An hour’s distance northwest of our small mountain village is the Crossroads area, which some old people also call Valchan’s swing. This is a wooded country, overgrown with oak trees and bushes, and the steep meadows around are scattered with juniper and fern. It is called the Crossroads, because the forest path crosses at this point the old Roman road in the form of a cross. I was interested in why the place was also named Valchan’s swing. That’s how I got to this tragic incident that had happened in our area during the time of slavery.
During that memorable year, the spring started earlier. The cuckoo could be heard, the forest began to come into leaf. The fruit-trees blossomed, though high up the shady spots of the Rhodope mountain snowdrifts were gleaming out white. The blue and yellow cups of the crocuses were shining from the distance in the spring sun with yellow-blue flames in the green meadows.
One early Sunday morning, in the middle of April, the church bell tolled loudly. The dressed-up villagers swarmed into the church. The great liturgy for the Christ’s resurrection began.
After the service the young and the old gathered on the square. The high-pitched sounds of bagpipes went off, and they all started dancing horo”. Marudo, Golden Kaludo”, but suddenly the song stopped, interrupted by children’s screams and cries: “Run, the Turks are coming!”
The horo broke apart. Everybody drew frightened at the end of the square. Before collecting themselves, the seymens surrounded them. They got off the horses and their whips cracked. There was a cry of girls and brides, the old women were cursing and making the cross signs, the men were swearing and clenching their fists. The Turks caught the young men first and tied up their hands with ropes of the saddles of the horses. Then, with a wild roar, they assaulted toward the young brides and girls who were distinguished by their beauty.
The elder of the village, the old man Vakril, trembling with fear, obediently stood in front of Emin Bey and, with tears in his eyes, asked him:
“Kaymakam effendi, have mercy from Allah! If we had made something wrong, forgive us... Order your soldiers to release your obedient rayah...”
Instead of answering, Emin Bey directed the revolver into the bent old man’s body of the elder and pulled the trigger. The old man Vakril shivered, bent in two and fell dead forward on his face, and his hands spread out on the square.
Emin Bey waved his hand and ordered the guards and the seymens to lead the tied ones. They surrounded them from four sides and led them to the hill where the chapel of St. George was. The whips hissed again and left bloody marks on the women’s white breasts, and on the men’s ankles and backs. The bloody horo rolled and unrolled like a deadly wounded snake on the stone road. No matter whose eyes you look at - fear, anguish, and horror were mirrored there.
Mothers and children ran after their beloved ones, wept and desperately lamented, staring up in the sky:
“Listen to us, Oh, God; see what frost burned us on Easter Day! Send, Oh, God, thunder from the clear sky, so that these bitter Turks turn into pieces.”
As they approached the Chapel of St. George, one of the guards began to beat the old men and children who were dradding after them, striking them mercilessly and banging them on the stones.
At the end the slender and beautiful young bride Ruskа, the first beauty in the village was tied. Ruska had slung a swing on her back, in which there was her six-month-old son Vasilcho. The guard was pushing her and lashing with the whip on her head, on her white face that was seen beneath the head-cloth, as he was threatening viciously.
“You, gyaur woman, why have you slung this worm on your back!? Throw it in the ravine!”
“If your mother had thrown you, would you exist now, you, Turk,” said Ruska, and went ahead.
The guard continued to lash her on her head and shoulders with the whip. The little one was sobbing in the cradle, screaming as if he could sense his unfortunate fate, and quietened down frightened.
They walked out onto the Roman road and headed for Stanimaka. The crying, the wailing, the malicious cries did not stop.
Emin Bey and the guard more and more often repeated to Ruska to throw her child. As they approached the Crossroads, where the old Roman road was going straight, the infant started crying loudly into the swing. The Bey shouted out furiously,
“You, bride, are you still carrying that little gyaur on your back? Throw him to trample on him with the horses!...”
Ruska, with tears in her eyes and a choked voice, said to him,
“Wait, Bey Effendi, to tie a swing for him.”
Emin Bey signaled the seymens to stop. The guard untied Ruska. She took the swing from her back and tied it to two young oaks under the road. Then she slowly lowered her head over the baby. She took her bloody breast out of her bosom and fed Vasilcho for the last time. She was so pale, that there was not even a drop of blood left on her face. Only the dropped head-cloth was hiding her grief. Ruska’s tears were dropping on the pale face of the child. She cried silently, stretched out trembling hands toward the swing and her lips whispered softly,
“Goodbye, Vasilcho, stay healthy, son! Lord keep you! You no longer have a mother...”
Then he rolled the swing several times. The guard pulled her back and tied her hands with the rope to the other brides. Ruska’s heart was breaking with grief. She kept turning back to see the swing with her beloved child as she passed the height and lost the sight of it.
The six-month-old baby was left under the shadows of the two leafy oak trees.
He was crying helplessly in the swing until nearly dead of hunger he fell asleep. So he did not see when the pale sickle of the moon appeared, the evening wind chilled, and the echo carried to the valleys the wicked scream of the owl and the wolves’ howling.
At night the survivors of the village cursed their unfortunate fate. They were lying by the fireplaces in the shag rugs, but sleep could not catch their eyes full of tears.
Early in the morning, the old Ilcho went to Hvoynov saddle area, where his goats and sheep were locked in the house. He let the flock go in the direction of the Crossroads, where there were wooden troughs for livestock. As he passed the high, overhanging rocks, an underground voice came to his ears, like a child crying. He approached the place. Not believing his eyes, he saw the two oaks at the upper end of the meadow, next to the road, and a swing. He peered into it and saw the face of the infant turning blue with cold, who, in a hoarse voice, was screaming pitifully. He noticed wolves’ steps and scratches on the trees around. The swing was slobbery with wolves’ slavers running down it.
The old Ilcho turned to the nearby chapel „St. George” and made the sign of the cross, seeing a God‘s miracle. He untied the swing and slung it on his shoulder. He thought it was a sin in front of God to let this poor infant die here and decided to shelter him in his hut. He quickly let the sheep and goats drink water and led them to the sheepfold. He shut them not interested whether they had enough to graze.
A scream of a frightened bird came from the woods, and then there was silence again. The infant, who was now without any energy from screaming, was sleeping in the swing. The old Ilcho did not wait as usual for the shadows of the trees to stretch, intertwine, and melt in the evening twilight, but he slung the swing on his shoulder and headed for the village.
As he crossed the threshold of his house, he called his wife:
„Stana, come to see! That‘s what I found up there at the Crossroads. Only God knows how the wolves did not eat him at night ... I took him with me in the swing on my back and fed him with crumbs from the bag.”
“It’s good that you brought him, otherwise he would die there or wolves would eat him. This child is a gift from God - you have done a big good!
Thankful tears to God fell down the old Ilcho’s eyes. He looked at his wife Stana and said:
“Do you know that the wolves have scratched the oak trees next to the swing, but God did not let them eat him? They, damned, must have thought that a lamb was bleating, but St. George locked their mouths.”
The old Stana took the infant from the swing and stared at him:
“This child, Ilcho, looks like Ruska, who is the wife of Nikola, Dimcho’s son. His name is Vasilcho.”
On the very same day she went to Dimcho’s wife and took their grandson Vasilcho - a little joy in the midst of the sea of sorrow; they had been left to mourn for their daughter-in-law Ruska and their son Nikola.
The news of the found child spread quickly across the village. The people changed the name Vasilcho to Valchan, and the place where Ruska had been separated forever with her son they called Valchan’s swing.