Once upon another time… in ancient Poland, right on Wawel Hill near the Vistula River, there was a huge dragon of green and yellow scales frightening the population and eating their sheep.
Alarmed at the situation, King Krakus convened the bravest warriors of his kingdom to exterminate the dragon and restore peace to his people. His daughter Wanda was the first to state her willingness to fight, but the king told her that it was not a task for young ladies. Instead, he promised her hand in marriage to whoever defeated the horrible beast.
Every day new warriors presented themselves in court before the king who vowed to kill the dragon in hope that they will marry the beautiful maiden, but none ever returned to the castle. And the decimation of the flocks continued.
The king himself and his escort showed up at the entrance to the cave where the dragon lived, but it was not there. However, he was surprised to see many of the weapons that the warriors had carried to battle, including axes, swords, spears, and crossbows. He took them all back to the castle and showed them to his daughter as he told her:
“We are lost. The dragon devoured all of them.”
“Not everything is lost,” Wanda replied thoughtfully. In the meantime, the soldiers asked the king to find more powerful weapons.
Krakus gave his men designs of enormous weapons and sent them to find the best blacksmiths in town, who started to make the strongest irons. He told his daughter to wear her finest dress and walk around to conquer someone’s heart. Wanda disagreed but chose not to refuse her father’s wish in a moment of such great tension.
A small-sized shoemaker named Shoem Ender who saw Wanda and fell hopelessly in love with her at once started to think about how he could defeat the dragon, and quickly, before any other suitor. That very evening he put on his sheepskin coat and went to Wawel Hill and, without making a sound, he hid in the undergrowth at about one hundred meters from the cave and waited.
Around midnight, a group of men came from around the hill carrying a tied adult sheep that they dropped by the entrance to the lair and left in a hurry. As soon as the terrified sheep started to bleat, the dragon appeared and, snorting fire out of its nose and mouth, took the animal and went back into the bowels of the earth.
A very scared Shoem Ender crept quietly out of his hiding place and left, racking his brains to come up with a good plan as he wondered about the men who were feeding the dragon. He spent the rest of the night torn between his fear of the dragon and his love for Princess Wanda. By the crack of dawn, he had already made a decision.
He went to see the king first thing in the morning and told him:
“My name is Shoem Ender, and I am a cobbler. I have always lived in this town. And I can tell you how to defeat the dragon but on one condition.”
Hearing this, the king’s soldiers burst out laughing. That dragon doesn’t wear shoes, they told him, and which weapon are you planning to use, they asked, as they loaded very heavy axes and shields onto the small Shoem.
King Krakus himself had to smile. “Who are you to impose conditions?”
“I have a plan to take down the beast, and I don’t need any of these weapons,” Shoem replied.
At this point the king became furious and yelled at him:
“How can you think, cobbler, that you can go unarmed against a dragon that gobbled up the best warriors of these lands? I suggest you leave before I order my men to behead you.”
Wanda heard all the noise and rushed into the room to try and calm her father’s anger.
“As I said, I have a plan and one condition,” Shoem insisted fearlessly.
“Speak, you fool!” shouted the king.
“I don’t want a woman as payment. First I want to meet the princess and know whether she would accept to marry me regardless of any dragon,” Shoem explained.
It was all the soldiers could do not to laugh while the king stared at the cobbler defiantly.
Wanda, who suffered for being treated as an object and at first glance found Shoem rather pleasant, thought it was a good opportunity to hear what he had in mind. So she addressed King Krakus:
“Calm down, father, the new weapons are not ready yet. Let’s give the little man a chance.”
“I give you three days,” he told Shoem menacingly.
For three days the princess and the cobbler started to know each other. She showed him around the castle and he took her home to see his workshop and meet his family. They talked and laughed, feeling free from their daily activities. Every now and then Shoem felt worried since he didn’t actually have any plan to end with the dragon. Wanda started to fear for the cobbler’s fate.
On the third day, he took her to a silversmith with the intention of giving her a ring as a sign of their wonderful friendship and, perhaps, as a farewell keepsake. If he failed to kill the dragon, he would end up either devoured by it or executed by the king’s men.
The old craftsman measured the princess’s finger and worked with great mastery for a few moments to make a simple but beautiful shining piece.
Wanda was delighted, but she feared her father’s reaction to her new ring. “What can we do?” asked Shoem.
The silversmith prepared a mixture of sulfur and sheep tallow, applied it to the ring, and held it close to the fire. “This patina will make the jewel look old and last longer,” he said.
Shoem approached the old man and whispered in his ear: “Engrave something on it.”
Wanda enjoyed very much the silversmith’s company and felt really happy with his present. As a result of their visit, Shoem finally thought of a solution to succeed in his plans: he would offer the dragon a sheep-filled with sulfur which he would then make explode inside its lair.
When the time came to say goodbye, he explained his plan to the princess, who found it brilliant and, as soon as she entered the castle, described it to her father. The king thought it was clever but quite risky.
That evening Wanda summoned the cobbler to the castle and asked him to postpone his plan, since the new weapons were finished and there were many warriors eager to fight. Unwilling to lose his love, Shoem refused to wait.
However, the princess insisted:
“Go back home to your family, and get them some food supplies in case you fall into the dragon’s clutches.”
Finally, once he yielded to her arguments, they strode toward the kitchen area. Shoem took off his coat and used a needle and thread to sew it into a bag of sorts, which Wanda stuffed with beets, carrots, and dried meat. Then he took it on his shoulders and bid farewell to the princess.
On the following day, as the cobbler was looking for volcanic ash to make the amount of sulfur that he needed, Wanda dropped in by surprise and told him:
“I have a new plan: no enemy has dared to attack us ever since the dragon showed up in our lands. If we succeed in holding it on a leash, we would become a very powerful kingdom! So I thought that we should fill a lot of sheepskin-lined bags with beets and other foods, find those men who are feeding the dragon, and give them the bags as if they were real sheep. Since the dragon breathes fire out of its mouth and nose, it can neither smell nor taste anything. We just need to control its appetite.”
“All right. We’ll do that until I have enough sulfur,” Shoem replied.
“It’s a deal then!” she said.
That night, Shoem Ender loaded a cart with the first sheep-looking bag filled with vegetables. He reached the cave before the unknown men, placed the sack next to the entrance, and mimicked the bleat-like sound of a scared sheep. Then he rushed into hiding.
The dragon came out, visibly hungry but also distrustful. Mistaking the bag for a real sheep, as Shoem expected, he aimed its fire at it and, right away, devoured the whole sack of veggies.
The cobbler kept waiting for the men to appear. As it turned out, they were former warriors whom the dragon had vanquished in the past and who were so ashamed of their defeat that they would steal sheep from any flock to keep the beast well-fed and, therefore, inside the cave, hoping that they would be able to kill it one day.
Shoem explained to them that there shouldn’t be chagrined at defeat and that the whole town would surely be happy that they had survived. He also told them that he had a more effective plan to kill the dragon with just a bit of help from some fur coats and vegetables.
Under the cobbler’s direction, the group of men spent several nights making bags out of coats and filling them with beets for the hungry beast. Shoem kept Wanda up to date with their progress, and every day she helped with food and clothes for the warriors, to the point that King Krakus began to feel more and more confident that it would all turn out well.
When they were totally convinced that the dragon liked vegetables very much and decided to confront it, they notified Wanda. Not without a certain misgiving, she told them:
“OK, tonight we fill as many bags as we can and bring them to the cave. Once there, I will talk to the dragon.”
And so they did. They managed to take four bags of vegetables with them, hoping that they would suffice for the dragon to have its fill. They unloaded the first one and Shoem let out a loud ‘baaaaa, baaaaa, baaaaa!’ Then they all hid away.
The dragon came out and turned the first bag into a charred husk before it wolfed it down. The same thing happened with the second bag and, more slowly, with the third one. Then he went back, but not far, into the cave.
“There’s only one full bag left,” said the cobbler. “Hopefully it will be enough to sate its appetite, otherwise we will have to fight.”
The warriors agreed, but since they didn’t have any weapons—Wanda was the only one with a sword and a shield—they searched around for trees with strong sharp branches and tied small knives to the tips of some of them. With the last piece of ‘bait’ still lying by the entrance to the cave, Shoem started to bleat nonstop until a heavily walking and not-so-voracious-looking dragon came back out.
Poorly armed as they were, the warriors waited for the cobbler to say the word. However, instead of ordering an attack, Shoem and Wanda started to walk hand in hand toward the dragon, who was looking at them rather disconcerted.
“Hi, dragon! My name is Shoem Ender and this is Princess Wanda! We would like to speak with you!” the cobbler said loudly and with some hesitation.
And the dragon thundered, “What do you want? To be eaten just like those sheep?”
Shoem and Wanda dropped their weapons. The princess said, “You have not eaten any sheep for many days. We fed you vegetables!”
Roaring with laughter, the beast shouted back: “Ha, ha, ha! And how come I heard them shrieking with fear and felt them bleeding?”
“That was not blood, but beet juice,”
“And the one bleating was me,” Shoem added, as he started to baaing again.
His imitation was so good that the dragon began to writhe and salivate. All the men came out of their hiding places as one, ready to help their friends.
The dragon flew into a rage and shouted: “Is it a trap!!!??? I will finish you!!!”
But although Shoem ordered the men to fall back, Wanda stood her ground.
The princess explained to the dragon that they should stop quarreling and come together, promising in King Krakus’s name that the country would show respect and provide food if its dragon protected them from their enemy’s attack in return.
The beast accepted the offer and admitted that he loved to eat vegetables and especially beets, but begged everyone to tell no one lest its reputation be stained. After all, whoever heard of a vegetarian dragon?
And the princess assured, “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us, courageous dragon!”
They all marched up to the castle, where everyone had already heard various messengers report that Wanda had made a pact with the dragon, much to the king’s, the soldier’s, and the people’s surprise and peace of mind.
Amid the celebrations, King Krakus convened the whole town to make an announcement:
“In order to benefit from the dragon’s help, we will build a great city on the hill near its cave and call it Cracow. I had given my word that the warrior who defeated the dragon would have Princess Wanda’s hand and love. Now I don’t know what to do, because there are many victors. I think that my daughter has proved to be sufficiently brave and smart to make right decisions, so I yield my authority to her so that she decides who her husband will be.”
Even if Krakus was in a dilemma, the warriors had witnessed the affection and rapport between the princess and the cobbler.
Using the powers that her father vested in her, Princess Wanda declared:
“I love the cobbler Shoem Ender and choose to stay by his side. And so I swear, on the words engraved on this ring: ‘To the dragon that unites us!”
And they all lived happily ever after in beautiful Cracow, together with the vegetarian dragon. Until one day…