|Tales of the Uncanny by Václav Černy, Zlata Černá, and Miroslav Novák.|
Published in Czechoslovakia, 1976.
The Devil Wedding
Aluda Sazikauli lived at the edge of the village of Shatili. He had neither wife nor children, his father and brother had been killed by Kists, and his mother had died of fever during a pilgrimage to the Cross of Gudan. Aluda took his revenge on the murderers of his father and brother, provided for the funeral of his mother, and from that time he lived alone. He was respected by the villagers, for he was a good hunter and an amusing drinking companion, who always knew how to add to the general good cheer with a fine story. “To the Cross of Gudan,” he would say, “you should have been with me and now you could make me choke on every lie you catch me telling. Can I help it if you are all so unadventurous?”
One day Aluda Sazikauli set off to hunt mountain goat. There were great numbers of these shy creatures on the distant mountain slopes. He travelled until dusk and spent the night under his cloak in a sheltered valley by a spring. The next day he climbed the bare mountains. Boulders jutted out from the rock-face like the teeth of a fairy-tale giant, but not a mountain goat was to be seen. He crossed over the summit and descended into the next valley, but again he had nothing better to eat but bread, cheese, and water from a spring. In vain did he call on Ochopinto, the herdsman of the wild animals of the forest. By late in the afternoon of the third day he had seen nothing. Then suddenly he saw three nanny-goats and a mighty he-goat with powerful horns standing outlined against the sky. Taking cover behind boulders, he crept close to them, and felled the he-goat with a single shot. The third night was fast approaching, and he could not spend the night on the bare mountainside. He put the mountain goat on his back and began to climb down the steep slope.
Suddenly in a narrow valley, between the trees, he saw smoke rising, and before long he came to an extraordinary building. It was a stone castle made of rough-hewn boulders. The castle was built right into the hillside and had a crumbling watchtower. A drawbridge led to a wooden portico, guarded by twin towers. The castle was gigantic. Its doors were so huge that a rider with his spear held high could pass through them, and two knights in armor could ride side by side along the battlements.
“To the Cross of Gudan,” said Aluda Sazikauli to himself. “There are no castles built like this, today. Our ancestors must have been mighty men! “
The light was fading and smoke was rising from the chimneys. Singing could be heard from the great hall and Aluda longed for a warm hearth where he could rest his weary limbs. Easing the goat from his shoulders, he called, “Masters of the house!“ There was no reply. He called a second time, and there was no answer. When he was about to call for a third time, the door opened. Dusk had fallen and Aluda thought that his eyes were deceiving him in the gathering darkness. Out of the house and down the lowered drawbridge came a man with seven heads. The heads twisted in every direction and they spoke one after the other in the same voice:
Welcome, guest! Come in and accept the hospitality of this house!”
At that moment, Aluda realized that he stood before the terrible seven-headed devil, Baqbaq, whose very name cast fear in the hearts of ordinary men. Aluda was frightened but it was too late to draw back and decline the invitation. “May the White Rider help me," he thought to himself as he stepped bravely toward the seven-headed monster.
“I see you are a hunter “ The devil laughed so heartily that the valley shook. “I shall call my son to take care of your prey.” He turned two of his heads and called into the house. The door opened once again, and his son stepped onto the drawbridge. He was even more misshapen than his father; he had three legs and his arms brushed the ground.
“This is my youngest son, Forest-Howler,” said Baqbaq. “My son, take our guest into the hall.”
“Come in, my guest,” Baqbaq turned to Aluda. “You are not the only one who will be feasting under my roof tonight. We are celebrating the marriage of my daughter, Three Eyes-beautiful Eyes. I am sure you have heard of her.”
Aluda was terrified but all the same he smiled politely and followed Baqbaq and his son into the castle. They passed through an anteroom and entered the great hall. A cauldron hissed and steamed above a great fire that roared in the hearth. The guests were sitting on benches along the walls, and they fell silent as Baqbaq led Aluda inside.
“Our house has been honoured by a new guest,” said Baqbaq, “a Khevsur hunter. I don”t know your name, guest,” he turned to Aluda, “but I see by your weapons that you are a brave man, and a mighty hunter.”
Aluda turned a little pale, but his host continued:
“You may put your weapons aside, because you are safe in my house.”
Aluda drew back a pace, but he was instantly surrounded by hideous claws that reached out towards him. “Entrust me with your gun and scimitar, so I can hang them in a place of honour.” It was Baqbaq’s middle son, Mangy-Polecat who spoke. Reluctantly Aluda placed his gun in one of the claws, even more reluctantly he unbuckled his scimitar and put it in the second claw, and then the third claw seized him and stood him in the centre of the room.
“Allow me to introduce my guests, Khevsur,” said Baqbaq. “I am sure you have never met any of them before.” Baqbaq laughed in all his seven throats, and the company joined him until the rafters shook with their roaring. It was, indeed, fine company. There were fewer of them by far than there were heads; they stared at Aluda out of many eyes; they stretched out so many arms that Aluda thought that they could have taken Ananuri Castle apart stone by stone before he could count to five.
“You should tell us your name, guest,” said the ghastly Thundershaker, who was presiding over the wedding feast, “so that the bride and groom may later remember this day with pride,”
Aluda Sazikauli hesitated. If he told them his real name they would come to visit him and the rest of the villagers would avoid his house in horror. He would become an outcast in his native village, and mothers would frighten their children with his name. He made up his mind to lie to them.
“My name is Seven-Devils-Enemies-of-the-Gods,” he said.
“You have a strange name for a Khevsur,” said Thundershaker in surprise. “I have met a great many of your fellow countrymen, and they had all sorts of names, but I have never heard of anyone with a name like yours. We know that Khevsurs swear to the Cross of Gudan. You ought to do so now, so that we can believe you.”
The rest of them joined their voices to his until an indescribable uproar set in.
“To the sock on the gam, my real name is Seven-Devils- Enemies-of-the-Gods,” Aluda hurried with his response before the noise had quietened. No one heard him properly, and so everyone believed him.
The master of ceremonies then called for silence. He delivered a toast and handed Aluda a goblet of arrack. The goblet was as big as a warrior’s helmet, but without batting an eyelid Aluda drank it all. The devils growled in admiration and Thundershaker called out:
“Bring me the cauldron and I shall give our guest a portion of honour!”
At once Baqbaq’s sons jumped forward and handed him the huge, steaming cauldron from the fire. Thundershaker fished something out onto a dish. Forest-Howler knelt down beside Aluda and placed the dish before him. Aluda saw that the dish contained a human head. He blenched and his hands began to shake; he tried to swallow but his throat was dry and he felt nausea rising in his throat.
Baqbaq was watching Aluda’s expression intently, and he guffawed with all his seven mouths:
“It seems you do not feel well, guest. Surely you do not mean to say that the food I offer you does not appeal to you ?
“Actually, I have lost my appetite today,” lied Aluda. “I tired myself out with my long journey, and your portion of honour seems a trifle too rich for my stomach, weakened as it is with hunger. If you would not be offended, I would prefer some cheese which I brought with me.
All the demons present began to bawl at the top of their lungs, but it appeared they were not offended by the refusal. On the contrary, they were bubbling over with sympathy, and each was recommending his own proven remedy against nausea.
“The best is snake’s bile,” screamed a toothy goblin from the corner.
But the seven-voiced Baqbaq shouted the rest of them down: “Give him a vat of beer, that will restore his appetite.”
Everyone agreed and at once they brought a full vat. They held it to his mouth and poured the beer into him until he thought he would drown. With all his might he pushed Forest-Howler away who thought Aluda wanted him to pass the vat around the circle. The demons drank, a river of beer gurgled down their throats, and soon they had to bring another vat. The beer tickled their palates, and they began to pat their furry bellies, and all at once they burst into their own wedding song:
“Ho, ho, hyde,
We have a bea-oo-tiful bride.
She’s lovely and furry from head to toe,
Hunchbacked, warty and pigeon-toed.
The bridegroom comes from far away,
And he’s even furrier, hey, hey hey!”
When they thus reminded themselves of the bride, Thundershaker bellowed out once more:
“Show our bride to the guest, for that is our custom. He is a human and he will spread tales of her beauty among his people.”
They all agreed, and as one body they led Aluda to the bride’s chamber. There sat Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes surrounded by her bridesmaids. She was not as hideous as Aluda had feared, in fact she would even be quite comely if she could only hide her third eye.
“Be in good health, beautiful bride,” Aluda greeted her. “Never did I see a more beautiful devil bride. I never would have thought that devil maidens were so beautiful.”
“I like you too, guest,” said Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes, and when none of her bridesmaids were looking she added: “You are almost as fair as I, and fairer by far than my groom. You are no doubt courageous and they told me you are a good hunter. I am sure you could support a loving wife and a family of devil children. Kidnap me!”
“How could I dare to do such a thing?” Aluda protested. “I would insult the house in which I was made welcome, and I would make blood-feud enemies out of my friends.” “But you said that I appealed to you, and I want you,” Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes stamped her foot stubbornly. “I shall order my maid to saddle a horse secretly and you will kidnap me.”
Aluda refused, he resisted, why he even tried to run away, anything to escape from this two-fold danger, but all in vain. Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes snatched him up and tucked him into her sewing basket, and then she whispered something to the hideous old woman who was her maid. In a little while she released him and took him out into the courtyard and through the wicker gate, into a pasture where a saddled horse stood waiting.
At that moment joyous shouting burst out from the front of the house. The groom had arrived to claim his bride. Aluda was scared beyond thinking. What was he to do? He could see no way of escape. Before very long the wedding guests would discover that the bride had disappeared, and he with her. They would pursue them both, and he had no means of fighting them. And even if he did manage to escape how could he live with a wife like Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes?
Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes, noticing his dejection, snuggled up to him and said: “You kidnapped me and I can never return to my father’s house. But I shall defend myself with you and if worse comes to worst, I shall die with you. For didn’t you say that you were fond of me?”
From the house came the wailing of the bridesmaids, and the terrible roar of the frenzied wedding guests, and above it all the dreadful voice of the insulted bridegroom thundered out:
“Who has kidnapped my bride?”
“Seven-Devils-Enemies-of-the-Gods,” answered all the demons at once, one louder than the other.
“Even if there are fourteen of them, or even twenty-one, swore the groom, “not one of them will escape me. I shall tear every one of them into a thousand pieces!”
Aluda tried to hide behind a boulder, comforting himself that they might overlook him, but Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes misunderstood his intention; she leaned against the boulder, for she thought he wanted to roll it down on the house. She wrenched an enormous crag out of the mountain-side, and the crag went surging down towards the house below with a deafening roar, tearing down everything in its path. Then she snatched Aluda under one arm, the horse under the other and bounded up the mountain slope.
When the crag crashed into the castle below, caving in the walls, the devils set up a terrible howling. Only the groom lost no time and stormed after the runaways up the mountainside.
“Ha, now I”ve got you,” he called out behind them in a thunderous voice. “Stand still, all seven of you!”
Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes set Aluda and the horse down and leaned against another boulder. In the dark she could not see who was where, and the devils could not see her.
By the sound of the shouts, though, it was apparent that they were not far behind them. Three Eyes-Beautiful Eyes rolled another boulder down the mountainside and the groom roared out in rage and in pain.
“What is the matter with you?!” asked Baqbaq’s seven heads.
“Nothing, but I am becoming more and more cross!” said the groom, not wanting to confess pain in front of his father-in-law.
And the narrow valley replied to his thunderous voice with the echo:
“Cross… cross… cross…”
“Ha, there is that Khevsur,” said the devils who were higher up the mountain. “He’s swearing to Gudan’s Cross!” And they started to topple boulders down in that direction. Those who were lower down picked up rocks and pelted them uphill, all of them bellowed, those who were hit roared out, rocks rumbled and trees cracked. No one knew who was fighting whom in the confusion.
Aluda took his chance and jumped up on the horse and started out on the narrow sheep trail along the mountain precipices quite unmindful that with every step he could break his neck, while the devils battled amongst themselves mercilessly. Perhaps they all truly believed that their adversaries were enemies of the gods, or perhaps in their boundless rage they wanted to revenge themselves on their comrades for the blows they had received. Who can say?
Suddenly, the voice of Thundershaker boomed out Of the valley:
“Ho, ho, not one of you will escape ! I know what I shall do”
He stepped up to the side of the mountain, leaned his mighty shoulders against it, braced his feet against the opposite precipice and leant so mightily that the side of the mountain cracked and collapsed, its peak tore off and buried the entire valley. For miles around the earth shook, the mountains twisted, and in the fissures new valleys appeared. And from that spot where the terrible horde of devils lay buried, there rose a column of dust and acrid smoke as if from burning limestone.
But by then, Aluda was in safety. At that very moment he was crossing the mountain pass, and carefully he guided his horse through a narrow gorge between two escarpments and down into the valley which he knew well.