An Episode From Vladimir Megre’s New Book
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Vladimir Megre met with participants of the international conference
in India for readers of the “Ringing Cedars of Russia” book series
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Dmitry Yaromov: Vladimir Nikolaevich, all your readers are interested in what you’ll write about in your new book. We’re particularly interested in relations between men and women and, of course, the eternal question of love.
Vladimir Megre: Yes, of course, the eternal question. I’ll try to tell you about a small chapter from the book, to tell it to you in my own words. It’s told in Grandfather’s words.
Imagine the following scene: Ancient Rus’. Perhaps it was called something different, but we’ll simply say Ancient Rus’.
Prince Sviatoslav, a young man who hasn’t yet reached the age of 14. Since he was a child, basically from the age of 3, I think, he’d been brought up by the military leaders of that time. His father had been killed, and his mother, Princess Olga, had handed him over to the military leaders to raise. At age 5, I think, he was already sitting in a saddle on a horse,and had even participated in battle, participated in battle as a symbol, since there was no other prince.
And he was always trying to worm it out of them, where his army was living, because he had a small retinue there, 30 men, I don’t recall precisely. And at one, fine moment, the military leaders said, let’s go, you’ll have a look at your army. Now, the Rus’ of that time consisted mainly of homestead settlements, of settlements of family homesteads, just like the ones we have now, but they were organized somewhat differently.
And such cities as Vladimir, Suzdal and other cities – these were the places where people would come together from the family homesteads, exchange goods, and buy this or that from the craftspeople who lived in these small cities.
And so, they set off for a settlement. They arrive.
The military leaders say, “You can’t walk into a settlement just like that, and with a retinue to boot. It has to be by invitation, with their agreement.”
And they begin pitching their tents at the edge of the settlement, organizing their camp where they can spend the night. And the elders of this settlement had granted them this spot. They’d shown them a spot where they could set up camp.
And suddenly they see: there’s a youth galloping toward them. Really young, on horseback, without a saddle. He gallops up to them, bows to all those who have come, and says to the elder, “You’ve chosen a poor spot to set up camp. We have festivities planned for here.” Back then, young people would come together, just the way they go to nightclubs today, when, but they’d get together in some meadow or other, on the bank of a river. But they’d already begun setting up camp.
And the elder says, “Maybe you could move somewhere else?”
He says, “There’s nowhere for us to move to.”
And here Prince Sviatoslav, a young man, comes out. And the young man who’d ridden up was also of his same age, about 14-15 years old. And he says (maybe he himself liked it - it’s a nightclub, after all. Why cancel it?), “We have to move.”
And this young man tells him, “Thank you.”
And somehow, from that moment on, they became friends, and because they were the same age. And this young man hears that they want to have a look at the settlement. And he says, “What are you going to do here? Come on, I’ll show it to you now.” And they get on their horses and ride to the settlement along the road, galloping along. And Prince Sviatoslav, now, he had a very purebred horse, just the right saddle, just the right gear. And so he’s galloping along, but the other one is galloping a little ways away (on the horse’s crupper – he learned later, that this was the custom), and he up and puts the spurs to his steed, so the other one, the young man from the settlement, would fall behind, and then puts the spurs to the horse again. He sees that the young man isn’t falling behind. And then he really puts the spurs to the horse. I don’t know, whether maybe it was some kind of Arabian horse that he had, a top-notch horse. And he’s not falling behind him. He’s not overtaking him and not falling behind. He’s just nonchalantly sitting on the horse’s crupper. And this one, who’s trying to squeeze all he can out of his horse, is already afraid of riding it too hard. Because when you put the spurs to a horse strongly, it can go into overload and get winded. So he starts slowing his horse down a bit, climbs off it, and says something along the lines of, “I wanted to have a look at this spot.” It was really that he didn’t want his horse to get winded, and he also wanted the young many to understand that he couldn’t gain on him.
They stop. The young man hops down from his horse and starts talking with him, continuing a conversation: the whole time they’d been riding, he’d been talking with him, telling him something. And Prince Sviatoslav suddenly sees that his horse is breathing really hard. But the young man’s horse took three breaths and that was it: then it started breathing normally and began nibbling the grass. The Prince couldn’t stand it anymore, and he says, “What kind of horse do you have there?”
“An ordinary one. From our settlement.”
And the Prince says, “But why did it start breathing normally after three breaths, and start nibbling the grass?”
He says, “I saw what you did, how your put the spurs to your horse, and that means you were forcing it to run faster, but it wasn’t yet ready to do that.”
“And how was yours running?”
“And my horse couldn’t allow us to fall behind you. And when it had to, it ran how it had to, but it still didn’t allow us to fall behind.”
And so here’s a digression. It’s not about love, but at the same time it is about love. They loved their animals. That’s the kind of relationship they had with their animals: the animal would strive to do what would make its master happy.
And here’s what happened next. Prince Sviatoslav suddenly saw a girl in the distance, coming out of the water, out of a stream. She’d been bathing. And he took a few steps toward the spot where she was bathing. But the young man stayed where he was. He didn’t head in that direction, and what’s more, he turned away. The prince went a few steps closer and glimpsed the naked girl. He saw her naked form and couldn’t tear his eyes away. He kept looking at her. And she, instead of screaming or covering herself up, she – quite the opposite – proudly raised her head up and started walking toward him. And she walked past him, snickered a little, and then walked away. And he stood there for a bit, mesmerized. He’d fallen in love with her, and he’d fallen deeply in love, as he himself would later say. This young man lost his head and kept asking the other young man how he could “get in good with her”. But she treated him very nonchalantly: for them it was improper to look at a naked woman; you weren’t supposed to do it. She’d come out of the water, and it wasn’t proper to shout. And she wasn’t afraid of anything, and she had nothing to hide.
And he kept trying to win her love. They’d already spent, I think, three weeks living there. He tried in every way, and he wasn’t getting anywhere. And he’d complain to his friend, the young man, and say, “What’s going on here? I come to this girl with all my heart, and she continues to scorn me. Why?”
“You didn’t turn away.”
“Okay. I’ve realized that now. I can apologize to her.”
“But you have to do something here. I can’t clue you in here. Let’s go to the wise man. We have a wise man living here on the outskirts. No one knows how old he is or where he came or appeared from.”
A really ancient old man. And they went to him together with the question of what concrete steps he could take to win the woman’s love. People would come to the wise man: he could heal, and he was a philosopher, too. He could give them lots of advice.
And here he says, “You’re setting me the most serious task a person can pose. Maybe someone could answer it; I can’t answer it yet. Come back later on.”
They come back later. He says, “Now, take a look: all animals weave a nest; they make something for their future descendants. You need to show her that you’re making something for your future descendants. A homestead, say. And you need to make it beautiful, and then lead her there and declare to her that you’ve made all this beauty for her. This should somehow nudge her in the direction of feeling a little better about you; maybe even in the direction of love.”
So, what else could he do? He goes, takes his whole retinue and says, “We’re going to build a homestead.” They make their way to the spot – his buddy had helped him pick this spot. They get there and start building a house. First order of business – he decided to build a house. A princely palace, with high steps, columns, and carvings. The retinue works from dawn to dusk, greatly inspired, because they’d been longing for this kind of work, each of them doing what he enjoyed. And so they work. And they build the house.
And then his friend says, “You know, you need to plant something, put in a garden.” And he begins helping him, showing him the best way to make a plan. Everybody knew that back then, even young folk. He says, “Listen, we’re not doing it quite the right way here, because it’s the relatives who are supposed to do this. Since you don’t have any relatives here, I’ll bring a few more guys by, and we’ll help you do this. And you can say it was your relatives who did it. And quickly, slap dash, he made some kind of plan.
And the house turned out beautifully, and the garden turned out beautifully, and the time was approaching. The people there would take turns grazing the livestock. You couldn’t hire shepherds, because you had to graze your own livestock. And so they took turns: two yards one day, then the next two yards. And there came the time where the settlement’s livestock were to be grazed in the yard where this girl lived. And the young man comes running to this prince; he’d already been living in his palace for a few days. He runs up and says, “Listen, she’s going to do the grazing now. Her parents are going to bring her. And my yard is next to them. And I’ll say I can’t do it, for some reason, and that your yard is next. You go on, spend the whole day with her, graze the livestock. Now, be on your best behavior! Do what you have to do: make whatever excuses you do or don’t have to make.”
And so, he and this girl head off to graze the cattle. There’s some other kind of livestock there, too. He’s on his best behavior. He tries to do good work, runs around. Gets his steed and drives the cattle. She tells him what to do, and he does it. And they’re coming back, the livestock is scattering, and he says to her, “Look here, I’ve built a house, a homestead. You go on in, take a look, please, and see whether everything’s been done well enough, where you like it or not.” And she agrees. She enters this homestead, looks at the house and at the garden that had been made there. And he decides he’ll finally, once and for all, make his declaration - Now she’ll say how great it is, how good it is, and I’ll say, “This is all for you.”
He says, “What do you think, do you like it?”
She answers him: “No. I don’t like it here. It’s a really bad spot, one made not for the future, but, made for who knows what reason.”
And she turns to leave, comes up to the gate and takes hold of it.
He says, “Please, would you tell me what it is that you didn’t like here?”
She tells him, “Who did you build this house for?”
“For my future family.”
She says, “You’re deceiving me. If you’d built it for your future family, for your future child, you wouldn’t have such tall steps there. How’s a little one going to crawl up these steps? He won’t be able to do that.”
He says, “I’ll always help him.”
“But you won’t always be at home. And he needs to be free and not feel he can’t overcome this or that obstacle.”
And she leaves.
And again, he says to his friend, “Why didn’t you help me out here? Why didn’t the wise man say this? I really made an effort.” They go to the wise man together once again and say, “We did everything just like you said. She came, but she didn’t like anything.”
He says, “And what did she say, when she didn’t like anything?”
The friend says, “The steps were a little too tall; a child couldn’t climb them. She looked and said, what kind of nonsense is this.”
He says, “That girl is caught!”
What did he mean, she was caught? It’s because she’d let herself think about how a child should crawl up the steps. But whose child? Have you seen something else here? And in the end, she let her thoughts go in that direction. Running ahead – so I don’t tell you everything – she, this woman, she saved this prince several times. She saved his soul. I’m not going to tell you everything, because I’ll tell end up telling you the ending, what happened with it all. But I liked that little story. Of course, all we men, if we love a woman, we all probably need to start by building her a nest that she’ll like, that the future generation will like.
But I’d like to say to the women, too, that a prince can come with his retinue and build this beautiful nest for his beloved, and put in a garden. But the beloved needs to be worthy of this. The woman in ancient times was responsible for the man’s health, too. She was responsible for his outer appearance, and she knew this. She was both a friend and a doctor, and a beloved, too. And, may God grant things will go back to this way again!
Dmitri Yaromov: Thank you, Vladimir Nikolaevich. Here I’m reminded of the words of your previous book, where it’s said that there will come a day when all fathers will understand that they’re the ones who are responsible for the world in which their children live. And it’s essential to make it a happy one before you bring your beloved child into it.
Vladimir Megre: Yes. But as concerns Prince Sviatoslav, he really did strive to create some kind of benefit for his state, to bring happiness. And when he died, he died with his friend, saving his troops. He did very little for himself. We know from the historical books – from Karamzin, and Gumilyov and other sources – I mean, he’d even sleep alongside his soldiers. He’d lay out the saddle blanket – they’d take it off the horse – and sleep on the ground.
I like the image where Prince Sviatoslav is sailing up in a boat. The Emperor of Constantinople is standing there – this was the Second Rome – and the patriarch, and soldiers are standing there, and he’s sailing up to them all alone.
Here you have a small little episode from the new book.