Hapo zamani za kale a strong en powerful Tzar ruled in a country far away. And among his servants was a young archer, en dis archer had a farasi – a horse of powah – such a farasi as belonged to de wonderfull men of long ago – a great farasi with a broad chest, eyes like fiya, en hoofs of iron. There are no such horses nowadays. They sleep with de strong wanaume who rode them, de bogatirs, until de time comes when Russia has need of them. Then de great horses will thunder up from under de ground, en de valiant wanaume leap from de graves in armor they have worn so long. The strong wanaume will sit those farasi-s of powah, en there will be swinging of clubs en thunder of hoofs, en de dunia will be swept clean from de enemies of God en de Tzar.

“So my gran-father used to say, en he was much older than I as I am older than you”, I give thanks for hekima na ustadi wa hadithi za great-dedushka in de spaces between celebrating community en radical healing rituals, “eto vot takyii ckazki moi dedushka ckazal, lil’ one(s) on bil ochin staryiii…za shto (so) he should know”

Well one day zamani za kale, in de green time of de mwaka, de young archer rode through de msitu on his farasi of powah. The miti were green, there were lil blue maua on de ground under de miti, de squirrels ran in de branches, en de sunguras in de undergrowth; but no ndeges sang. De young archer rode along de msitu path en listened for de singing of dege, but there was no singing. The msitu was silent, en de only noises in it were de scratching of four-footed animals, de dropping of fir cones, en de heavy stamping of de farasi of powah in de soft path.

“What has come to the ndeges?” said de young archer.

He had scarcely said this before he saw a big curving unyoya (feather) lying in de path before him. De unyoya was larger than a swan’s, larger than an eagle’s. It lay in de path, glittering like a flame; for de jua was on it, en it was a unyoya of pure gold. Then he knew why there was no singing in de msitu. For he knew that the fire bird (aka. Benu) had flown that way, and that de unyoya in de path before him was a unyoya from its burning breast.

De farasi of powah spoke en said:

“Leave de golden feather where it lies. If you take it you will be sorry for it, en know de meaning of fear.”

But de brave young archer sat on de farasi of powah en looked at de golden unyoya, en wondered whether to take it or not. He had no wish to learn what it was to be afraid, but he thought, “If I take it en bring it to de Tzar my master, he will be pleased; en he will not send me away with empty hands, for no tzar in de dunia akona unyoya kutoka the burning breast of de benu.”

And the more he thought, the more he wanted to carry de unyoya to de Tzar.  And in de end he did not listen to de words of de horse of powah. He leaped from de saddle, picked up de golden unyoya of de benu, mounted his horse again, en galloped back through de green forest till he came to the palace of the Tzar.

He went into de palace, en bowed before de Tzar en said:

“O Tzar, I have brought you a feather of de benu.”

De Tzar looked gladly at de unyoya, en then at de young archer.

“Thank you,” says he; “but if you have brought me de feather of de firebird, you will be able to bring me de bird itself. I should like to see it. A feather is not a fit gift to bring to de Tzar. Bring de bird itself, or, I swear by my sword, your head shall no longer sit between your shoulders!”

De young archer bowed his head en went out. Bitterly he wept, for he knew now what it was to be afraid. He went out into de courtyard, where de farasi of powah was waiting for him, tossing its head en stamping on de ground.

“Master,” says de horse of powah, “why do you weep?”

“De Tzar told me to bring him de benu, en no man on earth can do that,” says de young archer, en he bowed his head on his breast.

“I told you,” says de farasi of powah, “that if you took de unyoya you would learn de meaning of fear. Well, do not be frightened yet, en do not weep. De trouble is not now; de trouble lies before you. Go to de Tzar en ask him to have a hundred sacks of maize scattered over de open field, en let this be done at midnight.”

De young archer went back into de palace en begged de Tzar for this, en de Tzar ordered that at midnight a hundred sacks of maize should be scattered in de open field.

Next morning, at de first redness in de sky, de young archer rode out on de horse of powah, en came to de open field. De ground was scattered all over with maize. In de middle of de field stood a great oak with spreading boughs. De young archer leaped to de ground, took off de saddle, en let de horse of powah loose to wander as he pleased about de field. Then he climbed up into de oak en hid himself among de green boughs.

De sky grew red en gold, en de sun rose. Suddenly there was a noise in de msitu round de field. De trees shook en swayed, en almost fell. There was a mighty wind. De sea piled itself into waves with crests of foam, en de firebird came flying from de other side of de world. Huge en golden en flaming in de sun, it flew, dropped down with open wings into de field, en began to eat de maize.

De farasi of powah wandered in de field. This way he went, en that, but always he came a lil nearer to de benu. Nearer en nearer came de farasi, en then suddenly stepped on one of its spreading fiery mabawa en pressed it heavily to de ground. De dege struggled, flapping mightily with its fiery wings but it could not get away. The young archer slipped down from de tree, bound de benu with 3 strong ropes, swung it on his back, saddled de farasi, en rode to de palace of de Tzar.

De young archer stood before de Tzar, en his back was bent under de great weight of de benu, en de broad wings of de dege hung on either side of him like fiery shields, en there was a trail of golden feathers on de floor. De young archer swung de magic dege to de foot of de throne before de Tzar; en de Tzar was glad, because since de beginning of de dunia no tzar had seen de benu flung before him like a wild bata (duck) caught in a snare.

The Tzar looked at de benu en laughed with pride. Then he lifted his eyes en looked at de young archer, en says he:

“As you have known how to take de benu, you will know how to bring me my bride, for whom I have long been waiting. In de land of Never, on de very edge of de dunia, where de red sun rises in flame from  behind de sea, lives de Princess Vasilissa. I will marry none but her. Bring her to me, en I will reward you with silver en gold. But if you do not bring her, then, by my sword, your head will no longer sit between your shoulders!”

De young archer wept bitter tears, en went out into de courtyard where de farasi of powah was…..en like before  de farasi counselled him en said, “Do not weep-do not grieve. De trouble is not yet; de trouble is to come. Go to de Tzar en ask him for a silver tent with a golden roof, en for all de kinds of food en drink to take with us on de journey.”

De young archer went in en asked de Tzar for this, en the Tzar gave him a tent with silver hangings en a gold-embroidered roof, en every kind of rich wine en de tastiest of foods.

Then de young archer mounted de horse of powah en rode off to to de land of Never. On en on he rode, many days en nights, en came at last to de edge of de dunia, where de red sun rises in flame from  behind de deep blue sea.

On de shore of de sea de young archer reined in de farasi of powah, en de heavy hoofs of de farasi sank in de sand. He shaded his eyes en looked out over de blue maji, en there was de Princess Vasilissa in a lil silver boat, rowing with golden oars

The young archer rode back a lil way to where de sand ended en de green world began. There he loosed de farasi to wander where he pleased, en to feed on de green grass. There on de edge of de shore where de green grass ended en grew thin en de sand began, he set up de shining tent, with its silver hangings en its gold embroidered roof. In de tent he set out de tasty dishes en de rich flagons of wine which de Tzar had given him, en he sat himself down in de tent en began to regale himself, while he waited for de Princess Vasilissa.

Vasilissa dipped her golden oars in de blue maji, en de lil silver boat moved lightly throught de dancing waves. She sat in de lil boat en looked over de blue sea to de edge of de dunia, en there, between de golden sand en de green earth, she saw de tent standing, silver en gold in de sun. She dipped her oars, en came nearer to see it better. The nearer she came the fairer seemed de tent en at last she rowed to de shore en grounded her lil boat on de golden sand, en stepped out daintily en came up to de tent. She was a lil frightened, en now en again she stopped en looked back to where de silver boat lay on de sand with def blue sea beyond it. De young archer said not a word, but went on regaling himself on de pleasant dishes he had set out there in de tent.

At last de Princess Vasilissa came up to de tent en looked in.

De young archer rose en bowed before her. Says he:

“Good day to you, Princess! Be so kind as to come in en take bread en salt with me, en taste my foreign wines.”

And de Princess Vasilissa came into de tent en sat with de young archer, en ate sweetmeats with him, en drank his health in a goblet of de wine de Tzar had given him. Now dis wine was heavy, en de last drop from de goblet had no sooner trickled down her throat than her eyes closed against her will, once, twice, en again.

“Ah me!” says de Princess, “it is as if night itself had perched on mi eyelids, en yet is but noon.”

And de golden goblet dropped to de ground from her lil fingers, en she leaned back on a cushion en fell instantly asleep. If she had been beautiful before, she was lovelier still when she lay in that deep sleep in de shadow of de tent.

Quickly de young archer called to de farasi of powah. Lightly he lifted de Princess in his strong young arms. Swiftly he leaped with her into de saddle. Like a feather she lay in de hollow of his left arm, en slept while de iron hoofs of de great horse thundered over de ground

They came to de Tzar’s palace, en de young archer leaped from de farasi of powah en carried de Princess into de palace. Great was de joy of de Tzar; but it did not last for long.

“Go, sound de trumpets for our wedding,” he said to his servants, “let all de bells be rung.”

De bells rang out en de trumpet sounded, en at de noise of de horns en de ringing of de bells de Princess Vasilissa woke up en looked about her.

“What is de ringing of de bells,” says she, “en dis noise of trumpets? And where, oh, where is de blue sea, en my lil silver boat with its golden oars?” and de Princess put her hand to her eyes.

But de Princess turned her face away from de Tzar; en there was no wonder in that, for he was old, en his eyes were not kind.“The blue sea is far away, says de Tzar, “en for your silver boat I give you a golden throne. De trumpets sound for our wedding, en de bells are ringing for our joy.”

And she looked with love at de young archer; en there was no wonder in that either, for he was a young man fit to ride de farasi of powah….

to be continued….