What needs to be said about a book like Sleeper at Harvest Time? As a translator, the first thing that struck me forcibly was the distinctive and idiosyncratic language (or sets of language) used by the author to carry his theme. Archaisms, incantatory rhythms and sentence structures which clearly reflect the tone of religious texts, constantly recurring leitmotifs, narrative prose which is molded closely to a unique conceptual message, these are all used by Latynin to create that dimension of experience described by the Revzins in their afterword to the book, in which "everything is always happening." I hope very much that in the English the texture of this writing retains some of its bizarre force, since the fabric has had to be simplified somewhat; modern English will not bear the full pressure of many of Latynin's devices, while other effects have had to be rendered in different ways from the original Russian.
This language is the medium which fills the disjunctive narrative structure of the book (as water can be used to fill a hollow lens) and focuses the reader's attention at all times on the development of the underlying vision, a vision of history and time in which things move full circle and constantly (in effect, "simultaneously") repeat themselves. How could a Russian writer of the late twentieth century come to be possessed of such vision?
Leonid Latynin was born in 1938 into a peasant family and raised by his grandmother, who was extremely religious. He grew up in a small provincial town on the Volga in central Russia. When his father, a petty Soviet official, took to drink and began to beat his mother, Leonid sought consolation and escape from the squalid cruelty of provincial life in the religious books from which his grandmother continued to read to him as she had since he was a baby. (It happened that the family lived in a house requisitioned from a priest, which still contained a library of religious books.) In contrast with the overwhelming majority of Russians of his generation, therefore, Latynin was intensively exposed to a religious heritage during his formative years. At the same time, he was influenced by the vital folk culture of the region, in which distinct elements of paganism still survived.
In his mature years, in addition to being a poet and author, Latynin has also become an acknowledged authority in the very little known area of pre-Christian Russian culture, and his Moscow flat houses a fascinating collection of artifacts which have links with that culture. He has also studied other religious traditions (in particular, Tibetan or Mahayana Buddhism) at first hand.
The possible sources of the mode of thought that underlies the structure of Sleeper are thus quite clear. But the structure is not presented merely as an abstract realization of an abstract world-vision. It is given substance, flesh (and blood!) from the body of Russian history, past and future; the two are intertwined to provide us with a portrait of Russian history as the major protagonist. The ostensible hero of the book, Medvedko (a name meaning "bear" in Russian), who was fathered by both a pagan priest and a bear, moves between the period of Russia's Christianization and the 21st century, while the narrative is punctuated by references and anecdotes from many periods of Russian history. When Medvedko, or Emelya, is stoned to death at the spot where he was conceived centuries before beneath a sacred oak, an acorn falls from his pocket and sprouts, giving rise to another (the same?) oak on the same spot. The cycle is thus completed.
This is a book which rewards patient reading. Its often chant-like or declamatory text can gain added effect by recitation. The stylistic oddities are calculated to convey the underlying vision; the historical anecdotes are primarily forceful illustrations of the moral message; and it may be useful to know that this book finds its fulfillment within the larger structure of a trilogy. (The next volume, which develops certain themes further, is entitled
Stavr and Sara–see the Revzins' afterword.) While the historical detail may be unfamiliar or seem not entirely comprehensible to the reader, the significance of the events described should not be difficult to grasp. We have provided notes for key words and phrases; these will be found, listed by chapter, following the afterword.
I should like to express my gratitude to Natasha Perova, who was responsible for introducing me to Latynin the writer and the man, and my particular thanks to Elena Gordon, whose assistance and support have been quite invaluable.
Andrew Bromfield August 9, 1994 Dublin, Ireland
Here begins this book...
And God named the hours, the days, the months and the years.
God named the East, and the South, and the West, and the North.
And the Spring, and the Summer, and the Autumn, and the Winter.
And the Morning, and the Day, and the Evening, and the Night.
And Childhood, and Youth, and Maturity, and Age.
And Right, and Below, and Left, and Above.
God named flowers, and sounds, and words, and smells, and people, knowing that all things happen at all times and movement is mere illusion. And in order that people should not take fright, God made them imagine the spinning earth to be still.
He made motionless time seem to move and fixed the count of the years. Thus it was in the minds of people: the gods lived one thousand years, and after one thousand years people were created and the gods died or became what are known as animals or beasts, birds, fish, sky, water, fire, wind, air or other names of life.
Humankind was created in the North with the name of Zhdan, in the South with the name of Ali, in the West with the name of Adam, in the East with the name of Tao. And God marked the beginning of human history, which was:
9,462 years before the birth of the prophet Buddha,
10,000 years before the birth of the prophet Jesus,
10,571 years before the birth of the prophet Muhammad,
10,980 years before the birth of Emelya, or Medvedko by his first name.
And at the time of his birth there were lands to the North,
the South, the East and the West:
To the East–the past and present lands of Persia, Bactria, Syria, Babylon, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, India, China and others...
To the South – the past and present lands of Egypt, Ethiopia, Thebes, Libya, Numidia, Mauritania, Phrygia, Sardinia, Crete, Cyprus and others...
To the West–the past and present lands of Albania, Armenia, Colchis, Scythia, Macedonia, Dalmatia, lllyria, Britain, Sicily, America upper and lower, Rhodes, Corsica, Gaul, Germany and others...
To the North–the past and present lands of Russia, Moravia, Perm, Lithuania, Estonia, Livonia, Stavrosara, Prussia, Sweden, Varangia, Galich and others...
Emelya was born on the 24th day of Beriozozol, the month of the birch, or March by its other name, in the year 10,980 after the creation of Tao, Adam, Ali and Zhdan, on the day of the Bear's Awakening.
In that year, 10,980 by the counting of the years since the creation of humankind, Prince Vladimir returned to Novgorod with the Varangians and said to the vassals of Yaropolk:
"Go to my brother and say to him: 'Vladimir is marching against you, prepare to do battle with him.'" And he set his camp in Novgorod.
And then Vladimir gathered together many warriors– Varangian, Slav, Chud and Krivich–and marched on Yaropolk, his brother. Vladimir was a serf and a bondslave, the son of Malusha of Lubetsch, who served as housekeeper to Olga and Svyatoslav, the Great Prince of Kiev. Vladimir was also nephew to Dobrynia, who did much to assist his appointment by the prince as governor of the town on Lake Ilmen.
Yaropolk shut himself in Kiev with his warriors and their general, Blud. But Vladimir sent a message to Blud, saying:
"Be my friend. If I kill my brother 1 will honor you as a father, and you will have great honor of me, for he, not 1, began this killing between brothers."
And Blud replied:
"I shall be yours in love and friendship."
And Blud said to Yaropolk:
"The people of Kiev have sent an embassy to Vladimir, saying, 'Storm the city and we shall deliver Yaropolk into your hands/ You must flee the city."
Yaropolk took heed of his words, fled from Kiev and secluded himself in the city of Rodno at the mouth of the river Ros. Then Vladimir laid siege to Rodno, and the famine was so great that to this day the saying is used–"The woes of Ros." And Blud said to Yaropolk:
"Go to your brother and say to him, 'Whatever is your will for me, I accept it.'"
Yaropolk came to Vladimir, and as he came in the door, two Varangians thrust their swords into his bosom and raised him up from the floor. Then Vladimir began to live with his brother's wife, a Greek woman, and she was pregnant, and a son, Svyatopolk, was born to her, but a sinful root bears evil fruit: for firstly, his mother was a nun, and secondly, Vladimir lived with her not as a husband, but in adultery. Svyatopolk did not love his father for this, that he had two fathers, Yaropolk and Vladimir.
Vladimir entered Kiev and began to rule there as Prince.
He set up idols on the hill behind the palace: a wooden Perun with a silver head and a gold mustache, and then Khors, Dazhdbog, Stribog, Simargl and Mokosh. And the people offered sacrifices to them, calling them gods, and brought their sons and daughters to them.
Thus did Emelya write, when the time came to see and hear and tell of these things to those who listened to his words and read what he wrote.
That year he was born into the world, not knowing what he was, nor what the land around him was, what a prince was or what a serf was. He cried out long and painfully at his birth, as all cry who have emerged from the darkness and seen the light.
It was the year 10,980. Emelya was born on a bearskin, and the mother who gave birth to him, her red fingers clutching tight at the fur, was Leta, Dobrynia's half-sister, while beside them stood his father Volos. It was the 24th day of Beriozozol, or the month of March by its other name, the first day of the new year of the Bear's Awakening, during the days of the equinox.
And when Leta twisted and squirmed and pushed Emelya out of her womb, and heard his cry, she fell instantly asleep and saw the day and the hour when she stood beside their Oak which grew above the sheer cliff of the river Moscow, at a spot which would be called the Execution Site, on which by custom people would be offered in sacrifice for a thousand years, and the meadow round about would be known as Red Square. That would be after it bore the name of the Place of the Fire, for the flames from here would consume Moscow for a thousand years, and the final fire would be in the year 12017. But Leta would not know all this; these were Emelya's dreams.
Leta saw the oak to which she had brought her linen towel embroidered with crosses and diamond shapes, squares and circles, with the goddess Bereginia in a boat decorated with horses' heads, and herself intoning all the while: "Trees of my tribe, Mugai bird, bird of my tribe. Send me, my god, a big green house of strong timber, a house with a roof that is tall and thatched, send me a long braid of white hair and send me my husband tall and strong, with a voice that is low and blood that is hot."
But before she could finish praying for her wishes to be granted, or spread out on the branches her towel with its red fringe steeped in sheep's blood, at that midnight hour on the 24th day of Kresen, otherwise lune, the festival of Kupala, she felt herself embraced from behind, felt soft, thick fur against her neck and a strong paw upon her breasts, and a sharp claw was drawn down her shirt so that her clothes fell away from her. Leta felt hot and she cried out, frightened and swooning. The bridegroom she was waiting for had arrived, had come to her without delay, there beneath the sacred tree, and her eyes rolled around the green grass of the meadow as her white arms embraced the huge, warm body, and flames scorched her knees, and her scarlet blood gushed out, mingling with the crushed cloudberries, while Leta moaned and clutched her bridegroom's fur, even as she did now while giving birth to Emelya. When she awoke, Volos was lying beside her in the grass, and she saw that she was naked. The moon was shining brightly and she was ashamed of her nakedness, but she had no strength to cover herself, and she saw the blood on her knees.
"Behold the first sacrifice," said Volos, placing his hand on her breast, which was tender as the moon is tender and bright in the night-time when there is no wind, broad and unhurrying, almost motionless. Down below them flowed the waters of the river Moscow.
Leta lay beside Volos: the stars were in their eyes, and Volos was quite unlike the bridegroom who had come to her an hour before. Never again did Leta feel anything like the languorous ecstasy she felt that night, while above her head the wind gently ruffled the fringe of the towel on which Bereginia sailed her boat, and the horses and the boat and the trees and the birds and the horsemen fluttered in the wind like a flag. Volos made love to her the whole night long until sunrise, and Leta clutched at the grass beside her body, crying out in pain and
tenderness and pent-up love that poured out in shrieks and moans and water sprites' laughter that was heard by the moon and seen by the tree and embraced by the tender light of the night sky, while the stars hung above their heads in a canopy of silver and blue.
The end of the great Night of Conception was approaching, the night which the Father and Mother have celebrated since time immemorial. In order not to confuse the day, the husband does not touch his wife again until she recognizes new life within her, and this day is a secret festival for them both.
The Night of Conception was also celebrated by the Chudins, or Strangers, who lived here before Emelya's tribe. For the beginning of life is not in the light into which the child emerges, but in the night, when the earth and the sky are joined, when a man lifts up his forgotten wings and soars until the stars are extinguished, until the soul relapses into slumber, until the music dissolves, until the beginning of a new life, at first within but later without, a life which is to change this world.
There was a beginning on the midsummer Night of Kupala, beside the sacred oak of Veles, when three bloods sprang forth to mingle in a single stream within Leta–the blood of Volos and the blood of Leta and the blood of the shaggy bridegroom–and therefore their son's name was Medvedko, the bear, and only later, after his christening, Emelya. Afterwards his life was saved again and again by Leta's bridegroom, when Volos was no longer alive, because a man can be killed, but not a beast, for a beast has no name, while a man dies instantly together with his name.
But all that happened later–now all Emelya sees is the bearskin below him and the roof above his head, Volos' hands and beard, and his mother, naked and bloody, asleep on the bearskin. He sees this, but he will never remember it, except perhaps in a dream. In a dream one may see all things that can happen and things that cannot, for a dream is the earth and the sky, the past and the present and the future, the things that cannot be imagined. In a dream there are no boundaries of earth or time, and therefore the most important life is lived in dreams, when all are equal–slave and king, god and beast, and even Emelya, although he cannot speak or walk or sing or think, but only cry and eat and be ill, without understanding any of it. And yet he is alive, as a tree is alive, like the sun, a bird, a bear, his mother beta, his father Volos, and his first father, the shaggy bridegroom.
The voice of the Russian God would teach Emelya his first prayer. It would be a prayer to that God, beginning thus:
"Send me a dream, Î God, a defense against my enemy, and my brother's enemy, and my sister's enemy, against the hand and the law and the power and the might and the words of lords great and small, drawn like moths to the flame of power and perishing therein. Against hunger and plague, conflagration and invasion, snowstorm and hurricane, the seawaves that drown ships in the abyss, a defense against the ravenous beast and the stinging serpent. Defend me against the four dark elements that dwell around me and within me, the invisible ailments: the envy of my neighbor and the envy within me, the hatred of my neighbor and the hatred within me. Against the madness of my neighbor and the madness within me, the vanity of my neighbor and the vanity within me, Î God.
"For in the realm of sleep there is no other will but Yours, no other power but Yours, no other world but Yours; there, punishment and forgiveness, guidance and rejection are meted out according to Your will, Î God.
"And in that realm is no worldly life in which people, ailing in
their conscience, or their fear, or their love, do kill and lie, steal
and betray, take vengeance and inform against their neighbor,
understanding not each other or their own selves, Î God.
"Conceal, then, with dreams this life and this death, lower
over them for these night hours the curtain of iron that is lighter than a pigeon's feather or the drifting cobweb, and permit me to see the world in which the laws of humankind hold no sway, where people hold no malice for foe or for friend, whether hangman or bandit, knave or thief, lord or executor of an evil will or an evil law.
"There, all are free and untrammelled in their actions and their thoughts, as a cloud driven by the wind is free and untrammelled, and a waterfall is untrammeled as it tumbles from the cliff, as free as a forest fire's flame, as the grass that pierces stone. There is everything that is not here, yet everything is here that is there, and there a man is alone, as he was when he was formed and born.
"There a man is all in all, all himself and all of everything, and is not tied to anything not given to him by You, and yet everything is not he, but I.
"And my dream is the life of what has not yet been and of what has been, which is eternal and shall never pass away. The dream is one of the four bright elements. It was granted to people with love, pain and fear, and is not subject to the will and thoughts of earthly powers.
"For the dream is all things. The dream is fire, and life is but a part of the dream, like the part of the fire that remains as cold, dead ashes.
"By the dream I am saved and I save myself.
"By the dream I am free, and by the dream I am part of the unknown whose name at first is death, and afterwards all that follows death.
"Send me a dream, Î God, as You send earth and water and light to the ashes, that the grain may put forth shoots and feed my mortal frame, so that I may be and may see between life and death that which is unknowable but familiar, incomprehensible but evident, agonizing but not fatal, accessible but indecipherable, manifest but not apprehensible, existent but unattainable like You, Î God!..."
Leta fell asleep. Her sister went down the steep slope to the river Moscow, scooped water into a leather bucket, and cast into it a leaf from the sacred oak, and a thread from the towel that Leta was embroidering as she summoned the bridegroom to her with her magic. Then her sister came back up the hill and washed beta's body with the sacred nativity towel, and covered her over with a white linen cloth bearing a red stripe. She sat at one side and watched the infant Emelya sleeping in his cradle where she had swaddled him; she watched Leta sleeping, weary from pain and torment and screaming, and she heard Volos dancing around the house, clad in a bearskin and chanting incantations: that Emelya might live a thousand years; that his life might be happy and the wrath of Veles might overtake his enemies; that he might love his father, as Volos had honored his father before him, and his ancestors; that Emelya might not forget the charm that wards off all misfortunes, "choor, choor, choor"; and that when he was afraid, Emelya might whistle and drive away the demons and the other spirits. Leta's sister fell into sleep, enchanted by the song of Volos:
"O Veles, my god, god of my father, tree of my clan! Î Rod, my god, god of my grandfather! Î Mugai bird of my mother and of my wife! Î Mokosh, my god, god of my wife's grandfather! Î Leta, my god, god of my wife's great-grandfather! You who are supreme and all-powerful, who are present in the sun, the mist and the water, behold my son Medvedko, named after a great man, bearing the name of my grandfather. Enter into his eyes, his ears, his arms and his legs, enter into his heart and his shoulders. Let him live as long as his clan has endured, a thousand years; let him eat no less food than my grandfather ate and let him know cold and hunger, as my grandfather knew them. Let him outlive both myself and his mother, and let no wound, from forest beast or battle arrow, from sharp knife at home or abroad, be fatal to him! Î river Moscow! Leave not his body or his throat or his skin to thirst for water! Î you gods whose names I do not know, but who exist! Protect my son..."
Thus did Emelya's father Volos sing, shaking his bronze rattles and burning roots and herbs, clad in a bearskin girded with a belt of white and boots of soft leather, while the white hem of his shirt peeped out from under the bearskin.
The birds were singing round about, the river Moscow flowed below, and twelve houses stood on its bank, on the very spot where the Kremlin stands today, on the hill where the Cathedral of the Assumption stands now, and smoke was rising from each house. For they were preparing a nativity feast in honor of a birth in the house of the sorcerer Volos who served in the temple of Veles–the birth of his son Medvedko by his wife, the sorceress Leta.
In the house at the right-hand side of the shrine, to the East, lived Stavr and his family–five sons and their wives. Between them all they had seven sons and three grandsons. In the house further to the right lived Svyatko. He had six sons–three of them with wives and three still too young to marry–and five grandsons. Further to the right lived Malyuta, who had three sons with wives, and ten grandchildren.
On the left-hand side of the shrine, to the West, lived Dobr and his family. He had seven sons–two with wives–and five grandchildren. Behind his house, further to the left, lived Tretyak and his family. He had six sons–five with wives – and twelve grandchildren. Still further to the West lived Mal, with seven sons–four of them with wives–and nine grandchildren.
Above the shrine to the North, behind the house of Volos, stood the house of Zhdan, who had three sons with three wives and seven children. Further above the shrine, beyond Zhdan's house, stood the house of Kozhemyaka, where his nine sons lived–seven of them with wives–and Kozhemyaka's fifteen grandchildren.
Below the shrine to the South stood the largest house, in which Boyan lived with his twelve sons–ten of them with wives–and his twenty grandchildren. Further below the shrine, beside a broad pine tree, lived Khrabr, who had only two sons and their two wives and seven grandchildren. And far below the shrine, beside a bush of broom, stood the house of Nechai. He had five sons–three of them with wives–and five grandchildren.
The name of Stavr's wife was Chernava; and Svyatko's wife was called Dosada; Malyuta's wife was called Milava; Dobr's wife was called Kupava; Mal's wife was called Bazhena; Volos' wife was called Leta; Zhdan's wife was called Ludmila; Kozhemyaka's wife was called Malyusha;
Boyan's wife was called Dobrova;
and Khrabr's wife was called Zabava.
Stavr had three daughters, whose names were Belukha, Istoma and Neulyba;
Svyatko also had three daughters, whose names were Nesmeyana, Bogdana and Zima;
Malyuta had two daughters, whose names were Smeyana and Nekrasa;
Dobr had four daughters, whose names were Krasa, Lyuba, Nemila and Zhdana;
Tretyak had five daughters, whose names were Molchana, Ulyba, Zloba, Pravda and Tula;
Mal had only one daughter, whose name was Lada;
Zhdan had three daughters, whose names were Bessona, Goriana and Khotena;
Kozhemyaka had one daughter, whose name was Polyana;
Boyan had two daughters, whose names were Soroka and Desna;
Khrabr had four daughters, whose names were Karela, Pravda, Berioza, Lisa and Goluba;
and Nechai had two daughters, whose names were Gorazda and Mila.
And all of them cooked and roasted and boiled food in the river Moscow's water in celebration of the appearance in the world of Medvedko, who was born in the house of Volos and his wife the sorceress beta. This was the first day of Emelya's life, and it was the feast of the Bear's Awakening. The bear stood beside the outmost house, listening to the cries of Volos' wife, and when she fell silent and he heard Emelya cry out, he left.
And so Emelya's life began. Every winter he would sleep until the first drip of the melting snow, and in the summer he would go with beta to gather herbs, berries and mushrooms, at
first carried on his mother's back, and afterwards walking at her side; at first crawling as he gathered the herbs, and afterwards walking on his two feet. Emelya helped his father. He polished the brass rattle, and if the bearskin was torn he would mend it, and he would wash the belt embroidered with crosses in the river Moscow.
But Emelya did not speak. Until eight years of age he spoke not a single word. His father and his mother tried first one thing and then another, but all in vain, while all the children round about grew as children should, and could speak well, and could already sing. He understood every word, and did everything he was told, but he did not speak. His mother would repeat to him, "Say 'Leta,' say 'Leta,'"and his father would repeat to him, "I am Volos. Say my name." But Emelya would scowl and hang down his head and stare at the ground, and he would not speak. His father beat him, his mother beat him, they tried kindness and honey cake–still he did not speak. But when he was eight years of age, on a Friday–the most important day of the week–something happened.
The little children and the women were at home, and all the older men and Stavr and his sons and relatives were in the forest–he had gone hunting with his arrow and knife and axe: Svyatko and his sons were looking for bees–they had crocks to lay in honey: "If you want honey, drive out the bees." Leta had gone with the girls in search of mushrooms and berries, and she was gathering herbs–tearweed for pains in the head and the chest, and mint to soothe a toothache. Volos was also helping her gather herbs, but he went alone. He knew the herbs that heal the arm and the leg and ease a pain in the belly, and if you wished could bring an enemy such pain that he would writhe on the ground and bellow and could even give up the ghost. They each set off on their own way through the forest. The girls sang songs, but the men hid themselves to ambush a hare, a boar or a deer. The wind blew gently and the sun shone brightly–it was a warm day in Serpen, otherwise August. The seventh day; that evening they would celebrate Apple Day.
But while they were all busy with their work, while the girls sang "drifting like ducks with their sweet drake," Leta leading and the girls following in chorus, "down the river Moscow, asail as on the sea"–at this very time a fire broke out in Stavr's house. First Stavr's roof caught fire, and then Svyatko's house close by, and then Malyuta's house close by, and then the other houses were enveloped in flames. The children wailed, and the women carried water from the river Moscow, and Emelya leapt up and ran into the forest and shouted at the top of his voice, "Fire, fire... Volos, Leta, fire..."
Running into the forest, he stumbled, struck his forehead against a birch-tree and fell silent, and did not know if much or little time had passed when he awoke to find that the bear was beside him, and the bear was over his head, and the bear was at his back, and the bear was below him and above him.
"Child of mine," said the bear, "you have bruised yourself, let me carry you, for you are running the wrong way." The bear ran with him, and as soon as they came to the girls, he set Emelya down on the ground.
"Shout now," said the bear, and left him. Emelya was weak and there was a buzzing in his head, but he remembered, and he yelled out again.
"Fire," he shouted. The girls stopped their singing and called Leta, and Emelya's mother ran to him.
"Fire," said Emelya, and swooned.
Leta and the girls called to the men and they all dashed to the village, but they could only save three houses, and the temple of Veles in the very center: its roof began to smolder, but only a little–they sprinkled plenty of earth on it. When they all recovered, when the men had gone into the forest with axes for wood to rebuild the huts, and the women were busy, each one at her own work, Votos asked Emelya why he had not spoken for eight years, and Emelya said to him:
"Father, what was there to speak of?"
Volos thought in silence for a moment, then he spoke as though to himself:
"Perhaps you could take my place, if you did not sleep all
through the winter."
But Emelya merely hung down his head again. A month later, as soon as they had built the new huts and patched up the ones remaining, another misfortune beset them.
People began dying. At first in Malyuta's family one son died, then his wife followed him, then Svyatko's daughter-in-law, then three at once in Stavr's house–two little ones and his wife. A week went by and it was almost Friday: "One stone will break many crocks." Ten people were gone as though they had never been, and there was much to be done, burning each of them–and not alone, but with a cock or a hen, or a bird killed in the forest–placing a clay Veles beside each one of them, and a clay Mokosh.
Volos was busy seeing each one off on the long journey and placing his charm beside each one. Leta also had much to do, setting heaven-herb in their bosoms, so they would have something by which to remember the Earth in the next world. The fires blazed, and round them people chanted and danced, and already another five were clutching at their bellies in agony. It was a time of great trouble.
It was sunny and warm, the grass was green, the scattered gold and red leaves on the birches and maples were like streaks of gray on the head of the forest. Everyone was wearing a white shirt, and all seemed to love one another: "Where love is, there is life."
But people were dying. Volos pranced and shook his rattles, but all in vain. Then the sorceress Leta set to work. For four days she collected water from four rivers in four chalices. Then she knelt down between the four chalices, which faced the four sides of the Earth, with four waters in each chalice. But in none was there water from the river Moscow.
n the first chalice were the Protok and the Kaplia, the Pakhorka and the Olkhovets, rippling as in the wind.
In the second chalice were the splashing waters of the Studenets and the Khodynka, the Kliazma and the Kopytovka.
In the third chalice flowed the waters of the Sivka and the Presnya, the Kokui and the Chertory.
In the fourth chalice the Khinka and the Neglinka, the Serebrianka and the Yauza mingled with each other.
Leta closed her eyes and dipped her hands, crossed one over the other, first into the North and the South. Then she shook the water from them and dipped her fingers, crossed the other way, into the East and the West, intoning all the while:
"Water, water, pure and clear and cold. You have preserved us in the heat, you have made our millet grow and given us the gift of life, you Pakhorka and Kaplia; you Olkhovets and Protok. Water, water, raise up the people as you raised up the millet in the heat, you Khodynka and Studenets; you, Kliazma and Kopytovka.
"When the heads of grain are bent down to the ground, you sprinkle them with fine rain on Forest Day. Behold, again the field stands tall and even.
"You flow by secret ways where I cannot follow, to the Black Sea, the terrible sea, where the water is dead, Î you, Chertory and Kokui; Î you, Presnya and Sivka!
"You come to me from lands where no wolf lives, where no bird sings, from the billowing waves of the White Sea, the calm and ice-cold sea, where the living water splashes on the shore. The Khinka has been there, and the Neglinka, the Serebrianka and the Yauza.
"Water, water, assist me now. I will give you my life, I will give you my strength, sweet water, so that my kinsfolk may be sprinkled with drops of dead water and living. Let each one touched by a drop remain alive, let each sick one return to health. Let the Sickness and the Ailing and the Weakness and the Pain flee into the forest for the birch-tree to bear."
Leta took the chalices and carried them round the circle, splashing a handful of water on each one there, her eyes seeming to see another world, and she went over to those who were lying and could not stand and sprinkled water on them, too. Fewer people died, but still they went on dying, and so beta's hour was come. This sickness would devour them all.
Volos and Leta with their sorcery and witchcraft were too weak in the face of this enemy. Leta knew, and Volos knew, what must be done now. They said nothing to each other, but Volos looked at Leta, and she looked at him. The bear appeared and came close to the temple, stood weeping for a while, then went away. It could be put off no longer. Only one night was left to Leta now. She went up to Emelya, saying nothing outwardly, but inwardly she said things that made his heart shudder like a sheep seared by the branding-iron: she left her mark in Emelya's heart, and into his hand she thrust an acorn from the oak of Veles, squeezing his fingers into a fist with her own fingers. Then she left him. Volos was already making the rounds of the houses. In each house they chose a husband for Leta's last night, for with the dawn, at the rising of the sun, Leta would leave them in smoke and flame and cross the blue seas and the high mountains to their forefather Veles to plead with him not to lay his hand upon his kindred, but to let them live, or else their clan would be cut short, as had happened in these parts more than once, and there was no greater sin than the cutting short of the clan. Of course, she would regret her life, but for the people any torment could be borne.
The people began to assemble, and Leta was led into the temple, which was taller and cleaner than all the houses, and roofed with wooden shingles from the wood of sacred oaks. It was sixty cubits in length, twenty cubits in width and thirty cubits in height, or in other measures–thirty meters long, ten meters wide and fifteen meters high. It was arranged in three
square chambers, set one after the other.
At the head of the temple stood the altar, clad in various timbers–apple, hazel, pear and magic birch–and covered with intricate carvings of water-sprites and bereginias, and from the very center of the altar the Earth Mother herself gazed upward and out to all four sides. Her first face was iron, her second face was copper, her third face was silver, her fourth face was pure gold.
The altar was twenty cubits high. There was a window set in it, ten cubits on each side, and through this window Veles could be seen, high up under the roof, illuminated by the light from a window above. The face of the sacred Veles was carved from oak. Leta could not enter this holy of holies. This was Volos' place, and he only entered once a year, on the day of the Bear's Awakening. The temple was aligned around the altar to the north, like a compass needle, pointing straight to the Pole Star where it hangs in the sky at the end of the Great Bear's tail and circles around itself. The man of the north came from this star, and the Polar Star is fixed at the center of the heavens, where the day of the gods and the night of the gods divide time equally between them.
The second chamber, also twenty cubits on each side, was the place where Volos held his daily service. A fire burned in the center, and the ancestors of three clans hung on each of the walls, each one carved from its own wood.
On the northern wall were the ancestors of Volos, Zhdan and Kozhemyaka, carved from birch, aspen and lime-wood: a bear, a wolf and an elk with human faces.
On the southern wall, carved from pear, lime and plum, were the ancestors of Boyan, Khrabr and Nechai: an eagle, a raven and a calf.
On the western wall, carved from mountain-ash, fir and poplar, were the ancestors of Dobr, Tretyak and Mal: a horse, a catfish and a goose.
On the eastern wall, carved from willow, pine and silver fir, were the ancestors of Stavr, Svyatko and Malyuta: a ram, a goat and a drake.
beta's appointed place was in the southernmost chamber of twenty cubits by twenty cubits.
And so the temple of Veles was like the temple of Solomon in being sixty cubits long, but in Solomon's temple the holy of holies faced to the west, and in Veles' temple it faced to the north–if they were set together, they would form a cross.
Leta would pass the night in this third square chamber, lying on the sacrificial table spread with a linen cloth.
Around the blood-soaked sacrificial table covered in cloth, hung linen drapes embroidered in red and black, and in the center stood a wooden pillar with carved wooden faces surrounding it on four sides–four faces high up, so that whichever side you looked at, Veles was watching you. On the North side, he was a dour warrior. On the West he was clever and wise. On the East he was cunning and sly. On the South the face was regal and haughty.
Below the faces of Veles were those of Mokosh. On the North she was a mother. On the South she had the face of a daughter, and on the East, the face of a wife; on the West, the face of a warrior. Lower down there were horses, below them were birds, and at the very bottom there was a sun carved on each of the four sides. On the West it was a wheel; on the South, a flower; on the East, a square divided in four; on the North, many legs running in a circle–not the sun, but the Pole Star, which lay close to the god Veles where he sprawled across the sky in the form of a dipper.
The women and the girls stripped Leta naked and began adorning her, a ribbon and a thread at a time. They plaited her hair into a single braid. On her way into the next world she must have a thick braid to sweep away her trail, so that evil could not follow her from this world to the next.
Ribbons were woven into the braid, ribbons as red as the fire on which she would burn, the fire to which she was a sacrifice. Bronze bracelets were set on her arms, so they could tell where the arms had been after Leta was burnt away. Her body was covered with a shirt, not the kind she wore to go into the forest, or the kind she slept in with her husband, but one that was as spacious as the open meadow and the sky overhead, with closed sleeves that reached down to the floor, decorated like the sleeves on the shirt she wore to summon the rain, covered in crosses, diamond shapes and birds, and embroidered with a thunderstorm; a shirt that was white as snow, and laundered clean; that was rarely needed, although there was one like it in every temple... The girls around her wept, the women wept and sang: "Forgive us, Mother, forgive us, Leta..." Their tears poured down.
But she laughed and said: "I would be happy there. If not for
Emelya and my Volos, I would feel only joy..."
Again the women sang: "Forgive us, Mother, forgive us, Leta..." and they danced in a circle, not following the sun, but all the time moving against it...
The evening was settling over the river Moscow, the stars were already shining and the moon had grown bright. Emelya was the first to go into the shrine to Leta. He went down on one knee. She merely ruffled his hair gently and affectionately, and a tear-drop fell on his head. Then Volos came in and went down on one knee, and all she did was stroke his hair, and let a tear fall on his head too. That was all.
She was already in a different world. That night she would have eleven husbands, one husband from each household. This was a custom which no one could set aside.
Without custom there would be no people, without custom there would be no household. Depart from custom by a single step and the people and the household would be destroyed: they would collapse like bricks without cement, no matter how sound they were in themselves, and not a single temple or a
single house would be left standing. No wall could withstand such a blow–even a brick gate-post is laid flat by the wind if you do not bind it with cement.
How Volos had made love to Leta the night before! She had wept and she had groaned; he had sung and he had murmured spells. How many dark and magical and secret words they had breathed, words that were theirs alone. Volos' back was scratched and bloody, the blood had scarcely caked yet. It hurt him to laugh, it hurt him to bend. These weals would be long in healing, and they would never fade to white till Volos' dying day. It was as though in falling Leta had clutched at the face of a cliff before tumbling to her death: the cliff was Volos' back, and Leta had broken all her nails on the stone. But that was yesterday, and today Volos himself had selected her husbands as he made the rounds of the households. He thanked Leta for the pain as he lay at home groaning. He could not lie on his back: he was thinking all the time of how tomorrow Leta would drift up to the sky in smoke. His back was on fire.
There was no one outside. The stars shone high up in the sky. Silence hung over Moscow like a storm-cloud. Emelya was not sleeping. Volos was not sleeping. No one in Moscow was sleeping.
Leta was alone in the shrine. She had to spend two hours alone until midnight. During the first half hour she had to pray for her own kin and the kin of her husband Volos, the joint kin of their son Medvedko. Leta approached the wooden Veles and lit the lamps that stood around him on all four sides. Like the chalices which held the waters of four rivers, the lamps were made of silver. They were decorated with forest sprites, water sprites and female goblins, and the boar's grease in them was thick and white. Wicks of drugweed floated in them, and when they were lit, four slim streams of smoke drifted upward to the ceiling without dispersing or dissolving into the air. The smoke was blue and fine as a spider's web in the sunlight on the branches of that bush of broom beside which beta and Volos were married by beta's half-brother Dobrynia and the high-priest Bogomil, who had come all the way from Novgorod.
Leta could not remember all of Bogomil's words, but she did remember: "Now you are one bone and one flesh and one spirit and one thought and one tear and one joy, and yet two hopes and two joys and two faiths, and each for the other, and like unto the roots of one trunk, the streams of one river, like unto a storm of two winds, two tongues of flame in a single fire."
But was it really so? One fire would burn out, the other would never be lit. One stream would drift up to the sky as steam, the other would not even quiver. One root would be consumed by fire, the other would live on. One wind would float up to the sky in smoke, the other would blow and fan the flames higher. Then she lost track of her thoughts and took fright: she went down on her knees and gazed up at Veles. She lowered her head and breathed in the smoke of the drugweed and set her forehead on the altar in front of Veles, as the Streltsy lowered their heads onto the block they themselves had brought before Peter the Great, and plunged the axe into the block beside their heads, and waited submissively for their time of sacrifice to come. So did Leta lower her head onto the stone polished by a river of blood, polished by the fur and skin of human and beast. The skin of her forehead sensed the sad memory of the stone, the sacred memory of the stone, the sacrificial memory of the stone, and Leta could feel Veles accepting her blood and her fire, and she began to pray, quietly and fervently.
In her prayer she remembered the seven generations of Volos until she came to Veles, forefather of Volos, and she remembered her own seven generations of kin until she reached Bereginia, the ancestor of her kin, and she named the fourteen names of the kin of Emelya, with Bereginia and Veles, the forefather of Emelya.
The drugweed haze was like sleep slinking on its belly on soft paws, like a cat stalking a mouse, like a snake sliding silently through the grass, like the down of poplars drifting in a gentle breeze, like milk spilt on a table and falling drop by slow drop to the pine floor: the drugweed haze seeped into her tranquil soul and Leta heard vague voices, the voices of all her ancestors and Volos' ancestors, and she saw them emerge from the haze, each one halting beside her and setting down a gift of aid. One gift was a scarlet flower, and another was rye bread, and the third was the red leaf of the maple, and the fourth was a branch of water, and the fifth was a jug of the breath of Veles, and the sixth was the stone of wind which would lie on her breast tomorrow as she drifted up from the earth as smoke, so that she would not immediately fly far, far away. The seventh gift could not be spoken or known: an execution site rolled up into a scroll in which there was a tongue of flame, and at one end an acorn, and below, a waxen seal bearing a twin-headed eagle with a wound on its neck in which each drop of blood was a different color, and there were fifteen drops in all, and smoke rose from each one... Then Leta's soul was suddenly drawn out of her, curling up in smoke that spiraled into the sky. Leta realized that she was a tree, and the tree's roots were in the sky. With a hand as light and vague as smoke, she picked up an axe that lay on the edge of a cloud and began to chop at her own roots, and the roots were seven, like the stars of the Great Bear. As she chopped, she wept like a child, and her weeping was a song, but there was no music, and when she severed the last root, she heard a peal of brassy thunder and she began to sink down to earth, as poplar down sinks, as a snowflake sinks in windless weather, as a cobweb sinks when it is torn by the wing of a passing bird, like the breath of a dying man. Leta fell asleep, and her sleep was sound and lasted all of the two hours, so that Leta did not do all she had to do, and when she opened her eyes she hastily whispered prayers for Emelya's second father, and for all beasts that fly and creep and run, and for those that live in the earth, and then for all the people that live on the four sides of the world, and then for all the stars that shall fall upon the earth, and their name shall be wormwood. And when she closed her lips after the word "wormwood," beta saw her first husband enter the temple.
It was midnight on Apple Day, the sixth day of Serpen, or August, in the year 10,989 following the creation of the first people.
Her first husband was a fifteen-year-old boy called Gord, from Stavr's household. He was the oldest man left in the house.
The couch was broad, and a trace of soot trailed upward from the lamp as it burned. On the couch there was a heap of warm-colored hay, covered with white linen. When the boy came in, he did not know where to put his hands, or what to do with Leta. The girls had explained to him that first he must take off beta's shirt and lay it by her head, and then lie on her, and then everything would simply take its course.
Gord was nervous and afraid to approach Leta. He had seen her so often and been attracted to her–who was not attracted to her?–and now he was overcome by fright... She was already in the next world, no longer living in this one, and he was afraid.
Leta sat up on the couch and gestured for him to approach.
"Come, come, I'll show you."
Gord blushed suddenly and went up to the couch.
"Sit here," said Leta. "Have they at least told you what to do?"
"Yes," said Gord, and his fingers were clumsy as he began gently pulling up the shirt that covered Leta's body. The shirt slowly crept higher. Leta lay down, arched her slim back slightly and opened her legs a little. Gord raised the shirt higher, and suddenly beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He saw...
The hairs lay in soft reddish ringlets above the tender, delicate, defenseless scarlet skin. Something happened to the young boy. He was suddenly tense and quivering; his hands convulsively jerked the shirt up the rest of the way. Her breasts were white and delicate, firm and shapely, like haystacks in the field, like clouds in the sky, like apples on the tree.
Leta smiled. Gord tugged off his own shirt and thrust himself awkwardly against Leta's breasts, pawing at her clumsily. The boy's body was tense and contorted, his head was spinning, he was scorched by a flame that scalded his chest; his eyes rolled inward, seeing only himself, seeing nothing outside himself. His breathing became sharp and staccato, powerful as the breath of a mechanical pump or a cylinder in an engine. Leta smiled again. She took him in her hands and put him inside her, and a shudder ran through Cord's body: like a rabbit passing through the body of a python, like an electric shock running through someone to the earth, like a violent retching shaking the body from head to toe.
Leta had no time to feel anything before Gord's passion had abated. He was in a swoon. Leta gently lifted him off herself and set him beside her. She stood up and sprinkled water on him from her goblet. Gord opened his eyes and stared around him in amazement. She dressed him in his shirt and he staggered out of the temple on unsteady legs, still unsure of what had happened. Later he would remember Leta and never forget her throughout his life, until he was butchered by Putscha, together with Boris, and even in the next world he would seek her.
The second husband to enter the temple was Svyatko's son Molchan.
"Let us talk first," he said to Leta, and sat on the edge of the bed. The hay rustled. Molchan was slow moving, fleshy and bulky. "My daughter is there," Molchan said, "and when we gave her to the fire, there was no bird in the house, and she is hungry. This is a torment to me–take one more bird with you tomorrow."
"Very well," said Leta, "have you any other requests?"
"Seven people in my house have died," said Molchan. "I do not want them to be cold there."
"That depends on you." Leta laughed.
Molchan undressed without hurrying and began ever so slowly to stroke her neck, her breasts, her belly, her knees, touching her groin as though by accident, continuing until her eyes glazed, until she began to shudder and her back began to arch to follow his hand.
Then Molchan lay on her and pressed down on her with all of his caring and tenderness and strength and caution and slowness and heaviness, and he entered her as slowly as he could, and Leta arched up sharply, biting her lips, and began moaning. Then she clutched at Molchan's hairy back and scraped her nails across his skin, drawing blood, but he felt no pain, he squeezed Leta even more slowly and powerfully, and she suddenly erupted with a piercing shriek that shook the whole of Moscow.
The shriek hung in the air for a long, long time without fading or diminishing or dissolving. When Leta recovered, there was no one beside her. She had a feeling of weariness and disgust. Strange, she seemed to have felt what she had not felt since that first time beneath the tree, before Volos, and yet this was more unlike that first time than like it. Her heart was heavy. She remembered the bird that she had to take with her for Molchan's daughter.
The third to come was Dobr's son-in-law. Lyudota entered the temple awkwardly and reluctantly, without raising his eyes to look at Leta. He came in and sat down, not on the right of the couch but on the left, beside the wooden Veles, so that his legs were thrust against the altar. The sharp edge of a shard protruding from the clay scratched his leg and drew blood. The drops swelled and ran down his leg, but before they reached the floor they congealed on his ankle. Leta noticed the blood-drops, but Lyudota did not.
"How long are you going to sit there?" Leta asked. "The night won't wait for you."
"I know," said Lyudota. Then Leta saw the splayed fingers thrust hard against the couch: the long fingers trembled on the white linen, and she remembered that Kupala, her Kupala, when she and Lyudota jumped over the flames together. When Lyudota squeezed her palm in his fingers, they had trembled. When she stepped behind a tree, he embraced her, and a rough current of heat had gushed up through her feet and her hips, scorching her breasts and singeing her eyelids, and her tears had flowed to extinguish the fire. She knew that she must stifle what was inside her in order one second later to pull free of these arms and go to the oak of Veles, because at Kupala she was assigned in sacrifice to Veles and to her Volos, because they were both bom on the 22nd day of Beriozozol, or March, closer than any others to the festival of the Bear's Awakening. Only at Kupala, and only through Leta and Volos, could the one who should be born on the 24th day of Beriozozol be conceived, the one who would be the savior of his clan and become a sorcerer such as had been awaited for centuries on the shores of the river Moscow.
But what Leta felt with Lyudota on that Kupala night lived on within her, surely finding expression in her tenderness and her cries for her bridegroom and for Volos afterwards, and then flowing on like a secret current in the depths of her feelings.
Now he had come to her, the one she had not seen for nine years, for she had always lowered her eyes when she met him. The one who had lived close by, who had many children while she had only been able to have one. The one who was all the while in the very next house, shut off from her by the impossibility of being with him, by duty and faith, by the obligations of a sorceress, the obligations of a priestess of the shrine of Veles, a priestess of the oak of Veles, the mother of the savior born for the first time in twelve generations on the 24th day of Beriozozol. Now, when tomorrow was appointed the day she must drift up as smoke into the sky, where she would preserve her clan from extinction, imploring all the clan's forebears and the forebears of Lyudota and Volos and Svyatko and Emelya, to protect the clan from death and the fire... But that was tomorrow...
Today, in the space between her home and the fire, she was free of her life and her fate and her duty and Veles, who stood silently beside them, and Volos, who was waiting for morning to come, and Emelya, who was sitting on his bed and crying, because tomorrow Leta would fly up to the sky as smoke. She was free from all deaths, and from hunger, and from the god of the river Moscow, and from this lamp, from rituals and amulets, from bracelets and beads, from the rings on her temples with their seven blades–there was nothing more for them to protect: this body no longer belonged to her, it belonged to the love that had never been.
Leta took off her necklace of white glass beads, she took off her amulets with the knife and the spoon, she took off the bracelets on her arms, with Simargl on the right and a river sprite on the left, then she raised her head a little and stretched out her arms to Lyudota.
"Farewell, my darling, my beloved." She laid him on his back and seated herself on him, initiating him into the holy of holies of a priestess of the temple of Veles, and their boat set off with the sun to cross the sea. The sail was straight and firm, and as the wind drove it, the boat carrying Lyudota and Leta dragged the sun along.
Leta moaned the words of a song of farewell, while the sea tossed the boat on its waves and whirled it around, and flung it up to the sky, and then took it back onto the raging blue of its white-rimmed palms. Leta moaned for all that had never been, and for all that would never be, and then the boat began to tumble down into the abyss that had opened beneath it, falling slowly, slowly, and its sides were smashed against the rocks protruding from the cliffs. Splinters flew off, then the mast, and the stem, and the sides, and the sail was ripped and torn away, and the boat kept on falling, falling, as the sea foam and the waves tumbled slowly down over walls of iron, stone, water and wood.
Her thoughts rose slowly from the ocean floor onto which the sunken boat had fallen, collapsed and disappeared. Leta could not raise her hand to straighten her hair, she had no strength to wipe away her tears, she lay with her face in the pillow, scarcely able to move: the straw pillow accepted her tears into its linen covering. Her eyes began to see the darkness floating before them, and the darkness was dry.
Rainbow-colored rings appeared out of the darkness, but then they faded and the darkness came rushing back again. She felt light and easy lying there: her body had felt something familiar yet unknown, powerful yet already almost forgotten. Suddenly Leta shuddered as she caught a scent, although she had heard no steps–dead Mal's son-in-law, one of the other tribe, the Chudins, had quietly lain down beside her. Every tribe had its own scent. Leta could not smell her own tribe's, but any other was unbearable to her.
"You smell like a stranger," said Leta.
"I would not have come, but there are no other men left in the house, and I do not want them to suffer there because we were not together."
Leta began to cry, but these were tears for the love that was leaving her as the darkness drew in the sea-bed and silt covered over the boat, as the flag and the sail dissolved like snowflakes on the palm of her hand, like sugar in water, like salt in meat, like an airplane in the sky...
She was a sorceress, the wife of Volos, priest of Veles: love could pay her a visit like some wandering beggar-woman, bewitch her thoughts, bear her along over the sea waves, blast her to pieces, consume her with fire, but love could not dwell with Leta, for Leta had no time to be herself, her role in making her own fate was so very slight, like a bird in the sky, like a worm in the earth, like a blade of grass in the field, like a leaf in the forest, like a drop in the ocean...
Chudin was a stranger, he was an alien, and that meant he saw the river Moscow and the pine-tree beside the temple of Veles with different eyes, and he spoke differently, not as they spoke in Zalesye, although she knew that he came from here and was the last of his tribe. Everyone who lived in Moscow now had come here twelve fathers ago and stayed, but the Chudins had disappeared because they did not know how to resist, and they had given up their land, their river, their grass and their trees to others. In reality, Leta was a stranger to the river Moscow, not Chudin; but the course of events had made Chudin the stranger, and her the native.
The scent grew weaker at the thought that she was the stranger, not him. They had brought their own scent, but the alien scent remained in the grass and the trees, in the leaves of the forest, and when she thought for a while, Leta no longer noticed the difference in their scents, and Chudin smelt like a bear to her. She remembered this smell very clearly, turned over and looked at him. Chudin was weeping. He had blue eyes and soft hands, a shirt that was embroidered differently from the Muscovites' shirts, with black crosses on the collar, red crosses on the hem and black crosses on the sleeves.
Today Chudin had buried Mal's only daughter Lada, his own wife, and yesterday he had buried Mal. His eyes were red from tears and smoke. His tribe did not have this custom, and he was not inwardly prepared to take Leta here in the temple. For him, the temple was the site of the altar and a place of prayer. But he loved his wife Lada–her fragile, delicate, weightless scrap of a body, her sad soul, her song about the slow fire that was working its way to the surface of the earth and would one day reach the people and carry every one of them back beneath the earth with it.
He loved her black hair, fuzzy as a swarm of bumble-bees, her fingers with blue shadows under the nails, which she stroked across his skin in the summer on the bank of the river Moscow as she sat beside the campfire: he loved her eyes that changed color and gazed out to where the stars ended and God began.
He could not understand why he had to become a beast and make love to a woman he did not love–the woman who belonged to his neighbor Volos–and groan and fall apart like an airplane blown-up in mid-air so that everything living and dead comes tumbling out of it.
He knew that according to the laws of Mals clan, how he made love to Leta would determine how his wife lived in the next world, in that eternal life which they would soon share. But what would he say there when he saw Leta and Volos and his own beloved?
Strangely, at this moment Leta understood him, and she was considerate and gentle and patient with him. Chudin felt grateful for her understanding, and he was astonished to find he could feel something like this for someone he had scarcely noticed before today, because his own Lada had been Veles and the temple and the sky and the river and the forest and the meadow, and there was nothing else. She was his sickness; perhaps he did not understand this simply because he could not allow into himself more than one living soul, one strange soul from among all the alien souls, because they were strangers among everything that was theirs, and they had a different scent...
But something happened within him even without his wishing it, and Leta took pity on him and helped him: she closed her eyes, she stroked and kissed him, until he shuddered and then became calm and left her, still not understanding what was natural to the hearts of these strangers, even to the heart of the one whom he loved as he loved his native land, his last internal defense from everyone who now lived on that land.
While all this was happening, Emelya fell into a faint. Volos, who was sitting beside the fire, seemed to sway and drift off into the distance, the ceiling curled and stretched out into an immense tube, and a yellow drop of tar dripped from it onto the palm of his hand.
His palm was stung, and he pulled his hand back. The man standing on the sidewalk of Malaya Bronnaya Street, just beside the Patriarch's Ponds drew the scalpel in his hand down sharply, and blood appeared. He applied a black agate instrument with a white keyboard to the cut on Emelya's hand, entered a code, and the instrument began to hum, turning red. A few minutes later, out slid a long slip of metal with words and figures clearly printed on it from top to bottom:
"...Russian blood –41%; Ugric –24%; Vyatich–14%; Murom –4%, Chudin–4%, Duleb–4%, Hindu–1%, X– two four-percentiles..."
A second man, standing beside the one who was performing the analysis, was dressed just like him, in a red shirt with a black collar, a Makarov pistol hanging at his side. He reported Emelya's figures to the center by radio.
Then, with a gesture that was polite and considerate, but very clear, they asked Emelya to follow them. They walked past Kozikhin Lane, where the ruins of the corner house were overgrown with willow-herb, and approached the yard of house #23 on Malaya Bronnaya Street. Apart from them, there was no one on the street. They stopped in front of a pair of massive forged-iron gates, painted red. The guard on the right pressed the white doorbell, and a man came out carrying an automatic rifle and wearing a khaki shirt. He looked at Emelya's metal slip, shook his head and scratched the back of his neck. He squashed a mosquito on his cheek, wiped the blood left on his palm on his shirt, and said the house they needed was in the next block. In this place they had four percent Georgian blood instead of Murom.
Without breaking their silence the percentage operatives walked on to the next block. The entrance was on Spiridonyev Lane, beside the old hotel. The one who limped with his left leg pressed a purple buzzer. No one came out; apparently the bell wasn't working. The same man with the limp knocked on the massive metal gates–they were smaller than at #23, but their sheer, unbroken surface was still impressive. The sound was hollow, as though he were ringing a large bell. The gates opened slowly.
A man emerged, wearing a khaki shirt with a blue collar. He had a knife stuck in his belt and a "TT" pistol hanging at his side. He seemed half-asleep. He squinted closely at Emelya's metal slip, then let him inside. The gates creaked and groaned as they closed, but the automatic mechanism did its job. Then, without looking at Emelya, the man read the text on the metal slip again.
He went over to a metal box covered in peeling gray paint with a yellow opening in its center, and stuck Emelya's slip into it, the way you drop a letter into a mailbox. The machine clicked twice and began buzzing merrily. It hummed for a while and then stopped and regurgitated Emelya's passport.
"Unfortunately," said the Guard, "there's no one with the same figures as you." Seeing the look of astonishment on Emelya's face, he reluctantly explained:
"Look, you've got one percent Hindu blood, and four percent Duleb, and the woman who's nearest to your blood type has four percent Hindu and one percent Duleb–just the opposite. What's more, she's Catholic, and you're Orthodox. So you'll have to live on your own for now."
"Does everybody live like that?" Emelya inquired.
"Some do, some don't," said the Guard. "They get by."
"How?" asked Emelya.
'You'll find out soon enough," said the Guard. He thumped a red dispensing machine and held a dirty plastic cup under the stream of kvass that gushed out. When he'd drunk his fill, he wiped his full red lips thoroughly on his sleeve. Emelya recognized the place. When he was still Medvedko, and lived beside the Chertory, he had slept several times on this very spot; the same elder bush was even blossoming over there by the wall. When a bee stung him under that bush his nose had swollen up: the bear had massaged the very tip of his nose with its huge, delicate paw, and the swelling went down in two days time.
"Can't I go out in the street?" Emelya asked.
"Try it," said the Guard. He opened the gates and watched curiously, but hung back in the shadow of the metal wall. A burst of machine-gun fire kicked up a cloud of dust at Emelya's feet as soon as he stepped outside the gates. A burst of crossfire from another corner raised a smaller but denser cloud. A solitary shot whipped the brown velvet cap from his head.
The Guard pressed a button and once again the gates creaked back into place. The final shots hit the iron, making it hum.
"Are they such bad shots?" asked Emelya.
"No," said the Guard. "Once you get four meters outside the gate, you're a nobody, but they were just practicing. One centimeter away from the head is two points, half a centimeter away is four points."
"What if they hit your head?"
"Ten penalty points. When a guard has a thousand points, he gets a medal, for five thousand he gets an order of merit."
"Then what happens after four meters?"
"After four meters, the head's ten points and the belly's six. The law says non-combatants should have an easy death."
"Why didn't they shoot at me straight away?"
"You're wearing a white shirt," said the Guard, "like a pure-blood. Your collar's embroidered with rhomboids, and they have crosses, but it's hard to tell the difference from a distance. And it's the wrong district, we don't see pure-bloods around here much in the day-time. That's why the percentage operatives turned up."
"Ah, you mean the men in the red shirts... Why don't they shoot at them?"
"That's against the law," said the Guard.
"What if they do, by mistake?"
The Guard hesitated. He couldn't figure out whether he was being tested by this artless interrogation, or whether they'd slipped him some material for a test assessment–determine type, grade, rank and meaning of the subject. Since in this city everyone was always testing everyone else, even the most slow-witted individual never had difficulty working out who was the fox and who was the hunter–and what their next moves were likely to be. Any person in conversation with another always played both parts in rapid sequence, trying to confuse himself and catch himself out, switching roles so many times that the number of permutations thought up by each partner in the course of the conversation far outnumbered the mutual reflections of two mirrors during a fortune-telling seance. It had been ten years since the last of those who got their ideas or permutations of the facts confused had either gone insane or been shot, and the survivors always instantaneously took into account hundreds of likely moves by their conversational partner, working almost unerringly at the level of feelings. The kinds of questions Emelya was firing at him seemed so much like super-cunning and super-ignorance at the same time, that at first the Guard was thrown off the scent. This particular subject was clearly a bit too tricky for the average Guard, sound and reliable as he was. Even so, despite his dismay and the strain on his ponderous intellect, the Guard's external behavior was quite irreproachable and natural, as good as any citizen of the city. But inwardly his nostrils were flared, sniffing closely at every movement of the gun-barrel or the eye, at every step and every movement of the paws and nose of his opponent. He was simultaneously the hunter and the fox to such a degree that it didn't matter who was who.
The hunt was played out according to the full rules of the Muscovite game: gently, politely, ingratiatingly, considerately, without any expressions of surprise, but still there were too many odd intonations, subtleties, and questions. Like dough rising over the edge of the bowl, they crept beyond the boundaries of the permutations of possibilities that our Guard had learned so well back in his school days.
"If they do, by mistake," he answered, without any special emphasis, "then they turn out the hunter in the very center of the square during the daytime. If a sniper gets him, he's awarded 25 points. A submachine-gunner gets 20, and a machine-gunner gets 15."
"Who lives in the house they were firing from?" Emelya asked, raising his hand to point at the gray house on the corner of Spiridonyev Lane and Malaya Bronnaya Street.
"Oh," said the Guard, noting the faulty angle of Emelya's raised hand–it was a breach of ritual procedure, "they're complete foreigners. Instead of seven blood-types like you, they've only got six. lust imagine, they haven't got any Murom blood at all, not even one percent... And instead of your Duleb blood, they've got Armenian."
"What about the house to the left?"
The Guard laughed, as though he was about to say something mysterious and highly significant. He leaned right down to Emelya's ear and glanced around as he whispered:
"Instead of our Ugric blood, they've got Scythian."
The gun-barrel began rising to eye-level; the fox, not noticing the barrel's wide staring pupil, walked on cautiously but unafraid.
"And in the tower?"
Slightly to the right of the corner house on Spiridonyev Lane stood a building which was once given over to be used by the staff of certain Moscow newspapers which hadn't been printed for the last ten years. After all the postmen who delivered the newspapers had been killed–by mistake, of course–people listened to the radio instead. Even letters were transmitted by radio. Everyone listened to a letter, but only two people understood–the one who sent it and the addressee.
"The tower?" The Guard glanced sharply at Emelya and answered in an official and authoritative manner: "The same thing, only six blood-types, but one's inferior, Obry."
"But didn't the Obry die out? There's even a saying: 'Dead as the Obry.'"
"Oh, the Obry died out," said the Guard, lowering his left eyelid slightly, as though he was peering through a gun-sight, "but the blood was left, just like the Assyrian, and the Babylonian, and the Sumerian and so on. That's why it's inferior, because there's a blood-type, but there's no race."
At this point a decision was born in the Guard's brain, a conclusion, a thought, an action: the birth lasted a long time, but his finger already lay close on the trigger, like a woman who has finally found a shoulder she can cry on. The fox raised his left forepaw and froze, shedding his eyes, ears, coat, life and personality to become a mere two-dimensional target. An answer to the riddle was born and crept out from deep inside what was furthest inside: he felt a cold shudder–this could be an alien...
If he was an alien, the Kremlin had to be informed. In the Kremlin, along with the service staff, the percentage operatives, the chefs and the plumbers, lived the people who wound Moscow up every day like an alarm clock, planning every minute of history. They needed information, so that no chance occurrences could interfere with their work.
In fact, the information had been passed on long before, as soon as Emelya appeared in Moscow, on Malaya Bronnaya Street by the Patriarch's Ponds, by the iron railings opposite
Kozikhin Lane, lust as normal millstones grind grain and stones, the great millstones of the system were already grinding thoughts, clothing, movements and subtleties of movement, gait, blood, heat corona around the head. Already every feature that could and couldn't be detected was curling up into rolls as it tumbled out of the broad output slots of the machines, already it was flying across desks and through the fingers of thousands of specialists. An alien was more dangerous than any weapon, any idea, any plague, to say nothing of a blood alien...
But these were problems for the Kremlin.
The Guard was merely one warrior in the field. Everything else he said after this was like the probing of an echo-locator. A sound projected to the bottom of the sea is reflected back, and an automatic device traces out the profile of the sea-bed. Any spoken word would do–he could tell a story, ask questions, tell lies, be provocative–anything was all right, as long as it produced a result, and even if it didn't, it was still all right; the word spoken by his voice sank into the other person's ear, down to the bottom of his soul, and was reflected back to the head of the one who sent it, to the place where the target was growing ever more distinct, its outlines becoming less and less blurred with each returning sound. From this moment the Guard's speech shed all external meaning and became filled with a secret, inner meaning, while Emelya's speech remained as straightforward and open as before, although, of course, he noticed the Guard's alertness, and heard the gun being cocked.
"Why is there so much shooting on the streets?" Emelya asked. Indeed, the shooting, close at hand or farther away, never completely stopped, and sometimes it was too loud to talk over. "Are there so many 'nobodies' wandering around the streets?"
'"Nobodies' are very rare on the streets, but our laws are so perfect they have to be deliberately broken, and some people make it their business to do just that. Take a pond, now. If the wind doesn't drive the duckweed off its surface, then it gets overgrown and dies. And you know yourself, no nation wants to die out completely. Power requires movement, so in some parts of the city they stage freedom fights."
The shooting grew more intense. It sounded very close.
"That's right, now," said the Guard, and he pointed at the plaster falling at their feet, dislodged by stray bullets. "That's on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street. The war between house numbers six and seven–they're almost directly opposite each other, it's very convenient. A war between Sumero-Akkado-Colchido-Greco-Meskheto-Abkhazian Georgians and Sumero-Akkado-Colchido-Greco-Meskheto-Georgian Abkhazians.
Emelya heard the hammering of a heavy machine gun, and a large red lump of molded cornice fell at his feet.
"That's in Armenian Lane, house #8. It's the Urarto-Greco-Turco-Karabakho-Armenian Azerbaijanians fighting the Urarto-Greco-Turco-Karabakho-Azerbaijanian Armenians. The floors and the ceilings are like sieves–no need for ventilation. Over on Ordynka Street the Turco-Mongolo-Tataro-Fergana Uzbeks are fighting the Turco-Mongolo-Tataro-Fergana Meskhs. They shoot through the ceiling at rustling sounds, too, and they throw burning brands in through windows, even though they share the same house. If it burns down, they rebuild it and start all over again... Yesterday they brought out a guy from one of our flats here. An Indo-Chudo-Dulebo-Muromo-Vyatich Russian woman smothered her loving husband–a Russian drunk–with a pillow. He was Orthodox, mind you, and their figures were identical down to the last decimal point, and all because when he got drunk he liked to stub out his cigarettes on her forehead. Who does she think she is?"
At this point the echo-locator finished drawing its picture, and in the Guard's brain a certain signal was squeezed out of a
gurgling sensation that was almost a decision, the way the stone is squeezed out of a plum if you press on it: emerging out of nowhere, the signal smoothly bypassed consciousness, barely even brushing against it on its way to the nerve which was connected to his finger, in the way the reins are connected to a horse's muzzle and the rider's hands. His finger began to sweat at the deed dwelling on its tip. Inside, to himself, the Guard breathed the word "alien," and pressed the trigger. The fox gave a jump and crawled some distance over the pink snow on its stomach, then twitched and lay still, following the law of future causes.
Everything that happened to Emelya after this was merely the combination of the past with the future that hadn't happened yet. But everything happened right here and right now–the concrete individual is the only creator of personal human history, just as the only creator of Divine History is God.
The Guard lost interest in the conversation, or at least, it no longer meant anything to him...
"They haven't quite figured you out yet. Look, you've still got two four-percentiles of 'x' blood, and God only knows what that means. When they've figured that out, we'll talk things over. Meanwhile you can do some rookie's work." He handed Emelya an ordinary spade with a crooked handle. "They chuck their garbage out of the windows, so when they do, you collect it and bury it–over there under the elder bush–you know one end of a spade from another, 1 suppose?"
"Perfectly," said Emelya. During his ten years in the monastery, Emelya had often held a spade in his hands, and he really used it very well.
From now on it was just a matter of dotting the 'i's. Unmasking an alien meant an order of merit for sure. Emelya was worth his weight in gold to the Guard.
"You understand you mustn't stick your nose out on the street, don't you?" he asked, as if trying to fix the idea in Emelya's mind.
“I understand,” said Emelya. He took hold of the spade, and the Guard went off to fulfill his sacred duty and pass his ideas on up the chain of command, which was precisely why the city of Moscow had guards, analysis machines, the Percentage Officer-General and its entire well-balanced economy–and keeping it all in balance under conditions of unrestrained civil war was no mean feat.
The Guard went in the front entrance and pressed a knob with the digit "3" etched on it, the number which meant an alien had been detected in the house. The presence of an alien in a house without the knowledge of the authorities was punishable by death in twenty-four hours. They executed the guard, the commandant and the alien himself. The execution procedure was very simple–they all became "nobodies," the gates were opened, and the new commandant and guard threw them out in broad daylight. Then it was just a question of who fired the lucky shot–the bullets were all marked, the autopsy made it quite clear whose bullet was the cause of death, and the owners of all the other bullets got five points each.
All this was nothing like what used to happen in the unenlightened times of Ivan the Terrible. When they tied Ivan Mikhailovich Viskovaty to the stake (he was accused of being a Crimean-Turco-Polish-Lithuanian agent, just as Tukhachevsky was accused of being a Germano-Anglo-American agent), the tsar's entourage took turns going up and cutting off a piece of the agent's body, and one man, Ivan Reutov, got so carried away that the agent, as bad luck would have it, went and died, and the tsar and his entourage were cheated of full satisfaction. However, the accusation that Reutov deliberately facilitated the shortening of the agent's torment was not as convincing as in our case. (As for the unfortunately assiduous Reutov, he was quite fantastically lucky–he died of the plague, without having to make good the tsar's missed amusement.)
Of course, Tsar Ivan might not have found such severe fault with a more obliging and less obdurate, more obedient and peaceable man, but in response to the honest, just, humane, regal (all power, after all, comes from God), disinterested and sympathetic accusation that he worked for the Crimean-Turco... etc., this Ivan Viskovaty dared not only not to repent, but even–shameless horror of horrors–to exclaim in the presence of the tsar's lackeys: "Since you thirst for my blood, then spill it, innocent as it is, eat and drink your fill," thereby insulting the sacred power of the monarch. Things were different with Tukhachevsky. He remembered the consequences of ministerial folly, and when he was put up against the wall, he exclaimed: "Long live Josef the Bloody!" thereby avoiding the pitiful fate of Ivan Viskovaty.
However, we are digressing from our point, which is that in those dark times, without the technical means for precise and complete tests, it was hard to establish with any certainty that Ivan Viskovaty died as a result of osobist’s Reutov efforts. Therefore in this enlightened age, bullets were marked with the initials of the marksman and the year of manufacture. The annual quotas were: snipers–1,000 rounds; submachine-gunners–10,000 rounds; machine-gunners–15,000 rounds. So far everyone seemed to have enough, and there were no complaints from the public. People in the Kremlin were concerned with other problems–that of cartridges had been solved once and for all.
lust at this moment Emelya was struck by a head of rotten cabbage falling from above. He picked up his spade and began to bury the cabbage beside the elder bush.
After Emelya dug his way through an eight-hour working day, he was dead tired. He had buried three empty fruit-juice jars, one copper basin, one Steinway grand piano (broken into four large pieces), half a sack full of rotten potatoes and all sorts of small garbage such as candy wrappers and soap coupons. When evening came, he took the elevator up to the fourth floor and went into room #8. He was so tired his eyes were filled with darkness, and he lay down without getting undressed. Sleep fell on him like a hawk on a sparrow, like a tank on a chick, like a boot on a worm, suddenly and painfully.
"You're not paired up yet, are you?" Someone stroked Emelya's face. It was dark. The hand was light and slender, and the skin felt just a little rough.
"My name's Zhdana. I live in Oprichnik Court," said the hand. "I have four tongues and I play on the flute, but that is not important. What is important is that I have five blood-types, and that is a crime in your house, but nobody knows except you."
Emelya gave no response at all to this confidence. He felt warm and drowsy, and he'd always been quite content with just one tongue for talking. He'd never seen a woman with four of them. He kissed her, and there was only one tongue in her mouth. His trust evaporated, but drops of warmth gradually accumulated inside him, and when his heart was quite full, it began to flow downward, toward his belly, and then it seemed to Emelya that she really did have four tongues, one for his lips, one for his back... Emelya began speaking familiar words, words he had long known but now they worked him into a moaning rapture, and his moan lasted so long that the stars began to turn white...
They grew so bright that beta could make out Nekras' face as he thrust a small figure of Mokosh into her hand and hurriedly asked Leta to give it to his daughter when she saw her there. He stammered out that his daughter was a good singer, and attempted to sing a song Leta already knew. Nekras was completely absorbed in his own cares: all the time that he was
with beta he sang and babbled and kept repeating Bessona's name. Flatteringly, obsequiously, he attempted to look into beta's eyes, but she hooded them with her eyelids to avoid seeing Nekras' thin lips so close to her face, and the gap where his front teeth were until a stag's antler knocked them out. She tried not to hear Nekras' words, but she remembered the request to pass on the figure of Mokosh, and she recalled when she was in Zhdan's house, where his wife, Ludmila, made these clay figures, mixing the clay with quail's blood, and the quail's blood ran down Ludmila's fingers, slipping over the dead clay and refusing to mingle with it, for there was no space in it. Hardly noticing what had taken place, Nekras took his leave of Leta, still babbling about Bessona, understanding, as he touched this woman who already belonged to the unknown, that Leta was dangerous, powerful, capricious, irritable and inaccessible, and this made him a fledgling before a hawk, a worm before a fledgling, a mosquito before a worm. Nekras crawled away.
Bogdan was in a hurry, he had only just torn himself away from Polyana, and his lips and his arms were still entangled in his beloved's braids and her arms. They were only married three months, and every moment they could be alone they made love–in the hayloft, in the river, under a tree, in the barn, in their room, in the attic, in the store-room, in the pig-sty, on the road, in a wagon, on a bench, on the table, on the chest, in the dovecote, on the plank bed, in a grove, in the forest, in a clearing. Everyone else in the house had died, and now there was no one to bother them. Bogdan hated to tear himself away from Polyana, but his duty to his family, who were all in the other world, forced him to leave Polyana on her own, but only for a very short while. He had no requests for Leta, he paid no attention to her, working powerfully, coarsely, cruelly, his sensations unrelated to her. Somehow this stung her pride, and she began to resist and tease Bogdan. At first he didn't notice her movements, but when she closed her legs completely and squirmed out from underneath him, he forgot Polyana and went wild, and Leta laughed. Casting all reverence aside, the bull ploughed the earth, the stallion reared up, the explosion tore apart the cliff, the way a hawk rips a cobweb as it flies through it without noticing. Leta suddenly felt what she had hoped for, in fear and trembling, when she walked alone through the dark forest, collecting the night-time herbs, the fears that tormented her erupted in Bogdan, and the feeling was unexpectedly pleasant and acute, like it had never been before. The bull forgot Polyana, and the barn, and the table, and the tree, and the cliff. Foam dripped from his lips, the earth was turned inside out as the plowshare raised up the thick slabs, they gleamed in the weak light of the stars, and everything round about sang and hummed and swirled and smelt of white flakes of foam from the waves shattering against the cliff, and heavy sweat...
Semak came in before Bogdan left, he was in a hurry, for the stars were like laundered ink stains now, still blue but almost white.
He sat on the floor where he could see Bogdan and Leta from below, unhurriedly took off his shirt and laid it beside him. When Bogdan got off Leta, he went over to her. Leta was tired, she was half delirious and she did not resist. She hardly even felt Semak, she just lay on the edge of the couch with her head dangling slightly backwards. Her arms lay wide open, her knees were slightly bent. Semak pitied Leta, he was sorry that she had to leave them, he felt sorry for her almost child-like face. Leta was only twenty-four years old. Semak was twice her age.
He looked at the blue circles under beta's eyes, at the slight twitching of her fingers, at her braid hanging down to the floor, at the fine blue vein throbbing on her neck. A huge fly flew into the temple and began buzzing madly around. After a short while Semak managed to catch it: when he squeezed his fingers gently together, the blood spurted out. A mosquito began its high-pitched song and the sound hammered in his ear. Semak moved his finger through the air, and the sound stopped. It was quiet. Semak slapped beta's cheeks. Leta opened her eyes, recognized Semak, smiled and closed her eyes again. Semak performed his duty quickly, but despite his haste, the four final participants in the ritual of farewell–Groza, Chayan, Kudryash and Lyubim–were already there in the temple, and before beta's friends, the other women, appeared to make her ready for her journey, each of them entered beta's sleeping or unconscious body and left the temple.
When Leta came to she was securely bound to a stake. A fire was built up around her from below. The stake had been soaked in the water of the river Moscow. All this had been done by Volos and the men who had been her husbands that night. The fibers and the knot of the rope that bound her were soaked in the waters of sixteen streams. And the spell had been pronounced.
The infusion of sacrificial herbs she had drunk before the sacred night was less strong than she had thought, or else Leta was stronger than the herbs.
At the bottom of the pile there was brushwood, then above that there were large logs arranged in a square, and everything was covered over with sheaves of straw. Leta could not remember them raising her up three times onto the gates by the fire, but when they asked her if she could see her father and mother, she replied that she did, and the second time she said she could see her grandfather, and the third time that she could seeeveryone who lived in heaven. Nor did she awake when Volos wounded her, but not mortally, with the white knife from the temple of Veles and they cut the throats of two white horses that had wheezed till they were silent and now lay close by, still warm. The wound in her side hurt, and the blood was pouring from it. Leta felt afraid–if she could not bear the fire and cried out, then her death would not save Moscow. And she forgot about Volos and Lyudota and Emelya, there was no woman left in her, there was only the priestess of the temple of Veles, who must save her people, and she took her right arm, which bore her bracelet with the image of Simargl, and clutched it tightly in her teeth, and she heard Volos speak:
"Veles, our god, choor to this ferocious illness that afflicts us, choor to the seven-headed death that afflicts us, choor to the icy cold, choor to the loathsome hunger, accept our Leta, take her white body, take her blue eyes, take her long braids, take her firm breasts, take my wife and the savior's mother, take our sister and your daughter, take my tenderness and my sunshine, take my love and all my happy nights, that have been and would have been, and take all of Emelya's happy days, and take Cord's wife, and Molchan's wife, and Lyudota's wife, and Chudin's wife, and Nekras' wife, and Bogdan's wife, and Semak's wife, and Groza's wife, and Chayan's wife, and Kudryash's wife, and Lyubim's wife..."
The straw caught fire and flared up to the sky, and a wall of smoke and flame cut Leta off from the world and life and from Volos' words, from her bridegroom and her husband, but the fire was around Leta and above her, and it did not touch her yet. Then the wind fanned the flames higher and tossed a lump of burning straw onto her head, and her hair flared up and burnt away so quickly she did not feel the flames, or perhaps it was because she bit her arm and her mouth was full of blood that she felt nothing–one pain balanced out the other. And she understood that the law of life is balance, but evil is not balanced by good, evil is balanced by evil, and then the one who works evil, and the one on whom evil is worked, live as though dead, and feel nothing of this. And she was frightened by this thought, so that it fled from her, and she felt pain. And beta was glad that she felt pain, already the fire was racking her through and through, the way Lyudota had racked her, she felt the touch of its hot palms of flame, she felt languorous warmth, for the fire was making love to her as her husbands had made love to her in the night, but then the beads round her neck burst into flame and the charm on her breast grew red-hot, and the bracelets on her wrists and the rings at her temples began to glow, and love was past. The fire flung a ladle of heat into her eyes, the two blue pools in the sorceress' fathomless chalices boiled away, and she had nothing left with which to read her clan's future, and the future of her son, and the future of her tribe, and her own future.
The chalices boiled away, and a drop of fire touched the bone within, and the bone smoked, and Leta groaned inside, in order not to betray herself. Groaning inwardly helps, and no one can hear, she could live inwardly, groaning yet alive–1 am alive if the scream seeks a way out–and her heart pounded against her cracked chest, and inside her legs it was still moist and not so hot as on the outside, but then even that moisture dried out, and Leta felt her arm become lighter, and she felt her leg become weightless, and her belly curled up like birch-bark and turned to smoke, and her spine bent and twisted like a screw, following her body and her head, which was now a black sphere.
Then Leta was floating above the fire, above the people, above Emelya, above Lyudota, Nekras and Molchan, and above the houses, and above the clouds, so high and yet so near. There was no distance on the other side, fly as far as you like, everything was still nearby, and everyone raised their arms to her as she left, she could see all of them here, and nothing hurt,
there was just blood flowing down her arm where she bit it, but her arm was made of air, and her blood was made of air, and her soul was made of air, and moving was easy. From above she could see the fire burning, and on it an empty body smoking, with hands trying to tear away the wet ropes that were strong against the fire. She was done with that body now, what had it to do with her? What she should do now was go down to Emelya, but she couldn't go down. She hung the stone of smoke around her neck, and it worked, now she could. She bent down and stroked Emelya's hair; he shuddered slightly, as though caught by a sudden blast of heat, and tilted his head back. She went over to Lyudota, and Lyudota felt the heat run over his skin, and now there was Volos standing in front of them all. Leta went toward him, but he raised his hands and spoke: "Choor," he said, "be gone." A wall seemed to spring up between him and Leta. She stopped and could go no closer to him. Then she heard someone calling her. She could not tell whether she knew the voice or not, but she turned. It was the same day. The Transformation. The sixth day of Serpen. But it was a different world, and life in it was different.
She saw a woman approach her, dressed in white, with a bunch of keys on her belt. Her belt was made of copper, and the golden keys jangled in the wind, or perhaps from her stride. She came up to Leta and led her aside by the hand.
"Do not bother them," she said, and her voice was soft, ingratiating and kind, its gentleness saw deep into Leta's soul. "Do not bother them, they are seeing you on your way, and you do not have much time. Let us talk before you leave." And she laughed. They went over to the end house, where Lyudota lived, and sat down on the bench beside the house. And all the while the keys jangled.
"Are you death?" Leta asked.
"No." The woman in white with the keys on her belt laughed. "There is no such thing as death. There is only freedom."
"What is this freedom like?" Leta asked.
"Come and see." She took Leta by the hand and they went into Lyudota's house. There was only Nezhdana, Lyudota's mother-in-law, lying there and groaning, and no one else, because they had all gone to the fire to see Leta off on her way to the next world. The woman went up to Nezhdana and jingled her keys; she found a small one and unhooked it from her belt. As Leta watched, it was no longer Nezhdana there, but a cage holding a bird that was beating its wings piteously against its bars; but no, when she looked closer it was Nezhdana, those veins like twigs on her hands and on her neck. The woman raised the key toward Nezhdana, lifted up her shirt and turned the key; the door opened, and the bird fluttered out of Nezhdana, or was it out of the cage? Nezhdana stopped groaning and lay quiet.
The woman in white gave Leta the key to hold, took her hand and led her out of the house and down to the river Moscow, then she took back the key and threw it into the water. Leta was sad to see the key thrown away, but the woman in white smiled. The key was no use any more, it only opened one cage.
"Where's Emelya's key?" Leta asked in fright.
"Here it is," said the woman, jangling the keys on her belt as she searched, then holding it out to Leta.
Leta took hold of it and without so much as a glance threw it into the river Moscow. Then she was scared.
"Don't you be afraid," said the woman, "you have done nothing wrong. He will never free himself now, someone will have to free him with a knife or a sword or an arrow, but you and I are powerless."
"Then will you give me Volos' key too?" Leta asked.
"Why not?" said the woman.
Leta grabbed it and flung it into the water.
"And can I have Lyudota's key?"
"Not Lyudota's. Lyudota is mine, not yours, only two people on earth are yours, Emelya and Volos, and the Bear, your first bridegroom, whose blood flows in Emelya's veins. But I do not free beasts, the bears have their own stewardess. And now it is time for you to go."
beta was frightened.
"What?" she asked. "For ever?"
"No," said the woman. "You will see Emelya in forty days, and every year on his birthday, the twenty-fourth day of Beriozozol, you will appear to him."
"What about Volos?"
"His days are already numbered." She looked at the writing on the scroll that was stuck in her belt: "It is soon."
"But the key..." said Leta.
"What need of a key, when there are people? Come now, be on your way, it is too soon for you to know everything."
"Was what I did pointless, then?" Leta gasped.
"Why pointless? I would have freed Emelya and Volos, if not tomorrow, then next week. They are all destined for freedom, you see."
"By whom?" Leta asked.
At that moment the stewardess removed the stone of smoke from around Leta's neck, and her body soared up and away from the earth like a balloon filled with hot air when it drops its load or cuts away its anchor.
Leta did not hear her answer. The wind caught her up and swept her into a long funnel, drawing her further and further along, and ahead there was light, so much light, and peace... It was good that Emelya at least would not be free before his time...
When Emelya saw Leta in the flames, when a wing of flame was swept aside by the wind and he saw her burnt-out eyes, and her black, living face, he was overcome and he began slowly
twisting round, like a screw turning upward, he felt himself pulled to one side, and his eyes turned inward in the opposite direction to the turning of the screw. Perhaps it was the fire that scorched him, or perhaps he felt pity for his mother, perhaps he did not want to see the pain, and he withdrew within himself, covering his face with his hands and fleeing down the spiral stairs to where the walls are damp and living things creep and crawl and rustle and scratch and clatter with their claws, as though the lower he went, the more solitary he was, the more of his own sounds there were, and everything out there, up above, was not his, it was alien and distant and less important, it was yesterday, the past, over and done with. He tumbled down the steps, banging his shoulder, his head, his elbow against the walls, and he seemed to feel calmer and quieter, distanced and defended...
In the next month of his life Emelya learned a great deal about the city from Zhdana. He learned that every house had its own plot of land in the window-boxes where they grew grain; he learned that every house had its own shoemakers, its own bakers, its own weavers and its own wells reaching down to depths of several kilometers. He learned how Zhdana was able to appear in his house, even though she was from Oprichnik Court, the next block, which stood between Granovsky Lane and Mokhovaya Street (formerly Marx Street), between Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street (formerly Herzen Street} and New Arbat Street (formerly Kalinin Prospekt). Beneath Moscow lay another vast city, which was called Underground Moscow. This city had its own streets, roadways, churches four or five hundred years old, and monasteries. It included the tunnels of the long-deserted Metro, and in the carriages abandoned along the tracks or in the stations, a separate life was lived in the total darkness. People from outlying districts met there, those
who couldn't get home in time, but had to be home by daylight or lose their rations, which meant a person had the choice of not reporting home and dying of hunger, or making it known he was alive and becoming a "nobody." The city lived under one set of rules by day, and followed another at night, and the only bad thing about the night was that the people in Underground Moscow never saw each other's faces in the absolute, total, thorough, complete, profound, primeval darkness. But in this darkness children managed very well to begin their journey toward the light of day, more frequently in fact than by daylight, and therefore the percentage operatives were very careful in screening infants, and were not surprised when a family of pure-blooded Armeno-Azerbaijano-Georgian-Tajiko-Uzbeko-Kirgizo-Kazakho-Turkmens produced a Russo-Estono-Latvo-Lithuo-Ukraino-Moldavo-Armeno-Azerbaijano-Georgian-Tajiko-Uzbeko-Turkmeno Belorussian.
The family of a Buryato-Germano-Nanai-Sino-Korean Mongol once produced a Franco-Anglo-Prusso-Greco-Italo-Turco-Komi-Rornano-Shumero-Buryato-Germano-Nanai-Koreo-Mongolian American.
You can imagine how far out from the center compared with his parents the poor child had to live. And no one told him a thing about them.
The percentage operatives themselves spent half their lives in Underground Moscow, but they never forgot their job, and when they were at work they remained as professional as ever Up above in the other city the streets had other names, sometimes similar to the underground names, sometimes not. To be fair to the underground city, not one of its streets of total blackness or subterranean rivers that ran through the deep city of night had retained a single name from the previous century. There was no Lenin River or Stalin Stream or Trotsky Canal, and to judge from the way things were going, there never would be. Along the black rivers and streams drifted the boats of night-time lovers who worked by day as hunters, night-time fishermen who caught fish that had disappeared in Moscow, the rafts of percentage-operatives who called to each other as they sought for the mothers who had been taken from them and the children they had never seen.
At night, in the short intervals between tenderness, insanity, death and resurrection, Zhdana told Emelya about day-time Moscow. Zhdana was happy that they were neighbors and they didn't have to do their loving on the stunted, puny, wretched grass by the underground rivers or the worn and love-stained seats in the rusty metro carriages and the half-rotten ties of the rails, or stand hunched over, with water dripping down their collars in the niches between the roots of immense trees which were tied to the surface by huge gratings, the way Christmas trees are held to the floor by crosses. They didn't have to stand, bracing their hands against the rough, shaggy roots of these trees. In Emelya's house they could breathe tenderly and calmly and unhurriedly, eternally and immortally on the creaking bed, and it was only half an hour before dawn that Zhdana slowly took her leave of Emelya. Half an hour was the time it took to travel through Underground Moscow from Spiridonyev Lane to Oprichnik Court. In winter these nights would be so long, and Emelya, the lover who had sprung out of nowhere, could hold her forever; but she was terribly afraid that it would all end as suddenly as it began, and she waited for the end in fear and trembling, for life in the city was not subject to any form of logic, it was as unpredictable and elemental as a dream. And as though she feared a sudden attack, Zhdana drew out her words as she told Emelya about Islamic Ordynka Street and pious Russian Tverskaya Street, about Buddhist Varvarka Street, about Christian Arbat Street.
All these stories were legends, for apart from the street percentage operatives, practically no one ventured outside the bounds of their own block in daylight, and they often didn't know who lived in the next block along. But everyone knew the entire city in detail, they could visualize it and feel it, for a map of the city hung in every block, neatly divided into four sectors–white, red, black and yellow–and each sector was further sub-divided into four weaker colors, and each of those, in turn, was divided into four. On the black areas, the names of the streets and blocks were written in white, on the white areas–in black, on the yellow areas the names were in red, and on the red areas–in yellow. It was fascinating to study the map closely–you could see every name and every block, and every block had its own specific shade, but if you stepped back from the map, the shades merged together, and from the opposite wall the entire circle of the city of Moscow fused into a single undifferentiated blob. At that distance there was no way you could tell the difference between Christian Arbat Street and Buddhist Varvarka Street–especially since most of the people living in house #10 on Old Arbat Street, for instance, had German blood, and in house #12 they had French blood, and in house #18 they had English blood; and in house #5 on Ordynka Street, the largest percentile was Arab, while in house #10 it was Turkish.
From the opposite wall Moscow by moonlight was an indistinct monochrome blur.
From the distance of love the map was a single indivisible whole.
Like all the children here, Zhdana could not remember her parents. At the age of one year she had been torn away not only from the maternal breast, but from her mother, for nothing could be more different than the percentage analysis of the blood of parents and the blood of their offspring, not to mention the night-time blood. Minute and insignificant variations in the percentage analyses of the lawful parents' blood led to such divergent classifications, even of religious affiliation, that children could find themselves in different blocks, frequently even in different sectors. And children of the same mother with an admixture of Scottish or English blood took pleasure in waging furious, skillful, professional, unrestrained civil war, entirely successful for both sides, in terms of the numbers of casualties, and their efforts were matched, for instance, by the children of a single father, half-brothers, in the Israeli-Palestinian block. Driven by the hot southern blood still unwearied by millennia of conflict, they bombed and took hostages, sprayed each other with plastic and lead, poisoned each other with gas, and in general did everything that the children of a single earth, a single people, a single tongue, and a single rite have been doing since time immemorial, since the times of the Pharaoh Bes, although before their very eyes the end was approaching of the thousand years allotted to this war by the eternal God of mercy and grace, Who has as many names as there are countries, tongues, nations and people living on Earth.
To pass from sector to sector along the surface streets by day under a hail of machine-gun fire was impossible for anyone who was not a percentage operative or a pure-blood. In any case the sectors were separated by mighty walls and barricades which were crowned by electrified barbed wire, and ran like meat skewers through the blocks and the streets, with heavy machine gun emplacements every meter. The current was only switched off for one exceptional reason and the machine guns fell silent only for that same reason...
That night, like the preceding nights, Emelya and Zhdana celebrated their love, and their celebration shut out the city and the map and all the world's blood-types and percentiles and percentage operatives, and both of them were enveloped in a sense of a different movement and meaning; love was one of the four elements that could not be captured by thought or reason or expediency or calculation or profit...
They celebrated their love, never suspecting that this was their final night.
The Guard was right.
The machines worked for a month, four of them broke down completely, two required major repairs, one was dismantled for spare parts, but a month later the intelligent, subtle, unfaltering, uncompromising, objective, noble machines had worked it out, three of them precisely, and one with a single doubtful digit, and given their answer: Emelya did not have two four-percentiles of 'x' blood, Emelya had two four-percentiles of alpha blood–alpha one and alpha two. The machines could not be more precise, because there was no alpha blood in the city at all, and while there were eighty varieties of 'x' blood, alpha blood was totally alien, it wasn't present in the organism of a single normal inhabitant of the city of Moscow and Underground Moscow.
And while Emelya was stroking Zhdana's thick golden hair and Zhdana's lips traveled over the hills and dales of Emelya's broad chest, overgrown with grass and bushes, the final results were already slipping out of the machine, and the percentage operatives, trembling in fear, were already transmitting them to the urgently assembled Emergency Committee, and it had already been decided to proclaim a general assembly, to gather together all of Moscow.
The Percentage Officer-General was already preparing for the ritual of the Turning-Point of History, the silk blindfold already covered his piggy eyes, bisecting his chicken-like nose. The world was already hidden from the eyes of the Officer-General, and already a silk shirt of some unknown color–for he had never seen it–was slipping down over his shoulders and his body, rippling in warm waves down to the floor.
He was being led up a steep staircase. He counted the steps, and there were twenty-three, the silk shirt rustled and flowed like waves washing over the steps, the banisters sang, and there was quiet music from somewhere far away, behind a wall, mingling with the barely audible, indifferent gurgling of water.
Color and the world and form disappeared from the Officer-General's knowing. Touch and smell and hearing increased proportionally to their insignificance when he still saw the world. For the sum of the displacing senses is increased by the sum of the displaced senses, and not an iota less. As the sand in an hour-glass finally falls through and down at a precise moment, as the open weir empties the upper reservoir into the lower, everything that was in color and sight before was now in sound, smell and touch. Nothing ever vanishes into nowhere, we simply see things from a different angle. The steps creaked gently, and he felt the coolness of the washed wood on the soles of his bare feet.
The lock clicked. The doors creaked open, doors which, judging from the sound, must be massive, heavy and rusty. The Officer-General was led into a room, which felt as though it was round. The Officer-General could feel that the hands supporting and leading him were gentle, solicitous and strong. They left him, withdrawn suddenly, but he was surrounded now by the sound of light running steps, breathing, whispering, words exchanged–the room was full of a different life, and the music began to live its own life a little louder.
The Glinka melody sounded like something else, it was drawn-out and uneven, the sound limped along in a distorted fashion, as though driven by the spring of a wind-up gramophone that was running down. But "Susanin" was still recognizable as the same forest river-pirate from Kostroma who was killed on the job. Years later his wife invented the story of his martyrdom for the sake of a pension to feed his family, which transformed him into yet another of those myths needed in every age, one of those mirrors in which we see ourselves, and the age sees its spirit...
The Officer-General felt a slim candle in his hands, like the ones they give out to people who come to a cathedral for a requiem mass, he felt the warmth and the smell of the wax.
The candle was lit. Obeying the voice which insinuated itself into the limping music, he took several steps forward and stopped. He extended his right hand. Immediately in front of himself he felt a plaque on which slowly and uncertainly, returning to the beginning several times, he read the script, which had the feel of bronze, the meaning of which was more or less the following: "The self-development of the nation is its self-preservation." Slightly higher there were numbers, easy to read–seven, one, zero, one. Still higher he felt a candle, which wasn't lit. Obeying the same voice, which was still faint and distant, but quite distinct, just as the whistle of a supreme shaman is both faint and distinct when heard by another shaman of the same status at a distance of eighty kilometers– twelve guards and a thousand kilometers can be overcome in an instant, and before the war reaches here, the place will be deserted–obeying the voice, the Officer-General lit the candle. It grew warm, but its smell had a different color and sound from the smell, color and sound of the candle burning in his hands. He remained standing on the spot, but he felt the floor under his feet shudder and begin to move as a stage moves to change the scenery for an actor who is standing still.
The turning and the creaking came to a halt. There was a different inscription under his fingers. The beginning was the same, although the cold feel of the silver made it hard to recognize, until his fingers became accustomed to the new casting: "the self-development of the nation" was as easy to understand in silver as in bronze, but the second half had a different meaning, closest perhaps to something like "is its rebirth..." The Officer-General felt his way through the inscription and lowered his hand slightly. His fingers quickly mastered the numbers– six, six, six, one–and stumbled against an icon-lamp. The surface of the lamp-oil trembled, he could smell it. He lowered
his candle and eventually managed to light the icon-lamp, then ran his hand over the flame to make sure it was there. He ran his hand over it quickly, in order to feel the flame without burning his skin. But he couldn't tell right away, and he scorched the hairs on the side of his palm. The smell of his burning candle mingled with the smell of burning lamp oil and scorched hair.
The music became denser, the floor began to move once again, and now his fingers, trembling and slightly hesitant, lay on the letters of a text of gold which could be rendered as: "The self-development of the nation is supreme power over the world." The figures on the left were easy to make out–nine, nine, nine, one. Further to the left stood a heavy vessel which, from the familiar smell, he knew contained grated drugweed.
The Officer-General applied his candle to the drugweed, and the smell's sound changed, becoming astringent, heady and dense. It instantly overpowered the smell of the candle, and the scorched hair, and the lamp-oil.
The odor grew stronger, penetrating the Officer-General's brain, as smoke from a fire in the basement creeps through the passageways and corridors, hurrying to find a way out into the world–thick, white, dense, choking.
The music sank to the bottom of his hearing, the voice which made him stretch out his hand once again was almost inaudible, moving within the Officer-General's own voice, but at the same time the Officer-General remembered that it came from without.
The inscription was in iron with slippery, rusty edges, and even the familiar first half felt unfamiliar in the reading: "The self-development of the nation is its destruction..." There were no numbers above, below or to the left, and he discovered them to the right of the text–seven, one, zero, two.
But the Officer-General's hands barely understood this inscription as they read it. The candle leaned over and licked its tongue of flame at the liquid in the sacrificial vessel and it flared up and scorched the Officer-General's face, though not badly. But he didn't notice the burn; he was already living mechanically, without any understanding... And although the Officer-General had not begun to move, his spirit was already counting off the steps as it descended–one, two...
His body only overtook his spirit on the final step. This was so awkward that the Officer-General's leg twisted under the sudden weight and he barely kept his footing. There was watery mud under his feet. When the Officer-General began to move, the mud was only up to his ankle, but after a few steps it had reached his knees, then his waist, and his chest. Then his chest encountered the smoothly-planed bulk of a heavy tree that lay across his path. The candle fell from his hands and its flame fell silent. The smoke tickled his throat once and was gone. The Officer-General could never have explained why he did it, but he braced his chest and his hands against the lever and began to push it ahead of him, moving ponderously through the thick warm slush of the mud. Probably a horse in an old mine felt similar sensations as it walked in a circle, turning the drive-wheel of the lift; or an ass treading a similar circle as it raised water from a well; or an oarsman chained to the oars of a galley; or slaves, going round and round like the ass or the horse as they wound immense cables onto a drum to move massive gates. His feet slipped under him, and the lever moved slowly. The sweat flowed down the Officer-General's forehead above the blindfold, it ran into his mouth. The air was stuffy. The smell of the mud was oppressive. But he could hear creaking, he was getting somewhere, the turning continued, and just when the Officer-General felt his eyes would pop out like dough rising over the edge of the pan, and his heart would burst like a head caught under a tank's caterpiliar-track, everything halted and the creaking stopped. The mud had disappeared like water from a broken cup, and the Officer-General felt himself descending a staircase–one, two, three...
He was suddenly shocked wide awake. He leapt in the air and screamed. The soles of his feet were burnt; they had stepped on burning coals. The Officer-General hung in mid-air for a fraction of a second. He smelled singed cloth and hot meat, and he performed a movement he had been taught as a child–his spirit rose up above his body and raised him after it, then it froze there and became like a chalice filled to the very brim. Slowly, slowly it carried the body that filled the chalice, without splashing or hurrying, taking care not to spill a single drop, for carelessness and pain were born on the same day from the same womb. A light rain began to fall. The coals began to hiss and the fire no longer seemed to obey the will of the Officer-General. The smell of scorched meat grew stronger. Rain above. Fire below. The smell of sacrifice and the sound of music, like trumpets, became one. The Officer-General realized that if he took one more step he would fall, and then his body would catch fire, and his face, and his eyes, but the rain began to fall more heavily, and when he fell, his arms encountered coldness and the open edge of a step. The Officer-General began crawling downward–one, two, three, four...
At the final step his hands, which were lower than his head, encountered a dense, viscous liquid.
The Officer-General was now swimming. The smell and taste of the liquid were familiar, warm and unpleasant.
He could hardly breathe, and he wanted to tear off the blindfold and the shirt, but unseen hands pulled away his fingers from the knot in the blindfold, and he heard a voice within himself and without–soon now–and his hands touched
banisters, and when he pulled up his body, there were steps under his feet...
The same hands pulled off his shirt and helped him take a few steps across a cool, freshly washed wooden floor. They removed the blindfold, but the Officer-General did not open his eyes, he was asleep. The hands cautiously lowered him on to the floor of the same room in which he began his ritual journey of the Turning-Point of History.
Around him, each one standing like a chess-piece on his own clearly defined black or white square, the Officer-General's retinue prayed. As they prayed they blessed themselves with a gesture mid-way between the Old Believers' two-fingered sign of the cross and a shaman's ritual gesture for mollifying the good and evil spirits: a thrust over the left shoulder, a thrust over the right shoulder. They prayed for the success of the ritual stoning of the alien sent from unknown parts by persons unknown. This was not the first time such a thing had happened–the last time was ten years earlier.
But that time it had been discovered that the newcomer was wrongly classified as an alien, that he had a blood-type which a new generation of machines discovered in every one of the city's inhabitants, and therefore they began laying wreaths regularly every day on the execution site where he was killed, and the most pure-blooded people of Moscow began to call their children by his name.
But while Emelya made love to Zhdana and Zhdana made love to Emelya, while the Officer-General slept and his retinue prayed, the barricades were urgently cleared from Spridonyev Lane, and from Spiridonyev Street, and the Nikita Gates and Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street. They cleared the approaches to the Manezh Square and Hunter's Row (formerly Marx Prospekt), and in the Alexander Gardens around the Kremlin they broke down the walls and carted away the rubble on great tractors and bulldozers weighted with sand for balance. The drivers of these vehicles had almost no experience at all, for the most part they were machine-gunners and snipers, so the work did
not go quickly or smoothly, but they did the best they could. The most substantial barricades were on Red Square. They had small doors down at ground level, through which people crawled on their knees toward the Execution Site in order to lay the regular bouquets of flowers beside the man who was wrongly stoned to death. Second-grade executive officers, duty commandants and guards darted swiftly up and down the city's four major highways, which led north, south, east and west, clearing them–mostly by hand–for the crowds of people which would flood along them at midnight, boiling and frothing on their way to Red Square and the Execution Site.
Moscow was preparing for a festival, for monolithic unity and togetherness. It was preparing for a great holiday.
For one individual who is alien to all is a pledge, a unique condition and cause, a reason for all-inclusive monolithic unity. One common enemy makes all those who differ in their blood-types, percentages, faith and skin color, who live in the North, the West, the South and the East, who wear loincloths or bearskins, into fellow-thinkers, blood-brothers, inseparable in their single ecstasy–but only, alas, until the destruction of this common enemy. Therefore do not be too hasty, when you find a common enemy, to stone him to death, if you wish to live in monolithic unity and solidarity. Peoples, classes, races and faiths have all posed in this role of unifier, until finally in the thirteenth millennium people achieved the absolute in this genre, when they inscribed on their banners the words "Land, Word, Faith, and Blood" and they found they had a task to address, and, more importantly, they could rely on the shoulder of their true neighbor.
More than one wise person struggled long with this idea until it was brought to perfection. Entire regiments of the great of this world, seated on pillars, living on locusts, rotting in caves, bending their bewigged heads over Jacobean writing desks decorated with bronze, tortoiseshell, marble and wood of red, black, yellow and white, gazing through a spy-glass from the prow of a caravelle, or high up in the Pamir Mountains and Tibet, poring over parchment folios decorated with gold and silver and niello and weighing thousands of kilograms. In song, music, color and sound they composed, carved, molded and wove this great red and white and yellow and black banner bearing in letters of flame the words "Land, Word, Faith, and Blood" which flowed in the streams of lullabies straight into tender suckling mouths and down into tender little souls. And before they could even walk children burbled "Land, Word, Faith, and Blood," and when they could stand on their own two feet, each grabbed a machine-gun or took up a knife and tried to convince everyone else that his Blood and his Faith were supreme. What happiness that the enemy was close at hand, in the very next block, on the next floor, in the next room, and not in the next country or the next universe, and there was a task to be accomplished, there was a way of asserting yourself and understanding the meaning of your own brief life!
Î people! What great new insanity has been visited on you by the gods you have forgotten and buried...
Night was already lowering its fiery shadow over the Moscow streets.
While the wheels of the bulldozers and tractors skidded as they hauled away the huge blocks of reinforced concrete, while the street percentage operatives sweated as they strode or crept around the Percentage Officer-General's corridors, Emelya was making love to Zhdana, and each time a strange sensation ran through him, the kind of sensation the Augean stables might have felt when the furious floodwaters swept through them, Emelya felt that same sensation of purity, and Zhdana felt something similar. And Emelya felt like a child, he felt the childhood he never had. Zhdana, and his childhood, and this purity took on life within him, like three small kittens curled up into a ball under the hat of his soul. As the end approached, the kittens mewed and begged for milk, stretching out their paws and screwing up their eyes, and when the light finally penetrated his soul, they drank the milk without hurrying, without jostling each other, and when they were full they licked their lips and went back to dozing, delicately twitching their ears. This continued for quite a long time, until it was interrupted by an event as unexpected as an owl swooping or a cat pouncing on a mouse, or the sharp shot of a mouse-trap tripped by the teeth of a mouse trying to pull a piece of stale cheese off its hook.
The door opened without a knock, since the doors in this house had no locks–that was the law. The same two street percentage operatives who performed Emelya's first blood analysis and brought him to this block came in and walked up to the bed. Politely, benevolently, tactfully, without raising their voices, they requested that Emelya collect his things and follow them. Today they were unarmed, Emelya spotted that right away. Somehow he wasn't surprised by their sudden appearance and their request. He was waiting for the final results of his test, and like any normal person, was hoping to move in a bit closer to the center. They said the food was better there, and the central heating was warmer, and there was hot water for not one hour a day, like here, but four; and, what's more, it wasn't brown, but yellow, or perhaps even white. But that was just hearsay, a fairy-tale, although you had to believe in something, after all, and hope for something. Hope was a senseless road but a real one: it was how the kernel of the sacred idea that one day, sitting on the stove, without budging from that warm brick surface polished by generations of backsides, you could travel straight to heaven came to fall upon our land. And the number of happy souls who, over the decades, have entered this imaginary heaven is beyond counting: some give the figure as sixty million, others as eighty million.
They came out on to Spiridonyev Lane. The fortunate, well-wishing, quick-witted, reliable Guard, wearing his gleaming new Order of Merit for Vigilance, was in dress uniform, with a red ribbon passing round his neck and one end passing over his right shoulder and behind his back, at the very spot where the Darkhans, before drinking water or milk, flick the liquid over both left and right shoulders from a finger that has been dipped in the vessel three times, in order to feed the good and evil spirits. A second ribbon ran down across his chest and under his uniform belt. This time the Guard was unarmed.
The house was sleeping. The gates stood wide open. The Guard looked at Emelya as a student looks at a dissertation that has received a commendation, as an executioner looks at a neatly severed head, as a child looks at a thoroughly broken toy, as a cat looks at a mouse it has already caught, as a musician looks at a melody he has already played but which lingers in the air.
As she walked along, Zhdana wrapped herself in her shawl. It was chilly and damp. The twentieth day of the month of Cherven, or July, was just beginning, it was the Night of the Great Sacrifice of Veles.
They walked past the Church of the Ascension, where Pushkin married his Natalya before it was even fully built.
They crossed the invisible fortress wall which once cut through the square at the Nikita Gates. In front of them there used to be a moat and the Chertory, which rises by the Patriarchs' Ponds, used to flow through it. The bear once pushed Emelya into the stream, so that he would learn to swim. Emelya smiled. Zhdana raised the hem of her dress to cross the stream.
They halted for a minute beside the Russian temple of Kupala, under an elm. The temple was newly-built but already half-ruined; through the broken windows they could see broken mirrors, and between them the faces of the local icon stand– the Virgin Mary, Savaof, St. Nicholas, Jesus, Rod, John the Baptist, St. John of Ustyug, St. George, Athenasius of Athon and others that Emelya didn't have time to recognize during their brief halt. The roof was leaking, and the recent rain had left puddles standing in the marble hollows of the floor.
Emelya couldn't believe his eyes–after all, the people who lived here were almost pure-blooded–but they continued round the Monastery of St. Theodore, leaving far behind them the houses of Prince Potemkin-Tavrichesky, Generalissimo 'Suvorov, Prince Shakhovsky and Princess Prozorovskaya, who sold her house on the corner of Skaryatinsky Lane to Goncharov in 1795.
They covered the distance along the Novgorod road to the center in fifteen minutes. The road was deserted now, and it was hard to imagine that in an hour it would be filled with blazing torches–remember the night's fiery shadow?–and [all the hubbub of a holiday. So far there was only silence, and four figures on the Novgorod road–Emelya, Zhdana and the two street percentage operatives, who looked a little like court poodles who have spent half their lives dancing on their hind legs in front of anyone who offered them a tasty morsel, those poodles who became the emblem and the crest of the seventies and eighties of the previous century: two poodle-poets ^standing face to face on their hind legs, and dangling between •their sweet little muzzles was a tid-bit from the master's table.
Emelya began walking more slowly. They were entering the legendary pure-blooded areas, which, apart from extremely rare ! events such as this, no one was allowed to enter–not even the percentage operatives. They worked on a self-service basis here; .this was a city within the city, this was an oasis, a heaven for 'those who lived outside the walls and a hell for those who lived ;within. But that depended on the individual imagination which ^created each person's concept of this earth, and this concept is an extremely uncertain one–take the word of a specialist on uncertain concepts. Of course, people only entered here on occasions like today's, in the body of a crowd, at night, for a few hours, and as everyone knows, one who is temporarily part of a crowd at night is either blind or sees nothing.
Emelya's amazement grew as they approached the magical, metaphysical, unreal, infernal, Utopian Kremlin wall. Could he possibly be pure-blooded?
Here was the site of the fire that destroyed Oprichnik Court, now rebuilt as a university–Zhdana's house. Here in 11571, on the twentieth day of Traven, or May, the Crimean Khan Davlet-Girei put Moscow to the torch, and the riderless red steeds even overleapt the Kitai-Gorod wall, and the Kremlin wall, and the seven-meter thick walls of Oprichnik Court. And they galloped and frolicked, swirling across the houses and the tower-roofs, and in three hours there was not even a pillar left to hitch a horse to, and so many people had died that there was no one left to clear them away. And when Ivan the Terrible had the bodies thrown into the river Moscow, they formed a dam where the Crimean Bridge spans the river nowadays, and the river overflowed its banks, flooding the surrounding area, and it was the twentieth day of Cherven, or July, before all the bodies were cleared away. What could possibly have been left of Oprichnik Court, or its carved black two-headed eagles set on white tin-plate, or its lions with the mirror eyes, or its brightly painted towers, or the bells Ivan the Terrible purloined from Novgorod, that were melted into the ground a drop at a time by the fire?
Prince Vasily Ivanovich Temkin of Rostov, the senior special-service agent, a true master of the executioner's art, literally lost his head over this Oprichnik Court. One wall of the Court used to run along Granovsky Lane, where the executioners who worked shifts lived, one wall ran along Hunter's Row, one along Nikitskaya Street, and the fourth along Arbat Street. It was a long time now since anyone had studied in the university, the building Zhdana lived in. Why study, when the blood test answered absolutely all possible questions and determined where a person would live and would die, and even the forms of a person's life and death? The people who lived here had no more than five blood-types, a privileged status Emelya could not even dream of. Which was why Zhdana could only be his by night–which didn't count–and not by daylight...
But now they were approaching the exit from the Alexander Gardens and there in front of them was the edge of the Kremlin wall and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Close beside the tomb stood the Church of the Latter-Day Russian Martyrs Nikolai, Alexandra, Alexey, Anastasia, Tatyana, Olga, Maria, and all who were killed by the godless atheists who lay under the Kremlin wall.
A century earlier, in 11918, on the eve of the day of Veles, the Tsar of Russia and his family were murdered. Now one church stood where their remains were unearthed, and another had been built here, beside the wall, in a spot sacred to all who were killed unjustly.
For obvious reasons, the people did not visit the church or the tomb, but they were visited by attendants who maintained them. However, even attendants are human; at any moment something might stir in their souls, like a child in the womb of its mother, a tortoise in its armor, a snail in its shell, a heart in the hand of the Mayan priest who has torn it out, a flame [.among dying embers; and especially could this happen to Emelya, for he had run races here with his half-brother Ryzhy and the gray she-wolf, it was here he broke his nose and ripped the nail on his toe down to the flesh on the root of a fir-tree which stood so tall that if you looked up at its crown, you fell flat on your back.
But now the Alexander Gardens were behind them, and they were walking across the cobblestones of Red Square. They went up the slope to the Execution Site. They stopped.
In front of them the gaily-colored cashmere shawl of St. Basil's Cathedral, otherwise the Church of the Veil on the Moat, glowed in the moonlight.
On the spot where Emelya now stood, and where Leta conceived him, three tipsy merchants once decided to play a trick on the holy fool Basil.
"I'll pretend to be dead," said one of them, "and we'll see what he does."
It was night-time. The moon was shining. The hoar-frost was winking back up at the moon. The merchant lay there in his sable coat. Saint Basil was barefoot, and the snow crunched under his feet as he walked by. When he came close and saw the man lying there, he closed his eyes, made the sign of the cross over him, said "may he rest in peace," and walked on across the snow with his bare feet, down toward the river Moscow... Once he was out of sight, the other two came out of hiding and walked across to their companion, chuckling. They tried to pull him up by the arms, but he was dead. This square between the cathedral and the Kremlin wall is called St. Basil's Square.
To their right was the dim form of the former mausoleum, built by Shchusev in the previous century during the year of the great Crisis and the great man-made famine–the only man-made famine in human history–in the year 11929-11930. The lettering could still be made out on the stone of the structure, which mercifully no longer contained a corpse laid out for leave-taking. In the space of several decades, all those who wished to take their leave of the dead man had done so, and his remains had been committed to the earth, in accordance with the law of God. King Mausol was rid of his rival for fame. The will of the deceased was carried out. His faithful and devoted followers wept, shrouded in an aura of duty, justice and their own exalted destiny, as they carried away his mortal remains.
lust to the right of the Execution Site was a tall heap of stones covered in flowers and wreaths. The stones were old and covered in moss, but the flowers were fresh, red and white like the embroidered ritual shirts of the Novgorodians Emelya saw at the time of his baptism. The tractors and bulldozers had disappeared. The square was empty.
There were faint white clouds in the sky, and the birds were singing in the trees in front of the GUM building. The monument to Minin and Pozharsky still stood in its old place. Although Pozharsky himself, having done his bit for Russia, decided not to cast himself into the Fire, but took refuge in the town of Suzdal, in the Spaso-Yefimiev Monastery on the banks of the river Kamenka. The valuable items preserved in the sacristy at the monastery included a gospel with an inscription in Dmitry Pozharsky's own hand and a shroud of Christ sewn by the hero's wife.
Also under Pozharsky's patronage was the Borkovsky hermitage in the Vyaznikovsky district of the province of Vladimir, with the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker, a fine quiet spot.
God, how quiet it was here at the Place of the Fire, like the time when Emelya roamed in the forest, not knowing what was tormenting him. He was sixteen years old, and pines grew on the site of this square, and where the Execution Site was now, there stood the immense Oak beside which Leta embraced the Bear and Volos.
Beside the Oak stood a sacrificial altar, and once a year on the Day of Veles, the twentieth day of Cherven, it was sprinkled liberally with select human blood, and if the signs were bad, it meant an enemy was near at hand or the earth was visited by a pestilence. During those same days the Tsar Nicholas and his
family were shot. The larger the empire grew, the more blood was spilled, and the more evenly on every day of the year. Under Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great the blood had no time to dry on the stone of the Execution Site–on occasion both of them amused themselves by wielding the axe in person–but of course, most heart's blood was spilled on this red stone by the axe of the holy tsar Josef the Bloody. His record is beyond count, and no one has ever approached it. If the blood spilled by this Josef was poured into a channel the size of the river Moscow, it could span the globe from South to North and from West to East.
But miracles also occurred here at the Execution Site.
In 11570, after Ivan the Terrible cut the head from the merchant Khariton Beloutin, the merchant rose to his feet and could not be felled. The merchant's blood could not be washed away, and the people saw that it glowed. Ivan fled to his palace in fright, and ordered the release of all the other innocents he was planning to execute.
Frightened by this story, Josef the Bloody had his victims executed by others at night, and had the corpses buried in all the dark corners of Moscow, but wherever they might be buried, on the twentieth day of Cherven, or July, if you lay down with your ear to the cobblestones of Red Square, you heard a faint rumbling, like the clattering of horses' hooves as they drew coffins past the Mausoleum. And the very best place to lie and listen was right between two Poles: one was called the False Dmitry, and he lay here on a table with a mask on his face, holding a reed pipe and a fool's bagpipes; the other, on the opposite side, is Iron Felix, who shared the handle of a single axe with Josef the Bloody, and spilled so much blood that it outweighed all the Polish blood ever spilled on the earth by Russian bayonets, bullets and sabers...
The breath of summer was in the air. Night was walking nearby. The percentage officers dozed. Zhdana put her head on Emelya's knees and fell asleep, and soon Emelya himself sank into forgetfulness.
Two weeks went by, and where Volos' village had been there was nothing but a row of empty houses standing along the road. Everyone else had been burnt on the same fire as Leta, and soon after her. Their remains had been put in boxes and mounted on staffs in front of the houses. Now Volos led Emelya and Gord past them, along the road where the Historical Museum stands today. The stewardess in white had made a mistake somehow, and Gord was still following the other two, weak and pale, but refusing to fall behind.
They had taken nothing with them. Just a little food, some water in a leather sack, Volos' bearskin, his bronze rattles and the stone sacrificial knife, and each had a spoon stuck in his belt. There was a bear carved on the handle of the knife, and a bear's head on each spoon, and each of them wore a bear's fang at his breast.
The forest along the river Moscow was mostly birches, with fir-trees in places. First they went to the Oak, to the future Execution Site. Volos took white linen cloth and tore it into 298 strips, the number of people there had been in the village. Emelya climbed the tree and tied the strips as high up on the branches as he could while Volos watched him from below. Volos had already decided where to go: to Novgorod, where Dobrynia, his wife's brother, lived on Veles Street. He had a large house and great power, and what was more, he was Prince | Vladimir's uncle. The Russian heart is proud–better to be first in a village than second after your wife's brother and Bogomil in Novgorod–but now his pride was exhausted, everyone had died, there was no one here to be second after him.
They set off early on the road along which the percentage operatives led Emelya, but in the opposite direction. It was cold, but if they walked briskly they would soon warm up. When they set out it was overcast, but now Volos saw it had turned fine, the sun was shining on the grass, the birds were singing. They walked on and on, and by mid-day they were exhausted, not really hungry, but sleepy. They went to sleep and Gord and Emelya slept like dead men, without dreams.
Volos was in Troyan's house. He'd heard so much about Troyan, and how long his line had existed, and still there was no end to it, and how he had founded cities all over Russia. Kiev was his, and Novgorod, and Khorsa-Kherson, and Smolensk, and what he hadn't built was built by his sons, and they lived in harmony, not like nowadays. They said the age of Troyan was the age when there was concord between brothers, but now not a day passed without someone killing his own brother. Vladimir slaughtered Yaropolk like a chicken, and he was his brother– though not his real brother, for Vladimir was the child of a stewardess, a serf and a vandal. Nothing of that sort had happened to Troyan and his clan, and all because they obeyed the sorcerers and feared them: the sorcerers' word was law. Whatever the soothsayers foretold was done. Whatever advice the custodians and the keepers gave was followed. Whatever the enchantresses foretold came to pass. They obeyed women more willingly–the female custodians and the charmers– and not a single enterprise was embarked on without sorceresses like Leta. Troyan had a hundred sorcerers, and each of Troyan's sons had ten. And each of them had his own temple and his own house and his own cattle and his own field. And each had more than one man working for him–that was the golden age. But now the Prince had scarcely a dozen sorcerers, and you couldn't get them all together, and the Prince didn't listen to all of them. All that was left for them to do was celebrate funerals and births and marry young couples, binding them with a single hoop and leading them round a bush of broom; and they were needed when there was a drought and when it was time to reap or mow...
But never mind all that. Troyan was sitting opposite Volos, eating gruel. His dish was gold, and the table-cloth was embroidered with gold thread. His spoon was silver, and there was plenty of butter in his gruel; the towel beside him was embroidered with bereginias and trees and birds with women's heads. His chair was made of black oak and carved with birds and water sprites and vampires and various flowers. Volos had never seen a chair like it. Even at Dobrynia's house there was nothing of the sort to be seen.
Troyan was talking to Volos and wiping his lips with the towel as he did so–the gruel was greasy.
"So you think everything round here is just fine, do you? You say even my priests live well? You're a fool, Volos, I may have a hundred sorcerers, but if the rain doesn't fall when it should, 1 burn the sorcerer who failed to bring it and take another one. And if my sorcerer doesn't drive away the rain-clouds at harvest time, I sacrifice him–it means he wasn't up to the job. If a campaign goes badly, then who advised me? I drown the one whose spells and charms didn't work and take another. The sorcerers must be to blame for everything, if they're so very powerful. Or else they're not powerful enough and they fail. When they get a bit wiser and learn not to answer for anything, like me–not for battle or rain or harvest or heat or frost or death or plague–then the fools will have a calmer life, lust you think about that!"
But Volos didn't get time to think about it. Something sharp prodded painfully at his Adam's apple and he woke to find a knife at his throat.
Two others had pressed Gord and Emelya against a tree, and another four were standing further off, holding the rattles and the bearskin.
"Where's the gold," asked the one who had the knife at Volos' throat, trembling because he knew he'd laid hands on a sorcerer.
Emelya was crying.
"Pa-aa, I told them we haven't got any gold."
Volos' eyes seemed to turn inward, and his hands began to tremble. The man holding the knife threw it down and backed away, trying to say something, but then a bear came out from behind a pine, caught up the man holding Emelya and flung him against the tree so hard the life was shaken from him. Then the bear turned on the one holding Gord, and flung him against the tree as well.
The other five all went down on their knees. They stuck their knives in the earth and covered their heads with their hands. Volos rose to his feet, but the bear had already gone.
"We will be your servants, father, have pity on us, forgive us for not recognizing you right away."
Emelya wiped away his tears. The bear had frightened him more than the bandits. He panted fearfully and gazed around. The man who had been holding him was lying by the tree, with blood trickling from his open mouth, and steam was rising from the blood, even though the day was warm, and a little yellow ball, like a chick, had come flying out of his mouth.
"All right," said Volos, "go and live in peace."
Volos and Gord and Emelya gathered up their possessions and went on their own way. The five bandits would probably run for it–this was a terrible place, an enchanted place. Volos glanced into the forest; could the bear have been an illusion? But those two over there weren't breathing. He remembered his dream, and wanted to see the rest of it, but there was no time. Troyan had been saying something about wisdom. I'll remember it later, he thought, perhaps I'll see the rest of it then. His memory turned back to the day when they burned Leta, as a boat is borne ashore by a wave, as a leaf is bent down to the earth by the rain. When they piled up the sheaves of straw, even the sheaf that stood in the temple, bound up "for Veles' beard," was put on the fire.
It was no good. Leta had not shouted and he had to answer for her when he asked, "Who do I see?" And who had he seen? Why, no one at all. His heart ached because Leta was going away and it pained him to look on those who had been with her that night. The only good thing now was that apart from Gord he had no one to be jealous of. They were in the next world, but what was that like? If only he could find out in advance. Perhaps he could think of some way–after all, he was a sorcerer.
They had fallen out of the frying pan into the fire. In their village there was pestilence, but here things would be hotter still. Volos and Emelya and Gord were the last to enter Novgorod, and no sooner were they in the town than the townsfolk dismantled the central section of the bridge and closed the gates. The rumor reached them that Dobrynia and Putyata were returning to the city to shame the people, as they had in Kiev, by baptizing them all in the river Volkhov. The High
\ Priest Bogomil, who had married Leta and Volos, was rushing around Novgorod gathering the people together and threatening to curse anyone who followed Dobrynia into the water. The white hair on his head and his white shirt flowed like flames in the wind, his golden staff gleamed like Perun's mustache. How could the people fail to understand Bogomil? For a thousand .years they had believed in their ancestors' gods; how could they now set another above them? Kiev had always been a lackey and a serf to the princes, but Novgorod was a free town. In Kiev, the pagans had driven the people into the water like sheep and
swung their censers over them and cackled foreign words over them and lowered the cross into the water and, of course, they had tied Veles to a horse's tail in order not to soil their hands, and tossed him into the Dniepr. Was their fathers' and grandfathers' Veles to be floated off down the Volkhov? The military governor Ugonyai began screaming and shouting, foam spurting from his lips: "Our fathers believed, our grandfathers believed!..." And it worked. This matter was clear enough, but in any case, free Novgorod's stomach naturally rebelled at the idea of compulsion. Everyone was raving and yelling, the women were wailing and the children were enjoying the holiday, perched up in the trees like crows and looking down on the square.
Volos quickly took everything in. So that the boys would not get under anyone's feet, he took them to Dobrynia's house, which he had visited with beta several times. He found the house quickly, and went into the entrance hall, where it was calm and cool inside the timber walls made of logs three girths around. It was as quiet as the grave; not a sound could be heard from outside, not even thunder.
A house like that could stand for a hundred years and still be as good as new. Inside, the walls were trimmed smooth and straight with an axe. In the room to which Dobrynia's wife led them, Veles used to stand in the holy corner beside the front windows, with towels embroidered with an image of Bereginia, but now St. Nicholas stood there with the towels, and the icon-lamp hanging in front of him had been burning without interruption for a year. Close by stood a jar of lamp-oil– more than most people could afford, but a trifle to Dobrynia. Volos lay down to rest after their journey, and Gord and Emelya arranged themselves on the benches. Volos felt something uncomfortable under his back, and when he lifted up the mattress, there was the clay image of Veles on his steed, the one that used to stand in the corner of the room. Dobrynia's wife was afraid; she kept one god in the corner and the other close at hand.
None of them felt like eating. They went to the bath-house, where the stones were red hot and the steam burned through to their bones. Volos came running out first and plunged into the pond, followed by Gord, but Emelya sat there lost in his thoughts until he was faint and exhausted. They carried him out and splashed water over him, and soon, after drinking herb tea, all three of them were asleep. But they didn't sleep for long.
Someone was pounding on the gates, the fence was already in flames.
All three of them leapt up and ran out into the yard, then across to the far corner, out onto the street and round the fence to the gates, where angry Novgorod men were already dragging away Dobrynia's wife, his small son, his three daughters, their old grandmother, and their housekeeper. They set up pointed stakes, and in ten minutes their captives were no longer squirming, and the house was ablaze: the swan's down from the feather beds swirled in the wind, and the men were driving the sparks toward the Church of the Transformation with branches, afraid to set fire to the church themselves.
Then there was another commotion.
Putyata, Dobrynia's commander, had managed to cross the Volkhov with five hundred men, and was slaying everyone left and right. When it grew light, they made their way to the St. Sophia district, and Dobrynia joined them almost at a stride. But he didn't want to kill everyone–there would be no one left to baptize–so he sent his men out along the streets with blazing torches to burn the houses. The town was built of wood, and within half an hour it began to blaze, and the Novgorodian men rushed to their houses to pull their wives and their children from the flames. That put an end to the uprising. Everyone fights together against a common enemy, but when each has his own fire to put out, everyone is on his own.
When daylight came, women were sitting on mattresses near the smoking embers–some on feather mattresses, some on straw. Plenty of houses had survived, for the weather wasn't windy enough for a conflagration, and all the white doves they'd thrown up in the air had helped. Bogomil himself had assisted,
casting his own son to the god Perun and cutting the heart out of Ugonyai's daughter with a sacrificial knife.
In order not to drag things out, Dobrynia drove all the people together in one place. The men-at-arms were still black as demons from the fire, and the people had been thoroughly smoked, but they gathered and stood in silence. What could they do? They couldn't so much as stir a muscle, there were so many of the others, and all on horseback, with swords and spears.
Inwardly they were still in revolt. They squinted and glowered past Dobrynia and listened sullenly to the words of this governor who had, in the market square, publicly betrayed his faith ahead of everyone else.
But Dobrynia already had a few years of experience with baptisms. He knew that if he didn't put at least one of the sorcerers to shame now, then events would take a bloody turn and more people would be killed than christened. Who better to choose than Bogomil, the High Priest? For a moment he hesitated, when he saw Volos in the crowd and remembered his own wife and children. But his work was more important now. It was a matter of experience and knowing what was right. He knew better than the people what was good or bad for them. It wasn't idle vanity, he really did know. Even as Dobrynia was thinking this he got down from his horse and walked toward Bogomil, carrying under his skirt the silver axe charmed by Bogomil, and on his belt the sword charmed by Bogomil. He left the spear charmed by Bogomil on his saddle.
Bogomil tensed as though a snake were crawling toward him. He was ready to raise his foot and crush it, or twist off its head, but just let him try anything of the sort–behind Dobrynia swift power, both voluntary and forced, sat on its steed, leaned on its spear, ready to kill or to spare whomever it was ordered to.
Dobrynia caught Bogomil's thoughts, and he smiled broadly.
"You say that our fathers and grandfathers believed, but
everything in the world changes. In summer there are leaves on the trees, but when autumn comes, the leaves fall to make way for others. That is the law. Our fathers depart and make way for us. Before Veles, this was Rod's place; before Rod, it was Bereginia's, as our grandfathers told us. As the times changed, so did the gods."
"These were our gods," said Bogomil, "but you have brought an alien god. We established our gods through goodness, but you would establish yours by fire and the sword."
"Well now," smiled Dobrynia, "so they are ours? And what of Simargl?"
"It was your Vladimir who established him," Bogomil answered, pulling a wry face, "and look–beside him there is not a single sacrifice, and then–he is only the fifth spoke in the wheel. But your god is not the third or the second, but the only one."
"And what of the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist, and Christ?"
"All of them are alien, as you yourself became alien when you betrayed Novgorod for power. The people are in revolt. They are not bleating sheep to follow wherever Dobrynia wishes to turn them with the sword on his belt and the axe hidden in his shirt..."
"Very well," said Dobrynia, "it is only the gods who are all-powerful. We do not know their intentions, we live in fear of the gods–a herd of sheep must be driven closer to the edge of a precipice, whipped and driven there to show them the pasture in the distance. There, you fools, see where happiness dwells! Your gods obey you, they say: The gods are controlled by spells, spells are controlled by sorcerers, therefore the sorcerers are our gods.' Work a spell and let your gods know what is in store for you today. With your powers it is no great trick to manage your gods as you wish."
"The gods tell me that today I shall work a miracle," said Bogomil after a moment's silence, and while he was silent his face was pale, his eyes turned inward, showing the whites, so
that he was blind, and his lips were gray and bloodless. His face was a mask of death and he held his hand raised in the air.
"And do the gods tell you nothing else?"
Dobrynia would have taken fright at that face; but he was not merely himself, he was the tsar's bondsman, the hand of history, the rightfulness of justice, the fist of kindness, the axe of God. And though he was afraid and everything inside him had turned to glass and ice, the axe was already in his hand, and he brought it crunching down on Bogomil's head. Silver axe, red blood, white face, gray hair, crimson cloak, blood-red sun and mist over the Volkhov. The Day of Veles.
Bogomil began sinking to the ground slowly, the way horses gallop in a dream or a wave breaks slowly against a cliff and large clumps of white foam drift through the air back into the sea...
Bogomil was disgraced. His gods had proved weaker than the new one, and he lay there dead. A sorcerer could only be killed by one who was stronger. Doubts even stirred in Volos' head, like a lop-eared puppy roused from sleep. Not doubts about sorcery being weaker than Christ, but about Bogomil being weak and unfit for his position...
But above other people's heads a horde of jackdaws swirled, cawing, into the air on whistling wings; the sorcerer didn't know his own future! How could they not regard Dobrynia with respect, if he was stronger than the sorcerer Bogomil himself? It was clear even to a child that the gods were on Dobrynia's side–new or old, they were on his side. And if the old gods were on his side, they must do as Dobrynia said, and if the new gods were stronger, then all the more so. With scarcely a word, without removing their shirts, the people of Novgorod trudged toward the river Volkhov, prodded and driven on by spears. Veles had already been dragged to the river with great iron
hooks, while Mokosh and Khors and Dazhdbog and Stribog had been christened by fire and the sword, so that not even ashes were left of them.
Even Dobrynia was impressed by his own abilities. In the year since Kiev he had christened so many people he was weary of it. In contrast with Kiev, here they divided the people according to sex–the men tumbled into the water, like sheep over a precipice, above the bridge, and the women went in below the bridge. But everything wasn't quite that neat and tidy. The women were carrying small children of both sexes, the bank was muddy and slimy. At the edge of the water the silt came up to your knees, there was great wailing and screaming, some were up to their chests in water, some up to their waists, some right up to their heads, and they began to drown, and people were still tumbling in. Emelya lost Gord, but Volos did not lose Emelya, and perhaps Dobrynia would have helped them if he'd seen them, but how could he? Emelya was washing the mud from his hands in the turbid water and pulling his feet free of the silt. Volos was beside him, holding his shoulder, and the people kept coming in such numbers that the river began to overflow its banks, and then the pagan priests in their robes gleaming with gold began cackling to each other in their alien language.
They lowered a cross into the water. Then, where the bank was shallower, they began letting people out, applying the cross to their shoulders. Each man stood with water dripping from his shirt and hair, and green waterweed on his face while they hung a cross round his neck. Then he was free to go back to his house and his children, but he probably had no house, and some even had no children. Something like a queue formed as women with children on one side and men in wet shirts on the other fused into a single chain, and then the links came apart and everyone wandered off to his own pile of embers. The birds were singing, the sun was shining gently. The priests' robes gleamed in the sunlight like a samovar, like God's lightning as it strikes an airplane, and it falls to pieces in mid-air: like the MIG-29 at Le Bourget in the year 11989, and like the bell tower of the Church of St. Nicholas in the village of Yakovlevskoye that fell to pieces like the plane in that same year of 11989, and the two points in one sky were fused into one, and then fell apart for ever.
Of course, there was still some resistance, but after Bogomil's disgrace it was nothing to worry about. Volos threw up his hand and gurgled through foaming lips:
The man-at-arms either took fright or wanted to test his own mettle; he rode into the water, and his horse stood on Emelya's foot–fortunately there was silt under it. The man swung the flat of his sword at Volos' head, but the stroke caught him on the neck, and Emelya was suddenly surrounded by a muddy slick of blood. He was christened in it. Volos sank completely under the water. Emelya took hold of his father's hand and dragged him onto the bank. In the water it was easy to move him, but once on the bank it was heavy work and the people standing there helped him. Emelya didn't notice when the archbishop applied the cross to his shoulders and hung a cross around his neck, and he swooned...
It was a noteworthy spot. Just a little distance uphill, beside the elm-tree, on the thirteenth day of Sechen, or February, in 11570, Tsar Ivan the Terrible had the archbishop Pimen arrayed in jester's clothes, then had a mare led up–for how, he asked, could a jester manage without a wife?–and sat Pimen astride her. They gave Pimen a psaltery, and he played it rather well all the way down to Moscow, much to the guards' pleasure. And it was here that Ivan's dogs, the accursed agents of the Oprichnina, threw people from Novgorod into a hole in the ice of the river Volkhov, and drenched others in a combustible mixture, setting them alight to warm themselves against the frost.The agents bet on whose flame would burn higher.
Sleighs flew over the snow past this spot, dragging along the old and unimportant men who were tied to them, tossing up whirling snow into the wind–and their children and wives were not neglected, either. Ivan's little son was here, with Ivan beside him, and Malyuta Skuratov, the tsar's chief torturer was here, and some people were even dealt with here by Grigory Lukyanovich Belsky, who arranged the trial by torture of those monks not willing to surrender their monasteries' gold and precious stones. The procedure was simple enough: every day for two hours they beat the soles of the monks' feet. Some died quickly, others held out for a year or so, but still Malyuta wasn't able to bring back all the gold and gems to Moscow. On the poor earth where Emelya lay, blood has been poured in layer upon thick layer, as many layers as there have been Terrible, Great and Bloody tsars, a layer for each one of them...
Emelya's drowsiness would not pass, and the stone weighed heavier and heavier on his chest... He could hardly breathe, it was as though he were living through events for the second time.
People opened their mouths, but he couldn't hear their shouts. Everyone else was walking along, while they stood still, and the girls' braids hung loose, as they used to when the Polovtsians, the Khazars or the Pechenegs drove a whole village into captivity. But that wasn't like this, the Pechenegs didn't rage and beat people, and even the Polovtsians were calmer.
Volos watched, but he couldn't understand. He'd heard about the Christians–who hadn't?–and they were supposed to be full of kindness and charity, to live in concern for each other, and here they were acting as though they were taking an entire people into captivity. And their own people, at that. But then they weren't really their own, there were too many Varangians here who knew nothing but how to swing a sword and didn't understand a word of our language. One girl fell behind, and a man-at-arms wound her blonde hair round his hand and lifted her off the ground. The girl screamed, and he just laughed.
The baptism at Suzdal was also a merry occasion...
Volos prayed, weaving a charm: "Defend my people, deliver my people from this perturbation, from this perdition, from I this great woe." The merchant Dobr, who was baptized at Constantinople kept shouting: "That's the way, the ignorant brutes don't know their own salvation, drive that one along, use the sword on him. Ah, the savages," said Dobr, "they'll get them baptized now, and heavenly grace will descend on them."
Already the front rows were tumbling into the Kamenka like ducks and drakes, driven down the slimy bank and floundering in the water. It was too deep for the little children, and they were supported by the people standing beside them. Gord took Emelya under the arms, for the water was up to Cord's chest, but over Emelya's head. Emelya had already swallowed a mouthful of Suzdal water, and was coughing and spitting. The women began to sing–he could hear their voices–and the men supported the women as they chanted: "Silver crescent moon, red sun and river swift. Dark night, warm earth and burning tear. Green oak and forest beast, Veles our god and Mokosh our mother: preserve and protect our clan, deliver us from our enemies' hands." It was a song offered for deliverance from captivity.
The men-at-arms fell silent. Out to the very edge of the river bank came men in bright golden garments and tall hats, speaking as they crossed themselves – in the same way all the people had marked a cross on bread with a knife all their lives–and bowing down. What they said was inaudible because the women and the men were still singing the song of deliverance, and Volos watched them and wept and could do nothing to help. But Dobr was delighted.
"Ah," he said, "what divine justice!"
One of the men could stand it no longer. He climbed out on the bank, and then things began to happen. Some sang, others climbed up out of the water, and from behind them no one could see it was impossible, and the men-at-arms fell on them with their swords and spears, using the sharp edge of the blade, not the flat.
The song rang out and drifted over the river, the wounded groaned, and blood floated in the water. Gord held Emelya over his head, and bloody water lapped at Emelya's waist. No one counted how many were baptized, how many were killed, and how many simply drowned, just as in battle no one counts exactly how many have fallen and how many have survived. When evening came, they were allowed out onto the bank– the men-at-arms departed and the river-bank was deserted. Volos kept searching for Emelya as women came out of the river in red shirts–they were white before, but now they were red.
The people were slashed and hacked and wounded and covered with scratches. They drove thousands into the water, and those who emerged were counted in hundreds. Fewer people were killed in many battles, and still afterwards the monks complained for two or even five centuries that the churches were empty, but there were hordes at public revels and games. The people would be a thousand years forgetting this sacrificial offering... until a new and greater one was offered up in the year 11917. Then they would forget; the memory of this sacrifice would be overcome.
At his sister's house Volos slept uneasily. Dreams came flocking to him in the night, like birds coming to feed, birds with heavy bronze beaks and white wings. And they were pecking painfully at his arms and ripping at his tendons and eyes. The blood dripped from their flesh-filled beaks and where it fell on the earth it was the cranberries that used to grow in the grass under the oak of Veles in their forest. The birds chattered about life, and about the times.
"O tempora, Î mores," said a red bird as it ripped off a piece
of Volos' liver. "Have you heard that soon they're going to forbid the eating of meat? I've got nothing against the ban in itself, but what will we do with our ritual? For instance, the one who gets the right eye is, after all, higher in rank than the one who gets the left eye! The third place is mine, I get the liver. And the heart is your area."
'You've got things confused," objected a black bird who was choking on an ear–gristle is hard and difficult to digest. "I'm actually second in line, but the heart is not my area at all."
"It doesn't matter," said the red bird, "it's ritual I'm talking about. That's how we know who flies above whom, that's how we know who's who, but if ritual is destroyed..."
At this they all stopped eating, and Volos thought there might be something left to him for the day after all, such as legs and feet, and he would be able to walk. His body didn't hurt all the time, only when they spoke. But on the other hand, speaking prevented them from pursuing their work in a professional manner.
Volos awoke before the birds had finished their job. He felt sorry for them, he knew what the collapse of ritual meant.
Meanwhile the sun gently caressed his face, brushed aside a gray cobweb, and leant down to kiss his cheek.
"Sister," said Volos in recognition.
"Yes, it's me, my dear," said Malusha, "it's time to get up. The sorcerers are already waiting for you inside."
And indeed, four old men were sitting in the room, all dressed in white garments girded round with gold belts, golden charm-straps round their necks, gold around their hems and on their sleeves; everywhere an evil spirit might enter into the body was charmed by gold and by words.
Their conversation didn't last for long. There was a custom in Suzdal: a third party might mediate between the sorcerers and the prince of the city, provided he was not from these parts. Who could be better for the sorcerers than Volos, from the very remotest parts of the lands of Suzdal? Nowhere could be more remote than Moscow. That was in the first place. Secondly, he was one of them. Thirdly, he was related to Dobrynia, and just at present, Dobrynia was the Grand Prince Vladimir's emissary to Suzdal's prince. Volos matched the requirements for an intermediary on all counts. How could Volos possibly refuse, when everything pointed to him? But he had to make sure the boys were safe. Volos got them while they were still drowsy. He gave Gord an especially hard shaking to make sure he was wide awake, and sent them off home. Malusha gave them blessed loaves wrapped in a kerchief for the journey, and also walking sticks, as though they were wandering minstrels. The sticks would make the walking more comfortable and lively. The boys set off. Coming out of Suzdal, they turned first toward Vladimir, and then toward Moscow–Gord already knew the road.
On the left side of the square was the prince of the city, with the pagan priests, and on the right side were the sorcerers, with Volos at their head. Between them stood the people. The prince was supported by power, the sorcerers were supported by faith.
The prince was greater, the sorcerers were less.
Something strange was taking place in Volos' heart, as though two black storm clouds, each containing a bolt of lightning, were moving toward each other. Yesterday, when they were baptizing people with their swords in the river, everything had seemed quite clear, he felt nothing but hate for the priests and the prince's men-at-arms. Not even fear for Emelya? No, not even that. But today he couldn't forget his dream. Could this really be the end of the ritual?
The people had been swimming on the bottom for long enough. To inflame the people required no great intelligence, but once they were ablaze, you couldn't put out the flames. Where there was a prince, there were men-at-arms, and where there was a sorcerer... They always beat those who are less, and the ones who are greater always do the beating. And Volos understood the cunning of the priests. If a sorcerer didn't keep away the rain during mowing, he was to blame. If the prince's men lost a battle, the sorcerer answered for it; if the sun scorched the field, it meant the sorcerer was weak, he should either be replaced or punished. But a priest was quite different, all he could do was to ask, and if his request wasn't granted, it meant a punishment had been sent down for people's sins, and the punishment would be exactly as severe as it needed to be.
Neither priest nor man could control all that happened, that was God's concern. But the sorcerers lay askew across the order of things–higher than the gods, or lower than the people, and when they were to blame they would be drowned or burned.
With all his heart and all his memories Volos was with the sorcerers, but in his thoughts he was with the pagan priests, and with the prince of the city. The prince was no alien, he spoke Russian, and it seemed like only yesterday he had given his son to Veles when the pestilence came.
The prince hadn't brought the priests here simply out of fear of Vladimir; his eyes were clear, there was faith in them. It was not two clouds, but two trains made of glass that were rushing toward each other in Volos' head, and there was only one track...
"Why did you order everyone to remove the crosses from their necks during the night? And why are those who didn't remove them left lying by the fence with broken heads?" The prince looked at them with the conviction that he was right, and everyone would understand him if only he could say things in the right way.
"When a cross is hung on a neck with a sword, it does not hang there long. And there are but few lying with broken heads under the fence. The people have been set on their heads. They are hurting inside, and they must choose between you and me. They are suffering and enraged, and neither you nor I can say who will turn to whom."
The horses under the men-at-arms shifted their feet restlessly, one galloped out of the ranks and reared up, but the
Varangian rider managed to force it back into line, still prancing on its hind legs, and he whipped it hard, foam dripping from its lips.
Volos spoke again. "Perhaps you think the people should also be pacified by the whip? They could be pacified, they'd get used to it in time."
"The reason I have gathered you here is not to baptize people. I could baptize them without your help, and I could pacify them without your help, too. I want you to stir those bear's brains of yours and realize that the longer this unrest continues, the more houses will go up in flames and the more people will be killed. But there will still be just as many of us." He gestured at the priests and the men-at-arms. "So you must decide–today either we shall destroy you, or let each man mind his own business and not seek to hinder us. You have good healers and you produce fine minstrels, and few can gallop a horse as you can. You can shake your tambourines and beat your rattles and blow your whistles, and carry on doing all that you used to do, from our side I have no objection."
The people watched and listened, not understanding everything, but understanding well enough that they were dividing up power between them, either equally for both sides, or all for one side and nothing for the other. Ah, how strangely two people who understand each other talk in public: they should have pity on the people, it's their skins that are always covered in salt sweat or blood, but everything is spun out so long, as though the two sides don't understand each other and they can never come to an agreement.
"There stands an oak tree," said the prince. "I'll set you under its roots, and if you come out alive, I'll cast my cross on the ground with my own hand. If not, the people shall follow me. In the face of my God the power of your gods is grass and dust."
Volos looked at the people, at the sorcerers, at the prince. The prince of Suzdal needed to make use of Volos, not to kill him with axe, spear or sword, but to crush him to death in public by setting him under the oak tree's roots. Let Volos be
the first sacrifice to the new god.
And this was right: the life of any ritual was drawn from sacrifice. He was Dobrynia's relative, but Dobrynia would understand. The times were past when personal relations were the essence of power; the idea was the most important thing now. For the prince and for Dobrynia this idea of the single alien god meant they could hold all the tribes in their grip, and control them easily, and strike hard at any enemy, great or small.
Volos agreed. Leta had burnt herself for the people, and he would lie under the roots for the people, so that less blood would be spilled, at least here, today, in Suzdal...
The men-at-arms and others were already levering up the roots of the oak, until the tree rose above the earth. The men loosened the earth in the bottom of the pit with one of the levers, so that when the tap root crushed Volos it would not kill him. They thrust Volos in under the roots and began releasing the levers from the roots one by one, and the roots began pressing down on Volos. The weight on his chest was heavy, like the stone that Emelya dreamed was set on his body, and it was already hard to breathe. As they pulled out the levers, the pressure grew heavier, there was darkness in his eyes, he couldn't breathe. If he could just hold out until they began raising it again... Rings appeared in front of his eyes, the two trains collided and there was broken glass all around and a tinkling sound, and rainbows playing in the glass, and somewhere above him Emelya was chasing butterflies, and the butterflies were yellow and red and white and black...
Volos never knew that shortly thereafter the oak was struck by lightning and it split open and burst into flames; the people fled from the square, along with the men-at-arms and the priests. As soon as Emelya and Gord were outside the town, they took a drink from a stream and hid their crosses in their bundle, just in case, then lay down under a bush and slept. It was the Day of Veles, that is the twentieth day of July, otherwise Cherven, in the year 10989 after the creation of the first people.
A beautiful spot. Behind is the Intercession Convent, below lies the river Kamenka. Above to the left the walls and towers of the Spaso-Yefimiev Monastery split the sky like bolts of lightning. A broad meadow. The roofs of Suzdal gleam and clouds barely cover the lower rim of the sun, the light is still clear and gentle, but it's not hot, as it usually is on the Day of Veles. Flies buzz and birds sing–quietly–and the very breathing of the 450 people here should be noisy. But they're not breathing. It was Iliya of Galaad, the head of the Suzdal special service, who gathered together these priests with their wives and little children, these monks and nuns from the surrounding churches and monasteries. And in the year 11919 on the twentieth day of Cherven, or July, the Day of Veles–or of Elijah–there was no end to such good deeds in Suzdal and the whole region.
Naturally, the very first to be brought here were the monks from the second-class Spaso-Yefimiev Monastery that stands on the high left bank of the Kamenka. At this very spot, where Iliya drove the priests together, during the winter, at Christmas, they baptized people en masse in a hole in the ice, as in the river Jordan, under a canopy with a painted wooden frame and five domes and woven grass decorations from the Church of SS. Peter and Paul. It was here that the prince of Suzdal had first immersed people in the Kamenka, and it was only later that they built the monastery opposite up on the hill. In about the year 11352 Saint Yefimy was the first archimandrite here. Two hundred years after he died no one remembered where his grave was, but in 11507 they began to dig the foundations for a new cathedral, and in the earth they discovered the undecayed remains of Saint Yefimy–not far from the spot where Prince Pozharsky is buried.
The monks from the Zolotnikovsky hermitage were brought by carts harnessed to the monastery's horses. They turned their
attention to the other four churches as well–unlike Malyuta, they used no torture, but they didn't come back with empty hands either, from the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, and the Church of the Virgin of Kazan, and the Church of All Saints.
But in general in Suzdal there were not so many monks as there were nuns. They rounded up more monks from the Bogolyubov Monastery, second class, that stood eleven versts from Vladimir, between the river Klyazma and the Nerl. The holy prince Andrei Yurievich established it there to last a thousand years. He had good cause to establish it there. How could he do otherwise, after what had happened?
Prince Andrei Yurievich was traveling from Kiev to Suzdal with an icon of the Most Holy Virgin, the one that is known now as the Virgin of Vladimir. This was in 11154.
The horses pulling the cart with the icon suddenly stopped. Obviously they were tired, so they harnessed up some others, but they wouldn't budge from the spot either. They built the Church of the Mother of God there, and a monastery beside it, and later around the monastery the town of Bogolyubov was built. In the year 11238 the Horde burned down everything except the monastery, which still stands there today. Even an icon survived, painted in the year 11157 to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin Mary to Prince Andrei in his dreams. This icon has two holy days a year. The first is almost the same as the Day of the Bear's Awakening, on the twenty-fifth day of Beriozozol, or March, and the second is on the eighteenth day of June, or Kresen, not far from the festival of Kupala – Emelya's days.
They supplied the required number monks by carting some more from Shuya, from the Shartominsko-Nikolayevsky Monastery, third class, which had three churches–St. Nicholas, the Church of Kazan with the side chapel of Saint Gregory of Akragant, and the Church of the Feast of Purification over the monastery gates.
They were able to collect the nuns from closer at hand. There were plenty in Suzdal, almost enough just in the Intercession Convent, first class, on the hill behind. It was a distinguished convent, founded in the year 11364 by Prince Andrei Konstantinovicn of Suzdal, a generous prince who thought first of his soul, and of all other things afterwards. In the convent, in the Church of the Veil of the Virgin, was the tomb of the Princess Solomonia Yurievna–in monastic life Sophia–the wife of the Great Prince Vasily Ioannovich. She died here in 11542, on the sixteenth day of December, or Studin. Also buried in this convent is Anna Vasilchikova, a wife of Ivan the Terrible, one of the three great and bloody priests of Russia who laid its people thick on the sacrificial altar. The Empress Maria, wife of the Tsar Vasily Shuisky, and the Empress Yevdokia, first wife of the second great bloody priest, Peter the Great, also lived here. The sacristies and store-rooms here are drenched in the history of Russia, and the faces of the nuns are marked with a shadow, the sediment from this thick solution, in which all the pain and all the light sinks to the bottom, and lives on as long as life continues, until the jar is smashed and all the sediment is spilled out onto the earth, and drains into it, together with the living essence, but still something remains on the surface.
The Convent of the Deposition of the Robe was not found wanting. It also supplied nuns to the gathering, even though, unlike the Intercession Convent, it was a second-class establishment, and an ancient one at that, in existence since 11207. And it had been blessed by the presence of the remains of the holy St. Yefrosinia, acquired in the year 11699 on the eighteenth day of September, or Vresen.
All of Suzdal was reduced to ashes by the Khan Batu during his campaign of 11238, but the Convent of the Deposition of the Robe survived unharmed, thanks to the prayers of Saint Yefrosinia, who lived there at the time.
They brought in nuns from Vladimir as well, from the Princess Convent, second class, that was founded seven
hundred years ago, by the great prince Vsevolod the Third, at the request of his wife Maria. And they took a few things from the three churches there and brought them back to Suzdal; not, of course, the remains of St. Abraham or the Princess Alexandra, the first wife of Alexander Nevsky, or even the remains of Maria, the convent's founder, or Princess Vassa, Alexander Nevsky's second wife, or their daughter Yevdokia. There were other things for the taking in the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, and the Church of the Virgin of Kazan, and the Church of St. Iohn Zlatoust.
They dragged in plenty of priests with their wives and children from the churches round about, until they had a total of the sacred number of 450.
Iliya gathered them all together, and his assistants drove them all into a single dense herd, so that Iliya could speak seriously to them without straining his voice. He said:
"Let me tell you, respected friends, that your faith is false and your god has grown old and weak in two thousand years, and that is why so many churches have gone up in smoke and why so many priests and monks have fled to the next world, for your god has ceased to love you, not to mention the fact that his hand has grown weak. I have had an idea. I shall turn the barrel of my revolver on the body of one who is free of sin, and so that you may all be convinced of his purity–he will still be in his mother's womb."
Iliya's fellow agents led out a woman called Vera, who had been selected beforehand, and stood her with her back to the river; she was the wife of the priest Alexei of the Ilinsky Church which stood on a hill opposite the north-west corner of the Kremlin built in 11744. The priest's wife had a very large belly, she was due to give birth any day.
"Is the child in the womb of its mother free of sin?" Iliya asked.
No one answered, but it was clear that such a child is sinless.
"So," said Iliya, "if I fire from this pistol,"–he lifted it up to
show them–"and I kill them, I shall execute every one of you, since your god does not defend a soul that is pure. But if I miss, or the pistol misfires, or the bullet goes wide, I'll go back to the monastery with you, become a monk and spend the rest of my life praying to your god."
Four years before this Iliya hid from the authorities in the house of a widow in Suzdal. Although every one nearby was starving, in the house of the widow there was always flour in the bin and oil in the jar. And when the widow's son fell ill, Iliya sat with him and fed him and sang songs to him, and when the boy recovered, both the widow and her son believed in Iliya's extraordinary powers.
Sharing this faith in his own extraordinary powers, the head of the Extraordinary Commission of the town of Suzdal gathered together these priests and their wives, and the monks and the nuns, in order to see whether he had done right in taking up the struggle for the new trinity–happiness, equality and brotherhood–or whether he was in error, and he anticipated the result of his experiment with great excitement. But nothing unexpected happened. After receiving four lead bullets in the head and the chest, Vera, with her hands pressed to her belly, fell on the red-stained green grass of the bank of the Kamenka and went into convulsions.
And only one witness to the event, the peasant Ivashka from the monastery village of Knyazhie, who had sat many times in the stone cell of the prison at the Intercession Convent for brewing beer on a weekday, and was there among the crowd on the banks of the Kamenka by chance, shed a yellowish tear from his squinting right eye onto the stubble of his beard.
Saying nothing more, Iliya personally took each of the remaining 449 priests, priests' wives, children, monks and nuns, and without any hurry or fuss, with painstaking care and even dexterity, turned them to stand with the back of their head toward him and dispatched them to the next world, where of course, according to their faith, the joys of heaven awaited them for their sufferings. And having completed all this work so
conscientiously and thoroughly, in a smooth and workmanlike fashion, he set off to the house of the widow, who no longer went to church, but believed in him, and her son, who also believed in Iliya and now worked in the Extraordinary Commission with him, even though he was only sixteen years old.
The little boy whom the priest's wife thrust out of herself in her convulsions was picked up by the Sumarokovs, an old couple from the village of Yakovlevskoe, who happened to ride by on their cart. Their house was on Vtoroi Ovrazhny Lane, beside the Church of St. Nicholas, and so they named the child Nikolai. The Sumarokovs also took onto their cart four poor wanderers called Stavr, Sara, Rachel and Tikhon. Sara was weak, for she had just given birth to a son who had died, and they buried him together with the murdered monks and nuns and wives and children in one large unmarked common grave. Eighteen years later a boy called Nikolai would beat a man called Iliya to death during interrogation, having learned from certain documents and the personal replies of the head of the Extraordinary Commission just who had assisted his passage into the world and how, and that would bring him back to faith in the former God and he would leave Moscow, disappearing forever from the view of his colleagues in the Extraordinary Commission.
At this point Emelya's dream flipped its tail like a fish and swam deeper, almost to the very bottom...
Warmth falling on Emelya's eyelids made him open them. From the steps of the Execution Site, he could see flaming torches advancing in waves like the sea, fluttering in the wind like candles in a church where all the windows have been broken, the doors smashed, the frescoes scraped and pitted...but the angels are singing, and their breathing and the draft together make the little flame of the candle flare up with a trembling brightness where it is clutched in the fingers of a five-year-old boy standing beneath the Pantokrator spread out on the inner surface of the dome with the hole. The service is at its climax: "Lord, have mercy... Lord, have mercy"– the chant hangs in the air, like the column of light from the hole in the cupola. Moscow has been full of churches like this for more than one hundred years.
The torches flowed toward the red sea in four raging torrents. They flowed toward the Place of the Fire; the Execution Site; Golgotha, where the execution blocks of the Streltsy stood; where the first public theater, erected by Peter the Great, buzzed with voices and commotion; and where the Oak grew, beside which Emelya was conceived.
If you were to ascend a little from the Execution Site and view all of Moscow from the height of Leta's drifting smoke, you could see the small currents of fire flowing together into the huge channels and moving from the North, the East, the South and the West toward the steps Emelya was sitting on. Along Varvarka Street, which was the road to the east, the people moved in a compact, dense current. The flames fused into a conflagration that glowed like coals in the wind and looked yellow from the narrow space and the dark blue above it, and from the air left over from previous centuries, the spirit of the invisible vapor that lingered here from the times when this was an area where they boiled salt and kvass and hops and copper and beer. And this vapor was yellow and invisible without the flames of the torches, but it was revealed in the flames, the way the wind becomes visible when it encounters grass and leaves in its path, or air becomes visible when it is caught in a column of bright sunlight.
The current from the South along Ordynka Street was wider and less compact. And when it reached the place where the flames began to flutter as though they were afraid of going out, like a bonfire in a wild, gusty wind, flapping its wings furiously like a partridge caught in a snare, thrashing like a snake caught by the head, then it was turned almost black by its impotence
and frantic energy, by the sun of the past and the smoke from the tents of the khans of the Horde, who used to halt here as they made their way from their native village of Juchi to the rich pickings of Russia.
The flames that flowed along Ilyinka Street (formerly known as Kuibyshev Street), past the Church of Elijah, and through Kitai-Gorod, were bright red from all the conflagrations that rode their red steeds first over wooden Kitai-Gorod, for the winds from the North blew more often and were sharper and stronger than the winds from the West, the South and the East.
The same road Emelya's feet had trodden was now trampled by a crowd bearing a white flame that flowed along Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street, once known by the name of Herzen who, alas, alas, Î my brethren, was an incautious bell-ringer who loved to chime his bell beside the very ear of a sleeping man by tugging on a rope that stretched all the way from London to Moscow– which made it safer, the way a chain stops a mad dog from biting; the way a wolf, once caught in a trap, is kept at a safe distance while you observe the foam dripping from its jaws with the teeth bared, all ready to gobble and snap. Herzen was in London, but the wolf was in Moscow. The sleeper awoke and was driven insane by the world and his own strength, and he hasn't been able to go back to sleep ever since. He has mutilated himself and maimed his neighbors, and there he is in the houses and on the streets, on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street and Armyansky Lane and Baikal Street and Krymsky Val, and in the Nemetskaya Sloboda district–plucking out his left eye with his right hand and his right eye with his left hand, and then becoming even wilder in his blindness and his pain, groaning and weeping and singing, binding up his wounds. He has no time to sow and reap, to weave cloth, to milk cows, and the unmilked cows echo his roaring by lowing in their misery, and the name of this roaring is chaos and the onset of pestilence.
This stream flowed past Oprichnik Court, past the Church of St. Nicholas, Latter-day Martyr in the Blood, that stood by the Kremlin wall, past the Historical Museum, that looks from the side like a shed for steam locomotives, and up across the cobblestones to the Execution Site.
Despite the night hour, the darkness, the drizzling rain and the dark storm clouds covering the sky, the people were jubilant as they sang their southern, northern, eastern and western songs. The dissonances hung in the air, the music was as unrelenting as the music outside the classrooms of the Conservatory, when on a midsummer night all the windows are open and a melody or a sound or a voice leaps out onto the pavement from every window, like a suicide. Flute, psaltery, violin, French horn, trumpet, oboe, timpani, kettledrums, cymbals, saz, zurna, reed pipe... All at once, all together, trying to out-honk, out-sing and out-play each other, and anyone standing outside the Conservatory who has ears to hear, hears that the world is crazy, but it wants to live and it has a right to its own voice. What a pity we can't listen to everyone in turn! But these are all minor, unimportant details in comparison with the fact that today the people have a unique, genuine, unplanned, natural holiday of general, spiritual, total (if temporary) unity. All of them are tired of wars, but no one cares what they are tired of. There is an alien among them, a being alien to all of those who are pouring through the streets to the high Site of the Fire.
Emelya had a blood-type of which there was not a single gram in any one of those approaching; he was all alone against a monolithic "them." He was separate and quite different, securely different, and in addition to the torch in one hand and the flower in the other, each one of them carried a concealed stone, a sacred stone kept for years for an occasion like this, and from time to time touched this stone with the hand of a three-hundred-million-fold unity to check which would be the best way to grip it and the surest way to throw it. For each one who scored a direct hit would be honored with a marksman's badge and would thus acquire the right to experience supreme unity with the whole of existence.
The people also sang because each of them strove to recognize in the voice walking beside or close at hand the familiar tones heard occasionally over the years on the polluted seats of the carriages in the metro, on the sickly grass on the banks of the Neglinka and the Khinka and the Serebrianka, in the caverns under the Patriarchs' Ponds, among heaps of human bones and skulls, on the rubble of squares that had collapsed into Underground Moscow. Voices which had lived in whispers could be recognized in song, and everyone sang, so that those listening might hear, and everyone was listening for other singers.
And people did find each other and forget all about their concealed stones. There in the center of Moscow, on the Site of the Fire, beside the Execution Site, they wept in fright, happiness or disappointment looking at the faces they had known for so long but never seen before.
A sixteen-year-old girl recognized the voice of an old man of sixty; a fifty year-old woman with tousled gray hair cried as she pressed her twenty-year-old lover to her breast. But the children never found their parents, because they were separated before voices and faces could be clearly etched in memory.
The clock on the Savior or Spasskaya Tower struck midnight, and just as in 11850, when it was repaired by the brothers Buttenopp, the chimes played "How Glorious" and the "Preobrazhensky March."
The square shuddered and became still. Silence hung over it; the only noise was the single hoarse, huge crackling of all the torches. People stopped looking for each other, all reached inside their clothes, and when the note of the final stroke of the bell on the tower finally died away, the Percentage Officer-General, who was regarded ex, officio as the most pure of the pure-blooded, came out to the center of a circle marked on the ground. Supposedly the four fundamental bloods flowed through his veins, but there was more northern blood than the others. His snub nose was pink with excitement and the glow of the torches, his eyes were moist, his hands were trembling– he was a typical snub-nosed, round-faced Sino-Buryato-Duleb, resembling his original ancestor: equally tall and fine-boned, with the same narrow, piggy eyes; equally fervent, wearing a star bequeathed to him on his chest. Snub-nose raised his hand. The torches instantly stopped crackling, the wind stopped blowing, people stopped breathing, the clouds stopped scudding across the sky, the square stopped humming and the Spasskaya Tower clock stopped playing the "Preobrazhenky March." How easy it was for him to accomplish his destined task. The ritual of the Turning Point of History had freed him of all doubts and thoughts of his own. The Officer-General's predestined role was to carry out the will of history, whatever it might be. Today there was no Officer-General: events flowed through him into the world.
He began speaking, speaking internally in a voice that was zealous, firm, harsh and sharp, and speaking externally in an inspiring bass. He spoke about the man who was stoned to death on this spot, beside the Execution Site, about what a mistake it had been, and how Muscovites remembered this mistake and would never repeat it, and the pledge of their memory was the flowers they had brought. And without interrupting his speech, he went over to the heap of stones, beside which lay a mound of bright, fresh flowers–from pansies and daisies to huge white-and-pink gladioli and bright claret-colored dahlias like Medusa's heads.
He added his modest scarlet roses to the collection of flowers.
And he walked back, talking all the while.
The Officer-General said that when this man called Peter appeared and was discovered to have a blood-type that no one living in Moscow had, his forebears were the only ones to oppose the others and ask them to wait for a more precise analysis; but they were ignored. And his forebears were not in the least surprised when, after more sensitive machines were constructed, this blood was discovered in everyone alive both then and now, and today it was the common blood which allowed them to gather together and each cast a stone at a man whose blood was alien to everyone here.
"The Common Alien" was a festival granted to them by the times, and although everyone knew that his forebear had in fact been the first to cast a stone at Peter, whose monument now towered up above the heap of stones, they all nodded in agreement.
"As the most pure-blooded among you..." said the Percentage Officer-General, raising his snub nose toward the heavens, so that it appeared longer in the light of the torches and looked like the arm-rest of a crutch, and everyone nodded in agreement, knowing perfectly well that his blood contained so many different types that only the menials and the suburbanites had more. This was all unimportant in comparison with an occasion which allowed them to see on the surface people they had known below.
To cast a sacred stone and so, for the time being, free their bosoms of its burden.
The carousel went slowly round the square, and a pile of living flowers built up over Peter, concealing the monument. The old flowers and the monument were moistened with sincere tears which made the stone gleam, and the flowers opened their black-white-red-yellow petals and gave off a scent which mingled with the smell of tears and tenderness.
When the huge, four-sailed windmill had returned to its initial position, the Percentage Officer-General began speaking again. Now his voice was like molten metal pouring into a ladle, his eyes glittered like the ruby spheres on the Kremlin towers, which were filled with the pure blood of the major nations inhabiting Moscow.
The voice boomed like the Tsar Bell when it fell from the Ivan the Great Belltower and a piece of the bell began to fall away,
also ringing in response to the wakened earth.
From his speech Emelya learned that in his blood there had been detected a blood-type which was not, supposedly, present in any of the people standing here. And which was a challenge to their perfected, harmonious, true and uniquely correct system. The very fact of Emelya's existence was an immense stumbling block, a precipice, an obstruction, a boulder on the uniquely correct and true path which they had followed for centuries past and would follow for centuries to come. And if today they did not all do what they must do–if they considered themselves true children of their fatherland–and what was right, by fulfilling the behest of their ancestors, then future generations would not understand, future generations would not forgive them, future generations would curse them.
A sigh of despair ran through the square like a hurricane through a village, uprooting trees and tearing off roofs. It was such a unanimous impulse, at this moment, enchanted by the speech and the sensation of their own perfection. They understood their system really was the best in the world and the slightest blot on this system would destroy it, like rust on an electronic watch. And their children, whom they had never seen, and if they did, whom they would not recognize, would curse their interesting life, filled with danger, alarm, anticipation, excitement, fear, destruction–and also movement and genuine constant renewal and conflict.
The sound of sobbing hung in the night air, the torches trembled as though the Tsar Cannon had been fired, the rustling of hands thrust inside clothing was like an earthquake rising from the sea-bed. But everything froze motionless when they offered Emelya the final word.
Carried away by the general mood and in part by the speech of the Officer-General, Emelya himself was ready to rend his clothes asunder and sprinkle ashes on his head and cast the first stone at himself, although he was the only one who had no stone concealed in his clothes.
Emelya sympathized and agreed with them, recalling aloud
the bear's blood that flowed in his veins, in his heart and soul and, of course, in his thoughts. A sigh of jubilation swept over the square and the waves rippled out and away to the four sides of the world. They had the right to throw the first stone; they were justified in their own eyes, in the eyes of the centuries, and in the eyes of the law. Emelya himself was content. He honored 'the word of God: true happiness lies in making others happy. The Officer-General, with tears in his eyes, listened, watched and realized that this was the most important moment of his spiritual life–the general moment.
The wings of inspiration began to beat within him.
There was no need to say anything else. He went over to Zhdana, who was standing below Emelya and facing him, and held out his own stone to her. The general carousel of inspiration swept up Zhdana, and her memory, and her brain. She was a part of this square, a part of Moscow, a part of the world, her blood throbbed with the enthusiasm of millions, mingling with, not contradicting, her even greater love for Emelya. And with all her elastic energy, all of her young strength, charged with the passion of love and unity and general rapture, she "cast a stone from the trunk of her palm"–the stone placed in her outstretched palm by the damp, sticky hand of the Percentage Officer-General.
Emelya swayed, the blow was precise and resounding, it was heard by the people Hose at hand and those who were far away from the square, it was heard by Leta, Volos, Veles and the Bear. A shroud of pain enveloped Emelya's brain. And the acorn, set in Emelya's hand by Leta, fell from his fingers and rolled into a hole left by a stone that had been wrenched out of the earth today and concealed in someone's clothing.
The people swayed and turned upside down, flames flowed across Emelya's chest, his breathing sank away like a traveling companion tumbling from a bridge so high that he will grow old before he reaches the water, and at this moment the clock chimed once.
One chime from the Spasskaya Tower, the tower which was the first to be capped by a high roof, long before all the others, in 11625, when it was still called the Frolovskaya Tower, and they had to build the tall roof on it to cover the clock. The roof was built by the master craftsmen Bazhen Ogurtsov, Karaulov and Zagryazhsky. When they finished building it, they took out the old clock and sold it by weight to the Spassky Monastery in Yaroslavl, and replaced it with a new mechanism. Kirill Samoilov cast thirteen bells for it, and it was these bells that Emelya heard, for a blow teaches us and allows us to hear a different music, inaudible to others but nonetheless playing here and now.
After the first chime, something broke in the sound, as though it were made of thin glass, and someone had dashed it in furious rage onto the cobblestones of Red Square, and the sound jangled and halted, the fragments tinkled slowly as they tumbled down the cliff toward the river Moscow, past St. Basil's Cathedral, and they were still tinkling when the bells of the Chudov Monastery began chiming. The Chudov Monastery stood beside the Small Imperial Palace. It was erected on the site of the Khan's stable yard, but over the centuries the smell of the Horde had been weathered from this earth and the monastery smelt of incense and lighted wax candles. The smell was the same as in the monastery church of St. Nicholas where Emelya wept as he prayed for peace for the soul of St. Boris the Martyr.
Living with the Horde was a priest, Alexey, who was invited to join them by Khan Janibek. He saved the eyesight of the wife of Khan Taidulu, and in gratitude she presented him with the stable yard, and the khan gave him a charter of privilege for the Russian Church. When he returned home, Alexey built the wooden Church of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael with the side chapel of the Annunciation of the Virgin on the site of
the khan's stable yard. But two years later, Khan Tokhtamysh burned Moscow and did not spare the Church of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael, and then the smell of the khan's stable yard was borne away from this earth and into the past by the smoke.
The Cathedral of Alexey the Metropolitan, which Tsar Fedor Alexeyevich forbade women to enter, was built in 11483. It had silver chimes; the icon-stand was bronze, covered with silver leaf; and the royal gates were solid cast silver, weighing 11 poods. The bloody priest Peter the Great, who later died a natural death, was baptized here, as was Alexander the Liberator, who was murdered by sincere people for his good deeds.
The bells of the Church of the Annunciation to the Virgin, which stood on the site of the temple of Veles, rang with golden chimes, seconding the voice of the Alexeyevsky Cathedral.
In the sanctuary of the St. Alexeyevsky Cathedral, an icon of the priest Alexey, painted on the upper board of the partition, was revealed by the knife of the heretic Foma Ivanov, who was infected with the Calvinist heresy.
The bells of the Church of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael rang with a chime of bronze: the priest Alexey was buried in this church when he died in 11378, and during the rule of Ivan Vasilievich the mortal remains of the saint were transferred to the St. Alexeyevsky Cathedral.
In 11812, the bells at the Chudov Monastery pealed loudly, and the monastery yard was filled once again with the smell of horse manure; the horses neighed and Marshal Davoud made his bedchamber in Alexey's sanctuary, the sanctuary before which the monk Grishka Otrepyev often knelt in fervent prayer.
And these silver, gold and bronze chimes, this smoke from beta and Veles and the monastery that had burned more than once, and the whinnying of the Mongol and French horses and the smell of their dung held so much meaning, essential truth and vital reality, so much of the voice of Emelya's God, that Emelya's consciousness was inverted once again, and he saw clear images of the people, the sky and the square.
The sounds and the smells, and also the right and power of the people casting the stones, their great numbers and their unity, relieved him of pain, unconsciousness, will and strength. A hail of stones showered down on Emelya as though at a signal, the way hailstones rain down on cherry blossoms and scatter them, breaking his head, his chest, his legs, his arms, his shoulders, his knees but leaving his soul untouched.
The stones flew from the North, the South, the East and the West. They flew over his head, they fell short, and his consciousness, which only recently was clouded and blind, became as clear as beta's when she departed this very place in smoke on that other Day of Veles.
And he watched as the people, having become a single elemental force, night-blind from the blazing torches and driven by great revolutionary enthusiasm, took out the stones from their clothes and threw them in all directions; stones flew this way and that, and now Emelya suffered no more blows than everyone else standing around.
Those standing in the West stoned those standing in the East. Stones from the North broke the bones and skulls of those who came from the South. The air was filled with screams of joy from those who scored direct hits and screams of pain from those who were hit, and this continued until the cocks crowed.
And when the Chimes, which began to peal when they were struck by a stone, broke down and stopped, whirling their inner gearwheels uselessly, and the "Preobrazhensky March" fell silent, no more than a quarter of the city's population was still alive, and for those who were left, this changed matters. They thought everything would be the same as before, that newly empty places would be waiting to welcome them with open gates and doors. Everyone who was in the center of the square was killed first, but those who were further out survived, and people who lived outside the Garden Ring were preparing to move into Kitai-Gorod, and people who lived beyond the outer ring road were preparing to move in closer to the Garden Ring,
but to dream of such things their minds must have been clouded. For when awareness began to return to their minds, which blazed with separateness and hatred for each other, and they began slowly rising to their feet, smearing the blood on their faces with the hems of their shirts and opening their eyes, they saw a single all-consuming conflagration covering not only the square but the whole of Moscow. As it burned, dark sooty clouds of evil-smelling smoke billowed into the air. The Great Day of Sacrifice, the Day of Veles or Elijah.
In the North–
Vologodsky Passage, Yeniseyskaya Street, Igarsky Passage, Kargopolsky Passage, Kostromskaya Street, Magadan-skaya Street, Severodvinskaya Street, Novgorodskaya Street, Olonetskaya Street, Tobolsky Lane, Uglicheskaya Street, Kholmogorskaya Street, Chukotskaya Street.
In the South–
Bakinskaya Street, Yerevanskaya Street, Caspiyskaya Street, Kerchenskaya Street, Lipetskaya Street, Nikopolskaya Street, Odesskaya Street, Perekopskaya Street, Sevanskaya Street, Sevastopolsky Prospekt, Simferopolsky Boulevard, Kherson-skaya Street, Chemomorsky Boulevard, Yaltinskaya Street.
In the Eest–
Altaiskaya Street, Amurskaya Street, Baicalskaya Street, Biryusinskaya Street, Kamchatskaya Street, Krasnoyarskaya Street, Sakhalinskaya Street, Shaturskaya Street, Ussuriyskaya Street.
In the West–
Belovezhskaya Street, Bobruiskaya Street, Vitebskaya Street, Viazemskaya Street, Minskaya Street, Mozhaiskoye Highway, Polotskaya Street, Zaporozhskaya Street, Varshavskoye Highway.
And a blue flame rose from–
The Kremlin, where Emelya was born and his house and the temple of Veles had stood, and later the Chudov monastery. The Kremlin burned, with all its monasteries, cathedrals, palaces old and new, and its towers...
The Borovitskaya (or Chertolskaya) Tower, the Oruzheinaya (or Konyushennaya) Tower, the Komendantskaya (or Koli-mazhnaya) Tower, the Troitskaya (or Bogoyavlenskaya or Znamenskaya) Tower, the Kutafya Tower, the Middle Arsenal (or Granenaya) Tower, the Corner Arsenal (Sobakinaya) Tower.
The Nikolskaya Tower and the Senatskaya Tower blazed, and so did our Spasskaya (or Frolovskaya) Tower, the Tsarskaya (or Vspoloshnaya) Tower, the Nabatnaya Tower, the Constantino-Yeleninskaya (or Timofeyevskaya) Tower, the Beklemishevskaya (or Moskvoretskaya) Tower, the Petrovskaya (or Ugreshskaya Tower), the Tainitskaya (or Blagoveschenskaya) Tower, the First and Second Unnamed Towers, the Vodozvodnaya (or Sviblova) Tower.
In the East–
Altaiskaya Street, Amurskaya Street, Baikalskaya Street, Biryusinskaya Street, Kamchatskaya Street, Krasnoyarskaya
A white flame rose from Kitai-Gorod, with its wall whose construction was begun in 11535 by the russified Italian Petrok Maly–how simple the questions of percentiles and nationality were for them!–and finished three years later, together with all its gates: the Voskresensky Gate, the Ilyinsky Gate, the Nikolsky Gate, the Varvarsky Gate, the Troitsky Gate, the Kozmo-Demiansky Gate.
A yellow flame rose from the Zemlyanoy Val, the Wooden City with its rampart with a wooden stockade running along it, the Veliky Posad, the districts of Zarechye, Zaneglimenye, Zagorodye and Zariadye.
Veliky Meadow, Pogany Pond, Roschinskaya Street, Ogradny Passage, Maryina Grove.
Skatertny Lane burned, and Khlebny Lane, Bolnichny Lane, Muzeiny Lane.
Yegerskaya Street, Kuznetsky Bridge, Okhotnichya Street, Yamskaya Street, Kalashny Lane, Serebriany Lane, Staro-monetny Lane, Karetny Gate, Konny Lane, Rybny Lane, Sokolinaya Hill, the Tamozhenny Streets, the Goncharnaya Settlement, the Syromyatnicheskaya Settlement, the Kol-pachnaya Settlement, the Kislovskaya Settlement, the Pechatnaya Settlement, the Plotnichya Settlement, the Trubnichya Settlement...
The Nikitsky Gates blazed, and the Pokrovsky Gates, the Myasnitsky Gates, Butyrsky Val, Kamer-Kollezhsky Val, Gruzinsky Val, Danilovsky Val, Lefortovsky Val.
The Abelmanovskaya Gate, the Krestyankaya Gate, the Butyrskaya Gate, the Rogozhskaya Gate.
A green flame rose from the hay-ricks and moss of Osto-zhenko Street and Mokhovaya Street, Berezhka Street, Boloto Street, Vspolye Street, Glinka Street–we give a name to everything that we must leave behind, so that it will not disappear from our memory and the memory of those who live after us. This name is the charm which gives life to Babylon and Troy, Sardanapalus and Praxiteles, Trajan and Dmitry Donskoi, St. Sergius of Radonezh, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Josef the Bloody.
Gryazi burned, and Peski, Rzhischi, Bor and Yandova.
A billowing brown flame rose from–
Velikaya Street, Vostry Konets, Krasnaya Hill, Stary Garden,
There is a dog that roams across history clutching a bone in its teeth, and this dog is the word, and this bone is the remains of people, cities and nations.
If not for this dog, then who would know their names?
Where are they, who are they–Raav, Ashur, Ninti, Farra, Melkhisedek, Nakhor, Lot, Avimelekh, Lavan, Sikhem, Potiphar, Valam, Debora, Sisera, Gideon, |efai, Akhuzaf, Phikhol, Emor, Veselia and Agoliph? These were kings, queens, warriors and rulers and also, in the end, simply living human beings.
Without this dog who would know the cities of Kharran, Negen, Sodom, Sikhem, Gader, Baal-Tsefon, Elim, Kadesh, Pefor, Gavaon, Galgal, Maced, Livna, Lakhis, Eglon, Davir, Silom, Famnar-Sarai, Giva, Iavis? And these are cities, what do we know of their streets, lanes and squares?
A purple flame rose from –
The Krestovozdvizhensky Monastery on the island, the Greek
Monastery, the Church of John the Divine Under the Elm, the Church of SS. Kozma and Damian in Rzhischi, the Church of St. Paraskeva Pyatnitsa by the Old Fields, the Church of St. Vladimir in the Gardens, the Petrovsky Monastery in Vysoky, the Krutitsky Monastery, the Church of the Latter-day Martyr Nicholas Under the Wall, the Church of the Assumption on Vrazhka Street, the Church of St. George on Krasnaya Gorka, the Old Church of the Trinity in the Ravine, the Temple of Kupala Under the Elm, the Church of the Metropolitan Alexey in Glinischi.
A black flame rose from–
The Greek Settlement, the German Settlement, Lefortovo, Balchug, the Tatar Settlement, Ordynka Street, the Georgian Settlement, Armenian Lane, Maroseika Street, Upper and Lower Khokhlovka Streets, the Merchants' (or Polish) Settlement...
An orange flame rose from the lanes named after their former owners–Asheulov, Bobrov, Radkovsky, Daev, Kropotkin, Nikitnikov, Khukhrikov, Karelin, Volkonsky.
The street of Moscow's Governor-General Yeropkin blazed, and the lane named after Prince Volkonsky's wife, Nastasya, and the lane named after the merchant Devyatkin, and the lane named after the widow of the merchant Lavrushin, and the lane named after Lukov, the assistant medical officer of the artillery, and the lane named after the craftsman Furkas, and the lane named after Sytin, the corporal of the Izmailovsky Regiment, and the lane named after the coachman Khukhrikov, and the lane named after Colonel Levshin, and the lane named after Pyzhov, the leader of the Streltsy.
The heroes of the war of 11812 burned–Barclay, Vasilisa Kozhina, General Yermolov, Gerasim Kurin, Marshall Kutuzov, Platov, Tuchkov.
lust as trees hide their roots in the earth, exposing their trunks and leaves, so the Pekhorka, the Olkhovka, the Kapli and the Studenets were marked on the surface of the earth by Pekhorskaya Street. Olkhovskaya Street, Kapelsky Lane, and
Studenetsky Lane, all of which burned like the Kremlin, with a blue river flame.
The whole of Moscow burned, with the whole of history. People burned, and streams and rivers, stone, glass and concrete, trees and meadows and copses, clay and sand, the sun burned, and the clouds and the stars. People staggered toward these conflagrations and watched with their own eyes the fruit of their own total unity and inspiration; the North and the South and the West and the East, all the squares, all the streets, all the lanes and houses where they had hated and killed each other with such inspired conviction and professional zeal–they were all reduced to ashes, smoke, and dust and there was no place for them to lay down their heads. The factories ascended to the sky in evil-smelling fumes, and so did the laboratories that knew how much Russian, Mongolian, English, Duleb, Jewish, Armenian, Greek, Gypsy, Syrian and Arabic blood there is in our poor single and indivisible human body, and the smoke was thick, and people's faces were black, and blood flowed down their soot-smeared cheeks, and tears flowed over the blood and soot, and everything was beginning anew, everything was returning to its origins!
And the hatred after the last unity was so great that no one wished to look on anyone else, and each wished to be alone.
Emelya's living consciousness hovered above the city, and beside him the soul of the Percentage Officer-General fluttered its wings like a beheaded cock and screamed hoarsely, snorting out its triumphant cock-a-doodle-do in spurts of blood, although it was midnight, and no one could tell what meaning his crowing had for the burning city, and anyway this cock-call was of no interest to the former city's former inhabitants, as they wandered through the smoke and rubble. But by the Patriarchs' Ponds, in front of former house #21 on Malaya Bronnaya Street, Zhdana stood with her back pressed against the warm, rusty, fused metal of the gates, suffering torments of shame for her inspiration and the accurate blow she had struck with a swing as supple as a cat's stride at the chest of the man she loved and adored, Medvedko or Emelya.
The fire in Moscow lasted four days, and when the fifth morning arrived on the twenty-fifth day of Cherven, or Lipets, or July, the day of the Assumption of St. Anne, the Mother of the Blessed Virgin, all around was desert. The first blades of grass were beginning their movement toward the rays of the morning, hastening to come together and continue the eternal union of the grass, that is like the rays of the sun, as the rays are like the blades of grass. On the spot where Emelya's first and second houses stood, the site of the Den from which, having killed his father, the people drove out Boris, who in turn was killed by Yaropolk the Accursed, there were already pink clumps of willow-herb, that faithful watchman of fires and ruins.
The grass pierced the stones of the Zemlyanoy or Earthen Town, whose boundaries Emelya had often crossed on his way to his Zhdana, and even the asphalt of Medvedkovo, where a thousand years ago Emelya had saved his half-brother from the bees with the same smoke that now spread over the grass.
And the people, unable to find their coats or their houses, withdrew into the familiar, dark surroundings of their Underground Moscow, where it was damp and they felt afraid, but it was not cold when winter came, and there were no percentage operatives, for in the darkness they became invisible and indistinguishable, and who could tell what color their shirts were? And there was no ladder on which every inhabitant of the city had a place under the Percentage Officer-General- And on the surface the earth smoked and the willow-herb blossomed, and God's grass rose toward the light from out of Underground
The acorn swelled up. Its shoot broke through the skin and began growing at a pace detectable only to an intelligent machine or God, who gazed down in helpless compassion at the deeds of humankind and the ordinary life of the Earth...
Moscow. And there was no one but Zhdana wandering through the ashes of the conflagration and searching for what remained of Emelya. But the wind scattered the ashes and swept away the ruins of the Kremlin, Chudov Monastery, the Temple of Kupala Under the Elm, the empty Mausoleum and the Church of St. Nicholas the Latter-day Martyr that stood by the Kremlin wall, and only the flame on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier went on burning cleanly day and night without smoking, but there was no one to see the flame. And the acorn from the Sacred Oak on the Execution Site, that fell from Emelya's fingers when Zhdana's stone struck him in the chest and he lost consciousness for a moment, had already swollen and put out a little shoot, which in time would grow into an Oak on that same Execution Site, and the Altar of Veles would be here, and Volos and Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great and the Josef the Bloody would each, according to their custom and ability, bring him their bloody sacrifice...
Then did God become all, there was no Earth, and no people, and God crossed Himself with the sign of the cross. And first His fingers touched His forehead, and that was the North, and then His fingers touched His breast, and that was the South, and then His fingers touched His right shoulder, and that was the East, and then His left shoulder, and that was the West.
God removed His cross and set it in the heavens, and it became the Earth.
And over each quarter of the Earth, God lit a quarter of the sun, a quarter of the moon and a quarter of the stars.
And God threw to the East a handful of stones, and left half of them dry and sprinkled half of them with water.
And God threw to the South a handful of sand, and left half of it dry and sprinkled half of it with water.
And God threw to the West a handful of earth, and left half of it dry and sprinkled half of it with water.
And God threw to the North a handful of snow, and left half of it dry and sprinkled half of it with water.
The duration of this was an instant, but for a mortal it would have been a year.
And then God took a handful of dry snow, and He molded from it a god and breathed His spirit into him and gave him the name of Rod, and God took a handful of wet snow and molded a wife from it and breathed His spirit into her. And He gave her the name of Bereginia. And He gave to them a fourth part of the sun, He gave them a fourth part of the moon, and the moon and the sun were below, and He gave to them a fourth part of the sky and the stars, and all this He called the North.
He gave to each of them a tongue–to him a dry tongue, and to her a wet tongue. And they did not understand each other's tongues, and they gazed in fright on each other, but the snow fell and the storm wind blew and they pressed against each other without speaking, and the gods appeared on the earth–Rod, Vila, Praschur, Koschun, Mat-syra Zemlya, Kama, Brat, Vest, Ogon, Takha, Veles, Don, Rozh, Rerun, Khleb, Svarog, Ovin, Dazhdbog, Dvina, Volkhov, Volga, Chud, Merya, Muroma, Ves, Mordva, Perm, Pechera, Tarn, Ugra, Litva, Zimigola, Kors, Letgola, Liva, Rus, Chetyrye, Sem, Svakha and others...
And this was the Night of God and the Wintertime of God, and all around was God's North, and they were past their prime, and the duration of this was an instant, but for a mortal it would have been a year.
And God gazed on them with a red eye, and they became red of face from His gaze, and from the cold and His wind.
And God took a handful of dry sand, and He molded from it a god and breathed His spirit into him and He gave him the name of Enlil. And God took a handful of wet sand and molded from it a wife, and He breathed His spirit into her, and gave her the name of Inanna.
And He gave to them a fourth part of the sun and a fourth part of the moon, and a fourth part of the sky and the stars, and they were all above, and all this He named the South.
He gave Enlil a dry tongue, and He gave Inanna a wet tongue. And they did not understand each other, and they ran from each other in separate ways, and ran around the whole of the South and found no one, and they gave birth to the gods– Enki, An, Nanna, Utu, Ningirsu, Damgalnuna, Nintu, Mami, Bau, Ishtar, Erre, Ereshkigal, Lakhar, Ashnan, Namma, Uttu, Ninkhursag, Dumuzi, Enmesharra, Shamash, Atad, Marduk,
Abzu, Eiya, Tiamat, Alsu, Mummu, Anshar, Kishar, Bela, Nabu, Lamashtu, Nergal and others...
And this was the Day of God and the Summertime of God, and they were young, and the duration of this was an instant, but for a mortal it would have been a year. And God gazed on them with a black eye, and they became black of face from His gaze, His fire and His smoke.
And God took a handful of dry stones and worked them into a god, and He breathed His spirit into him, and gave him the name of Pan-Gu. And He took a handful of wet stones and molded them into the wife of Pan-Gu. And He breathed His spirit into her and gave her the name of Nui-Va. And He gave to them a fourth part of the sun and a fourth part of the moon, and a fourth part of the sky and the stars, and all this He called the East, and it was the part to the left.
And God gave them tongues, a dry tongue to Pan-Gu and a wet tongue to Nui-Va. And Pan-Gu and Nui-Va did not understand each other, and they wished to part and go separate ways, but the morning was so beautiful and the sunrise was pink. The sakura branch was covered in white blossoms, a tender breeze was blowing, and they became one even unawares and gods were born into the world–
Fu-Si, Ba-Gua, Fu-San, Si-Khe, Chan-Si, Van-Shu, Khen-Ye, U-Gan, Tai-I, Tsin-Lun, Chu-Tsio, Bai-Khu, Shan, Shen, Lei-Gun, Fen-Bo, Huan-Di and others...
And this was the Morning of God and the Springtime of God, and they were all almost children, and around them was the East of God. And the duration of this was an instant, but for a mortal it would have been a year. And God gazed on them with a yellow eye, the color of the rising sun, and they became yellow of face from His gaze, from the sun and His light.
And then God took a handful of dry earth and molded it into a god and set His spirit in him, and gave him the name of Purusha.
And then He took a handful of wet earth and molded it into a wife for him, and set His spirit in her and gave her the name of Deva.
And He gave to them a fourth part of the sun and a fourth part of the moon and a fourth part of the sky and the stars, and all this He called the West, and it was the part on the right.
And He gave Purusha a dry tongue, and He gave Deva a wet tongue, and they did not understand each other. And they wished to part and go in separate ways, and seek partners for themselves who would speak in dry and wet tongues. But the wind blew up a storm and to prevent the wind from bearing them away, they clutched at each other, and gods were born of them– Prajapati, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, Agni, Kubera, Varuna, Yama, Surya, Soma, Vayu, Vishvakarman, Shesha, Lakshmi, Parijaata, Surabhi, Garuda, Nandin, Durgi, Naga, Marichi, Kashiapu, Angiras, Pulasti, Daksha, Diti, Danu and others...
And it was the Evening of God and the Autumn of God, and they were in their prime, and all about them was the West of God. And the duration of all this was an instant, but for a mortal it would have been a year.
And God gazed on them with a white eye, and they became white of face from the light of His gaze.
And the gods began to live among the snow? The sand? The earth and the stones? And they lived in the East? South? North and West. And those who lived in the North did not know who lived in the South, the West and the East; and those who lived in the East did not know who lived in the South, West and North; and those who lived in the West did not know who lived in the North, South and East; and those who lived in the South did not know who lived in the East, West and North.
But almost at this same time, while God slept, certain seeds which were flying past descended on to the earth, like locusts on a field of crops; the seeds of dispute, envy, greed and vanity. And while God slept they put out shoots and blossomed from His tears of tenderness at the beauty of divine arrangement of life on Earth, in the East, the South, the West and the North.
And God was woken by a tumult of voices, and every person, each child, youth, man and old man, each girl and woman and old woman was shouting: I am first, I am most important, I am higher, no I am higher, they were saying, and in the end they began to beat each other and torment each other, pulling out the hair and plucking out the eyes of the children, the adults and the old.
And God did not immediately understand what was happening, but when He did, He felt pity for them, for they were wandering blind and deaf, bloodied but immortal, and they were seeking death and could not find it, and their groans filled the earth–yellow in the East, black in the South, white in the West and red in the North.
Their groans hung in the air like a rainbow, and its stripes were all equal and none faded.
Then God began, without haste, to work from the East. He sent down stones on their land and covered over all the gods, and at first their groans could be heard, but then all was silence, and only sometimes, when one of them stirred, there was an earthquake, and to this day this happens when the living gods return.
And when God was done with the East, He sent down fire on the South, and the gods were consumed by this fire, and they became a single tongue of flame, and the flame flared up to the sky and scorched it and some of the stars were burnt away. And spots of soot were even left on the moon, and we can see them to this very day.
Then God stretched out His hands and sent down water on the West, and there was a great flood, and all living things were covered by the waters and not a single god was left, only on the bottom of the sea, where their struggling stirred the waters, and the traces of this flood can be seen to this very day, for the seas, the oceans, the lakes and the rivers are these traces.
And then, having finished with the East, the South and the West, God looked to the North, and the wrathful glance of God raised up a great wind, and a snowy blizzard, and the storm and ice covered over all who were seeking death in the North. And there was night and darkness, and the ice and the snow lay over the whole of the North, their traces may be seen even today, and there is no life there...
A single instant had passed, but for a mortal it would have been a year.
And all was calm and peaceful. And God felt pity for the gods. And He resurrected them all and summoned them to the divine court, and they all stood before him, from the South, and the East and the North and the West, and God asked each of them: "What did you not do on the Earth?"
And those who said only "I did not kill." He made into domestic animals, so they would not suffer hunger in the search for food.
And those who said only "I did not lie," He made into beasts of prey.
And those who said only "I did not know envy," He made into birds.
And those who said only "1 did not steal," He made into trees.
And those who said only "I did not seek vengeance," He made into plants.
And those who said only "I did not inform against my neighbor," He made into fish.
And those who said only "I did not betray," He made into snakes and worms.
And to those who could not say what they had not done– for they had done all these things and broken all of God's commandments – He left their immortality, but took away their faces and turned them into water, air, earth and fire.
And thus the Earth was made with grass and trees, and animals walked on it and ate the grass, and snakes crawled on it, wriggling their bodies like worms, birds flew in the air and fish swam in the sea, and the water flowed round the fish, the air round the birds, the fire around the tree, the tree within the fire, the worms within the earth, the earth round the worms, and the birds sang songs, the beasts growled and screamed and howled, and they could be seen and heard, but the fish | were silent, they could be seen but not heard. And the wind whistled, the thunder roared and could be heard but not seen.
And God felt sorrow, and He decided to replace the gods He had created in His own image, who were immortal, and in time would do everything that was forbidden, and God's thought was to make others like them, but these would live only briefly and would not have time to do all that was forbidden, and He | called them people, for a human is like a former god, but without immortality.
And it was the twentieth day of Cherven, or July by its other name, 11,147 years ago.
And God began His work from the East. He took a handful of wet stones and molded from them a man and He gave him the name of Tao.
God took the free soul of a dead god and set it in the breast
He took the living soul of the dead wife of a dead god and covered it with the skin of the right hand of Tao, and gave it the name of In.
And He divided the beasts into two, into wild and domestic animals, and He drew a line between them, and He set Tao and In among the domestic animals, and around the wild animals He left the open field, and to the fish and the birds He said: be free, for your sin was the least.
And He gave to them a quarter of the waters, and a quarter of the dry land, and a quarter of the sky, and a quarter of the moon, and a quarter of the sun, and a quarter of the meadow, and a quarter of the stars, and a quarter of Himself and He said: "I shall be with you, and My name for you shall be the East. And wherever you may be, in the North or the South or the West or the East, you shall be as I am, and yet as you are, you shall be as you are and yet as I am.
"And there will be a time when my prophet shall come and speak My name to you and proclaim My word for all who are my right shoulder."
And when In was with child, she gave birth at once to as many people as there were gods in the East, and they gave birth to as many people as now live in the East. And God set each free soul in them, and when the body of one of In's children dies, the soul passes into another, which was living without a soul. And God's right shoulder was hidden from sight.
Then God turned His hand to the West.
And God took a handful of wet earth and molded it into a man and gave him the name of Adam, and God took the free soul of a dead god and set it in Adam. And Adam fell asleep, for He had been given the soul of the god of Sleep, and in his sleep God took a rib from Adam and set in it the living soul of the dead wife of a dead god, and she rose up and roused Adam and made him do what he did not wish to do. And her name was Eve.
While Adam was still drowsy, he did what his wife made him
do and ate of the fruit of the tree of good and evil that grew beside God, and before God could give them a quarter of the sun or a quarter of the moon, He first had to punish them for their willfulness.
He did not separate off the domestic animals from the wild beasts, and He left Adam and Eve among them, and their souls were filled with fear, for they knew the beasts were bloodthirsty, for they had but one united soul.
And then God gave them a quarter of the moon and a quarter of the sun, and a quarter of the sky, and a quarter of the dry land, and a quarter of the stars, and a quarter of the waters, and a quarter of Himself, and He said:
"I shall be with you, and My name for you shall be the West. And wherever you may be, in the West or the East or the North or the South, you shall be as I am, and yet as you are, you shall be as you are and yet as I am.
"And there will be a time when my prophet shall come and speak My name to you, and proclaim my word for all who are My left shoulder."
And Eve was with child by Adam and gave birth to as many people as there were gods in the West, and they gave birth to as many people as now live and believe in Him.
And God set in them each the free soul of a dead god. When the body of a child of Eve dies, the soul passes into another, which was living without a soul. And God's left shoulder was hidden from sight.
Then God turned His gaze to the North, for He had no more hands, and God blew with his spirit and raised up a damp blizzard of snow, and when the wind died away and the snow was scattered, there stood on the earth a Man and a Woman.
And God took the lightest souls of the dead gods in his lips
and set them in the man and the woman, but the souls were too light to move the bodies standing on the earth. Then God called them and gave them the names of Zhdan and Zabava, and they rose up and walked before him, but they were weak, and then God called the bear, and the bear warmed them with his fur and embraced them in his arms and pressed them to each other.
And when their hearts were cheered, God set them on the earth and gave them a quarter of the dry land and a quarter of the sea and a quarter of the sun and a quarter of the moon and a quarter of the stars and a quarter of the sky and a quarter of Himself and said:
"I shall be with you and My name for you shall be the North. And wherever you may be, in the West or the East, in the North or the South, you shall be as 1 am and yet as you are, you shall be as you are and yet as I am, and a quarter of the domestic animals are yours, and a quarter of the wild beasts are yours, and a quarter of the birds are yours, and a quarter of the fish are yours. And there will be a time when a prophet shall come and speak My name to you and proclaim My word for all of you who are My intellect and My thought."
And Zabava was with child of Zhdan and she gave birth to as many people as there were gods in the North, and they gave birth to as many people who now live and believe in the North. And God set each of the free souls in them. When the body of a child of Zabava dies, the soul passes into another, which has been living without a soul. And God's head was hidden from sight.
And God felt that before Him still lay a quarter of space and beside Him lay sand, warming Him with its heat.
And God was glad that there was sand, and took it for the gods who lived here in the South, and God felt the sand walking
before Him, and it was people.
And He gave them the names of Ali and Djan, and He set in them the free souls of dead gods, and He drove away from them up into the sky a quarter of the birds, and into the field He drove away a quarter of the beasts, and into pens He drove a quarter of the domestic animals, and He drove away a quarter of the fish into the sea.
And He set them on the earth, and gave them a quarter of the sun and a quarter of the moon and a quarter of the stars and a quarter of the sky and He said:
"I shall be with you, and My name is the South. And wherever you may be, in the West or the East or the North or the South, you shall be as I am, and yet as you are, you shall be as you are and yet as I am. And there will be a time when a prophet shall come and proclaim My word and speak My name for all those in whom My soul reposes."
Then Djan was with child of Ali, and she gave birth to as many children as there were gods in the South, and they had as many children as now live and believe in the South, and God set each free soul from a dead god in them.
When the body of a child of Djan dies, the soul passes into another which was living without a soul.
And God was completely hidden from sight...
These chapters Emelya took from the initial Moscow Codex, transcribed from pages between numbers four and twelve, in the year 11147 after the creation of the first people.
...Three times shall humankind live on Earth.
Twice shall they perish, and the third time the Earth shall perish.
The first world was drowned under water.
The second world shall be destroyed by stones falling from the sky, stones of fire which shall dry up the rivers and the lakes,
and the people shall seek for water to quench their thirst, and shall run to that which glitters, and lo! it shall be silver, which is no longer of any use to them.
But there is sufficient time until then for all to remember and forget what happened to people before they were drowned under water.
There was no God, nothing but a point developing in a spiral.
A point is nothing, and a spiral is everything: God and people and history and the Earth and the universe. And when nothing could endure no longer, it exploded into everything and everything moved into nothing, creating the universe, the Earth, the sun and the stars, and then it created God and God created people and people built machines, and machines began to kill their creators, and those they killed then killed God and began struggling to move backwards, from everything to nothing, resisting motion and striving to transform themselves once again into nothing, like a spiral winding itself closed and transforming itself into a point, and everything returns to nothing, and all things return to their origins.
Everything arises from nothing and becomes nothing: human and beast and bird and God and the universe and grass and earth–the spring contracts and expands, and the pendulum swings to and fro: from everything to nothing, from nothing to everything.
And we are the dust between these bounds, and the universe is dust, and time is dust, and the Earth is dust, and the sun is dust, and a bird is dust, and a beast is dust, and people are dust, and an hour is dust, and eternity is dust, and dust becomes everything and dust becomes nothing.
As we live, nothing is still striving to become everything, but everything is already resisting and soon it will overpower nothing and reverse the direction of movement.
What makes up the path from nothing to everything?
The first movement is light and darkness, and light is the sun, and darkness is the Earth. Light is that which gives and
darkness is that which takes. The sun is the Day of God and the Earth is the Night of God.
The second movement is God and humankind; the first, like light, gives, and the second, like the Earth, takes.
The third movement is people and machine, and people are like the light and the machine is like the darkness; the light gives and the darkness takes.
Then the machines will kill people, people will kill God, God will kill the Earth and the sun. The sun and the Earth will kill the universe, and everything will become nothing once again. In the beginning life is stronger than death, but later death is stronger than life. So it has been, and so it will be again, but not in our time.
In the beginning God was and people were not. God was everything and He made people having looked at His own reflection in the water–the red one of fire, the white one of snow, the yellow one of sand, the brown one of wood, the blue one of clouds and the green one of moss.
And it was the twenty-fourth day of Kresen, otherwise lune, the Day of Kupala, 11,017 years ago according to one counting, and the twentieth day of Cherven, otherwise July, the Day of Veles, 12,559 years ago according to another, and in earlier time the gods had a year of 290 days and in the time of humankind this became 366. The black man was called Ali, the white man was called Adam, the red man was called Zhdan, the yellow man was called Tao, the brown man was called Ved, the blue man was called Pir, the green man was called Obr. They had one wife, and her name was Zhena. And every four years Zhena slept with one husband, and in 28 years there appeared on Earth seven clans, and in seven thousand years there appeared on Earth seven nations.
And then God became less, and people became more. And
God could not manage the seven nations, because there was conflict and civil war, and one said "I am best" and another said "I am best"; the green man said he was closest to God, and the blue man said that he was closest to God, the green because he was created from darkness, and though God is light, there is no light without darkness, and the blue man because he was light and God was light, and darkness comes after light, and the brown man said he was the brightest darkness and the darkest light. And in order not to distinguish among those who had not said "I am the best," God left one couple each of black, white, yellow and red people and washed away the rest with water, as a stable is cleaned, and He gave to them the North, the South, the East and the West, where each was supreme in his land.
And afterwards, where the sea was, He made dry land, and where there was dry land He made sea, and so that nothing should remind those still living of their homes, He destroyed them and also the stones of their gods–the ancestors to whom they rendered sacrifice–so that their gods would implore God for them, so that He would make them the greatest in all the Earth among their peers.
And apart from the four couples, all the blue people and all the green people and all the brown people were left on the bottom of the dry land which had become sea, and the sea became blue and green and brown where it had been colorless as water is colorless.
The first of the surviving couples were called Ali and Djan, like their ancestors, and they became the first people equal to all others on the Earth.
The second of the surviving pairs were called Tao and In, like their ancestors, and they became the second people equal to all others on the Earth.
The third of the pairs that were saved were called Adam and Eve, and they became the third people equal to all others on the Earth.
The fourth of the pairs to be saved were called Zhdan and Zabava, and they became the fourth people equal to all others
on the Earth.
And where there had been sea, there was dry land, and the fish there became birds and beasts; and where there had been dry land, there was sea, and the birds and beasts became fish, whales and seals.
Any other being either adapted and survived or perished, and God did not concern Himself with the beast and the fish and the bird, because He had trouble enough with humankind; the blue men and green men and brown men perished, and those who survived became sea fish and sea people, and they grew tails, and people call them sirens, mermaids, bereginias, water sprites, and dolphins, and worship them as gods, because they remember all things not as they were, but as it seems to them they were. And when they pray to mermaids, sirens, and bereginias, they think they are talking to people with whom they lived long ago, before the flood, because a dead person becomes a god, and prayer is the language used to talk with the dead or the gods. For a word that is not prayer does not reach either God or the dead. And when a person dances instead of walking, and sings instead of talking, the song and the dance and the prayer are the language in which people-black and white and red and yellow–speak with God and their forgotten green, blue and brown brothers and sisters, with the fishes, the trees and the mountains.
All are alive and all are brothers and sisters, but not all can speak. And our own fate will be that of the trees and the fish and the mountains, if we live as those people lived who said their god was supreme.
This is why the world contains things which we can see but not hear, like the mountains and the trees,
And things that we can hear but not see, like the thunder and the wind,
And the tongues of those we see and cannot hear, and hear but cannot see, like the trees and the mountains and the sky,
And things we can both see and hear, like people, birds and beasts.
But if there are things that can be seen but not heard, and things that can be heard but not seen and things that can be both heard and seen, it means there must be things which can neither be heard nor seen, and these are God and the spirits.
God and the spirits cannot be seen or heard until we break the law of God and disrupt the harmony of nature. But when we break this law, God and the spirits become visible and audible–through war, pestilence, revolution, earthquake and flood, and this lasts until we once again begin to follow the law of God and we begin to live in harmony with nature, and then once again God and the spirits are concealed from our sight and our hearing.
And Ali, Zhdan, Adam and Tao each lived on his own land, which was once the bottom of the sea. Adam lived in the West, Ali lived in the South, Zhdan lived in the North and Tao lived in the East.
And each of them had much land, and many cattle and many meadows. But there was no one to build cities and temples such as now lay on the bottom of the sea, and they could pass on the knowledge of God to no one, for Tao and
Adam and Ali and Zhdan were old and their wives were old. And God gave to each of them the ability to mold his own race from clay and earth and stone and sand.
Tao molded a new In and himself anew.
Adam molded a new Eve and himself anew.
Ali molded a new Djan and himself anew.
Zhdan molded a new Zabava and himself anew.
And they gave birth to the four races of the Earth, and each was given a quarter of the Earth, and Adam settled in the West, Tao in the East, Ali in the South and Zhdan in the North.
And they divided all the Earth equally among themselves.
They scattered in peace across their lands to build new temples and sacrificial altars for their people, like those that now lay on the bottom of the sea. They began to offer sacrifices molded of clay to those who had molded them. And those who had molded them of clay offered sacrifices to their God, who had become less, while they had become more.
The races lived long and in peace, each on their own land, until they forgot their ancestors, their gods and their customs. As yet they had not learned to move across the face of the Earth by saddling their brothers, the horses, who became animals by the will of God when He punished them for their wish to be first.
Yet the horses served their masters faithfully, and their faithfulness was a vengeance upon them, as much as to say: so you wish to be first, as we did, and God punished us and made us horses, but left you as people, and the hour will come when He will make you other than people also.
And then everything was set in motion, when those who were equal wished to be first.
And the first wished to be first among the first, and once again the laws were broken on the Earth,
And this was the beginning of modem history, when the last wished to be first, and the first wished to be first among their equals, and no one wished to be last. And they fought for this without regard for their lives.
It happened thus: in the land of Egypt 5,432 years ago there lived a Pharaoh by the name of Bes. He said: "I am the greatest, the supreme ruler of this Earth. And my land and my people's land is too little for me. I wish the descendants of Tao, Adam, Zhdan and Ali, the works of their hands and the breath of our God to serve me as the slaves serve me."
And some were for him and others were against him.
And brother fought with brother, and father with son, and all was turmoil and confusion in the world.
And the great war began, which has lasted to our times, and our history is the history of this war. And it will end when we destroy each other. For God, who has become much less, will act to make Himself greater. And the term of this war is set for another thousand years.
Saddling up their horses the armies of the seven Rshi brothers came to Iran and India and laid waste the peoples there, and made them their slaves. And in their books, the veds, they wrote: "These are our books, and there are no books above them on the Earth, and our gods are the greatest gods on the Earth."
And their children did likewise when the Buddha was born, and he wrote books in which they read: "These are our books and there are no wiser books on the Earth."
And all must live by their laws.
And Moses did likewise, when he borrowed from the books of the Egyptians and Sumerians and Hindus for his own books. And he said to his people: "These are your books, the very greatest of books, and you are great upon the Earth, and there
is no one above you."
And many others did likewise and said to their peoples; "These are your books, and you possess a great gospel and you are supreme above all on Earth,"
But the first was the Pharaoh Bes, and this is why we say to a man who regards himself as superior to others, or a people which regards itself as superior to others: "You are Bes, and your deeds and your thoughts are the thoughts of Bes."
And such is each person who feels superior to others and claims to be no devil or Bes, but to have been sent into the world by God. And a book not of Bes and a person not of Bes is known not by his words but by his deeds.
Whoever shall say: "Not the sword, but peace" is right, and whoever shall say: "Nations and people are equal before God" was sent not by Bes but by God.
And there is but one God for all the people who live on the Earth, all are His creatures. Whoever says: only my god, and mine is superior to yours, and mine is truer than yours – speaks not with a human voice, but with the voice of Bes.
God is one, but He has many names, one in the North, and another in the South, and a third in the West and a fourth in the East, and each people may have its own name for the one God, and each person may have a name for the one God. And this Name may be secret or open. God is one, but the names of God are many, there are as many names as there are sides to the world, as there are nations, houses and people. There is no nation on Earth without a name for God, but one name cannot be higher than another, and one name cannot be greater than another, for each is a name of the one God on the Earth and in the heavens.
And the entire history of the present days is the history of Bes. who took away from God His people and His houses and His lands and His spirit. And he says: "I am higher, and you are higher, but he is lower, my nation is higher and your nation is higher! but his is lower, my god is higher, but yours is lower."
The red people are higher or the black ones are higher or the white ones are higher or the yellow ones are higher–these are all the words of Bes. 5,585 years have passed, and still people remember Bes and live by his thoughts.
A thousand years shall pass and once again God shall bring the affairs of humankind to order, and it may be He will leave one nation, and it may be He will not leave any nation on the Earth, because–
For the second time people are not living by the word of God and the testament of God.
And once again, before destroying the world, God sent a man to Earth in order to speak through him –
Every person and every nation has the right to hear the name of the one God in his own language–red and white and black and yellow.
And thus, whether it has been spoken already or not, there is an English name for God, and a French name for God and a German name for God and a Danish name for God and a Dutch name for God, for the name of a person and a nation is already one of the names of God.
And there is a Chinese name for God and an Italian name for God and a Swedish name for God and a Hungarian name for God and a Polish name for God, and a Serbian name for God, and an Iranian name for God, and an Egyptian name for God, and a Moldavian name for God, and a Lak name for god, and a Palestinian name for God, and a Jewish name for God, and an Indian name for God, and a Syrian name for God, and a Nigerian name for God, and an Ethiopian name for God, and an Iraqi name for God, and a Russian name for God, and a Norwegian name for God, and a Finnish name for God, and a Karelian name for God, and a name for God among each nation on the Earth, be it small in numbers like the Latvians, Mordvinians, Jews, Georgians, Armenians and Estonians, or great in numbers like the Chinese, the Hindus, the Russians, the Japanese and the Americans, and size makes no difference between them, for their name is only a name for the one God of the world, who is unlimited as the thoughts of people are unlimited and who is small as the life of a person is small.
And God sent much else down to earth to be spoken through this man, and it was in Russia in the family of a sorcerer in the year 10980 from the creation of the first people.
These chapters were taken by Emelya from the initial codex of Suzdal, copied from pages between the numbers four and fourteen, in the year 11017.
There was void throughout the universe, and there was nought but God and people, and then God cast a stone to the North, and it became the Earth.
"This shall be your sacrificial altar," said God, "it shall be the land on which you shall live, it shall be your home, which you shall make for yourselves of stone, it shall be the weapon with which you shall kill the beast in order to obtain food, and each other, for your souls are blind and will undoubtedly do this."
And God cast down a twig of birch beside the stone, so that it would spring up there and shade the sacrifice with its branches and weep over the dead and stand beside the house and shelter it from the wind and with its trunk defend the victim from the flying stone.
And God cast down sparkling water, and it lay as a river between the stone and the birch, to quench people's thirst and give water to their homes and to the roots of the birch tree, so that people would weep in hatred and death and repentance.
And God cast over them the curtain of the sky, so that the home and the sacrificial animal and the birch tree should breathe the air.
And God cast down on the stone another stone, and it became a mountain for human celebration, for prayer, a place of gratitude and supplication for mercy and charity in success.
And God sent a bird to bring warmth to people, as a messenger of the sun, so that their houses might be warmed,
so that they might see they could have wings like the bird, which is the herald of spring.
And God cast the sun into the sky, so that it might shine on the home and the sacrificial stone and the birch tree and the river and the mountain and the bird.
And then the sacrificial animals came to the house and stood beside the birch tree and beside the sacrificial stone, and beside the home, and beside the river, and beside the mountain and beside the bird that sat on the top of the birch tree and was called the Div bird.
But people did not accept the bear, because he was their ancestor, and they left him to live beside them, and did not set him on the sacrificial stone.
Then the wolf came to the sacrificial stone, and when the wolf saw the people hold out their hands to kill him, he changed himself into a human, and the people made him a sorcerer, who can be either beast or human, and gave to him the chanting of charms and spells.
Then came the deer, and there were no more animals to be seen, and the people set him on the sacrificial stone and raised the stone sacrificial knife and struck him. From the skins they made themselves couches and clothing, they made the deer's horns into a plough to plough the field, and also made of them a weapon, for a bone knife is lighter than a knife of stone.
And it was already late, and the night had come, and it was the time of the moon.
The moon rose in the sky to replace the sun when it sat in a boat and set sail beyond the sea.
The moon could not replace the warmth of the sun, but it gave light.
And the people became cold, and lit a fire in their hearth; when the sleepy sun withdrew beyond the horizon it shed a flaming tear that fell into their home, and this was fire.
It was warm, and the moon gave light, and the day was over.
This was the Day of God that lasted twelve years and is repeated anew.
Therefore the first year bears the name of the Stone. The second year bears the name of the Birch. The third year bears the name of the River. The fourth year bears the name of the Sky. The fifth year bears the name of the Mountain, The sixth year bears the name of the Bird. The seventh year bears the name of the Sun. The eighth year bears the name of the Bear. The ninth year bears the name of the Wolf. The tenth year bears the name of the Deer. The eleventh year bears the name of the Moon. The twelfth year bears the name of the Hearth.
God named the hours of the morning:
From six till eight–the Hour of the Cock.
From eight till ten–the Hour of the Dew.
From ten till twelve–the Hour of the Wind.
and the hours of the day:
From twelve till two–the Hour of the Sun.
From two till four–the Hour of the Willow.
From four till six–the Hour of the plow.
and the hours of the evening:
From six till eight–the Hour of Milk.
From eight till ten–the Hour of Prayer.
From ten till twelve–the Hour of the Wing.
and the hours of the night:
From twelve till six–the Hour of the Moon.
And he called the first day by the name of Rod.
And the second day by the name of Bereginia.
And the third day by the name of Vila.
And the fourth day by the name of Kostroma.
And the fifth day by the name of Pyatnitsa.
And the sixth day by the name of Yaryla.
And the seventh day by the name of Veles.
These words were read by Emelya on the board of a distaff from the banks of the Mezen, on which the entire calendar is inscribed, in the summer of the year 11188 after the creation of the first people.
Moscow. Toktopaltsevo. P/yos.
Sleeper at Harvest Time is a book of a quite distinct kind. "It is hard for me to define the genre of the book," writes Latynin. "It is not an anti-utopia, although it has many of the features of one. It is not a historical narrative, although a thousand years of Russian history is virtually the book's main character. It is not a work of fantasy, although Medvedko, christened as Emelya... the central figure after history itself, is far from being a realistic character." This apophatic litany of negative attributes–"it is not this...not this...not this..."–is more easily extended than concluded. The book reminds one of a chronicle, in which "millennial history" is indeed the central character. The very status of the work is somehow doubtful: is it possible to regard a chronicle as a work of art?
The book is complex; it is encoded beyond those limits of reason within which rational decoding remains possible, or even appropriate. It contains not just one code, but entire layers and strata, a chaos of symbols and meanings. Tugging at one loose end pulls out not just a single strand of meaning but a clump of threads which it is impossible to untangle completely. If the Symbolists were correct, and multiplicity of interpretation is the basis of genuine art, then this is art of the most genuine kind. Yet for all of its evident ambiguity, this text aspires most definitely to the revelation of a single, unique truth, a single prophetic statement concerning Russian history and "the Russian idea."
This places us, in writing about Sleeper at Harvest Time, in a rather uncertain position. Try drafting in your mind an afterword to any of the great sacred texts–the Bible, the Koran, the Kabbalah–books which convey a single truth, but have no single interpretation. This mental exercise may suggest to you the status of the words you are reading now.
Do not regard such a comparison as blasphemy: we are not discussing here the value of the text, but its poetic. Before this text can be assessed and interpreted, it must first be entered, in order to grasp, at least approximately, the manner in which it is structured.
And most importantly, by whom it was structured- The book begins "God named...": these are the words of holy writ. "In that year, 10980...Vladimir returned to Novgorod": these are the words of a chronicle. "Send me a dream, Î God": this is a prayer. The Book of Being, a chronicle, a prayer, a spell, an incantation, a proverb: this is the verbal fabric which Latynin has crafted. These are all different kinds of texts, but they have one thing in common. They are communal; the words in them do not belong to any one person; they have no author; they are everybody's. Latynin's alchemy is such that this book seems to have no author.
The simple objection that someone did, after all, write the book has been anticipated and countered by the author himself. It is divided into two parts: a book about the prophet Emelya and "The Book of Emelya," the words of the prophet himself.
Natural logic would assume that the second book was written by the hero, and the first by someone else: the author. However, the book about Emelya is clearly written by Emelya himself: "Thus did Emelya write, when the time came to see and hear and tell of these things to those who listened to his words and read what he wrote" (Chapter 3). However, it says "thus did Emelya write," rather than "here is what Emelya wrote": it remains unclear whether the reference is to the preceding section of the text or the subsequent one, or to the text in its entirety. And then "The Book of Emelya," the book of a prophet who is set alongside Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus, and whose person and word appear to express some higher truth–this book proves to be written not by Emelya, but by no one at all. Chapters 1 to 10 are copied from a certain initial Moscow Codex, Chapters 11 to 17 come from the initial codex
of Suzdal, and Chapters 18 to 21 were read by Emelya "on a distaff from the banks of the Mezen, on which the entire calendar is inscribed."
Thus, the authorship is deliberately confused, the author is hidden, there is no way to resolve the matter. And yet at the same time the issue is entirely clear, with the precision of an address in Moscow, the house in which Emelya finds himself in the 21st century. The text does contain occasional passages with direct indications of authorship, "...this was an oasis, a heaven for those who lived outside the walls and a hell for those who lived within. But that depended on the individual imagination which created each person's concept of this earth, and this concept is an extremely uncertain one–take the word of a specialist on uncertain concepts" (Chapter 42).
What is the point of such asides? Such statements by the author are in the tradition of Russian literature: the author interrupts the narrative and views the text from without, interpreting both the text and the world, and stating his own concept of justice directly, instead of through the characters. But the asides in Steeper have nothing in common with that device. They do not amplify the meaning or provide semantic emphasis. They read like the marginalia on medieval manuscripts, where the scribe, tiring of transcription, has suddenly decided to add some entirely inappropriate comment of his own.
This is a strange paradox: to conceal oneself to the maximum and then suddenly to expose oneself in such an ingenuous manner. But it is precisely this structure which gives the text its special status. If a text has no author, then no one can say in it, "I think, I know this is a fact." Everything that happens simply is. It exists objectively; no one has invented it. History and Being speak to us in their own impersonal language of chronicles and prayers. This lends the text veracity and authenticity: it is impossible not to believe, or it is very hard to doubt.
In place of an author we find a scribe: Latynin is transcribing
Emelya's words. And Emelya lived, existed, today, now. Latynin's book has no present tense: the past is the pagan Russia of early times and 21st century Moscow, the setting of the apocalyptic finale. But the asides, the marginalia and the authenticity of the text mark it as existing today, and its truth is here and now. In this way the author inserts the present into the perspective of millennial Russian history, not singling this present out in any way, but emphasizing its identity with what has been and will be, and making himself one of the characters in the text, a part of the collective hero: the millennial history of Russia.
The book imitates the style of sacred writ, but the novel is not at all a traditional stylization, in which the author is alienated from the text and looks at it from without. Here the author is not distinguished from the text; he is structured into it as part of the collective consciousness which underlies the language of universal texts. "It is not I who speak, it is Being that speaks through me." This poetic implies a quite specific relationship to every word. The word of the Book of Being is not spoken by anyone, it simply is, like Being itself.
In Chapter 66 of Sleeper at Harvest Time we read, "There is a dog that roams across history clutching a bone in its teeth, and this dog is the word, and this bone is the remains of people, cities and nations." All words belong to others: the words of those who have become dust. Their lives continue to exist only in these words. The author is not mimicking someone else's speech, he is giving life to the dead, transmitting other people's words of torment and suffering, with the taste of their dust in his mouth. The encoded form of the chronicle conceals a vast polyphony. In this book also, speaking in words is an immense responsibility, a burden. The words are greater than their author; sometimes it seems he would gladly be rid of them, as in the interminable recitations of the names of people, nations and cities. But they must be spoken, pronounced out loud in order to revitalize the dust of the dead.
What, then, is this Being which stands before the reader so
solemnly, objectively and authentically? What are the features of this text's non-subjective world? We read in Chapter 1 that "God, knowing that all things happen at all times...made motionless time seem to move." Time is structured like space, as a unitary, homogeneous, non-discrete characteristic of Being. Time is a boundless sea; God has made humankind walk across it on a single path in a single direction, but in reality it is possible to walk in any direction, along any path. Events situated one after the other along the temporal axis actually lie side by side, like the sea and the mountains: both this and that exist, they are always happening.
The central character moves unhindered through time. But this device from the realm of science fiction is not reinforced by any other elements of the genre. Emelya is no "time lord," and the unique ability which has been granted to him is of no advantage. The author also derives no apparent advantage from the ability to juxtapose two times: no complexities of plot result from the dissimilarity of the two periods in which the hero appears. No sooner do we start to think about the structure of time in the novel than the question arises of why the author needs such a structure at all.
Chapters 6 to 30 describe the sacrifice of Leta. But in Chapters 20 to 24 the narrative is interrupted and Emelya finds himself in 21st century Moscow. While in Chapter 24 the stars have begun to "turn white" in Moscow, in Chapter 25 they grow "so bright that Leta could make out Nekras' face." The temporal strata are not merely juxtaposed. Everything happens at all times and at all places simultaneously. In Chapters 54 and 55 the action takes place in Suzdal. The terrible scene of Suzdal's Christian baptism is followed immediately by the chapter about Iliya, the security agent from Galaad, another terrible scene from the introduction of a new faith. All of these events are not simply shown simultaneously, they are simultaneous. The whole of Russian history takes place at once, and is a self-identical unity.
If time is motionless, then any sequence of events, including
any story line or plot, is basically impossible. This book has no plot in the usual sense. What, then, unites it into a single whole, what takes the place of the central plot line of Russian history? In what does its self-identity consist?
At the level of form, it is a set of motifs that run throughout the text and through all times. A dense fabric of the same figures, dates, place names, sounds, smells and colors is woven through chapter after chapter. They remain the same in all times; 21st century Moscow burns with the same colors that God gave to the first humans. The motif of the dream is of fundamental importance: the central hero moves in a dream through the space of Russian history. Each time he is immersed in a dream, the hero sinks into the depths, "deeper, almost to the very bottom" (Chapter 55). This unites the dream with two other motifs, death and mud. When Emelya is baptized at Novgorod, he sinks into the mud and slime, "washes the mud from his hands in the turbid water and pulls his feet free from the silt." The Percentage Officer-General in Moscow also sinks into the mud as he performs the ritual of the Turning-Point of History: "there was a watery mud under his feet"; he moved "ponderously through the thick warm slush of the mud." The mud is earth soaked in blood, and blood is undoubtedly the central motif of the book.
According to the cosmogony of Sleeper at Harvest Time, red people were created in the North. The color red becomes one of the most important in the book, the color of clothing, fabrics, fire, conflagration, and more. It is the backdrop from which blood wells and thickens, beta brings to the sacrificial oak a towel "with its red fringe steeped in sheep's blood"; three bloods sprang forth to mingle and become in Leta a single stream; 21 st century Moscow greets Emelya in the person of a percentage officer in a red shirt who cuts his arm with a scalpel to analyze the composition of his blood; blood colors the scenes of the baptism of Russia (Emelya is baptized in water mingled with the blood of his father Volos); blood flows through all the scenes of Russian history that are played out in this book.
Blood thus serves in formal terms as a leitmotif: blood binds Russian history into a single whole, making it identical with itself. All of the events are focused around the ritual of sacrifice. An endless succession of executioners and victims passes before our eyes. The motifs of sacrifice and blood are virtually identical: "Behold the first sacrifice," Volos says of the blood on beta's knees after she is taken by her "furry bridegroom"; Leta, Emelya and Volos sacrifice themselves; as she stifles her screams in the pyre, Leta bites through a vein, filling her mouth with blood. In the author's conception, sacrifice constitutes the central meaning of Russian history.
Emelya, the hero of the book, is a "sleeper at harvest time." This harvest is Russian history, time, the gathering in of corpses and the pressing from them of blood, as wine is pressed from grapes. But what kind of hero is this? His character is as impossible to define as the genre of the book. Perhaps the role that fits him least of all is prophet or superman; at times he is even comic. His speechlessness until the age of eight suggests both the silence of a future prophet and the handicap of a cripple. At first glance the only result of his being fathered by a totemic animal, the Bear, is that he sleeps in the winter. Emelya is astonishingly artless, speaks very little, and when he does speak, his speech is exceptionally one-dimensional, direct and frank. No wonder the guard at the house is thrown by Emelya's questions, which seem "so much like super-cunning and super-ignorance at the same time" (Chapter 21). His desires are simple and primitive: having settled in Moscow, Emelya hopes "like any normal person...to move closer the center." When some event rouses him, he seems to begin to act; for instance, he tugs Volkov's wounded father out of the mud, but soon after sinks into a stupor and falls asleep. The events of the text could be understood as a sequence of dreams, but most likely it is the hero who is sleeping, while everything around him takes place in the waking world: he is lost in slumber amid the world's terrible reality.
lust as the narrative is not bound together by a plot, but by
a set of motifs, neither is the hero a character, but rather a set of motifs which characterizes a people. We might indeed say that Emelya's features personify a nation: but which one? In the text the very concept of the Russian nation is questioned. There is Russian history, there is Russian geography, but the nation is transformed into a conglomerate composed of countless bloods from countless nations. And Emelya is everybody's "alien."
Indeed, it is his very alienness that unites them all. "For one individual who is alien to all is a pledge, a unique condition and cause, a reason for all-inclusive monolithic unity..." (Chapter 40). Emelya had a precursor, Peter, who was stoned to death (Chapter 57): in the sacral context of the book, Emelya is Jesus to his precursor's John the Baptist. The earlier victim's death was a mistake, for his blood was later discovered in everybody, in every single inhabitant of the city without exception. This is a sign, an omen: in these people, divided by the composition of their blood into "Sumero-Accadian-Colcho-Greco-Meskheto-Abkhazian-Georgians" and "Indo-Chudo-Duleb-Muromo-Vyatich-Russians," what blood, from what nation, could there be in common?
The very concept of blood is here divided in two. One blood is biological and animal, the blood which divides all people, for which the universal war of all against all is waged. The other is the blood of sacifice, which unites all into one. Such was the blood of the martyr Peter, and such, clearly, is the blood of Emelya. lust like the blood of his precursor, it is in all the city's inhabitants (or on their hands). Volos-Veles is the god of the village and the house out of which Moscow grew: and the blood of the son of the Bear is common to every one of the city's inhabitants.
The author is utterly frank about his attitude toward the people as the bearers of both positive and negative attributes. Russian culture has a complex about the people: it admires and fears them at the same time. The deep fear may be hidden behind a number of screens, cloaked by certain positive qualities–the people may be kind-natured and industrious–but behind these screens looms the fear of a different image.
This profound phobia, this fear of the image of the beast, emerges at the surface in the figure of the Bear. The author does not make the beast a negative character: he gives it neither positive nor negative value. He simply attempts to know and understand this animal image. But to accept it for what it is is not easy, even painful, and it is precisely this aspect of the theme which seems to us to underly the poignancy of the text. It is shot through with the torments of flesh that is tortured, impassioned, stoned to death. But this represents no love of force; rather, it is the immanent nature of the theme.
The author does not even protect himself against this image of the beast with what would seem to be the most natural defense for a Russian author: the Russian Orthodox faith. Despite its centuries of tradition illuminated by the preaching of piety, the Orthodox faith is not among the fundamental, primal features of the Russian people, it is not part of that central core of life which is Russian history. Only the blood of sacrifice, spilled during the baptisms at Novgorod and Suzdal, unites the word of Christ with the Russian people.
And yet, the problem of the Russian people's relationship to Christianity is not so easily resolved. A simple calculation indicates that Emelya is born in 980 by our calendar. Until the age of eight he does not speak a word, and this image of silence is archetypal. But why precisely eight? He speaks his first words in 988, the year of Russia's conversion to Christianity. The oak beneath which he was conceived stands at the Execution Site, the same spot where he is killed and where a new oak sprouts from the acorn which falls from his pocket. In the text this place is referred to as "the Fire," which refers us back to Suzdal, to the oak beneath which Emelya's father Volos was crushed and which was struck by lightning that set Suzdal ablaze. All of these events take place on "the twentieth day of the month of Cherven, or July"; the same day on which, as we learn from "The Book of Emelya" (Chapter 7), humankind was created.
We should say more about the symbolism of the Execution Site. It forms part of the general symbolism of Red Square, which is based on the idea of Moscow as "the second Jerusalem." Within this system, St. Basil's Cathedral represented Jerusalem, and the Execution Site was Golgotha (the place of the skull). According to a widespread apocryphal tradition, Adam's skull was buried at Golgotha and from it sprang the tree from which the cross of Jesus' crucifixion was fashioned.
The entire text of Sleeper at Harvest Time reads like a version of this story from a religion related to, but different from, Christianity. The prophet of this religion appeared in Russia in the year of its Christian baptism. Note the following detail: the assistants of the Percentage Officer-General prayed and "blessed themselves with a gesture mid-way between the Old Believers' two-fingered sign of the cross and a shaman's ritual gesture for mollifying the good and evil spirits." They prayed for the success of the ritual of sacrifice of the alien (Chapter 39). In the ritual of the Turning-point of History, the Officer-General also symbolically sacrifices himself. His spirit leaves his body, he smells his own burning flesh and then, when the ritual is over, he sleeps. For a scholar of comparative religion, this is already enough to establish a relationship between the two religious systems, the one embodied by Emelya and the one practiced by the Percentage Officer-General.
Emelya and the Percentage Officer-General are the polar extremes of the book. But can we find anybody in it who is not a carrier of the religion represented by Emelya? Even the pagans Leta and Volos embody this same religion, this same meaning.
In the context and logic of texts of this kind, "The Book of Emelya," which concludes Sleeper at Harvest Time, deceives our expectations. The narration of the prophet's life is followed by his book. And it contains no precepts. He preaches nothing to the people in his book. There is nothing at all to indicate when the book was written. It appears now, in a time which is not involved in the action of the novel.
But if everything happens at all times, it follows that the religion of Emelya always exists. There is no one for him to issue precepts to, no one for him to teach, for his religion is already in the red people for whom the center of the world is Moscow and whose ancestor is the Bear. There is a "Russian name for God," and this is simply "God."
What is this religion about? What, in the final analysis, is the animal significance of blood? Nobody in the book, including most importantly Emelya himself, possesses any animal features. In the entire novel there is not a single genuinely negative character. The executioners are also the victims, just as Ilya of Galaad. the head if the Suzdal secret police, plays both roles. At Emelya's execution (Chapter 57), the first stone is thrown by Zhdana, the woman he loves and who loves him. She knows not what she does.
Perhaps it is this failure of knowing which can provide a link with the animal motif. The precepts which are not directly stated in "The Book of Emelya" may be discovered in what we may call its "Book of Genesis" (comprising the first ten chapters). In Chapter 7, we read that God turned those who had not killed into domesticated animals, those who had not lied into predators, those who had not known the name of envy into birds, those who had not informed against their neighbor into fish: transformations in accordance with their essence, not their will. The domesticated animals who emerge from this genesis cannot kill, not because they voluntarily renounce killing, but because that is how they are created. "Thou shalt not kill" is an aspect of their ontological being. Such precepts do not need to be taught; they are as much a part of each individual as the ability to walk.
All the heroes–all the red people, all the people of the North–lack what is known as freedom of will. In sacrificing themselves, Emelya and Volos might seem to be acting voluntarily, but for other reasons they cannot die in any other way; they cannot free themselves from the living cell of their body, as Nezhdana was freed by the stewardess with the keys (Chapter
30). When Leta threw away their keys, she condemned them to be killed by others.
"Forgive them, Lord, for they know what they do..." The people of the North are in the condition in which they do good and evil without knowing either, the state that preceded the Fall; they are one with nature. This is the meaning of the religion of Emelya, son of the Bear. His prayer to the Russian God is a prayer for a dream. And a dream is the condition in which "all are free and untrammelled in their actions and their thoughts, as a cloud driven by the wind is free and untrammelled and a waterfall is untrammelled as it tumbles from the cliff, as free as a forest fire's flame, as grass that pierces stone..." (Chapter 4). Kant distinguished the world of human beings from that of nature on the basis of free will. A cloud is not free to fly wherever it wishes. But it is free from desires and decisions.
We have said that in this book Russian history is a self-identical unity, and remains qualitatively unchanged throughout all of its events. This is true, but a certain dynamic nonetheless exists. In the anti-Utopian Moscow of the 21st century, people live a more animal life than ever before. They are not free in their actions, living only by night and not remembering their children. And yet there the principle of blood becomes a conscious one, carried to its logical conclusion. The awareness hitherto absent awakens.
"The same road Emelya's feet had trodden was now trampled by a crowd bearing a white flame which flowed along Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street, once known by the name of Herzen, ...an incautious bell-ringer who loved to chime his bell beside the very ear of a sleeping man... Herzen was in London, but the wolf was in Moscow. The sleeper awoke and was driven insane by the world and his own strength, and he hasn't been able to go back to sleep ever since. He has mutilated himself and maimed his neighbors..." (Chapter 56).
What is terrible is not the beast who has no wish to make decisions, but the beast who has become consciously self-
aware, imposing his own iron logic on the world around him and being driven insane by it. The principle of blood, animal blood, here becomes the basis of self-identification, the principle by which people are divided into one's own and aliens. And the only escape is to sacrifice oneself and make one's blood the common blood. This is the meaning of Russian history. But if there are to be sacrificial victims, there must also be executioners.
What is the solution? In Russia we are accustomed to books devoted to the Russian idea, aspiring to the role of text-books of life. But this is a different case. You read a book about the prophet Emelya, and wait to discover in his words how to live your life. And his reply is about the order of the world and how it was created. Likewise Latynin, instead of teaching us how to live, tells us about the structure of the world and the space of Russian history. We must decide for ourselves what conclusion is to be drawn. Or we can not decide at all, not wish to decide, and pray for a dream, pray to be grass which does not decide whether to grow or not.
But if this book cannot teach us how to live, it still, surprisingly, contains a passionate exhortation on how not to live. And this is extremely important. There are texts which clearly belong to one or another ideology from the very first words. The hero of this book is born on 24 Beriozozol, or the month of March by its other name. This makes it clear that Latynin is deliberately immersing us in the poetic of the dense Russian earth and the Russian attachment to the soil. Today, at the end of the 20th century, we know all too well the central sinew of this poetic of the soil: nationalism. In every line, word and sound this book is a text of the soil. Yet in its very thought, meaning and philosophy, it is bitterly opposed to nationalism. For the first time, nationalism is anathematized from deep within "the Russian idea." '
Steeper at Harvest Time is so complete in itself that any continuation might seem impossible. And yet its sequel, Stavr and Sara, demonstrates that the scope of the author's conception is broader. The basic postulates of the universe remain the same, everything happens at all times and everything happens everywhere, but in Stavr and Sara we sense this fusion of space with particular force, for the fresco of the narrative is expanded, and the flames of the conflagration which consumes Moscow and, thirty-nine days later, Jerusalem, inscribe Emelya between two almost identical sets of coordinates: the Patriarch's Ponds in Moscow and the Patriarch's Ponds in Jerusalem. The light of a new truth is dawning here, piercing through the veil of blood, the torment and sacrifice, the intense spiritual struggle of humankind's entire history, the rationalization of faith and the mentality of the North, that "great vessel and refuge of all that is excessive, extreme, superfluous, immoderate, redundant," the North "which delays death and preserves life till the following dawn."
Stavr and Sara is a farewell to the dead-end of nationalism. Here the steps of the sequence massacre-termination-conception are interpreted as stages in the transformation of the animal into the human being in the feral conditions of civil war. Every event, every detail reads as a symbol drenched in countless associations from the Bible and folklore. Signs and symbols are also created within the text- The death of Stavr and Sara's first child is no accident, for this was a child of the executioner and the victim, the cursed and the curser
Stavr and Sara must fulfill their destiny in the terrible year of 1937. The time is different, but the same scenario is played out: the crucifixion of the church, the creation of new martyrs, and enlightenment–the future enlightenment of Stavr and Sara. For "only if the victim accepts his executioner, the punished man his punisher, the condemned man his condemner, the spurned man his spurner, shall he be saved, and his name shall be Stavrosar for ever and ever."
The gospel of conception, the conception of Emelya and the birth of the new nation of Stavrosar is a repeated, exultantly poetic song of accepting love and passionate fusion. The
simplest words, the words of eternal truth closest to the hearts of all, are spoken by Sara as she weeps over Stavr and takes her final leave of him: "Do not go, 1 beg you, do not go." Above the oppressive weight of all the centuries, above the tragedy of eternal blindness and misunderstanding, the self-inflicted torments of intellect, and the mystery of mythology and faith, there rises the light of salvation. "The salvation of humankind lies in the possibility that in any forgotten corner beneath a leaky roof, in the midst of hunger and cold, on an earthen floor or a wide wooden bench strewn with hay and covered with a linen sheet, two people can meet who will bind their peoples together and give birth to a new people who will feel compassion for all those whose blood flows in their spirit."
–Olga Revzina, Grigory Revzin
Sleeper at Harvest Time (Ñïÿùèé âî âðåìÿ æàòâû) and Stavr and Sara (Ñòàâð è Capa) form part of a larger work conceived as a trilogy. A translated extract of the latter may be found in Issue #6 of the journal Glas. New Russian Writing (1994).
The ancient Russian chronicles begin with the Creation, set at a fairly arbitrary date of 5,508 years before the birth of Jesus; all subsequent dates were counted from that first year. Latynin uses the same method, choosing 10,000 years before the birth of Jesus as the time of the Creation. To express Latynin's chronology in our terms, subtract 10,000 from the date given.
Medvedko–derived from the Russian word medved, meaning bear.
Vladimir Svyatoslavovich (978-1015), Grand Prince of Kiev, ruled over the princes of other Russian cities such as Suzdal and Novgorod. In 988, he formally adopted Christianity on behalf of his subjects.
"The town on Lake Ilmen"–Novgorod
Perun–In the Slavic pantheon, Rerun is the god of thunder and lightning, Khors and Dazhdbog are sun gods, and Stribog rules the winds and storms. Simargl is a winged monster (with origins in Simargh, a Persian bird of good omen) and Mokosh is the goddess of fertility.
Veles–the divine guardian of cattle.
"The Execution Site"–a small, round terrace in front of St. Basil's Cathedral, where proclamations were read and capital punishment meted out.
Kupala–a water deity in the ancient Slavic pantheon. A form of the festival in her honor is still celebrated today and keeps some rituals from its pagan origin: lighting fires and leap-
ing over them, bathing at night in the rivers and throwing floral crowns into them. (Kupala has the same root as kupat, to bathe.) Christianity converted this festival into the feast of St. John the Baptist, thereby consecrating the ablutions. It inspired one of Gogol's early stories, "The Eve of Saint John Kupala," as well as a remarkable scene in Andrei Tarkovsky's film, Mdrey Rublyev.
Rod–divine protector of the family
Streltsy–in the 16th-18th centuries, hereditary soldiers who lived in military settlements. Abolished by Peter the Great a few years after the Streltsy revolt of 1698.
Boris, son of Vladimir, was killed in 1015 on the orders of his brother Svyatopolk, during a murderous struggle for succession.
Malaya Bronnaya–a street located in the northwest of the historical center of Moscow. Latynin has lived for many years at #21.
Patriarch's Ponds–a small Moscow park, prominent in Bulgakov's novel, The Master and Margarita.
kvass–a traditional Russian drink made from fermented rye
Ivan Mikhailovich Viskovaty–in the 16th century, head of the Foreign Service for 20 years under Ivan the Terrible, who finally had him executed as a traitor.
Mikhail Tukhachevsky–Tukhachevsky was made one the first marshals of the Red Army in 1934. Falsely accused of treason by Stalin, he was executed three years later.
"Susanin"–The tune is from Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar. about Ivan Susan in, a hero of the 1613 war against Poland. This elderly peasant offered to lead a gullible Polish regiment to the young tsar Mikhail Romanov, but instead lured them into a swamp where they all drowned, Susanin included.
Old Believers–Russian Christians who did not accept the church reforms of the 17th century. When persecuted, many of them fled into the forests.
The Darkhan–a legendary race of demi-gods
Savaoth–one of the names of God in the Old Testament
St. John of Ustyug–a local martyr of the town of Ustyug, which is located in present-day Vologda Region, about 750 km from Moscow
Athenasius of Athon–the personal confessor of Ivan the Terrible and head of the Russian church in his time
(The list of which the above three names are a part includes pagan gods, Christian saints, and real-life martyrs, Latynin's intention being to emphasize the continuity of different ages.)
Kitai-Gorod–an area of central Moscow including Red Square, in the 16th-19th centuries a trade district surrounded by a red brick wall
King Mausol – a king of the 4th century B.C. in Caria (Helicarnas), in southwest Anatolia. Our word mausoleum derives from the tomb he built for himself.
GUM – a Russian acronym for the vast state department store on Red Square
"The monument to Minin and Pozharsky"–This monument in the center of Moscow was erected in memory of two heroes of the War of 1812: Minin, the bourgeois, and Pozharsky, the aristocrat, are symbols of national unity. It used to be located at one end of Red Square, but it interfered with traffic, and was recently moved into the nearby precinct of St. Basil's Cathedral.
The False Dmitrys–claimants to the Russian throne during the "Time of Troubles," a turbulent period which ended with the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in 1613
"Iron Felix"–Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877-1926) was director of the Cheka, the first political police organization of the Communist regime. Until 1991, his statue stood in Moscow's Lubyanka Square.
Simargl–See note for Perun under Chapter 2.
"...like the MIG-29 at Le Bourget"–A Soviet MIG-29 crashed at an air show outside Paris in 1989.
The Qprichnina, meaning "a place apart," was a separate realm established within Russia's borders by Ivan the Terrible in 1564. A mounted force, the Oprichniki, Ivan's bodyguard and dreaded secret service, was given unlimited power to destroy the tsar's enemies.
Kamenka–The ancient town of Suzdal is on the river Kamenka.
"...the second-class Spaso-Yefimiev Monastery"–During the 18th century, Catherine the Great deprived the monasteries of their enormous landed estates, and put them on government
allowances. For this they were divided into three classes, "according to their prestige and good conduct." The "first-class" monasteries and nunneries numbered only a few and got the largest allowance.
archimandrite–the superior of a large monastery in the Orthodox church
Malyuta–Malyuta Skuratov; see Chapter 52.
verst–an old Russian measure, equal to 1.07 km
Kremlin–This refers to the Suzdal Kremlin. A kremlin is a term applied to the ancient fortified centers of many Russian towns.
Pantokrator–a representation of Christ as Lord of heaven and Earth, giving a blessing; this image is frequently rendered, in paint or mosaic, inside the central cupola of Russian Orthodox churches.
Alexander Herzen (1812-70)–a leading writer, journalist, and editor, founder of the journal Polyarnaya Zvezda (Òhe Pole Star) and the newspaper Kolokol/ (The Bell),which he published from London.
Val–an earthen wall or embankment
The 200-ton Tsar Bell is a curiosity of the Kremlin. Its casting was begun during the 1730's; a large piece broke off during an accident a century later, and has lain beside it ever since.
Tsar Cannon–an enormous bronze artillery piece in the Kremlin which, like the Tsar Bell, was never used.
"She 'cast a stone from the trunk of her palm'"–This is a quotation from a poem of Latynin's.
pood–a Russian weight, equal to approximately 35 Ibs.
"Alexander the Liberator"–Tsar Alexander II (ruled 1855-81), who emancipated the serfs in 1861 and was assasinated by an anarchist.
Grishka Otrepyev–Grigory Otrepyev was a monk who lived during the Time of Troubles. He is thought to have been one of the pretenders ("False Dmitrys") to the Russian throne after the death of Ivan the Terrible in 1584.
The Book of Emelya
Vila–a water divinity. It was believed that when a maiden drowned, she became a Vila.
Kostroma–a city founded in the 12th century, located about 325 km northeast of Moscow
Pyatnitsa–"Friday" in Russian
Yaryla–God of the sun and of love
distaff–a cleft board, made in the approximate shape of a bread board with handle, for holding wool or flax wound round for spinning by hand. Many distaffs were richly decorated with folk designs.
A Note on the Title
Leonid Latynin derived the title, Sleeper at Harvest Time, from a biblical text, Proverbs 10, verse 5: "A son who gathers in summer is prudent, but a son who sleeps in harvest brings shame." Emelya alternately sleeps or witnesses; in contrast with the biblical quotation, the author notes, this sleep can be seen in two lights. He is asleep instead of taking action. However, he also takes no part in the atrocities committed in his times, so there is no blood on his hands.