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Vila

Vila Yerina, Vila Angelina and Vila Raviyoyla dropped down from the large cumulus cloud that they had ridden over the mountain. The cloud was commandeered by Yerina, for she was the fairy of the sky and rain. Yerina had pale white hair that looked silvery in the light and wore a white gossamer dress that hid her cloven feet. Her face was lovely and young, though she was as old as the earth itself.

Next to her sat Vila Angelina, who was the fairy of the waters. Her hair was black but shone blue like her sea blue eyes, and the dress she wore was layered and flowed like water, cerulean, azure and turquoise. The other Vila, Raviyoyla lived in the mountain forest. Her blond hair shone green, she was tall and proud and her dress cascaded like leaves from darkest to palest green. She played the harp to entertain them as they rode over the land and sang in dulcet tones that were sweeter than any other.

The three Vile jumped off the cloud and flew through the air to the place where they were to meet their leader, Yerisavlya, who commanded the great waters of the Danube and Sava Rivers. Yerisavlja was the eldest and at times her hair and eyes appeared green and sometimes blue or gray, and were as changeable as her mood. Her dress was liquid silk, and she walked so rapidly as to seem to be floating.

Yerina saw that their sacred circle contained rubbish and tins, left over from some careless humans’ picnic. She clicked her tongue, annoyed and said, ‘In the olden days, humans knew to respect our sacred circles.’

The other Vile nodded in agreement. The land had changed since they had been created in a shower of rain by their father the Wind and their mother the Sea. At first they had been alone in the forests and the mountains along with the animals who were right in all things.

The people had come slowly and had been so helpless that the Vile had taken pity on them and taught them to domesticate animals and plow, to sow crops and harvest them, to plant orchards and build dwellings. They prophesied and healed the sick, but most of all they taught the people to respect the forests, the land, the mountains and waters that nourished them. The people had listened, and all had been well.

The Vile heard from their father the Wind that there were places to the West where the people had forgotten about the great cycles of nature and how to live in harmony with the land and creatures on it. They had built great factories that belched smoke into the air and polluted the rivers. The Wind said there the people had been driven off the land by their lords and herded into towns where they were poor and sad since they had lost their place on earth.

But the Vile lived in a small country that was beautiful and far removed from all that strife, where people still farmed, and the forests and rivers teemed with abundant life. Sometimes the humans that lived there were naughty, especially the young men, and did harm to nature, and so the Vile would band together to teach them lessons they would never forget.

The Vile were beautiful, and when they appeared to a man and sang to him in their sweet voices, he would follow them wherever they led. And so the Vile would take him to their scared groves where their festivities were underway, and they would drink and dance for years at a time. But then tiring of their games, they would disappear, and the man, awakening, would realize that so much time had passed that he had lost everything he valued in life. Sometimes they would curse humans and make them ill, and rarely, they would shoot their poisoned arrows at the worst transgressors. But mostly, the people were good, and the Vile were good to them in turn.

 

The Vile heard that the people of the West had fanned out to all corners of the Earth and conquered the people of distant lands. They mined those lands for ore and jewels and chopped down trees, tampering with the order of things, the cycles of life and death, until there were too many people on Earth and nature was out of balance.

‘Man lives better, in big houses, with plenty of food and leisure time,’ the people of the West said.

But the Wind said, ‘The people have forgotten the land is alive, forgotten the feel of the breeze in the trees, forgotten to appreciate simple things. Some eat well, while others go hungry. Some want more than they could ever use or desire.’

The people of the West let their leaders claim new lands. They had pride in the riches their countries acquired.

One day, the Northern tribes became envious of of the West. They claimed that they too were entitled to strangers’ lands. And so a great war broke out and engulfed the land of the Vilas. The Vilas watched the men of their country go off to the battlefield where they met a prepotent force. The Vilas saw that their men had only rifles and bayonets while the army of the North had heavy guns and vast numbers.

The Vilas remembered their warrior past when they had helped their people rise and repel a mighty invader who had conquered and ruled their land for five hundred years, and so they marshaled their forces. Vila Yerina appeared as an eagle in the sky and calling the clouds, threw thunderbolts on the Northern Army until they were mired in the mud and rain. Then Raviyoyla appeared on a winged stag accompanied by her army of wolves, shooting arrows into the enemy number. Yerisavlya turned into a great water snake and raised the level of the rivers so the enemy could not cross. But the enemy was stronger, and half the men of their country perished.

The Wind blew from the West and said it was worse there, the best young men had fought for years and years, and millions had died in the trenches and the mud, driven to madness by the horrors they had witnessed.

‘Kuku lele,’ the Vile lamented. But surely, they thought, after this terrible time there will be no more wars. They helped the women of the county bury the dead and resume the rhythms of life, the sowing, and tending, and harvest of good things. A new generation of people sprang to life. All was well in their country, and they prospered and remembered to take good care of the land which they had been given.

Then one day the Wind came and announced the terrible news, the Northern armies were amassing again, and this time they would wreak vengeance such as had never been seen across the earth. Vila Angelina looked into her crystal waters and saw a great pestilence was going to come upon the land. She saw the armies of the North move south and east and decimate the people, stealing from them and despoiling their lands. And then she saw the black oil in the desert lands which the Northern army desired to wrest from the West, which had claimed it first. And Angelina shuddered because she knew that greed had no boundaries, and that all values were lost.

The Vile saw the weapons of the Northern Force and knew their arrows were nothing, and their armies of wolves were fragile, and so they hid their animals deep in the forest, and readied themselves to help their people with sage advice. But the people grew foolish and fought each other instead. The Vile could not help them, and so they turned into eagles, and swans, and deer, and waited for the few to call them, the few to whom they would appear with consoling dreams and visions of light.

When the war was finished, and the land were devastated, and the people had lost many of their number, there came a group of men who promised a bright future, and the Vile readied themselves for service. But the men did not believe in Vile and taught the young to despise their magic, and their own land, and all the customs that had defined them. There was no place for the Vile, and so they withdrew to their mountains and pools where humans saw them no more.

The Vile were happy, their land was beautiful, their springs clean, their mountains forested. They had their own life, their amusements, and their pets: the wolves, and bears, and deer, and all went on as before. They had reconciled themselves to exile when the Wind appeared and said he had seen that the armies of the North and of the West had united and were going to fall up their land.

‘Yoy, yoy,’ the Vile lamented, ‘but what for?’

Then the Wind explained that the West and North had gown greedier and wanted to rule the desert lands of oil, and chop down the trees of all the great forests in the New World, and Africa, and Siberia and extract minerals from those lands, as well. They sought to expand their markets, and their businesses, and their banks around the world. The Vilas climbed off their mountaintops and listened to their people, and heard their people were reluctant to join the North and West because they did not want others to decide their fate, and work for nothing, and allow their lands to be occupied and exploited. And so they were to be punished, and the West and North came and caused so much trouble that the people turned on each other. Then the West and North pretended the people were to blame, and rained down bombs on the land for months. At the end, the people were divided and the West ruled their lands and built a military base on them which they would use to invade the lands of oil and beyond.

The Vile thought that life would return to its old cycles like it always had, but something had happened, and they saw that all was not well, and that the bombs contained a poison that made the land, and the waters, and the animals and people ill. The Vile tried to clean the poison up with their magic spells but saw they were weak against it and that eons would pass before it disappeared.

One day Vila Katarina, who lived on the Adriatic Shore came to their parts and called the Vile to a meeting. Angelina, Raviyoyla, Yerina and Yerisavlja called the other Vile in turn, and they assembeld in the sacred grove.

‘Sisters,’ Katerina said, ‘There are men from the West on my coast. I have heard them say they have come to buy our land and our mineral waters. They will charge silver for the water and ducats for the use of the coast.’

The Vile muttered to themselves until Yerisavlja came up with a plan. ‘Sisters, we are beautiful still. We will capture these men with our lovely charms and see what they intend for our land.’

And so Yerina called the clouds and they rode to the coast where they saw a contingent of fat, sunburnt men eating, and drinking, and laughing loudly. The Vile shuddered in disgust but descended and gathered themselves on the stone terrace of the hotel which overlooked the sea. They cast a spell over the staff and guests and sent them into a deep and pleasant sleep. Then they sat at a table next to the men and Vila Yerina brought them food and wine from the kitchen. The Vile spoke in their dulcet tones and soon the men were mesmerized for they had never seen such lovely women before. They texted their friends and some put photos on facebook and then they asked the Vile over for a drink.

The men introduced themselves, there was Hans -Dieter, Horst, Scott, Mike, Steve and Jeff. An older man named Bob seemed to be their leader. ‘And what are your names?’ Bob asked.

‘Irene,’ said Yerina for she suddenly found she had the ability to speak English.

‘Katherine,’ said Katerina. ‘Angelina,’ said the Vila by the same name. Ravijojla said her name was Sunshine and Yerisavlja thought her name might have something to do with a river in spring, so she called herself, Lynne.

‘Well, well,’ said Bob, pouring wine for the Vile. The Vile waited for the strangers to sing to them and to dance their manly dances. They waited for compliments and poetry to begin, but the men did not know the customs of the land. They took out their i-phones and texted, they talked about business and tried to impress the Vile by mentioning their sports cars (‘Pooh, we can fly,’ the Vile thought,) and their yachts ( but the Vile could swim underwater) and their job descriptions: venture capitalist, CFO, CEO, investment banker ( which meant nothing to the Vile).

‘But what are you doing here?’ the Vile asked.

And the men told them they were looking for investment opportunities; that they would buy the springs and bottle water for the West. And the Vile asked, ‘But will our people be able to drink the water? ‘ and the men replied, ‘Sure, if they can pay for it.’ Then the men said they would build private condominiums along the shore, and the Vile asked who would live there, and the men replied, whoever was rich enough. But the Vile worried that the people would not be able to come to the beach, and the men said, ‘We’ll allocate a small public beach for them.’ Then they talked about the abundant cheap labor to be found in the country, and the Vile looked at each other and said, ‘Kuku.’

So the Vile got out their harps and sang their ancient songs of the land and of the forest, and of the animals and the crops, but the men were bored and began texting and surfing the net. And then the Vile did their harvest dances, and their wedding dances, and their dances which would bring rain, but the men yawned and started talking amongst themselves.

And the Vile looked at each other and thought, these men of the West are hopeless. And so they cast a spell over them which lasted a hundred years and when they woke up, the Vile said, no one would know them.

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Baba Roga

Baba Roga was an old woman who lived deep in the forest. Her hut was made of twigs and leaves and stood on chickens legs. Baba Roga had no trouble finding it in the dark since it glowed bright, lit up with burning human skulls. On moonlit nights the hut would rotate this way and that and glow in the dark, because it lived in between worlds, ours and the one that had passed into the mist.

Baba Roga lived with her one eyed cat, who was huge and black and menacing. She had invisible hands to serve her and rats and roaches which did her bidding. Once in a while a human would get lost in the forest and come upon Baba Roga’s house, and Baba Roga would keep him there, trapped, until he could answer the riddles she gave him.

Baba Roga was ugly, with scraggly white hair, a bent back, one tooth in her mouth and watery eyes. She had one striped sock and one polka-dot one. On her head she wore a pointy wizard’s hat and in her knobby hand she carried a gnarled walking stick which emitted lightning when she got angry. Sometimes her cat, who was named Ivan the One Eyed, would jump out of the way when she aimed it at him, but sometimes he caught the lightning bolt and glowed blue for a week afterward.

Life was always the same for Baba Roga, she gathered acorns for her mush, she gathered firewood for her fire. No one remembered her nor cared about her. The squirrels ran up trees and hid when she came around, and the birds stopped singing. Winter was coming again, and she felt tired, and sore, and out of sorts.

One day, a handsome young man arrived on her doorstep, and she was going to ask him the usual riddles to amuse herself but soon realized he could neither hear nor speak. She pointed to the fire since he had no cloak and was thoroughly chilled. Baba Roga made acorn mush and poured some honey on it for the young man. She took a chair opposite, while Ivan jumped onto her lap, and purring, made star-fish paws. Soon the young man fell asleep and so did Baba Roga.

That night Baba Roga dreamt of the great forest, but the trees were not thin and sparse, and the sky was not cloudy, and she could not hear the incessant buzzing which had lately and persistently begun to bother her. Instead the great forest was dark and thick with trees, and she heard the rustling of animals, large and small. When she came to a clearing, she looked up at the sky and saw it was white with sparkling stars, and at the tree line she saw the yellow eyes of wolves peering at her.

In the morning the young man was gone, but Baba Roga, fit and spry, felt better than she had in years and went to the forest to collect acorns. When she got back, there was hot porridge on the stove. Baba Roga looked around, but no one was there. She clapped for the invisible hands that served her, but they had seen nothing and knew even less. Baba Roga swung a pendulum she had hanging on her mantle above the pot. It rotated clockwise, and she realized the porridge was not poisoned, though she knew no one had cause to do her in. She sat down to eat and decided that it was tasty. Afterward she fell into a deep sleep and dreamt the deer of the forest had returned. There were entire herds led by a white buck with huge antlers. In the morning, she cleaned her house for the first time in centuries with the help of the hands. When she got home from composting the trash and spiderwebs, she found a pan full of hot mushrooms, ready for her dinner.

The third day, Roga got up on her roof and patched it, and in the evening ate the vegetable soup she found on the stove. The fourth, fifth and sixth day, she tended to her garden and ate roast gourds, hazelnuts and beets. In her dreams, huge bears sat on her veranda, wolves and deer stood on her front lawn, mice and voles and rabbits burrowed in the piles of fallen leaves. Bats hung upside down from trees, birds sang all night long. Otters and beavers swam in the stream behind her house and martens, sables, mink fished in the waters.

On the seventh day, Roga, walked out of her house, and when her eyes adjusted to the bright summer light, she saw a white horse waiting for her. She lept on his back and rode through the forest, which was rich and teeming with life. Roga rode until she heard the sound of rushing water and, dismounting, ran to a clearing in the forest where a clear waterfall plunged into a deep blue pool. She dove into the water and swam to her heart’s content. The day was warm and the water cool and refreshing.

When Roga stepped out of the water, she found a robe of many colors placed on a rock. She slipped the robe over her head, and looking down into the water, saw her own refection. She stood tall and straight, her chestnut hair cascading about her shoulders. Her skin was smooth and her limbs, powerful.

The mute young man was waiting, holding the bridle of the white horse. When she got closer, she saw he was no longer a slim youth but a mature man who held a crown of antlers in his hands.

‘Rogana, horned goddess, you had the power to call the forest back to life and end all the world’s strife, all this you did in a dream, until nature was redeemed, and so I will take you for my wife and honor you with my life,’ he said, placing the crown upon her head.

Rogana took him by the hand and replied, ‘Your belief gave me the power, you fed me and now you shall wed me. But this time, man shall not be led by greed for power until all of nature is dead. And man’s bold soul will not be sold for gold but will shine, illuminated by light, before we fall asleep folding into velvet night, and join the stars so very bright.’

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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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