In a thrice-nine realm that lay
O'er the seas and far away
Lived and reigned the great Dadon.
In his youth he had been known
For his ruthless ways and fierce,
But in later, riper years,
Wearying of war and strife,
Showed a fondness for a life
Of repose and calm...
By his neighbours now he was
Teased and harassed: oft did they
Overrun his lands. At bay
For to hold them old Dadon
Had to keep large armies on
All his borders, near and far.
But the captains of the Tsar
Proved, to his alarm, too slow
For the nimble-footed foe:
Thought in all good faith to be
Southward bound, he suddenly
Was encountered in the east,
Or, when there expected least,
Would at sea be sighted...
Tsar Dadon could ill endure
Such reverse. He wept in rage,
Lost his sleep, and for a sage,
An astrologer and seer,
Sent at last in hope and fear.
With a bow the mage is shown
Into the presence of Dadon,
And from out his sack — behold! —
Brings he forth a Cock of gold,
Saying, "Heed my counsel, Sire,
Place the Cock atop a spire,
And on guard he'll faithful stand
Of your great and mighty land.
While there's peace, O Tsar, he will
On his perch keep very still.
But if there be threat of war,
Or a hint of evil, or
Should on you a sudden raid
By the enemy be made,
Then the Cock his wings will spread,
Lift his golden, crested head
And with loud and piercing crow
Give you warning where the foe
Thinks to strike."
"I do declare,"
Said the Tsar, well pleased, "that ne'er
Heard I better words or braver.
Honest wizard, of my favour
Rest assured. Whate'er you will,
That shall I at once fulfil."
Perched atop a turret steep,
Sleepless watch the Cock did keep
O'er the land, but, so we learn,
If alarmed, at once would turn
Toward the side whence danger came
And address Dadon by name
I have this to say to you:
Lie abed, o Tsar, and reign."
And — O joy! — Dadon's domain
Was attacked and stormed no more
And for once could rest from war.
Thus a year or two went by
Till a sudden hue and cry
In the early hours of dawn
Roused the sleeping Tsar Dadon.
"Wake, O Tsar our father, pray!"
Called his voyevoda*. "Eh?"
Yawned Dadon and opened an eye.
"What's this awful clamour?" "Why,
'Tis the Cock. He's crowing, Sire,
Loud as loud atop the spire;
All are up and in a fright..."
To the window for a sight
Of the Cock Dadon now hurried.
Eastward was the badly flurried
Sentry facing as he crowed.
Cried Dadon, for this did bode
Nothing good: "Ho, men, to horse!"
And he sent a mighty force,
With his first-born at its head,
War to wage.
As off they sped,
On his perch the Cockerel
Ceased to crow and silent fell.
Eight full days went by but no
Tidings came from friend or foe.
Had a battle taken place
Or had they one still to face?..
As the fear and panic grew,
Loud the Cock shrilled out anew.
Tsar Dadon, by wisdom led,
Sent his younger son at head
Of a second host in search
Of the first.
Upon his perch,
Hushed and still, for eight whole days
Sat the Cock. With anxious gaze
Tsar and townsfolk watched him, till
Once again that rousing shrill
Rang above the palace. Then
Tsar Dadon a host of men
Did himself without delay
Call to arms and straightaway
Lead them eastward...
On they went,
On their wearing mission bent,
But no camp, no battle-ground,
Not a barrow or a mound
Met upon the way. At last,
When a week and day had passed,
'Fore a gorge surrounded by
Hills whose summits scraped the sky
And where stood a silken tent
They arrived, worn out and spent.
All around in disarray
Torn and broken bodies lay.
Tsar Dadon in sudden dread
Nearer drew... Before him, dead,
By each other's swords pierced through,
Lay his sons, his falcons two,
With their steeds, of movement shy,
Wandering in the field nearby,
O'er the crushed and bloody grass...
"O, that this should come to pass!"
Cried Dadon, and beat his breast.
"That my sons, my own two blest
Falcons should be trapped and die
In this wise... Indeed, 'tis my
Death has come, and all is lost!"
Joining in, the Tsar's brave host
Wailed with him... A heavy sigh
From the hills came in reply.
Of a sudden out the tent,
To Dadon's great wonderment,
Stepped a maid, Tsarina of
Shamakhan, the skies above
With her dazzling beauty shaming.
Like a night-bird by the flaming
Orb of day, so was he dazed
And, enthralled, upon her gazed,
Sons and host forgot... The maid
Smiled most sweetly, and with staid
Bow she led him by the hand
To her tent and there in grand,
Nay, e'en more, — in sumptuous style
Feted him. So did they while
Half the merry night away,
After which, at break of day,
On a bed of gold brocade
For to rest him he was laid...
Thus, bewitched, entranced, content,
With the maid a week he spent.
But at last the week was done
And for home the good Dadon
Set him out with host and maid,
While ahead, by none delayed,
Old Dame Rumour swiftly flew,
Spreading fact and fable, too.
At Dadon's own gate a crowd
Met the Tsar and ran with loud
Cheers behind the royal pair,
And the two with gracious air
Smiled and waved...
Amid the throng
Which was many hundreds strong
Now did Tsar Dadon espy
In a turban with a high
Snow-white top his friend the seer
Whom at once he beckoned near.
To the bearded ancient thus
Spake Dadon: "Pray, answer us:
Is there aught you wish for, sage?"
Said the man: "You did engage
To repay your debt to me,
Promising most faithfully
For to do what I desire.
Hear my wish and grant it, Sire:
The Tsarina for my own
I would have." At this Dadon
Stood aghast. Cried he: "Egad!
Good my man, you must be mad,
This may lead to your undoing...
Surely 'tis the devil's doing
And naught else... I won't deny,
Give my word I did, but why
Ask for something you don't need?
Put a limit on your greed
And go not, I beg, too far—
You forget that I am Tsar!
Be a boyar**, if you will,
With my gold your coffers fill,
Take my horse for you to ride,
Half my tsardom take beside."
"Nay," the eunuch answered him,
"Call it fancy, call it whim,
But I'll have the young Tsarina."
"What?!" Dadon exclaimed. "You sinner!"
And in towering rage he spat
On the ground. "Now just for that
You'll get nothing, do you hear?
Guards, remove him!" But the seer
Trying vainly to protest,
And with some 'tis surely best
To refrain from arguing,
Tsar Dadon his staff did bring
Down upon the ancient's head,
Whereupon the mage dropped dead.
The whole town was thunderstruck...
But the maid showed wondrous pluck.
"Ha-ha-ha!" laughed she. "Tee-hee!"
And the Tsar, though pained was he,
Beamed at her...
As through the gate
They moved slowly on in state,
To the marvel of the town,
From his spire the Cock came down,
On the Tsar's bald pate alighted,
Gave a peck, and, nothing frighted,
With broken moan
From his chariot Dadon
Rolled and breathed his last forthwith,
While the maid he'd come there with
Vanished and no more was seen,
Just as if she'd never been...
To you all, my lads, and each
Let this tale a lesson teach.
* Voyevoda— commander of an army.
**Boyar — calling conferred on a man, making him a member of an aristocratic order.