THE BLIND MAN AND THE CRIPPLE
Folktale From Russia
In a certain kingdom there lived a king and queen; they had a
son, Prince Ivan, and to look after that son was appointed a
tutor named Katoma. The king and queen lived to a great
age, but then they fell ill, and despaired of ever recovering. So
they sent for Prince Ivan and strictly enjoined him:
"When we are dead, do you in everything respect and obey
Katoma. If you obey him, you will prosper; but if you choose
to be disobedient, you will perish like a fly."
The next day the king and queen died. Prince Ivan buried
his parents, and took to living according to their instructions.
Whatever he had to do, he always consulted his tutor about it.
Some time passed by. The Prince attained to man's estate,
and began to think about getting married. So one day he went
to his tutor and said:
"Katoma, I'm tired of living alone, I want to marry."
"Well, Prince! what's to prevent you? you're of an age at
which it's time to think about a bride. Go into the great hall.
There's a collection there of the portraits of all the princesses in
the world; look at them and choose for yourself; whichever
pleases you, to her send a proposal of marriage."
Prince Ivan went into the great hall, and began examining
the portraits. And the one that pleased him best was that of the
Princess Anna the Fair--such a beauty! the like of her wasn't
to be found in the whole world! Underneath her portrait were
written these words:
"If any one asks her a riddle, and she does not guess it, him
shall she marry; but he whose riddle she guesses shall have his
head chopped off."
Prince Ivan read this inscription, became greatly afflicted, and
went off to his tutor.
"I've been in the great hall," says he, "and I picked out for
my bride Anna the Fair; only I don't know whether it's possible
to win her."
"Yes, Prince; she's hard to get. If you go alone, you
won't win her anyhow. But if you will take me with you, and
if you will do what I tell you, perhaps the affair can be managed."
Prince Ivan begged Katoma to go with him, and gave his
word of honor to obey him whether in joy or grief.
Well, they got ready for the journey and set off to sue for the
hand of the Princess Anna the Fair. They travelled for one
year, two years, three years, and traversed many countries.
Says Prince Ivan--
"We've been travelling all this time, uncle, and now we're
approaching the country of Princess Anna the Fair; and yet we
don't know what riddle to propound."
"We shall manage to think of one in good time," replied
Katoma. They went a little farther. Katoma was looking down
on the road, and on it lay a purse full of money. He lifted it up
directly, poured all the money out of it into his own purse, and
"Here's a riddle for you, Prince Ivan! When you come
into the presence of the Princess, propound a riddle to her in
these words: 'As we were coming along, we saw Good lying on
the road, and we took up the Good with Good, and placed it in
our own Good!' That riddle she won't guess in a lifetime; but
any other one she would find out directly. She would only have
to look into her magic-book, and as soon as she had guessed it,
she'd order your head to be cut off."
Well, at last Prince Ivan and his tutor arrived at the lofty
palace in which lived the fair Princess. At that moment she
happened to be out on the balcony, and when she saw the newcomers,
she sent out to know whence they came and what they
wanted. Prince Ivan replied--
"I have come from such-and-such a kingdom, and I wish to
sue for the hand of the Princess Anna the Fair."
When she was informed of this, the Princess gave orders that
the Prince should enter the palace, and there in the presence of
all the princes and boyars of her council should propound his
"I've made this compact," she said. "Anyone whose riddle
I cannot guess, him I must marry. But anyone whose riddle I
can guess, him I may put to death."
"Listen to my riddle, fair princess!" said Prince Ivan. "As
we came along, we saw Good lying on the road, and we took up
the Good with Good, and placed it in our own Good."
Princess Anna the Fair took her magic-book, and began
turning over its leaves and examining the answers of riddles.
She went right through the book, but she didn't get at the meaning
she wanted. Thereupon the princes and boyars of her
council decided that the Princess must marry Prince Ivan. She
wasn't at all pleased, but there was no help for it, and so she
began to get ready for the wedding. Meanwhile she considered
within herself how she could spin out the time and do away with
the bridegroom, and she thought the best way would be to overwhelm
him with tremendous tasks.
So she called Prince Ivan and said to him--
"My dear Prince Ivan, my destined husband! It is meet
that we should prepare for the wedding; pray do me this small
service. On such and such a spot of my kingdom there stands
a lofty iron pillar. Carry it into the palace kitchen, and chop it
into small chunks by way of fuel for the cook."
"Excuse me, Princess," replied the prince. "Was it to chop
fuel that I came here? Is that the proper sort of employment
for me? I have a servant for that kind of thing, Katoma _dyadka_,
of the oaken _shapka_."
The Prince straightway called for his tutor, and ordered
him to drag the iron pillar into the kitchen, and to chop it into
small chunks by way of fuel for the cook. Katoma went to the
spot indicated by the Princess, seized the pillar in his arms,
brought it into the palace kitchen, and broke it into little pieces;
but four of the iron chips he put into his pocket, saying--
"They'll prove useful by-and-by!"
Next day the princess says to Prince Ivan--
"My dear Prince, my destined husband! to-morrow we have
to go to the wedding. I will drive in a carriage, but you should
ride on a heroic steed, and it is necessary that you should
break him in beforehand."
"I break a horse in myself! I keep a servant for that."
Prince Ivan called Katoma, and said--
"Go into the stable and tell the grooms to bring forth the
heroic steed; sit upon him and break him in; to-morrow I've
got to ride him to the wedding."
Katoma fathomed the subtle device of the Princess, but, without
stopping long to talk, he went into the stable and told the
grooms to bring forth the heroic steed. Twelve grooms were
mustered, they unlocked twelve locks, opened twelve doors, and
brought forth a magic horse bound in twelve chains of iron.
Katoma went up to him. No sooner had he managed to seat
himself than the magic horse leaped up from the ground and
soared higher than the forest--higher than the standing forest,
lower than the flitting cloud. Firm sat Katoma, with one hand
grasping the mane; with the other he took from his pocket an
iron chunk, and began taming the horse with it between the ears.
When he had used up one chunk, he betook himself to another;
when two were used up, he took to a third; when three were
used up, the fourth came into play. And so grievously did he
punish the heroic steed that it could not hold out any longer,
but cried aloud with a human voice--
"Batyushka Katoma! don't utterly deprive me of life in the
white world! Whatever you wish, that do you order: all shall
be done according to your will!"
"Listen, O meat for dogs!" answered Katoma; "to-morrow
Prince Ivan will ride you to the wedding. Now mind! when the
grooms bring you out into the wide courtyard, and the Prince
goes up to you and lays his hand on you, do you stand quietly,
not moving so much as an ear. And when he is seated on your
back, do you sink into the earth right up to your fetlocks, and
then move under him with a heavy step, just as if an immeasurable
weight had been laid upon your back."
The heroic steed listened to the order and sank to earth
scarcely alive. Katoma seized him by the tail, and flung him
close to the stable, crying--
"Ho there! coachmen and grooms; carry off this dog's-meat
to its stall!"
The next day arrived; the time drew near for going to the
wedding. The carriage was brought round for the Princess, and
the heroic steed for Prince Ivan. The people were gathered
together from all sides--a countless number. The bride and
bridegroom came out from the white stone halls. The Princess
got into the carriage and waited to see what would become of
Prince Ivan; whether the magic horse would fling his curls to
the wind, and scatter his bones across the open plain. Prince
Ivan approached the horse, laid his hand upon its back, placed
his foot in the stirrup--the horse stood just as if petrified, didn't
so much as wag an ear! The Prince got on its back, the magic
horse sank into the earth up to its fetlocks. The twelve chains
were taken off the horse, it began to move with an even heavy
pace, while the sweat poured off it just like hail.
"What a hero! What immeasurable strength!" cried the
people as they gazed upon the Prince.
So the bride and bridegroom were married, and then they
began to move out of the church, holding each other by the hand.
The Princess took it into her head to make one more trial of
Prince Ivan, so she squeezed his hand so hard that he could not
bear the pain. His face became suffused with blood, his eyes
disappeared beneath his brows.
"A fine sort of hero you are!" thought the Princess.
"Your tutor has tricked me splendidly; but you sha'n't get off
Princess Anna the Fair lived for some time with Prince Ivan
as a wife ought to live with a god-given husband, flattered him
in every way in words, but in reality never thought of anything
except by what means she might get rid of Katoma. With the
Prince, without the tutor, there'd be no difficulty in settling
matters! she said to herself. But whatever slanders she might
invent, Prince Ivan never would allow himself to be influenced
by what she said, but always felt sorry for his tutor. At the end
of a year he said to his wife one day--
"Beauteous Princess, my beloved spouse! I should like
to go with you to my own kingdom."
"By all means," replied she, "let us go. I myself have
long been wishing to see your kingdom."
Well they got ready and went off; Katoma was allotted the
post of coachman. They drove and drove, and as they drove
along Prince Ivan went to sleep. Suddenly the Princess Anna
the Fair awoke him, uttering loud complaints--
"Listen, Prince, you're always sleeping, you hear nothing!
But your tutor doesn't obey me a bit, drives the horses on purpose
over hill and dale, just as if he wanted to put an end to us
both. I tried speaking him fair, but he jeered at me. I won't go
on living any longer if you don't punish him!"
Prince Ivan, 'twixt sleeping and waking, waxed very wroth
with his tutor, and handed him over entirely to the Princess,
"Deal with him as you please!"
The Princess ordered his feet to be cut off. Katoma submitted
patiently to the outrage.
"Very good," he thinks; "I shall suffer, it's true; but the
Prince also will know what to lead a wretched life is like!"
When both of Katoma's feet had been cut off, the Princess
glanced around, and saw that a tall tree-stump stood on one side;
so she called her servants and ordered them to set him on that
stump. But as for Prince Ivan, she tied him to the carriage by
a cord, turned the horses round, and drove back to her own
kingdom. Katoma was left sitting on the stump, weeping bitter
"Farewell, Prince Ivan!" he cries; "you won't forget me!"
Meanwhile Prince Ivan was running and bounding behind
the carriage. He knew well enough by this time what a blunder
he had made, but there was no turning back for him. When
the Princess Anna the Fair arrived in her kingdom, she set
Prince Ivan to take care of the cows. Every day he went afield
with the herd at early morn, and in the evening he drove them
back to the royal yard. At that hour the Princess was always
sitting on the balcony, and looking out to see that the number
of the cows were all right.
Katoma remained sitting on the stump one day, two days,
three days, without anything to eat or drink. To get down was
utterly impossible, it seemed as if he must die of starvation.
But not far away from that place there was a dense forest. In
that forest was living a mighty hero who was quite blind. The
only way by which he could get himself food was this: whenever
he perceived by the sense of smell that any animal was running
past him, whether a hare, or a fox, or a bear, he immediately started
in chase of it, caught it--and dinner was ready for him. The
hero was exceedingly swift-footed, and there was not a single
wild beast which could run away from him. Well, one day it
fell out thus. A fox slunk past; the hero heard it, and was
after it directly. It ran up to the tall stump, and turned sharp
off on one-side; but the blind hero hurried on, took a spring,
and thumped his forehead against the stump so hard that he
knocked the stump out by the roots. Katoma fell to the ground,
"Who are you?"
"I'm a blind hero. I've been living in the forest for thirty
years. The only way I can get my food is this: to catch some
game or other, and cook it at a wood fire. If it had not been
for that, I should have been starved to death long ago!"
"You haven't been blind all your life?"
"No, not all my life; but Princess Anna the Fair put my
"There now, brother!" says Katoma; "and it's thanks to
her, too, that I'm left here without any feet. She cut them both
off, the accursed one!"
The two heroes had a talk, and agreed to live together, and
join in getting their food. The blind man says to the lame:
"Sit on my back and show me the way; I will serve you
with my feet, and you me with your eyes."
So he took the cripple and carried him home, and Katoma
sat on his back, kept a look out all round, and cried out from
time to time: "Right! Left! Straight on!" and so forth.
Well, they lived some time in the forest in that way, and
caught hares, foxes, and bears for their dinner. One day the
"Surely we can never go on living all our lives without a
soul [to speak to]. I have heard that in such and such a town
lives a rich merchant who has a daughter; and that merchant's
daughter is exceedingly kind to the poor and crippled. She
gives alms to everyone. Suppose we carry her off, brother, and
let her live here and keep house for us."
The blind man took a cart, seated the cripple in it, and rattled
it into the town, straight into the rich merchant's courtyard.
The merchant's daughter saw them out of window, and immediately
ran out, and came to give them alms. Approaching the
cripple, she said:
"Take this, in Christ's name, poor fellow!"
He [seemed to be going] to take the gift, but he seized her
by the hand, pulled her into the cart, and called to the blind
man, who ran off with it at such a pace that no one could catch
him, even on horseback. The merchant sent people in pursuit--but
no, they could not come up with him.
The heroes brought the merchant's daughter into their forest
hut, and said to her:
"Be in the place of a sister to us, live here and keep house
for us; otherwise we poor sufferers will have no one to cook
our meals or wash our shirts. God won't desert you if you do
The merchant's daughter remained with them. The heroes
respected her, loved her, acknowledged her as a sister. They
used to be out hunting all day, but their adopted sister was
always at home. She looked after all the housekeeping, prepared
the meals, washed the linen.
But after a time a Baba Yaga took to haunting their hut and
sucking the breasts of the merchant's daughter. No sooner
have the heroes gone off to the chase, than the Baba Yaga is there
in a moment. Before long the fair maiden's face began to fall
away, and she grew weak and thin. The blind man could see
nothing, but Katoma remarked that things weren't going well.
He spoke about it to the blind man, and they went together to
their adopted sister, and began questioning her. But the Baba
Yaga had strictly forbidden her to tell the truth. For a long
time she was afraid to acquaint them with her trouble, for a
long time she held out, but at last her brothers talked her over
and she told them everything without reserve.
"Every time you go away to the chase," says she, "there
immediately appears in the cottage a very old woman with a
most evil face, and long grey hair. And she sets me to dress
her head, and meanwhile she sucks my breasts."
"Ah!" says the blind man, "that's a Baba Yaga. Wait a
bit; we must treat her after her own fashion. To-morrow we
won't go to the chase, but we'll try to entice her and lay hands
So next morning the heroes didn't go out hunting.
"Now then, Uncle Footless!" says the blind man, "you
get under the bench, and lie there ever so still, and I'll go into
the yard and stand under the window. And as for you, sister,
when the Baba Yaga comes, sit down just here, close by the
window; and as you dress her hair, quietly separate the locks
and throw them outside through the window. Just let me lay
hold of her by those grey hairs of hers!"
What was said was done. The blind man laid hold of the
Baba Yaga by her grey hair, and cried--
"Ho there, Uncle Katoma! Come out from under the
bench, and lay hold of this viper of a woman, while I go into
The Baba Yaga hears the bad news and tries to jump up to
get her head free. (_Where are you off to? That's no go, sure
enough!_) She tugs and tugs, but cannot do herself any good!
Just then from under the bench crawled Uncle Katoma, fell
upon her like a mountain of stone, took to strangling her until
the heaven seemed to her to disappear. Then into the cottage
bounded the blind man, crying to the cripple--
"Now we must heap up a great pile of wood, and consume
this accursed one with fire, and fling her ashes to the wind!"
The Baba Yaga began imploring them:
"My fathers! my darlings! forgive me. I will do all that is
"Very good, old witch! Then show us the fountain of healing
and life-giving water!" said the heroes.
"Only don't kill me, and I'll show it you directly!"
Well, Katoma sat on the blind man's back. The blind man
took the Baba Yaga by her back hair, and she led them into the
depths of the forest, brought them to a well, and said--
"That is the water that cures and gives life."
"Look out, Uncle Katoma!" cried the blind man; "don't
make a blunder. If she tricks us now we shan't get right all
Katoma cut a green branch off a tree, and flung it into the
well. The bough hadn't so much as reached the water before
it all burst into a flame!
"Ha! so you're still up to your tricks," said the heroes, and
began to strangle the Baba Yaga, with the intention of flinging
her, the accursed one, into the fiery fount. More than ever
did the Baba Yaga implore for mercy, swearing a great oath
that she would not deceive them this time.
"On my troth I will bring you to good water," says she.
The heroes consented to give her one more trial, and she
took them to another fount.
Uncle Katoma cut a dry spray from a tree, and flung it into
the fount. The spray had not yet reached the water when it
already turned green, budded, and put forth blossoms.
"Come now, that's good water!" said Katoma.
The blind man wetted his eyes with it, and saw directly.
He lowered the cripple into the water, and the lame man's
feet grew again. Then they both rejoiced greatly, and said to
one another, "Now the time has come for us to get all right!
We'll get everything back again we used to have! Only first
we must make an end of the Baba Yaga. If we were to pardon
her now, we should always be unlucky; she'd be scheming
mischief all her life."
Accordingly they went back to the fiery fount, and flung the
Baba Yaga into it; didn't it soon make an end of her!
After this Katoma married the merchant's daughter, and the
three companions went to the kingdom of Anna the Fair in order
to rescue Prince Ivan. When they drew near to the capital,
what should they see but Prince Ivan driving a herd of cows!
"Stop, herdsman!" says Katoma; "where are you driving
"I'm driving them to the Princess's courtyard," replied the
Prince. "The Princess always sees for herself whether all
the cows are there."
"Here, herdsman; take my clothes and put them on, and I
will put on yours and drive the cows."
"No, brother! that cannot be done. If the Princess found
it out, I should suffer harm!"
"Never fear, nothing will happen! Katoma will guarantee
Prince Ivan sighed, and said--
"Ah, good man! If Katoma had been alive, I should not
have been feeding these cows afield!"
Then Katoma disclosed to him who he was. Prince Ivan
warmly embraced him and burst into tears.
"I never hoped even to see you again," said he.
So they exchanged clothes. The tutor drove the cows to
the Princess's courtyard. Anna the Fair went into the balcony,
looked to see if all the cows were there, and ordered them to be
driven into the sheds. All the cows went into the sheds except
the last one, which remained at the gate. Katoma sprang at it,
"What are you waiting for, dog's-meat?"
Then he seized it by the tail, and pulled it so hard that he
pulled the cow's hide right off! The Princess saw this, and
cried with a loud voice:
"What is that brute of a cowherd doing? Seize him and
bring him to me!"
Then the servants seized Katoma and dragged him to the
palace. He went with them, making no excuses, relying on
himself. They brought him to the Princess. She looked at
him and asked--
"Who are you? Where do you come from?"
"I am he whose feet you cut off and whom you set on a
stump. My name is Katoma _dyadka_, oaken _shapka_."
"Well," thinks the Princess, "now that he's got his feet
back again, I must act straight-forwardly with him for the
And she began to beseech him and the Prince to pardon
her. She confessed all her sins, and swore an oath always to
love Prince Ivan, and to obey him in all things. Prince Ivan
forgave her, and began to live with her in peace and concord.
The hero who had been blind remained with them, but Katoma
and his wife went to the house of [her father] the rich merchant,
and took up their abode under his roof.
[There is a story in the "Panchatantra" (v. 12) which,
in default of other parallels, may be worth comparing
with that part of this Skazka which refers to the
blind man and the cripple in the forest. Here is an
outline of it:--
To a certain king a daughter is born who has three
breasts. Deeming her presence unfortunate, he offers a
hundred thousand purses of gold to anyone who will
marry her and take her away. For a long time no man
takes advantage of the offer, but at last a blind man,
who goes about led by a hunchback named Mantharaka or
Cripple, marries her, receives the gold, and is sent
far away with his wife and his friend. All three live
together in the same house. After a time the wife
falls in love with the hunchback and conspires with
him to kill her husband. For this purpose she boils a
snake, intending to poison her husband with it. But he
stirs the snake-broth as it is cooking, and the steam
which rises from it cures his blindness. Seeing the
snake in the pot, he guesses what has occurred, so he
pretends to be still blind, and watches his wife and
his friend. They, not knowing he can see, embrace in
his presence, whereupon he catches up the "cripple" by
the legs, and dashes him against his wife. So violent
is the blow that her third breast is driven out of
sight and the hunchback is beaten straight. Benfey
(whose version of the story differs at the end from
that given by Wilson, "Essays," ii. 74) in his remarks
on this story (i. p. 510-15), which he connects with
Buddhist legends, observes that it occurs also in the
"Tuti-Nameh" (Rosen, ii. 228), but there the hunchback
is replaced by a comely youth, and the similarity with
the Russian story disappears. For a solar explanation
of the Indian story see A. de Gubernatis, "Zool.
Mythology," i. 85.]
Of this story there are many variants. In one of them a king
promises to reward with vast wealth anyone who will find him "a bride
fairer than the sun, brighter than the moon, and whiter than snow." A
certain moujik, named Nikita Koltoma, offers to show him where a
princess lives who answers to this description, and goes forth with
him in search of her. On the way, Nikita enters several forges,
desiring to have a war mace cast for him, and in one of them he finds
fifty smiths tormenting an old man. Ten of them are holding him by the
beard with pincers, the others are thundering away at his ribs with
their hammers. Finding that the cause of this punishment is an unpaid
debt of fifty roubles, Nikita ransoms the greybeard, who straightway
disappears. Nikita obtains the mace he wants, which weighs fifty
poods, or nearly a ton, and leaves the forge. Presently the old man
whom he has ransomed comes running up to him, thanks him for having
rescued him from a punishment which had already lasted thirty years,
and bestows on him, as a token of gratitude, a Cap of Invisibility.
Soon after this Nikita, attended by the king and his followers,
reaches the palace of the royal heroine, Helena the Fair. She at first
sends her warriors to capture or slay the unwelcome visitors, but
Nikita attacks them with his mace, and leaves scarce one alive. Then
she invites the king and his suite to the palace, having prepared in
the mean time a gigantic bow fitted with a fiery arrow, wherewith to
annihilate her guests. Guessing this, Nikita puts on his Cap of
Invisibility, bends the bow, and shoots the arrow into the queen's
_terema_ [the women's chambers], and in a moment the whole upper story
is in a blaze. After that the queen submits, and is married to the
But Nikita warns him that for three nights running his bride will
make trial of his strength by laying her hand on his breast and
pressing it hard--so hard that he will not be able to bear the
pressure. When that happens, he must slip out of the room, and let
Nikita take his place. All this comes to pass; the bride lays her hand
on the bridegroom's breast, and says--
"Is my hand heavy?"
"As a feather on water!" replies the king, who can scarcely draw his
breath beneath the crushing weight of the hand he has won. Then he
leaves the room, under the pretext of giving an order, and Nikita
takes his place. The queen renews the experiment, presses with one
hand, presses with both, and with all her might. Nikita catches her
up, and then flings her down on the floor. The room shakes beneath the
blow, the bride "arises, lies down quietly, and goes to sleep," and
Nikita is replaced by the king. By the end of the third night the
queen gives up all hope of squeezing her husband to death, and makes
up her mind to conjugal submission.
But before long, she, like Brynhild, finds out that she has been
tricked, and resolves on revenge. Throwing Nikita into a slumber which
lasts for twenty-four hours, she has his feet cut off, and sets him
adrift in a boat; then she degrades her husband, turning him into a
swineherd, and she puts out the eyes of Nikita's brother Timofei. In
the course of time the brothers obtain from a Baba Yaga the healing
and vivifying waters, and so recover the eyes and feet they had lost.
The Witch-Queen is put to death, and Nikita lives happily as the
King's Prime Minister. The specific actions of the two waters are
described with great precision in this story. When the lame man
sprinkles his legs with the Healing Water, they become whole at once;
"his legs are quite sound, only they don't move." Then he applies the
Vivifying Water, and the use of his legs returns to him. Similarly
when the blind man applies the Healing Water to his empty orbits, he
obtains new eyes--"perfectly faultless eyes, only he cannot see with
them;" he applies the Vivifying Water, "and begins to see even better
In a Ryazan variant of the story, Ivan Dearly-Bought, after his
legs have been cut off at the knees, and he has been left in a forest,
is found by a giant who has no arms, but who is so fleet that "no post
could catch him up." The two maimed heroes form an alliance. After a
time, they carry off a princess who is suffering from some mysterious
disease, and take her to their forest home. She tells them that her
illness is due to a Snake, which comes to her every night, entering by
the chimney, and sucks away her strength. The heroes seizes the Snake,
which takes them to the healing lake, and they are cured. Then they
restore the princess, also cured, to her father. Ivan returns to the
palace of the Enchantress Queen who had maimed him, and beats her with
red-hot iron bars until he has driven out of her all her magic
strength, "leaving her only one woman's strength, and that a very poor
In a Tula variant the wicked wife, who has set her confiding
husband to tend her pigs, is killed by the hero. She had put out his
eyes, and had cut off the feet of another companion of her husband; in
this variant also the Healing Waters are found by the aid of a snake.
The supernatural steed which Katoma tamed belongs to an equine race
which often figures in the Skazkas. A good account of one of these
horses is given in the following story of--