Bohemian Legends III: The Knights Sleeping in Blaník Mountain
At the end of Alois Jirásek´s 1894 book of Czech legends, from which we have drawn in our other retellings, there is a series of as-yet-unfulfilled prophesies. The most famous one, the one Czechs return to in times of trouble, is the last one, about the knights sleeping in Blaník mountain, which lies about an hour outside of Prague. It is important to consider the time when Jirásek was writing, a time when Czech national sentiments were high but national autonomy was still to be won. Because it´s relatively short, and because the English version is so difficult to obtain, we have translated Jirásek´s entire chapter on the knights of Blaník mountain from the Czech.
The Knights of Blaník
by Alois Jirásek
Hark, regard Blaník, a mountain in the cloak of a dark forest, runing from its summit down its slopes. It gazes seriously, almost somberly, at the land forsaken by the world, at the tree-covered hills and barely fertile plains. Its crown can be seen far and wide, and people who live near often gaze at it questioningly. When it is cloaked in darkness it predicts turbulence and if it shines clear and blue, it promises sure and sturdy times.
On Blaník´s summit you will see, in the shadow of beach, fir, and spruce trees, ancient, stone battlements, most of them crumbled. They are overrun with moss and foliage and not a trace remains of the wooden castle they once protected.
But under the battlements, within the mountain itself, armed knights slumber. It is St. Wenceslas´ army. They slumber and wait for the day when Czechs will need thier help, when they will be called to battle
Under the rocky peeks of Blaník, on the Eastern slope, there is a rock in the form of a Gothic arc. That is the entrance to the mountain, and there a brook spurts. That is where the knights of Blaník let their horses drink when, from time to time, they ride out of the mountain by moonlight, onto the meadow surrounded by trees. On such a night, a dark thundering can be heard around the mountain, the muffled sound of a drum, and the cry of bugle horns. In the morning, the noise ceases suddenly, and the knights, the horses, everything disappears in the stone gate, into the mysterious womb of the mountain. Only the meadow bears witness to the knights´ equestrian tumult, in the form of countless hoofmarks impressed into the earth.
It is so that more than one person set foot in the dungeon where St. Wenceslas´ army sleeps.
One day, a young girl cut grass under the Blaník mountain. Suddenly, a knight stood before her and asked her to come clean inside the mountain. The girl, unafraid, went with him. The gate to the mountain was open. She saw arched halls within the rock and massive pillars on which weapons hung. There was a deep silence, as in a church, and the space seemed bathed in a strange, yellow haze. By the walls, next to troughs, stood a row of saddled horses, and at the stone tables sat knights, their heads resting on the tables. The knights slept and the horses stood, motionless, not nodding their heads, nor digging their hooves into the ground or flicking their tails.
The girl walked in and looked around, but no one moved. So, she began to sweep. She worked quickly and she soon cleaned the entire hall. No one stopped her or spoke to her. No one woke. She left just as she had entered and when she arrived home, they asked where she had been for so long.
The girl was surprised and said she came at the same time as every day. She was amazed when they told her that she had last returned from cutting grass at this time a year ago, that she had been gone an entire year. So she told them where she had been and everyone understood why a year seemed to her a moment. On the third day after her return, however, the girl passed away.
Just like the girl, so a blacksmith from Louňovice was invited into the mountain by a knight, so that he could shoe the horses. The blacksmith did as he was asked and as he left, the knights gave him some rubble in a bag, which the blacksmith angrily spilled out in front of the mountain. At home, he found they had already mourned him, for he had disappeared without a trace an entire year ago.
So he told his family what had happened and when he shook the empty bag the knights had given him, three ducats fell out. Only now did he see that he had made a grave mistake. He immediately ran back to the Blaník mountain gate where he had shaken out the rubble. But in vain. There was no rubble and no ducats.
They also tell the story of a shepherd who was searching for a wayward sheep and wandered into Blaník alone as well as the story of a boy who spent a year in the mountain, like the shepherd, without realizing it.
But that was a long time ago. Blaník is now closed and gazes seriously, almost somberly, at the abandoned land, and it seems the sorrow of a wistful rumination hangs upon it and on the surrounding landscape. St. Wenceslas´ army sleeps. It is not yet time for it to rise. This will happen in times of the gravest danger, when so many enemies befall our land as to carry our kingdom off on their horses’ hooves.
At such a time, there will be signs of the knights´ arrival: Treetops in the Blaník forest will wither, and on the summit of the mountain, an old, dry oak tree will grow green again, and the stream flowing from the mountain will become so overrun with water that it will rush down as a river. Then a massive, bloody battle will ensue in the land between Blaník and Načarad. The dry pond, by which the dead oak will come to life again, will fill with streams of blood shed in battle. There will be weeping and much grief caused by this desperate battle but Czechs will defend themselves bravely against their stronger enemy. Blaník will open at a crucial moment and knights in full armor will spill out and St. Winceslal on his white horse will lead them to aid the Czechs.
The enemy, suddenly surrounded and afraid, will flee madly to Prague where this terrible battle will be finished. It will be such a wild fight, that a river of blood will flow from Strahov to Charles´ stone bridge. Then St. Wenceslas on his white horse, holding a banner, will lead the Czechs and they will shun all foreigners and enemies from the Czech kingdom. And St. Prokop with his staff, the abbot of Sázava, will help them.
Then, peace will follow and the Czech lands will rest. Many Czechs will die in these battles but the ones who will stay will be complete men. Knowing the mistakes of their forefathers and their own mistakes, they will stand their ground firmly and no enemy will conquer them.