Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)
True love will most certainly be reciprocated
Ten years went by One day Radomir was walking through one of the regular holiday fairs with his best friend, who had the unusual name of Arga.
Arga had a flair for creating marvellous pictures and doing fantastic wood-carvings. He could fashion statues of clay that looked as though they were alive. This was a talent he had inherited from his grandfather. From his father was derived his blacksmith’s art.
The two friends took little interest in the long rows of carts with their vast array of savoury offerings. Nor was the young men’s attention attracted by the rows of assorted dishes and household utensils. In fact people did not come to the fair for any material acquisitions at all. The main attraction was talking with others, getting to know them, sharing their experiences with them.
The lads decided to head over to the place where they were getting ready for a colourful show by visiting performing artists. Suddenly they heard themselves being hailed:
“Radomir! Arga! Have you seen it yet?”
Radomir and Arga turned around to see who was calling to them. Three young men from among their community friends were standing a little distance away, engaged in animated conversation and beckoning Radomir and Arga to join them.
“Seen what?” asked Radomir as he approached.
“That extraordinary shirt,” answered one of the three. “It’s made from smooth fabric, and embroidered with very unusual ornaments. There’s probably some secret meaning in them.”
A second lad corrected him:
“The shirt’s really good, but the girl selling it is much prettier. I’ve never seen a maiden like that at any fair anywhere.”
“So, where do we find this marvel?” asked Arga.
The five boys headed over to the carts displaying jewellery and ornaments, marvellous handicrafts and fine clothing.
One cart in particular had drawn a bigger crowd than usual. Everybody was admiring an exceptionally beautiful shirt, hanging on a wooden hanger. The fabric was rippling lightly in the breeze, and people could see how different it was from the usual shirts made of coarse cloth, exuding, as it did, a feeling of lightness and tenderness. And the patterns embroidered on the collar and the sleeves were extraordinarily delicate and fanciful.
‘A pattern like that is the mark of an accomplished craftsman,” Arga said aloud in excitement.
“Never mind the pattern, squeeze your way through the crowd and see who’s sitting beside it,” said a neighbour from their settlement.
After making their way around to the other edge of the small crowd, the friends managed to approach the cart and catch a glimpse of the maiden.
Her eyes were blue as the sky, her dark blonde hair in a tight braid was tied. Her eyebrows were like two brown arches, her lips betrayed just the faintest hint of a smile. Her movements were gracious, but seemed to be entwined with some kind of energy. It was some time before the lads could take their eyes off the maiden.
“She’s clever with her tongue, too,” the tallest of them quietly observed. “She can speak in verse and comes up with witty sayings.” Another added:
“She’s kind of tender, but as aloof and inaccessible as a high cliff. Try talking with her.”
“I can’t,” answered Radomir. “She’s taken my breath away”
Arga spoke to her first:
“Tell me, fair maiden, are you the one who crafted this magnificent shirt?”
“I am,” the maiden replied without raising her eyes. “I wove this shirt to while away the boredom, to make the winter nights shorter. Sometimes I would do some embroidery at dawn.”
And what kind of price are you asking for your handiwork?” Arga enquired, so that he could keep hearing the maiden’s tuneful voice a little longer.
The maiden raised her eyes to look at the young lads and it seemed as though her gaze was carrying them away into heavenly heights. She let her gaze rest just for a moment on Radomir, thereby dissolving him, as it were, into the blue. From that point on he felt as though he were in some sort of unusual, unreal dream.
“What price again? Let me explain.” The beautiful girl sitting on the cart went on: “I can give this piece without payment only to a kind and courageous young man. I shall ask only something trifling for myself as a souvenir — a colt, for example.”
“What a beauty she is! And such a worthy reply, she’s a true master!” Loud exclamations could be heard from the crowd. “A colt,’ she says — ‘just a trifle’! Tbs, a real beauty all right, no doubt about it!”
The exclamations went on, but the crowd did not move along. Then suddenly the whole throng divided into two halves. There was Arga, leading a dun-coloured stallion by a halter rope. The steed was unbroken and hot-tempered, and kept bucking and prancing on the spot. Whispers spread through the crowd:
“Now that is quite a horse! Such a marvellous steed! Could the fine young man have decided indeed to give it away?”
Arga approached the cart and said:
“My father gave me this steed. I offer it to you, my beauty, in exchange for the shirt.”
“Thank you,” the maiden calmly replied. “But I did say, and people heard me say, that the shirt is not for sale. I can only give it away to you, or perhaps to some other young man fine and true.”
‘Aha, the beautiful maiden is frightened!” Mocking voices rose from the crowd. “Of course, the steed is hot-tempered, and too flared up to handle for many a young man. A while ago she was expecting a tame and gentle mare, and now she’s got cold feet! See, she’s given up the game. So, anyone should be careful. It’s a downright shame when a steed is unbroken and hot-tempered.”
The maiden looked out at the crowd with an artful smile and jumped down from the cart with an amazingly lithesome style.
At this point all the exclamations from the crowd ceased at once. The girl’s torso was absolutely stunning, as though refined to perfection by a master artist. She stood before everybody standing around in all her beauty, smiling at the steed. She took three steps in Arga’s direction, seemingly floating toward him, barely touching the ground.
Completely taken aback, Arga suddenly let go of the halter- rope. The hot-tempered stallion reared on its hind legs. But the maiden managed to catch hold of the rope with her hand. And then...
And then, to everyone’s amazement, her left hand deftly squeezed the stallion’s nostrils. Letting go of the rope, she began caressing the steed’s nuzzle with her right hand. And the hot-tempered stallion all of a sudden calmed down. She inclined his head toward the ground. At first he put up some
resistance, but eventually began bowing to the ground — lower and still lower. And then the steed suddenly fell to its knees before the maiden.
A grey-headed oldster stepped forth from the crowd and said:
“Only the old wise-men know how to tame a beast like that, and not even all of them. But you are still a young maiden! What is your name? And whose girl are you?”
“I am Liubomila, from the next settlement. And whose am I? Nobody’s. I am simply the daughter of my father. And here he comes, that strict father of mine.”
“If only I had been strict!” said the father, who had just come back to the family cart. “What have you been up to this time, my little gal?”
“Nothing much. I’ve just been playing a bit with this little colt.”
“A bit? I see. Let the steed go. It’s time we got on the road home.”