Once, in the palace of Vladimir, a Great Russian prince of Kiev, all the nobles were making boasts. Once noble boasted of his strength, another showed off his wisdom. Others boasted of their wealth or their trusted horses.
One noble, Stavr Godinovich, said nothing at all. He sat with a dreamy look on his face.
Prince Vladimir noticed this and asked,
‘Why are you silent, Stavr? Have you nothing to say?’
‘Great Prince,’ replied Stavr, ‘I have nothing to boast of except my wife,
Katrina. She is young and beautiful; brave and more skilful than any warrior here. She can shoot with a bow, sing like a nightingale, and enchant everyone with her harp. And no one here will ever beat her at chess!’
‘Is that so?’ interrupted the prince.
‘Yes, indeed, Great Prince,’ replied Stavr. ‘She could easily defeat all your nobles! And, pardon me for saying so, Great Prince, but you are no match for her either!’
The prince became very angry, when he heard this. He glared at Stavr and said, ‘You have gone too far this time. How dare you say that I am no match for your wife?’
The prince pointed a finger at Stavr, and turning to one of his guards, said:
‘Take this man away! Throw him into the dungeon. Give him oats and water-nothing more. Now go!’
The guard did as he was instructed. He threw Stavr into a cold, dark dungeon. The only light came from a small window with thick iron bars, high up near the ceiling. All Stavr could see was the sky. He sat on the cold, stone floor feeling very sad. As night fell, Stavr looked out of the window at the stars in the sky.
‘Alas,’ he thought to himself, ‘I have served the prince for nine years, and this is how he repays me! I am sorry I hurt the prince, but I only spoke the truth about my wife. I hope someone tells Katrina where I am.’
Katrina heard what had happened to her husband. She tired to visit him the following day, but the guards would not let her in. So she thought of a plan to rescue him.
Katrina called together her band of thirty archers, thirty chess masters, and thirty musicians. She told them she needed their help to rescue her husband, and they agreed to help her.
The next day Katrina got ready. She wore a suit of armour, with a helmet to cover her face. She carried a bow and some arrows, a club of steel, and a long lance. Perched on her left forearm was a hooded falcon. She mounted a tall, black horse.
When her friends arrived, she set off for the palace leading them. A short distance from the walls of the city, Katrina told her followers to wait. She rode by herself into the city, and went to the great hall of the palace. All the people thought she was some great warrior. Of course, no one guessed she was a woman.
Katrina bowed to Prince Vladimir.
‘I am the Ambassador of the King of Greece,’ she announced. ‘I have come to collect tribute from you. If you refuse to pay, my army of forty thousand men will attack your city.’
Prince Vladimir trembled with fear.
‘Give me time to think, Ambassador,’ he begged.
‘Time is precious,’ roared the Ambassador. ‘I want your answer now. Pay the tribute or we will attack. If you cannot pay, then give me your niece, Zabava, to be my wife’.
The Prince’s niece, Zabava, was a beautiful and clever girl. The prince loved her dearly. There was nothing in the world he would do so to harm her. At this time, Zabava was sitting in the great hall, watching, and listening to all that was said.
The prince asked her, ‘Beloved niece, only you can save us. What are we to do?’
‘Dear Uncle,’ replied Zabava, ‘I obey you in all matters, but I cannot marry a woman! This Ambassador is not a man but a woman. See how the Ambassador talks and walks. Look at the ring marks on her delicate fingers.’
‘You may be right,’ agreed the prince, ‘but what can we do to find out if the Ambassador is a man or a woman?’
A little later, Prince Vladimir spoke to the Ambassador.
‘Dear Ambassador,’ said the prince, ‘my niece is used to people with great skill. I can only allow her to marry you, if you can show us you are skilful.
Come, show us if you can play the harp.’
A harp was brought, and Katrina began to play it and sing. The nobles were enchanted with the music, but no one could tell whether the Ambassador was a man or a woman.
Then the prince asked the Ambassador to play a game of chess. The prince was the best player in the land. He believed if the Ambassador was a woman, she would lose.
Much to prince’s astonishment, the Ambassador won the game.
The prince turned to Zabava. ‘This is no woman,’ he whispered.
‘I am sure she is,’ replied Zabava.
The prince thought for a while, then said to the Ambassador, ‘Let us now try some archery.’
The prince, the Ambassador, and the nobles all went outside into a large courtyard. A golden ring was set up at one end, and the prince placed a steel knife behind it.
First the prince shot three arrows at the target. The arrows passed through the ring but did not hit the knife. Then the Ambassador shot an arrow at the ring. The arrow hissed like a snake as it flew. It passed through the ring and cut itself into two against the edge of the knife.
The prince was now sure that the Ambassador was a man. But Zabava still did not agree with him.
‘I shall not marry a woman,’ she cried. ‘The Ambassador may shoot arrows just like a man, but he talks, walks, and sits just like a woman.’
The prince became angry, ‘You are being silly,’ he said. ‘I order you to marry the Ambassador. Go, prepare for your wedding!’
Zabava ran off in tears. The prince told the Ambassador that his bride would soon be ready. But Katrina decided to put an end to this game.
She said to the prince, ‘Before the wedding, let us fight each other. Let us see who is stronger.’
Trembling at this suggestion, the prince said, ‘Ambassador, there is no one here who is your match.’
‘Oh dear,’ replied Katrina, ‘Is there no one? I was looking forward to some sport. Perhaps there is a brave warrior in your dungeons that could fight me?’
‘Yes! Yes, there is,’ said the prince smiling and remembering Stavr Goginovich.
He immediately ordered his guards to bring Stavr from the dungeons.
Soon, Stavr Goginovich arrived. He was ordered to put on a suit of armour and mount a horse. When Stavr was ready, he and the Ambassador galloped into a nearby field. All the nobles went to watch the great fight.
The Ambassador and Stavr rode towards each other and then leapt from horse to horse. They threw their steel club in the air, and then rode straight towards the prince. The terrible Ambassador of Greece took off her helmet, and threw it at the feet of the prince. Katrina’s beautiful long hair fell down over her shoulders. The nobles gasped in surprise.
‘Great Prince,’ laughed Katrina, ‘I have rescued my husband from your dungeons. You must agree. He was right to boast of my skill. Now farewell!
“They laughed together, Katrina and Stavr Godinovich rode away….’’
BY: AQSA RIAZ