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Mikula Selyaninovich by Nikolay Roerikh
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(a bilina, an ancient Russian legend)

There was a time when Prince Volga Svyatoslavovich was famous in Rus for his prowess and boldness. One day he went out to collect toll from the towns he owned. While his warriors were riding across the steppe, they heard a wooden plow creaking somewhere nearby.

The warriors kept riding till the dusk, but no plowman was seen. The warriors were riding for one more day, but a plowman wasn't seen anywhere. When the third day came, they saw him at last: the plowman was working in the wide field, crossing it from one end to the other. When he went to one end, he couldn't be seen from the other. Stones and roots flew aside from under his plow. His mare was light brown with white mane and white tail. His plow was made of maple.

Prince Volga stopped and said, "May God help you plowman!"

The plowman halted his mare and answered with a bow, "Thank you, Volga Svyatoslavovich! Where are you and your brave warriors going?"

"We're going to a distant land to collect toll from three towns."

"Oh, you Volga Svyatoslavovich shouldn't go to that distant land: robbers live over there – be sure, they will drown you in the Smorodina river! I've been to that wild land once and taught them with my club.”

Volga Svyatoslavovich frowned and said, “You plowman seem to be strong in battles. Let's go along with us.”

The plowman felt pity for him and agreed. He unfastened his mare and set off to follow the prince. However, as they went, he recalled that he had left the plow standing in the field. “It would be better to hide the plow behind a willow bush,” he said.

Volga agreed and sent five mighty warriors to hide the plow behind the bush. The warriors came back to the field and tried to move the plow, but the plow didn't move.

All Volga's warriors came to help them then, but with the same result – the plow stood still just where it was.

The plowman on his mare rode up, took the plow with one hand and threw it behind a willow bush.

Warriors mounted their horses and set out to continue their journey.

As they were riding, Volga asked, “What's your name, plowman?”

The bogatyr (a warrior) answered, “My name is Mikula Selyaninovich.”

Some days passed by. They reached a distant town at last. The dwellers of that town saw Mikula Selyaninovich and started talking to each other, “This man was here once and gave a lesson to our men with his club!”

All local men gathered to hold council – how to reach Mikula Selyaninovich and apologize for what they had done.

They dare to came to Mikula and said, “Don't hold a grudge against us, Mikula Selyaninovich. Stay here as a voevoda (a governor).”

Volga Svyatoslavovich heard their words and said, “Ah, you Mikula Selyaninovich, give me a good favor - stay here! All these three towns will be under your control.”

By that way Mikula Selyaninovich became a governor.

(C) Re-told and translated from Russian by Alexander Kalinkin
(C) Illustration by Nikolay Roerikh