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Archive for May, 2013

Chudo

Chudo was a small, black, furry imp who lived in the chimney of a cottage, in a village, under a mountain among the green rolling hills of a distant country. Chudo was so old that he couldn’t remember how he had gotten there or how he came to be so alone.

Chudo amused himself all day long by playing tricks on the village girls. He’d tie knots in their hair, and poke holes in their stockings, and hide their pins and ribbons and combs. Sometimes when Chudo was feeling especially spiteful, he’d curdle milk and spoil soup. When their bread wouldn’t rise, the women of the village would say, ‘It’s the fault of the Chudo.’ And so life went on for hundreds of years.

In the village where Chudo had settled there lived a beautiful young girl named Yana. Yana had blond hair and green eyes and rosy cheeks. She could ride a horse, mesmerize a chicken, get milk from an angry cow and wool from a scared sheep. The dogs and pigs followed her around, and the cats slept curled on her lap whenever she would knit. She lived with her grandma and grandpa who told her wondrous tales every night after dinner when they had time to sit down.

Of all the girls in the village Chudo loved to tease Yana best. Yana would set out to bake bread and Chudo would hide her rolling pin under the table, and she would have to scramble to get it. She’d light the fire, and he’d blow it out. She make the bed and he’d pull out the corners. But Yana never got angry or upset and would scold him merrily, laughing and saying, ‘Chudo, I know you are making mischief again.’ And so life went on like that for many years, and Yana grew up, and her grandparents went to heaven

One winter, a terrible frost came to their parts, and the snow fell so high it almost reached the roofs of the houses. The wind blew and the trees creaked. But inside Yana was warm in her little house, and she baked bread, and made soup, and tended to her animals who slept in the barn that was next to her kitchen.

At night, Yana combed her golden hair and slipped between her cold starched sheets. She fell asleep and dreamt dreams of a warm land where she picked ruby cherries and pears of silver and gold. And so the winter months began in earnest, but Yana was not worried. She had cut enough firewood, and the animals had hay and oats and beet pulp to eat.

One morning Yana was plaiting her golden hair and heard a sneeze coming from the chimney. She wondered if a squirrel hadn’t gotten trapped in there, so she called out to it with a promise that it could live out the winter by her warm stove.

No sooner had she said that when a black, mangy creature fell into the ashes, its fur standing up on its back. It tumbled out into the middle of the room, and shaking itself, sneezed again.

Yana was dumbfounded, for this was not a squirrel in front of her, nor a cat, nor fox, but a strange creature like she had never seen before. She plucked up her courage, and striding up to it, she picked it up by the scruff of the neck.

‘Ow,’ the creature cried, ‘put me down.’ Yana was so shocked that an animal could speak she dropped the creature, which scrambled off into the fireplace and up the chimney again.

‘What could that have been?’ Yana wondered. But as soon as she began to knead the bread, she cried, ‘Chudo, that was you!’ But the Chudo said nothing. Then Yana realized that Chudo was cold and hungry, so she called it to come down but was answered by a sneeze. And so Yana put out bread and cheese and warmed some milk and turned her back and went to feed her animals. When she came back, she saw Chudo had eaten the food. And so the next day she did the same, but when she came back from the barn, she caught the Chudo still lapping up a saucer of milk.

‘Chudo stay here where it’s warm with me, and the dog, and the cat. You are far too sick to be on your own.’

Chudo remebered he had always liked Yana best and knew he was safe with her. He slept by the stove and waited for her to serve him warm milk and scrambled eggs. He got better and better, and then one day Yana said, ‘Chudo, your cold is over. It’s time you had a bath.’ She scooped pails full of snow and melted them in a tub by the hot stove. Chudo tried to run up the chimney to escape, but Yana stood in front of him with a broom and blocked his way. He ran this way and that, until she grabbed him and gave him a good scrubbing with a smelly rose soap she had bought at a fair. She wrapped him in sheets and set him by the fire, and Chudo grumbled and hissed whenever she got near, though later he climbed on the edge of the bed and snuggled with the cat who licked his ears.

‘Isn’t it nice to be clean? You can sleep with us now in our fresh bed.’ Yana said.

‘Bah,’ Chudo said, but he was secretly pleased since the bed was soft, and he slept on a down quilt.

In the morning, Yana combed Chudo, so he would not revert to his former miserable state. He waited for breakfast and wanted to slurp his milk, but Yana said, ‘Sit at the table and use a spoon.’

Chudo wanted to hide Yana’s twine and thread, but Yana made him unfurl balls of wool instead, and hold them before her while she knitted and purled. He tried to poke her bread as it was rising, but Yana slapped his hand and said that was unwise. When he wanted to spill buckets of water, she made him scrub the floors until there was order. He curdled her milk for revenge, she made him drink buttermilk until he would cringe.

And so winter passed, and so did spring. While Yana plowed, Chudo ran behind her and sowed. She groomed the horse, and he braided its mane. She hulled the corn, and he scattered chicken feed. Summer came, Yana worked in the garden with Chudo beside her. She went to market, and he carried her basket.

‘Ha ha!’ the villagers laughed, ‘Look at Chudo! Why, he’s been domesticated!’ and they laughed and laughed until they were falling over with glee.

Then Chudo flew into a rage and dropping he basket, spun round three times like a tiny whirlwind and disappeared. Yana looked for him all over. She called him to come out from the chimney and eat bread and butter. She promised to never show him off in the village again. But Chudo was silent and no where to be found.

Yana was sad. She worried if Chudo had enough to eat and if he was keeping himself clean. She was lonely and wondered if Chudo felt the same. She prayed for a sign that he was safe, but Chudo was silent.

One day as she was getting dressed for the fair, she lost her ribbon, though a moment before it had been there. ‘Chudo?’ she asked, but no one answered. That day her milk curdled, her bread refused to rise, and there were knots in her hair, and Yana was as happy as she dared be. She thought, perhaps those things were my fault, but day after day, Chudo returned to tease her and that pleased her. He played in the village and often stayed away, though during cold winters he would sometimes come to stay. And Yana never tried to reform him again but always treated him as a honored guest and friend. And there he is living still, with Yana’s great-great granddaughter, Anna, and sometimes he causes her computer to crash, and hides her cell phone in the trash and plays her hi-fi until she does her teeth gnash.

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Sharatz

In the epic poetry of Serbia, Sharatz was the divine wonder horse of Prince Marko. Marko was a Turkish vassal and lived in the area of what is now Western Macedonia. This Marko was a formidable man who stood at six foot seven, had huge shoulders, and mustaches as big as six month old lambs. He carried a mace and a Damascus sword and ate whole roast oxen washed down with gallons of wine. Half he drinks, half he gives to Sharatz, the bards sang.

Marko chose his horses by grabbing them by the tail and swinging them over his head, yet the only horse he couldn’t budge was the  leprous and mangy Sharatz, who he spotted at a fair.  Though the horse was ill, Marko saw he was the progeny of the ancient wonder horses the likes of which are seen on earth no longer. Marko took Sharatz to his stables and gently nursed him back to health.

Sharatz was a blue roan horse, with black socks, mane and tail. He stood at twenty hands and had hidden wings, which, on occasion, he would unfurl. He breathed fire from his nostrils and thunderbolts sparked from his iron hooves as he galloped across the land.

On his travels Marko liked to be entertained, and when he was not keeping company with other heroes or his blood-sisters, the beautiful Vile, he relied on Sharatz, from whom he was inseparable. Now Sharatz could not only understand Marko, but he could also speak and give sage advice. As they traveled over Miroch Mountain one day, Marko said, ‘Tell me my bold wonder steed of your many deeds, and how you came to be at the fair when I found you there, and where was your original home?’

And Sharatz began to tell his tale:

‘In the land where the skies meet the mountains of the plain, where the meadows are filled with wildflowers, and rivers are cold and blue after the rain, there I was born with the eagle, wolf and bear beside me, a member of my noble tribe, the Divine Ekwos, horses that lived free.

My mother was Mora, the lead mare, and we lived with her sisters, my aunts, and their children there, while my father, Pastoov, watched over us, though we had not a care. In those days my name was Gilast Zhderabyetz, which means, roan foal, and to be a stallion like my father was my only goal.

In those times, the days seemed longer and the water sweeter. I lived close to the Earth in the meadows, sniffing the blue and yellow wildflowers that grew there, and playing with the other foals, taking dares. I grew, happy and contented, until one day when I came to drink at a stream, I felt a rope thrown about my neck, and I did scream. My parents had warned me about humankind but there were so few in those parts in those days, I thought they were the stuff of legend and this was a dream.

I reared and struck the ground with my hooves, and turned three times and bucked until I raised a cloud of dust around me, as great as storm. The human held on for dear life, and we fell to the ground, becoming one being, as if transformed. And then he began to talk his sweet talk of the great world and the things in it, as if we could win it. He spoke of the army of the great Genghis Khan, who had chosen conquest as his great quest. He said we would fight with them, and with me as his steed, we’d see greatness and splendors unfold.

And so I let him tether me, and bridle and saddle me. We sprang over the meadow, and I neighed good-by to my family, who gave chase, until they realized I was willing to leave them behind for adventure in a new place. And so we joined the armies of the Great Kahn, who was called Temujin, and rode eastward toward the lands of the Dragon.

My new name was Koke the Magnificent, which in their language meant blue and was of good omen. I was ridden by Temur, who I saw was a great and powerful warrior and the best of men. So formidable were we among the poor horses of the Mongols that even the Great Kahn was envious.

We fell upon the lands of the Dragon, and though they were many in number in their band, the Khan was a mighty warrior, and he smote them until they fell on the battlefield and we conquered the land.

Then we had red painted palaces with pleasure gardens built for us, and Temur became a great lord, and married the willowy women of that land, and clad them in silks and jade, and we ate from fine porcelain dishes that were hand made. He built me a grand stable and housed me with the finest mares, but I longed for adventure, since I was young and able. When Temur’s son, Altan, had grown to manhood, he bridled me one night, and we flew away to the west over the woods, to the lands of the Persians. The Great Khan sought to unite all the lands, and so he sent to the ruler of the Khwarezemids, Al-Ad Din Muhammad, a letter of friendship asking for peaceful trade, but Al-Ad Din misunderstood, and destroyed a contingent of our troops for an answer. So we fell upon them and decimated them and left them for dead. But this land was a marvel with its mosques and blue tiles and fine carpets of silken thread.

The Khan went to Persia and the lands of the Indus, but we rode westward to the Khavkas and then to Kiev, where we did battle with the forces of Mstislav and beat him and stole his cattle. I rode through the Golden Gate and saw the brilliant domes of Saint Sophia and Saint Micheal’s and there were no finer churches that I had seen to date.

Then Altan heard about the Bulgarian plain and the rich grasses, and we flew there, sure of our victory. But the Bulgars beat us back, and we began our return homeward. Altan and I had seen battle and fought armies, but now he put up his sword, and we took our time and saw the world at our leisure. We went back to Persia where Altan married Nesrine, the Shah’s daughter and I, her mare, Roksana, and there we lived for years happily and well. I trod on silken carpets that were woven to look like gardens and lived in a blue and green tiled stable that resembled a forest in a fable.

But when Altan died, I was unhappy for I needed to partner with a great man and noble, and so the decision was made that I would carry Bar Sauma, ambassador of the Khanate to Constantinople. There I gazed upon it’s many wonders, for I had never seen such splendors. Though the crusaders had sacked the city and stolen its treasures, the Hagia Sofia remained a great pleasure. We took ship to Sicily and saw the eruption of Mount Etna and met with King John, and then we traveled through the boot of Italy and onward to France where we were feted by Philip the Fair, where I took many wives among his mares. We stayed in Paris, the greatest city in the West, and I saw the building of the church of Notre Dame that was one of the best.

On our return trip we met the English King, Edward, in Gascoin and the newly elected Pope in Rome. The new overlay the old; the Colosseum still stood bold. Such were the sights we saw, of the land and the man made. We returned to Baghdad where Bar Sauma lived out his years, in the land of learning and libraries, which had books in them as divine as faeries.

There I came through a series of trades to the house of Orhan Bey, who was a boy of ten, and when he grew to manhood together we conquered Byzantium. I was still young and strong, but I grew ill when the great plague came, yet I could not die, and the Turks betrayed me and sold me to gypsies who made me pull their carts and fed me only when they were able. Thus I came here and remained in these pastures.

You found me at the horse fair, and though I was ill, you were unable to throw me, and you nursed me to health -and you know the rest, for many adventures have we had and far have we traveled these many years. We were together when Murad fell upon your lands and beat King Lazar at Kosovo, the field of the blackbirds, and decimated your nobles and conquered your lands.’

‘Oh my Sharatz,’ Marko said, ‘Many great masters you have had, and many wondrous things you have seen: Baghdad, Constantinople, Rome, Genoa and Paris, it seems. And many more will you have when I am gone, for you are a wondrous horse, you in this world alone.’

‘I’ll never leave you, Marko. It is true that many wonders I have seen, and many great humans there have been, but none like you. For you treat me like a brother, and for me there is no other. The Vila, our sister, has led me to her magic pool to see the future. And I know someday when you receive a mortal wound, death will you evade and within you, life will still bloom. Your body will sleep a miraculous sleep, but you will not die, and your soul will return with me to my home in the Altai.’

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