“Female eagles, Hasancho, are caught with live meat, not carrion.” ~ from the short story “Wedding” by Nikolay Haytov
Today we’ll talk about what a real woman needs. Because if you have the heart and spirit of an eagle, you can only ever be with a man whose courage, strength, passion and vitality matches you also. You need warm blood. You need bravery. You need a love with fiece and tender protection, whose warmth of hearth’s flames will then sustain the fires burning your home, in sacredness and in integrity.
Many years ago my grandfather gave me a most precious gift – the book Диви Разкази (Divi Razkazi or Wild Stories) by Bulgarian author Nikolay Haytov. Wild Stories is Haytov’s most famous book featuring a collection of his short stories published in 1967. Since then, it’s been published in ten editions in Bulgaria and translated in 28 languages, including Chinese. It is regarded as one of the most successful modern Bulgarian literary works, and the book is included in the UNESCO Historical Collection. My most favourite story, or the reason why I wanted this book, is the story Dervishovo seme, though after reading the entire book, I can sincerely say that Svatba (Wedding) is another deeply loved also – and that’s the one we’ll talk about today.
Nikolay Haytov (Николай Хайтов) was a beloved and very famous Bulgarian fiction writer, playwright, and publicist known for his publications and research regarding the life of Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski. Born to a poor family in the village of Yavrovo, Haytov finished high school and then moved to the bigger city of Plovdiv where at the age of 25 he started working as a forest guard and forester in the Rhodope Mountains. Ten years later, at the age of 35, he published his first article in a local magazine, and began his writing career.
Haytov’s stories are mainly set in the times influenced by the Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria, which was violent and many Bulgarians lost their lives while others were forced to change their Christian religion and become Muslim, and you’ll see in our story today Wedding that the characters have Muslim names. Haytov often wrote vivid and emotional stories of people from small rural secluded regions in the Rhodope Mountains and small ethnic groups, so they show a very different way of life and culture of life. To keep things even more authentic he used the original dialect spoken in those lands, and while this makes it quite difficult for me to understand, I appreciate that I can learn so much about how people lived so many years ago.
What I love about his stories is that they are often written in first person narration making them emotional, and the stories are deeply human. They explore the fragility of life, the nuances of the human condition and the complexity of human nature; and as much as there is love, humility and passion, there is also sadness, regret, and the unfortunate consequences of actions that haunt a person throughout their life – it is the ties that bind us, whether ties in love or in the nots; ties in the what-ifs and the inability to escape who we truly are on the inside.
Something to keep in mind about Bulgarian folk and older stories is that women are very strong characters. They are brave, have high endurance, and high integrity and values they align to. The history of Bulgaria is not a sweet nor gentle one, and women faced many challenges – so the lineage of our soul is one of true courage, strength and perseverance. Simultaneously, it is also one of tenderness, passion, love and nurturing – an indestructible ability to protect those we love, at any cost – because love and family always come first. The Bulgarian woman has a heart always burning, and it is only natural that a man who matches her should stand by her side.
Now let’s open the pages of the story Wedding (Сватба, Svatba), and remind ourselves what a real woman needs and wants, because a female eagle is caught with live meat, never with carrion.
The Story: Wedding by Nikolay Haytov (from his book Wild Stories)
Wedding is told through the narration of Hasan, who recollects the story of his distant past – when he was a young man living in his small village. Deeply in love with the beautiful girl Hatte, whose singing voice would gather and enchant all around her, he decided to marry her because he knew, without any doubt in his mind, heart and soul, that she was the one and only one for him. Back in those days, and the Rhodope regions, a man couldn’t just walk to a woman, so Hasan would spend many days watching her and wondering when and how he could sort of meet her. Well, eventually he did and confessed his love for her and intent to take her hand. Day after day the two would spend time together in the fields, every little chance they had, for a glance or a nice sweet word to share, and she fell to love him too.
Hatte’s beauty was known by all and the nearby village had a man who wished his son to marry Hatte – asking her father’s hand in marriage. Hasan hadn’t asked yet, and because the other man was ruthless and all people and villages feared him, Hatte’s father had no other choice than to agree. The girl wept and all mourned for her because this was a tyrant man, known for hurting many people. He and his men with their guns blazing came into the village, and into Hatte’s house where they drank and ate to celebrate the upcoming wedding. And just as the deep onyx black of night fell, Hatte sneaked out of he house and ran away to meet Hasan in the forest, pleading with him, “Take me away with you Hasan.”
He took her by the hand, but instead of taking her somewhere far away to wherever his eyes would lead him, he took her right back to the village and his house. They wanted to marry, but the priest was nowhere to be found yet, and as the sun rose, the ruthless men woke to look for his bride. As they started shooting, Hasan feared for his life and ran away to hide in the hills; but as he reached the top he looked back to see – Hatte wasn’t there – she had stayed in the house.
As the men entered the house, her father asked her, “What are you doing here, come out!”
“No,” Hatte said, “You are not taking me out of this house alive!”
“But who will stand by you?”
“I will,” a deep masculine voice spoke by a bearded man who rose to stand tall beside Hatte. His name was Selim.
Selim was Hasan’s uncle, and lived with them in the house, but while all fled in fear, he stayed behind and was the only one left because he too loved Hatte and wanted to protect her – never leaving her away from his sight. He only had his left hand, because his right was injured long time ago. He usually kept to himself, being quiet and reclusive, and yet here he is now – heart and spirit of a warrior.
“Here is what will happen,” Selim continued, “I have one gun and one bullet. Whoever thinks is a better fit of a man for Hatte than I am, come out and shoot. I give you the advantage to shoot first, and whoever stays alive will rightfully deserve her hand in marriage.”
The ruthless man called his son to shoot – and there he went, his son shooting bullet after bullet all into the air, as his hand was trembling with fear and hesitancy. Selim stood there, laughing. Terrified the son fled, and all fled, leaving the village peaceful and sparing the lived of all women and children. Hasan watched all and when he returned to the house, he saw Hatte and Selim sitting on the table looking into each other’s eyes. When she saw Hasan she gently told him, “I’ll stay here Hasan, but with Selim.”
Angered Hasan jumped to fight with Selim, but all men gathered to tear them apart – she would be his rightful bride and he had no more word in the matter. The wedding happened, and day after day Hasan would watch them together filling himself with hatred and anger. She would sing with her beautiful angelic voice, and Selim would smile and never leave her from his sight. He looked after her and cared for her so gently, and loved her so deeply; never were such two people so kind and sweet to one another. They’d laugh during days, sing and dance and play music; and at night Hasan would listen to them again but this time Hatte’s voice was now playfully giggling in their cuddles, which pierced his heart in pain and jealousy even more.
Hasan grew with obsession and rage watching them all day and night. His right hand would hold a knife desiring and dreaming to kill them both, and yet his left hand would stay soft longing to caress her Hatte. One half of his heart was hardened from pain and wanting vengeance, and his other half was still tender with love. He wished to have it all hardened.
Years went by, and one day when Selim and Hatte were in their garden, Hasan finally decided to take the knife and sneak behind Selim’s back to kill him, and then her. But as he stood there, behind his back, his hands trembled and he dropped the knife. Selim turned around, calmly took the knife, and put it in Hasan’s pocket.
“Female eagles, Hasancho, are caught with live meat, not carrion. Now go on your way and leave us – it’s not your place here.”
(*Hasancho is a dimunitive name for Hasan, meaning Little Hasan.)
Hasan left and never came back. He traveled across countries, married and divorced a few times, but never forgot what Selim told him.
Female eagles are caught with live meat, not carrion.
This is not a story about fighting, guns and fantasies of vengeance; and certainly there is no prince charming here neither, and considering the history of the times it was written for, I can say with confidence that as women we are greatly thankful that we no longer live in those times. But there is much meaning that we can extract from the essence of the story, which we can truly appreciate and one that is applicable in our modern day. This is a story about integrity and the ability to stand up for those we love; it is a story about having the courage that the passion of our heart gives us. Hatte had the courage to stand up for herself and for the two of them, but when she gave her life in Hasan’s hands, he couldn’t take care of her. In fact, he actually ran so fast that he didn’t even notice she wasn’t behind him until he reached the hill’s peak. He left her behind. He didn’t have her back – he left her to fight for herself, to stand alone in front of people who were going to hurt her, and then moaned like a little child blaming everyone else for his loss instead of owning up to the fact that he just played like dead meat.
Hatte could have taken care of herself and escaped the village anyway, but she trusted the man who promised her the world and stars and moons – and unfortunately, he turned out to be a weak man. She remained in the house by herself, being as frail and fragile in body as she was, being young of age and innocent of heart, and still she didn’t back down – she said she’d rather die than be taken away against her will. And the only one who was there to stand beside her, and with her, was a man with only one arm. He wasn’t a bad aggressive “toxic masculine” man, he was a mature man who knew how to protect and how to fight as much as he knew how to love a woman and give her what she needs. He took care of her throughout the years with his tenderness while he also knew how to desire and treasure her and how to protect her and provide her with stability and security so that they can build a life together.
I say this over and over again – women don’t need to be saved, but they need to feel safe. They need a mature man not a little boy. They need a man they can rely on, someone who is responsible, courageous, has integrity and values, is dependable and stable, and can lead when he needs to, and can build when he needs to, and to provide and protect. Yes, as old school as that sounds – that’s just how it is.
Dear woman, you cannot expect happiness with a man who is stuck in boy psychology – you need a grown up man, who you can look up to, who knows how to love you, guide you in wisdom too, and knows how to stand up for you just as you stand up for him too and fight for your love too. When a man shows you who he is, accept it, and decide accordingly whether this is what you want or not. Choose wisely, using the discernment of your heart. Choosing a partner is not just about some guy – you are essentially choosing the kind of life you will live. Always being the strong and responsible one will inevitably lead you to lose respect for him, resentment will pile up and both of you will suffer.
May you find a man worthy of you – worthy of your courage and passion of spirit, heart and clarity of mind, whose hands will know how to hold you, how to love you, caress you, and protect you – protect you in both tender and fierce way, protect you and your family and little ones, and protect the sacredness of your home, vows and bond.
And when you find this man, into whose loving and strong hands you’ll fall in trust and devotion, unveil to him, and tell him – tell him your wisdoms, desires and mystical secrets. Tell him not because, but because his soul asked you to. Allow yourself to be stirred entirely by his wildish soul – and create a most beautiful love story, life story, always story.
Of your love, a new soul will be born: the soul of your relationship. Along its unique emotional, spiritual and physical wildlands, may you always continue to explore and re-explore one another, with integrity, trust, love and loyalty. May many beautiful flowers continue to bloom on its lands, nurture them and care for them, do not take them for granted. May you respect one another, and have each other’s backs. May you create a beautiful story of love and of life, embodying love through your every day lips, hands and gestures.
Loving is an art, and love is always a kingdom reserved only for those brave and selfless ones.
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Cover artwork by Boyana Petkova.