Ivan D. Hristov

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THE OUTLAW

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MANOLE MACRELATA

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VALCHAN’S SWING

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DESTINY

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THE CROSS SIGN

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THE CHURCH

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THE ORDEAL

THE ORDEAL

Translated by: Росица Шопска

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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?”

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