The legend of Sukhman the bogatyr is one of the most beautiful legends of Russian folk epos. The conflict of Sukhman the bogatyr and Prince Vladimir; Sukhman's battle with the Tatars and his tragic death serve as a basis for this legend. The legend is notable for its compositional completeness and emotional expressiveness. The modern researcher S.N. Azbelev supposes that the legend is based on the narration of the Toropetsky Prince Kuntuvdey who, serving the Kievan prince, defeated the Polovtsy (an ancient nomadic tribe that lived in the territory of modern Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) in 1183-1184 and then was undeservedly placed under guard. Afterwards he was acquitted and rewarded with a town. Other researchers suppose that the legend is connected with the story of the Pereyaslavl bogatyr Demyan Kudenevich who defended his town and died in the battle. The original of this legend is written by A.V. Markov from Agrafena Matveevna Krukova.
Once upon a time in the glorious town of Kiev a sumptuous feast was arranged. Many honorary guests gathered in the magnificent tower-chamber of Prince Vladimir. Rich princes, noble merchants and mighty bogatyrs were having fun, drinking sweet wine with savoury dishes. Some of the guests were boasting of their young beautiful wives, others were boasting of their thoroughbred steeds and noble parents. Only bogatyr Sukhman was silent.
"Why aren't you drinking wine, Sukhman? asked Prince Vladimir. "Why are you so sad? Why aren't you boasting before these kind people?"
"My dear Prince Vladimir the Red Sun!" replied Sukhman. "I'll do as you wish. I boast that I'll catch you an incomparably beautiful white swan. I'll catch you a living, unwounded swan."
Saying these words the bogatyr got up from the oak table, saddled his faithful steed, took his sharp saber and galloped to the wide field where the air was clear and transparent, where fresh grass covered the backwaters, where the Pochay River was flowing. He was roaming about in the fields for a long time but couldn't find a white swan. So, he decided to gallop to the Dnepr River where a white swan could be caught. When he reached the place, he was very surprised by the fact that the water in the river was very muddy. Suddenly the Dnepr River said in a human voice:
"My dear bogatyr from Holy Russia!
My mighty bogatyr Sukhman Sukhmatievich!
Don't look at me!
But if you dare to look at me, don't be afraid!
My water is very muddy; my water is very muddy,
The Tatar army camp is situated on the opposite bank,
There is an enormous number of the damned Tatars there,
About ten thousand skillful warriors!
In the morning the Tatars build the firm bridges across my banks,
By night I destroy these bridges,
I try to prevent the Tatars from attacking Russian lands,
I am totally exhausted by my hard work,
That is why water is very muddy!"
The bogatyr galloped along the firm Tatar bridges to the opposite bank of the river and soon the bloody battle began. Sukhman slashed the damned Tatars with his sharp saber and his faithful steed trampled them with its strong hooves. And when he almost defeated the enemy, suddenly a hostile arrow pierced his right side and came out his left side. The bogatyr dismounted from his steed, bandaged up his wound with healing grass and leaves. Getting furious from the severe pain, he pulled a huge club out from the ground and began beating the Tatars with it. When at last he managed to conquer the Tatars, only a small fragment of his huge club survived. The bogatyr made sure that all the Tatars were killed and galloped back to Kiev to have a rest and heal his wounds.
Prince Vladimir welcomed Sukhman cordially and soon asked, "Have you been able to catch an incomparably beautiful white swan for me?"
"My dear Prince Vladimir the Red Sun!" replied the bogatyr. "I have battled the Tatars on the banks of the Dnepr River. I've killed all of them."
Prince Vladimir looked at him with distrust. "If you don't believe me, look at by bloody wounds!" exclaimed
Sukhman and told the prince everything that had happened to him.
"You are a gabber!" retorted the prince pronouncedly and ordered Sukhman to be taken to the dungeon.
Then the prince called Dobrynya Nikitich and ordered him to go to the Dnepr River to verify the information on the Tatar army supplied by Sukhman. Dobrynya reached the Dnepr River and saw that everything there corresponded to the information given by Sukhman: he found there the firm Tatar bridges, dead bodies of the Tatars and a small fragment of Sukhman's huge club. Having returned to Kiev, Dobrynya Nikitich confirmed the information offered by Sukhman and showed Prince Vladimir the piece of club as convincing proof. When the servants weighed the fragment it turned out that it weighed 90 pood (pood is a measure of weight accepted in ancient Russia that is equivalent to 16,38 kilograms).
Prince Vladimir understood that Sukhman had told him the truth and ordered that he be released. The servants opened the doors of the prison and said to Sukhman:
"Our dear bogatyr from Holy Russia,
Our mighty bogatyr Sukhman Sukhmatievich!
Prince Vladimir wants to bestow you richly,
Prince Vladimir wants to reward you with large towns and small villages!
Prince Vladimir wants to bestow you for your deeds!"
Sukhman answered them stiffly:
"It was unjust of Prince Vladimir to accuse me without proof.
It was unfair to imprison a wounded warrior who's defended his land,
Now I don't need his rich presents!"
Saying these words the bogatyr saddled his faithful steed and galloped to a wide field, where the air was clear and transparent, where fresh grass covered the backwaters.
He tore off the healing grass and leaves from his bloody wound and said these words:
"Flow, flow my red blood,
Flow along the wide field, along the hot steppe, along the soft green grass!
Flow my red blood like the wide quick river!
Flow like the Sukhman River!"
As soon as he said it, his hot blood started flowing like the wide and quick river out of his young body. His blood was flooding wide fields, hot steppes, green forests and meadows. The bogatyr's faithful steed was standing lonely on a high hill and couldn't leave his dying beloved master. Sukhman felt sorry for his steed and said:
"My dear faithful friend!
Don't cry! Don't look at my dying body!
Now you are free!
Gallop any direction you wish!
Gallop to the meadows that are soft like silk!
Drink fresh, cold spring water from the Sukhman River!"
Saying these words the bogatyr died, but the Russian people revere his memory and keep in mind his deeds. The wide Sukhman River that is flowing fast along Russian lands will always remind them of their defender Sukhman the bogatyr.