Authors: Andrew Domonkos
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Copyright © 2013 by Andrew
All rights reserved
It was cold in the little room when
rose wearily out of bed to perform his morning chores.
He could hear his uncle
shouting outside, cursing his nephew’s laziness.
got dressed, putting on his tattered woolen pants that had been patched so many times they resembled a quilt.
He passed through the sparse room and stepped out onto the stone porch and into the brisk autumn morn.
A strong wind blew from the south and made him shiver.
There was moisture in the air and the sky was silvery with dark streaks in it.
He looked out on the land.
The once soft and green farmland was now rough with mud that had frozen in the night.
closed his eyes and listened.
Aside from his uncle’s curses and the occasional howl of wind, it was quiet.
No chicken clucked, and no cow lowed.
A platoon of no less than one hundred Turks had arrived a week earlier.
They had come carrying the banners of
II, the Ottoman ruler to the south.
Wallachia’s own rulers had too flagrantly ignored the wishes of the southern sultan, and now there were talks of great armies crossing the Danube into Walachia to express
The soldiers that arrived at the farm numbered in the hundreds.
had never seen such a terrible force in all his life.
The commander of this army, a solid man with more beard than face, told
and his uncle that he and his men awaited instructions to move to meet a much greater host of their comrades to the north, where a grand siege was being planned.
The squat man added that
and his uncle would do best to serve his new guests without complaint, or they would be killed without any hesitation.
kept his eyes on the dirt and nodded.
During their weeklong stay the soldiers had slaughtered and eaten all of the livestock, ravaged the fields, and had beaten both
and his uncle frequently.
stood on the porch and looked towards the barn where
sat glumly on a flat rock.
He sipped wine from a small wooden cup.
His dirty, battered hands shook as he drank.
observed him and wondered if his uncle would ever mend, or even survive the winter.
always seemed to reflect his land.
In times of drought he too would look parched.
In times of bounty he would take on the resplendent glow of youth.
And now, with the fields holding only the faintest of pulses,
had begun to resemble the lifeless corn husks that littered the land.
He approached his uncle cautiously, wondering if the old man had enough strength left in him to swat at him, which was his customary way to punctuate any command or remark directed at his nephew.
His uncle looked up from the little puddle of wine he had been staring at. His eyes were yellow and sickly and had settled into a nest of worry and wear.
A solider had bashed him with the hilt of his sword right above his left eye, perhaps to quell some pre-battle jitters, and the bruise it left had begun to resemble a plump turnip in both size and color.
looked up at his nephew, with that pale face marked with bruises, and those strange, haunted eyes the color of both red wine and hot steel.
Thunder grumbled miles off, and another chilly wind blew across the farm and made both men shiver.
“I suppose I look as bad as I feel,”
“They’re gone than?”
asked, looking out over the wasteland towards the tree line.
“To Hell I hope,”
“Although I suspect they have just left it.”
He lumbered to his feet and leaned on
With his other hand he held his side and grunted in pain.
stood stiff to support his uncle.
“Will they return?”
He asked when he was sure
had his balance.
“I wager not.” The old man spat. “I know enough Turkish to know they move to meet their main force and then to strike against
to the north.
Such a collision of evil I will not willingly imagine.”
caught his nephew’s pitying gaze and shoved him away.
“But enough of this talk.
Let them butcher each other for all I care, the dirty savages.
We need wood for the stove.
I don’t intend to have survived those brutes just to freeze from your laziness.”
He drank his last sip of wine and threw the cup against the stone wall where it shattered.
He then ambled slowly away, his head hung low, out towards the fallow fields, grunting with each step.
nodded dourly at the rock where
His uncle’s insults seemed to have grown feeble since the Turks had come and gone.
There was a time when his voice cracked like a slaver’s whip and made
jump from across the farm.
Now the old man’s attacks grazed
like a tail of wheat in the hands of a child.
walked over to the barn and pulled open the big door, which broke off its hinges and crashed noisily to the ground.
He instinctually looked over at his uncle, expecting a volley of accusations to be hurled, but
was already halfway across the farm and paid no mind to the noise.
Inside the barn Szellum dug under a mound of hay until he felt the splintered handle of the axe in his hand.
The tool was worn and dull but the Turks would have taken it just the same had he not hid it.
He put on his threadbare robe that hung on from a hook by the door.
All that was left in the barn was the small mound of hay and the dirt under his tender and sore feet.
He went out of the barn and walked carefully over the rugged mud, towards the tree line.
His stomach growled as he went, and he wondered what game could possibly be left in the forest.
He walked deeper into the woods.
His mind was far from the farm and the misery that had fallen on him as of late.
He was thinking of a man who had come to the farm some months ago—an Italian merchant making his long journey home from the bustling trade city of Constantinople.
The man wore colorful clothes and had a mustache that twisted at the ends.
Despite his inclination to be rude to strangers,
allowed the man to stay a night on the farm since he appeared to be a man with coin to spare.
The night of the Italian’s visit
had boiled a stew for the occasion.
The Italian shared his wine and his stories at
He was scholarly and his words came steady like the patter of hooves in a gallop.
He knew much of the world.
He talked of his home and of artistic revolution.
snorted cynically whenever the man touched on the latter topic—to
, all forms of creative expression were sinful.
While the stranger talked
forgot entirely about the steaming bowl in front of him and the farm and his dreary little life.
The man’s words filled a sail in
that had lain inert in his soul, and all he could think about was his desperate wanderlust.
Before the boisterous man left the farm—much to
pleasure—the man took
aside and unfurled a large piece of parchment and held it against the side of his caravan.
The map showed a great section of the world.
A thick black line traced around many of the countries, and the land within this boundary was shaded darker than the rest.
that the dark area on the map belonged to the empire of the Ottomans.
Their kingdom was vast and consuming.
The man warned
that Wallachia and all else who stood against the sultan were resisting the inevitable, and that a man with any sense at all would not linger in this obstinate country.
watched the man whip his horses and drive his little caravan up over the hill that led north, and standing there he couldn’t help but envy the merchant, as well as the horses.
That was a year ago, and since then the Ottoman Empire had spread not just to the south, but now everywhere, spreading like wildfire even into the dark reaches of places that had no names.
wished he had heeded the merchant’s warning, but he had his reasons for lingering in the path of war.
He walked pensively through the woods while lost in this memory, pausing only for the strong gusts of wind that would occasionally race between the trees.
The thunder was closer now, and
hurried along, hoping to finish his task before the storm moved overhead.
He reconstructed every moment of the Italian’s visit while he walked, and before long he found himself at the log pile.
Miraculously, it was untouched by the Turkish horde.
He began to work without delay, splitting the logs expertly.
He attached one of the Turkish tormentor’s faces to each log before he brought the heavy axe down on it.
He split more than he could possibly carry, and found himself cursing loudly at each log as he swung.
His arms soon became too heavy to lift and his back grew sore, and he sat down on the splitting stump and rested among the split heads of a hundred enemies.
He held out his hands in front of him and several drops of rain hit his hand. He stood and readied himself to leave, but a sound indicating movement in the woods made him stop cold.
The sound came again, a twig snapping underfoot.
He whirled around, facing the source of the sound and preparing himself for a fight.
He drew up his axe with his exhausted arms, and waited.
Parting a tangle of branches that had intertwined in her path with two small, ivory hands, a woman stepped gracefully into the clearing.
She was wearing a white cotton dress that had been ripped in several places and had spatters of dried brownish blood on the sleeves.
Her face was beautiful and slender with two blue eyes that seemed slightly larger than usual.
Strands of curly black hair hung down from her head, framing her face sharply.
She looked startled when she noticed him.
lowered the axe and extended his free hand towards her.
“My love,” he said, before he rushed over to her and embraced her.
His relief was matched only by his exhaustion, and he let out a long breath of air that he had been holding.