Polish Dragons
Krakus, the Dragon Slayer
Written by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A., Clan Malcolm, P.S.G.A., P.G.S.M.

This painting is © 1995
by George Barr (CD-TITLES)

In early Poland, there was a deep and dark cave on the site of present day Wawel Hill, in Poland. People at this time lived in wooden huts with thatched roofs and were farmers. They led a simple life of planting, harvesting, and storing foodstuffs for the winter. Their days were set by nature and the seasons. In their simple life, they had learned many things from their past. One of these things was the fact that no one would go near the caves on the hill. No one questioned this, since the past led them to this conclusion. The caves were thought to house a dangerous dragon, and everyone knows that dragons who lived in mountain passes were usually more treacherous and old. The older they were the longer their hibernation, the tougher their hide, and their breath was foul as the plague. The elders of the village had always said that to visit the cave and wake this sleeping dragon would be foolhardy.

However, the youth of the village had never seen a dragon. They thought what can not see, doesn't exist. Many times young people see their elders as supersititous old fools.

The boys of this village decided that they must discover the truth, all on their own. They did not tell their elders of this plan, since they knew that they would scold them, and try to prevent their quest. Six young men decided to explore the cave. They collected their torches and flints so they could use them to light their way inside the cave. They waited until most of the villagers were busy, at a town meeting or in the fields. Then they climbed up the hill. When they reached the entrance of the cave, it was overgrown with heavy foliage and weeds. They carefully cleared the entrance, so as not to give warning to any supposed inhabitants. They were concerned about the possibility of bears, bats, or other caves creatures. After clearing away the years of overgrowth, they proceeded through the entrance. At first, all the boys could see was a great black void. In fact they were amazed that no light filtered into the entranceway.

The youths lit their torches, then they could see a bit farther down the stone cavern. They proceeded with care. After a few paces, they could smell an unusual odor. It wasn't just the humid dankness of a cave, it was more putrid than that. They decided that bat droppings might be the cause, since everyone knows that bats live in caves. One boy made a barely audible groan.

"Shoosh" the others said in harmony.

The boys moved inward. Now they could see all sorts of shadows bouncing off the cold stone walls. Some of the boys gulped. When they got even deeper into the cold cavern, they heard heavy breathing.

They stopped and whispered: "Did you hear that?"

In a moment, a large greenish form loomed ahead. The boys looked silently towards each other, and made a silent motion to leave the cave.

However, as soon as they ran towards the cavern entrance, they knew that something was following them. They could feel the blistering heat of its rancid breath on their backs. One boy screamed in pain, but the others dared not look back. They sped towards the entrance. The sun blasted them with its brightness, and momentarily they were blind. They lost their footing on the steep incline, fell, and rolled over and over down the hill. When they reached the bottom they were all disoriented, battered, and out of breath.

Regaining their composure, they each looked looked back and beheld a large head with flashing teeth, fiery breath, and reddish eyes. The young men then knew that the elders were right.

The beast bellowed and snorted steam from its nostils and made its way in their direction. The nearby cattle stampeded in all the chaos. The sight, and sound of the winged serpent made some of the cattle faint in fear. The giant reptile attached his talons into one of the bulls, lifted it up, and carried it back into its lair.

You must remember that this dragon had been hibernating for many years, and his first thought was that he was hungry. In fact, he had an enormous hunger! From that day on, the villages were menaced by its insatiable appetite. Each and every day the dragon claimed a new citizens if the villagers neglected to give him three cows. The villagers knew this menace must be killed, or soon would have no cattle of their own.

The village men gathered all their weapons and waited by the cave entrance until the large lizard came for its next victim. Their axes were all sharpened that day, but they bounced off the dragon's thick protected scales. The attack just angered the winged serpent. The women and children looked on in disbelief.

The villagers knew that normal warfare tactics would not work. Perhaps some more scientific thought should be given to eliminating this creature. Successful dragon slayers had to be lucky, skilled, and brave. A man named Krakus was said to be wise and learned. The villagers decided to seek his help. Krakus was a sort of healer, and he knew the properties of all plants and herbs. He had studied this for years, and was a trusted member of their society.

Krakus formulated an idea in his mind. His first plan was to drug the dragon and make him sleepy, however, he could not imagine how they would get the dragon to eat such a large concoction. Krakus decided to mix a vile paste and spread it on some sacrificial sheep. Krakus knew that a dragon always preferred carnage to plants. Then he carried the ewes up the hill and threw them inside the cave entrance.

Krakus didn't have to wait long to see the results of his labors. The dragon burst from his cave and devoured the sheep all in one bite. You see, the sheep were smeared with a nitrate compound, tar, and sulfur. It caused the serpent to feel a fire in his stomach. This fire mixed with his already caustic digestive system to produce a fire of excess. The dragon raced to the river, and drank and drank. He drank from the Vistula until he could drink no more. Yet he could still feel the burning inside. He drank beyond the capacity of his bulging stomach. As he attempted to take in more water his body burst from the pressure. The dragon died an unpleasant but hasty death.

The townspeople were gratified and asked Krakus to be their leader, for surely he was a wise and courageous man. They had a large feast to celebrate the death of the dragon. The young men were gratified, since their village was saved in spite of their awakeming of that horrid serpent. They learned a great lesson, and the village people erected a castle upon "Dragon Hill," where Krakus ruled for many years as a popular leader.

When Krakus died, the people gave him a king's burial with a huge mound over his tomb. This mound on Wawel Hill can be seen today in Cracow(Kracow), Poland.

The moral to this story is:

(1) The past makes its own rules.
(2) Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
(3) Repect the warning of your elders, they have lived longer and learned much along the way.
(4) Many times knowledge can be more powerful than the sword.
(5) History should not be ignored and legends are often based on true events.

Sources:

Aldrovandus, Ulysses. Historia Serpentium et Draconum.

Anstruther, F.C. Old Polish Legends. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc. 1991.


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