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.

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.’

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.

The Burial chapter 7

I did not become the next Shamanka, I did not become the next leader. I lived in her house alone, with no husband and no children, only the horses, and I thought about the things she had said, and spent many days and nights thinking about them. I did not understand her well. I thought about what my life would have been like if she had not come to our mountains, and I thought about what it would have been like if she had lived. I stayed away from the world of men for a long time, until no one looked in on me, and the people forgot about me. One day, I had the urge to make something from wood. I did not know what it would be, only when I was well along, I realized I would put on the hat of the storyteller and tell her tales, the ones of Hellenes, and of the Seles, of Gotama and of the terrible things I had seen and lived through. The horses had listened to my stories, repeated many times to aid with the remembrance, listened with their ears back, but they were not the ones who needed to hear them, because they were already whole and had their own wisdom.