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The Snake's Prophecy
(A tale from Russia)

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    Once upon a time, a king awoke suddenly from his sleep. He had
just dreamed the strangest dream, and because he could not understand
its meaning, he sat up and worried awhile. Then he called his wise men
to his chamber. "I dreamed that a dead fox was hanging by its tail above
my bed," the king said. "Tell me what this means." The wise men looked
at the king, and at each other, and they shrugged, for not one of them
knew the answer. They called upon the scholars of the court, but the
scholars did not know. "I must find someone to tell me what my dream
means," the king said. And so he ordered every man, woman and child
in the kingdom to appear before him and listen to his dream. He demanded
that someone in his kingdom tell him the meaning of the fox hanging
over his bed.

   On the third day a poor farmer from the faraway mountains started
his journey to the palace. To reach the city, the farmer had to walk a
steep, winding mountain path. As he trudged uphill, he came upon a
snake in the road. He jumped in fright, for he had never seen such a
fearsome looking creature. It was 20 feet long and as thick as a barrel.
Its tongue shot in and out of its slender mouth, and it hissed,"What do
you want? Why are you walking on my road?" The farmer nervously
answered, telling the snake of the king's dream. "I can tell you the
meaning," the snake said, "but in return you must give me half of the
reward the king gives you." The farmer agreed. "Tell the king," the
snake said, "that the dead fox is a sign of stealing and lying and
cheating. There is too much of that in his kingdom, and he must put a
stop to it or his kingdom will be destroyed."

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    The farmer thanked the snake and walked on to the palace. There
he told the king all that the snake had told him. The king was so relieved
to know the meaning of his dream, and so grateful to know what he must
do, that he showered jewels and beautiful cloth upon the farmer. When
the farmer turned to travel home, he decided to take a longer route
around the mountain. He didn't want to see the snake, for he wanted to
keep all the gifts for himself.

    A month later the king dreamed another dream. This time he saw a sword hanging over his bed. He sent for the farmer at once. The farmer
was terrified. He knew that only the snake would know the meaning of
the king's dream, but he had betrayed the frightening creature. Still, he
had no choice, and so he traveled to the same place on the mountain path.
When he saw the snake, he bowed before him and said, "I come to ask
you the meaning of the king's second dream. I would have given you half
the reward, but the king gave me nothing." The snake nodded his huge,
shiny head. "A hanging sword is the sign of coming war," said the snake.
"This time bring me half of your reward if the king gives you one."

    The farmer thanked the snake and hurried to the palace. The king
was happy, for now he had time to gather his army, and when his
enemies attacked, he was prepared. He quickly defeated them and
returned the kingdom to safety. Again he showered the farmer with gifts,
among them a magic sword. So the farmer climbed the mountain, and
when he saw the snake he chased him, waving the sword to frighten
him. When he reached the snake, he cut off a tiny piece of his tail, just
before the snake slithered away into the rocks to hide.

    A month later the king had a third dream. This time a sheep hung
over his bed. The king again sent for the farmer. The farmer knew he
had no choice. He would have to beg forgiveness, for the snake knew
the truth. He had seen the sword. He had felt its cut. Again he bent down
before the snake. "Can you ever forgive me? I cheated you. I lied to you. I chased you and tried to kill you." "I forgive you for cutting my tail," said
the snake. "Tell the king the sheep is a sign of peace and joy."

    When the king heard this news he rejoiced. He loaded the farmer
with more gifts and money and jewels, and added a horse so that the
farmer could carry all his fortune. The farmer was so filled with joy, he
decided he would happily give half his gifts to the snake. And so he
returned to the mountaintop and said: "I am so sorry. Here are half your gifts. I will go home and bring the rest for you, the things I stole from
you. I lied to you. I cheated you." The snake shook its shiny head. "No,
it is not your fault that you lied and cheated and hurt me."

    The farmer was amazed. What could this mean? And though he was
surprised, he no longer felt afraid. Now when he looked at the snake,
he saw a magnificent creature, one of strength and beauty. Everything
seemed changed, but the farmer knew the snake had remained the same.
It was his sight and his heart that had changed. "When you came the
first time," the snake said, "there was lying and stealing in the kingdom,
and so you too lied and stole. When you came the second time, there was
war, and you attacked me as an enemy would. But you come to me now
when there is peace in the kingdom, and you bring your gifts to share. I
need none of your jewels or coins, farmer. I want only peace and joy."
And the snake slithered away.

    Forever after, the farmer felt grateful to the snake for giving him
such understanding.

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Story adapted by Amy Friedman
Illustrated by Jillian Gilliland

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