A Polish Story
Adam lived in a small village in the south of Poland near to the big city of Krakow. Adam’s favourite part of the day was dinner time. Not because his mother made the best food in the whole world, but because, at dinner time, the whole family would sit around the television and watch the news. No school lesson could compare to the stories Adam watched on the news: exotic looking people from different cultures, natural disasters in countries he had never visited and insights into the coolest celebrities and their extraordinary lives. It was one such story that changed Adam’s life forever ...
One evening, just before harvest, the family was sitting round enjoying steaming bowls of chicken soup with homemade macaroni when the news began. The top story was about a mysterious robbery from Wawel Castle in the nearby city of Krakow. During the night, thieves had snuck in and taken the treasure from Smok’s lair!
Everybody in Poland knows the story of Smok the Dragon who lived in Wawel Castle many hundreds of years ago. Smok lived in the caves beneath the castle and used to eat the King’s cattle. The King offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man who could slay the mighty dragon. Many brave knights and noblemen tried and failed, but in the end it was a simple cobbler who had slain the mighty dragon.
As every school girl and boy knows, dragons sleep on a bed of gold treasure. Smok’s lair had such a bed of gold, and when the dragon was slain, the King did not move the gold because he wanted other dragons to think that Smok still lived in Wawel Castle. ‘That way,’ the King had exclaimed, ‘I will never be bothered by dragons again!’
And so the gold coins stayed in the dragon’s lair for hundreds of years, each new king believing that the gold brought good luck to his people.
The gold coins had stayed in the lair for all of that time until they were stolen, and it was while eating his dinner in front of the television that Adam first learned of the robbery.
The reporter was at Wawel Castle. She was interviewing a tall policeman. The policeman said: ‘We believe that the thieves came into the castle during the day pretending to be tourists. They must have hidden in a dark corner of Smok’s lair and waited until the castle closed for the day. They then filled two large suitcases with as much gold as they could. This,’ he said, while pointing to a spot on the castle floor, ‘is all that remains of the precious gold coins.’
The camera zoomed in on a few gold coins that were scattered on the floor.
Standing next to the policeman was a very forlorn castle curator. He was shaking his head and murmuring something about it being very unlucky for the castle and for the city of Krakow.
Adam’s father gasped: ‘All that treasure gone!’
‘What if another dragon comes along and sees that all the gold is missing?’ asked Adam. ‘They will know that Smok isn’t there anymore! The castle might be attacked and we would have a new dragon after all these years!’
Basia, Adam’s older sister, chuckled to herself and said: ‘Well then, the King had better go to the bank and get some more gold coins out before it is too late.’
The family laughed and returned to eating their delicious chicken soup. It seemed to Adam that nobody believed in dragons anymore, so maybe there was nothing to worry about after all.
The next day, Adam woke up very early with the rest of his family. His parents and older brothers and sister were all going out to the fields to bring in the harvest. They would be gone for the whole day. The fields were far away from the farmhouse so they had to leave very early. It would be hard work for everybody.
Every harvest, different members of the family would take it in turn to stay at home and look after the farm animals and prepare the barn to store the crops. It was also their job to prepare a feast for the hungry family to eat when they returned home. This year it was Adam’s turn.
As his family left in the tractor, Adam gathered the food scraps for the farm animals and headed for the stables to feed the horses their hay. Then he milked the cows and walked them out to the field to graze.
The next job was to clean out the barn.
Adam opened the large doors and went inside. Once inside, Adam noticed a strange, golden light shimmering from the shadows towards the back of the barn. ‘I wonder what that could be,’ he thought, and went to investigate.
As he approached the shimmering light, he could not believe what he saw on the floor of the barn ... Gold! A suitcase split open and it was full of gold! And beside that there was another case still closed. Adam was amazed. He was sure that this was the gold from Smok’s lair.
‘The thieves must have been making their getaway and hidden the cases here so that the police would not find them,’ he thought.
Adam ran back to the house to tell his family what he had found. But once he reached the house, Adam remembered that his family was not there. So he ran to the phone and picked up the receiver ... then he paused again. Who was he going to call? He didn’t have the number for the castle. He could call the police, he thought, but they probably wouldn’t believe him. He put the phone down and thought for a moment.
Suddenly Adam knew what he must do. He ran back to the barn and gathered the gold coins together and zipped up the suitcase. Then he fetched the wheelbarrow from the stable and, after much heaving and puffing, managed to get both cases inside the wheelbarrow.
The next part of his plan he was really not looking forward to. He was going to have to take the bus to Krakow and return the gold himself. Adam had never in his life been on a bus, and he had never been to the big city of Krakow with its thousands of people and its noisy traffic and tall buildings. The thought made Adam very nervous, but the young boy was determined to be brave and return the gold to Smok’s lair no matter what. ‘After all,’ he reasoned, ‘somebody has to save the castle from dragons.’
Adam took the jar containing his pocket money from under his bed and remembered to grab his coat from the hook behind the door. Then he locked the front door to the farmhouse and ran towards the barn to collect the wheelbarrow. Once he had gotten the hang of the wheelbarrow, which was very heavy indeed, he began on his journey toward the bus stop at the edge of the village.
Adam had no idea when the next bus would be. He hoped he wouldn’t have to wait too long as he was already starting to feel very nervous about the journey and whether or not the driver would let him on with his wheelbarrow. Then the bus came around the bend in the road and stopped right there in front of him.
The doors opened and the driver stared at the young boy and then at the wheelbarrow. Adam didn’t know what to do. After a moment the bus driver said: ‘Are you getting on or not?’
‘Can I bring my wheelbarrow?’ asked Adam.
The driver paused for a moment. This wasn’t the first time he’d been asked by somebody from one of the villages if they could bring a wheelbarrow onto his bus. Luckily for Adam, the bus wasn’t already full of hay or live chickens, or even a sheep, which the driver had once let an old woman bring on board as long as she paid for two tickets.
‘Fine,’ said the driver. ‘Just hurry up.’
After some more heaving and puffing, Adam managed to push the wheelbarrow onto the bus and quickly found himself a seat at the back.
‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’ shouted the driver from the front of the bus.
Adam looked at the bus driver, trying to think what he could possibly mean.
‘You haven’t paid!’
Of course! He had to buy a ticket. Adam jumped up from his seat and ran to the driver. He handed over his jar of pocket money and asked to be taken to Wawel Castle. The driver opened the jar and took out the money for a single trip to Krakow. He issued a ticket from the machine and passed it to Adam along with the jar containing the remainder of his pocket money. Adam walked back to his seat next to the wheelbarrow and sat down.
As the bus drove out of the village, Adam concentrated on the cases in the wheelbarrow. He was afraid to look out of the window because he didn’t like the thought of leaving the village and travelling all by himself. Adam knew everybody in the village, but in a big city like Krakow he would not know a soul and might easily get lost.
The bus travelled very slowly, stopping every few minutes to pick up more passengers.
‘This will take forever,’ thought Adam.
Eventually, he grew bored of staring at the suitcases and decided to brave a look out of the window. He didn’t recognize where he was anymore, and he was afraid that he would not be able to find his way back home. The scenery had changed. It wasn’t green or spacious. The open fields that he was used to had been replaced by tall, grey buildings. Where before there were herds of cattle, now all he could see were crowds of people walking on massive stretches of pavement.
Adam felt overwhelmed. ‘Where could all these people possibly have come from?’ he wondered.
Suddenly, the bus came to a halt and the driver shouted back towards Adam that this was his stop. Wawel Castle! Finally he had arrived!
Adam pushed the wheelbarrow up to the guards who were standing on either side of the giant gates. Beyond the gates, Adam could see the imposing castle. It was very big and even a bit scary.
‘Going on a holiday?’ asked one of the guards with a wry smile.
‘No,’ said Adam. ‘I have something that belongs to the castle and I am here to return it ... so that you don’t get any more dragons.’
The guards looked down at the suitcases, then back at Adam. Just as they were about to tell Adam to run along, the curator appeared at the gates. Adam recognized him immediately from the news. The young boy seized his chance and opened one of the suitcases and took out a single gold coin. He held the coin up to the curator triumphantly and said: ‘I believe this belongs to you.’
The curator was overjoyed! He could not believe his ears when Adam told him how he had discovered the abandoned cases in his family’s barn. Adam also told the curator how he had gotten the wheelbarrow and his pocket money, and how he had travelled on the bus all the way to Krakow which he had never done before. Quite a crowd had gathered to hear Adam’s story and everybody was very impressed with the young boy.
Then the guards picked up the suitcases and, together with Adam, they followed the curator through the castle to Smok’s lair.
Adam had never been inside a real castle before. He had never even been outside a real castle before. He looked on in wonder as he was led through huge rooms adorned with fancy silks and old paintings. Every room seemed bigger and fancier than the last.
The convoy of people eventually reached the entrance to Smok’s lair and carefully descended the steps. The deeper they went, the darker and colder it got, but still they went on until the narrow stairwell opened out into the lair itself.
‘It looks just like it did on the television yesterday,’ Adam said, to nobody in particular.
The guards opened the suitcases and Adam and the curator both grabbed big handfuls of the shiny gold coins and began throwing them across the floor in sheer delight. The curator was laughing out loud with a mixture of joy and relief. And Adam was laughing because he was so proud that he had succeeded in his mission to return the gold and keep the castle safe.
‘No more dragons!’ he thought.
Once all of the coins were back where they belonged, Adam started to say goodbye because he had a long journey ahead of him. But the curator was not about to let the young boy depart in such a manner.
‘You really are the bravest boy in the whole city,’ said the curator. ‘You should stay a while so that we might thank you properly.’
Adam wanted very much to stay, but he was thinking about his home and his family and the long bus journey ahead. He said: ‘I would like to stay but I haven't prepared the barn for the harvest or the meal for the evening. My family will be wondering where I am and they'll be angry that I have not done all of my chores.’
‘Don't you worry,’ said the curator. ‘You have done a wonderful thing for the city. Now it is our turn to do something for you. Follow me!’
And with that, the curator led Adam up the dark stairwell and out across the main hall of the castle. Along the way, the old man issued instructions to the guards who then barked instructions into their radios. Suddenly the castle seemed to be alive with activity.
By the time Adam and the curator reached the castle gates, there was a shiny black limousine and a very large truck awaiting their arrival.
Castle guards, in their royal red and gold uniforms, were boarding the back of the truck carrying an array of large and small boxes. A very smartly dressed chauffeur opened the door to the limousine and tipped his hat as Adam got inside.
The journey back to Adam’s village was much quicker than his original bus journey into the city, and he didn’t even have to spend any of his pocket money!
In no time at all they had reached the village and were soon turning off of the main road towards Adam’s home.
As the limousine drove up the gravel path towards the house, Adam could see his family standing in the yard. They all looked very worried and very confused at the sight of the limousine and the truck and the guards in their red and gold uniforms.
When the convoy stopped and Adam got out of the limousine, the whole family rushed towards him: all of them were speaking at once so that Adam found it difficult to understand them and more impossible still to answer their questions.
Just as Adam was busy apologising for not completing his chores, the curator stepped in and explained how Adam had returned the missing gold to the castle.
‘A very brave boy you have here,’ said the curator as he introduced himself to the family. ‘All of us at the castle are so very grateful.’
Adam’s mother and father were beaming with pride by the time the curator had finished recounting their son’s brave deeds.
Then the curator said: ‘I understand that there are a few things that still need doing around the farm. Please don’t worry about a thing.’ And with that he turned to the guards and nodded.
The guards instantly divided themselves into three groups. The first ran to the barn and began clearing space for the harvested crops, while another group began unloading the crops from the trailer. The third group ran to the house and brought the family dining table out into the farmyard and laid the table with a fine cloth, plates, glasses, and fancy silver cutlery from the castle.
Huge platters of delicious smelling foods were carried from the back of the truck and placed on the table.
Adam’s family seated themselves at the table and the curator proposed a toast in Adam’s honour. They were surrounded by a guard of honour and Adam thought to himself: ‘This is what is must be like to be royalty.’
The family laughed and ate together, and all the while Adam told them about the tall buildings in Krakow and the crowds of people and the castle and the limousine ride.
It really had been an incredible day. And as Adam enjoyed the wonderful feast, he told himself that he was sure he would never forget his adventure. But he was also very pleased that next year it would be his brother’s turn to stay at home while Adam joined his family in the fields for the harvest.
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