No one understood the cackling of the lanky and emaciated punisher. But everyone saw the snakes crawl from his mouth. They hissed in the people’s ears, and then the frightened teacher from a neighboring village translated their hissing into human language.
“He says that three soldiers were shot by your hamlet yesterday. К it had happened here, they’d kill all of you to a one. But this way they want to hang only those in whose families there are insurgents. К you don’t deliver up the insurgents’ families, you’ll all be destroyed.”
Two hundred grandfathers, grandmothers, women, and children stood under the insanely hot sun, but they were cold. Jets of frost streamed out from the black openings of the sub-machine and machine guns, aimed at everyone together and no one in particular. Above the mass there hung the pre-harvest sultriness and pre-mortal silence. Then the snakes crawled out from the SS-man’s trap.
“He says that you can keep silent ten more minutes, and then he’ll have them begin shooting.”
Ten minutes the wrinkles ran across their foreheads, ten minutes the sun ran down in silence, ten minutes the people peered with stiffened eyes at the curled grass, as if they wanted to find salvation in it. Then the crush stirred and the little lake of people splashed up the thousand-year-old Opanas Krokva. He even forgot to greet the people, but went straight for the teacher.
“Tell this boar, that it was my sons that killed those creatures. And tell them that they’d better not beat me, ’cause I’m mangy. Let them just hang me.”
“How many of your sons are there in the woods?”
The teacher translated the SS-man’s query.
“Why, all of them, to a one.”
“And who’s at home?”
“Had a hag, but she died.”
“You’d better hope your tongue doesn’t dry up!” A gray female figure, about a century younger than Opanas moved out of the crowd.
“He puts me in a grave alive, and publicly yet. You won’t escape me, scoundrel, even in the next life.”
The SS-man roared long and deliciously when the teacher translated this old woman’s monologue.
“This your woman?” he asked Opanas.
“Uhuh. Mine. Who else’s?”
“Did the old man tell the truth about your sons being insurgents?” they questioned the old woman.
“The truth. Would his kind lie? All of our little falcons are nesting in the woods.”
They were hung on the giant elm of the erstwhile little church. With puzzled eyes they gazed at the people they saved and showed their executioners their blue and bitten-down tongues.
Opanas never had children in his life, and the old woman Orysia, who united herself with him through a cord was never his wife. They say that the two loved each other very much when they were young, and wanted to marry, but their parents didn’t allow it. They married Orysia off to a richer man.
Maybe it’s true, and maybe human imagination has created a new legend about a great love, that began to live on a deathbed.
Перекладач: Andriy M. Freishyn-Chirovsky
Оригінал: Весілля Опанаса Крокви