Once upon a time there was an old apple tree that grew on the border of the Byzantine Kingdom near an old virgin forest. (In reality the apple tree didn't grow much any more because it was very old.) The year our story begins there was a rich harvest and many of the apples showed their red and delicious cheeks to the eye of the observer. But one apple of this particular tree was more beautiful than all the others, with smooth and shiny red cheeks, sweet and delicious to eat. The apple knew this about itself, but didn't whisper anything about it to anyone, because it was Byzantine.
It was autumn. The apples of the old tree reached the peak of their maturity with red cheeks and after that started to fall one by one from the branches onto the nearby ground. One apple fell on the rocks, another into a watery puddle, a third the most beautiful one - onto the wet grass. The grass received the most beautiful apple tenderly, embraced it affectionately, and the most beautiful apple kept its beautiful colour and shape. Meanwhile two snakes that had emerged from the shadowy depths of the virgin forest wriggled on the wet grass.
The snakes noticed the falling of the most beautiful apple and each immediately thought, "I wish to bite that apple." One snake said to the other, "Move from my path, because I wish to wriggle there first." The other snake replied, "No, I wish to wriggle there first. So move away from my path!" The snakes argued and hissed. The most beautiful apple overheard, but didn't whisper anything about it, because it was Byzantine.
While the snakes argued neither noticed that the prince of magic himself, the mystical fairy king Oberon, had at that very moment arrived in an invisible disguise. Oberon snapped his noble fingers and suddenly supreme magic was done! In the blink of an eye the most beautiful apple was transformed into the most beautiful deer of the forest, which strode quickly towards the noble trees of the virgin forest. Oberon snapped his noble fingers again and suddenly supreme magic was done a second time! The snakes were transformed to hunters who hunted the most beautiful deer with bows and arrows.
In the blink of an eye the deer was at the border of the noble trees of the virgin forest, where it stopped to drink fresh water from a bright stream. The hunters noticed and knew this was their moment. They aimed at the deer with their bows and arrows. One hunter said to the other: "Move away form my aiming-direction, dear brother! I'm about to shoot that deer with my bow and arrow!" The other hunter replied, "No! It's you who should move away from my shooting-direction! I'm the one who's about to shoot that deer!"
After the hunters argued a while, they launched a pair of arrows towards the most beautiful deer of the virgin forest. The arrows flew fast through the air, one coming from the left side and the other from the right . The first arrow hit the side of the most beautiful deer of the forest. The second arrow sailed over the deer without hitting it. "I hit the target, the deer is mine!" shouted the first hunter triumphantly. "No! I'm the one who hit the target, therefore the deer is mine!," shouted the second. The hunters couldn't stand one other any more and so they grabbed hold of each other and began to wrestle.
While they wrestled the fairy king Oberon snapped his noble fingers again and look - supreme magic was done a third time! The most beautiful deer transformed into a most beautiful maiden. Even though the maiden was bleeding from the wound of the arrow, she turned back with slight smile - as a true princess would smile. When the hunters saw this they both thought: "The most beautiful eyes in the world! More beautiful than any jewels! I wish to have this maiden as my wedded wife!" But in the blink of an eye the maiden disappeared into the shadows of the noble trees of the virgin forest.
The hunters decided to pursue the maiden, chasing her in the shadows of the noble trees of the virgin forest. Before they set out after her each took a young branch of the old apple tree, because they had been taught that it would bring good luck in the chase. For the first ten miles the hunters pushed each other towards either side of the forest path as they chased side by side after her, but somehow they managed to continue their trip. The hunters managed to trace the maiden's path by keeping their eyes on the drops of blood that had fallen on the ground from the wound. Finally the hunters came to a crossroads where there were no drops of blood on the ground. At the crossroads the path separated into two.
"You may go to the left from here, my brother, and I shall go to the right," said one hunter to the other. The second noticed the broken stems of ferns further along the rightward path. "Let's do so, my brother,." he said to the first hunter, who himself saw the broken stems of ferns on the path to the left. And so the hunters parted at the crossroads and went on separate paths. Both hunters kept in mind the eyes of the maiden, which each considered to be the most beautiful eyes in the world.
The hunter who chose to go to the right from the crossroads, ended up after a ten kilometres walk at a sandy cartroad outside the virgin forest. There were many travellers on carts and horses on the road. One of them said to the hunter: "Would you like a ride to the city?" The hunter, who now found himself to be one of the travellers on the cartroad, answered : "Yeah, sure. " So the hunter climbed up onto the cart and accompanied the rider. Soon they started a conversation.
-So tell me, O rider, what kind of city is this to which we are heading?, asked the hunter.
-There is a large population in this city and the people speak various languages, answered the rider.
-Is it a rich city or a poor one?, asked the hunter.
-It is both: There are many rich people, but even more poor.
-What else can you tell me about this city?, asked the hunter.
-It is the capital city of the Kingdom.
-And which kingdom is that?
-The Kingdom of Byzantium.
-What is the name of this city?
-And who is the king?
-There is no king in this kingdom, answered the rider.
-How is that?, asked the hunter.
The rider told the hunter about the present situation. About two weeks ago the old king of the Byzantine Kingdom had gone to fight the fierce, notorious, fire-spewing, and terrible dragon. The dragon lived in an old mill about thirty kilometres west of Constantinople. The people of the Byzantine Kingdom were very fearful of this neighbourhood. No human being dared to live there because of the dragon. Thus it had been in the Byzantine Kingdom for the past thousand years. The rider told the hunter that the dragon had taken the king prisoner and by now had maybe also eaten the king.
-Has this dragon previously taken human beings hostage and eaten them?, asked the hunter.
-There are no known cases that I can remember, but this neighbourhood has been avoided by men and women for a very long time because of fear of the dragon, answered the rider.
-Where exactly does this terrible dragon live?
-About thirty kilometres west of the capital city of Constantinople, answered the rider.
After this remark both men fell silent.
The cart finally arrived in Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Kingdom, and the hunter dismounted and thanked the rider for the ride. There were lots of people on the streets mourning and grieving the passing away of the king and the miserable state of the Byzantine Kingdom. The hunter headed straight to the royal palace of the king and volunteered to finish off the much-feared and notorious dragon. The highest general of the army of the Byzantine Kingdom accepted the hunter as fit for active military service. And so the hunter was provided with an iron suit of armour, an iron shield, an iron sword and a warning:
-This is a terrible dragon, which didn't hesitate to attack and eat the king of our kingdom, the highest general told the hunter.
-I will remember your warning, General, said the knight.
The hunter who was now transformed into a knight with iron armour, shield and sword began walking west from Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Kingdom. After about ten kilometres on the deserted road, the knight came to a crossroads where he met an old, poor beggar man who wore a wornout rag. -Greetings to you!, said the knight.
-Greetings to you also, answered the old beggar man, adding, Do you have any charity alms for me, O Knight?
The Knight knew that it was unchivalrous not to give alms to the poor so he looked to see if he had anything to give to the old beggar man. He realized that he didn't have anything besides the young branch of the old apple tree, the iron armour, iron shield, and iron sword. The knight pondered that he could not give the branch of the apple tree, so he decided to give away the iron armour. So he said to the old beggar man:
-Take my iron armour to the marketplace in the city and sell it there. This way you will have good money - use it wisely.
The old beggar man thanked the knight and left for the city.
After walking a second ten kilometres on the deserted road the knight arrived at a second crossroads. Here stood an old beggar woman dressed in an old, worn out rag. The knight greeted her politely and she greeted him in return. After this the old beggar woman asked for charity alms. Again, the knight knew that it was unchivalrous not to give alms to the poor and so he looked again to see if he had something to give. The knight pondered and considered that he could not give the branch of the apple tree. So he decided to give to the old beggar woman his iron shield. And so he said :
-Take my iron shield to the marketplace of the city and sell it there. This way you will have good money - use it wisely.
The old beggar woman thanked the knight and then left for city.
After walking a third ten kilometres on the deserted road the knight arrived at a third crossroads, which was very close to the mill of the dragon. Here he met a young beggar boy who wore a worn out rag and greeted him. The young beggar boy greeted him in turn and then asked for alms. The knight pondered once again, considered that had could not give the branch of the apple tree and so decided to give his iron sword as alms. The knight said to the boy:
-Take my iron sword to the marketplace of the city and sell it there. This way you will have good money - use it wisely.
The young beggar boy thanked the knight for the iron sword and gave the knight a package of red-hot lozenges, saying, "These will help you in your task."
The knight continued on his journey. He did not turn to look back, but if he had done so, he would have seen that the beggar boy was no longer in the crossroads, but there was the mystical Oberon, the king of magic himself, instead. As he walked closer and closer to the mill of the dragon the knight didn't fall into despair because of the difficult situation into which he had put himself, but pondered the words of the young beggar boy instead. How could he now conquer the fierce dragon, when he had no iron armour and no iron shield and no iron sword?
Finally the knight arrived outside the dragon's mill. Since smoke rose from the open window the knight concluded that the fire-spewing dragon was inside. After a moment dedicated to thinking, the knight collected his courage and raised his voice to shout,
-O Dragon! Can you hear me?" Within the next blink of an eye the fierce, fire-spewing and notorious dragon stood in the doorway of the mill with its fierce appearance, watching the knight with huge eyes that shone like firebrands, breathing with a heavy rattle, and emitting smoke and flames from its nostrils.
-Stop your burning with fire, O honourable dragon, said the knight to the dragon.
-I have not came here to fight with you, but wish to be your trusted friend instead. So, here, take a package of red-hot lozenges as a token of my friendship, continued the knight, offering the package of lozenges to the dragon.
Next came a moment of tense silence. The dragon stared at the knight with its huge eyes which were like millstones. Then it said to the knight:
-Thank you, O honourable knight. I welcome your friendship with great delight, because I haven't had a friend in centuries after my parents deserted me about thousand years ago. Everybody is afraid of me in this neighbourhood and avoids me, which causes me great sorrow. I am a very lonely person.
The dragon took the package of red-hot lozenges in its paws and gulped all of the contents into its huge mouth which was burning with flames and smoke. After swallowing the lozenges the dragon burped loudly.
After this the knight continued :
-I want to be your friend, but nevertheless must ask you: Why have you taken the king himself of the Byzantine Kingdom as your hostage, and do you happen also to have eaten him?
-No, not really, said the dragon., I have not eaten him and I haven't taken him hostage. In reality I am a peace-loving dragon and eating human beings or taking them as hostages just doesn't fit with my life values. But nevertheless I know the fate of the old king of Byzantine Kingdom."
-So tell me about it, my friend, said the knight to the dragon.
So the dragon told the knight that the old king had came to the dragon's mill one late evening in autumn and had suggested a plot: He wished to frame himself as dead, having died in heroic battle against the dragon. The old king told the dragon the reason why he wished himself framed as dead:: The king had lately grown tired of secular nature of his post as a king and tired of the myriad of secular worries that came with this post. He had started to yearn for the peaceful life in prayer of a Christian monk. The king said that if the dragon agreed to take part in this plot, he promised to pray for the dragon in the monastery. So, the dragon agreed.
-The old king only wanted to make peace with the God Almighty and die wearing the cowl of a monk, that's about all there is to it, said the dragon, finishing his story.
-All right. I believe you, O dragon, said the knight, So, tell me: would you now like to take part in another kind of plot, if the reward would be gaining lots of new friends?"
-Tell me about it, O Knight!, said the dragon, much delighted.
And so it happened that the knight returned to the city and told everyone there that he had domesticated the fierce, fire-spewing dragon. The inhabitants of the city were much astonished by this news and decided unanimously to choose the knight as the new king to replace the old king,, who was alleged dead. The dragon started to work as a miller in his mill and because of this this new lifestyle gained a lot of new friends, because many people in the Byzantine Kingdom started to visit the dragon's mill carrying grain so that it would be ground as flour there. They took the flour back to the city, sold it in the open market place, and finally baked it as bread in the homes.
The knight, who was now the king of the Byzantine Kingdom, was very wise in all of his actions as a ruler. There was still a gap between the rich and the poor in the kingdom, but the new king remembered how he had become the ruler. The king lived in the royal palace in a modest way, eating modest bread, tightening his belt, and wearing worn out old rags. He wished to donate all of his fortune to the poor of the Byzantine Kingdom as alms to the hospitals and the schools and the orphanages and because of this the new king was very much loved in his kingdom.
The new king planted the young branch of the old apple tree in the garden of his royal palace. Over the years and decades the branch grew and became a large apple tree, which gave good harvest. This particular apple tree had a peculiar feature. Every year on the very same date in autumn the trunk of the apple tree began to bleed drops of human blood. Some people in the Byzantine Kingdom sensed that perhaps these drops of blood reminded the king of some sweet memory in the past, but no one knew the content of this specific memory.
The hunter who chose to go right from the crossroads ended up deeper and deeper in the depths of the virgin forest. He wandered in the forest for days, weeks, months, and finally years. During these years he obtained his food from the virgin forest and slept at night under the trees. He made a flute from the young branch of the old apple tree and played it as he wandered. This flute had a peculiar feature: as the evening cooled down the flute began to play on its own a certain melancholic, languishing melody full of desire. Every time the hunter heard this melody, it brought back to him the sweet memory of the maiden wounded by the arrow.
As the years passed the hunter realized that fairies moved about and lived in the depths of the virgin forest, which was now his home also. Soon he started to converse with them. Finally he became friends with the fairies and learned the "bird language" they spoke and got to know their habits. The fairies taught the hunter various songs, dances and games. The hunter shared his booty with the fairies and played the flute for them. In those years the hunter and the fairies often spent time together with great delight. Soon the hunter also started to write poems in the virgin forest, writing his poems in both the language of humans and the language of fairies. Sometimes his poems dealt with erotic fantasy and desire, such as, for example, this poem of his:
in the dark
when i touch you in the dark
of the stream of the virgin forest
of a flower
and our memories are united
what happened in the fairy tale
a secret garden
the first fruits of love between our loins
The hunter wrote many of his poems in the cool moments of the evening while the flute played its melancholic, languishing melody. In the years the hunter lived in the virgin forest he had learned a great number of songs and dances and games of the fairies. After the hunter had lived in the virgin forest for ten years he ended up at the edge of the virgin forest, at a cartroad which led to a nearby town. When the hunter found this cartroad he decided to leave the virgin forest and search for new experiences in his life. In town the hunter met people who asked him to play his flute. He started to play and realized that in this way he could bring joy to the life of many of his fellow human beings, who had many sorrows in their lives.
The hunter became a wandering troubadour who travelled from city to city, town to town, and county to county and as he journeyed played his flute and sang to the common people. Occasionally he also wrote poems which he recited in front of the people when asked to do so. Finally the wandering troubadour ended up in the kingdom of Persia and little by little learned the Persian language. In the years the troubadour spent in the Kingdom of Persia, he wore a simple linen tunic and lived a poor and simple life just like the holy men of Persia, the Sufis. The troubadour rejoiced when people around him were rejoicing, grieved when people around him were grieving, and in his time there he loved the life of the poor and simple common people.
While living there he heard that the Kingdom of Persia had an exceptionally beautiful queen, whose eyes were said to be "more beautiful than any jewels" and who was rumoured to know the secret language of the fairies. It was also said that the queen loved roses more than anything else. All this caught the interest of the troubadour. He decided to go to meet the queen in the royal palace in the capital city of Persia, Persepolis. He hoped that the queen would turn out to be the same maiden for whom he had searched for years now, that is, the lady who had been wounded by the arrow years ago. At the palace the king of the Kingdom of Persia greeted the troubadour in a friendly way. The king had heard of the troubadour's musical talent. The king asked the troubadour to play and sing at a great party which was to be held at the royal palace the very next day.
It was a most beautiful spring. The birds sang joyously and the apple trees had begun to bloom. During the cool moments of the evening the flute played its melancholic and languishing melody. The troubadour, who had been given the key to a guest room in the royal palace, saw from his window how the full moon cast light on the palace garden, and that a single white rose had miraculously started to bloom even though it was only very early spring. The troubadour also observed a very beautiful lady pick the single white rose in the moonlight. He concluded that she must be the queen of Persia since many courtly ladies of the bedchambers followed her. The troubadour heard a nightingale sing, and at that moment decided to write a poem for the queen.
The next evening the king and the queen attended the party together with the courtly people. The queen wore a veil which hid her face, revealing only her eyes. The troubadour was asked to perform. He rose from from his seat and stood before everyone. Then he met the eyes of the queen. By this time the troubadour saw that these eyes were truly more beautiful than any jewels, that they were like those of the maiden he had searched for all these years. The queen's eyes were the same colour as the eyes of the lady who had been wounded by the arrow years ago. The troubadour sang and played for the courtly people of the Byzantine Kingdom. Afterwards he recited in front of all the people, in the language of fairies, a poem he had written the previous evening.
Nightingale's song for the rose
that i might
fall in love
with you the beautiful stranger
on your bed
fragile and naked
bare and blossoming full of desire need and wanting
do you not fear that i might want to touch you in this enchanted night
with moonlight like this when your petals are dropping damp and dreams
or are you maybe just passing by
Y o u
look only one look with smiles of beauty and then you continue
your journey and leave for me only thorns
Y o u
who silently shed
the twinkling of the stars to my wings
Y o u
who drop your tears
of solitude in this broken night
Y o u
who secretly slip
your silky beauty into my heart
Y o u
who softly touch
my heart like a blow of wind
Y o u
who full of glow
of desire press close against my heart
This poem touched the heart of the queen so deeply that she burst into tears when she heard it. Thunderstruck, the king of Persia commanded his soldiers to throw the troubadour in jail. The troubadour learned that he was accused of wooing the queen of Persia, which was as serious a crime as treason in the kingdom of Persia, and for which there was only possible punishment: the death penalty. Later that night the queen came secretly to see the troubadour in the jail house.
-Do you love me?, asked the queen.
-I love the lady with the arrow wound in her side. Show me your side so that I can be sure, said the troubadour.
The queen showed her side for the troubadour and the troubadour saw that it was smooth and beautiful, there was no sign of a scar made by the arrow. The troubadour concluded that he had been mistaken: the queen was not the same lady as the one for whom he was searching. The troubadour sighed deeply from frustration and after this the queen of the kingdom of Persia left him alone. The troubadour had his flute in the jail and the flute started once again to play that melancholic and languishing melody. Tears came to the troubadour's eyes because he was far from his beloved and because his life could soon be put to an end.
All that night the troubadour remained awake, inspired to write poems. As dawn rose he started to play his flute. Doves lit on the windowsill of his jail cell to listen to his playing. When the concert ended, the doves left. Soon after there a single dove white as snow lit on the windowsill. The troubadour saw that a red silk ribbon hung around its neck and that hanging from the ribbon was a golden key. The troubadour took the key from the neck of the white dove and used it to try the door of his cell in the jail house. The key fit the lock and the troubadour thus escaped from the jailhouse and avoided the death penalty.
The troubadour wandered back along the same road on which he had walked to the kingdom of Persia. The journey lasted days, weeks, months, and finally years. At last the troubadour ended up at the edge of the same virgin forest which he had left years ago. In the forest the fairies welcomed the troubadour with delight and held a great welcoming party for him. The mystical fairy king, Oberon, the King of the Magic, was also invited to the party together with his spouse, Titania, the queen of fairies.
During the party the troubadour agreed to recite his poems. Before reciting one of them he said it was one he had written in prison, and that it told of eternal desire and love that had not yet been realized, but which perhaps one day would be fulfilled. "Then it's more real than anything else, but now it's only fantasy compared to the reality." After these words the troubadour recited his poem.
When the white blooms of apple trees are dreaming
know it before
but now my eyes
when the white
of apple trees
all the fierce,
of the Bible
spoke about ¨
of your eyes
all the psalms
which i opened
in the slow moments
of the night
tender as silk
of the living God
pierced by sunbeam
all the words
spoken by tears
glorified in the night
and their meaning
which i searched in my heart
in the middle of pain and anxiety
in this uneven neighbourhood
which is called the world
in the moments of both joy and grief
when fortune and misfortune were changing
all the spiritual canticles full of tears
all the verses of the song of songs
all the brightness of the new heaven and new earth
all the lyrical moments of creation
of the living God
the new jerusalem
the garden of tears
adam and eve before the fall
all this in one handfull
of smiles of the scent
of your locks
sang even in one
fiber of your hair
that i had
This poem touched the heart of Titania, the queen of the fairies, so deeply that she shed tears, while at the same time Oberon, the king of the fairies, smiled mysteriously and clapped his hands.
But what became of the maiden who was wounded by the arrow? What was her fate? Did she secretly in her heart choose the other hunter? Or maybe there was a third way in the crossroads of the virgin forest and the maiden had chosen this third way? And maybe this way the maiden had disappeared once and for all, forever. And maybe the mystical fairy king Oberon knew but never told about it to anyone.