IN THE celebrated city of Murom, near to Katatscharowa, there lived a countryman named Ivan Timofejevitch. He had one son named Ilija, the Muromer, and of him he was very fond. He was thirty years old when he began to walk. Then, all of a sudden, not only did he become strong enough to go about, but also made himself a suit of armour and a steel spear. Then he saddled his horse, went to his father and mother, and asked them for their blessing, saying—
“Father and mother of mine, let me go to the celebrated town of Kiev, to pray to God and to see the prince.”
His father and mother gave him their blessing, and said to him—
“Go, then, to the town of Kiev, to the town of Tschernigof, and do no wrong on your way, and spill no Christian blood wantonly.”
Ilija, the Muromer, received their blessing, and prayed to God. Then he bid his parents farewell, and went on his way. He travelled so far in a dark forest that at length he came to the hold of some robbers. As soon as the robbers saw the Muromer, they began to wish for his beautiful horse, and they said one to another—
“Let us seize this horse, which is so beautiful that its like has never been seen, and let us take it from this unknown fellow.”
So they all, five-and-twenty, set upon Ilija, the Muromer. Ilija reined in his horse, took an arrow out of his quiver, put it on the string of his bow, and shot it into the ground with so much force that the pieces of earth flew over three acres. When the robbers saw that they looked at one another with astonishment. Then they threw themselves on their knees, and said—
“Master and father, we have wronged you. If you want to punish us take our treasure, our fine clothes, and as many of our horses as you like.”
“What should I do with your treasure?” said Ilija. “If you want to keep your lives, see that you do not do the like in future.” So he went on to famous Kiev. He came at length to the town of Tschernigof, and found it beset by an army of pagans, so great that no one could tell their number. They wanted to destroy the town, tear down the churches, and carry off the princes and nobles as slaves. When Ilija, the Muromer, saw the army he was afraid, but he placed confidence in the Highest, and braced himself up to die for the Christian religion. So he attacked the pagan army, put them to flight, took the chiefs prisoners, and carried them to Tschernigof. When he came to the city the folk ran out to meet him, the prince and the nobles coming first. They gave him thanks, and then went with him to offer up praise to God, who had preserved the town safe, and not allowed it to be overthrown by so large an army.
Then they conducted Ilija to the palace, and entertained him at a great feast. After that Ilija, the Muromer, went straight on to Kiev, along a road which the Robber Nightingale had kept for thirty years, and on which he suffered no horseman or traveller on foot to pass, putting them to death, not by the sword, but by the sound of his robber whistle. When Ilija came into the open fields he rode on to the Bianski forest, and went far on, passing over marshes, by means of bridges made of water-elder, to the river Smarodienka. When the Robber Nightingale saw him about twenty versts away, he guessed his errand, and sounded his robber whistle. But the hero did not quail, and came on till he was only ten versts off, when the robber blew his whistle so loudly that Ilija’s horse fell down on its knees. Then Ilija went up to the robber’s nest, which was built upon twelve oaks. When the robber saw the hero he blew with all his might and tried to kill him, but Ilija took his bow, put a new arrow on the string, shot it straight into the robber’s nest, and hit the robber in the right eye. Robber Nightingale fell down from the tree like a sheaf of oats.
Ilija, the Muromer, took him, bound him fast to his saddle, and rode away to Kiev. At the side of the road stood the palace of Robber Nightingale, and as he rode by the robber’s daughters were sitting at the open window.
“There comes our father,” said the youngest, “riding, and bringing with him a peasant, tied to his saddle.”
The eldest looked at him carefully, and began to weep bitterly.
“It is not our father,” said she, “that rides there, but a strange man who has made him prisoner.”
Then they called out to their husbands—
“Dear husbands, ride out against this stranger, and deliver our father from him. Let not such shame come on us!”
Their husbands were mighty riders, and they came out to attack the Russian horseman; and they had good horses and sharp lances, and thought it would be an easy matter to kill him. When Robber Nightingale saw them, he called out and said—
“My dear sons, let no shame come on you, and do not attack so brave a knight, for if you do he will but slay you. Ask him, rather, to enter the house and drink with us.”
When Ilija heard the invitation he turned to enter the palace, suspecting no treachery; but the eldest daughter had hung a beam, by means of a chain, over the entrance, so that she might kill him as he rode through. When Ilija saw that he gave her a stroke with his lance and killed her. Then he rode on to Kiev and came to the prince’s palace. He entered the palace, prayed to God, and saluted the nobles.
“Tell me, my good young man,” said the prince, “what is your name, and to what place you belong?”
“I am called Little Ilija, sir,” said he; “my father is Ivan, and I was born in the town of Murom, near to Katatscharowa.”
The prince next asked him by what road he had come.
“From Murom I rode to Tschernigof, and there I slew a great host of pagans and saved the city. From that place I came here. I have taken prisoner the famous Robber Nightingale, and I have brought him here bound to my stirrup.”
Then the prince grew angry, and said—
“Why do you try to deceive me?”
However, he sent two knights, Alescha Popowitsch and Dobrinja Nikititsch, to see if it was as Ilija said; and when they told the prince that it was true, he was pleased, gave the young man some drink, and desired to hear the robber’s whistle. Ilija, the Muromer, therefore wrapped up the prince and the princess under his cloak, lined with sable, put them under his arm, and then told the Robber Nightingale to blow his whistle gently. He blew, however, so loud that he deafened all the knights and they fell on the floor, and Ilija, the Muromer, was so enraged that he killed him there and then.
Ilija became very friendly with Dobrinja Nikititsch, and, saddling their good horses, they rode away together, and travelled for three months without meeting with any adversary. Then they came up with a cripple. His beggar’s cloak weighed fifty pounds, his hat nine pounds, and his crutch was six feet long. Ilija, the Muromer, rode up to him and began to try his courage, but the cripple addressing him said—
“Ah! Ilija, the Muromer, do you not know me? Do you not remember how we learnt lessons in the same school? Will you fall on me, a poor cripple? Do you know that there is great distress in the famous town of Kiev? A powerful infidel knight, a godless idolater, has come there. His head is as big as a beer-barrel, his eyebrows are a span apart, and his shoulders are six feet across. He eats an ox at a meal, and drinks a cask of beer at a time. The Prince is sore troubled at your absence.”
Then Ilija, the Muromer, put on the cripple’s cloak and rode off to Kiev. He went to the palace, and cried with all his might—
“Ho, there! Prince of Kiev, give the cripple an alms.”
When the Prince heard him, he said—
“Come into my palace. I will give you something to eat and drink, and some money for your journey.”
Then Ilija went into the palace and sat down near the stove, and there also sat the pagan knight calling for food to be brought. The servants brought him an ox, roasted whole, and he ate it up, bones and all. Then he called for something to drink, and twenty-seven men brought him a barrel of beer. The knight took it in his hands and lifted it up. Then Ilija, the Muromer, said—
“My father once had a gluttonous mare, which ate so much that it burst.”
The infidel was angry, and said—
“What do you mean, you wretched cripple? You are no equal for me. I could set you on the palm of my right hand and squeeze you dry with my left. You once had a real hero in your country, Ilija, the Muromer; I should like to have a fight with him.”
“Here he is,” cried Ilija, taking off his hat, and striking the pagan a blow on the head, not very hard, but so strong as to send the head through the wall of the palace. Ilija then took up the body and cast it into the yard. So the prince gave Ilija a royal reward, and kept him at his court as the first and the bravest of his knights.