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by Ukrainian folk tale
Translated by Kathleen Cook
Illustrated by V.Galdjaev
A long time ago, a very long time ago, before not only we, but also our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were born, the rich Slav trading town of Vineta stood on the sea shore; and in this town lived a rich merchant by the name of Althom, whose ships laden with precious wares ploughed the seas far and wide.
Althom was very rich and lived in luxury: perhaps his very name Althom, or All-at-home, came from the fact that his home contained everything good and precious that could be found at that time; and the master himself, his wife and children ate only from gold and silver and dressed only in sable and brocade.
In Althom’s stables were many fine horses; but there was none in these stables or in the whole of Vineta more fleet of foot or more handsome than Chase-the-Wind, as Althom called his favourite saddle-horse because of its fleetness of foot. No one dared mount Chase-the-Wind but the owner himself, and he never rode another steed.
On one of his travels to see to his affairs, the merchant was returning to Vineta, when he happened to be riding through a large dark forest on his beloved horse. Evening was approaching and the forest was very dark and dense, the wind rocked the tops of the sullen firs; the merchant was travelling alone, trotting slowly to spare his beloved horse who was tired from the long journey.
Suddenly out of the bushes, as if from nowhere, sprang six robust men with brutal faces, in ragged caps, with bear-spears, axes and knives in their hands; three were mounted and three on foot, and two of the robbers were about to catch the horse by the bridle.
Had he been riding another horse instead of Chase-the-Wind the rich Althom would never have seen his native Vineta again. Feeling a strange hand on the bridle, the horse shot ahead, its broad, powerful chest knocking to the ground the two bold villains who held it by the bridle, trampled a third, who had run forward to bar its way, waving his bear-spear, and sped off like the wind. The mounted robbers set off in pursuit; their horses were good, too, but how could they catch up Althom’s steed!
In spite of its tiredness, Chase-the-Wind sensed the pursuit and raced like an arrow from a tightly drawn bow, leaving the furious scoundrels far behind.
Half an hour later Althom was riding into his native Vineta on his good horse, from which the lather was streaming down.
Dismounting from the horse, whose flanks had risen high with exhaustion, the merchant stroked Chase-the-Wind’s sweating neck and solemnly vowed that whatever happened he would never sell or give away his loyal horse, never drive it away however old it was, and feed it three measures of the best oats each day until it died.
But Althom was in a hurry to greet his wife and children and did not see to the horse himself, and the lazy groom did not look after the exhausted horse, did not let it cool down and gave it water too soon.
From that day Chase-the-Wind grew ill and sickly, its legs became weak and, finally, it went blind. The merchant grieved bitterly, and for six months kept his promise: the blind horse remained in the stable and each day it was fed three measures of oats.
Then Althom bought himself another saddle-horse, and six months later he decided it was wasteful to give a blind, good-for-nothing horse three measures of oats, and ordered that it be given two. Another six months passed; the blind horse was still young and would have to be fed for a long time, so they began to give it one measure a day. Finally, the merchant decided that this was also too much, and ordered Chase-the-Wind to be unbridled and driven out of the gates so that it did not take up room in the stable. The grooms drove the blind horse out with a stick, because it dug in its heels and would not budge.
Poor, blind Chase-the-Wind did not understand what was happening, and not knowing or seeing where to go, stayed by the gate, head hanging and ears moving sadly. Night came and it began to snow. Sleeping on the cobbles was hard and cold for the poor, blind horse. It stood on the same spot for several hours, but finally hunger drove it in search of food. Lifting its head and sniffing at least for a bunch of straw from the old, sagging roof, the blind horse wandered at random, bumping into the corners of houses and fences.
I should explain that in Vineta, as in all old Slav towns, there was no prince, and the town dwellers ruled themselves, gathering on the square when it was necessary to decide matters of importance. This assembly of the people to decide its own affairs, administer justice and mete out punishment was called a veche. In the middle of Vineta, in the square where the veche used to meet, from four posts hung the large veche bell, which summoned the people together and could be rung by anyone who felt that he had been wronged and wanted judgment and protection from the people. Of course, no one would dare to ring the veche bell for a trifle, because they knew the people would punish them for it.
Wandering over the square, the blind, deaf and hungry horse happened to bump into the posts on which the bell hung and, hoping perhaps to find a bunch of straw from the eaves, caught hold of the rope tied to the bell’s tongue in its teeth, and began to pull: the bell clanged so loudly that, although it was still very early, the people came running to the square, curious to know who was demanding their judging and protection so loudly. Everyone in Vineta knew Chase-the-Wind, knew that he had saved his master’s life, and knew about his master’s promise—so they were surprised to see the poor horse, blind, hungry, shivering with the cold and covered with snow, in the middle of the square.
It soon transpired what was the matter, and when the people learned that the rich Althom had driven away the horse who saved his life, they decided unanimously that Chase-the-Wind was quite right to ring the veche bell.
They summoned the ungrateful merchant to the square; and, in spite of his attempts to justify himself, ordered him to keep the horse as before and feed it until the day it died. A special person was appointed to see that the sentence was carried out, and the sentence itself was carved on the stone set up to commemorate this event in the veche square.
Author: Ushinsky K.; illustrated by Galdjaev V.
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