It was very noisy that day in Kiev. Cossack Captain Gorobets was celebrating the wedding of his son. In olden times people liked to eat delicious food, drink wine and have a jolly time. Many guests came to congratulate the newlyweds. Among the guests there was Danilo Burulbash, who was the sworn brother of the Cossack Captain. He came with his young wife Katerina and his one year-old son Ivan from another bank of the River Dnepr where he lived in a small village situated between two mountains.
All the guests were astonished by Katerina's beauty and they were also surprised by the fact that Katerina's father didn't come to the wedding. He had been traveling in foreign lands for twenty years and could tell many interesting stories. The musicians were playing a lively melody, young girls and lads were dancing. Suddenly, the music died down and Gorobets carried in two icons to give his blessing to the newly-weds. As soon as he raised the icons and was getting ready to pray, someone, seized by fear, gave a frenzied scream. The children moved back in fear pointing at a strange Cossack. He had been dancing for some time and even had time to amuse some of the young girls. When Gorobets raised the icon, the face of the strange Cossack suddenly changed. His nose grew, his eyes became brown instead of blue, his lips turned blue, his chin became sharp like a spear, a hump appeared on his back and the Cossack turned into an ugly old man. The Cossack Captain stepped forward, raised the icons and said, "Satan, depart!"
The old man hissed, gritted his teeth and disappeared. The people were very frightened and began to discuss the incident. Some people said that the ugly old man was a wicked magician but nobody could tell anything for certain about him.
Soon the servants rolled out a barrel of red wine and everybody forgot about the wicked magician. The musicians began to play music again and young girls and lads started dancing. The guests partied until the morning. Some of them fell asleep under the benches and tables, while others went to sleep in the stable. The next day Danilo Burulbash, his wife Katerina and their son went home, accompanied by ten young, faithful lads. They were on their way to their small village by boat when another mysterious incident happened. They were traveling down the River Dnepr during the dark night. The bright moon was lighting the bank of the river. The dark forest, the whimsical outlines of hills, and the ruins of an old castle could be barely seen. People said that in that old castle lived the wicked magician. Katerina, who was lulling her baby to sleep, looked at the castle and became very sad.
"Katerina, my soul, don't be so sad!" exclaimed Danilo.
"I'm not sad," replied Katerina. "I'm very frightened by the incident that happened at the wedding. People say that the apparition of the wicked magician always brings misfortune."
"Don't be afraid, my dear Katerina!" exclaimed Danilo. "If I find the den of the old magician I will burn him down! People also say that the magician is very rich. It's a great opportunity to steal his treasures. Soon we will be sailing past the old cemetery. There the magician's ancestors are buried."
Katerina dropped her eyes and said gingerly, "Don't try to kill the magician! It is very dangerous!"
"Silence!" Danilo interrupted his wife. "You should cook dinner and nurse our baby, but you mustn't give me instructions! Cossacks aren't afraid of evil spirits!"
The boat was drifting towards the shore. Suddenly a bloodcurdling scream was heard from the direction of the old cemetery. The lads lowered the oars and stood still, taken with fear. They were staring at the old cemetery and saw a very unusual scene. The cross above the grave began to sway and soon a dried up corpse quietly rose from within. The dead man had a long beard that touched his waist; his claws were much longer than his fingers. His face was trembling with unbearable torment. He raised his hands and groaned terribly: "I am suffocating!!!" His voice seemed to scratch the people's hearts. After a few minutes the dead man disappeared. Then another cross began to rock and another corpse flew out of his grave. He was more frightful than the first. His beard touched his knees; his claws were huge and sharp. The dead man shouted awfully: "I am suffocating", and disappeared.
Soon a third cross started swaying and a third corpse appeared from his grave. His appearance horrified the travelers. His beard touched his feet, his fingers with long claws stuck into the ground. He raised his hands as if he wished to reach the cold moon and shouted terribly in a loud voice. The baby who was sleeping in Katerina's hands woke up and began crying. Katerina uttered a shriek; the lads dropped their hats into Dnepr, Danilo started. Suddenly the awful dead man disappeared and everything calmed down.
Burulbash looked at his wife and baby with care and said, "Don't be afraid, my dear Katerina. Look, everything has disappeared! The wicked magician has tried to frighten us. Give me my son!"
He took his son in his arms and said: "Don't cry, Ivan! Soon we will be at home. Your mother will feed you with tasty porridge and put you in the cradle." Then he addressed Katerina. "It seems to me that your father doesn't want to get on with us. He is always gloomy and severe as if we have offended him. He doesn't like us and I don't understand why he has come to see us."
Meanwhile the boat moored to the bank. Everybody left the boat and went to the small village situated between two mountains. Danilo and his family lived in a plain hut that looked like all Cossacks' huts. There was only one big room there where lived Danilo, his wife Katerina, their baby, the old maidservant and ten faithful lads. The walls of the room were covered with oak shelves where pots, plates, mugs, glasses and pans were kept. Among the pots and pans were gold and silver bowls that Danilo had managed to get during the war. The walls were also adorned with expensive muskets, sabers and spears that Danilo had taken away from the Tatars, the Poles and the Turks.
Burulbash woke up late next morning. He sat on the bench and began to sharpen his Turkish saber. Katerina was embroidering in gold a silk shirt. Suddenly, Katerina's father came into the room. He was very angry and severe. Looking crossly at his daughter, he began to scold her, "Why did you come home so late yesterday?"
Danilo interrupted him and said that only a husband had the right to discipline his wife in these situations. Katerina's father grew furious and began to insult Danilo. Danilo retorted, "You may think anything you want! I've never participated in a dishonest deed. I've always stood for the orthodoxy and defended my native land while you have been traveling in foreign countries."
Having heard these words, Danilo's father-in-law seized his saber and they started fighting. The battle was fierce and they nearly killed each other. Katerina stood between them, entreating them to stop fighting. They calmed a little and separated to different corners of the room.
The next day Katerina told her husband, "Danilo, last night I had a strange dream. I dreamt that the wicked magician, whom we saw at the wedding, was my father. He asked me to look at him and repeated many times that he was very handsome. I glanced at his ugly face, cried out and woke up!"
"It is a bad dream!" replied Danilo. "Do you know that the Poles have encamped behind the mountain? Gorobets has sent his messengers to warn us about a possible attack. The lads are guarding our house. The Poles will be repulsed once and for all if they come here!"
"Does my father know about it?"
"Your father lives at my expense! He must have sinned much against people in foreign lands. I can't understand him. He has been living with us for a month but I've never seen him in a good mood. He even doesn't want to drink mead or caress our baby. It seems to me that he doesn't believe in God."
Suddenly the door squeaked and Katerina's father entered the room. "It's time to dine! Katerina, serve up the meal!" he exclaimed.
Everybody sat at the table and began dining. After dinner Danilo fell asleep and woke up late in the evening. He sat at the table and started writing a letter to the Cossack Army. Katerina was rocking the cradle. Danilo was writing and looking through the window from time to time. The wide Dnepr and the mountains were glittering in the darkness of night, lit up by the bright moon. Danilo wasn't admiring the scenery; he was looking at the old castle. It seemed to him that he saw a light in a small, narrow window. Then he noticed a small boat traveling down the Dnepr and whistled noiselessly. In a minute the faithful lad Stetsko appeared in the room.
"Stetsko, take your sharp saber and rifle! Follow me! I've just seen a boat. We must make the rounds, the Poles may attack us!" said Danilo.
Startled, Katerina looked at her husband and exclaimed, "I am afraid to stay at home without you. The maidservant is old and the Cossacks are drunk. Lock me in the room and take the key with you."
"Very well!" replied Danilo.
Stetsko was ready to go and they quickly left the hut. Coming down from the mountain, they found themselves in the grove. There was not a sound to be heard. Suddenly, the Cossacks heard a rustle. They hid themselves behind a blackthorn bush and were quiet for a while. Soon they saw somebody dressed in a red zhupan (a kind of coat) walking quickly along the path.
"It's my father-in-law!" exclaimed Danilo in surprise. "Let's spy on him!"
Katerina's father was making his way right to the old castle. Danilo and Stetsko shadowed him. The impenetrable forest surrounded the castle and it was very difficult to follow the father-in-law unnoticed. At last the Cossacks came to the old castle and saw a light in one of the upper windows. There weren't any gates or doors to be seen and Danilo decided to climb the big oak growing nearby and peep into the window. He grabbed the oak branches and hoisted himself up. Making himself comfortable on the thick branch, growing right near the lit window, he looked into the room. The walls of the room were covered with mysterious signs and adorned with ancient arms. The ceiling was studded with bats. Some of them were flying round the room, their shadows flashing on the walls. There weren't any candles or lamps but the room was mysteriously lit. Suddenly the door opened and Katerina's father came into the room. He went right to a table covered with a white cloth.
The father-in-law was in a bad mood and looked gloomy. He pulled the cloth off the table and in a split second the room was flooded with blue, transparent light. The waves of the former pale golden light were shimmering and stretching in layers, resembling the whimsical, natural designs in marble. Putting a small pot on the table, Katerina's father began to throw some grass into the pot and whisper something. Danilo began to look more attentively and saw that the appearance of his father-in-law had changed. Now he was dressed in wide trousers (as worn by certain Eastern peoples), guns were fastened to his belt, a strange hat covered with unfamiliar letters and signs crowned his head. His face has also changed. His nose had become large and hooked, a big canine tooth was jutting out of his mouth, and a hump was now on his back--the father-in-law had turned into the wicked magician whom Danilo had seen at the wedding.
"Katerina, your dream is prophetic!" thought Danilo.
The magician started walking quickly round the table. The letters on the walls began moving and the bats started flying violently up and down, back and forth. Then the room was flooded with pink, transparent light instead of blue. In the twinkling of an eye the light went out and it became dark. Danilo seemed to see the moon and the stars shining in the depths of the room. In a minute the room was again flooded with pink light and Danilo saw his father-in-law standing motionless near the table. Something white that resembled a cloud, or perhaps a woman was hovering in the air. It was really a woman; it seemed that she was woven of air; the transparent pink light was visible through her. Oh, that woman looked like Katerina!
"Where have you been?" asked the magician, and the woman standing in front of him began shaking.
"Why have you called me?" replied the woman. "I've been in the place where I was born and lived in my childhood. How happy I was there! I've seen the green, sweet-scented mead covered with wild flowers where I played as a little girl! I've seen our hut and the kitchen-garden. I've seen my dear mother. She has been kissing and embracing me; she has been combing my light-brown hair! Father, why have you killed my dear mother!""
The magician shook his finger at the woman and said, "You know that I don't want to speak about it. Do you know where Katerina is?"
"Katerina is sleeping now! I've been very glad to leave the body and fly away to visit my dear mother. My poor Katerina, she doesn't know the secrets that her soul knows!"
"So it is Katerina's soul!" guessed Danilo.
"Father, you must confess your sins!" continued Katerina's soul. "Aren't you afraid of the dead men rising from their graves after each of your murders?"
"Shut up!" the magician interrupted her. "I will force you to obey me! Katerina will fall in love with me!"
"You aren't my father! You are the monster!" groaned the soul. "I confess that you are able to call Katerina's soul with the help of magic spells but you can't force Katerina to fall in love with you! Katerina will never be unfaithful to her husband. God doesn't like perjurers and faithless souls!" Saying these words, the soul began staring out the window.
"What are you looking at? Whom do you see there?" said the magician in panic.
He looked out of the window and didn't notice anyone. Danilo and Stetsko had already run away. Having successfully reached the small village, the Cossacks unlocked the room where Katerina was sleeping.
"I'm glad you woke me up!" said Katerina, rubbing her eyes sleepily. "I had a nightmare!"
"I know what dream you've had!" exclaimed Burulbash and told his wife everything that he had seen in the old castle that night.
Katerina was very astonished. "You are right but your story isn't precise. I didn't dream that my father has killed my mother. How horrible my father is!"
"You don't know the things that your soul knows. Do you know that your father is the antichrist? Last year the old priest told me that an antichrist can call a soul of any man he wishes; a soul is left on their own while a person is sleeping. I didn't like your father from the first time I saw him! If I knew your father earlier I would never have married you!"
Katerina burst into tears and exclaimed, "It's not my fault that I have such a father! I've never been unfaithful to you! I've given birth to your child!"
"I know that you aren't guilty. I'll catch your father as soon as possible and drown him in the Dnepr!"
The next day Danilo and his faithful lads caught the magician, locked him in the deep cellar and put him into chains. In a day the Cossacks were going to kill him. The magician was sitting in the cold cellar because of his apostasy, because of his collusions with the foes of the Orthodox Russian land; because he had sold out the Ukrainians to Catholics, because he had burnt down Christian churches. The magician came to the small window, clanking with heavy chains to see if his daughter was passing by. She was so kind and she wasn't rancorous. She could release him. Very soon he really did see his daughter walking along the path.
"Katerina, my dear daughter! Please, listen to me!" begged the sly magician. Katerina didn't want to hear him out and didn't pay attention to him.
"My dear daughter!" the magician continued imploring Katerina. "Even wild wolf-cubs don't tear their mothers! Soon I will die! But I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of the horrible torments that await me in the other world! My soul will be burning in the eternal fire of Hell. Only you can save my soul. If you release me, I will pray to God for forgiveness of my sins! I will settle in a dark cave, I won't eat and drink, I will be praying incessantly. Perhaps then God will forgive me!"
Katerina's heart sank; she felt sorry for her father and unlocked the door of the cellar. The magician whispered some spell and the chains fell down from him. Very soon the magician ran away. Katerina was standing near the empty cellar and didn't know what to do. Soon she heard footsteps. It was the old maidservant. She looked at the open door of the cellar and understood at once that Katerina had released her father.
"Don't be afraid!" said the old maid servant. "We will put a log into chains instead of your father and lock the door again. I won't tell anybody the truth!
Meanwhile the Poles heard about the small village of Danilo and his beautiful wife and decided to attack it. Danilo and the Cossacks defended the small village with fortitude. When they nearly defeated the Poles, Danilo suddenly saw his father-in-law standing on the top of the hill. Flying into a rage, Danilo galloped in the direction of that hill. The magician raised the rifle, shot at Danilo and ran away. Danilo fell on the ground and soon died. Katerina was sobbing desperately on the corpse of her husband; the faithful Cossacks were also mourning. After the death of her husband Katerina and her little son settled in the hut of Cossack Captain Gorobets. Almost every night she had nightmares. "Don't be afraid of anything!" the son of the Captain calmed her, snatching his saber.
Katerina was looking at him gloomily and thought to herself: "I am guilty in all my misfortunes. I've released my father!"
"Last night I again had a nightmare!" said Katerina to Captain Gorobets. "I dreamt that the magician offered me to marry him. He threatened to kill my son if I didn't marry him!"
Gorobets was quieting Katerina, saying that he would kill the magician as soon as the villain dared to come into the hut."
That night everybody decided to sleep together in one room and soon they fell asleep. Faithful Cossacks were guarding the hut. At midnight Katerina suddenly woke up and began to shout desperately:
"He's been killed! He's stabbed!"
The entire family of Captain Gorobets crowded round the cradle and stood stock-still. Indeed, the infant lying in the cradle was dead.
Katerina couldn't endure the deaths of her son and husband and fell mad. Gorobets and his family sheltered her. From morning until the late evening, the maddened woman was roaming about in the fields and dark woods. It seemed that she was looking for somebody.
One day a handsome young lad came to the hut of Gorobets. He said that he was the friend of Danilo and been in many military campaigns with him. He told many stories about his friendship with Danilo and suddenly uttered, "Danilo told me that he would have been happy if I married his wife after his death."
Katerina stared at the lad, grabbed a knife and pounced on him. "It's my father!" she was shouting in a rage.
The lad was trying to snatch the knife out of Katerina's hands and at last he managed to do it. Then the horrible was committed: the father killed his daughter! The wicked magician had pretended to be the friend of Danilo.
Having committed the murder, the magician hid himself in the deep, dark earth-house and started calling Katerina's soul. The usual pink light flooded the earth-house, but it wasn't Katerina's soul that appeared before the magician's eyes. The magician looked closely at the unfamiliar figure and grew cold with terror. He saw the face of a strange knight, and his appearance horrified him greatly. The magician mounted his steed and galloped in the direction of Kiev. The strange knight began pursuing him. At last the knight ran down the magician, seized him, laughed terribly and raised him in the air. The magician died at once. After his death he opened his eyes and saw many dead men surrounding him. They were ugly and terrifying. The dead men were looking at the knight who was holding their prey in his hands. The knight laughed again and threw the magician into the abyss. All the dead men jumped down in the abyss after the magician and stuck their teeth into him.
The largest and most horrible of them couldn't tear himself from out of the ground. When earthquakes or convulsions of nature take place in the mountains, the old men who live in Ukraine or Hungary say that the reason of it is the huge dead man rooted in the ground, who is shaking the earth.
There are many legends connected with that knight in Ukraine. Very often people saw him galloping on his huge black steed through the Carpathian Mountains. A little page accompanied the knight. Sitting on horseback of the same huge steed, he held fast to the knight. A blind old man rambled in Ukraine and played his bandura. He sang many wondrous songs about ancient times and national heroes. There was also the strange song of that mysterious knight in his repertoire. It was the song of two brave Cossacks, Ivan and Petro. They lived in the times when Prince Stepan who ruled the Semigrad Land was also the king of Poland. Ivan and Petro were sworn brothers. They shared everything that had been captured by means of war or hunting; they also shared all the misfortunes and the joys of life they had.
At that time Prince Stepan was at the war with the Turks. His army couldn't defeat the Turks because there was a talented and sly commander in the Turkish Army. Prince Stepan declared that he would give a rich salary, cattle and lands to the bold spirit who would be able to catch the sly Turkish commander, dead or alive. So, Ivan and Petro decided to catch the Turkish commander and left in different directions. Ivan succeeded in catching that commander. He tied him and led to Prince Stepan. The prince thanked Ivan and presented him with the richest salary in the kingdom, with herds of different cattle and with vast lands.
Having received the gifts, Ivan shared everything with his sworn brother Petro. Petro took the gifts and half the salary, but he couldn't bear the fact that Ivan became the hero of the kingdom and the prince thought highly of him. So, he nursed a grievance against Ivan.
One day Ivan, his little son and Petro went to the lands that Prince Stepan had presented them. They were riding through the Carpathian Mountains. Ivan and his little son began to doze, sitting together on the same steed. Soon the riders came to a deep abyss. Petro trembled with excitement and pushed off Ivan's steed into the abyss. Ivan and his little son were lucky not to fall down. Ivan managed to catch hold of a branch and began to clamber upward, dragging out his little son. Petro got ready to push them off again.
"Why are you killing us?" begged Ivan for mercy. "You are my sworn brother! If you don't feel sorry for me, please, feel sorry for my little son!"
Petro laughed and pushed them off into the deep abyss. Having committed this horrible crime, Petro lived happily and was very rich till his dying day. As soon as he died, Ivan and Petro appeared before God.
"You are a great sinner!" said God, pointing at Petro.
Then God addressed Ivan, "You may devise any punishment you wish for him!"
Ivan thought a little and devised a terrible revenge. "I wish the whole posterity of Petro was unfortunate!" said Ivan. "I wish the last in his family was the greatest sinner in the world! After each time he murders, his ancestors must suffer from unbearable torment in their graves. Suffering greatly, they must then rise from their graves! As for Petro, I wish that he be unable rise from his grave and that he suffer terribly because of it! I wish he ate soil and squirmed in his coffin! And when the hour of requital comes, I will mount the highest mountain and throw the last of Petro's family into the abyss. All his dead ancestors must jump down into the abyss after him. They must gnaw him for all the torments he will have inflicted on them."
Everything happened as Ivan wished. Even at present people sometimes see the knight standing on the highest cliff of the Carpathian Mountains and looking into the abyss on the bottom of which all the dead are gnawing on the dead man.
Written by Nikolai Gogol in 1834