by Stewart R. Ross
I often dream about Milos Svoboda's atelier. The crickety old-but-new wooden door is swung wide open and the scratchy sounds of jazz, scat, and big band music drift away from an antique gramophone. Just inside the door, Milos sits upright on a small metal stool, a small but never-ending cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth. It seemed that Milos never left this position, just as it seemed that his eyes never lost their complete and utter concentration on the painting in front of him. His hands would jerk wildly from palette to water dish, to cleaning rag, to ashtray, and to the bottom tip of his thin scraggly beard, just as his speech would bounce haphazardly from the jungles of the Congo, to the beaches of Sri Lanka, and to the mountain tops of El Salvador (regardless of whether or not there was anyone else in the room). But his eyes were always steady.
I guess they had to be. I always found Milos's paintings to be chaotic-almost insane. He must have had to maintain complete concentration to avoid letting his works lose all sense of coherence. It was as though the various bright and drastically outlined colors repelled each other and would leap off the canvas in different directions if his gaze lapsed for even a moment.
But then, what did I know? I was only thirteen years old the last time I sat and listened to the sound of Milos's voice hop from one story to the next. Now I'm twenty-three. And I'm sitting in the calm, quiet, and frighteningly sterile artificial environment of an Air France 747. As I just explained to a scotch-drinking English businessman in one of those tiresome but unavoidable airplane conversations, I am on my way back to the Czech Republic, my childhood home…sort of.
The purpose of my visit: business…sort of
I can't say that my purpose is pleasure because I have to go there, for a couple reasons. The most rational reason for my trip is that I have to go sort through the belongings of my dead father. His three-pack-a-day smoking habit finally caught up with him two months ago. I only know this because I received a long formal letter from his lawyer which began with a few nice sentiments about my father's passing and then skipped to the point: that he left me everything. I have no idea what "everything" is, just as I don't really know who my father was. I guess I'll discover the answer to the former after this damn plane lands, and maybe I can learn something about the latter. We'll see.
The slightly less rational purpose of my visit is The Dream. I capitalize it because that's how it appears in my mind almost every night, in big bold sans serifs. "The Dream" is a bit of a misnomer though, because it's not exactly the same dream each time. It's just that it always has some common elements and exactly the same unsettling consequences. The first time it came, I was nineteen and had just begun my studies at Georgetown. As a result of it I got a 'D' on my Political Theory midterm the following day. This pissed me off, so I resolved to write down The Dream in the hope of capturing it, confining it to a piece of paper, and subjecting it to brutal analysis. My written rendition is as follows:
I wake up at my home in Arlington, Virginia and begin my daily walk to the train station. My head sags towards the ground and I watch my feet make their slow progress. But then, suddenly, the sidewalk pavement turns to cobblestone. I quickly spin around and it's now cobblestone behind me as well. I then pick up my slow, drowsy head and see the old-world storefront facades of my birthplace, Krevnice. People are all around me merrily drinking their beers and wildly dancing the polka. It must be Bohumil's Svatek celebration since that was the only holiday which brought out this big a crowd in Krevnice. I want to enjoy this scene and join in the fun, but I can't get over the impression there's something menacing here, something's not right. Smoke-like mist has sunk to street level and is drifting through and between the crowds. It snakes through the celebration with intent, occasionally even forming animal-like shapes. Just over the mist I can see the tops of huge crucifixes, which have replaced the streetlights along the square. One of the crucifixes even has a live man nailed to it, but he is just serenely watching the proceedings, as if nothing unusual had happened in his routine day. The girls dancing about below the crucifixes are all exceedingly beautiful and a bunch of them have even stripped off their blouses to let their breasts dance freely with them. One of these more adventurous girls I recognize by the extraordinary glow in her cheeks. Her name is Milada, my childhood playmate. I watch her prance around for a minute and then I catch her glittering green eyes. She returns my glance and her face erupts into joy at her recognition. She runs to me, throws her arms about me and presses my face into her bare shoulder. Even in The Dream I can smell her fresh young skin, from which even her sweat turns to perfume. She grabs me by the hand and starts running out of the square into the little alleys that wind between the town's commercial center and the castle. I hurry to keep up with her but she nearly pulls my arm out of its socket as we dart from one alley to the next and then up the (fake) grassy hill that leads to the (fake) medieval castle. The portcullis is up so we dash through the main entrance and along the slate path past Milos' Svoboda's open door, past Milada's drab apartment with the drawn shades. We race up the outdoor staircase and burst through the front door of my apartment, fly through the living room where my father is watching television and the air is filled with the smell of smoke, sweat and stale beer. Finally we round the corner into my parents' bedroom and I realize why we have been hurrying. My mother has her suitcase packed. She picks it up, turns to Milada and I shaking her head in disgust and walks to the open window by her bedside. I run to her to stop her, but always just too late. She's gone through the window and vanished. Then I look out the window and see that Krevnice's alleys have straightened themselves out. The people are no longer dancing in circles, but rather trudging along in columns. No music is heard, not even from Milos's atelier. And the two hills that cradle the town of Krevnice like a nurturing mother's breast are almost indistinguishable for the rows of concrete block apartment buildings that have sprung up around the entire perimeter of town. I feel that I have to get my mother back so I step through the window as well, but instead of vanishing or transporting I merely fall, and fall, and fall. Everybody knows that dream. The only way to stop falling is to wake up, which I do, miserably.
I don't need this shit, especially not the night before a midterm. Even after I wrote it down I could make no sense of it-too many contrasting images. It was a hodgepodge of childhood mysteries, good and bad, thrown cruelly together like the colors in Milos's paintings. One thing was clear though: it all came from Krevnice.
So The Dream haunted me throughout my days in college. One time I even coughed up a hundred bucks to tell it to a psychiatrist, but I was happy with his assessment because it was exactly the same as mine: I had a messed up childhood which I really had to come to grips with. My life in Krevnice is all a strange blur for me, so now I'm going back to put some nice drastic outlines on it.
Doubtless, this dream is mainly due to Milos's Svoboda's paintings. Just as he would juxtapose sharp, contrasting colors, he would also put conflicting symbols up against each other. Religious moon faces with halo-like glows were placed on hardened well-muscled bodies dressed in full military garb and carrying Kalashnikovs. Famous Czech historical figures like T.G. Masaryk, Jan Hus and Charles IV were often depicted, but never as they should be. Normally these heroes were urinating, picking their noses, or chasing after Milos's favorite image of all: big boobies (to use the most accurate translation of his favorite phrase).
But I can't blame everything on Milos. To be fair, a greater proportion of this dream derives from Bohumil's castle. Milos, Milada, the man nailed to the cross, the fairy-tale joyfulness and the menacing mist all came from the castle. The castle is built on a glorious story, but the story of how the castle came to be built reveals a bit of the town's dark history. The goodness of the castle and most of the kindness of the residents of Krevnice comes from a single story. The cruelty came later. But to understand anything about the little Czech town of Krevnice, and thus about my father who spent his entire life in this town, you have to know the story that serves as its foundation, the story of Bohumil and Ludmila.
The Story of Bohumil and Ludmila
Actually, before I proceed with this tale, I should clarify a few things to you. First of all, I know that this is a very famous story and has been printed and retold countless times (feel free to skip ahead if you have already heard it), but I have no fear of being accused of plagiary or copyright violations, since I have never heard the story told exactly the same way twice. In fact there are often huge discrepancies depending on where the author comes from since a great many cities, towns, and villages claim to be Bohumil's ancestral home. So people from far and wide change the tale to fit it in with their own histories. In fact, even histories have been changed to accommodate Bohumil's tale. It was only in 1951 that Krevnice's claim to the story was authenticated by government intervention into the matter and the controversy laid to rest.
But even inside of Krevnice you can hear and read a multitude of different versions. If you go to Mr. Sedlacik's historical bookstore you will find The Official Story of Bohumil and Ludmila by Tomas Hausen. This should settle the matter, eh? But it doesn't, because standing right next to it is The Authentic Story of Bohumil and Ludmila by Zbynek Vlasak. And if you are wary of "authenticity" and "officialdom" you can find The Fairy Tale of Bohumil and Ludmila by Jana Abramsova, Krevnice's Story of Bohumil and Ludmila by Rudolf Heinz, The Ancient Romance of Bohumil and Ludmila by Jan Nemecek, The New Revised Story of Bohumil and Ludmila by Marek Zajic, and worst of all, The People's History of Bohumil and Ludmila by Alexei Karagin. All of these versions take place in Krevnice. There are of course countless other versions which base the story in other towns, but they are all out of print by now and many of them have been burned on pyres for the obvious reason that they were…well…wrong. There's no good reason confusing the people with stories that aren't true, eh?
The version I will tell you-by far my favorite one-has, to my knowledge, not been written down before. It comes from the four elderly gentlemen who sit in Susak's pub. Of course, even their version varies a bit, so to be more specific I'll tell you that this is the Sunday-morning-at-half-past-nine-still-quite-sober version.
Now that all that is clear, on with the tale:
Ludmila was a young shepherdess who tended her sheep on the rocky slopes of the Tatras mountains in what is now Slovakia. Her life was lonely, tiresome, and filled with woe because her father was crippled and required complete support from Ludmila and her poor mother. The father had a frightening disposition as well. He would sit in their little cottage barking and yelling all day long in order to drown out the slightest suggestion that he wasn't a good man, husband, or father.
So Ludmila was always happiest away from home, when she was leading her flock to faraway virgin pastures. It was on one of these journeys, about three days walk away from home, that Ludmila saw a young man apparently asleep next to a small stream in the valley. He was lying with his face down in the mud and since he wore only a tiny swatch of cloth around his waist she could see how terribly emaciated he was. Each of his vertebra rose up clearly from his back like the spines of a lizard. Ludmila approached the young man cautiously, her heart filled with fear and gently poked him in his side with her shepherd's crook.
The young man let a out a painful groan and grumbled, "To the Devil with you! I have never lived in peace and now you won't even let me die in it!"
"But you are just a young man, why should you think of dying?" Ludmila replied.
With another groan the young man managed to answer, "Because my lips have not touched food for weeks now. My body does not even possess the strength to turn my head out of this mud in order to see you."
Then Ludmila grasped his arm. It felt like the most brittle of twigs in her hands. She gently lifted it at the shoulder to turn the young man over and look at him. She did so and his head rose out of the mud and flopped onto the other side. She kept her hand on his shoulder as she leaned over him and looked at his face. All of his features were coated in the mud, even his mouth was filled with it.
But then he mustered up the strength to open his eyelids. The mud that was crusted onto them cracked and parted and powerful blue rays seemed to burst forth as Ludmila, for the first time, saw what incredibly beautiful eyes he had. And, from the young man's perspective, he saw beauty like he had never imagined, a goddess with a halo of sunlight around her head and emeralds in her eyes.
Right at that moment Ludmila felt the young man's shoulder start to move. It was rising up from a fragile stick into a massive mound of muscle. She stepped back from him in terror and saw the same thing happen to his entire body. His threadbare loin cloth dissolved as his hips widened, his thighs bulked, and his penis swelled. He metamorphosed from a sickly thin boyish-looking character into a huge warrior.
Then the young man saw the same change come over Ludmila. Her small girlish body grew out and acquired strength. Her tiny breasts pushed forward through the thin fabric of her dress making it fall to the ground in tatters. Her muscles hardened and she transformed into a glorious woman. Even her hair burst forth from her bonnet and extended beautifully down to her backside.
Then the young man sprung out of the mud, took Ludmila in his arms and made passionate love to her while standing up (author's note: this part of the story is always excluded from the children's versions but is excessively elaborated upon by the four gentlemen in Susak's pub, even to the point where the listener is forced to interrupt them and politely request that they get on with the rest of the tale.).
After many hours of magical love-making in all positions (to be brief with it), Ludmila and the young man, who then gave his name to be Bohumil, bathed themselves in the river. Once clean, Ludmila pulled down a tree and made a great fire with it and Bohumil slaughtered, skinned and gutted all of Ludmila's sheep. They needed a huge feast to replenish their newly formed bodies, so they savored each bite of this mountainous pile of meat. Finally, they dressed themselves in sheep skins and strode all the way back to Ludmila's cottage in a single night.
But when Ludmila's father saw Ludmila coming home with a man and without her flock of sheep he flew into a murderous rage and devised a plan to kill Bohumil. He had his wife turn their big wooden table on its side and lift him into a chair right behind the table and facing the door. So as soon as Bohumil entered the cottage, Ludmila's father popped up from behind the table and flung his knife right at Bohumil's head. But Bohumil was now a great warrior so he caught the blade with his bare hand when it was still a few inches from his face and set it down calmly on the mantle. Then he announced to Ludmila's parents that he would forgive them for this attempt on his life due to his gratitude to them for bringing Ludmila into the world. And he also said that he would not disturb them by taking from their meager table, but rather make them rich through his newfound strength.
The following day Ludmila pulled down more trees and used them to build a home for her and her new husband right next door to her parents home. Meanwhile, Bohumil tore through the rocky soil of the mountainsides with an old plow making the slopes stepped and fertile. Working side by side the two lovers maintained an enormous farm by day and made passionate love by night, together every second.
When the autumn came, the couple harvested their massive crop and built a huge cart with which to carry all of their surplus to town for sale.
Both of them decided it was best that Bohumil undertake the long journey to town by himself while Ludmila stayed with her parents. So Bohumil loaded up the cart and set off on his way, but he had just gotten around the first mountain, just out of sight of his beloved when his strength suddenly failed him. He dropped the cart and collapsed in a heap. It took all the energy he could muster just to stagger back to Ludmila without the cart. When he reached her he found out that she had undergone the same change, but once reunited their strength returned. This was when they first realized that their power was completely dependent upon their love; they saw that each of them taken alone was nothing without the other.
So this time Bohumil and Ludmila embarked on the journey to town together, each helping to pull along the huge cart, and they arrived in good time. Bohumil was very happy and excited by this trip, but Ludmila feared the envious and suspicious nature of the townspeople, so to avoid being recognized in her new body she tied a red scarf on her head and pulled it down so that it hung over her eyes.
The townspeople were overjoyed to see such a huge supply of beautiful vegetables come into town and after a few hours of frantic selling, Bohumil and Ludmila saw that their cart was completely empty but their pouches completely full. Both were filled with joy at their newfound good fortune, so Bohumil pulled Ludmila's red scarf back and kissed her on the forehead. Just at that moment an old crone was staring at the strong young couple, full of jealousy, and she recognized Ludmila from her eyes.
"Look over there!" she said to another old crone, "I would swear that those are the green eyes of that little shepherdess, Ludmila, who would ever so meekly bring her wool to market."
"Yes, I would definitely agree with you if it weren't for the large womanly body that now surrounds those eyes."
The two old women then consulted several other townspeople and they all agreed that it had to be Ludmila due to her beautiful green eyes. "But how did she acquire such a beautiful womanly body?" they asked, "…and such a handsome husband? …and such a massive crop of vegetables? …when she used to be just a shepherdess!"
When they all got together, the jealousy of the townspeople transformed into rage and then fear. They decided that Ludmila must be a witch of some sort and Bohumil must be the Devil in human form. That could be the only explanation for such good fortune.
Then one old woman yelled out, "Hey, Ludmila!" and Ludmila instinctively turned toward the speaker. That was all the proof the people needed. They picked up stones off the ground and started to throw them at the young lovers while shouting, "Back to the Devil with you!" and, "Kill, kill, kill the witch!" The first stone hit Ludmila right over the eyes and a stream of blood trickled down her face like a tear. But then Bohumil stepped in front to protect her and he swatted the stones away like flies. As the stones kept coming though, his wrath emerged. He tore a long board of wood off of his cart, and prepared to sweep through the townspeople with it like a thresher through his wheat.
Ludmila however didn't want this. She grabbed Bohumil firmly but the arm and said, "No, stop! These people don't understand our love, but that is no reason for them to be slain. Let us return this money to my poor parents and then set off to the west to find a happier home, where people will love us as we love each other."
Bohumil saw Ludmila's wisdom and restrained himself. Then they walked slowly and calmly out of the town while stones continued to pelt their back and drop at their feet.
After reaching home and making Ludmila's parents rich beyond their wildest dreams, the young lovers headed west and walked for several weeks until they finally found a beautiful fertile valley (which we now know beyond any doubt to be Krevnice) and mad a home there. At this time Ludmila became pregnant so she spent her days sitting outside while Bohumil tilled a stretch of land even greater in size than their previous farm. It went from the very peak of one rounded hill (today called Bohumil's Hill) all the way across the valley and up to the peak of the next hill (called Ludmila's Hill). Bohumil and Ludmila lived very happily here at this time. Ludmila gave birth to a fine handsome son and they counted themselves very lucky. The son was even born with a heart-shaped birthmark on his upper right arm, so they thought of him as a perfect symbol of their love for each other.
Some problems did arise at this time though. Savage bands of marauders head of Bohumil's prosperity and came to steal what he had earned. Bohumil and Ludmila were great warriors though. They armed themselves with swords and Ludmila purt her son in a bag which she wore on her back, and the two young lovers met the marauders head on in warfare. Often it was as many as two hundred against just the two of them, but Bohumil and Ludmila would slay their best few warriors with god-like ease and the rest of the band would run away in fear.
However, Bohumil felt himself losing some of his strength during these days. It became exhausting for him to work from dawn until dusk, whereas in the past he had accomplished that feat and many more (at night) with total ease. He thought for a while and finally realized that this change was due to his son. Ludmila loved this child very much so not all of her loves was directed solely at her husband anymore. This bothered Bohumil but he saw that it couldn't be helped. Anyway, he was still strong enough to fight off the marauders.
But one day an army of five hundred marauders marched into the valley. Bohumil and Ludmila strode out to meet them head on as was their custom. They cut through ten men each but then started to feel their strength give way. They couldn't possibly kill enough of them so they were forced to run like deer into the woods and hide themselves while their crops were ravaged and their home was robbed and burned to the ground.
This made Bhoumil furious. He drew his sword and ordered Ludmila to put forth their son. He then said to her in a soothing voice, "Our happiness is based solely on our mutual love. We can never let anything come between us-not jealous townspeople, nor savage marauders, nor even our own child. Take him out of the bag now for I must slay him. Otherwise he will kill us both."
"I understand you, Bohumil, my love," Ludmila replied, "and I agree with you in full. But I am the one who has developed a strong bond with the child so I should be the one to kill him. If you do it, I may come to resent you and thus decrease our love. So please return to the valley now and rebuild our home. I will bid farewell to my sweet child, dig his grave, and then gently lower him into it after I take out his heart."
"As you command, my love." Bohumil agreed. He knew that his own prodigious strength was matched only by his wife's profound wisdom. But as soon as Bohumil left the woods, Ludmila looked into the eyes of her son and knew that she could not do what she had promised. She walked along the edge of the woods always keeping her home in sight until she came across a band of woodcutters. She looked until all of their eyes and recognized one as being pure of heart. This one she approached and placed in his hands a large pouch of gold. The woodcutter was amazed at his good fortune and asked Ludmila what task he could perform to deserve this much wealth. She then instructed him to take her child and walk for many days until he found, in some far away town, a home filled with love where her son could be raised properly.
The woodcutter did exactly as he was told and Ludmila's son was brought up in a happy home. His adoptive parents treated him just as if he were their own and gave him the name Vaclav. They never told any of the other people of the village that Vaclav was not their real son, so everyone took the heart-shaped birthmark on his right arm to be a sign of that family's own love for each other and rejoiced in their happiness.
Meanwhile, Bohumil and Ludmila used their newly replenished strength to rebuild their home and farm so that it was even more glorious than before. People from all around saw the happiness, prosperity, and security that Bohumil and Ludmila had and looked on them not with envy but with neighborly love. They all started coming to Bohumil's home with gifts and asked that these gifts be accepted in the name of mutual protection. When the marauders next came they would have to face a united army with Bohumil and Ludmila at the head of it. Bohumil like this plan and the next group of marauders that attempted to slaughter and rob the people of the Krevnice valley were themselves slaughtered and robbed along with several more groups after them. These marauders never stood a chance against the Krevnice army since, even though they were just peasants armed with common farming tools, they stood together-men, women, and even children-in mutual love and mutual strength based on the model of their glorious leaders, Bohumil and Ludmila.
As this area's wealth and happiness grew, so did its size. People were now traveling a journey of many days to enlist Bohumil's protection and to learn from his model life. Eventually, Bohumil and Ludmila were entrusted to protect an area the size of a great kingdom and had to rush about constantly to fight off and kill all the marauders. This they did happily though because they were still always togheter and it gave them great joy to see the love that they inspired among the people. With such great security and love the area thrived and quickly grew into the most wondrous civilization any of them had ever heard of. The young people were free to pursue any occupation they desired, secure in the knowledge that their was plenty of food and wealth to go around. They even founded a great university in the Krevnice Valley, Universitas Ludmilas, to instruct people according to the ideas of Bohumil and Ludmila and ensure that the civilization would continue to thrive after they finally passed away. Bohumil and Ludmila were greatly pleased with everything they saw around them.
There was, however, another large kingdom adjacent to the lands of Bohumil and Ludmila. This kingdom was significantly weaker and less advanced. Sometimes small bands of poor warriors would cross over into Bohumil's lands to steal his wealth but not very often because they feared his might. One day, though, one of these small bands robbed the home of the great warrior, Jaroslav, while he was out hunting for bears, and they even killed Jaroslav's sweet old parents who tried to resist. When Jaroslav came home and saw his parents dead on the floor and his house emptied of its valuables, he flew into a rage. He went from one village to the next telling his tragic story and recruiting men for an army that would conquer the kingdom to the west, acquiring both its land and wealth while exacting revenge. He convinced a great many men and this army armed itself and marched all the way up to the great castle that Bohumil and Ludmila had built for themselves in the center of the new city of Krevnice to enlist their leaders' help.
"O, great warrior, Bohumil, I ask your help in conquering the kingdom to the west. Men from that land have murdered my parents and robbed me of my wealth, so I will now march into their lands with this great army to show them our great strength, and increase it in taking what they have," Jaroslav said.
"Young warrior, I sympathize with your plight and I truly regret that I was not with you in your time of need, but I cannot lead nor even encourage any venture to conquer the lands of the west. That is not our way. The reason why our people have such strength and prosperity is because they stay home with their wives and children and tend to their homes and farms. Remember, young warrior, that strength derives from love, and not the other way around," was Bohumil's wise reply.
This was however the first time that Jaroslav had seen Bohumil in person and he noticed how old Bohumil was becoming. Thus he dismissed Bohumil's advice as being based on the fear and weakness that come with age. "Let us head west, my loyal warriors. We don't need the help of this old geezer anyway!" At this, Jaroslav's young army roared with laughter and set off to conquer new lands (…in what was first declared to be Saxony, in the eastern portion of present day Germany, but in 1951 was "discovered" to actually be quite a bit further west based on the alleged unearthing of artifacts near the city of Frankfurt.). Bohumil was saddened by their decision and their mockery of him but he allowed them to turn and go as they chose.
Sadly this young army was completely slaughtered by the kingdom to the west, because their mutual bond was not based on love, but rather on hatred and greed. The men fought according to Jaroslav's example rather than Bohumil's.
Piqued, yet empowered by his great victory, King Gustav of the western lands proudly announced to his people that they were now stronger than their wealthy neighbors to the east and he gather together a great army to kill Bohumil and Ludmila and steal all the treasures their land had accumulated. Word spread quickly that Gustav's army was now marching east and Bohumil and Ludmila had to work frantically to gather enough people to meet this attack head on and repel it. Almost all of the finest young men had already been slaughtered in Jaroslav's army. Bohumil and Ludmila went from village to village across the land taking those they could find, but most of them were quite unsatisfactory.
They did however come across one tremendous warrior in a faraway village in the remote areas of Bohumil's land. This warrior called himself Boleslav and had a huge sword, but wore neither armor nor even a shirt against the cold. The only clothing he wore above his waist was a single red scarf covering his right upper arm and the muscles of his bare chest and shoulders could be seen to ripple with strength and power.
"Strong warrior," Bohumil said to Boleslav, "why did you not follow Jaroslav in his attack to the west?"
"That question is simple, great warrior," Boleslav replied. "Because I looked into his eyes and saw that his heart was not pure. I knew then that his attack would be futile."
"In that case, look into my eyes now," Bohumil commanded the young man, "and tell me whether or not you will follow me."
"O, great warrior, I am looking into them right now, but to be honest I don't even have to look. Your heart is known to be the purest all across the land. I will follow you anywhere you decide to go and fight on your right hand side with all of my strength."
So Bohumil, Boleslav, Ludmila and an army of pure-hearted but feeble soldiers marched to the west to meet Gustav's invading army. Morale was high and all of the warriors looked forward to the chance to please Bohumil with success in battle.
They met King Gustav and his men just inside of their own lands. Gustav was disappointed by this because he was looking forward to pillaging and burning many towns before he met any serious resistance. But still, Gustav's men charged forward with hatred in their eyes and the two sides clashed with passionate screams. Bohumil, Boleslav, and Ludmila fighting side by side cut through the strongest men of the invading army. Ludmila even killed King Gustav himself and quite easily since he was a man who led with words rather than with strength. Then the greatest warrior of Gustav's army stepped forward. He lifted Gustav's crown off of his lifeless body and placed it upon his own head proclaiming to be the new king, King Uwe. He then glared at Bohumil and prepared to challenge him, but Boleslav stepped right in front of Bohumil and said that he would do this deed to show his gratitude for Bohumil's wonderful benevolence and protection over the years. Bohumil permitted Boleslav to fight this mountain of a warrior, but quickly regretted his decision, because after a few sword clashes, the invading King Uwe sliced cleanly through Boleslav's shoulder and severed his right arm. Bohumil had to be quick in stepping forward to challenge this warrior to prevent him from finishing Boleslav off. Bohumil fought like a young man again and drove the mountainous King Uwe back away from Boleslav's fallen body.
Meanwhile, Ludmila looked down at the severed arm lying on the ground. She saw that the red scarf had fallen away and that on the upper arm, under where the scarf had been, was a birthmark in the shape of a heart.
"Oh no, my dear sweet son!" Ludmila cried out and her heart filled with motherly love for Boleslav, who she now knew to actually be her long lost Vaclav. Then she knelt down beside him and used the red scarf to dress his wound.
But right at that moment Bohumil was battling the strong King Uwe of the west. He had the self-proclaimed king down on the ground and was about to plunge his huge sword right through his heart. Then, suddenly, his strength failed him. His sword was now much too heavy for him to even lift in the air. He spun around in fear that something bad had happened to Ludmila, but he saw that she was in fact healthy and tending to Boleslav's wound.
It was at that instant that Ludmila remembered that Bohumil still needed her complete and undivided love. She looked up at her dear husband and their eyes connected just as they did that first day by the riverside. Both of them felt a huge rush of love and strength and their lips curled into smiles despite their present hardships.
It is said that Bohumil's face was still wearing that big loving smile when the mountainous King Uwe got to his feet and sliced Bohumil's head cleanly off at the neck. Ludmila saw her husband's body fall into the mud just as strong and loving as it was when it first sprang out of the mud and made passionate love to her. She was heartbroken to see this but she knew that she would very shortly be joining him in the afterlife since she could not live without the strength their love provided her. She already felt her power flowing out of her body. She did however have time to grab the ailing Boleslav and tell him that she and Bohumil were his real parents and that it was now his duty to protect the people and set a model of love and benevolence that they could all follow.
Boleslav had many questions for his mother but he never got to ask them because Ludmila perished right there on top of him. He was sad, but he did as he was told. The inspired soldiers of Bohumil's army had overcome their feebleness and already driven off most of the invaders. Now the main task was to defeat this huge warrior, King Uwe.
Boleslav stood up in agonizing pain lifted his sword with his one remaining arm and pointed it at the new king in a gesture of challenge. He could hardly stay on his feet but he was still prepared to do what he could for his people. All the soldiers saw this and immediately decided that they could not allow it. They pushed past their new one-armed leader and attacked the warrior en masse. Many of them were slain in the attack but eventually they toppled him to the ground and drove an ax right through his chest.
This is the end of the story of Bohumil and Ludmila. After their deaths, peace, love, and happiness reigned on their lands for many years. Boleslav, who took back his original name and became King Vaclav, was a great leader for them, even with only one arm, since he was pure of heart and continued to lead the people in the ways of Bohumil and Ludmila. He never did marry though. In fact, many versions of the story claim that he was a homosexual. That really doesn't matter though, since his power derived from the love of Bohumil and Ludmila and not from any love of his own.
The city of Rome is built upon many stories. There's the original tale of Remus and Romulus being raised by the she-wolf in the woods, countless histories of the empire stretching back to time immemorial, a library full of literature, biblical accounts and a whole mythology of supernatural origins. Everyone would agree that these collections of words are more important to Rome than the blocks of stone that make up the actual foundation of the city.
The same can be said of Krevnice. The story of Bohumil and Ludmila is its basis and raison d'etre. This can be seen right in the city's streets. The second largest hotel, behind only the recently constructed Hilton Bohumilia, is called the Woodcutter's refuge. The coolest discotheque is definitely Vaclav's Nights. There are several Bohumil and Ludmila Bookstores, some of which only offer versions of that one story. Even public restrooms instead of carrying signs for "men" and "women" normally read "Bohumils" and "Ludmilas."
But clearly the most obvious link between this ubiquitous fairy tale is the previously mentioned Bohumil's Castle, which stands directly in the center of town on a slight rise as is Krevnice had actually been built around it for protection.
It's all such a sham, a terrible hoax, and the castle seems to know it. I've been livin here for a month now and I have grown to appreciate its amusing and absurd side more that I did as a child, but the place isn't right, isn't honest, so I will never be able to completely accept it. The castle's history is not at all "pure of heart" like that of Bohumil himself and as a result it seems to cry out its fraud and project its misery all around. The castle is quite enchanting to look at with newly cut white stone walls and a magical Disney-like glow. And there is joy to it as well, as evidenced by Milos Svoboda's open door, soft jazz on a scratchy gramophone, and meandering stories. But just like Milos's paintings there is something dark under the surface of the castle, something that can only be explained with a look at its history.
Parts of this history may seem dangerously confidential and they were at one point, but have, since the fall of the communist regime, been made public. Many pieces of this history have made it into the liberal biased Krevnice Flash which my mother still receives in Arlington and been subsequently posted on our refrigerator-so I feel secure in passing them on to you now:
…to be continued…
About the author:
Stewart R. Ross is currently a masters student at UK FSV majoring in International Relations and a teacher of English Composition at the University of New York/ Prague. He plans to complete the novel Bohemian Moon as soon as he gets a bit more free time, whenever that may be.....