Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Bogumil Stone by Karl Hans Strobl

The Bogumil Stone

By Karl Hans Strobl  1917 (Der Bogumilenstein) From Lemuria
Translated by Joe E. Bandel

Copyright 2010 by Joe E. Bandel

Protected under United States Copyright Law as a derivative work of a foreign Author originally published prior to 1923

As evening came I went a little ways out of Bilek up to the Vardar. Over in Macedonia that is the name of a great river, here it is a mountain that carries an ancient fortress. God knows who laid the foundations. The Serbs settled there, then later the Turks and finally the Austrian forces as border guards against Montenegro.

Now the old walls have been burst asunder and hostile Steifuni often go inside at night and on the streets down below appear things that are taken from Bilek to Kobilja Glava to be sold.

But the flanks of the mountain are riddled with uncountable boulders and strewn with the gravestones of a vanished race. In this area the Bogumil once had a large and mighty empire and perhaps somewhere nearby lay one of their cities. Nothing remains of them other than perhaps the fragments of a tower on the top of the Vardar and this swarm of graves. It is a city of the dead on the flanks of the mountain. The remainder of the fortress was destroyed from bloody wars or under the hammer of time. I think the region is so wasted and bleak because the ruins of a Bogumil city are scattered all over the soil.

I deviated from the road onto a narrow path into the confusing rocks. It did not take long to find the graves I was seeking and soon I was in the midst of them. Christians, Jews and Turks all have gravestones of standard shapes and sizes but with the Bogumil there appears to be no standard set for them. Arbitrariness was the rule for the manifold stone shapes. There were sarcophagi, urns, plain stone slabs, upright and flat, as well as simple holes dug into the rocks…

In the growing dusk I carried a thought between the surrounding graves. What were the Bogumil? A race? A sect? An empire? History knew very little of them and I knew even less. A serious and quiet man, a first lieutenant, in Bilek had once told me about them. Their religion was of no known religion. It was classified as a type of ethics from which came the best phrases of Christianity and Islam. Traces of their teachings could still be found here in the countryside where the inhabitants were not Muslims or Christians in the orthodox sense. They had no churches and needed no priests. The farmers were plain, upright, hospitable and chaste. There were none of the great crimes committed that you heard of in Europe.

I thought it over and considered how cities and nations could go to ruin and yet a thought or idea survive them and how we would gladly prepare this Bogumil fate for our enemies. It was important to recognize not only the German idea but that of entire humanity as well.

By this time it had become very dark. I stumbled among the surrounding graves and became a little confused. Then for the first time I noticed not far from me the strangest of all the Bogumil stones in this wasted cemetery.

It looked like a cross and yet like the crude shape of a person. The top end was round like a head and the stone angled down from it like two sloping shoulders to the arms of the crossbeam. It appeared that both the upright beam and the crossbeam were covered with mysterious markings.

As I bent down low to observe them someone behind me, almost at my neck said, “Good evening Herr!”

I jumped up taking a quick step to the side. In an instant my hand was in my jacket pocket where my pistol was stuck. But the man stood there calmly, motionless as if he were just one of the gravestones that had begun to speak.

“You seek the old ones, Herr,” he continued. “They are gone. There is nothing remaining of them except these stones. Their entire empire is lost.”

Now I could see that an old farmer stood before me. He was dressed in the customary garb, had a rifle slung over his back and the white wraps covering his legs and his sleeveless jacket glowed a little in the darkness. He was certainly a head taller than I was and it made me feel uncomfortable to encounter a stranger in the darkness, perhaps a wild man, so near the Montenegro border.

“Come along,” he said. “I will bring you to the road.”

Then he went past me indicating I should follow him through a crack in the darkness. I didn’t know anymore where the road was at all and in any case it was not a good idea to be lost in the territory of the Montenegro Streifuni. After some wandering and snaking between the boulders and around the edges of the gravestones the man stopped and stood as if he had a compelling thought.

“Everything of the empire that was here is lost. You must have become lost here too.”

I was not surprised at what the man spoke. It occurred to me that I had seen him in the bright light of the officer’s mess in Bilek and then his earlier remarks. There was only a question that rang shrill in my brain at that point. It swelled in my consciousness and perhaps did amaze me somewhat.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“I am from here,” he answered. “And you are one of the Swabians that arrived here today in the wagon without horses. I stood on the road and saw you.”

“Are you from the guard post?” I asked further.

He didn’t answer, but it seemed to me that he turned his head and looked down at me from his height. I stumbled behind him without further questions.

Then he stopped once more, “Not everything here today is of stone, hewn or unhewn. Do you know how this empire was destroyed? Through licentiousness. That is the curse that lays on the land and the people. It is the blood that has deceived and cheated us of everything around us. It lies in the blood. In every one of us is this wild, hotheaded, stream that explodes and destroys everything. Do you know how the empire was destroyed?

The old man took his wife’s son, the one that she loved, the last king of the Bogumil. They fled out of the country to the Turks, took on the beliefs of Mohamed and convinced that country that we were now enemies. With war they broke the fortress, destroyed the city and made a wasteland out of our home.”

We stood by a sarcophagus that lay across our path. The outlander unslung his rifle and set the stone solidly on the ground.

“I know many such stones. They are troublesome to maintain. The blood won’t let them rest. Our blood is not like yours which runs peacefully, allowing itself time to build, to write, to think, to conquer the world. We don’t think about the world. We only think about the enemy, the next murder and the next love. Love and murder, that is our history. Always more love and murder. Our lives have never been enriched with the great things because we must hang our neighbor by the gullet, tear him to pieces. Our blood is our curse.”

It struck me suddenly like a red-hot steel nail through my head, something new that broke painfully through my dulled senses. Which language did this man speak? It was the language of this mountain. It was Serbian and until now I had not known that I understood Serbian. I understood him like I understood myself when I spoke my thoughts out loud. But I scarcely felt this astonishment before it gave way to an aching fear that left me stunned as I once more followed my leader further. Would the road never come?

Where was this man pulling me like a chained prisoner? We came into a still, savage and sinister landscape like the one where I had first encountered him. The limestone blocks lay like giant hewn bones in the night and they were all glowing with a shimmering skin of green and yellow that covered them. It was a soft trembling shimmering light. They looked like parts of broken up skeletons.  Broken ribs and crushed leg bones surrounded us creeping out of the black earth. There was a hole here, a dark hole that you couldn’t see down into. Another mass grave perhaps…

“I’ve seen seven hundred dead women here. Seven hundred corpses of women fallen in battle. There is no foot of earth on this mountain that has not already drunk our blood, our savage, and wild, impetuous blood. It rushes through us until our brain is confused and our hand grabs a knife. Our empire could not stand because our blood would not allow it. They are all fallen because of greed in particular and once more I see our empire overthrown because of the greed of the raging blood that has climbed into our brains. And our earth drinks our blood and is not sated, can’t get enough, is always still dry…dry…”

He stood across from me, a head taller than I… or had he grown?…and a voice in my said concise and clear, “It is over.”

 It is over? What? Me? My pelvis felt like it was paralyzed, a lead weight pressed my feet into the ground. The only thing I could still move was my arm. I slowly pushed my right hand into my jacket pocket but the pistol I had hidden there was gone… or had the feeling left my hand? Did the nerves of this sleeping sack of skin not flow to my brain any more?

What I saw in slow motion was horrible and unsettling. The outlander stood in front of me at the edge of a deep hole and towered gigantically over the dark crater. His head was under a long stretched out cloud, behind which a trace of moonlight gleamed and then vanished.

“Dry, dry,” he said.

I saw how he aimed the rifle at me.

“All our stones want blood, hewn and unhewn,” he murmured. “Always more blood, hot blood... there is never enough…”

I believe that he fired. I don’t know. Later the border patrol said they didn’t hear anything. Almost at the same time as the bang of the rifle I heard voices and immediately after that a light flickered in front of my feet. It was a lantern that one of the border guards carried. Four or five soldiers surrounded me…

I looked down and saw the solid white road under me. The outlander had not run away. He stood on the edge of the road in the dark still threatening, still with his rifle aimed. I could move my hand again and stuck it out, pointing at the figure. A border guard raised his lantern. A Bogumil stone stood there on the edge of the road, a grave stone, shaped like a cross, and yet almost like a crude human. It was covered with mysterious markings.

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