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  Once Upon a Time in Poland

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The Trumpeter of Krakow

In Krakow, which was the ancient capital of Poland, there is a Church in the

Market Square. It is a tall, graceful building built of brick, in the Gothic style, with

a richly adorned interior. It has two towers, one of which is a little higher than

the other and more ornate. From the taller tower a fanfare, called hejnał,  is

played by a trumpeter on every hour. It is repeated four times, in four different

directions, but always ends abruptly, on a broken note. Here is the legend behind

this tradition:

One day in the 13th century, an old watchman, keeping watch over the city saw

in the distance a cloud of dust which grew bigger with every passing moment. He

realized, in horror, that it was a large army of Tatars galloping towards the city

walls. These invaders from the east had more than once advanced to Krakow and

even farther, and they had pillaged and burned, looted and murdered and carried

off the people to be slaves.

The trumpeter was horror stricken. How could he warn the city, how could he

convey to the people the approach of danger and give them time to prepare their

defense? There was only one thing he could do. To go down into the town and

spread the alarm would be foolish, for it would waste precious minutes. He must

play the Hejnal, over and over. That would surely arouse the citizens, they would

certainly be aware of approaching danger. So he played, again and again.

At first the people of Krakow were puzzled. Why was the trumpeter playing over

and over? and with such loud urgency? But they quickly realised that it was a

warning and that from his lofty tower ha had seen danger approach. The soldiers

sprang to arms and took up their stations on the walls of the city. The burgesses

ran to secure their houses and place their wives and children behind locked

doors. The apprentices seized their arrows and their cross-bows, the artisans

seizes what tools they could lay their hands on, and they all marched to the

defense of their city.

The archers took up their positions along the battlements as the tartars galloped

towards the city. But by now the Polish arrows were flying. They rained down on

the tartar invaders, wave after wave. Eventually the Tartars were forced to

retreat, and Krakow was saved from the Mongols!

Suddenly, the sound of the Hejnal ceased abruptly. The notes had reached the

ears of the Tatars as they approached, and their keen eyes had espied the figure

of the trumpeter. As soon as they came within bow-shot, their leader, the surest

marksman of them all, loosed his bow, and the deadly projectile logged in the

trumpeter's throat.

 

When the joy over the victory died down they realised that the trumpeter who

had warned them was nowhere to be seen. So one of his friends went to look for

him. Howevr, when he reached the tower he found that disaster had struck. A

single Tartar arrow had pierced the old watchman' s throat and he had died. The

trumpet was still clasped in his hands ready to blast out a final note.

 

The Krakowians would never forget the act of the old trumpeter watchman, and it

was decreed that a bugle call should be played each day in memory of the hero.

 

And so for hundreds of years the 'hejnal' has rung out over Krakow's rooftops for

the noble watchman who saved the city.

 

 


 
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