It’s spring. St. George’s Day. The forest came into leaf, the meadows turned green. The sky is blue. The weather is quiet and sunny. It’s a holiday in the souls of the peasants. After the ringing of the church bell it is turn of the bagpipes.
Stoil, a handsome and strong young man, does not take his eyes from the horo in the village square. His eyes are wandering on the dressed-up and beautiful youg women and are looking for Milkana’s eyes. His beloved one is better than all of them.
The time has come for Stoil to have his own family. After Easter, Milkana eloped with him. Their wedding lasted for three days. They invited the Sultan’s man who had come to the village to collect taxes. The bride greeted him, and the mother-in-law gave him a gift. The guest opened his purse, gave both the groom and the bride a gold coin and had fun with the other guests at the wedding. It lasted for a couple of days, and then he went away.
The young couple lived happily, but if something is very good it is not so good. An unruly young man named Shaban began to маке advances to the young bride. Milkana pushed him away, she warned him:
“Know that if I tell Stoil, you will suffer for that!”
He was warned, too, by the village elder, who heard about his mischiefs. Stoil warned him too, but Shaban did not want to listen. Stoil saw that he would not achieve anything with a good word and one night he waited for him at the end of the village.
”Do not bother Milkana because there is trouble in store for you!”
“Go away of my way!” Shaban replied, aiming a blow at him.
Stoil was strongerthan him, he lifted him up and threw him into the stones to the side of the road. Shaban fell on his back and did not move. Soon after, he died.
The Turks suspected Stoil of his death. They seized him and took him to the court in town. They sentenced him as a murderer and sent him to the Maloasian jails.
Grief heavier than a millstone fell to Stoil’s heart. In the Asian heat and the exhausting work in the stone-pits, under the whips of the gaolers, the thoughts of his birthplace and the beloved Milkana did not leave him. They were somewhere far, they were beyond the blue mountains.
The years are running. Summer and winter change. Stoil is dying and disappearing in the dungeon. During the day the hard work takes his strength, but his faith does not die - his mind is still running to the village. Ten years passed one after another, all the same. They go round in a circle, like the horo in the square, all in one direction to one and the same place.
One summer day, along with other Bulgarians - unfortunate like him, the jailers pushed them to Istanbul for work in a stone quarry. The sun was baking relentlessly. Hungry and thirsty, they barely dragged their legs, and dust clouds were rising around them.
Suddenly, a cab appeared on the road. As he approached the prisoners, Stoil’s eyes met the eyes of the man travelling on it. Something familiar struck his mind. And the man twitched and stared at him. He shouted, the coachman pulled the horses’ reins and the cab stopped. The Turkish notable got off the cab and, followed by his guards, he came nearer. Stoil then recognized the Sultan’s tax envoy, who once honored his wedding. And the other one had recognized him. He asked him how he had got there and Stoil told him everything from beginning to end.
The notable wrote down his name and the cab drove along its way. Stoil stared for a long time after him, until the bells of the horses faded. Tears glittered in his eyes. Like a wing of a bird, a new hope flashed. If he had written down his name, he would do something for him. They could send him to another place where the regime was not so severe.
A month passed, and they called Stoil to the chief prison warder. What pains were waiting for him ahead, he was thinking. They told him that a sultan’s letter came and they release him. Stoil was astonished. Was that a dream? He nearly went crazy. The Lord was there for him.
He came out from there in torn clothes, skinny, grey-haired and unshaven. He had no idea how long the way to his home village was. Maybe a month or two. But in this miserable appearance he could not go anywhere. He might be mistaken by the Turkish authorities as a thief or a tramp, and they would take him back to jail. His pockets were empty, with no coin in them. He was at the end of the world - the unknown was worrying and scary.
He stopped in a village and started working as a farm-hand, to earn money, to return to his relatives. He worked day and night. He saved some money for returning home. He bought some new clothes and a horse. He got a passport and headed for his birthplace.
He slept on the dirty floors of the roadside inns, sometimes in the bare field. And the nights - quiet and freezing. The stars above him looked indifferently at his fate. Only the sickle of the moon watched over his short, restless sleep until it hid somewhere there in the northwest, where the tops of the Rhodope Mountains were blue.
It was before dawn, and it was still dark when he was setting off along the unknown roads. His horse was dead-tired. He was buying wheat from the markets, and the sacks were hanging on the horse’s saddle. And he felt pity for the animal too, it had a soul, too. He was on the long road again.
And Stoil’s memory of his separation with Milkana did not leave him alone. As if he saw her crying and saying,
“As long as I’m alive, I’ll wait for you to come back...”
He ruined her youth. He left her pitiful for their marriage.
He is already in the Phillipopolis Field. He reached Stanimaka. His fatigue was great, but the heart could not find rest. Stoil started climbing the slopes of the mountain.
It was already late autumn. The woods around were colourful. The autumn leaves were shedding from the beeches like tears and falling on the drying grass beside the road. He reached the summit of the mountain, knelt on the high ridge and kissed the ground. Stoil could not have enough of seeing the familiar, dear places.
He reached the village in the dark. Their house was at the edge of the forest. From a distance he saw some thin smoke coming from the chimney. His heart would leap out of his chest.
He got off the horse in his father’s yard. Milkana, standing on the doorstep, ran scared by the stranger, locked the door, and shouted from the window,
“We are poor people, Aga! Go on your way. You cannot stay here”.
Stoil jumped off the horse, threw the fez on the ground, made the sign of the cross over himself and in a choked voice shouted,
“Milkana, it’s me, Stoil, your husband! Didn‘t you recognize me!...”
As if wings carried Milkana out. She threw herself in Stoil’s arms. They stood hugging each other for a long time in the yard. The evening wind, hidden in the bushes, rushed to dry the tears from their faces.