Horse Boy, Bee Girl, Bride chapters 10, 11

Yakshah

 

Frost is on the grasses and makes the tree branches creak and break. Fierce winds have begun to blow. My horse shifts, and to warm ourselves, we ride around the perimeter of the borderlands. I’m wearing thick felt boots and a fur jacket and hat, but I still feel the chill.

A white haired youth appears out of the woods and standing on the path, waves me down.

‘I am the son of Yaroslav. If you are Yakshah, I have a message for you.’

‘I am he.’

‘My father wishes to speak to you.’

‘Concerning?’

‘The matter of my sister’s death.’

I freeze, wondering what is known. ‘What about it?’ I manage to say.

‘Come to see him. It’s important.’

I take a chance. ‘You people should settle your own affairs.’

The youth shrugs, kicks the dirt with his toe and saunters away, spitting to the wind. If anything was known about the Bee Girl and me, he would have said so, I reckon.

 

 

Yaroslav

 

The people are divided in their opinion. Some think Yasna is guilty and some think she is not. The Outlanders provide the law here, and I have sent informal word to the one of the guards, but have not heard a thing. Now, I will have to go above him to receive justice. Yasna claims she only wanted to send Vesna’s soul to rest, but why would she need to if she didn’t suspect something was amiss? She seems to know something but is not telling.

Morana, with her yapping tongue, has turned the women against her. No one asks for Yasna’s help any more. Morana whispers that Yasna and Vladimir meet in the woods, but Vladimir denies it, and I believe him.

I would believe that Morana has designs on Vladimir herself, but it is known that he will now wait for my small daughter. What purpose could she have, unless she believes her cause is just?

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Horse Boy, Bee Girl, Bride Chapters 8, 9

Yakshah

The green world dies unto itself. The leaves turn russet and gold, red and deep brown. There’s a mist in the mornings now, wafting over the land like spirits of the dead. Things are a bit more silent, a bit more still. The horse knows the cold is coming and is slower in the mornings, less eager to go abroad.

I’ve waited for the harvest to pass, waited to see Yasna again. We let these people settle their own affairs, but I was anxious to hear if anything is yet known. I see her one day, on the road in early morning. I’ve asked around and know she is their healer. She is in a hurry, chin held high, thinly dressed despite the cold.

I emerge from the woods and maneuver my horse in front of her.

‘Step aside, Yakshah. I have a woman in childbirth to see to,’ she says.

‘I’ll step aside Yasna, but tell me what is known among your people.’

‘Yaroslav is still asking questions. But he does not suspect Vladimir any longer, nor that there was such a one as you. His wife now believes the Rusalke dragged Vesna into the water. A virgin bride, to live among them.’

‘The wicked one has not spoken?’

She shakes her head no.

‘And how goes it with you?’

She seems surprised that I have asked. ‘Everything is the same as it was and always will be,’ she replies, walking past me.

I’ll keep my eye out for her just the same.

 

Morana

 

The truth must be told and justice be done. Yasna is my friend but she cannot be spared, for she has done wrong. I have certainty now, though I did not want to accept it. I take my proof and walk to Yaroslav’s compound, through the large timber gates, and the courtyard, where his pigs bask in the mud and sun, and chickens peck at the ground for grain.

‘I’m here to see Yaroslav,’ I tell his son Kreshimir, a towheaded, chinless youth, who gazes at me, slack jawed, wondering what business I could have.

‘Go on, then,’ I say, and he enters Yaroslav’s fine house that is large and airy, and roofed with thatch and girdled with mortar that is white washed. Clouds gather overhead, thickly. Soon the cold will be coming.

Kreshimir signals me to come in. Yaroslav is waiting, tall and broad as an oak. He plants his legs in front of me, waiting.

I take the doll out of my pocket, and he stares at it grimly.

‘Where did you find this?’ he asks, looking at the doll which is so like Vesna.

‘Only one person has the skill to make a doll like that. I found it in her house.’ I say. A dark shadow passes over his face. He has seen Yasna’s work before. She fashions our effigies.

‘And you her loyal friend,’ he says.

‘Justice comes before loyalty,’ I say.

He has a hard look. ‘Get out,’ he says. But he keeps the doll.

Horse Boy, Bee Girl, Bride Chapters 6, 7

Yakshah

The breeze is gentle, the sun has returned, one last tease, a flicker of summer before the leaves turn. My horse executes a few fancy steps, crossing one leg over the other. Man and horse, joined in purpose, of one mind, become one being. He snorts, and smells of himself: of earth and musk and grasses and hay. His scent is part of me, within my very self.

‘Yakshah!’ I hear my name being called and start. From the tree line, a nut brown girl emerges and moves easily through the grasses towards me. She knows who I am.

The horse nickers when she approaches. She puts her hand on his neck, and he exhales with pleasure.

‘I came to tell you, if you haven’t heard already.’

‘What is it?’

‘Vesna drowned in the river.’

The Bee Girl. She was so sweet. The Nut Brown Girl looks directly into my eyes to gage my reaction. She is somber, a flicker of her head, the question is unasked. She knows at once it was a summer dalliance, nothing more. She exhales heavily.

‘You knew she was betrothed?’

‘She told me only afterward.’

She seems to be thinking.

‘What is it?’

‘I am certain she loved you. Yet, she wasn’t unhappy.’

I know what she is getting at. ‘I told her no more than the usual lover’s lies.’

‘Tsk,’ she says. ‘I wonder if she knew that.’

‘I made it very clear the last time we met.’ Our eyes meet, and we both know at once the Bee Girl drowned herself for sorrow.

We’re the military elite here; the Slaveni yield to us. The Brown Girl knows there will be trouble if the truth comes out, either way.

‘They’ll hear nothing from me,’ she says. She’ll protect her people.

‘Who else knows?’

‘One other, who is malicious and attributes her ways to the ways of the world. But I will take care of her myself.’

‘All right. Shall I give you a ride back?’

‘I have my own two legs,’ she looks at me darkly and disappears through the grasses as silently as she came.

‘What’s your name?’ I shout after her.

‘Yasna!’ is carried on the wind.

 

Yasna

 

Vesna’s hair, a doll made from clay, her effigy, herbs for burning, the full moon. In a grove, I burn the herbs and chant spells, calling for Vesna’s spirit to return.

‘Come and tell me the tale for I have not heard it, and your parents have had no peace since they took you from the water.’

A cold wind blows all around me and my hair rises on end. A pale apparition floats in the blue distance and grows near.

‘Oh my dearest dear, I’m so cold and alone,’ it says.

‘You’re lost, but you’ll find your way when your sorrow has been laid to rest.’

‘I was so deceived.’

‘By the Outlander?’

She is silent and holds her hands out to me imploringly. I reach for her and touch the air around me.

‘I deceived myself. He made no promises, told no lies. I thought he loved me as I loved him. But he didn’t. Every day he loved me, he bound me to himself more and more. I thought he’d take me to his people, and you and Vladimir, too, would be free…’

‘Vladimir and your father have come to an understanding. He will wait for your small sister, Mila, now,’ I say.

‘He loves riches more than he could love any woman. I could not live with him after this summer. And the Outlander did not want me.’

‘Oh Vesna, but to take your own life!’

‘There is nothing more terrible than rejection, to know that you have loved in vain, and to realize that you are not loved in return. I wept for him and could not staunch my tears. There was a hole in my heart that grew bigger and bigger, until it was a physical pain. I thought the stories of the Ruslake might be true, but here, I see nothing other than spirits, lost like lights in a fog. I was a fool.’

‘Forgive yourself. ‘ I say. Forgive yourself for being young, for believing in love, for ending life too soon.

‘What will you do, now that Vladimir belongs to another?’ she asks.

‘I will continue healing the people as my mother and grandmother and those before her have done.’

‘The Outlander said his people worship the light that is behind all things that are apparent to us.’

‘Then go toward the light, if you can see it, and if there is none, then bind your spirit to the green trees, and the waters, and all the good things that grow on earth, our great mother, but do not remain lost in the fog.’

I feel love emanating from her before she disappears like a white wisp in the night, and I fall asleep in the grove under starlight

Horse Boy, Bee Girl, Bride chapter 6

Yaroslav

There need be a reckoning and justice must be done. I’ll hear the people and all they have to say. I call my wife, Tsveta, into the room first. She has not been well since Mila was born. She takes cures from the girl Yasna and her old grandmother.

Tsveta is thin and almost transparent. Every step is a hardship for her. She’s walking on knives she tells me, but most of the time, she lays abed, not complaining. It’s hard for me, I am still vigorous, but I take hold of myself and keep my temper in check.

‘She was happy,’ Tsveta says. ‘She had that look that young brides have. She was singing on her way to gather honey each day and happy when she came back. Could she have slipped and fallen into the water?’

But we both know our daughter was a strong swimmer and would have removed her cloths on the banks of the river. She looks down.

‘What is it?’

‘The girl, Morana, let it be known that Vladimir and Yasna were together many times.’

I think about this and ask her to bring Yasna to me.

 

Yasna quickens my pulse, but many men look at her with lust. Her eyes are like amber and her hair is the color of nuts. She’s brown from the sun, long legged and full figured.

‘Sit down, my child,’ I say. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of.’ I put my hand on her shoulder to reassure her, but she can feel my heat burning her and shrinks away from me.

‘It’s true, I loved Valdimir, but I knew that after he was betrothed that he was not mine, and so I gave up all thought of him,’ she says.

So easily, I wonder. ‘You’ll not find many the likes of him,’ I say for Vladimir is the best of our young man, and often I had wished my own sons were like him in beauty and in strength.

‘I loved him, but life holds no hardship for me. You pity me my rags and herbs, but I am free and have no wish to marry another.’

‘You only wanted him?’

‘Yes.’

‘And you were prepared to drown my daughter to get him?’

‘No.’ She says this quietly and evenly. There is authority in her tone.

‘You can have him now that he is free again.’

‘Perhaps. Perhaps our time is over.’

‘And Vladimir, what was he prepared to do to keep you?’

‘I believe he found it more of an honor to be the son-in-law of a rich man than to keep the love of a poor girl.’

I see. This girl is different. She is stronger than the rest. I need time to think.

‘We will speak more on it,’ I say. Rising, she slides out of the room soundlessly.