Mitar called me to him and said he and I would go to the girl’s house and see what was what for ourselves. He was expressionless and it was impossible to know what was on his mind. I thought, I’ll tell him about the Bee Girl now and have done with it, but then I will be censured for letting things go this far. I knew him to be a temperamental man, and decided perhaps it would be best to wait until it was certain the girl was doomed. It was just as likely he would come to his own conclusions.
But when we entered the poor hut where she lived, we saw an old woman sitting, nearly frozen, under a pile of leaves near a hearth that had burned out. She was half starved, and Mitar reached under his cloak and gave her a loaf of bread he had with him. She looked at him through milky eyes, and moved her toothless gums to speak, but had lost the words. I looked at the hut and the aromatic herbs and dried flowers that hung from the rafters, and it was as sweet smelling as any meadow in spring. The old woman reached for Mitar’s hand and made to kiss it, but he took pity on her and taking off his cloak put it around her. It was fine, and I was sorry to see it go though he had many such.
‘Where is your child, Old Mother?’ he asked. But the woman was too old and weak to speak. In my mind, I saw a series of images that passed through her memory and if she had been speaking, she would have said the following:
‘She drowned long ago, fine sir. They say the Rusalke saw her beauty and pulled her down to live with them under the waters. But my girl was pure of heart and as filled with light as any that walked this earth. Nay, they would not want her. Someone put her there; someone who saw that light and wanted it for himself.
‘I raised the girl, her daughter, to be a sturdier kind. But her heart is pure as well, and when evil falls on the people, they will seek to snuff out the light, as that girl, Morana, who has none of her own, chose to do. The others will turn their heads away, they will speak with lying tongues and feel righteous and pure, and all the while, they know they are doing wrong, as they did when they let the death of my daughter go unpunished.’
The Lord Mitar heard her as well, and clicked his tongue, but he did not say what he was thinking, save to order me to see the old woman was looked after. But as we were leaving, we saw someone standing in the shadows, and Mitar called him out. It was the man they called Vladimir, the one who had been the lover of Yasna.
‘I’ve brought the old woman some food,’ he said, holding up a bundle for us to see. Mitar nodded and asked, ‘You believe in the innocence of the woman. You seem to care for her still, but you gave her up for the one who is dead. Why is that I wonder?’
Vladimir looked at Mitar straight in the eyes. ‘It is said that I am greedy for riches, and the patronage of Yaroslav, but that is not the reason why. Yasna is a free woman and will never never be able to settle into a domestic life. There is too much of her to contain, and though I loved her and care for her still, I would never make her my wife. I did not understand this at the beginning, but only later did the idea grow in me.’
I could see Mitar was intrigued by this though he remained silent. He mounted his horse and we rode away. I thought we would retire for the night, but he said we had one more stop to make.