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Staiko’s life became entangled and twisted into a firm knot after the Ilinden uprising, when one day in spring he set off to run away with his family across the border of Rozhen to independent Bulgaria.
In the dark they came to the Turkish guardpost. They were afraid of being noticed and sent back. The mule bells were stuck with grass so they could not be heard. The spruces stretched out their dark shadows in the moon light. There was a tied dog in front of the guardpost. The solier on duty was not seen, he was probably sleeping in the guardhouse. They stiffened in place for fear that the dog would start barking at them. It miraculously stared at them and did not move. They crossed the border running. They sighed with relief and climbed down the slopes of the mountain. They headed for Gorovo, where at that time refugees settled down. In the place of the abandoned by the Turks village in the past, new houses were now emerging.
Stayko arrived in Gorovo with his wife Kera and their three children. The refugees who had come before him gave him land to build a house and a garden, under the high overhanging rocks, where the echo answered the bagpiper’s song.
Staiko did not leave his bagpipe. When he whistled and sang, people stopped working and listened to him dreaming. The inhabitants of Gorovo met him with good, because a bagpiper came to their village, and he would rejoice their souls.
Soon new refugees built houses next to theirs - the Spilkovi brothers and their sister Petra, still not married. Both of the brothers were once members in Captain Petko’s band.
Staiko and Kera thought that in Gorovo they would live a better life, but their hearts were in anguish - because of the border they could not go and see their relatives. With his bagpipe Stayko tried to drown his sadness on the rocky peaks and hills. He always began and finished playing with the song about the sad foreign land.
Autumn fogs came. The northerner blew. The first snow fell on the grownd. Stayko watched that Kera became more and more depressed every day; for almost a year now she had no news from her relatives. If she were a bird, she would have flown to her native Dereke, to see her mother and relieve her sadness.
The long winter passed. Spring came to the mountain. The meadows grew green, the forest came into leaf. Easter was approaching. On Good Thursday, Kera rolled up her sleeves and kneaded a special Easter bread, she stuck in it and painted eggs for health and fortune. Early on Saturday, she put the bread in a new colorful bag. She sent Stayko to the village of Dereke to visit the church and to see their relatives.
“Give my love to mum. May she be healthy! Tell her that I miss her and the village,” Kera said.
Staiko had to cross the border in the evening, to stay for two days in the village of Dereke, and to go back to Gorovo again in the dark. The years were troubled.
Stayko left, and Kera stayed in the village waiting for him to bring her news from her relatives. In the afternoon she was down with fever. She got sick while she was cleaning and tyding up the house. The children were playing in the yard. She lay down for a moment, hoping her pain to disappear. She felt sick and went to call her neighbour to look after the children. By the evening Kera was moaning and groaning with pain. She turned to Petra,
“If I can find some cure, I’ll feel better right away. Fever is my illness, and it is not the first time I’ve been lying down with it.”
“There are cures in the chest at home”, Petra said. “My brothers were rebels. They still keep their cures.”
Petra went to her house and brought some white powder wrapped in paper. Kera took the bitter cure. After a moment she felt a sharp pain in her abdomen, as if she was being cut with knives. She was tossing in bed and cried, “Petra, what did you give me to drink?”
Petra started moaning, weeping, she realized she had not brought a cure, but by mistake she had brought poison given to the rebels not to fall into enemy’s hands alive. The neighbours who heard the screams, came into the house.
Kera was moaning and writhing with pain. Foam flowed from her mouth. Her dark, lifeless eyes, her cracked lips showed that she was gone. On the night of Easter Kera died. The children were screaming. Petra was devastated and bitterly sorry,
“I have put a great sin on my soul. How will I look at Stayko in the eyes?”
Just at that time Stayko arrived at Dereke. He gave everybody the greetings. The neighbours gathered together, asking about their relatives in Gorovo. Stayko stood there for a day only. Something urged him to go back as soon as posible. The turbid water that drew him in his sleep did not give him to rest.
Stayko returned to Gorovo. He buried Kera. He was now a widower with three children. His bagpipe stayed silent. Darkness fell over his soul. He was tired of being at home alone to clean and wash. The weather did not wait for him, he had to plow and sow the fields, and otherwise he would stay hungry.
He purchased some more land. He remembered the words of his father when he bargained for the large village field, “Land is bought by stealing from your children’s bread. It can feed us, but it is also bought paying with bread. In this world everything has its end, only the earth is endless.”
It was hard for Stayko to see his children falling asleep hungry when he was coming back from the fields. He knew that without woman’s hands it was hard to keep a household. He decided to look for a woman to watch his children.
It was not long after Kera’s death, and the old people started talking about Petra,
“She poisoned Kera; she should marry Stayko, to look after his orphans and to clean her sin.”
Petra find out what people were talking about her in the village. She thought about it,
“The old people are right – this is the fairest way to redeem my sin“.
Even in his sleep Petra couldn’t find rest. One evening, she asked her brothers,
“Should I get married to a widower?”
“You are not a young girl, Petra. If you take Stayko, we do not want you to come back one day.”
On the Sunday before Ilinden Petra went to live with Staiko. The young bride started getting the home in order. Stayko’s soul found ease at last because it had been tightened with a hoop before. He was young. We live once. He took the bagpipe again, started playing, cheered the village.
The year happened to be with good harvest. The spring and summer were rainy.
Endless rains with small interruptions continued until mid-July. The villagers from Gorovo were barely able to sow and dig the fields. Rye grew higher than human height. The meadows also thrived. They made good hay. The fields were woken by anvils and male voices. Stoiko was mowing large windrows, and Petra afer him spread the hay to dry and collected it on haystacks.
In a month or two and Petra faded. When she looked at the children, she could see Kera’s eyes. She did not stay at home for long; she tried to be outside most of the time. Stayko was telling his grief with his bagpipe. It was playing and telling the words of the song, “As you wear beautiful clothes, in the same way look after my orphans.” Petra, through her tears, replied,
“Do not play this song, Stayko, you break my heart!”
It had not been a year since they started living together, and Petra’s life with Stayko became hard. She could not find a place for her in the house where Kera had lived and done the housework. Her days were passing easier in work and talks with neighbours, but when the evening came, the nights grew worse.
One evening Staiko, drunk and angry, came back from the pub. He said bad words to Petra.
“You purposely poisoned Kera, to marry me, but not to look after my children.”
She jumped up, cried and went out. She stayed in the yard until Stayko asked her to go back home. The night was frosty, but bigger cold had already stiffened their hearts.
In the morning, Stayko went to the water-mill to grind rye because the winter was coming. Petra sent him to the gate, and after he had passed, she went to her brothers. She asked them,
“I am tired of life! Take me back to you again.”
“We do not want people to talk about you in the village,” they replied. “Your place is with Stayko. You will have to put up with him, you have chosen him yourself.”
She went back home, neither she wanted to eat, nor to drink water. Conscience was torturing her, “Life is no longer for me!” Her eyeswere looking down into the ground, her mind was thinking of the worst. She did not want to die with poison, with it one cannot die quickly and peacefully. He jumped in the yard and peered at the nearby rocks. A devilish voice seemed to whisper to her, “Do not waste time. Do it right away while Staiko is out.”
She headed for the sharp rocks, where the pines stuck their tops in the blue sky. She walked away from the road without anyone seeing her. Petra climbed to the top of the rock. She bent over the high abyss and felt dizzy. She threw herself and flew down. The wind blew her red headscarf. There was only a long cry, and then everything was quiet. ”What evil happened?”, the people who worked nearby and ran up to the rocks were timidly asking. As soon as they reached them, under the high rock they saw the body of the dead Petra.
While they were lamenting loudly that she brought down her youth and beauty, Stayko appeared coming back from the water-mill. As he approached the village, he heard screams and uproar. She saw people running in front of his house. His children had doubled up with fear in the yard. The eldest one ran to him, and, sobbing, said, “Mum had thrown herself down the high rock!” It darkened in front of his eyes. Stayko waved his hand to drive away the tears. Did he diserve that bad fate?
He buried Petra and a new sadness lay on him. His children were orphans again. A lot of grief he collected in his soul. He became silent and thoughtful. He did not feel like getting with any work. He sold out fields and meadows. He drowned his grief in drinking.
One day he took the children with the mules, and without saying goodbye to the villagers of Gorovo, he set off on the stone road to the village of Dereke. Stayko crossed the deserted mountain. There was no border anymore. The old Roman road was deserted. From time to time, birds flew over it, a roe knocked with its hoof on the cobblestone and sank again into the woods. In the distance, over the hills coloured by the autumn, fogs were lying along the rocky peaks.
Once he stepped into the thick and silent forest, Staiko, started plying his bagpipe and began the song, “Black-eyed black-haired, handsome, this world is deceitful”. There was no shoulder to cry on about all his grief. Only the echo of the silent gullies answered him by repeating the words of the song and sending them to the opposite hills until the bagpipe was silent.