Krakus, Dragon Slayer

 

We’ve hear the legends of William Tell, Robin Hood, and King Arthur. But not many of us have heard the legend of Krakus.

The account of Kradus is as follows:

Almost too long ago to remember, Wawel Hill was covered in thick green shadowy forest. Today on that very hill, overlooking the Vistula River, stands a castle, and a cathedral in which the Kings of Ancient Poland are buried. Below the majestic scene, and close to Wavel Hill is the ancient capital city of Poland, Krakow. For centuries, great military leaders, statesmen, scientists, craftsmen, and townspeople have lived and flourished in the city of Krakow.

At the time of our story, there was no castle or cathedral, just gloomy forest. At the foot of the Hill, was a mere hamlet of hardworking people who farmed, and traded their goods with nearby villages.

The dark forest of Wawel Hill which overlooked the village held an equally dark secret—a cave that most people believed housed a ghastly and dangerous dragon, sleeping the years away. Many of the younger generation laughed at the story of a dragon living in the cave. But the elders of the village had heard the story from their father’s fathers and they believed that anyone who dared to disturb the sleeping dragon would bring down horrible misfortune on all of them.

The cave was cold and dank, and the entrance was choked by weeds and overgrown vegetation. The only thing missing was a “No Trespassing” sign. But like adventurous youths will, some of the young men decided to prove their elders wrong. They set out to explore the cave. They just knew that dragons did not exist even if their fathers believed the old superstitions.

On a sunny day, half-dozen of the most brazen young men climbed the hill. The further they went the gloomier the forest got. At last they reached their destination and tore away the dense brush and matted overgrown weeds in front of the cave. It had become so dark that they needed to light their torches before slipping through the cave’s entrance. The abyss was enveloped in darkness and a disgusting stench met their nostrils. Their lighthearted bravery was suddenly replaced with unease. Now tense and timid, they looked at each other. What should they do? They reasoned: We will not be real adventurers if we turned back now. In silence, they crept further into the long narrow passage and deeper into the cave. The youngest said he could hear breathing. Putting on brave faces, the others sneered at him. They crept further into the void.

All six of them jumped back in fear when they saw a huge, pulsating mass within yards of where they crouched. Their eyes grew huge at viewing the massive green scaly creature. Its nostrils flared and its eyelids popped open. The young men dropped their torches and ran for their lives. They were pursued by a bellowing monster. Its hot fetid breath singed their backs. The boys crashed and clawed their way through the underbrush and briar bushes. They tripped on huge stones as they ran, but were unmindful of scratches and bruises.

Krakow DragonWhen the dragon reached the entrance to the cave it shook its massive scaly head and blinked. Its yellow eyes were as large as saucers. It roared, and sharp dagger-like teeth glittered in the dappled sun light. Slowly, it dragged itself out of the cave then lumbered down the hill after the intruders.

Not having eaten for centuries, the dragon spied a herd of placid cattle. The poor creatures tried to run away, but the dragon snatched the fattest one and devoured it. The villagers watched the scene, and could not believe their eyes. Mothers held their children close. Men looked for their axes and other tools to defend their homes. The six silly young men hid in a barn.

True to its reputation, the dragon gave the community no peace. Each day, it carried off a victim, sometimes a sheep, sometimes a child, sometimes a man. The dragon was not choosy in what it dragged back to its cave.  The village men banded together, and lay in wait to to fight the beast, but their axes made not a dent in the thick armor-like scales on the dragon’s body. Many an upstanding citizen lost his life in the struggle.

KrakusA wise and learned man named Krakus lived in the village. People went to him for advice as well as herbal remedies to improve their health. Some people thought he was a magician. The only magic about Krakus was that he was patient and observant, and willing to work at experimenting with herbs and spices to improve the lot of himself and his friends.

The dragon was the foremost problem in the town, and Krakus’ wisdom was sought out. He always gave good advice, maybe he could help them kill the dragon or at least put it to sleep again. Krakus, deep in thought, stroked his chin, and stared out his window for a long time. Finally, he asked the men to bring him a fat, tender, young sheep. Krakus mixed up a concoction from the many jars he had on his shelves. The resulting thick yellow paste was smeared all over the young sheep. Silently, he alone crept to the mouth of the cave and tossed the animal inside. All was quiet. The suspense was almost too much for the villagers.

Without warning, the dragon bellowed and went careening down the hill toward the Vistula River. He left a swath of broken trees and flattened shrubs and weeds in his wake. With an enormous splash, he jumped into the river and drank and drank until the townspeople wondered if he would drink the river dry. The beast began to swell up, but it kept on drinking. After about two hours, there was an immense explosion and the dragon burst, dying on the spot. But what had Krakus done that sent the dragon to the river?

While the town rejoiced, Krakus explained that he had smeared the sheep with sulphur that caused the dragon’s belly to be filled with a terrible fire that he tried to quench in the river. The dragon’s insatiable appetite was the means of his demise.

The people were so impressed with Krakus’ wisdom and ingenuity that they asked him to become their leader. Now that it was safe to climb, the happy villagers built Krakus a lofty stronghold atop Wawel Hill. Under his rule, the countryside prospered and a city grew up around the hill, which was named Krakow in honor of their wise and talented leader, Krakus.

Krakus MoundAfter his death, the people gave him a burial fit for a king. Men, women, and children carried earth to the site and erected a mound over his tomb. The mound has endured for centuries. It is still there to this day as a memorial to the love of the people for a wise and brave Prince.

 

Paraphrased from:

The Legend of Krakus, Who Slew the Dragon

Old Polish Legends

 

Read about second-generation Polish-Americans in:

AWomansRoleCover

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