As retold by Susanne Iles
Long ago in a beautiful land, there lived a handsome hero named Dobrynja and his widowed mother. Dobrynja’s mother was a very wise woman given to visions and known for her sage counsel.
One day she had a premonition of disaster and anxiously warned her son to stay away from the River Puchai. "The river is a terrible place my son and people disappear from its shores, never to be seen again. The waves themselves are dangerous and can consume you. The first wave licks with tongues of fire. The second wave sends showers of sparks. The third wave roils and boils and sends up clouds of scalding steam." Dobrynja listened to his mother but curiosity overcame him. He soon found himself on the edge of the River Puchai which, to Dobrynja, looked calm, peaceful and inviting.
Since it was a very hot day Dobrynja decided to bathe in the river. He stripped himself of all his clothing, weapons and armour. He left his belongings with his horse then slipped into the still waters. Within moments the water began to surge and bubble. Tongues of fire tasted the shoreline and flaming cinders sparkled in the air. Suddenly, from the rolling clouds of steam, a marvelous dragon appeared!
"My, my, my," chortled the dragon with glee. "I thought Dobrynja the hero was here to kill me as was prophesied long ago. Luckily, I see nothing in this river but a naked and tasty fish for my dinner."
The dragon’s name was Gorynytch and she was frightening to behold. Three-headed, seven-tailed, she moved like lightning and was rushing toward Dobrynja with fierce jaws agape.
Dobrynja, seeking to escape, dove deeply into the river and swam underwater to the far shore where his steed and his weapons were waiting. Much to his dismay Dobrynja surfaced to find his horse had disappeared with all his possessions. He was completely vulnerable to the dragon’s onslaught and knelt down to contemplate his impending fate.
Suddenly, something shiny hiding in the long grass caught Dobrynja’s eye. It was a helmet! Dobrynja leaned forward to pull the heavy helmet toward himself. When the dragon saw the handsome hero kneeling in the grass she began to gloat as she thought him to be begging for his life. On his knees! What a treat!
Dobrynja waited until the dragon was almost upon him. He could feel her hot breath on his shoulders. Quickly he turned and swung the heavy helmet with all his might striking off one of the dragon’s heads. Dobrynja then leaped on top of the dragon prepared to deliver another blow when Gorynytch began to plead for her life. "Dear, dear Dobrynja, oh brave and noble knight. I beg of you to spare me for the sake of my many children who would starve to death if I were to perish. Let us make a pact of heartfelt friendship. I promise I shall never carry off another person from this river or anywhere else. I promise I’ll be good but you must agree not to harm any of my hatchlings." Because Dobrynja was not only a brave man but a kind-hearted one, he released Gorynytch reminding her of the promise.
No sooner was Gorynytch out of sight when she changed her mind and flew north to Kiev in search of her next victim. Espying Prince Vladimir’s lovely niece in a garden she dove down, snatched the terrified girl off her feet and carried her to her lair.
As it happened Dobrynja was trying to make his way to Kiev. The journey was long and arduous for his horse was nowhere to be found. Upon arrival to Kiev, he was greeted with the sight of great public mourning and fear over the abduction of the Prince’s niece. The court was in an uproar and the Prince was having great difficulty finding a man brave enough to confront the dragon, Gorynytch.
Dobrynja was going to ask how he could help when he overheard Alesha the Priest’s son comment on having seen the dragon and Dobrynja in conversation at the river. "Perhaps Dobrynja should be the one to rescue your niece," slyly suggested Alesha. "Since Dobrynja and the dragon are obviously such close and dear friends it should be an easy feat for him." The Prince was outraged and wholeheartedly agreed Dobrynja should be the one to retrieve her. If the young hero failed to return the girl, Dobrynja would be put to death.
Dobrynja, cheeks burning with shame and fury, headed home to seek the counsel of his wise mother. Seeing her son’s weary and sad face, she spoke to him about his troubles and promptly sent him to bed for a good night’s rest. While her son slept she set to work. The night was spent weaving a magical whip from seven silken strands to aid Dobrynja in his battle with the dragon.
At dawn Dobrynja awakened refreshed but worried. "Mother," he said. "I don’t know what to do. I will try to rescue the girl and confront the dragon but I have no horse and no weapons to help me against the dragon and her terrible brood." Mother replied, "I have made a gift for you to help you on your journey. But first, there is a beautiful chestnut horse in the old stable. It belonged to your father and your father’s father but has unfortunately been neglected for years. Quickly get the horse, it will serve you well."
Dobrynja hurried to the old stable and unlocked the door. Peering into the darkness he could see the horse was mired in filth and looked hungry. The young hero gently washed the animal and fed it sweet corn and honeyed water. He then prepared for his journey and said goodbye to his mother. The wise woman handed Dobrynja her gift of the silken whip. She explained it would be the only weapon he needed and gave him her blessings. Dobrynja raced off in search of the treacherous dragon.
The ground near the cave of Gorynytch writhed with the young of the she-dragon. The horse reared up and trampled the hatchlings underfoot, all the while being bitten and scratched about the legs. The chestnut horse began to weaken from its injuries. Dobrynja feared for his and his steed’s life but remembered the magical whip his mother had given him. He whisked the horse between the ears and legs and felt renewed life surge into the horse. The healed beast lashed out with its mighty hooves and finished off the remaining young dragons.
Hearing the commotion outside her cave, Gorynytch rushed to the scene. When she saw Dobrynja and the devastation around him she shrieked with horror and fury. "You lied to me!" she screamed. "You broke your promise!" Dobrynja raged, "It was you who was the oath-breaker! You broke our pact by flying to Kiev and stealing the Prince’s niece. Hand her over to me immediately and there will be no further bloodshed."
Never!" cried the dragon. "She is my treasure and I shall never release her to you!" She attacked Dobrynja and they began to fight. Three days and three nights they battled. The handsome hero was weakening and was about to give up when he heard a voice whisper, "Just three more hours young Dobrynja. Three more hours and you will succeed." For three more hours the battle raged and the dragon finally met her death.
Although Dobrynja had succeeded in killing the dragon he had bathed in dragon’s blood for three days and was poisoned. Badly injured and weak he lay dying on the battlefield, all his strength leaving his body. The land was flooded with blood. It had become a lake. Using the last of his breath Dobrynja called out, "Moist Mother Earth, please open and swallow up the blood of the dragon." He thrust a stick into the ground and a huge fissure opened up draining away the blood.
Suddenly he remembered his mother’s gift of the seven-fold silken whip and used it on his own body. Whisking away the remaining dragon’s blood, the poison left him and his wounds healed.
Dobrynja travelled through the dragon’s labyrinth of caves finding hundreds of captives and rescued them. Prince Vladimir’s niece was discovered, unharmed, in the final cave. Dobrynja the hero led the people back to their joyful families and returned the beautiful girl to her uncle in Kiev.