Bohemian Legends II: Horymír and His Loyal Steed, Šemík

by Director

In our second installment of Bohemian Legends, we find ourselves five generations after the death of Přemysl, whom we met in the last legend. Now, king Křesomysl (whose name means, roughly, “a mind of stoking,” implying a love of fire) has taken to the throne and some of the prophesies we heard in the first legend have come true.

The resting place of Horymír´s loyal and slightly magical horse, Šemík, can be found in the village of Neumětely, where one can visit it to this day. A tomb, built in 1887 over the place where Šemík was supposedly buried, reads: “In Neumětely people believed, and still believe, that here lies Horymír´s loyal horse, Šemík.”

Note: For a brief intro to the history of Czech legends, see our first Bohemian Legends post

Horymír and His Loyal Steed, Šemík

Upon king Křesomysl coronation, the people took to the mountains and ventured away from the fields, for Křesomysl minded the prophesy of his forefather, Přemysl, who said the Czech lands would rule with iron. Many sought iron and silver deep in the earth and others sifted through streams in search of gold. They ventured out in droves to win their fortune in metals, claim their cold riches, leaving the fields barren. The Czech lands became rich in metal and poor in bread.

Many patriarchs and yoemen lamented the hunger which befell their lands. Horymír, who was in charge of the settlement of Neumětely, was chief among them. Accompanied by his like-minded companions, Horymír traveled to Vyšehrad to speak to king Křesomysl. They urged him to forbid mining, so that the people may return to the fields and not go hungry. They were not heard. The king´s lust for metals was too great.

Horymír´s audience with the king was not without consequence, however. When the miners in the settlement by Březová mountain heard of Horymír´s attempts to dismantle their profession they flew into a rage. They wanted Horymír´s blood. Some scoffed that if it be bread he is concerned with, they should suffocate him with it. The other miners took to the idea of this punishment and, like a swarm of wild bees, they set out to the town of Neumětely.

The miners reached Neumětely by nightfall. Luckily, a good soul had run ahead of them to warn the town. Just in time, Horymír mounted his favorite horse, Šemík, and escaped the miners´ wrath. Šemík´s white main led the angry miners through the forest for a while but then vanished from sight quite suddenly.

Now safe, Horymír looked back at his settlement. It was in flames, the mounds of grain flying up in ashes, a year´s worth of harvesting up in smoke.

“May I burn to coal should I not avenge this,” he said.

What the miners didn´t burn, they stole. They led away livestock, rode off in stolen carriages pulled by stolen horses and shrieked spitefully: “If he was afraid of hunger, may he now have it!”

The miners, thinking Horymír would die wandering the mountains, lost and alone, went to sleep peacefully the next night, not bothering to place guards at the entrance to the settlement. Horymír and a group of his allies fell upon the mining settlement at Březová mountain that night as the miners slumbered, exhausted by the previous night´s victory. Horymír and his men slaughtered the miners mercilessly. By morning, the occupants of the Březová mountain mining town lay scattered and ghostly under the morning fog, murdered to the last.

After this deed, Horymír rode Šemík to Vyšehrad. They arrived unnaturally fast, when it was still morning, both man and horse untired by the night´s slaughter. By afternoon, miners gathered at the king´s throne with news of Horymír´s brutality. Though Horymír argued that he could not have been at Březová mountain that night since he arrived at Vyšehrad in the morning, the king, always loyal to those who mined for him, immediately imprisoned Horymír. Many patriarchs and other laymen came to speak on Horymír´s behalf, bringing news of the miners´ unprovoked savagery which, to them, justified Horymír´s retaliation. In the eyes of the metal-greedy king, their words did not weigh as much as those of the miners. The miners called for Horymír to be burned at the stake and the king ordained that it should be so. Horymír, it seemed, would burn to a coal just like he swore he would should he not fully avenge his home.

When Horymír stood before the king before his execution he asked to be granted one last wish: To ride his horse, Šemík, for the last time.

“Go,” scoffed king said. “But a Šemík without wings will not save you.”

The guards led the horse out into the courtyard. Šemík, joyful to see his master, danced on hooves as nimble as a deer´s. Horymír mounted him and whistled once with exaltation. The horse rose on its hindlegs, then began prancing around the courtyard, light-hooved. Horymír whistled a second time and the steed leapt from one side of the courtyard to another, landing by the gate. Then Horymír whistled a third time and said: “Well then, Šemík, upward!”

At that moment, the horse spoke in a whisper: “My lord, hold on!” and leapt over the battlements.

The king, the laymen, and the miners alike cried out in terror and then watched, in either fury or delight, as the white horse and his rider galloped far away having already, unbelievably, reached Radotín. Now, the noblemen, too, pleaded for Horymír´s life, so taken were they by his bravery and the speed of his horse.

The next day, the king sent a message to Neumětely, declaring that Horymír had been pardoned and asking him to return to Vyšehrad for an audience with the king. Horymír did return the next day, but on a different horse. When the king, curious about the amazing steed, asked about Šemík, Horymír replied, crestfallen, that Šemík lay at home, for he was heavily wounded by their escape.

Horymír stayed at Vyšehrad only as long as politeness dictated and soon hurried back home, where the villagers had been tirelessly rebuilding their settlement. In the stables, Šemík lay on his side, no longer able to stand. He told Horymír that he would soon pass and had but one final request: That Horymír not feed his body to the birds or the wild beasts but that he burry him in front of his front gate. With that he passed.

Šemík and Horymír won a battle, but not the war. Indeed, the lands were more brutal when in the hands of men, just as queen Libuše warned. The prophesy from the time of queen Libuše, that the Czech lands would be ruled by iron and that they would often go without bread, held true for many generations to come, challenged again and again, but overcome only after the time of legends had passed.