Yomo and Turgey
You find me next in the eighth winter since those tragedies occurred. Those two events set me onto a new course, that of hunter, and Sadruk and Drukov onto new paths that would intersect mine.
I am now Kolyek-the-blind, (a landless peasant, hence Kolyek-the-bobil), and yet, I have here seen only my twentieth summer and have barely established my manhood.
I no longer live near the Avek River or near my mother. I no longer hunt, except that I occasionally snare a hare or a fowl for my own dinner. I have stayed in one place for about six years, now, and I have learned to raise a pig.
I have never loved a pig, though. Even if I credit Yomo, the sow, for setting off the later events that led to the improvement of nearly everything in my life except my eyesight, I have no greater regard for pigs.
No one has criticized me for my attitude about pigs, but I suspect simply that no one has noticed. Nor am I acquainted with anyone else who shares my sentiments about them. Other people who have them love their pigs. They keep them in their houses and sleep upon them. One family I remember from my childhood insisted that their sow suckle their children — for as long as the poor infants survived. Only two or three lived to walk and talk, and the one who was my own age, with whom I played, was a very strange boy.
People who don’t have pigs often say to me, coming near so that I can see their faces fuzzily: “Your pig makes you so happy — surely you must love your pig!” or, after crouching to hug Yomo’s neck, they say: “I should get a pig, too.”
This self-important, smelly, lean brown sow, Yomo, was a gift to us, (my master, Sadruk, and me), from Turgey, or Turgey-the-durak, as we called him in his absence. Turgey-the-fool, he was, the Vagabond, the Surprise Guest, the Simpleton, and the Innocent — or so he seemed.
Nonetheless, Turgey was special to us, although no one would call him a friend. He would have you believe that he was absolutely guileless, yet always able to provide for himself in unaccountable ways. The way we obtained the piglet speaks for him.
In an arrangement I will presently explain, Sadruk and I lived alone in the forest, not quite a day’s walk south from Pinea, an ancient village so named for the formations of rocks that rose to its south and west, shielding it from weather and making work difficult for invaders. The cliffs were also a reliable source of water in all seasons, where it poured from the rocks in springtime cataracts and seeped in trickles throughout the driest months.
Turgey burst upon us one day with a nasty wound on his flank, the result of falling down a rocky embankment while running through the forest late at night. After many days of suffering, he came meekly to Sadruk for healing. Sadruk and I saw to his wound, and soon he was improved. But he could not pay. Other healers, principally spell-casting old women, of course, would have inflicted smoke and chants upon him calculated to heal but calculated also to restore his suffering in a few days if he failed to pay, but this was not our method. Turgey knew that much and more about us. And so we were not surprised, after treating his bruises and enduring his patter for a few days, when shortly he returned bearing our compensation: a piglet. And yet, it was not just any piglet, but one with an inscrutable name, Yomo.
We never learned where Turgey had obtained the animal or the meaning of its name, for while there are many who keep pigs in every village, everyone else learns when one becomes missing. Nevertheless, we could not resist surmising that, for a man to run through the forest late at night, as evidently Turgey often did, there must be a reason not unlike panic. We never pressed him to explain. For my part, I didn’t want to know how to commit petty crimes, as I was certain I would if I became too friendly with this frightful but amusing man.
At first glance, Turgey would appear to be assembled of peeled, polished cedar poles topped with a spreading black fungus, the entire figure draped in some filthy, un-dyed woolen robe. I once noticed that a dried mushroom cap has skin the color and texture of Turgey’s, in the few spaces where he doesn’t have hair. He had no house nor even village of his own, no place to raise animals, and nothing to exchange for his needs but talk, which came in gusts of warm, fetid breath from a cavernous mouth half full of huge, un-sturdy brown teeth. And the talk he offered spilled forth on so many subjects all at once that, even when alone, he sometimes sounded like a room full of chattering people. Yet, whenever he came about, everyone was genuinely interested to see him; he always bore stories and news of the other towns he had just visited, and he was always loud and quick, pleasant and funny. Children and old folks loved his antics, and everyone else enjoyed seeing them entertained. Thus he survived, by endearing himself to others with his surprise visits, his incessant babble, and his unpredictable bequests.
Yomo, however, had been a payment of doubtful value. Her direct intrusion onto my fate, and mine onto hers, came about one day during that prolonged, late-winter season marked by ice leaving the waterways and re-forming as icicles on branches and roofs. Yomo caused a calamity which determined my destiny, and, I can argue, the destiny of hundreds more. I am too modest to propose that the sow influenced the meandering of history in my part of the world, although that very proposal pushes itself ever and ever into my musings. And yet, if Yomo did so, then Turgey also, inasmuch as she came from him. And if Turgey, then the poor peasant who one morning found a piglet stolen.
It began like this:
It was a frigid afternoon in late winter. I slogged around to the back of the house to feed the gaunt, hateful sow. Again her pen was demolished, and again she was gone. I squinted into the forest and felt my shoulders sag. Any pig will disappear now and then, for pigs think in peculiar ways that are short on reason. Yomo had lost her favorite companion, though, and by that I don’t mean another pig, so she made a point of escaping once every few days.
I sighed and then hurried between the house and the road, pausing to tear a switch of linden sprouting from a stump, just before the dormant sapling poked me in the chin. I knew where to begin looking, and if she hadn’t been gone long she’d be easy to find. She had a nose for moist, fertile places, and even though the foraging was poor due to the lingering of winter, Yomo would be at the misty eddy alongside the stream across and west of the road.
I pulled my forelock to keep from muttering a curse on the sow. Such an oath, if undeserved by the one accursed, could return to the sender, and I couldn’t be sure whether Yomo was capable of deserving wrath, nor whether she could deflect a curse simply because she wasn’t human.
Stiff twigs and stouter branches snapped at my face and stung my cheek as I hurried through the tangle of red, brown, and gray-black, leafless undergrowth. My shoes, lined with thick fleece, cushioned against features on the ground that would gash one’s feet, but soon grew wet inside and slippery outside as I plunged through a shallow but uneven snow cover.
How would Yomo greet my approach this time? As last time, when she charged me headlong as a wild boar, pausing to trample me half-heartedly? As once before that, when she butted my water barrel, knocking me along with it into the brook? Or as once even earlier, when she darted back and forth along the stream bank until I had to relent at her playfulness and snort with laughter?
She did none of these. This strange day, which would soon become as significant as the day I lost my brother, Yomo ignored me when I came upon the stream, which itself lay just out of sight of the road. She surely sensed that I was somehow to blame for her present loneliness. I was moved to anger, so without warning I rushed her from behind and whipped her swiftly with the switch. She began to amble homeward as if under no degrading influence, and that only stirred me more. Branches tore at my eyelids and icicles tinkled in my wake. Ever more wildly I whipped and hissed and charged the despicable sow until, at the break in the undergrowth next to the road, she paused to contemplate me and then galloped into the path of an elegant one-horse day-carriage approaching from the south.
In the moment of Yomo’s pause I suffered a flash of confusion, as perhaps she did also, for only in that instant did I first hear the rattle of the gig’s harness. Concealed from the road by the stark, bony-black tree stems, I must have made a move to try to warn the driver, but no doubt at the same time I also tried to shoo the pig out of the way.
Yomo raced beneath the rearing horse without harm, but the mare lunged forward and then tried to whip the carriage around on the nearly impassable, frozen and re-frozen road.
I had always thought such conveyances sturdy-built as an Avar chariot set upon two axels. This one, though, more elegant even than a rich man’s droshky, was made of polished wood, some of which was no thicker than bark, with a structure upon it that partly enclosed the seated occupants, top, sides, and rear. It shattered as it tumbled and rolled, splintered and collapsed.
The horse trotted far enough away to be certain that she was out of danger from the pig as well as unshackled from the carriage. I plunged into the wreckage and found first a nobleman’s arm — the fine stitching in the woolen sleeve filled me instantly with dread. Breaking away and scattering pieces of thin, foreign wood, I exposed his shoulders and then his head. Here I had to gasp. A piece of his dainty cart, part of the frame but now a sharply-pointed sliver, had been driven into the soft flesh beneath his jaw and thin beard. This short spear had penetrated deeply enough into his head to cause his left eye to bulge and give his face an odd, choking sneer. His eyes were open — indeed, the left one protruded so far that the lids were useless to cover it once again — but they saw nothing. I stared into the young man’s contorted face and waited as the other eyelid twitched and then went slack. It was impossible to tell just how deeply he was impaled, but my knowledge of medicine and of a body’s construction, which is considerable, as I shall soon explain, qualified me to reject reviving him. I would have to grasp his head beneath the chin and at the back of the neck and then pull him free from the skewer, but first I would have to free the rest of him from the chaos.
And yet, it was already too late. As I peered at him and considered his rescue, it was clear that no heroic effort, even backed up with incantation, would restore his pulse. I took the relaxing of his eyelid to signify his moment of death.
I lifted on a large portion of the carriage that covered his lower torso and legs and perceived briefly that, while his upper body was clad in a fur-lined coat over a fine black woolen tunic, on his lower half he wore a skirt of darkest red over the caftan-like undergarments of a rich lady. The part of the carriage that I was lifting was too heavy for me to hold for long, so I let it down gently and scrambled to the other side, for the truth seized me: The legs belonged not to the nobleman; the top portion of a lady must also be covered by the mess, and the red-skirted legs must be attached to her instead.
There she lay, of course, in an impossibly acrobatic pose, gasping lightly and grimacing from pain as I lifted in a new place. She was lying somewhat on her left side and, when I broke off and tossed away a part of the slab that weighed down upon her, she began spasmodically to curl her shoulders toward her waist. Where she was hurt I couldn’t yet tell, but since only her mid-section was still covered by wreckage I deduced that she were somehow crushed in that area.
I ran for the horse, which yielded compliantly to my advance. What remained of her harness I quickly tied to an end of the largest portion of the carriage that still covered the victims. With the mare tugging lightly and I lifting with one hand, the carriage body pivoted upward and I could drag the lady free of the trap.
I spoke softly to her, then more sharply, but she did not respond. She was clearly unconscious. With a sweep of my arm inside the cavity formed by the collapsed carriage I searched for any victims yet undiscovered, that is, a baby or a pet. (Noblemen and their wives keep exotic pets, I had learned.) There was no one else to be found, so I freed the horse. Then, as gently as I could, I carried the lady thirty paces from the road to the cottage I called home. There I placed her on the near edge of the master’s bed that I had been using as my own.
There seemed little that I could do for her until I could ponder her possible injuries. Only while she was bobbing in my arms did she make a vocal sound and that only a weak wheeze, I assumed from pain. Tentative and uncertain, I looked her over briefly, but then left her there and returned to the carriage.
Now it is necessary to explain that, while all of this had been an accident, I was in no position to have any scrutiny brought to bear upon me for any reason. Being a peasant physician put me only the breadth of a boar’s bristle above the other earthy people that inhabited this miserable region. That is to say, the ruling and merchant classes had no more use for me than I for an extra beetle in my meal bin, and until I could decide how to explain or escape from these my mounting problems I decided I must hide the evidence. For it was not so much discovery of my part in this accident that I feared, although later I would fear that discovery very much, but rather my part in the misfortune that was Sadruk’s recent death. And yet, at each of these mishaps I was no more than an observer, the one providing the agent, (the pig in one case, the tea in the other), which precipitated each tragedy. Unlike my initial indifference to the lives of these two travelers, however, I had loved my old master.
I should not deem him old, though. Sadruk was hunched a little, from working over low benches, and pale, from seldom venturing into the light. When I had first seen him, some years before, he had startled me with his shock of dark hair that shot straight up from his scalp, trimmed closely all around the sides to expose the round, red ears barely held apart by a narrow, long face. From that first meeting, until his death, he had commanded me with urgent eyes that never squinted as mine do. Sadruk’s face was always angled toward the bench before him, and his eyes, often peering upward to expose the glistening whites below, followed me about the little house as I went about my chores and assignments as his apprentice. I welcomed the scrutiny, for it was my aim completely to please the man who had taken me in as a youth, and I soon recognized his constant gaze as one not of caution but possibly of wonder and admiration. I am a good servant by nature, and quick enough to learn. I truly did please the man, and it showed as he watched me over the months and years.
Back at the site of the accident, and with the willing help of the submissive horse, I freed the nobleman’s head from the carriage’s brutal grip — a more difficult removal than I had anticipated. Then I cleared all debris from the road. (Road? It was only an indistinct path through the forest marked by a center line of straight poles laid end-to-end, now embedded in hardened, muddy snow.) This wreckage rubble I gradually piled upon the slope to the southeast of, and well below, what I shall hereafter call my house, and I covered it with brittle treetops and branches left from some land clearing I had begun in the autumn. The nobleman’s grotesquely defaced body I dragged here and there in great indecision. But I was forced to decide because darkness was falling.
I am not a superstitious man, but it was unseemly to think of hiding a body in the loft of the house or beside the bed. I included it, therefore, with the remains of the carriage, covered with brush and branches.
From time to time during this operation I peeked in on the lady and found her ever the same — wheezing lightly and grimacing in such a way that I began to suspect it was her normal expression.
In the waning light of dusk I examined the belongings that emerged from the wreckage: a once-sturdy wooden trunk, now cracked and flimsy at one end, that held only the lady’s clothes or things presumably related to clothing, also an embroidered cloth sack filled with a nobleman’s clothing, bundles of foodstuffs recently acquired, and some items of worth that I removed from the nobleman’s person. These latter included a plain but highly serviceable sword, a sack containing nineteen large gold coins and several silver grivna, and a roll of inscribed sheets of parched calfskin.
The documents were written in two languages, half in one I did not read but took to be Latin, the other Greek. The Greek was so elegantly lettered that I knew I would be an hour deciphering its characters, and much longer in the translation, if I could translate it at all.
I had seen a gold bezant only once before in my lifetime, but could make no mistake that gold was the metal of which the yellow coins in the purse were made. As the precious metal disks slipped between my fingers and clinked back into the sagging purse, the artery in my neck pulsed and a tightness gripped my head — I felt like a common robber!
The lintel over my door was massive, yet rotted hollow in the middle, thanks to the work of ants, and it contained an opening which could be reached from the hinge side, next to the bed. With my back to the lady I plunged the sword into this hole, and with effort made it disappear completely. Then I shoved in the rolled parchments and the sack of money and filled the aperture with a handful of crumbling tree bark.
While the lady slept I examined her visually for injury. Only her face showed any trauma, and that only in the form of cuts and some nasty abrasions. Tenderly I pressed my fingers against her neck, her breastbone, her left ribs, and then her right ribs. When I touched her in this last part, her body convulsed, and I knew this was where I must suspect her injury to be. Turning from her in order to think further, I tended to the fire in the earthen stove and contemplated her recovery under my care.
With my thumb I pressed a tuft of my still-youthful light beard between my lips and stroked the hairs with my teeth until presently I plucked one, and this I gingerly turned around between my tongue and teeth before biting it into two short sections and spitting them out. This stimulated my thinking. What would this woman remember of the accident? What would I tell her? Where were these two going in this region and who was expecting them? Why were they so richly dressed for travel?