2008-10-03

THE HEART OF THE ALTAR


(A TALE ABOUT LOVE)


Once, upon a time, at the foots of the Blue mountains, where the flat and fruitful field met with the aged beech woods, there was a village, called Gitovo. It’s inhabitants were rich, rich and pious. At the middle of the village there was a white temple and the curves over it,s altar wandered everybody with their beauty.
When a humble worshipper came in, lit a candle and knelt in front of the altar, he was lost in the wonderful beauty of a Cosmos, more fare than the everyday’s world.
Grapes were weaving and there were fruits, craved of darker wood, and in the middle was a figure of a woman. Her splendid body, the proud head, the beautiful hair, made of light wood as if gathering the rays of the sun. Her right hand was risen for a blessing. The eyes and the smile of the woman were somehow elder, sad and wise.
“This is the Holy Virgin. She’s here from very ancient times. Nobody knows the artist, who had lived so long time ago, but he had golden hands”- whispered the priest to the impressed worshippers.
The very old people only remembered the legend from the remote past.
Once upon a time at the end of Gitovo, lived a poor young man, called Damjan.
The youngster was clothed in rags and lived in a hut in the very wood. He was an orphan and nobody remembered, nor knew who are his parents. The farmers thought, that they never had seen him as a little child.
Damjan was ugly and deformed, his body-short and undeveloped, but broad-shouldered and strong, with muscular arms. He had a hump. His head was too big for the body and hairy as of a wild beast, and under his bushy eyebrows looked little dark eyes.
A very few understood how much nobility and tenderness were hidden under his ugliness.
The children threw stones at the young man and the women laughed at him. At their gatherings the girls teased each-other, that their parents will marry them to Damjan and thought it to be very funny. Yes, sometimes the people are very cruel.
The worst was it, that the youngster didn’t understand how ugly is, nor, that the people are mocking him, for he lived in isolation. Damjan put traps and cached small animals. Besides, he had one golden gift, which the village’s craftsmen used without shame. When he took a peace of wood, doesn’t matter what was supposed to curve, it became such, as if alive and gleamed with unseen beauty. As if God had decided to compensate him for the suffer of lonеliness and ugliness.
When had offer to do figures, the cunning craftsmen went in the wood and begged Damjan to do the job instead of them. As payment they gave him some loafs, a jar of milk or a bag of flour and they took full hands of gold. The young man didn’t understand, that they are cheating him and the money didn’t interest him at all. This, which moved his soul, was the very creating. He felt warmed by the happiness of taking one rude peace of wood, removing the redundant layers and making to shine the real, deeply hidden beauty of it’s heart. The wood sang and gleamed as gold under his rude, clumsy fingers. As in a fairy dream, were born human faces and beasts, plants, stars, suns, fiends and angels - figures more real than the reality. The young man was a master of the woodcraft, an artist over all artists.
The most beautiful girl in the village was Nevena-the daughter of Hadgy Velko. When she walked in the street, he apprentices threw and broke the earthen jugs, looking after her and were beaten badly by their masters. Virtuous old men drop their pipes and burned their fingers and the unmarried men forgot what business were going to do.
The girl knew her price very well and walked proudly as a queen. Her enormous black eyes gleamed merrily and burned the men’s hearts. The nobleman Velko was proud of his beautiful daughter, but wanted to marry her very, very soon.
- A beautiful maiden is a real trouble. Some young rascal will thieve her - used to repeat he, pulling his mustaches. His wife agreed with him, tough felt pity for her child, who will be a free girl for so short time.
- I’ll marry her to Kamen, the son of Krum - told the father.
- Don’t do it, my husband - pleaded the mother. - Kamen is a hero and a handsome looking man, but is a rascal. He likes wine and strong brandy and use to run after poor girls. He takes their chastity and deserts them. Once, when was drunk, slapped his mother. Nevena will suffer with such husband. Don’t throw her in such hell!
- You, re very stupid, wife! The boy is young. He’ll become wiser. When gets in marriage with our beauty, he’ll forget the mischiefs very soon. And his father has more fields than any other farmer and the largest house. You can’t count his cattle. Kamen is his only son. He hasn’t other children. Nevena will walk over gold and will be dressed in silk - told Velko and his wife fаll in silence. She knew, that he’ll never changes his word.
And Nevena didn’t suppose at all what bad luck is prepared for her. She leaded the dance, sang with a full voice and played happily with her girlfriends. Once they decided to make wreaths of beech branches and ran to the wood. The girls came just to the little hut of Damjan and sow him to work over a curved armchair for the temple and to whistle happily. He got silent at once. His small black eyes fixed on Nevena. He got dump. As if the Sun had descended on the ground and gilded everything around.
The mischiеvous girls noticed how he gaped at the beauty and giggled. The girl decided to make a cruel joke and seriously told:
- I have decided to take for a husband a man, who is artful with his hands and works the wood craft finely. Such boy will make a palace even of the hut and will look after me as if I’m a queen.
Damjan felt himself as if the heavens had got apart above him and had shown him the paradise.
- You’re not only pretty, but wise too, my love - whispered he with a rapture. - You can see that, which is hidden under the rude cover of the tree. You see the heart, which is really beautiful. I’ll work day and night and will create for you an ocean of beauty, my queen!
Nevena got silent and ashamed. She wasn’t a cruel woman and understood, that this time her joke had went too far.
- Forgive me, Damjan! I’m a foolish girl and too frivolous. I joked only. My father is the one who can say with whom to go in marriage. I’m not an obstinate. - And the girl got silent and became red of shame and uneasiness.
Together with the girls always was aunt Vurbinka. The woman was a spinster and the parents payеd her something to look after the mischivious girls and to keep them away from trouble. Vurbinka sow the fire in the small eyes of the carpenter, of which his ugly face gleamed. For his good, she decided to give him one very bitter lesson.
- Anybody could forgive the joke of Nevena, Damjan, - told she-because she’s young and foolish. But you aren’t a snotty boy, nor an young bachelor. Do you know how looks your face? Did you ask yourself why the village hooligans are throwing stones at you and the old women are making a cross, when they see you at the full moon? The ugliness isn’t a sin, my son! It, as the beauty, is given by God. But it’s a sin to be a blind man and unable to understand alone what you are. I’ll help you to get out of the sweet dreams and to step hardly on the ground. Take this mirror and look in it carefully at yourself.
Damjan hadn’t seen his face never in his life.
Sometimes, he bent over water, when lied in wait for the game, but in the semi-darkness sow a shadow only. Now he took the unusual oval in his hands and looked in it. A constrained cry came from his throat. Angrily, the boy threw the unhappy mirror on the ground and broke it of hundred pieces. Then ran off in the bushes.
In fear, Vurbinka made a cross.
- My God, I did a big evil - whispered she. - To break a mirror is a sign for a big unhappiness and sorrow. Please, take care of this wretch, because You had created him such.
And Damjan ran and ran in the bush. A dark despair chained his heart. The ugly face, seen in the mirror appeared in front of his eyes again and again. All the colours around became gray. The darkness devoured his soul.
- I’ll give to Nevena my last gift for the world of the people. One day she may understand what is hidden under the ugly cover - told he to himself and began to work.
He worked a few months. After this, sneaked in the darkness and put his creation in front of Velko’s doors. In the morning, the old man found the curved altar, at which centre, made of lighter wood, as if with an aura, gleamed his daughter. Velko felt charmed. He wondered is it a sin his child to express the face of the Holy Virgin, but decided, that something so beautiful is umpossible to be evil. The father gave the artful creation as a gift for the temple for the occasion of the wedding of Nevena and Kamen.
Nobody understood what happened to Damjan - the village scarecrow. The children first noticed, that there isn,t any smoke over his hut. They told their fathers. The farmers got afraid, that he’s sick, for they were merciful and not so evil people. When they reached there, the hut was empty, covered with a thin layer of dust. It was clear, that since a very long time nobody had lived in it. The farmers walked to the usual meadows, where Damjan used to put his traps, but didn,t find him anywhere.
After a few months, they decided, that he,s dead.Indeed, they heard from the village sexton, that he had seen the ugly lad to sneak up at night in the Temple and to pray,but only laughed, because the sexton drank too much and after a few drinks, had talk about some visions too before. The mayor announced, that Damjan is dead and soon after this almost everybody forgot about him.
Year after year at break down, in the Temple came the bride Nevena. The first summers she looked pretty and bright as her image over the altar.
Then the grief for a dead child, the sorrows and the beatings extinguished the light in her eyes, made wrinkles on her smooth forehead, bowed her proud shoulders. Everybody in the village knew what miserable dog-like life she has with the drunkard Kamen and pitied her. So, they left her alone in the Temple to tell her sorrows to God in peace.
Every time the woman looked at her young face and bitterly wept. She remembered the good eyes, gleaming from the ugly face of Damjan, his golden hands, but, most of all, the wise words he had told her.
I learned to remove the rude cover and to look in the heart of the things already, master - whispered the woman through tears. - If as a young and foolish beauty I had this understanding, I would never, never let you go. Every day, every month I would look at myself in your loving eyes. There I wouldn,t see the ugly and wrinkled old woman, because in this mirrors would be reflected your love and mercy. There and there only I would be young forever. I know already, that all, hidden under the rude cover is the love. It’s the real heart of the life, the heart of the altar.

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