Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)
From the stars will they return to the Earth
As they were walking toward the house, where their great- grandson Nikodim was waiting for them, Liubomila said:
“I think, Radomir, that we should now begin a brand new game with our little great-grandson — the game of life.”
“What kind of a game is that?” Radomir asked in surprise. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’ve never played it either. But I learnt about it back in my childhood, when I happened to overhear two old wise-men talking with each other. The gist of the game is this: one person plays out all the different stages of life with a child, while the other recalls in detail, as fast as he can, everything he has known in his lifetime, and imparts this knowledge mentally to the child. And if the thought of the narrator is clear, the child memorises the story through his subconscious. And when he grows up, he finds all sorts of hints about life within himself.”
“Who d’you think should lead the playing with our great- grandson, Liubomila?”
“You do that, Radomir, while I tell him the story through my thought.”
“But how will you be able to impart to him all the wisdom of life in just one hour? After all, it’ll be time to put Nikodim to bed in an hour from now”
“I shall manage. You just start the game, and mark off the different stages of life with a clap of your hands.”
Four-year-old Nikodim ran to meet them, his arms open wide. Radomir caught him and gave him a toss in the air. Then he set him back down on the ground and began to say: “I recently heard tell of an interesting game. Would you like to play it?”
“I would,” answered Nikodim. “But how is it played?”
“I shall name something from life in words, and you tell us what it’s about without words, using actions and gestures. And Grandmother will watch you act it out.”
“Terrific!” exclaimed Nikodim, as he started jumping for joy on the spot. “Let’s start playing it right away.”
“Okay, let’s begin,” said Radomir, clapping his hands. And he went on: “Once upon a time there was born into the world a little boy named Nikodim. He was just a wee little baby back then.”
The boy at once lay down on the ground, flung out his hands and bent his little legs at the knees. “Waa, waa...” he bawled, imitating a baby
Radomir clapped his hands and continued:
“In time the baby began to get up on his little feet and walk.” Whereupon Nikodim at once got up on his feet, and took a step as though it were his first, staggered a bit, and then dropped down to all fours. He crawled along for a metre or so and then got up again. But this time he was already walking steadily
Another clap, and Radomir went on:
“The little one’s interest connected with everything: he inspected the bugs, and the grass, and tried to detect how apples grew on trees. He reflected on why the Sun came up and why he felt so warmly affected by everything both in summertime and when winter came.”
Little Nikodim bent over to inspect a bug creeping over the grass, he looked up at the sky and jumped for joy, then all at once ran over to his grandfather, put his arms around the old man’s legs, then he dashed over to his grandmother, who was sitting on the grass. Clasping her around the neck, he pressed his cheek against hers and gave her a kiss.
Radomir again clapped his hands and said:
“One day it happened that all the people left their domains. They did not travel along the roads, and where they were going was not heard. Perhaps they flew away like the birds, on their way to the stars.
“Then into the domain, where the little one had been left alone, came a foe who burns houses and hacks down orchards with an axe.”
Little Nikodim listened to his great-grandfather’s frightening tale. This time he stood motionless, without attempting actions or gestures, and finally said:
“I don’t like this game. That should never happen in life.” “Yes, in life it shouldn’t, you are right,” Radomir replied to his great-grandson. “But this is a game, after all.”
“Well, I shan’t play it!” The boy stamped his little feet and cried out: “/ shan’t/”
“I’ll take over,” declared Liubomila, getting up from the ground. “When the little one caught sight of the foe, he called over the bear that he had played with when still just a wee mite. He took hold of the nape of the bear’s neck, just as he had always done. He grasped hold of the bear’s fur with all his might, and the bear lumbered off with him into the woods.” With these words Liubomila called out in the direction of a little grove of trees where their household animals lived: “Hey there, brown bear, come over to me! Come on, come on, as quick as can be!”
Out from the grove emerged the bear and bounded over to Liubomila. When he came up beside her, she began stroking its muzzle. Then she whispered something in its ear. She tousled the fur on its shoulder, then, grasping hold of it with her hands, sprang onto its back.
“Hey, giddy-up!” she called to the bear.
The bear ran around in a wheel formation with all his might, until halted by Liubomila.
“But why would our great-grandson go off to the forest on a bear, and not on a horse?” asked Radomir, and Liubomila replied:
“Of course, a steed could go faster than a bear over the fields, but a horse would be helpless indeed in the woods, while the bear will find food and shelter there. Besides, in the woods the bear will offer the best protection. So there’s your answer. Let’s go on with the game...
“So, the bear ran off into the forest and hid the child there from the foe. He took care of him until the boy grew up to be a man.
“When he had grown, one day the young lad caught sight of a girl in the forest, who had come to pick berries in a glade. They liked each other right off, and later got married. They found a spot on the ground which would be hidden from malevolent eyes, they built a domain and began to bear children. And all their relatives who had flown off to the stars long ago, came back to the Earth.”
As he drifted off to sleep, little Nikodim thought about the game, but he did not find it entertaining.
During this time Liubomila and Radomir walked about their family domain and recalled the life they had lived there. It had been a thoroughly joyful experience.
Liubomila laughed like a child when Radomir tried to portray her as a little girl standing amidst the tall grass.
“D’you recall? You remember how you called out back then that I was a good-for-nothing, ’cause I had raised the hem of your dress? I dried your tears with your dress, and you talked about being dishonoured.”
“Yes, I remember it all,” his wife responded, laughing. “But I thought of something just now: you could have dried my tears with the edge of your shirt.”
“I was a smart boy, I was. I decided: why soil and mess my shirt, when I was going to have to wash out your dress in any case?” “Yes, you were a smart boy But still, you did lift up the hem of my dress, you good-for-nothing!... Oh, look at our spot, the wedding mound! New flowers have come up. And look how tall and majestic the cedar has grown! It was so small when we planted it on our wedding day.”
Liubomila pressed the palm of her hand to the trunk and rested her cheek against it. She stood there without saying a word. Radomir, as love-struck as ever, put his arms around her shoulders as before and said:
“Where shall we sleep tonight — here or in the house?” “Wherever you say, my darling.”
The next morning a detachment of fifty soldiers entered the domain. With them were two monks dressed in black. The soldiers saw an old man standing by the cedar, and an old woman beside him, her back pressed against his. Each of them held two swords in their hands.
“Ifou see?” the elder monk called out to the soldiers. “You see the infidels standing there? These infidels have borne children. Don’t use your arrows — hack them to pieces with your swords.”
Two warriors approached the elderly couple from different sides, their swords raised. They tried to land a blow, but Radomir managed to turn back the foe and disarm one of the warriors with his sword. And Liubomila warded off the attack against her. Then the old people repelled a second attack, then a third. After that the soldiers began fighting with each of them by twos. But Radomir had two swords in his hands, which flashed like lightning. He warded off both attacks simultaneously, but did not shed the soldiers’ blood.
The grey-haired Liubomila laughed as she, too, repelled both attacks on her.
“Everyone step back,” shouted the elder monk. “They are being helped by an unclean force! Everyone step back. Everybody shoot at them with your bows.”
Those wielding the swords retreated. Others prepared their bows, but as soon as they had reached for their bowstrings the old couple threw down their swords, turned to each other and embraced. Radomir whispered something to Liubomila, and she smiled in response.
“What’re you waiting for? Shoot!” shrieked the monk. “They are infidels! You have been sent by God! Shoot or Ell curse you!”
One arrow went into Liubomila and two into Radomir. But as though they did not feel any pain, the old couple still stood there embracing as before.
The arrows flew. The ground was covered in blood. And Liubomila and Radomir slowly sank down, or perhaps they flew off to the stars. As their bodies lay on the ground, the elder monk, the priest’s emissary, looked into their faces and said to himself: They were not thinking about death as death approached. Their thoughts were of life. Their faces show no fear nor sorrow. What must be done to prevent them from being reincarnated again? He stood there in fear, feverishly trying to come up with a solution.
All at once behind his back rose a murmur of agitation. The monk turned around and saw six soldiers lying dead on the ground beneath the apple tree. Each of their hands was clutching an apple core.
The monk knew right away what had happened. The high priest’s emissary knew that the Vedruss orchards produced marvellous fruit, but it could only be eaten when the garden’s owner gave it of his own free will. The Vedruss people treated their trees and flowers as living beings, which repaid them with their love. When the trees and flowers saw how strangers acted toward the people who had bestowed their love upon them, the apple tree called up other juices from the depths of its roots and infested its fruits with an extremely strong poison.
“Don’t touch it! Don’t eat anything here!” cried the monk. “I told you, this is a devil’s tribe, and the place here is unclean. I command you in the name of the Almighty to cut down eve-rything, but everything, here.”
“Look!” yelled one of the soldiers. “Look over there!”, waving his hand in the direction of the entrance to the domain.
Everybody turned to see a bear heading out of the domain by leaps and bounds. On top of it, clinging on to its far, rode a little boy. The bear rushed out of the domain and made a headlong dash for the woods.
‘After them! Go get them!” shrieked the monk. “Don’t come back until you have hacked the little vermin to pieces.”
Lie knew that if even one of the Vedruss people escaped, their whole line could be regenerated on the Earth. But he did not tell this to the soldiers. To them he simply kept referring to the ‘will of God’.
“Go get ’em! God commands you to rout out everything unclean from the Earth! Aou see how unclean it is here?!”
The detachment’s commander ordered a dozen soldiers to follow the bear, catch up to it and kill the boy The soldiers jumped on their steeds and headed out after the bear at a gallop.
In the meantime the bear was bounding quickly toward the forest. But it could not keep up such a feverish pace for long. And the pursuers, galloping as they were at full speed, were gradually catching up. The distance between the bear and the horsemen slowly but surely narrowed. They were only about a hundred metres from the forest when one of the pursuers caught up. Racing alongside, he raised his sword to kill the child. But the bear suddenly rose on its hind paws and took the blow on itself. The horse with the rider struck out to one side and reared. In the meantime, the wounded bear continued streaking toward the forest. Now it had a mere fifty metres to go, but by this time the detachment of horsemen had almost caught up, swords in their hands at the ready
But then all at once the soldiers noticed another horseman, this one all on his own, heading out from the woods directly toward them. An old man was sitting with ease in the saddle, his grey hair and beard waving in the breeze. Each of his hands brandished a sword, while he controlled his steed with his legs alone.
“Giddy-up! Giddy-up!” the old man called, and spurred on his horse which was already moving at an incredible gallop.
“He’s ready to fight us. Make ready for battle with this crazy old man!” the detachment commander shouted to the rest.
“But he’s all alone, and there’re ten of us,” a warrior protested. “He’s just an old man, what’s there to be afraid of? We need to get on with the chase!”
“Tes, he’s alone, but he’s a Vedrussl Make ready for battle, whoever’s not a timid goose!”
The elderly attacker on his steed galloped around the de-tachment of horsemen. With his swords he managed to disarm the two outer warriors and cut the saddle-girth from two of the horses, at which point his own extraordinary steed was wounded by an arrow.
But the old fellow did not direct his wounded steed toward the forest, but galloped along the edge of the woods, causing the whole detachment to pursue this course as well. When they got to the lone pine tree at the edge of the forest, his horse stumbled and the rider fell. The old man jumped up from the ground and started running toward the pine. He was looking for something in the grass at the time the detachment caught up with him.
The pine tree took seven arrows in its chest, but the eighth pierced Arga’s breast. The thrown Vedruss rider lay on the ground, but did not groan. A stream of blood flowed from his chest. The pine tree, being wooden, could not lament the wound, while Arga’s thought rose to the heavens in a state of doom:
I don’t ask for myselfany reincarnation,
But I give them my thought for their future creation,
To add to their joy and their great inspiration.
Get together, reincarnate, and live without end,
Radomir, Liubomila: I’m no foe, but your friend!
The Vedruss lay there on the ground, but did not utter a sound. Even in his weakened state, he was still able to press a little statue of his beloved to his breast.
“Good shall prevail!” he whispered to his beloved, almost in a wail. And the wooden pine tree wept. A rather strange-looking pitch began showing itself, flowing down its trunk.
All at once the Vedruss opened his eyes and his vision was clear. And, barely able to enunciate the words, he blurted out:
Don’t be sad, little pine tree, it’s all nonsense here.
My thought will break through these bad times of barbarity.
Once more there will flourish bright ages of clarity.
To all earthly goddesses the morn will give hail
And my thought will imply to them: Good shallprevail!
The soldiers on their steeds did not succeed in catching up to the boy on the bear. They tried to penetrate the forest, but the forest did not turn out to be a friendly place for them. Their steeds began snorting in fear, and no clear path under their feet remained. The soldiers returned and explained to the monk that the boy had been slain.
A few years went by, and people began to say that while they were mushroom-picking in the woods, they caught sight of a boy about ten or older. He would peer at them from the bushes, but seemed afraid to come near. And there was always an old lame bear with him.
Some time later, two young boys got lost in the forest and became frightened. A youth came toward them and gestured them to follow him. He led them to the edge of the woods, right to the road which led to their settlement, while he himself retreated once more into his forest hiding place. After this incident people stopped being afraid of the forest youth. And when, a year later, he headed out of the woods one day toward a group of young lasses gathering berries in the glade, the girls were not afraid of him and did not run away.
The youth was blue-eyed and of slender build. He was dressed in clothing woven from grasses. He stood at the edge of the glade. One lass in particular caught his eye, whose name was Praskovia. In truth, he could not take his eyes off her, and everyone suddenly stopped picking berries and stared at the youth.
Then very slowly, so as not to frighten them, he took several steps toward the group of girls, and stopped. Seeing that the maidens were not running away and were not afraid of him, he approached young Praskovia, stood facing her, smoothed out his hair and blurted out, though not without some stumbling:
“Together with you, my fair maiden, I could create a Space of Love to last forever!”
Praskovia had absolutely no idea as to what these words meant, but for some reason her cheeks flushed with a rosy glow and she began to talk with the young lad.
“Where do you live?” she asked. “Everybody says you live in the forest, all on your own.”
“For the time being I live on the Earth alone,” replied the youth.
‘Alone? But where are your parents, then? No one exists without some kind of family.”
“They are living. My father and mother, and elder brothers, and my sisters. And my grandfather Radomir, and my grandmother Liubomila.”
‘And where do they dwell? In the forest as well?”
“They have flown way up high to the stars in the sky. They will come back down to the Earth from afar when I have found my intended. I shall create and form a Space of Love all around, and this is where our children will be born.”
“But how will you look for your intended in the forest?”
“I shall not need to look — she has already been found.” ‘And who is she?”
“TOM, my maiden — you are the most splendid of all. I ask you now to come with me to my Space, which I have already begun to create. I shall build a house, but... there are just a few tools I need to get. Not having them yet, I have constructed a shelter in the meantime. I have been observing from afar how it is done.”
The maidens whispered amongst themselves and made fun of the youth. By this time they had become quite unafraid.
Praskovia did not answer his proposal right away, but withdrew to her group of maidens. The young man stood a little apart, looked to the sky and opened his arms wide, as though apologising to someone, then slowly turned and headed away from the glade.
A hush fell over the maidens. Praskovia watched him depart and then all at once called out loudly and confidently to the youth:
“Wait for me here tomorrow. I’ll steal the tools you need from my father as a dowry”
The youth quickly turned around, and ran over to Praskovia. The maidens saw him smile for the first time. And all their cheeks flushed with a rosy glow. The young man’s smile was extraordinary, and his eyes were beaming all the while.
“How handsome he is! Too bad he didn’t pick me!” whispered one of the girls.
“I’m ready to go with him, too,” another announced all of a sudden.
In the meantime the young man said to Praskovia, not seeing anyone around:
“Tou mustn’t steal. That is not a kind deed.”
“I was only joking. My father will be glad to give me anything I need.”
From that point on, nobody ever again laid eyes on the pair — they saw neither the forest youth nor the maiden Praskovia, who had gone off with him to goodness-knows-where.