Once upon a time….. In order for this story to be narrated without detriment to the reader's peaceful sleep, the storyteller had to leave out a lot of events and relate many others indirectly in attractive euphemisms in which the meanings are lost.
He wondered for a long time how to start, because all his thoughts swerved to the cemetery where those, who were the reason for this story to be created, rested or were circling in the raven’s track above the desolate village and together with him accumulating dirty dishes and beds in which nobody had slept for months.
As soon as the writer had forced himself to leave these gloomy places, he found himself in the deep forests on a mountain trail that was lost in thorny shrubs and disappeared totally somewhere on the slopes and where the sharp rocks slid down.
But the narrator persisted. In his imagination, he reached up to the ruined hut, from the windows of which a strange heavy odour was wafting.
On paper, this story would end happily, the narrator decided, and lifted the corners of his mouth into a forced smile, aware that he was defrauding his mission.
"The liver of a decaying doe, cheiri and weed," the witch murmured under her breath, throwing another repulsive item into the kettle. Then she arched her back even more and deeply inhaled the fumes.
"Wheatgrass, black henbane and blood of the damned," she continued. She thought for a moment how unwillingly the executioner from the town had given her what she had requested. She directed an evil thought towards him and emptied the rest of the bottle into the kettle. The contents thickened. Illogically, the old woman cheered up.
The fire under the kettle was dying down. When it had already seemed to have totally burnt out, a quick movement whirled stagnant air into the room. A cat landed on the table beside the witch, the fire started burning again.
"Get out!" the witch snarled, but the cat did not pay any attention. She stepped lightly over the scattered objects and occasionally meowed quietly.
Her name was Gaia. Due to the goodwill of a villager who had brought her up as an adornment to his building, she could boast distinguished manners and once had groomed long white hair. Today, however, this good man was resting in the cemetery, like all his neighbours.
"Puss, get off this table!"
The cat did not look in her direction this time either. Dawn was slowly breaking into late morning, which indicated that the fun would soon be over.
She stretched her legs and snapped at a bird, from which she was separated by roughly plaited wicker. The turtledove on the far side of the cage shivered.
The cat registered his inattention and changed her position with two quick leaps. The bird recovered in the last fraction of a second and jumped back from the claws. Then he smashed against the middle of the cage and squawked.
When Gaia had been smaller, his place had been safe. However, now that she had grown up, her paws reached up there, which the bird realised at the moment when he tried to move his wings. It was as if someone had pinned him to the floor. He squawked, the lament spread across the room in a duet. The bird focused on the cat, a shadow flashed across his huge, innocent eyes. She pulled her paws out of the cage and her hair bristled. A raven had landed on the window ledge.
The turtledove’s heart started beating faster. It had been bad so far, but from that moment on became reminiscent of a nightmare. The witch had been in the habit of interrupting the wildest frolics of her animals, but today she had sneaked off somewhere.
The raven jumped from the window ledge on to the table and gazed with delight at the birdie. The puss hissed and fled.
After the previous day, the raven proceeded unhesitatingly. With one sweeping motion, he pushed the latch of the door and for a moment enjoyed the hopelessness in the turtledove’s eyes. Then the raven began to creep into the cage. The birdie watched paralysed as the massive beak approached him and the first strong leg passed through the opening, the sweet smell of carrion floating from the black feathers.
Then everything happened in rapid succession. The raven got stuck in the narrow opening and when he tried to break through it forcefully, the dry wicker loosened precisely on the other side. The turtledove flew out of the cage before he even realised what he was doing and, in the same ignorance, the following moment also struck the kettle which had been put on one side. Darkness surrounded him.
Then he made that final struggle for life or death for which he had subconsciously been prepared in the last moments and, as a dubious victor, escaped from the window.
Totally terrified, he flew through the shadow of the trees until the branches parted and the silhouettes of the cemetery crosses began to loom in front of him in the soft morning light. At that moment, he calmed himself down slightly, but not so much as to discard his total alertness.
He circled over the cemetery and only then settled on one of the outer tombstones. It was here when he realised that he was all covered in sticky smelly matter. For the second time, he felt a relief. It was not that he had forgotten how to fly, but that the muddy mass was weighing his wings down. He shook himself off, but it looked like the matter had become even more compacted. He did not pause at all, but took off from the ground again with all his might.
He circled twice over the cemetery, then once in the opposite direction before alighting on the tallest tombstone. He focused his eyes, found himself in the company of a white stone dove, and rather looked away. He skipped three times and cooed three times, then again took off from the ground in a spiral, before hurling himself headfirst downwards. When he spread his wings in front of the stone dove, the sticky mass finally loosened and turned to dust. The Earth shuddered.
It seemed to him as if he had been flying very slowly, so he also ran on the ground to make sure. Small leaves and twigs struck him in the eyes. He then thought of taking off over the trees, but the air molecules seemed to put up a resistance to him.
A ruined hut in a small clearing that suddenly appeared beneath him, seemed like an oasis of peace and safety. Relieved, he headed for it.
Totally weakened, he landed on a fence pole and exhaled at length, his strength slowly beginning to return. He then registered a fluffy white bundle that was trying to merge into the long grass.
Gaia narrowed her eyes and the birdie stretched his wings. If she jumped at him, he would be able to fly away. He was almost sure of that.
A feather was drifting in the wind. It was one of those big feathers that give birds the ability to fly, but now it was a few metres away from its owner.
The turtledove did not utter a sound. He was totally in the captivity of the cat's claws, and what was much more painful, absorbed by the cat's attention. At that moment, there was nothing in the world that would attract the attention of another living creature.
With his curved winged back he could not move, so he actually did not even try.
The cat tensed her front paw muscles and pushed him even harder into the ground. He felt a small clod of soil in his throat, he swallowed.
"Croak!" said the raven.
"Shoo!" the witch said, lifting the cat up to eye level. Then she tore the turtledove out of the cat’s paws. Gaia protested formally.
It was one of the usual misty days, but that day there was something heavy in the air. It irritated the witch’s senses, but she was not able to name it. She glanced from the cat to the raven, from the raven to the turtledove. The turtledove looked away bashfully. That swept the old woman off balance.
The extracted quill had rounded off his aerial pilgrimage and stuck in the grass. She picked it up and headed quickly into the hut.
She burst into the hut. She passed the pot overturned in a pool of pitch black potion and took a parchment and turpentine coloured with red clay from the shelf. She sketched an oval with a quick stroke. Then once more, better and in the same place. She did this until the tip of the quill drew a circle. She traced this circle forcefully.
She winked out of the window, exhaled and inverted the bottle above the painting, the purple liquid met the paper. In an attempt to get it around the circle, the witch tilted the sheet, but the liquid flowed along other paths.
Then the turpentine evaporated, leaving only caked clay dust on the parchment. The old woman grabbed a stick from the corner and ran out in front of the hut. A dragon was standing in the garden.
Actually, just part of a dragon. She focused on its tail reaching the forest, its head towering above the hut, its claws dug deeply into the ground.
The dragon shook its massive head and pieces of graveyard soil dropped from its scales. The witch gripped the stick firmly.
Neither of them felt much like fighting. The dragon admitted it first, spread his wings and flew away.
The witch headed towards the town, feeling that some affairs couldn’t wait.
A group of children ran amok in the park with clubs, playing at soldiers. She glimpsed their parents a few hundred metres away in the local pub. They took care of their offspring in the same way beetles do. After they lay their eggs, they go away, enjoy days beneath the best daisy in the garden and then become someone's food.
"Silver goes to the one who brings the black stone out of the mine!" called the mine boss.
The figures left their glasses and started to move. Enchanted by the vision of silver and an imperceptible gas coming from the depths, they approached the mine pit.
The sky darkened, but no one paid any attention. The dragon had been seen for the last time three hundred years before. At that time, none of the chroniclers had dared to make a record, so there was only a legend left and this was forgotten in time. It had to be formed from the beginning. The first word was gold, the other was a shadow.
Human chronicles and legends were silent about the dragon, but witches' knowledge reached a little further. The old woman quickened her pace.
It was busy in the university kitchen. New theories were flying through the air, fighting with arguments and changing under the pressure of statements by renowned names.
The witch entered. All the theories immediately combined into a universal truth, approved by everyone, and opposing her. Again they shattered as she passed through and headed for the service hatch. With a tray she sat down in the centre of the room. She ate ceremonially and waited for some of the great thoughts to accept the invitation. Two or three really circled around, but only dared during the dessert. She took them with her and left the town. The next morning, the university was reduced to ashes.
The dragon had plundered. He took the theatre, monastery, bank into his ownership. It was rumoured that a virgin of noble origin might put him to sleep again. However, Godot would sooner arrive before one would find a virgin in this godless country, not even to mention a noblewoman since the revolution.
After a ramp engulfed with flame fell into the mine, a deep abyss blocked off the road to the town. The black stones at the bottom still smouldered for weeks and the smoke caused the road to be renamed The Black Way. Local people built a bridge over the abyss, but horses and people preferred to trudge through the forest. Cars totally stopped driving there and the demand for immature poppies grew in the town.
There was nothing special going on in the clearing in the mountains. The sun rose and set in accordance with the advance schedule and the bushes in the garden proliferated insanely.
The witch tossed a duffle bag of freshly picked herbs on the table and took off her muddy shoes. She wanted to make a fire, but was disturbed by the silence. She looked around. The raven was sitting on a window ledge, the turtledove above the fireplace, the cat in the corner.
She stood up and walked barefoot around the room. She stopped in the corner, the cat was sitting on an egg.
She was hiding it between her paws, yet its leather-like surface was visible. She moved her weight to the other foot, golden gleams slid down on to her white fur.
The old woman looked at the raven. She read from his expression that he had nothing to do with this.
Time passed and the egg grew. The scales on its surface, similar to a dragon’s, were already quite distinct and sometimes there was movement noticeable inside. The room did not get accustomed to its golden glow. Grey and brown shades belonged here, only dark red might have appeared now and then. Cats, regardless of colour, were never completely present.
It was the night of the winter solstice and a cold wind was blowing outside. The egg cracked without anyone noticing it.
Gryphon inhaled the stagnant air of the room and straightened his wings. He saw the fire, he felt the space.
The old woman sensed him. She moved her chair away and gave up her place by the fireplace. Gryphon took a few steps and stood still.
She examined him briefly, the impression was new. She knew creatures who had something else in them that others sensed, but this creature was not hiding anything. What it was, was striking to the eyes.
She returned the chair to the same spot and opened the door. Gryphon departed.
The raven, the cat and the turtledove watched the scene, each from a different vantage point. Whenever there was something going on, the two of them stayed close. But their curiosity had recently been waning.
The cat flexed her muscles and, after a moment's hesitation, slipped away after Gryphon. The birdie took a breath after a long time. He imagined caring for offspring differently, yet he got up and followed them.
One year passed. Previously people had spoken of harvest time, the fair and the festival. This year people talked about the weather.
The dragon conquered the country from ocean to ocean. He collected the gold and ravaged the regions. He settled outside the town.
It was the morning after the winter solstice. The old woman blew out the lantern and went out into the dark.
Gryphon was lying on the boundary of the garden and the forest clearing, his cat's half towards the hut, the bird’s half towards the forest. He would look down from above at the bare fruit trees, but he was asleep now. Claws folded under his head, paws under the brown shaggy body and white wings freely dropping into the snow.
The witch took up a handful of snow and threw it at him. The cat, still hidden in the pinions, began to hiss and Gryphon woke up.
The old woman took up another handful, then another. Gryphon watched her for a moment, then rolled away from the garden. The witch also moved and continued to throw snow at him. Gryphon eventually shook himself off and walked into the woods.
Somewhere beneath the snow, there was a footpath. He looked in the direction of the hut for a fraction of a second, but then started off along the footpath.
He only stopped at the hillock from where he could see into the valley. He looked up. His attention was captured by a dragon approaching the town.
From behind the clouds, the sun became clear and a few sunrays struck the hillock. The townsmen who noticed it, aroused others, then they all crowded to their windows. For a moment, they could see Gryphon’s glow and the dragon’s shadow as well.
Gryphon stared towards the sky. He straightened himself up and took a few steps forward. He also wanted to fly. He spread his wings and set out for the heavens. People ran out into the streets, the dragon changed direction.
They clashed above the citadel. Gryphon tore the dragon’s wings and ripped a strip of meat from his neck. He followed him down to the ground. When the townsmen arrived at the site, he was already feasting on the carrion.
People watched the scene silently. The way the creature had massacred the dragon raised questions to which they did not want to know the answers.
Gryphon swallowed another piece of fine flesh from the flanks and moved to the heart. The clouds parted completely and the sun shone brightly. Gryphon stopped, he saw gold.
One week passed and the town flourished.
Gryphon turned over on to his back in the dragon's cave and dropped an emerald from his beak. There were huge flames blazing all around. They swallowed the fog and shone on the golden statues, pieces of jewellery, fountains.
Another wagon unloaded its goods there and moved away quickly. The hill of cat bodies changed position slightly. Gaia walked down the aisle among the other cats and moved towards the banqueting table. The birdie flew away to the fountain.
The man in the suit put stuffed quails on the table and looked in the bird’s direction. The birdie flew even higher. From the cave overhang, he watched the cats gathering in groups to have a snack.
There were those who had lost their homes because of the dragon, and now they hungered for revenge, those who had longed to have children, and even those attracted by the certainty of wellbeing. It looked as if half of the cat population was there. And each of them desired the birdie, for one or other reason.
The raven politely gave a piece of lean meat to a tomcat, the tomcat politely refused it and jumped on to the old woman's lap. He was a black tomcat, born to fight. He had deep scars on his body, and his mouth was unnaturally twisted on one side. He purred blissfully when the old woman pressed him against her chest.
The witch sat in front of the fireplace and stared into the fire, for now she was not very interested in what was going on in the valley.
Translated by Viktor Horák
Viktor Horák je neobyčejný člověk se spoustou podnětů, pronikavým intelektem a tvrdým humorem v elegantní diplomacii. Jeho anglický překlad má stejný styl a atmosféru jako česká verze, což je, u textu postaveném na obrazech, nevyřčených větách na pozadí a ostravské mentalitě, mistrovský výkon.
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