The Gypsy and the Dragon

In the vast steppes of Russia there lived a tribe of gypsies, who traveled up and down the country selling remedies and beads, never staying for long in the same place. The leader was an astute and sharp-witted man whose name was Yuri, and he had six clever sons. One day, when the tribe was camped next to a town celebrating the holiday of Saint Basil, Yuri was told that a few versts from there lived a moujik (a Russian peasant) who was selling colts at a very good price. The astute gypsy thought that he would be able to do a good deal if he bought the animals and then sold them again, and he set out cheerfully. He put a piece of fresh cheese and slice of rye bread in a pouch and made his way to the moujik's village, leaving his people to sell their wares at the fair.

On arriving in the neighbouring village, he was surprised to find the place silent and deserted. he walked through the narrow streets in astonishment, looking for clues as to what had happened. Suddenly, he heard a terrified voice warning him, "Flee from here wretch, if you don't want the dragon to devour you."

"Who is speaking?" asked Yuri.

"It is I, old Vestia." And from behind some filthy willow baskets emerged and old man with a long beard. He was stooped and trembling, and so thin that he was nothing more than skin and bone.

"Hello, grandfather," said Yuri amiably, "what is going on here?"

"Oh, my son!" sighed the old man. "An evil dragon has devoured all the inhabitants of the town—people, animals, even the cats! I am the only person left because i am so old that the monster didn't fancy eating skin and bones, but today he will return, and as he will find nothing else to eat, he will eat me too. Go far from here, if you do not want to suffer the same fate."

"Don't worry grandfather," replied the bold Yuri. "I am not afraid of the dragon. If you do what I tell you no harm will befall you. Hide among the willow baskets and don't say a word."

Soon the earth began to shake from the dragon's footsteps. He was enormous and looked very hungry.

Yuri, who knew that dragons are vain and curious by nature, went up to him and greeted him courteously:

"Good day, tsar of the dragons."

The dragon was very proud to be addressed thus. He thrashed the ground with his tail, spread his wings to display the marvelous jeweled breastplate adorning his chest and bowed his head, saying modestly, "But that is not so, I am simply a common dragon."

"You are not common, magnificent lord," protested Yuri, "you are the greatest, the most beautiful and the most powerful of all. I am eager to admire your strength."

"Yes," admitted the vain animal, coiling and uncoiling his tail, blushing with pleasure, "it is true that I am strong and I am generally thought beautiful. But who are you standing before me so fearlessly?"

"I am the strongest man in the world," replied Yuri with alacrity.

"You are the strongest? Don't make me laugh!"

"But I am, even though you doubt my words."

The dragon, who by now was very interested in the gypsy, picked up a stone and crushed it to powder.

"Perhaps you can do the same, if you are the strongest of humans."

"That wouldn't be difficult," replied Yuri with aplomb, "but can you squeeze water out of the stone as I can?" And without letting the dragon see what he picked up from his pouch, he squeezed the fresh cheese until whey trickled out between his fingers.

"Well," thought the dragon, "he really is very strong. It would be better to have him as friend than an enemy."

And to win the man's friendship he suggested "Come and eat at my house. You are a very nice human being and I would like us to be friends."

"Very well dragon, let's go." The monster took Yuri to the cave where he lived and asked him, "Would you kindly go to the woods and bring back an oak tree to make a fire?"

Yuri went out determined to prevent the dragon from discovering the trick, but his arms were not strong enough to uproot such enormous trees and bring them back to the cave. Then he had an idea and he tied a group of sturdy oaks together with the rope the dragon had given him.

After a while, and seeing that the gypsy had not returned, the animal made his way to the woods and met Yuri who was very busy tying the trunks carefully together.

"What on earth are you doing?" asked the reptile, astonished.

"Well, I thought that if I bring back all the trees at once we will have wood for several days."

"Leave it, leave it, we don't want to cut down the whole wood," replied the dragon, more convinced of his friend's strength. "I'll take the trunk back home. Meanwhile, bring me a bullock to cook. Behind the house, in a field, you will find herd of bullocks. Just make sure you choose the plumpest."

Yuri set off determinedly for the field, and after a while the dragon found him tying the bullocks together.

"What are you doing?"

"Well, I thought if I brought all the bullocks back to the cave we could make a big bullock stew."

"Friend," said the dragon sighing, "you have a strange way of doing things. One bullock wil be enough. I'll take him back myself." And somewhat perturbed by his guest's behaviour, the dragon seized the plumpest bullock, killed it, skinned it and started to cook it. The two friends gorged themselves until they were full, and after the sumptuous feast, the dragon, who was in a good mood, offered to accompany the gypsy back to his house.

"Thank you," replied Yuri, "but I was thinking of buying some horses."

"Don't worry about that, I have a beautiful colt, and I can sell it to you for a hundred roubles."

Yuri agreed to the deal and told the dragon that he would pay him when they reached his house. As it was a long way the dragon decided to adopt a human form. They set out on horses belonging to the dragon and made good progress towards the camp. During the journey, Yuri warned his friend that he had six sons who were strong and had clairvoyant powers. When they reached the outskirts of the camp, Yuri's sons ran to meet him, and on seeing the colt they began to shout.

"You've only brought one!"

"It must be for me", shouted the oldest.

"No, no, I want this one", argued the smallest.

Yuri looked at the dragon and said, "What rascals! Didn't I tell you that they were clairvoyant? They recognized you." The dragon, terrified, thought that the boys wanted to keep him as a plaything, or to devour him, and as they were strong as their father, there was no possible hope of escape for him. He quickly dismounted from the horse, took on his dragon form and flew off in panic. Never again did he dare go near the Russian Steppes, where the gypsies are so strong they fight over dragons.