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Ivan D. Hristov in PlovdivLit


THE ORDEAL  0.00 / 5


Panayot gathered the sheep from the pasture and closed the flock in the sheep-fold. He stretched his large body and stared at the west, where the shadows of the twilight blurred the outlines of the high forest peaks. A troubled night was falling over the mountains. The peaks began to darken rapidly, the horizon narrowed, the silver glow of the distant ridges disappeared, absorbed by the autumn mist.

The shepherd stepped into the hut, lit the fire in the hearth, and started to boil hominy for dinner. In some time, the dogs started barking. Panayot knew when they were barking at game and when at a man. He jumped out quickly and went down the road ahead of the hut. Two Turks stood in front of him, one of them holding a horse with two sacks.

“They must be of those, Panayot thought, who are now fleeing from Plovdiv through Yurukalan and Bash dairy farm to the Aegean, after the Turkish army was stepping back from the Russians. Perhaps they have got lost and diverted away from the road.”

The two passengers stood in front of the shepherd tired and confused. The older one turned to Panayot.

“Shepherd, will you put us up to sleep in the hut and in the morning to show us the road to Bash dairy farm?”

“There will be room for you” Panayot said, trying to hide his anxiety caused by meeting the strangers.

The passengers dropped the sacks themselves and brought them into the hut. They tied the horse on the tree outside. The shepherd did not dare to ask them what they were carrying in the sacks. He put some hominy for them to dine. Tired of the long way, they ate it silently. Then they lay down next to the sacks and quickly fell asleep.

Panayot lay down at the other end of the hut, but the sleep was running away from his eyes. Fear and doubt rankled in his soul - they did not give him to rest: “Who are these uninvited guests?”

He got up and went to fetch some water from the nearby spring. Something was drawing him to the sacks. What was there in them? One of them was slightly loose. Panayot peered into it and almost cried out in amazement - the sack was full of gold coins. He went out, quietly stepping outside. He went to the cold spout. He poured water into the copper pot. He stayed under the cold water for long to wet his head, as if he wanted to put out the fire burning there at the sight of the gold.

It got quite dark around there. The dark sky gathered together with the mountains. In the sky there was a faint sparkle and a small, lonely star disappeared into the darkness. Panayot stood there, staring into the darkness, thinking tensely about what to do. He went back to the hut. He went inside. He looked at the sleeping and unsuspecting guests, and two Panayots were fighting there in his head - one of them shouting: “Kill the Turks and get the gold.” The other one was stopping him, “Do not put this sin on your soul. What have these people done to you?”

The fire in the hearth was burning out. Panayot’s eyebrows frowned, and a shadow of determination lay on his face. He approached the sleeping Turks and struggled for a long time with his mind what to do. The ax was hanging in a handy place. If he hit with it one of them, the other one would jump.

He lay down again, leaving the ax near himself. A dream did not catch him. There was a dead silence around. Only the pine branches moved out because of the evening wind. Occasionally a bell was jingling in the sheep-fold. A pale moon rose and the shepherd saw the two sleeping passengers more clearly.

Panayot got up again, held the ax tightly in his hands, and approached them quietly. He wondered what to do. An inner voice spoke to him again and intensified his spiritual anguish. ”What evil have you experienced from these people? In the morning for the good that you have done to them, that you have sheltered and fed them, they could give you from the gold coins.”

Panayot went to bed again, but could not get to sleep. All night, he was wondering where the strangers have so much gold from. ”Bloody or stolen is that money? It may have been won by trade ... “

As early as dawn the guests woke up. They looked at the sacks and saw that they were not touched. Panayot put the bread left for the Turks to have some on their way, waiting for them to thank him. They got up quietly and loaded the sacks on the horse. The shepherd guided them where to go. They parted.

Panayot let the sheep to pasture and all day long he was thinking if he had done something good or wrong. He could not find peace. It was after noon when he decided, “It’s OK that it happened that way!”

The shepherd gathered the flock earlier and decided to pop round to the village to see his house in these troubled times, and what was more, there was no bread left.

He walked along the direct forest paths away from human eyes. His soul was light because he did not stained his hands with blood. He walked fast as if something was drawing him to the village. A cold breeze scattered the beech leaves across the naked sad forest. Autumn fogs, gray and torn, dragged along the drowning gullies. It started drizzling.

In the evening, wet and muddy, Panayot arrived in the village. As he approached his house, he saw an old, ragged Turk sitting on the wall in the rain, near the gate. Next to him, his emaciated horse, loaded with luggage, was striking with its hoof the cobblestone as if he was urging his owner to get up. The Turk was behind the refugee group that had passed near the village. Under his turban, his pale, unshaven face showed the look of a sick and desperate man. His hands were trembling.

After the nightmare in the hut with the two Turks, now a helpless refugee was standing in front of Panayot’s home. He felt sorry for the feeble stranger.

Panayot pulled the horse under the dry shed, unloaded it, and took off its saddle. Then he put its owner up in the barn over the shed. He brought the sick man a little rye bread and an old rug to wrap himself in the hay during the cool night, then went home.

In the morning the shepherd opened the barn door and stood at its threshold. The old man’s body and hands were stiff, and the bread beside him stood intact. The Turk had died at night.

Panayot pulled the horse into the barn, put some hay in the manger, and went to fetch its saddle. As he held the inside of the saddle with one hand, he felt something solid and moving under the leather. He noticed that under one of the wooden barriers there was a slit cut with a knife. He put his hand in it. He pulled it as quickly as he could, and his handful shone with gold.

“There is a God’intervention in this job!” thought Panayot. He left the gold coins next to the saddle, turned to the east, and made a cross sign.

Translated by Росица Шопска


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