Miska and the Dragon
The village dogs had lots of wood for the matches. But they needed yellow brimstone to make their matches. They got yellow brimstone from a mine far up the river near the mountains.
It was cold in the mountains. During the winter the snow was deep and the river was frozen. The dogs in the village could not go to the mine. So, each fall, the village sent two workers to live at the mine. They sent food with them so they could eat and dig yellow brimstone.
All winter the workers dug out the yellow brimstone. Then they carried it to a strong stone building with an iron door that was near the river. When spring came and the ice was gone from the river, the dogs from the village came and took the brimstone down to their village to make matches.
One fall, the village elder, Vladimir Ivanovich, called all the village dogs together. "It is time to send the workers to the mine," he said. "We have one worker, Yakov the bear, who is ready to go. He is strong and honest and is a good worker. We need another worker to go with him and dig yellow brimstone. Who will go?"
All the village dogs looked at each other. It was hard work digging yellow brimstone. It was cold and lonely at the mine. Each dog hoped he did not have to go. Vladimir Ivanovich asked again, "Who will go?" No one answered. Vladimir then said, "Miska must go. It is his turn."
Miska was not happy. He did not like to work. He liked to stay home, and eat cabbage soup and boiled potatoes. He liked to sleep. But it was his turn and he must go.
The village dogs put food into the boat. Miska and Yakov and Vladimir Ivanovich and the boatdogs got into the boat. They made the long trip up the river to the mine. They got out and they took the food and put it in the strong stone building with the iron door. They took the yellow brimstone that was in the building and put it into the boat.
Vladimir Ivanovich turned to Miska and Yakov. "In the spring, we will be back to get you and the yellow brimstone," he said. "You two must work hard but you must be careful. Be sure to keep the door to the strong stone building closed when you are not here.
"You must watch for Vassily Lopwing, the dragon. He may come here to steal yellow brimstone. Dragons like to eat it so they can breathe fire and smoke. If Vassily comes, you must drive him away.
"You will know if he comes. One of his wings is smaller than the other. When he was small, he was careless and did not listen to his mother's warnings, and he lost part of one wing in an accident. Now when he flies, his wings sound like, 'flap-FLAP, flap-FLAP.' He is polite and has good manners for a dragon but be warned, dragons like to eat dogs and bears!"
"Do not worry," said Yakov. "I am a strong bear and I have a great iron club. If the dragon comes, I will beat him with my club until he leaves. I will not let the dragon eat Miska. I will not let him steal our yellow brimstone."
"Very well," said Vladimir Ivanovich, "but remember what I have said." Then Vladimir and the other dogs got into the boat and left Miska and Yakov.
Each day, Miska and Yakov would get up, Yakov would gather firewood and Miska would cook their meals. They would go to the mine and dig yellow brimstone. They would carry it to the strong stone building with the iron door and put it inside. Then they would eat their dinner and go to sleep in their hut.
Soon it was winter. It was very cold. The river turned to ice. There was deep snow. Both Miska and Yakov put wool pads inside their boots and wore thick tunics. Miska was very hungry. He said to himself, "I need food more than Yakov." So when he cooked their food, he divided it into three portions instead of two. Miska ate one and gave Yakov one but he hid the third, and ate it when Yakov was asleep. But soon, Miska started to become fatter and poor Yakov began to become thinner.
One day when Miska was carrying a bag of yellow brimstone from the mine to the strong stone building, he heard a strange noise. It sounded like "flap-FLAP, flap-FLAP." He looked up and saw Vasilly Lopwing, the dragon, flying towards him.
"Stop," called Vassily. "It is cold and I am hungry. I want to eat the yellow brimstone so I can breathe fire and smoke and I want to eat you so I will not be hungry."
Miska started to run to the strong stone building with the iron door but he could not reach it in time. Vassily reached out one strong dragon claw and held Miska's coat. He looked at Miska with his large green eyes. Vassily took some yellow brimstone from Miska's bag and swallowed it. "That is good for my digestion," he said. "But I am still hungry."
Miska cried, "Yakov, help me!" and tried to get away. "Be still!" said Vassily. "Food should not make noises or struggle. It is very impolite."
Just then, both heard a noise. It was Yakov. He was running towards Miska and Vassily Lopwing and was swinging his great iron club. "Stop that!" he called. "Let Miska go or I will beat you with my club."
"But, Yakov," Vasilly said, "If I let him go I will not be able to eat him and I am hungry. Besides, I must have food. Krapov, the wolf, is chasing me. He wants to catch me and hang my dragon skin on his wall. He is a terrible creature and has a big iron gun. If I do not eat soon he may catch me."
"I am sorry," said Yakov. "But Miska is my friend. He is not your dinner." And Yakov swung his great iron club in circles in the air so that it made a roaring noise.
Vassily Lopwing the dragon thought, "I must let Miska go. If I do not Yakov will hit me with his great iron club and that would hurt me and might break my bones." And so he let Miska go and flew off making a "flap-FLAP, flap-FLAP" noise with his wings. Miska thanked Yakov and they both went to work again.
But Miska was not grateful. He did not give Yakov his share of the food. He continued to divide their food into three parts and he continued to eat two of them, one with Yakov and the other when Yakov was asleep. Miska began to get fatter and poor Yakov got thinner and weaker. Yakov did not know why. "We both eat the same amount at meals," he thought. "But I am getting thin and Miska is not."
Soon it was the middle of January, and the cold winds blew. They both continued to dig yellow brimstone from the mine and carry it to the strong stone house with the iron door. Poor Yakov worked hard but he was cold and had to wear an extra sweater under his tunic. Miska worked, but he got sleepy from the food he ate and sometimes took naps hidden under a tree near the strong stone house with the iron door.
One day when Miska was taking a nap under the tree, Yakov came to the strong stone house carrying his bag of yellow brimstone. He was about to open the door when he heard, "flap-FLAP, flap-FLAP." He looked up. It was Vassily Lopwing, the dragon. He landed on the roof of the strong stone house.
Vasilly called down, "Yakov Bear, I need your yellow brimstone. My fire is almost out." He blew a great breath. But there was no fire. There was only a little smoke. He said, "See. My fire is almost out. I am hungry. It is cold and I need food to keep warm and fly. Give me your yellow brimstone and I will not eat you. But I will eat that fat dog who works with you when I can catch him."
Yakov looked up at him. He picked up his great iron club so that Vassily could see it. "You can have two pieces of yellow brimstone. I do not want a Dragon's fire to go out. But if you try to eat me or the dog I will beat you with my great iron club." Yakov took two pieces of yellow brimstone and put them on a rock near the strong stone house with the iron door.
Vasilly flew down to the rock. He gobbled up the two pieces of yellow brimstone. "Thank you," he said, for he had good manners. "That tastes good." He blew another great breath. This time there were a few sparks and more smoke. "Will you give me more?"
"No," Yakov said.
Vassily looked at Yakov. "As I promised, I will not eat you," he hissed. "But I am still hungry." He looked at Yakov's great iron club. "You are thinner," he said. "You look weak. I don't know if you could beat me with that great iron club."
Just then there was a noise behind Vasilly. It was Miska. He had just woke up.
"What's that!" said Vasilly.
Yakov politely said, "That is my friend Miska."
Not knowing what else to do, Miska said, "Greetings, Vassily Lopwing." Before he even thought or looked behind himself, Vassily said, "Greetings, Miska," for Vassily was a polite dragon.
Then Vassily looked around. He saw Miska. His face became very red. He blew fire out of his nose. He looked at Yakov with his big green eyes. "You have tricked me," he said to Yakov. "You knew that any dragon with good manners cannot eat someone who he has just met. I cannot eat Miska now. But I may come back later and eat him."
Yakov didn't know that. But he said nothing. Vassily flap-FLAPed his wings and flew off. And Yakov and Miska went back to work.
February came. More snow came. Miska and Yakov worked bringing yellow brimstone from the mine to the strong stone house with the iron door. Miska continued to divide the food into three parts. He continued to eat two parts himself, one with Yakov and the other, at night when Yakov was asleep. Miska got fatter and fatter, until his tunic would barely fit him. Poor Yakov got even thinner and weaker. He could hardly work at all.
March came - and April. The air was warmer and the ice in the river started to melt. One day, Miska and Yakov were carrying small bags of yellow brimstone to the strong stone house with the iron door. The bags were small because Miska was so fat he could hardly walk and Yakov was so weak he could hardly walk. They heard a noise. It sounded like "boom, boom."
Then they heard another noise. It sounded like "flap-FLAP, flap-FLAP". They looked up and it was Vassily Lopwing, the dragon. He landed in front of them and grabbed Miska with one claw. "I am very hungry," he said. "I have not eaten in a week because that terrible creature, Krapov the wolf, is always after me and does not give me time to find food. Did you hear his big iron gun?"
"I will not let you eat Miska," said Yakov and tried to lift his great iron club. But he was so weak that he could barely lift it. Yakov tried to throw his club at Vassily's head but he was so weak that it hit Vassily on the leg instead of the head.
"Ouch," said Vassily. And he limped a bit. "I should eat you too," he said to Yakov, "but Miska has eaten all your food. He is fat and juicy. You are thin and skinny. I will not eat you. If Miska had not been greedy and shared the food with you, you would be strong and he would be safe."
And Vassily Lopwing gobbled up Miska and flew off.
The next day, the boat and the boatdogs and Vladimir Ivanovich came. Poor Yakov told them the story. Vladimir stroked his beard. He said, "Yakov, do not feel bad. You did your best. It was Miska's fault, not yours." And they fed Yakov and put him into the boat and took him home to the village.