Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)
Not Radomir’s last battle
Many happy years went by By now their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were living in domains of their own. But Radomir and Liubomila’s love was as strong as ever. Even though their hair had gone grey, they grew happier with each passing year.
Radomir stood alone at the entrance to his domain. He looked at the road which led toward a little hillock and disappeared behind it. It was along this road that his sons and grandsons had headed off to battle two days ago. Even his teen-age grandsons had gone.
The enemy that lay ahead of them was most unusual. A prince had brought some sort of people from a foreign country who were all dressed in black and, for some reason, called themselves monks. In each settlement they visited, they declared that the entire populace had not been living a proper way of life, that their ancient beliefs and rites needed to be eradicated and that they should bow down to a different god.
The prince himself bowed down to it, as did his entourage and armed garrison. No sooner had the prince adopted a different faith than the men in black proclaimed his authority as coming from God.
Along with the men in black came soldiers dressed like those in the prince’s garrison. They attacked each settlement in turn, demanding that everybody think differently about what they called ‘God’. When they found people unwilling to bow down to the foreign ‘God’, they killed them with the sword and burnt their houses and orchards.
The tribal elders held a council to decide what to do. They called the monks and the prince before the council, but these only spoke to them of the ‘higher good’ their new ‘God’ would bring, thereby misleading them with a doctrine nobody could make head nor tail of. The elders were encountering a phenomenon they had never seen before. Whenever an out-and- out enemy had attacked the settlement before, men from all the families quickly formed a militia and collaborated in driving the foe from the land.
But here were monks carrying on about ‘love’ and ‘meekness’ — about ‘blessings’, and the marvellous life in Paradise awaiting anyone who submitted themselves to the new faith.
What the elders did not at first understand was that hiding behind the shield of these beautiful words was an entity which had definitely not been sent to them by God.
The God of the Vedruss people used no swords. The monks, on the other hand, were backed up by aggressive armed garrisons. Residents in some of the communities headed off to the woods, while others joined battle. Some immersed themselves in deep contemplation.
That day at dawn Radomir witnessed the departure of his grandsons from his own domain and his sons from neighbouring domains. They met at Radomir’s domain early in the morning, as though they had planned it among themselves the night before.
Of course, they planned this, Radomir decided. After all, just the night before, his and Liubomila’s eldest son had said:
“Tomorrow we’re heading out for some war games. We shall learn how to keep enemies from invading our lands.”
They departed, but still had not returned by the next day’s sunset. And old Radomir kept watching the road.
Before long, a lone horseman emerged from behind the hillock, heading toward Radomir’s domain at full gallop. On the spirited steed another grey-haired oldster, not unlike
Radomir himself, sat skilfully in the saddle. Squinting his eyes, Radomir recognised his old childhood friend Arga.
The grey-haired horseman climbed down from his steed with a groan and quickly began questioning Radomir:
“Who’s left in your domain? Only talk fast.”
“Liubomila’s working on supper and our youngest great- grandson is after her with questions,” Radomir calmly replied, adding: “It’s strange, Arga, how you started asking me a question right off, without even saying hello.”
“No time, I’m in a hurry. Get two horses right away, bring along Liubomila and provisions for three days, and bring your great-grandson with you, and come with me immediately.” “Whereto?”
“To the woods, to the Drevlians. There’s one family there I know fairly well that will give us shelter. No foe will find us there in the dense forest. Perhaps the people will come to their senses as time goes by. Save your great-grandson, Radomir, and you’ll save your family line.”
‘And here I thought you’d galloped over to help me, Arga. I see two Vedruss swords tied to your saddle. What do you need them for, if you’re planning to hide out from our enemies tonight in some place in the woods?”
“The swords are just in case. I’m not about to fight anyone. Besides, there’s a whole horde of them — we’d be utterly routed. What’s the point of dying thoughtlessly like that?”
“Yes, I know, Arga. You never fought with anyone. You never even tried to join in any of the manly games at Maslenitsa time.”
“That’s beside the point. You and I both know, Radomir, that Man’s life may be eternal, that his soul may be reincarnated in turn in an earthly form. But for that to happen, Man must not reflect on death as death approaches, but instead direct his thought toward a marvellous future. Where his thought is to be found, there will Man be regenerated anew.” “I know all that, Arga. You and I were both taught together by the wise-men.”
“Then you ought to recall, Radomir, that you can fall and be fatally wounded in battle, and be deprived of the opportunity to think about your reincarnation.”
“I remember, but, again, Arga, I cannot leave my family domain. It is alive, and it won’t understand if its friend and master suddenly betrays with disdain the Space which has given him its love and abandons it to be torn apart by an enemy.” “‘It is alive, and it won’t understand'!’ You’ve always been overly sentimental, Radomir, and you still are today Well, then, stay if you like. Go ahead and stay”
Arga paced quickly back and forth, gave his horse’s mane a bit of a tousle, and again came over to Radomir. The two grey-headed oldsters stood facing each other without a word. Nobody can ever say what made their hearts beat back then — perhaps each was immersed in a whole range of thoughts of his own. Once more it was Arga who was the first to break the silence, as he began entreating with noticeable agitation.
“Stay, if that’s what you’ve decided, Radomir. But... but... do give me Liubomila and your great-grandson, and one of your steeds. At least let them depart and save themselves.
Stay yourself, if you like, if you are unwilling to part from your living Space.”
Radomir gazed at his friend and replied:
“You can ask Liubomila about that yourself, Arga. I know you’ve loved her all your life. That was why you could never marry any other girl and set up your own family domain.” “Who? Me? I loved her? That’s utter nonsense!” Arga exclaimed, as all at once he started pacing again, as though trying to persuade himself of the truth of his claim. “I’m an artist, and all my life my aim has always been to draw designs and carve small statues. What would I need a wife for? I’m your friend, and my intent was to help you save and extend your family line. As for Liubomila, I’d quite forgot about her.” “You are an artist, Arga, and a great one. And an ace of a wood-carver — the best around. Your little statues grace many of the houses in these settlements. And doesn’t everybody concur that all the women you draw have a face resembling Liubomila’s! Your carvings, too, look like her.”
uLook like her? So what of it? It’s just that I’ve tried to perfect a certain type of face in my pictures.”
“You’ve taken pains to hide your love all your life, Arga,” Radomir maintained. ‘And now you’re hiding it again. I was at the pine tree which remains all by itself at the edge of the forest. I know you often liked to sit beneath it and carve your little statues. I recently came upon your hiding- place there, where you’ve stowed away your latest unfinished work — the one that shows a beautiful maiden taming a hot- tempered steed. That is something only Liubomila could do, as is known to both of us, me and you.”
“I loved, I didn’t love, I carved, I drew. That’s beside the point — it’s not what we’re about now, do try to understand.” Then, after a brief pause, Arga exclaimed, almost shouting: “Radomir! Radomir, all your sons have been slain in battle, and all your grandsons too!”
Radomir maintained his outward calm, looked at Arga but refrained from speaking.
“Save yourself!” Arga continued to exclaim. “I saw them before the battle. I tried to dissuade them from joining such an uneven fray "four eldest son, your first-born, he’s made just like you, an exact copy, in fact...”
“Stop beating around the bush, Arga!” Radomir entreated his childhood friend, though showing no outward signs of concern. “Tell me, what did my eldest son say?”
“He said: ‘We’ll join the fray. We’ll manage to hold off those ‘black monks’ at least for an hour or two.’ I asked your son: ‘Why should you die in strife? What good are those couple of hours to you?’
“‘Our whole family decided this in a council meeting,’ your eldest son replied. He said: ‘May our parents, Radomir and Liubomila, enjoy at least two more hours of a happy life.’ “Even though they were greatly outnumbered by the ‘black monks’ and their soldiers, your sons, along with some children from the next settlements away, managed to stave them off for a whole day. Eventually the monks slayed the children, hacking them to pieces, then went back to their lair again. Tomorrow morning they’ll start heading for your domain.”
Radomir listened to his friend but gave no response. Arga continued, agitatedly:
“I galloped over here to help you save your family line. You and I both know that reincarnation on the Earth is possible. But this way there will be a finer chance of being reincarnated in a body of a family member. Only your great-grandson this time is capable of extending the family line. Let me have Liubomila and your great-grandson, I’ll help...”
All of a sudden Arga stumbled in his speech and paused. He began to peek past Radomir. Radomir turned and looked. Behind him, resting against a tree, stood Liubomila. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. A trembling hand was clasped to her breast.
“Did you hear what Arga said?” Radomir asked Liubomila.
“Yes, I heard,” she replied with a trembling voice.
“So why are you crying, Liubomila?” Radomir went over to her and began stroking her hair and kissing her hand. “Our children have surrendered their lives so that we can thrive one more day here in gladness. It is not right for us to spend it in sadness.”
“No, it is not,” smiled Liubomila through her tears.
“You are bright, my dear wife. You have gained the wisdom of the wise-men more mightily than anyone else. Think about how best the remainder of the day, the night and the morning, should be spent.”
“I think, so as to do right by the children, we should enter into our Space of Love. Our grandson is there in need — it is time to feed him.”
And, taking each other’s hand, they headed for the entrance to their family domain.
Arga climbed into the saddle and cried out as they walked off:
“You’re both mindless, sentimental old fools! YDU ought to save yourselves. Ifou’re not in a position to fight with anyone. If you’re wounded, it’s possible you might not succeed in sending a thought into space about your reincarnation. I’m getting out of here. I’m going to save myself. I recommend you do the same.”
At the entrance to the domain, Radomir turned around and responded to his old friend:
“Save yourself, Arga. Gallop off to your hiding-place in the forest. We are tracing a different path to salvation.”
Arga spurred on his steed, which rose on its hind legs and galloped off to the forest at full speed.