Horse Boy, Bee Girl, Bride chapters 4&5

Yaroslav

 

Chickens are squawking in the yard. There’s a great commotion; heated male voices, shouting and confusion, then, the wailing of women. As the headman, I must calm them, but as I step outside I see my sons, Cheslav and Kreshimir, running out of the compound, followed by our men and a slew of girls. I wipe my hands on my apron and follow. They’re headed toward the river.

I’m running now. My small daughter, Mila, runs alongside me. She senses something is wrong and is wide-eyed with fear. A crowd is gathered at the banks, I push my way through them, and see Cheslav wading through the reeds and motioning to his brother, who rushes to help him. They haul a sodden body out, and as they carry it, water pours off in rivulets, like rain. Everything slows down. It is as if I am deaf, and all I can hear is the throbbing of my own pulse as it quickens. Vladimir stands next to me, struck dumb. It is Vesna, my daughter, his bride. I close her eyes and pick her up. The crowd parts, and I carry her down the long road back home.

I swear by Rod and Crnobog that whoever has done this will pay the price.

 

Yasna

 

A watery death, peaceful and clean; Vesna is asleep among the grasses and weeds.

‘Did you tell Vladimir what you saw?’ I ask, but Morana denies it. She’s lying, of course. I see it in her eyes. We’re picking berries in the thicket, and she won’t meet my gaze.

‘You must never tell. Yaroslav will think the deed was done as revenge. He will blame Vladimir.’

‘What if it was the Outlander?’ Morana asks.

‘He had no reason.’

‘Vladimir had reason besides revenge. He wants you,’ she says, stuffing the berries in her mouth, until her lips turn purple. ‘He had you on the summer solstice. He wants you again.’

I don’t answer her. How does she know these things? But she was always like that, from her smallest steps, always busy, always watching other people.

‘On Yarilo, this spring, we walked next to each other,’ I say. I carried wildflowers, and he carried green fronds. I had a new dress, a gift from Vesna’s mother for helping ease her pains this winter when she was ill. I had embroidered the white linen with red thread. When Vladimir looked at me, I could see what he was thinking, and a bolt of pleasure shot through my body. We followed the procession and went from house to house, singing songs of spring and reawakening. We gave each other pisanke: goose eggs, colored red and white, as gifts.

‘On Kresh, we sat together at the bonfires, drinking and feasting. I danced with you and the other girls around the fire, and he leaped over it and danced; jumping and twirling, just for me.’ We ran away, like other couples, and fell to the ground under the stars. Our union blessed the fields and the animals. Afterward we went to the river to bathe. I’m dreamy, remembering. The seventh month came and passed. He was betrothed to Vesna then, and then after Perunovo, the holy days of thunder, we saw each other no more.

‘He can be yours by Bozhich. The old year will die and the new year will be reborn, and you and he with it,’ she says.

I wonder what’s in it for her, my faithful friend. ‘Don’t tell anyone Vladimir knew about Vesna and the Outlander. Promise me you’ll keep him safe.’

She looks straight at me with those empty blue eyes and says, ‘I promise.’

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Horse Boy, Bee Girl, Bride chapter 3

Yakshah

A green snake winds its way through the rushes and heads toward the cool waters. The horse is hobbled above the river bank and grazes peacefully. He raises his head and snorts with anticipation. The Bee Girl slides down the bank and breathless, runs her hand over my face and hair.

‘It’s hot,’ I say.

‘Then come in the water,’ she says stripping off her dress and stepping into the mud. She glides over the water, green and deep, and dives, her white feet disappearing behind her like a fish’s tail. She rises from the water and facing me, waves me in, but I shake my head, remembering to smile. She is surprised, but turns away and swims a bit more, before coming out and wringing the water out of her hair. She shakes herself dry in the torpid air, and straddles my body.

I don’t say a thing, but close my eyes to the green world: green grasses, green water, green willows, green snake. She climbs off and sighing, lies next to me, not speaking, not knowing what to say.

‘Have I done something to offend you?’ she asks.

‘I have things on my mind.’

‘What things?’ she asks.

She can’t conceive that I might not be thinking of her day and night, the way she thinks of me. Running to meet me, she has told me that she has waited for the day to be done and her restless night to pass, so that she can go out into the woods to her hives and to me. I often feel her heart thundering when I hold her and see the reproach in her eyes when I am late. She clings to me at parting and says silly girlish things.

‘I’m going away. Just for a while,’ I say, out of the blue.

‘But why? Where?’ she asks.

‘I’ll be back.’ And now I am happy again, happy in the lie, not knowing why I said it, and take her on to my lap and stroke the length of her back and cover her mouth with kisses.

 

***

At the outskirts of the borderlands, the horse and I gallop, free and unfettered. One day, I see her in the distance. She has come all this way on foot to look for me and tell me of her deepest longing. She approaches timidly, her eyes full of love.

Bee Girl, Horse Boy, Bride, Chapter 2

Morana

we’re swimming in the green river. Vesna, Sveta, Yasna, Kalina and I. The air is hot, the water is warm. Low lying clouds hover overhead and a gentle rain breaks. Fawn- like Kalina childishly sticks out her tongue to catch the droplets and laughs.

‘You’ll drown,’ Vesna teases her.

Kalina dives below the water and skims past us, grazing our bodies. We shiver with delight. Sveta screams, ‘It’s the Rusalke!’ and we scatter, swimming away, and then gather together again in a spot lower downstream.

Vesna is dreamy, but then she is to be a bride. She’s a little bit older and a little bit prettier than the rest of us. Her hair is the color of honey, her eyes are large and gray. She has a full mouth and a cleft chin. She is slim and full in turn; perfect in all ways. I’m jealous of her and so is Yasna. Yasna loves Vladimir with her whole heart. She has dallied with him in the woods where I have spied on them, running behind, hiding in the thickets, watching as they kissed and fondled each other. But she will not be his wife. His father has chosen Vesna for him, for Vesna’s family is powerful and has many goods.

‘Bride, bride, go and hide,’ Sveta is singing some nonsense she has made up. This Sveta is a moon calf and everything about her is round, sensual and overripe. She never thinks before she speaks. Vesna doesn’t pay attention, but Yasna’s face darkens. I swim up to her and take hold of her hand under the water. She clutches at me fiercely.

‘You’ll never be a bride,’ Sveta says to Yasna, who lives in a hut with an old grandmother and wears her clothes until they are worn to shreds. ‘You’ll be like the Rusalke, the ones who died unmarried.’

‘Shut up, dog shit,’ I say to her.

‘Stop it,’ Vesna says. ‘All will be well. I promise.’ She swims back to our starting place and climbing out of the water, wrings her hair dry. Dressing quickly, she scrambles up the bank and into the woods. I exchange glances with Yasna and follow behind.

I’m sure she’s up to something, but I’m not sure what it could be. I can be as quiet as death, and she won’t know I am behind her. I watch her as she steps into a clearing and meets one of the others, a russet haired man on a gray horse. He holds out his hand and she climbs up behind him.

Horse Boy, Bee Girl, Bride

Yakshah

Halcyon days: the grasses are yellow and ripple in the wind, and shift: side to side, side to side. The sun strikes at an angle in late afternoon and creates a golden world that turns to rose too quickly before the sun sets. Grasses, wind and light. That’s all there is. My horse and I, galloping across the grass, a wild joy rising up inside me. There is no greater happiness. Then I am sent to the land of the waters.

***

The Bee Girl’s legs are white like her hair but will turn gold in the summer sun. I watch her going to the woods and returning. She doesn’t look at me, or see my horse’s ears peeking above the tall summer grasses. She’s barefoot on the hard baked path, carrying her pot of honey. When she gets closer, I see a touch of red on her cheeks and red where the sun has burned around her hairline.

‘Is your horse thirsty?’ and then, ‘the Rusalke live near the water. Aren’t you afraid they’ll drag you in?’ she asks. The Bee Girl doesn’t go down to the water alone, she goes with her friends, all of them blond, rosy, white. They strip and play in the water, laughing and shouting.

Rivers and streams cross this marshy land. At night, I dream I am floating on a great river, its flow carrying me past rushes and willows that trail their branches in the water; the sky and clouds reflected within me, on the water, on my way to an unknown country.

I guard the border at the edge of our lands. My people move with the herds in great wagons and settle down. The others, the Bee Girl’s people, call themselves Slaveni, the glorious ones. Their beauty is glorious, their poverty atrocious, their ideas simple and touching.

The Bee Girl says, ‘Your people worship the sword. I have seen them kneel before it.’ And what am I to tell her, the sword where it crosses, points to the earth below, the sky above, and to the west and east – the four corners of the interlocking worlds. It is all one. So I say, ‘In the eastern mountains far beyond the plain, where the Skiti and Sarmati come from, there stands a great tree that holds the seeds of life. Its branches rise to the heavens above, its roots stretch to the world below. It contains all knowledge and all forms of creation. The sword is just a reminder of that.’

The Bee Girl thinks about this and laughs. Her eyes are as deep and as transparent as the sky. She puts her pot down, and shifts her weight to one leg, looking at me askance and raising her hand towards my horse’s muzzle.

‘He likes it when you scratch his mane, like this,’ I demonstrate, and she imitates the nibbling of a horse’s teeth with her small fingers. The horse exudes peace and contentment. The afternoon is hot, sultry, and quiet, save for the sound of crickets and grasshoppers chirping in the grass. A hawk glides on a current of air far above in the sky, and then, flapping its wings, disappears.

I hold my hand out to the Bee Girl, and picking up her pot, she places her filthy bare foot on mine and swings her leg around, seating herself behind me, holding on to my waist with one hand. The horse trots, and she laughs, bouncing up and down a little. I take her around the parameter of the border, we gallop, and canter, and finally, slowly walk toward her village. She jumps off before we get in sight of it, and smiling, waves goodbye. She likes the horse and soon will come to me because of him.