THE TALE OF THE GOLDEN COCKEREL
In a realm that shall be nameless,
In a country bright and blameless,
Lived the might Czar Dadon,
Second in renown to none.
Fierce and bold, he would neighbor.
But he fancied, as he aged,
That enough wars had been waged -
Having earned a rest, he took it.
But his neighbors would not brook it,
And they harassed the old Czar,
And they ruthlessly attacked him,
And they harried and they hacked him.
Threfore, lest his realm be lost,
He maintained a mighty host.
Though his captains were not napping,
They not seldom took a rapping:
In the south they're fortified -
From the east their foemen ride;
Mend the breach, as is commanded -
On the shore an army's landed
That has come from oversea.
Czar Dadon, so vexed was he,
Was upon the point of weeping,
Didn't find it easy sleeping.
Never was life bitterer!
So to the asrologer,
To the wise old eunuch, pleading
To the eunuch he bows low,
And the mage consents to go
At Dadon's behest, appearing
At the court: a sign most cheering.
In his bag, as it befell,
He'd a golden cockerel.
"Set this bird," the mage directed,
"On a pole that's soon erected;
And my golden cockerel will protect thee very well.
When there is no sign of riot,
He will sit serene and queit
But if ever there should be
Threat of a calamity,
Should there come from any quarter
Raiders ripe for loot and slaughter,
Then my golden cockerel
Will arouse: his comb will swell,
He will crow, and up and doing,
Turn to where the danger's brewing."
In return the mage is told
He shall have a heap gold,
And good Czar Dadon instanter
Promises the kind enchanter:
Twill be granted as my own."
In his perch, by the Czar's orders,
Sits the cock and guards the borders -
And when danger starts to peep
He arises, as from sleep,
Crows and ruffles up his feathers,
Turns to where the trouble gathers,
Sounds his warning clear and true,
Slug-a-bed, lie still slumber,
Reign with never care or cumber!"
And the neighbors dared not seek
Any quarrel, but grew meek:
Czar Dadon there was no trapping,
For they could not catch him napping
Peacefully two years go by,
And the cock sits quietly.
But on day, by noises shaken,
Czar Dadon is forced to waken.
Cries a captain: "Czar a Sire,
Rise, thy children's need is dire!
Trouble comes, thy realm to shatter."
"Gentlemen, what is the matter?"
Yawns Dadon. "What do you say?
Who is there? What trouble, pray?"
Says the captain: "Fear is growing,
For the cockerel is crowing:
The whole city's terrified."
The Czar looked out and spied
The gold cockerel a-working -
Toward the east he kept on jerking.
"Quickly now! Make no delay!
Take to horse, men, and away!"
Toward the east the army's speeding
That the Czar's first-born is leading.
Now the cockerel is still,
And the Czar may sleep his fill.
Eight full days go by like magic,
But no news comes, glad or tragic:
Not a word Dadon has got.
Hark! Again the cock is crowing -
A new army must be going
Forth to battle; Czar Dadon
This time sends his younger son
To the rescue of his brother.
And this time, just as the other,
The young cock grows still content.
But again no news is sent.
And in fear the folk are sitting;
And once more the cockerel crows,
And a third host eastward goes.
Czar Dadon himself is leading,
Not quite certain of succeeding.
They march on, by day, by night,
And they soon are weary, quite.
Czar Dadon, in some vexation,
Vainly seeks an indication
Or a fight: battle-ground,
Or a camp, or funeral-mound.
Strange! But as the eigth day's ending,
We find Czar Dadon ascending
Hilly pathways, with his men -
What does his gaze light on then?
Twixt two mountain-peaks commanding
Lo! A silken tent is standing.
Wondrous silence rules the scene,
And behold, in a ravile
Lies the slaughtered army! Chastened
By the sight, the old Czar hastened
To the tent... Alas, Dadon!
Younger son and elder son
Lie unhelmed, and either brother
Has his sword stuck in the other.
In the field, alackaday,
Masterless, their coursers stray,
On the trampled grass and muddy,
On the silken grass now bloody...
Czar Dadon howled fearfully:
"Children, children! Woe is me!
Both our falcons have been taken
In the nets! I am farsaken!"
All his army howled and moaned
Till the very valleys groaned -
From the shaken mountains darted
Echoes. Then the tent-flaps parted...
Suddenly upon the scene stood the young Shamakhan queen!
Bright as dawn, with gentle greeting
She acknowledged this first meeting
With the Czar, and old Dadon,
Like a night-bird in the sun,
Stood stock still and kept on blinking
At the maid, no longer thinking
Of his sons, the dead and gone.
And she smiled at Czar Dadon-
Bowing, took his hand and led him
Straight into her tent, and fed him
Royally, and then her guest
Tenderly she laid to rest
On a couch with gold brocaded,
By her silken curtains shaded.
Seven days and seven nights
Czar Dadon knew these delights,
And, of every scruple ridden,
Did, bewitched, what he was bidden.
Long enough he had delayed -
To his army, to the maid,
Czar Dadon was now declaring
That they must be homeward faring.
Faster than Dadon there flies
Rumor, spreading truth and lies.
And the populace have straightway
Come to meet them at he gateway.
Now behind the coach they run,
Hail the queen and hail Dadon,
And most affable they find him...
Lo! There in the crowd behind him
Who should follow Czar Dadon,
Hair and beard white as a swan,
And a Moorish hat to top him,
But the mage? There's none to stop him;
Up he come: "My greetings, Sire."
Says the Czar: "What's thy desire?
Pray, come closer. What's thy mission?"
"Czar," responded the magician,
"We have our accounts to square;
Thou hast sworn, thou art aware,
For the help that I accorded,
Anything thy realm afforded
Thou wouldst grant me: my desire,
As thy own, fulfilling, Sire.
Tis this maiden I am craving:
The Shamakhan queen." "Thou'rt raving!"
Shrieked Dadon forthwith, amazed,
While his eyes with anger blazed.
"Gracious! Hast thou lost thy senses?
Who'd have dreamed such consequences
From the words that once I said!"
Cried the Czar. "What's in thy head?
Yes, I promised, but what of it?
There are limits, and I'll prove it.
What is any maid to thee?
How dare thou thus speak to Me?
Other favors I am able
To bestow: take from my stable
My best horse, or, better far,
Henceforth rank as a boyar;
Gold I'll give thee willingly -
Half my czardom is for thee."
"Naught is offered worth desiring,"
Said the mage. "I am requiring
But one gift of thee. I mean,
Namely, the Shamakhan queen."
Then the Czar, with anger spitting,
Crie: "The devil! Tis not fitting
That I listen to such stuff.
Thou'lt have nothing. That's enough!
To thy cost thou hast been sinning -
Reckoned wrong from the beginning.
Now be off while thou'rt yet whole!
Take him out, God bless my soul!"
The enchanter, ere they caught him,
Would have argued, but bethought him
That with certain mighty folk
Quarreling is not a joke,
And there was no word in answer
From the white-haired necromancer.
With his sceptre the Czar straight
Rapped the eunuch on his pate;
He fell forward: life departed.
Forthwith the whole city started
Quaking - but the maiden, ah!
Hee-hee-hee! And Ha-ha-ha!
Feared no sin and was not queasy.
Czar Dadon, though quite uneasy,
Gave the queen a tender smile
And rode forward in fine style.
Suddenly there is tinkling
Little noise, and in a twinkling,
While all stood and stared anew,
From his perch the cockerel flew
To the royal coach, and lighted
On the pate of the affrighted
Czar Dadon, and there, elate,
Flapped his wings, and pecked the pate,
And soared off... and as it flitted,
Czar Dadon his carriage quitted:
Down he fell, and groaned at most
Once, and then gave up the ghost.
And the queen no more was seen there;
Twas as though she'd never been there
Fairy-tales, though far from true,
Teach good lads a thing or two.