© 1997 Anna Tchernakova

Anna Tchernakova.

A Dauntless Knight.

An obedient dauntless knight Brown Leaf had spent his life searching for impossible love, and had found her on the top of the hill the day before he was  to die (as was written in the yellowish dusty pages of the Book of Fate).

Knight Brown Leaf  had a crippled horse with a long silky mane,  two kegs of fifty-year-old water-of life, one drawn sword, a book of gallant poems in a pocket over his heart and some powder in an old candy box for the purpose of performing a magic trick known as “the wrath of gods”. 

Dauntless Knight Brown Leaf, worn out and used up in  erratic life, weighed no more than a thrush, but his eyes sparkled with vigor and faith, and his voice was gruff like thunder. And now, even though his kith and kin and a warm bed were waiting for him on the other side of the wealds, he spurred his horse and boldly dashed to his destiny.

“Dear Madam,” he said to the Impossible Love, when he had regained his breath after the tempestuous ride up the hill. “Here I am with my crippled horse and trustworthy drawn sword, an old tramp who has sought you through valleys and woods, caves and dark dreams. I know waterfalls and cracked crags, and thoughts in children’s heads. I’ll show you worlds you have not even dreamed about.  In your eyes I can see the eternal vanishing light. Please, be with me till the end of my life.”

“Your chivalry is far-flung,” answered the Impossible Love, leafing through the Book of Fate. “Your words chime like crystal bells. However, when tomorrow comes, you will pass away. Your proffer has no sense since it is now the end of your life.”

“Madam,” the Knight smiled, tearing in shreds the yellowish page foretelling his death. “Is it that you are afraid? Is it that you don’t believe in my strength?”

“Of course I do,” the Impossible Love said, mesmerized by the dance of the tattered pages blowing on the wintry wind high into the sky.

“Then cheer up,” the Knight roared as he opened one of his two kegs and poured the amber fluid into Love’s open jaws. Impossible love gulped, then giggled, because her entire entrails were now kindled with burning liquor.

“On horseback!” the Knight barked, heaving the Love over his shoulder and climbing into the saddle. The spurred horse shuddered and shrank under the unusual load. 

“Giddy-up!” commanded the dauntless Knight, and the crippled horse surged forward and started to hobble down the hill. 

“Wait,” the Impossible Love clamored, being hung upside down over the Knight’s shoulder and shaking with the every lurch of the horse. “I don’t want to go down the hill. I don’t know you, Brown Leaf. I’ve been waiting for a young dauntless Knight, husky like an oak on a sublime Clydesdale. What if he’s  about to come, and I  miss him while quaking with you on your crippled horse?” 

“Shh… Listen, my silly love, I will sing you a beautiful song,” said the Knight as he took the book of gallant poetry out of the pocket near his heart.

At this moment the poor crippled horse stumbled on a mossy stone and fell, crashing through a copse of  dead bushes. The Knight fell over the horse, and the Impossible Love flew over the Knight.

For a while they all lay where they fell, calmed by the outburst of silence. Then the horse started to moan, and the Love  started to weep, and the Knight struggled up on his feet. His knees were bruised and his ribs were broken, and his temple, bumped on the boulder, was nastily bulging.  However, the dauntless Knight smiled, took his drawn sword and slashed his way through the thicket towards his Impossible Love who was now bawling for help. Once there he unfastened from his belt the second keg of the venerable water-of-life and used a quarter of it to douse the Love’s wounds. 

“It burns!” the Love bellowed and fiercely kicked the Knight who was crouching besides her. He tumbled, slopping water-of-life on the ground. 

“Never mind,” the dauntless Knight said, and with all his force blew upon the Love’s wounds to console her pain. Then he checked the Love’s limbs to find if there were any fractures or sprains.

“It tickles!” the Love yelled, pushed the Knight away and sat up. Her dress was torn into rags, her face was all in mud, her wounds were leaking with blood and liquor. Still, it was her, the Impossible Love, and the Knight’s heart ached with joy when he looked into her eyes, which were emitting the eternal vanishing light.

“Do you have any water-of-life left?” the quivering  Love asked, her teeth chattering.

“Yes, my Impossible Love,” the Knight replied after shaking his keg to hear if anything was still sloshing inside, and poured into her mouth  half of the remaining fluid. Meantime, of to the side, his crippled horse was sobbing in the thicket. It was time to attend to the horse. The Knight trudged towards it and poured into its gullet the dregs of the keg. The horse snorted and convulsed.

“Please, my trusty crippled horse,” the Knight begged, summoning up all his force to stand the horse back on its feet. The horse, weak as an autumn leaf, swung around and whinnied.

“Cheer up,” the Knight whispered in the  horse’s ear and stroked its neck. “On horseback, my carmine-stained Love!”

“It is enough, hapless Knight!” the weary Love said. “I want to be back on my hill.”

“Whatever you wish,” the obedient Knight gently answered. He placed the Impossible Love in the saddle and then took the bridle in his hand.

Thus they embarked on their journey again: first, the dauntless Knight, staggering in front of the horse, leading it with the bridle; second, the crippled horse with silky mane tottering on the rocky road; third, the haggard Love on the horseback mindlessly plaiting the horse’s mane into cornrows. The Knight indistinctly muttered away to himself, and soon the Love dozed off, cradled in the monotony of the passage.

When the Impossible Love opened her eyes, the Knight had stopped walking, and  the horse stood motionless on the edge of the mountain. In front, an endless cerulean valley, swathed in mild mist, stretched away as far as she could see.

“Where am I?” the Love queried with anger and fear. “Where is my hill? Where is my sinewy Knight on a sublime Clydesdale?” 

“No, my Love,” Knight Brown Leaf laughed and coughed, while rocks, echoing his voice, slid down from the distant precipice. “Never will you return to your miry  hill, never will you see a fabulous prince on a sublime Clydesdale. I am the sinewy cavalier, you are my Impossible Love. It’s yours, this splendid valley, it’s ours, this land of bliss.”

“I don’t need your waste endless land and neither need I your clumsy love,” the Impossible Love shrilled in rage. “Bring me back to my dear hill, otherwise I will cry for help.”

“Shh,” the obedient Knight softly said, “your loud complaints may cause a tempest. You are clever, Love, thus open your eyes. What’s the use of clinging to a lonely past? What’s the use of dreaming in vain? Here is your love, here is your prince, here is your happiest life. Listen, I will sing you a beautiful song…”

The Knight opened his frayed poetry book and riffled through  to find the proper page. But the Impossible Love did not want to hearken to him. She pulled  the book from his hands and tore it into two halves.

“I warned you, my poor Love, did not I?” the Knight soughed, uncovered the old candy box and let the wind take away the magic powder “the wrath of gods.” The horse sneezed; the sky darkened; the thunder rolled. Struck by lighting, an old  glacier on a distant summit melted and poured down on the valley in torrents; and finally, an avalanche crushed behind the travelers, closing the way back over the pass.

“Oh, woe is me,” the Love groaned, watching the road disappearing under the rocks. “Oh, woe are my sacred hopes, woe is my entire life.” And the Impossible Love burst out bitterly crying.

“Well, my Impossible Love…” The dauntless Knight sighed and kneeled before her with drawn sword. “I am sorry, I cannot bring you back to your hill; the path has been forever wrecked. My horse is weakened, my water-of-life is exhausted, my book is torn, my magic powder has blown away. I have given you everything I had. Nothing is left except my life. If it is of any use to you, if it helps to soothe your distress – take my sword and kill me, I will die in peace.”

Weeping, the Love grasped the sword and flung it into the abyss. Then she turned her back on the Knight and scrambled away, clambering up the cleft rocks in a futile hope to find the buried path. The crippled horse jogged along after her, sadly whinnying and turning back to look at the Knight, who remained kneeling on the spot. 

Helpless, defenseless, desperate, the dauntless Knight felt suddenly dizzy and weak in his limbs.  His stomach heaved, his eyes dimmed.

“Don’t forget to feed the crippled horse,” the Knight whispered, then died at the very hour and minute predicted in the yellowish pages of the Book of Fate.

Three angels and one raven glided from the sky, lifted the wasted light body and took it away, their wings coruscating in the clear air like  rainbows. 

When the Impossible Love, unable to penetrate the blockage, finally came back, the place was empty and silent. The only remnant of the dauntless Knight was his book, torn into halves, lying  in the grass.

“Knight!” the Impossible Love called. “Where are you, Knight?” she cried out. “Come back, Knight!” she hollered. “Don’t leave me, Knight!” she yelled. “Oh, dear Knight, what will I do without you?”

An echo responded to her with an indistinct rumble, in which, with a bit of imagination, one could discern a deep and  low  love you… love you… love you.

The Impossible Love had nothing to do but to mop her face, to pick up the book, to climb on the horse and to continue the journey, her eyes fogged with tears, her hands clasping the book to her heart. The journey down to the cerulean valley, the land of bliss.

 

1997