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Russian fairy tale
Translated by Irina Zheleznova
Illustrated by O.Slepkov
Once upon a time there lived seven brothers, seven brave workingmen, and they were all named Simeon.
One day, they went out into the field to meet the morn and the sun to greet, to plough the soil and to sow some wheat, and it so happened that, at that very time, the Tsar and his voyevodas, the grandest of his noblemen, chanced to be riding by. The Tsar looked and, seeing the seven brothers, was much surprised.
“What can it mean?” said he. “Seven youths are ploughing one field, and they are all the same height and look alike too. Find out who they are.”
And the Tsar’s servants ran and brought before him the seven Simeons — seven brave workingmen.
“Well, now, tell me who you are and what you do for a living,” the Tsar demanded.
And the seven brothers replied:
“We are seven brothers, seven brave workingmen, and we are all called Simeon. We plough the land that was our father’s and his father’s before him, and in addition each of us has been taught a trade of his own.”
“Who has been taught to do what?” asked the Tsar.
Said the eldest brother:
“I am Simeon the Carpenter and Blacksmith, and I can make a pillar of iron reaching from the ground to the very sky.”
Said the second brother:
“I am Simeon the Climber, and I can climb to the top of that pillar and look to all sides to see what goes on where.”
Said the third brother:
“I am Simeon the Sailor, and I can build a ship in the wink of an eye, and sail her over the seas and under the water too.”
“I am Simeon the Archer,” said the fourth brother, “and I can hit a fly in the air with my arrow.”
“I am Simeon the Astrologer,” said the fifth brother, “and I can count the stars and never miss a single one of them.”
“I am Simeon the Ploughman,” said the sixth brother, “and I can plough a field, sow the grain and reap the harvest all in one day.”
“And what can you do?” asked the Tsar of the youngest of the seven Simeons.
“I can sing and dance, o Tsar our father, and play on a pipe,” the youth replied.
At this one of the Tsar’s voyevodas said spitefully:
“Workingmen we need, o Tsar our father, but what do we want with a fellow who can do nothing but dance and play! Send him away, for such as he are not worth the bread they eat or the kvass they drink.”
“You may well be right,” agreed the Tsar.
And the youngest of the Simeons bowed to the Tsar and said:
“Allow me to play for you and show what I can do, o Tsar our father.”
“Very well,” said the Tsar, “play for me just once and then leave my tsardom!”
The youngest of the Simeons took out his pipe of birch bark and started playing a Russian dance tune, and at once everyone who was there and could hear him went into a dance and began to skip and prance. The Tsar danced, and the boyars danced, and the guards. The horses in the stalls frisked and capered, the cows in the sheds stamped in time to the music and, in the hen-house, the hens and roosters hopped about gaily. But the voyevoda danced harder than anyone. In fact, so hard did he dance that the sweat rolled down his face, and the tears too, and his beard jerked and shook.
“Stop your playing, I can’t dance any longer, I’m all in and fit to drop!” cried the Tsar in loud tones.
Said the youngest of the Simeons:
“Rest now, good folk, all but you, voyevoda. I’ll make you dance some more for your spiteful tongue and evil eye.”
And at once everyone stood still, all but the voyevoda who went on dancing and could not stop. He danced and danced till at last his legs buckled under him, and he sank to the ground and lay there, opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of water.
Said the youngest of the Simeons flinging aside his pipe of birch bark:
“And that. Tsar, is my trade!”
The Tsar laughed at this, but the voyevoda was ill pleased and plotted revenge.
“Well, now, Simeon the Eldest, show us what you can do!” said the Tsar.
And the oldest of the Simeons took a hammer weighing all of fifteen poods and forged a pillar of iron reaching from the ground to the blue sky above.
Then the second Simeon climbed up on to the pillar top and began to look to all sides.
“Speak and tell us what you see!” the Tsar called to him.
And the second Simeon called back:
“I see ships sailing the sea, I see wheat ripening in the fields.”
“What else do you see?”
“On the Ocean-Sea an isle I see. ’Tis the Isle of Buyan gleaming bright in the sun. And there, at the window of a palace of gold, sits Yelena the Beautiful weaving a silken rug.”
“What is she like? Is she really as beautiful as they say?” asked the Tsar.
“That she is. Indeed, such is her beauty as cannot be pictured and cannot be told but is a true wonder and joy to behold. She wears the crescent moon for a crown, and each hair on her head is agleam with pearls.”
Now this made the Tsar eager to have Yelena the Beautiful for his wife, and he was about to send his matchmakers to her when the wicked voyevoda said, trying to set him against the seven Simeons:
“Why do you not send the seven Simeons after Yelena the Beautiful, o Tsar good father! They are skilful and clever and should be able to succeed in the venture. And if they fail, you can have their heads chopped off for them.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea!” said the Tsar.
And he ordered the seven Simeons to bring him Yelena the Beautiful.
“If you don’t,” said he, “then I swear by my sword and my tsardom whole that off your shoulders your heads will roll!”
It could not be helped, so Simeon the Sailor took an axe, and — rap-tap! — he built a ship in the wink of an eye, fitted her out and rigged her, and launched her too. They loaded the ship full with goods of every make and kind, the costliest gifts that they could find, and the Tsar ordered the wicked voyevoda to go with the brothers and see that they did as they were bade. The voyevoda turned white, but there was nothing to be done. Do not dig a pit for others if you do not want to fall in yourself.
They boarded the ship, and at her sides the billows lapped, and in the wind the sails flapped, and then they gathered way and set sail across the Ocean-Sea for the Isle of Buyan that gleamed bright in the sun.
Whether they sailed for a long time or a little time no one knows, but at last the island lay before them.
They stepped out on shore, went straight to Yelena the Beautiful and, laying at her feet the costly gifts they had brought, began to plead with her to bestow her hand upon the Tsar.
Yelena the Beautiful look the gifts, and, as she was looking them over, the wicked voyevoda whispered in her ear:
“Do not marry the Tsar, Yelena the Beautiful. He is old and feeble, and in his tsardom the wolves howl and the bears prowl.”
Yelena the Beautiful flew into a temper and ordered the matchmakers out of her palace.
What were the seven brothers to do?
“Listen to me, my brothers,” said the youngest of the seven Simeons. “You go on board the ship and prepare to weigh anchor. Put in a supply of bread and hoist the sails, and leave it to me to fetch Yelena the Beautiful.”
And lo! before the hour was up Simeon the Ploughman had ploughed up the sandy shore, sowed some rye, gathered in the harvest and baked enough bread to last them the whole journey back. They hoisted the sails and began to wait for Simeon the Youngest.
Simeon the Youngest went to the palace, and there was Yelena the Beautiful seated at the window weaving a silken rug. So he sat down on a bench beneath the window, and spoke thus:
“It is beautiful here in your realm in the middle of the Ocean-Sea, on the Isle of Buyan that gleams bright in the sun, but it is a hundred times more so in Rus, my own dear motherland. Our rivers are blue and our birches are white; our fields are vast and our meadows are green and bright with flowers. In Rus, sunset meets sunrise and the crescent moon in the sky keeps watch over the stars. Our dew is as sweet as honey, and our streams gleam like silver. In the morning the shepherd will walk out on to the green meadow and put his pipe of birch bark to his lips and, whether you want to or not, you will follow wherever he leads.”
Simeon the Youngest began playing on his pipe of birch bark, and Yelena the Beautiful stepped out on to the threshold of gold. He played on, and started across the garden, and Yelena the Beautiful went after him. Simeon crossed the garden, and Yelena the Beautiful trailed behind him. He traversed the meadow, and she followed in his wake. He walked on along the sandy shore, and there she was at his heels. He went on board the ship, and so did she.
And now the brothers hastily pulled up the gangplank, turned round the ship and set sail across the blue sea.
Simeon the Youngest stopped playing on his pipe, and at once Yelena the Beautiful came to and looked round her. All about was the Ocean-Sea, and the Isle of Buyan gleaming bright in the sun was left far behind.
Yelena the Beautiful threw herself down on the pine floor, and then, turning into a blue star, she streaked up into the sky and was lost among the other stars. But Simeon the Astrologer came running out, he counted all the bright stars in the sky and he found the new star. And now Simeon the Archer rushed out on deck and he shot a golden arrow at the star. And the star rolled down on to the pine floor and turned into Yelena the Beautiful again.
Said Simeon the Youngest:
“Do not try to run away, Yelena the Beautiful, for there is nowhere you can hide from us. But if you dislike our company, then we had better take you back to your Isle of Buyan that gleams bright in the sun, and let the Tsar chop off our heads for us.”
Hearing him, Yelena the Beautiful felt very sorry for Simeon the Youngest.
“No,” said she, “they shall not chop off your head because of me, Simeon the Piper. You may take me to the Tsar.”
They sailed for a day, and they sailed for another day. Simeon the Youngest never left the Tsarevna’s side, and she could not tear her eyes from him.
But the wicked voyevoda took note of it and hatched an evil plot.
They were nearing home, and the shore was already in sight when the voyevoda called the brothers out on to the deck and offered them a cup of sweet wine.
“Let us drink to our homeland, friends!” said he.
The brothers drank the wine and, stretching themselves out on the deck, fell fast asleep. Now the voyevoda had put a sleeping potion in the wine, and nothing, neither thunder nor storm, nor their mother’s tears flowing tender and warm, could wake them.
Only Yelena the Beautiful and Simeon the Youngest, who had not touched the wine, stayed awake.
The reached the shore, and still the six brothers slept and did not wake. Simeon the Youngest began preparing to take Yelena the Beautiful to the Tsar, and both of them wept and sobbed, for it broke their hearts to part from one another. But it could not be helped, for a rule that all good folk accept is that a promise must be kept.
Meanwhile, the wicked voyevoda ran to the Tsar and, prostrating himself before him, said:
“O Tsar our father, Simeon the Youngest is plotting against you. He wants to kill you and take Yelena the Beautiful for himself. Have him put to death.”
Simeon the Youngest and Yelena the Beautiful now appeared before the Tsar and, after showing the Tsarevna into the palace with all the honours due her, the Tsar ordered Simeon to be put in prison.
“Hear me, my brothers, hear me, six Simeons!” cried Simeon the Youngest. “Come to your youngest brother’s aid.”
But the brothers slept on and did not wake.
Simeon the Youngest was thrown in a dungeon and fettered with iron chains and, at the break of a day, he was led out and taken to where the headsmen were waiting to chop off his head.
Yelena the Beautiful wept, the tears rolling like pearls down her cheeks, but the wicked voyevoda laughed spitefully.
Said Simeon the Youngest:
“O Tsar, you who are without mercy, before I die, grant me my last wish, for so our ancient custom bids you do. Allow me to play on my pipe for the last time.”
“Don’t do it, o Tsar our father, don’t let him play!” cried the wicked voyevoda.
But the Tsar said:
“I shall not go against the customs of our fathers. Play, Simeon, but make haste, for my headsmen have waited too long, their sharp swords have blunted.”
And Simeon the Youngest put his pipe of birch bark to his lips and began to play.
Across hills and across dales the music carried, and the strains of it reached the ship where the six brothers lay sleeping.
“Our youngest brother must be in trouble!” cried they, starting to their feet.
And off they set at a run for the Tsar’s court.
The headsmen had just grasped their sharp swords and were about to chop off Simeon’s head, when, lo and behold! — as if out of thin air the six brothers appeared: Simeon the Carpenter, Simeon the Climber, Simeon the Ploughman, Simeon the Sailor, Simeon the Astrologer and Simeon the Archer.
They moved in a body upon the old Tsar and they said in threatening tones:
“Free our youngest brother, Tsar, and give up Yelena the Beautiful to him!”
The Tsar was frightened and said:
“Take your youngest brother, and the Tsarevna too, and be quick about it. I do not like her much, anyway.”
After that Simeon the Youngest and Yelena the Beautiful were married, and such a feast was held as the world had never seen. They drank their fill and ate their fill, and they sang merry songs with great good will.
Then Simeon the Youngest took his pipe and began playing a cheery dance tune.
The Tsar danced, and the Tsarevna danced, the boyars danced and their ladies danced too. The horses in the stables frisked and pranced, the cows in the shed stamped in time to the music and, in the hen-house, the hens and roosters skipped about gaily.
But the voyevoda danced harder than anyone. He danced till his legs gave under him and he fell to the ground, dead.
All good things have an end and, now that the wedding and feast were over, it was time to go back to work again.
And work they did!
Simeon the Carpenter built houses, Simeon the Ploughman sowed wheat, Simeon the Sailor sailed the seas, Simeon the Astrologer kept count of the stars, and Simeon the Archer guarded Rus from her enemies. There was enough work and to spare for all in this great good land of ours.
And as for Simeon the Youngest, he sang songs and played on his pipe, and his music warmed people’s hearts and lightened their labour. For all who heard him sing and all who heard him play, waxed cheerful and bright for the rest of the day!
Author: Russian Folk Tale; illustrated by Slepkov O.
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