Falling into doze's grip, Blagovest felt that the table was set in no time. Asya was holding a great pride in her housework skills and had forbidden everyone from using magic when doing chores, while the greatest insult an individual could give her was doubt in the said skills. Delyana on the other hand was living in a hidden palace in Zhegavica, right on the coast of the Southern Sea, and held no worries about its mending - her numerous invisible servants kept things tidy.
"Trapezata is awaiting us, Blago!" Asya awoke him, placing her palm on his shoulder and shaking him gently. The man in response rubbed his eyes, yawned and followed her into the soba. Unlike most homes, Asya had a low dining table only in the kushti. The one in the soba was high, and it looked like it belonged in a bolyarin's home. Furnished with a red tablecloth, decorated with shevica made by combining white, black, yellow, green and orange thread and bluda in dark brown ceramic, decorated with yellow, green, black lines and white dots on them, the sight of food made his mouth fill with salvia. The golden crust of the rooster, the smell of the banica, the fluffy pitka...What people from every land in the world have in common is the importance of guests and the welcome given to them.
He sat between Asya and Delyana, at the most important place - where the oldest man of the house would have sat.
"Nazdrave!" said Asya as they were clicking their cups for a cheer. And then the rakia entered their bodies like it was entering its home, warming their throats and stomachs.
"Skorosmurtnica, right?" Asked Delyana with a playful, perfectly well knowing what the answer is voice and a big smile, that revealed her pearl-like teeth.
"Yes, but you know that's how we like it." And all three of them laughed loudly and purely.
"Where did you visit? We haven't heard from you for what? Twenty years?" Asya passed the pitka to him, so he could break himself a piece.
"Since Strahil's passing. That's the last time I visited." The warm feelings they shared were replaced with that of regret, as silence spread throughout the room. It took a feel moments for Blago to break it and continue. "I travelled to the East this time, all the way to Shòu wàn shén zhùfú and Phạn keāa, then to the tribes of Atçandar and finally to Bilād Arash. Next, I am heading to the North, or maybe West, I am yet to decide, if I have to be honest." He took a bite from the warm and soft piece of pitka he had broken, the taste of which reminded him of the home he had forgotten, and the simpler days of the past he was longing to forget. "Doda, you were dressed in court odezhdi, did you do something important?"
"I had almost forgotten about it!" A mischievous, girlish smile appeared on her beautiful face as she was rubbing her palms against each other. "I went to Dolnatata zemya for a meeting with tzar Strashimir. Getting murtva voda was my main goal, you know his family still owning to me for the mess I got them out 350 years ago. I go there, all dressed up, ready to bite my tongue so I don't make any remarks that won't sit well, and instead of his usual cheerful self, ready to cross wits with me, I find him weeping. And all I could do was go to him and asк him what troubled him so much." She stopped talking and both Asya's and Blago's curiosity made them move closer to her. "Tzarkinya Morana was taken by a zmey!" The old man gasped, while Asya covered her mouth, as Delyana paused for a dramatic effect for a minute, but her tale was far from over.
"Naturally, being a compassionate and well-mannered person, as well such a goodnatured and powerful witch, I agreed to help. What else I could do, we have known each other for such a long time. Besides, who knows how much time would have passed until a random yunak showed up to save her, they are practically none existent today." Both her companions nodded in agreement. "So, I head there, the fast as I care, because you know she is the daughter of a tzar, they don't hurt them usually, and it was super suspicious because he hadn't stopped their water supplies yet. And now," she took a deep breath" I go there and you just would believe the sight I found! Morana and the zmey in a tight embrace, whispering words of love to each other!"
"Zhiva da ne byah!"
"And it gets better, the zmey is none other than our old friend Chernozem! Turns out they have been seeing each other in secret for the last two years, but they were afraid of how her father would react, so she chooses to pristane to him!" At this point, Doda was laughing with tears in her eyes, and the rest couldn't help but join.
"It took me hours to convince them that they should do this thing the proper way and that I will side with them. She was shaking like a leaf, and I had to explain Chernozem three times that I have no one backing me up, ready to fight with him the moment we step out. Like we don't know each other! And the moment I brought them to the palace - tears and boogers from both father and daughter, she felt on her knees, asking for forgiveness and the whole thing was far too much for me, so I won't be telling more, but long story short - we will be going to a wedding in three days and I have secured Murtva voda supplies for the next 400 years."
"Chernozem is not playing around, settling with the Dolnata zemya's heiress. Can't even imagine him as a married man - he used to be such a troublemaker just until 150 years ago. Time sure flies fast!" Asya raised her glass, with the others following her example. "Hope the newlyweds have a blissful life together."
"Speaking of weddings, I heard some interesting things on my way here." Blago placed his arms on the table and locked his eyes on the two sisters. "Bozhana, the second of the three sisters of our tzar is to be wed to the king of Volniya next spring. People were all praising her beauty, calling it samodiva like."
"Most of them haven't even seen her, nor will they even. But they are not wrong - she is a breathtaking beauty."
"Takes after her mother in looks. The older she gets, the more she looks like her."
"Bisera was a great beauty, and her soul was a match for it, too. But I always keep forgetting where she was from. But I guess, I was right in my suspicions - she was the daughter of a samodiva, wasn't she?"
Delyana shifted her eyes to the floor, while her sister mumbled the answer.
"Yes! Though she was no witch, unlike us. I guess you had no trouble figuring things out, after all, you know and saw today. It's not we were hiding it. Most people nowadays either don't know a thing about magic, or fear it."
"But do you hide it from the children?"
Upon this confrontation, the look in Delyana's eyes shifted to rage.
"And what good will them knowing do? It won't change anything! You know samodivas don't care about their human offsprings - we remind them of the shameful fact, that a man captured them and they had to obey him for a time! They leave the moment they can and don't even bother to look back at what they are leaving behind. And what are we left with? With an enraged father that never missed an opportunity to remind you what you are!" Her cheeks were red, but with a voice that she managed to calm, she continued "Not even Bisera knew who her mother really was, she was told she died when she was young, then her father remarried and she while she would consider that woman her mother, it was clear to see how much she hated her in return. A child's love for its parent knows no limits."
"Can we please talk about something else?" Asya broke the silence that had fallen over them after Delyana finished talking.
"Who is Kalina to marry? If her elder sister's marriage is already decided upon, that means hers is already being spoken of."
"Where are you going with this?" Delyana placed her hand over her eyes and rubbed them, replying in a somewhat unamused voice.
"Well, I simply want to learn more about her, and taking into consideration you two raised her, I feel like you are the right people to ask."
"Then why not ask what's her favourite colour, her favourite meal, what does she like to read, maybe even be bold and question if she even wants to marry?" Asya was pouring more drinks into their cups.
"Those are things she can tell me herself." His voice was quiet. "I want to know if she'd be well. It's more than obvious she won't have a saying on that matter. I don't want another girl from the family to end up like Huba, be it Kalina or Bozhana, or their elder sister - Albena. The same goes for Vulchan, as well."
"We don't have a saying on who suffers in this family. But her brother will most likely take her wishes into consideration, just like he did with Bozhana and Albena. What happens after that, only time will show. Sadly, few have had the luck of a happy marital life in this family." Asya's voice sounded tired, tired from the tragedy of the Petrosinovi.
"As far as I know there is no one proposed yet. Albena married a minor bolyar, that she knew for a time. Bozhana is going to be wed to a foreign ruler to secure a peace treaty and ally against Karet if necessary." Delyana had her back on the wall, with hands crossed over her chest. "Her future husband has to be chosen carefully, but I don't see many possible zhenihi fitting in with her brother's or her own wishes."
"You know, the tzar of Karet will be succeeded by a nephew, a 16 years old boy - just a year older than Kalina..."
"I know where you are going with this, Blago!" Delyana cut his speech. "You know how things end for those two families - a marriage between a sister of a Suntolian tzar and Karatian tzar started a thousand years old conflict between these two lands. You know how things ended up for Huba. You know how the thing ended up for you and Milena." The name he had forbidden himself to speak out, the image of the woman he forbade himself to remember. The sharp pain of his own sad love stabbed him once more.
"Eh, Doda, you just can't help yourself, can you, skochubro!" An echoing voice was heard and a hooded figure came out of the big mirror in the corner. Both, Asya and Blago took a deep breath, coughed their cups and poured themselves another round, knowing what was coming.
"Who do you call skochubra, you dirty purdel!"
"Abe, how dare you talk to me like that you little kranta!"
"Stop with this and tell us what you came here for!" Shouted Asya, not having any of their childish queralls, that she had endured more or less for the last milenium.
"Firstly, I came to greet Blago!"
"I must say, I think Kalina should be married at once, maybe she will calm down a bit!"
"Stop messing in things you don't have a saying in!"
"Is that how you should be talking your zet?!"
"You are no zet of mine, just old pruch!"
"Delyana!" Asya schooled her. "Is there anything more you would like to share with us?"
"While yes, there is. Kalina and Beloslava decided to go to Zmeykovo. I couldn't stop them, but I saw they are almost there. You should hurry and get them back here if you don't want them stuck there. I wouldn't want to be you, having to explain the tzar where his sister is. It was lovely to speak to anyone but Delyana, have a nice evening and sleep." And with that, he went back in the mirror. His face couldn't be seen, but they were all sure he was smirking.
"Ugh, what are we doing wrong with raising these two?!"Asya was hysterical. "How could they decided to go to Zmeykovo of all places! And I thought they were being reckless for going to Karet!"
"We are too easy on them, that's what I am telling you!" Delyana's eyes were like a stormy sky. "They overheard us, I am sure! I was keeping my guard down and didn't even felt them!"
"Off to the village of the samodivas it is then!" Blago was already up, going through his things, trying to find something. Something he believed to be of great value and help.
"Samodiva? Are you sure you heard them right?" Kalina's eyes suddenly were filled with questions. She was laying on the bed, the colour on her face back. No one could tell what had happened just a few hours ago.
"Yes! I turned into a cat, and sat outside, right under the window. They didn't even sense me being there!" Bela was high in spirits again. The pride in mastering animal transformation could be heard in her voice.
"Then?" Kalina smiled.
"You want us to go? Now?! After what happened a while ago?!"
"I am better now!" Assured her."I just want to go and see if she's there!"
"Well, you know 300 years trapped in a mirror took my chance away from many adventures, so I would take any opportunity I have!" Bela smiled wide as she got up and handed Kalina her clothes.
"That's what I am talking about!" Kalina wished she could jump out of the bed, but she knew she had to be quiet, so Asya and Doda don't come and check on them. The excitement hadn't clouded her mind just yet.
"How do we go there?"
"With Vihur of course!" Vihur was Kalina's black stallion - sharkoliya.
"I know that? I meant to say, how do we find the right path?"
"We may not know it yet, but are you forgetting that some of them get lost too? So they need someone to show it to them? Kalina was ready, all she needed was a kalpak.
"And that guide happens to be the magpie! We follow the magpie!"
And with that, a cuckoo bird and a white dove flew out of the window.
- Trapeza - a table, with food on it, sometimes used to refer only to the meals;
- Shevica - embroidery;
- bluda - Shallow scattered dish with a round or oblong shape for dishes. Could be the meal itself.;
- Nazdrave! - Cheers!;
- Skorosmurtnica - super-strong homemade rakia/rakija, with the name literally meaning quick death (skoro - soon, quick, smurt -death);
- Doda - Delyanas nickname, given to her by Beloslava, because she had trouble pronouncing her actual name when she was learning to talk;
- Odezhdi - a formal, rich type of clothing;
- Tzarkinya - a tzar's daughter; this title is used mostly in fairy tales
- Pristane - The act of pristavane is a form of elopement, when the girl goes with the boy of her own free will, usually in cases when the families don't agree on them marrying. However, society disapproves of such actions and sometimes shuns the girl away at first. "Pristanusha" could be used as an insult.
- Skochubra - A thin, ugly, constantly grouchy woman who hates people and children.
- Purdel - fart;
- Kranta - lit. an old female horse, but also a way to address a certain woman with the clear purpose of insulting her;
- Tupiguoz - a simple, stupid and impudent human;
- Shavrantiya - whore;
- Zet - brother - in - law/ son - in - law;
- Pruch - male goat;
- Sharkoliya - Sharkoliya is the name of the magic horse of Balkan folk hero Krali Marko, but I will be using it as a reference to all magic horses in the story.
- Kalpak - Men's tall leather hat with fur on the outside.