When we think of Russia we think of a great dark country—a country of long winters and abundant snow and ice. It was here, long ago, in the city of Kiev, that the hero Ilia Muromec was born.
There was at that time a great castle in the city, and this was well protected by Ilia Muromec and his twelve armed knights. For thirty long years had they kept watch at their post and no stranger had ever passed by them.
But one morning Dobrnja, the knight after Ilia Muromec most powerful, perceived on the ground the imprint of a horse's hoof. Then he said to the knights:
"Now is the mighty Zidovin in the neighborhood of our castle. What is your will?"
The knights with one accord agreed that Dobrnja should ride out against the stranger. So Dobrnja mounted his war-horse and galloped forth to meet Zidovin, calling to him in a deep, gruff voice:
"Here, my insolent sir, you have come all the way to our castle and have omitted to send greeting to our captain Ilia Muromec, or to inform him of your approach."
When Zidovin heard these words he turned quickly and rode toward Dobrnja with such force that springs and lakes appeared wherever the hoofs of his black horse touched the ground. And the trembling of the earth caused great waves to rise on the sea.
Dobrnja was so frightened that he jerked his horse about and with the swiftness of a cyclone galloped back to the castle. When he entered, almost exhausted, he told in great excitement of his encounter.
Immediately Ilia decided to go forth himself against the enemy, and all the entreaties of his knights could not restrain him. So he rode out to a high point where he could see Zidovin, watch him as he threw his hundred-weight club up into the clouds, caught it with one hand, and swung it around in the air as if it had been a feather.
Then Ilia spurred his horse and rode toward Zidovin. A horrible fight ensued. Swords clashed and deep fissures were made in the earth, but neither knight fell. It seemed as if both heroes had grown fast to their saddles, so unshakeable were they.
At last they jumped from their horses and fought hand to hand with lances. All day long and all night long they struggled, until Ilia finally fell wounded to the ground. Zidovin kneeled on his breast, drew out his sharp knife, and was about to cut off the head of his enemy.
Ilia meantime was thinking, "Surely the holy fathers did not lie to me when they said that I should not lose my life in battle."
Then suddenly he felt his strength redoubled, and he hurled Zidovin from him with such force that his body touched the clouds before it fell again in the moist earth at his feet. Cutting off the warrior's head, he mounted his horse and rode back to the castle. To his knights he said:
"Thirty years have I ridden in the field and thirty years have I fought with heroes and tested my strength; but such a mighty man as Zidovin have I in all that time never met."