and Diuk, taking heart again, entered the pavilion, bowing as he passed the threshold to North, South, East, and West, and especially to--the owner who slept in one corner with a terrible snore. Diuk came forward, and looking closer knew at once that the sleeper was none other than Ilya of Murom the Old Cossáck, wrapt in one of the deep sleeps for which he was as famous as for heroic deeds.
"Rouse ye, Ilya of Murom," cried Diuk; "it is time to go to royal Kiev town so as to be present at matins on Easter morn." But Ilya slept on and snored and stirred not. Again Diuk shouted, and again without result; but at his third shout the great warrior unclosed his eyes in a manner which seemed to suggest that he had been sleeping a hound's sleep and said:
"Ho, stranger, tell me your name and horde." Then Diuk told him all the truth.
"Why, then," asked Ilya, "have you roused me from my heroic sleep. Do you wish to go with me out upon the open plain and see which of us shall carry home the head of the other?"
"Nay," said Diuk in great haste. "Why should I fight with Ilya upon the open plain? Death will not come to you in battle. As there is one sun in the daylight sky and one moon in the dark blue heavens, so there is one Ilya of Murom in Holy Russia."
This speech was courteous enough and fitting for the mouth of a young hero, and it pleased Ilya mightily. He sprang at once to his nimble feet, caught Diuk by his white hands, kissed him upon his sugar lips, and swore with him eternal friendship, making the solemn exchange of the cross. And Diuk thought no more of home or of his lady mother and her tears of loneliness.
Then the young hero and the old sat down in the fair pavilion and ate and drank well but not too well; and when that memorable feast was ended, Ilya said to Diuk:
"Go now alone upon your way to Kiev town, and if any one there shall mock at you send me word of it. But do not take your part when the boasting time shall come."
With a heart full of hope and youthful expectation, Diuk rode on alone to Kiev town; and when he came there Rough-Coat leapt over the walls and flew like a whirlwind to the palace of white stone. In the courtyard Diuk leapt lightly to the ground, planted the butt end of his spear in the soil, and flung his bridle over the point. Then he looked up and saw the Princess Apraxia looking out of the window and said out loudly, "The washerwoman, I suppose." But he also bowed to her and asked, "Where is Prince Vladimir, the Fair Sun of Kiev?"
Thereupon the Princess Apraxia raised her head with a look of scorn and passed into the shadow of her apartment; and it was the serving men in the courtyard who answered the young man's question. "Royal Vladimir," they said, "is on his way to the Easter Mass." So Diuk mounted Rough-Coat once again and rode off to the Cathedral. At the great door he let his horse go free and entered the hall of the ambassadors, but he did not bow to North, South, East, and West and especially to any one, but gazed about and scanned the faces of all the congregation. When the service was over the courteous prince sent a messenger to invite the strange youth to the palace, and to this man Diuk replied lightly and by no means courteously:
"You have lately been favoured in these parts with spring weather and my embroidered garments are befouled with the mire of the plain." This he said to show his magnificence, for he was splendidly clad, as befitted his ancestry, and he knew it. So he went to the banquet-hall, his steed following after him; and when he came within the place he bowed to Prince Vladimir until his golden curls swept the red brick floor. Then he stood upright and looked about him, and having looked he shook his head doubtfully and slightingly, for to his eyes accustomed to the shining splendour of India the Glorious the palace was mean beyond compare.
But he sat down with another shake of his head, wondering upon what meal of frozen oats his fine steed was being regaled and eyeing with scorn the tables of white oak with their cloths patterned with drawn-work of white thread, the handiwork of the Princess Apraxia. He ate and drank well, however, and when he showed more contentment, Vladimir asked him courteously if it were a long journey from India the Glorious to Kiev town.
"I set out at vespers on Holy Saturday," said Diuk lightly, "and as you know, I have been at early Mass in Kiev town this Easter day."
"And can you buy such steeds as yours cheaply in India the Glorious?" asked Prince Vladimir still courteously.
"Oh," said Diuk lightly still, "we have them at a rouble, or two roubles, or six roubles, or even seven, but Rough-Coat is priceless and not to be purchased by the wealthiest trader." Then he thrust his hands into his belt and stared about the room, while a great hush fell upon the company.
But one of the heroes of Holy Russia rose slowly to his feet and said heavily: "My lord, Prince Vladimir, I have travelled far from Kiev town and have been even to India the Glorious. And I know without hearsay that by the straight way for heroic travellers it is a journey of three months, but by the round way for merchants it is a six months' passage and more, indeed, unless on the way the traveller springs from horse to horse, making no delay."
To this speech courteous Prince Vladimir said nothing in reply. The guests looked at each other at a loss for the next event, and then feeling hungry and thirsty again fell upon the banquet with heroic strength. But Diuk sat at the board sad and silent until Vladimir spoke to him.
"What ails your sad heart, bold youth?" he asked gently. "Is the feast not to your taste? Or do you fear the boasting time which is surely coming, when you shall have nothing of which you may brag?"
"Prince Vladimir," said Diuk, "I am wealthier far than you are. For my father left me great riches, and I am used to fine white bread made from flour of Turkish wheat."
Then courteous Prince Vladimir ordered his servants to bring wine of the greenest and cakes of wheaten flour. Diuk drank one half of the wine and poured out the rest upon the table as if its value were of no account, and some of the dogs licked the drops and then lay down to sleep. He took off the top crust of the fine wheaten cakes, ate the middle, and flung the rest to the other dogs. And even yet courteous Prince Vladimir blamed him not at all.
But another Russian hero sprang to his nimble feet and cried, "What boorish fellow is this? He is not really Lord Diuk from India the Glorious, and for the first time to-day this fellow has drunk green wine and eaten fine wheaten cakes. He is a cow-herd, a fugitive serf from the castle of some nobleman, who has done his master to death, dressed himself in his embroidered garments, and stolen his goodly steed. He is not of noble birth, for as he walked I noticed that he looked not straight before him but at the shoes upon his feet. He has come here in order that you, Prince Vladimir, may feast him honourably and then give him a rich gift in accordance with your courteous custom."
"I desire no treasure which can be given to me here," cried Diuk, "for I have wealth untold at home, and rich food and green wine in abundance. I had heard tales of wonder concerning Kiev city and came here to test the truth of what I had heard. But it is not with you as it is with us in India the Glorious."
And even yet Prince Vladimir parted not from his courteous bearing but said gently:
"Why did you stare about the church at Mass this Easter morning, instead of reverently bowing your head in the company?"
"I stared about, Prince Vladimir," said the young man, "because I had heard tales of Kiev churches and of the richness of their beauty. But in this matter also, it is not with you as it is with us in India the Glorious. Your churches are of wooden beams with domes of timber, but ours are of stone with roofs of beaten gold. Our meanest houses are finer than your palaces of white stone. Your streets are foul with mire, but ours are cleanly swept and strewn with dry yellow sand.
"The steps of your royal palace," went on Diuk, "are of black stone with railings of turned wood fastened together with pegs of wood, and these rough pegs, as I know to my annoyance, catch the flowing robes of those who mount the steps. But the steps of my palace in India the Glorious are of smoothest ivory, and are spread with rugs of silk from Samarcand, while the railings are of polished ruddy gold on which no speck of dust is allowed to settle.
"The floor of this banquet-hall is of rough, uneven pine planks, and even these rough boards are a luxury for the high table and the great corner, while the rest of the hall is paved with coarse red brick. Your walls and ceiling are unpainted, your tables are of oak, and the cloths laid upon the most exalted are patterned with drawn threads. But the floors of our hall are of smooth ash timber in every part, laid with great evenness, our walls and ceiling are painted in the richest colours, while our tables are of gold when they are not of ivory. Over my lady mother's doorway are seventy pictures of holy saints shining in glorious colours, while you have only ten. From our churches to the palace are laid pavements of hard smooth wood, spread with scarlet cloth, but your pathways are so miry that they soil the embroidered garments of a Prince."
Even yet Prince Vladimir remained courteous, and all he said in reply was:
"Why did you throw away some of my green wine and a portion of my wheaten cakes?"
"For a good reason," returned the young lord; "I could not eat your cakes, for the upper crust has a flavour of pine wood, while the lower tastes of clay, so that I knew at once that your ovens are built of brick and your oven brooms are made of pine twigs. But in our palace in India the Glorious the ovens of my lady mother, which are under her own care, are made of hard glazed tiles, while her oven brooms are of silk dipped in honey dew. If a man eats one of my mother's cakes he leaves no crumb behind, and his whole desire is to eat more. Your wines taste of damp and their flavour is foul. But my mother's wine-cellars and their contents are the wonder of India the Glorious. She has wines which saw the dawn of history, and these are kept in casks of silver with hoops of gold, which are hung on chains of brass in bricked-out caves of forty fathoms' depth; and from these great caves run open pipes underground to let in the fresh sweet air from the plain; and when the strong winds play about the open ends of these pipes the silver casks swing to and fro and make a murmur like that of snowy birds playing upon the bosom of a peaceful lake. So we have wine which cannot be described but must be tasted, and if a man drinks one cup thereof he leaves no drop behind, for there are no dregs in this liquor, and his whole desire is to drink more.
"As for the embroidered garments of my lady mother, the store in her presses and cupboards cannot be valued. At all times the sewing women are busy, stitching, stitching, stitching, and when one group grows weary, another takes up the work. My lady mother's under-robe is set with precious stones, while the bodice is of cloth of gold; her cap is covered with fair seed pearls with jewels of marvellous lustre and priceless value set in front, and as for myself I wear a dress one day, but woe unto my body-servant if I see it again. Your horses are fed on frozen oats, but ours are regaled on fine Turkish wheat. Beneath our palace are twelve deep cellars filled with ruddy gold, white silver, and fine seed pearls, and the contents of one cellar alone would be sufficient to buy up the whole of Kiev town and Chernigof as well."
At last Vladimir was a little moved. "I wish that Churilo the Exquisite were here, for he would know how to reply to your boasting." Even as he spoke the white oaken doors of the banquet-hall were flung open, and Churilo the Exquisite entered with a graceful bow to North, South, East, and West, and especially to Prince Vladimir, but not at all to Diuk from India the Glorious. But that young man was not thereby abashed.
"I have heard," he said, "even in far-away India, the fame of Churilo's beauty, and truly Rumour was no lying wench, for his face is like the rosebud for redness and his neck like the driven snow for whiteness. But Rumour lied when she praised his courtesy; for he has not learnt how to salute his betters."
Then the face of Churilo grew redder than the full-blown rose, and he cried in anger: "Braggart and boaster, son of a slave. Let us lay a wager of roubles, a wager of thirty thousand. For the space of three years you and I shall live in Kiev, and upon every single day of the year each shall wear fresh clothes of the richest, and upon every single day ride a horse of a different hue. And the wager shall pass to him whom all men acclaim as the most glorious. This can I do to uphold the honour of the court of Prince Vladimir, the Fair Sun of Kiev."
"It is easy for you to wager such a sum and to propose such a test," said Diuk somewhat wearily, "for you live at home where your clothes presses and your stables are full; but I am far from home and have only one travelling suit which is foul from the mire of the dirty ways of Kiev town. But I accept your wager."
Then the young lord sat down at the oaken table and called for a parchment scroll on which he wrote a letter and a list, a letter and a list for his lady mother far away in India the Glorious. Having rolled the scroll and sealed it he went out into the court where Rough-Coat stood pawing the ground impatiently, and placed it in one of the saddle-bags. "Haste thee home," he said in the quivering ear of the faithful steed, "home to India the Glorious, and when you reach the palace of my lady mother neigh loudly so that all may hear."
They saw the good steed while Diuk spoke in his quivering ear, but they did not see him when he had finished speaking--there was only a wreath of smoke on the open boundless plain, and he was gone. And when the good steed came to the palace of his master he neighed loudly, and the lady mother came out upon the ivory steps holding the railing of ruddy gold with her right hand and her own heart with her left, for she saw the empty saddle of Rough-Coat, and thought instantly of the worst. But the horse neighed again with a joyful note, and when the grooms felt in the saddle-bag they found the scroll which they gave to their mistress on bended knee.
Holding herself proudly erect, she read the words which Diuk had written, and the colour came back to her face and the light of love to her eyes. "The foolish boy has boasted as I warned him that he must not do, for there is no need for one to boast whose splendour is beyond doubt or rival. But I must do what I can to redeem his pledged word--and it may be that his precious life is endangered." Then she unbound her golden keys and taking with her a band of sewing maidens, she unlocked the doors of spacious wardrobes, and packed changes of lawn and silken raiment sufficient for three years and three days, and so as to afford three changes for each day; and though the number of garments was so great the weight of the bales were not too heavy a burden for Rough-Coat, so fine was the texture of lawn and silk, each garment having stood the test of being drawn through a finger ring before it was embroidered with gold or silver or fine seed pearls.
When Rough-Coat was duly loaded, the lady mother threw an old and much-worn garment over all and said:
"Haste to my precious son, good Rough-Coat, and warn him of your coming with a neigh."
Before long the young Lord Diuk and Churilo the Exquisite began their strange contest, riding about Kiev town in new garments and upon a fresh horse every day. Churilo ordered great herds of horses to be driven into Kiev from Chernigof, and took much pains to select one of different hue every morning; but Diuk anointed Rough-Coat each morning with dew and so changed the colour of its coat. For three years this peaceful warfare lasted, and then on Easter morning the two combatants went to early Mass and stood in the porch of the cathedral side by side, but not too close together.
The garments of Churilo the Exquisite were slashed with ruddy burning gold and with white gleaming silver. In place of buttons he had clasps made in the likeness of handsome youths with loops fashioned in the semblance of lovely maidens. So high were the insteps of his slippers of green morocco that swallows swooping to the earth might easily pass under them, while their tips were as sharp as the shoemaker's awl. His cap was of softest down overshadowing his eyes in front and his white neck behind. His over-mantle flung back in youthful vanity was of sables of the richest gloss.
But his opponent stood by his side in the worn garment which his lady mother had placed on the back of Rough-Coat to protect the bales from the weather; only, beneath this beggar's robe shone jewels on his footgear of value greater than that of all Kiev, except for the gems upon the statues of the Virgin and the Saints in the great cathedral.
Vladimir came and looked at the young men, while Churilo fingered his clasps and loops as if to draw attention to their exquisite fashioning; but Diuk looked straight ahead as if he saw right across the open steppe to the palace of his lady mother in India the Glorious.
Then the Prince spoke in tones of quiet judgment:
"To our mind," he said, "the young Lord Diuk from India the Glorious has forfeited his wager; for such inventions as these clasps and loops have never been equalled in the eyes of men."
"The value of the wager," cried Diuk, "is nothing to me, but for my renown I am jealous enough." Then he threw his worn garment aside and stood forth in apparel so wondrous that all the watchers fell to the earth, stunned with the sight of its shining beauty. At the fore peak of his cap shone the sun like ruddy gold; at the back was the moon with shining silver rays; between the two points shone a light as from pearls heaped up in the darkness.
Then he fingered the clasps in front of his embroidered doublet which were fashioned in the shape of singing birds, and at the touch of his caressing fingers the birds began to sing. He pulled the loops at the edges of his coat which were fashioned in the shape of lions and dragons, and at the touch of his caressing fingers they began to crawl and leap and hiss and roar. When he had finished the whole of the company, including Churilo the Exquisite, lay prone upon the floor.
Vladimir was the first to rise, and he gasped out with his hand to his forehead: "The wager and the renown are yours, goodly youth. Now cover up your birds and beasts with a garment to which my people are more accustomed." And Diuk did so; whereupon the people recovered from their stupefied astonishment and began to praise Diuk for having outdone Churilo the Exquisite in the ingenuity and richness of his apparel. And the victor spent the thirty thousand roubles on green wine for the applauding crowds, which made them applaud him still more loudly.
Now Churilo the Exquisite was a young man of determination, and even this defeat did not quench his spirit or his ingenuity. As soon as he had recovered himself he approached Diuk once again and said with great respect:
"My Lord Diuk, let us make another wager of another kind. Let us prove whose horse can leap the broad stream of Mother Dnieper, which measures two miles across, and let our heads be the stake; the winner to cut off the head of the loser."
"I have only my travelling nag with me," said Diuk, "but I accept the challenge." Then he went to Rough-Coat in the stable and told the good horse in what danger he stood of losing his head.
"That is well," said Rough-Coat, in the speech of Holy Russia, "for not only will I leap over Mother Dnieper, but I will carry you an even distance upon the farther shore. I belong to a heroic family, and my eldest brother is Cloudfall, the shaggy bay steed ridden by Ilya of Murom the Old Cossáck, while my second brother bears Nikitich upon his adventures, but my youngest brother is the steed of Churilo the Exquisite."
Without loss of time Diuk saddled Rough-Coat and rode far out across the open plain with Churilo by his side, riding step by step but not too near. Behind them flocked a great crowd of mighty heroes of Holy Russia, as well as of the townsfolk of Kiev, who had come to watch the manly contest, which was much more to their taste than an exhibition of clothing and decoration, however ingenious and splendid they might be.
At last they came to the shore of broad Mother Dnieper, and both the combatants stood for a moment with their hands to their foreheads gazing out across the deep water to discover a possible landing-place on the farther bank. Then said Churilo the Exquisite:
"Do thou leap first, Lord Diuk."
"Nay," answered the other, "do thou leap first, and when we leap together in India, then will I take the lead."
So Churilo put his horse to the stream. The younger brother of Rough-Coat left the shore with a courageous leap, but came down with a great splash in mid-stream. Then Diuk put his horse to the stream. The younger brother of Cloudfall left the shore with a courageous leap, cleared the river and an even space on the farther shore, and then turning quickly leapt back again; and as Rough-Coat soared across the broad bosom of Mother Dnieper, Diuk stooped and caught Churilo by his yellow curls.
On the banks of the stream the victor prepared to cut off the head of the Exquisite; but all the ladies, young and not quite so young, lovely and not quite so lovely, who had come out from Kiev, implored him to spare the life of the young man. So Diuk merely gave him a mighty kick and said:
"Go, Exquisite, to the women to whom you owe your life, and stay with them; for the men of Holy Russia, to say naught of India the Glorious, have no need of such as you."
Churilo the Exquisite had not yet parted with the whole of his ingenuity, and he turned to Prince Vladimir:
"My Lord," he said, "if this young man is a truth-teller, let us send talesmen who can compute and count to India the Glorious, to make lists of all his boasted possessions in treasure and goods and herds and flocks."
"Whom shall we send?" asked Prince Vladimir.
"Let Alyosha go," answered Churilo.
"Nay," said Diuk quickly, "Alyosha shall not go; for he hath greedy eyes and pilfering fingers, and he will never, I assure you, come back again to Kiev town." Then he sat down at the table of the banquet hall, where the whole company was now gathered, and wrote a message upon a parchment and fastened it to one of his flaming arrows. To this he whispered a word of direction, and then, fitting it to his bow, he shot it forth from the open window across the boundless plain. The winged messenger found Ilya of Murom near the door of his pavilion where he was resting with Nikitich, and as soon as he had read the scroll the Old Cossáck said to his wise companion:
"Go thou to Diuk in Kiev town and tell him that, if Nikitich is not an army in himself, then Ilya will come who is a host."
As soon as he saw Nikitich, Diuk's eyes shone with welcoming pleasure. "Ah, Nikitich," he said, "you shall go as talesman with two others to India the Glorious, to make lists of all my possessions in treasure and goods and herds and flocks.
"Take parchment sufficient for three years and three days," the young man went on, "and I promise you in prophecy that you will do homage to my servant-maids, mistaking each of them in turn for my lady mother." Then he laughed gently as one who wins a fight by putting aside with naked arm the ponderous mace of his adversary.
The three talesmen set out at once, followed by three waggons heaped with parchment; and after many wanderings and not a few adventures Nikitich came to India the Glorious, on the verge of which they climbed a lofty mountain, from whence they beheld the land lying before them.
"Why, the country burns!" cried Nikitich in fearful amazement. But when they drew nearer they saw that it was only the glow of the golden roofs and the temple domes, blended with the colour of the yellow pathways spread with ruddy scarlet cloth. In the midst they saw the white stone palace of Diuk, which had three-and-thirty towers, whose rounded roofs were covered with green copper which is more precious than fine gold. Round about the gleaming palace spread a lovely garden, delicious in the coolness of its greenery, planted with all kinds of fruit trees, and surrounded by a high railing of gold pillars, set with knots of green copper and broken here and there with gates of brass. About the pathways of this pleasure-ground and in the verandahs of the palace walked the loveliest of maidens, attended by resplendent gallants, who played upon their musical instruments and sang gay songs of love and valour.
The talesmen were so much struck with wonder and amazement that it was a long time before they could summon up their courage to enter the palace garden, at whose gates no guards were set. At last they did so, and came to the first of the three-and-thirty towers, where they found an aged woman who looked as if she was the mother of a goodly son. Her dress was of silver thread mixed with a little silk, and her bearing had so much dignity that the visitors from Kiev found themselves bowing down before her almost without knowing what they were doing.
"Hail to thee!" said Nikitich, "thou honourable mother of the young Lord Diuk."
"I am not my lord's mother," said the ancient woman, "I am the keeper of his cows."
Then the talesmen were so much filled with vexation and shame that they left the palace garden and went out into the open plain, where they pitched a tent and went to bed without saying a word to each other.
On the next morning they came again and drew near to the second of the three-and-thirty towers, where they found an aged woman of comely face clad in cloth of silver and gold.
"Hail to thee!" said Nikitich brightly, "thou honourable mother of the young Lord Diuk."
"I am not my lord's mother," said the aged woman, "I am his washerwoman."
Swallowing their confusion the three talesmen went on, wondering no longer that Diuk had mistaken the Princess Apraxia for the washerwoman of Prince Vladimir; and they fared in the same manner before the cook, the women of the bedchamber, the baker of cakes, and the nurse, until the last took pity upon their despair and told them that the lady mother of their lord had gone to High Mass, and that they would be able to distinguish her when she left the church by three certain signs. Before her would come a great army of men armed with shovels, and then another army with brooms to make all clean on the pathway, and then a third army laying cloth of brilliant scarlet upon the tawny sand. Last of all would come the mother of young Lord Diuk, with a great company of lovely maidens round about her. "And when you go into the town," the nurse concluded, "you must not salute all the ancient ladies in fine raiment like mine, for there are so many of us thus arrayed that we pay little heed to it. And if you do reverence to all of us your back will remain bent like the bow of Ilya of Murom."
The talesmen went on their wondering way and in due time met the mother of the young Lord Diuk, preceded and attended as the nurse had told, and dressed in garments of rich but quiet beauty. Before her the three men bowed, and in pleasant tones she asked why they had come to the city.
"Your son sent us as talesmen," was the answer, "to make lists of all his possessions in treasure and goods and herds and flocks."
"That is beyond your powers," said the lady; "but come first of all to partake of my hospitality, and then I will show you whatever you choose to see."
So they went to the feast of rich food and richer wine, and they ate of the fine wheaten cakes baked by the mother of the young Lord Diuk, and left no crumb behind. When they were well satisfied, the lady mother showed them her son's horses; and they took parchment and tried to count up their value in roubles, but the figures confused their eyes and vexed them so that they gave up the task. Then she showed them the shoes of her son; and they took parchment again and tried to tell the tale of their value, but once more they gave up in despair. After that she led them to the wine-cellars and to the treasury of trappings for horses with the same result. At last Nikitich said: "Leave us here, seated before this single saddle ornamented with all the jewels of India, and let us compute the value of it alone." The lady graciously gave her consent; and they stayed three years over their task of computation, but at the end of that time they had not finished one tenth of the work.
Then they sent a message to Vladimir which ran:
"Sell Kiev for parchment and Chernigof for ink, and then we shall perhaps be able to make a beginning of computing the possessions of the young Lord Diuk."
When Vladimir had read this message he set out with a great company for India the Glorious, and Diuk went in his train; and when they came to the palace of the lady mother, they found that not one-tenth of its splendour had been told to them.
As they stood there, three men came before them whose forms were withered up like shavings; and they looked long upon them and very earnestly before they saw that these men were Nikitich and his companions, who had shrunken from grief at the greatness of their task and their inability to perform it. But the young Lord Diuk consoled them and feasted the company right well before they set out, still in quiet wonder, on their way back to Kiev town.
When they were gone the lady mother turned to her son and asked:
"Did I not speak truth? Was there aught in Kiev or in the train of Vladimir to compare with India the Glorious?"
"Only one thing, lady mother," said Diuk, who had seen enough of splendour, "a man and a hero, Ilya of Murom the Old Cossáck. And for his renown I would barter all the wealth of India the Glorious."