The Book Of The Millionaire: I. The Book Of Metopolis

(from: Chapter 5 - The Map of Metopolis Scaled 1:1; Chapter 4 - The Rail Car of the Millionaire, and from At the Armenian's Tavern and Once Again at the Armenian's Tavern - Chapters 3 and 6) If you are far, far away from the city and take a completely different viewpoint, to look from beyond the big river, from the plain of Dicomesia - on a clear summer morning or evening, when through the iridescent sunbeams one could see even the souls of the dead, you can discern right over Metopolis, much more clearly than ever and better than anywhere else, that red dust which appears less easy to notice and less disquieting when you are close to the town. I come from Dicomesia and my childhood years were always charmed by that aura of imperial vapour which enveloped the peaks of Metopolis when seen from afar. Back to Metopolis then and established here at last, I drew up for myself, after full twenty years of inquiries, maps that would help me find out if the wretched town of Metopolis , with its houses spread on apparently sterile hills, could not possibly stretch in complete self-forgetfulness over an immense treasure-trove of red marble. A town that breathes its own everyday wretchedness while in fact it's lying over an unknown treasure, and that, once it found out about this treasure, would hardly have time enough to unearth its riches and feed on them. Instead of flourishing, it would cave in house by house, family by family, street by street, man by man - and instead of a godly fate becoming manifest to it, there would have already appeared on the site of the submerged Metopolis a pit, a no man's ravine. Hardly had the treasure been unearthed by the Metopolisians from under their own feet, than its pit would have straight away turned into their own irrevocable common-burial pit. This red marble, I'd suspected for over twenty years, was hiding massive under the town. I was expecting to find definite signs of its presence, or rather, I expected that they did not appear too soon, so that I'd not see the end as close as all that. Or, should they appear, I wanted to envisage and know them thoroughly enough to hide them away even better, for fear other eyes might clap on them, as I wanted to keep them as far as could be from these signs. That would be the Millionaire's secret. And I was inclined to think more often than not this secret of mine just a Polichinelle's secret. Now I was before that bone of the earth uncovered by the landslide of the loess layer. A bone I'd dreamed to see for a life time and about which I'd decided that, should it tell me anything about the existence of marble nearby, I'd keep my mouth shut and carry with me to the grave every bit of what I new. This was mere naiveté. It can be noticed even in full daylight that all the roads among the hills where they'd once looked for marble led to and meandered around the town, with no exception. All those societies that had gone out of their ways towards Metopolis - had they been looking, one wonders, for anything but what I'd been trying to find myself : The bone of the earth which alone could tell them where exactly lay the massive treasure everybody hoped to find. A bone fated to be just found, broken and destroyed so as to reveal the main trunk itself. Now a new society is coming in the guise of a firm with triple headquarters. But what if this one is coming to look for precisely the same thing ? Since it is a fact: coins, pottery, inscriptions - hardly any of these are left, they've been unearthed a long time ago, used up and traded away completely. I've cultivated the slope of the hill year in, year out, with the aim of weakening the grip of the earth through the roots of the strong plants, avid for humidity, but also counting on the likelihood of annual rains, no matter how sparse. Especially as the tillable part of the hill, oriented towards the North-East and in the way of the Big Gale, was rich in snow, from December until March and it had rich stores of humidity, dangerous for the stability of the layer of loess overhanging the slope, on top of the rocky hill's backbone. When I noticed from my moving rail car that the earth had started to move down at the top of the hill and was sliding downwards hardly visible, with the sunflower rows still standing, I realized that the split of the layer of earth would eventually occur right under my eyes. I braked the rail car and had just time enough to take my pick-axe and spade, which I keep within reach under my tin armchair. I ran and stopped at the foot of the hill: the thick layer of loess was sliding past me with the large sun-flower heads left untouched, stems still standing. Then everything collapsed and became an ugly mess in a valley below. The bone of the hill remained naked, whole and shiny under the sun. Not a vein of red marble, from the peak to the foot of the hill. I started digging under the hill's base. I hit my pick-axe in there until at last I came upon a wide spot of red marble that was disappearing underneath the rock, as it were, in the direction of the valleys that led to Metopolis. But what if the spot did not lead too much further, or in case it extended further, what if it went not towards Metopolis but to the right or the left of it? This only meant that the ultimate sign that I'd been hoping to find was not this one, everything was again delayed for me and who knows whether the spot in question did extend in yet another direction or not, and then the suspected hidden stocks of red marble might just not be anywhere else at all. There was nothing more I could see.………………………………………………………………………………………… I have never been weak enough to imagine that I might dominate Metopolis or even command its view entirely with my eyes. I have looked with fresh curiosity at it this time too, but with the restrained fear of being one day engulfed by that muddle of wretched houses and backroads. The ribbons of the narrow, scrambled streets wound behind the houses, as if painfully contorting their backs to reach out to some unknown celestial spiral, but they apparently wrung that way only to absurdly end up in the big river, and only to turn back again by other trajectories and go towards the barren peaks and valleys of the local hills. A fine, reddish dust floated over Metopolis. And had it not been for the walnuts and quinces spreading out the wide-leafed umbrellas of their rich, dense foliage over the roofs' edges , the cobblestone of the roads and the uneven yards would have offered to the sky a desolating vista of dryness and barren lands. The giddy flashes of the town's windows when hit by the dazzling sunlight shone forth suddenly as if sending some kind of vainly repeated alarm signals in the direction of the big river, so calm and in complete control of its own riverbed, and, beyond, towards the wide expanse of the rich field of Dicomesia, which I could see shamelessly bathing in ripe wheat sheaves and rolling over in the tall, dense, green clovers of the corn, as I was sitting in my armchair of the moving rail car. To make sure that it survived, Metopolis had lived long by "feeding on its hills" - as General Marosin once put it. The red marble and the best of stone had been extracted from practically everywhere they existed, the hills were pierced and crumbled all in turn, or there only remained deserted remains of them. The crumbling excavations were getting ever closer to the town, the less red marble and noble construction stone could be found by the prospectors on remoter hills. "One day we shall begin eating up the hills under our town. Should we eventually find underneath all the rich treasure of the red marble we are hoping to find, we shall be rich in exchange for the submersion of our town and of our houses" - General Marosin also said once, but then the risk of submersion had been a long way off as yet, for one could still find pure limestone at a great distance from the town and the surrounding walnut and quinces woods.………………………………………………………………………………………… About the same time that Mavrocordat city received its name, Metopolis itself acquired its name of Metopolis , having been named before with a Turkish sort of name very hard to pronounce. An archaeologist had discovered in that region, under some hills, a number of metopes of sorts - some red marble slabs bearing Byzantine cameos on their surface. And then the neighbouring city was immediately called Metopolis, the town of the metopes, that is, and its inhabitants were not less ready to call themselves Metopolisians, getting it into their heads that they really were the direct followers of the Imperial Romans and Byzantines (for, you see, the Byzantines actually did extend their rule over these neighbourhoods - and this is the only historically ascertained fact). In those years, Reichenbach as well as many others were bent on giving the name Mavrocordat to the locality they inhabited; they even improvised a series of slightly imaginary data about a certain Sultana Mavrocordat, the niece of the Exaporitus himself, who reputedly ran and found shelter exactly in this vicinity, wishing to consume here her intense romance with a very brave, bold and vengeful negustorlaz - the chief merchant and master of almost the whole eastern part of the Dicomesian plain. Reichenbach had done everything in his power to secure this name for the town. And when at last the name Mavrocordat was endorsed by a royal gesture, Reichenbach lavishly spent even more money to erect on the bank of the big river an enormous statue in honour of the former ruler, Constantin Mavrocordat (who reigned six times in Wallachia and four times in Moldavia); the statue presented the venturesome Fanariotike seated in a high chair of state made of stone and holding in one hand the Constitution that he'd given to Wallachia, and in the other hand the Mercure de France magazine where his Constitution had been praised. It was again Reichenbach who obstinately insisted for an inscription to be placed on the statue's pedestal, written in Latin, the language which Constantin Mavrocordat had so loved that it accompanied practically each of his portaits: CONSTANTINUS MAVROCORDATUS, UTRIUSQUE VALACHICAE ET MOLDAVIAE PRINCEPS - REGIFICOS FASTUS MUSARUM VINCIT AMORE.………………………………………………………………………………………… God only knows why it's been called so: The Armenian's Tavern. They say an Armenian may have once lived in Metopolis, the owner of a ferry and two jetties at the turn of the big river, from where you can see quite clearly the ford beyond, used by the flocks of The Wool Citadel. The location on the Metopolisian bank of the big river which The Armenian had laid his hands on to build the two jetties had made him reign supreme on both river banks: nothing could be transported from one river-bank to the other without him reviewing everything with his own eyes and in his own customs houses. As could be expected, he soon took over the jetties of The Wool Citadel's other bank, he wrote them in his name too - so no cloth or carpet manufacturer, no skins merchant, no peddlar, cattle, horse or buffalo raiser or drover, nor any retail or whole-sale thief could be perfectly sure of the run of the animal, wool, or meat business, unless they followed The Armenian's directions. Even the strait in the big river's waters between Metopolis and The Wool Citadel seems to have once been known as The Armenian's Vice or The Armenian's Pocket. But I've never heard of any Armenian holding a tavern in Metopolis, never; this would have been too much of a retail business that eats up masses of time and blocks a man up behind the counter, not leaving him any resources to circulate freely under the sun and to watch over the big river, over Metopolis, the entire Wool Citadel, the passages between the highway and the big river, the mountain and the field, over every move on The Horses' Island or in the richest town of the Dicomesian realm, namely the city of Mavrocordat. What's more, they say that The Armenian, even if he did own jetties on the banks abreast of Metopolis and The Wool Citadel, he never lived in any of these two localities, but in Mavrocordat city - a safer, busier harbour, which also commanded the view of that part beyond and on the big river which was under the imperial Turkish rule in that time immemorial. But it might just as well be that the older Armenian of Mavrocordat was someone completely different from the one in the history of Metopolis. This one from Mavrocordat city - where he allegedly traded goods off with Trapezunt and Anatolia, with Syria and the Egyptian Alexandria - is reputed to have lived and done his big business behind the screen of a little, harmless property, namely, he kept, they say, an insignificant printing press that used letters from a transitional Latin and Slavonic alphabet cast in wood fonts to print Gospels, Pentecost Prayer-Books, Consecration Texts and, as lay literature he printed The Colloquy of the Vegetables and Fruit plus a few stories from The Arabian Nights . As his little printing press depended on the benediction of the severe monasteries at Mount Athos - this Armenian, wishing to print the Arabian Nights, had expurgated from its tales all that was love and pleasure between man and woman. What's more, just like in a monastery of Mount Athos, there existed no woman in the Armenian's household, in his yard or his printing house. Even the domestic animals of his household were all male: a hound, a tom-cat, a cock, a he-turkey, a guinea cock and a mule. He had, right in the pavilion where he'd drink his coffee, coiling around a dried willow pole, a he-snake who died of old age, leaving no offspring behind, just like The Armenian himself. It's very hard to find the connection between such a man and the tavern of Metopolis or, for that matter, any tavern meant for the accomodation and frolicking of all worldly vanities. And then, as is known, in times closer to our own day, the tavern was set up as the property of a woman, sometime during the reign of Charles I Hohenzollern who'd been the first to introduce in the United Romanian Principalities become a kingdom The Monopoly of Alcoholic Drinks and Tobacco. This lady-owner, having appeared in Metopolis at the time of the first Hohenzollern, was given the nickname Hohenza and she lived to see the advent to the throne of Charles II, namely at the time of the regency held by the patriarch Miron Cristea who endorsed every act in the name of the little prince Michael, then only 5 years of age. And when the game of football appeared, with its rules that were known even by the youngest child, Hohenza was called by a shorter name: Henza, for it was on the deserted grounds behind the tavern, in her property, that the first ball-games for grown-up men were held.………………………………………………………………………………………… One could say that I am the owner of a rail car and a narrow railway approximately 6 kilometres long, which connects the crumbling hill with the deserted stone quarry on it (which was abandoned by the Royal Society for Civil Engineering under State Supervision) to the pilot-station for pealing off willow-wood, at the German's Leg, abreast of The Armenian's Tavern. My house is situated on the table-land over the three hills that dominate The Metopolisian Valley, namely, The Warm Hill of the stone quarry, The Windy Hill and The Sparrows Hill. I erected my house on the spot where there used to be the barracks of the special drilling group of The Royal Society. I have only retained from the barracks the roof, made of the best brand of tin sheet. After The Royal Society retired and quit the stone quarry, and the railway too, I gradually erected beside the wooden walls of the house some new ones, made of pieces of broken red marble which I transported with the rail car from another quarry, deserted by a different society, The Society for Stone Heaters and Indoor Decorations, Sumbassaku and Sons, which had prospected at the Buffalo's Hill, very long time before The Royal Society had tried its luck at The Warm Hill. After these two societies there followed others, with an almost identical fate. No end of societies and abandonments.………………………………………………………………………………………… I ride in my rail car on the narow railway, become mine too, any time the weather does not permit me to cover the uneven, shorter distance between the table-land and The Armenian's Tavern which I generally cross on foot when the weather is fine. And I also travel in the rail car when I have to do my shopping at The Tavern or in Metopolis, or when I need to transport down from my domicile, very rarely, loads greater than I could carry in hand.………………………………………………………………………………………… When I sit in the armchair of my rail car that glides in slow descent on the rails from my table-land down the muddled valleys that open onto the amphitheatre of Metopolis, I acquire a special knack for general ideas. And holding in my view, as if from the vantage point of a mobile sky, the minutest moves that take place in the yards and backroads of the locality, I could increase the daily, fugitive drawing caught by my sight to fit the past-present-future dimensions, tying, that is, and condensing the stupid and momentary millimetric scraps into the map of the Metopolisians' destinies scaled 1:1. They have always entangled their yarns and will keep doing so, down there in their amphitheatre consisting of sterile hills, screened by the crowns of the walnuts and quinces. Now, for example, as I am driving my rail car down to meet The Topometrist and the broker of the Inter-Balcanic Archaeological Society. I just stop looking in the direction of the shed next to the parish-clergyman's household where Glad and The-Red-Mare managed to make from a crooked wheel a manufacture for tallow candles. I know too well what happened there and maybe I can guess what is going to happen from now on. Let me look rather towards the isthmus of boats stationed in the harbour of Metopolis, where nothing happens, apparently. Stretched on the bottom of the boats, indiscernible from outside, the boatmen sleep and none of them dreams of the few wretched dimes they'll be getting for tips when the night closes in from the numbskulls taking pleasure trips to The Wool Citadel and back. I could number there among the boatmen some criminals and at least a few score of hardened thieves. But who would care to think of such old jades, who have hardly made any mark in all their lives, and haven't even got the mark of a hero's scar on their skin? The boats they sleep in dazed by the heat are not theirs. Some belong with The Armenian Tavern, others are part of the old, constantly repainted fleet of the Turk Aziz the Christian Convert. The boat trips are paid for by the clients not to the boatmen but either at The Armenian's Tavern or at the berth occupied by Aziz-the Christian-Convert on board the Hagia Sofia ship. Every night, after the pleasure-trips are over, the jaded boatmen are chased away from the boats to resume their weekly wandering. This would be the world that lives on the scant tips dropped behind on the afternoon outings at Metopolis. Sometimes, you may find straying and lost among the boatmen in addition to toothless thieves chance young, honest people, still trusting in their stars. (Thus was it with The-Red-Mare who fell in with the boatmen when she was about 16, before she betook herself to Marmatia, so that she became the first boat-girl, who, although she wore a knifeblade tied to her belt, was forced to sleep with almost all the boatmen and had no choice. During the week, this beggarly mob, knifeblades hidden in their rags, spread towards The Horses' Island in search of an easier living among the wild animals and the swarms of mosquitoes and blue-tail flies. Or towards The Wool Citadel, awaiting the passage of the sheep flocks over the fords, or of the cloth, meat and skin merchants. Or to Mavrocordat city, where a porter's job paid by the hour for the ferry-loads of grain, vegetables and cheeses requires muscles and a beast's hardened front to obtain a one or two days job. But such things happened a century or so ago, here or anywhere else, too. The Book of the Millionaire has very little space for whatever has happened once or several times before .  …………………………………………………………………………………………  7. THE-RED-MARE AND THE FIRST SNOW THE CROSSING OF THE FROZEN BIG RIVER WITH MARRIAGE BOOTS Before she fell into the hands of the boatmen and before she ran to Marmatia where she was to met the woodcutter, marry him then begin her love with Glad, The-Red-Mare had known her first man beyond the big river, at the wild horses' racing in Dicomesia. The young Dicomesian boys vie with each other racing in the sight of the girls, on the empty waterside covered with snow which stretches between the Wool Citadel and the acacia woods at Glava and Apud Glava. The-Red-Mare was then fifteen or sixteen and she lived in Metopolis. Fibula and Guldena had taken her in their care from The-Big-Kiva, the buffalo cattle drover, and they'd given her a bed in a corner of the gold smithy. Until the age of 15, The-Red-Mare hadn't known snow, because she'd had no boots and hadn't used to go out in winter time. Girls didn't receive boots until they reached the age when they could chase men. This was also meant to keep them from starting their loves too early, and in the belief that a girl was not worth spending very much money on, too. Let whoever has seen on the right or the left of the big river a girl running barefoot in the thick of winter, going out of a yard and entering another, or, again, barefoot, feeding grain to the geese or hurrying with a forkfull of straw for the horses inside the shed, let him or her know, therefore, that the girl was unmarriageable as yet, and she'd not really come to know snow apart from those few steps she took in a matter of seconds. A girl's body with the breast still not grown and unable to fend for herself yet would go about barefoot in the spring, the summer and until the late autumn, and from December until about March she would keep almost always indoors. And should any one of the girls start her love or sex life earlier than her shoes' age, she started loving barefoot and more often than not that would be how she'd continue and end up her love life. This manner of punishing the girls until their marriage lots were finally cast has to do with an old Dicomesian custom that was finally extended to both river banks. Even in Metopolis that claims to be some sort of a town, this custom was unanimously received as good and wise. The-Big-Kiva whose loving had been conducted only barefoot her whole life, from the first men she'd met who had, however, their own women and homes, had done her best to guard The-Red-Mare from the lust of the male flies, for as long as the girl had walked barefoot. She intended to buy boots for the girl the first summer when she should show any signs of maturing hips and breasts, to push her away over the frozen big river until she reached the Dicomesian horse racing waterside in order to join the row of girls shod and dressed in warm clothes who stared in terrified expectation at the Dicomesian young men whipping their wild horses, with hoar frost in their manes, on their bridles and beards, while galloping through the rising sheets of snow. The heathen racing of the future Dicomesian bridegrooms ended with broken bones and skulls more often than not, but it was always crowned with abducting virgin girls. A girl who was abducted at the horseracing on the waterside could be sure to become a wife and then make a home and family of her own. Which is capital for a woman's destiny. But The-Big-Kiva had died in the middle of life drowned in a thawing flood, on the big river that had overflown, breaking the banks and wiping out entire villages from the face of the earth at the same time when many of the black buffaloes that the woman drove had perished under the waters. The-Big-Kiva never owned a home. As long as the girl had been very young she'd carried her on her back, in a sack. In the summer, Kiva would make an arbour with reeds or rushes for herself and the girl, while in the autumn and winter she'd find shelter in the hull of a deserted ship that she'd partitioned into several rooms, lining them inside with animal skins. Kiva would make combs for herself out of buffaloes' horns, whoever has seen or known her remembers her as a big woman, almost gigantic, that made the earth tremble under her walking feet, but was always neatly combed, with her hair gathered in plaits high on the top of her head. She dressed her hair so because it was on the crown of her head that she'd carry the heavy water crock, the bundle with foods and all her housework gear when she wandered away from the big river through pastures, for weeks on end, for months even, to graze her buffaloes. When Kiva died nobody found anything more than she'd been known to possess in her home set among the ship's planks. The young girl who was later to become The-Red-Mare had grown into a quite big lass those last years of Kiva's life, she'd got used to remaining alone at home among the animal skins on the ship, had become able to find food on her own, some said she could even catch the fish with her muzzle under the water as otters do. But it seems that The-Big-Kiva, whether or not aware that her end was nearing, was not at all uncautious in respect to her daughter (they say she was not her daughter really, she'd just found her abandoned somewhere, but these are things very hard to ascertain). A few years before disappearing, The-Big-Kiva had taken over to Fibula and Guldena's house a trunk furnished with all her precious belongings: a box or two filled with things that nobody but she and the two goldsmiths knew of. It can't have been a treasure. And even had it been one, The-Big-Kiva wouldn't have known its worth too well. Her trunks may well have held no more than bronze coins and all kinds of old, rusty metal trinkets anyone could find in the masses on the roads and the deserted places she'd usually tread on her ways from the big river, to Metopolis and The Sea. At any rate, had her trunks held any more valuable stuff, say, coins even more precious and stones inscribed with words in unknown languages, the only ones to know how to reckon their value thoroughly were precisely Fibula and Guldena. Or rather, Fibula, since Guldena, apart from the flames of the forges in the gold smithy and the moulds for the casting of jewelry, had barely any clear notion of anything. Fibula and Guldena took the innocent lass to their place and promised her in their turn a pair of boots, when they received her in a corner of the gold smithy and gave her a bed. The girl had to work for the boots by rubbing with ash and sand until her head split with pain and her eyes burned the old coins made of iron, copper, bronze, silver, even gold sometimes, pierced all over with time as they were; or she had to rub metal stumps covered with verdigris and coming in the oddest forms before they were thrown into the forges: ancient fighting helmets, swords, belts, hairpins (fibulae), pendants etc. etc.; then again, after casting the melted metal with stone spoons into the moulds, she'd have to take each of the new-born jewels in turn, the rings, bracelets, ear-rings, hairpins, to clean them and polish them, or to place others back into the baths, for nickelling, chroming, silvering or gilding them each as its lots would have it. Sometimes, she'd use the old coins minted with gods' and emperors' faces to fashion them directly into belts, necklaces or crowns for brides, under the guidance of Guldena herself, after she'd previously rubbed them until she got them to shine brightly. It was at the gold smithy that The-Red-Mare had learned since very very young to care for women's ornaments. When Fibula and Guldena couldn't see her and weren't spying on her from behind their little windows with silver grating and bronze clamps at the side of the gold smithy, she would clasp earrings that were still warm in her ears or she'd put hot rings on her fingers, or crowns made of imperial coins and meant for brides' heads on her own head. At first, what she'd loved most was to pass through the flames the helmets and swords, the old coins spilled by the bucket by Fibula and Guldena in the little foundries ; she'd look with the joy of a wild animal in her eyes at the resulting hot liquid which she mockingly called, with the grudging imagination of a hungry child, iron honey, copper honey, silver honey, gold honey, according to the metal of the old trinkets; from it, the two women with their faces completely detached and alienated from everything they'd do, cast in forms made of hardened sand framed in steel boxes hairpins and all sorts of expensive trifles for young women. "In this wretched little world of today, it's only young women who are still worthy of the brilliance and riches of the emperors" - Fibula would say. If it's true she liked the fire into which the old metal coins and objects were thrown, she felt wonder and dread at the sight of those new things emerging cold from the moulds, but still retaining somehow the glow of the fire. She craved for them, but was sufficiently frightened to hardly ever touch them; cold though they were now, she believed that one day, a hidden flame of theirs would burst forth in search of water, to suck the hair, finger, arm, temples, hips or waist of whichever woman was wearing the ornament. This belief may have been inspired in her by The-Big-Kiva who'd protected her from metal and from any woman's metal ornament made from stuff inside the "earth's bowels", telling her that there was nothing more beautiful than a thing made of the buffalo's horn, of animal skins, the sheep's wool or the birds' down. These come from over the earth's surface and from the sun. Whatever comes from underground is not the man's own, and even less the woman's, who's been blamed enough as it is, to walk with downcast eyes and whose lot is the longer she lives, the more to look upwards at the sun. This is about all she'd learned from Kiva, apart from the washing of her face and of her body in the big river, and apart from the skill to hide every time she saw or heard somebody unknown approaching the ship. Once, when Kiva was away, grazing her buffaloes, the girl found in a hidden casket of the ship's keel a little yellow bell she liked to play with, as it had a sound like a tiny, plaintive yelp. Back to the ship, Kiva snatched it from the girl's hands, dug the ground at the foot of a hill with a spade and buried it there: "The bell barked, it didn't toll. It was the dog of the earth and its place is at the bottom of the earth". In its stead, Kiva gave the girl a red wool tassel which became a favourite toy she never parted with. When she got to be in Fibula and Guldena's care, the young girl grew tall and slender, she had long, straight bones, she'd go about almost naked and barefoot in the immense space of the gold smithy filled with the forges' heat, because she'd grown out of the dress she'd had ever since she came from The-Big-Kiva; that dress had worn out to tatters, "it had downright melted", as she liked to put it, what with her moving ceaselessly about the gold smithy . Her frail body had become ruddy under the effect of the flames which ate up the helmets, swords and old coins with gods', kings' and emperors' heads, and her hair was growing ever redder, from flaxen-coloured as it had been in her first infancy. Fibula had regarded her while moving long, slender and naked among the piles of fire-bound coins and she'd observed her red hair covering the shoulders and the whole back more efficiently than her rag-dress. "The tart - had the goldsmith thought to herself then - by the time her boobs are grown, she'll be all golden." Fibula was herself tall and thin, and liked to say about a woman who was not tall that she must come from the duckling's race and shall never have anything to serve her in measuring up to man or knocking him down. Looking at the girl's locks of red hair on the long back and at the ruddy body with its sprightly, easy moves, Fibula had renewed her pledge, sort of spitefully, while the fat Guldena was not around, in the gold smithy: "You shall receive the boots for your approaching snow. But you need red boots, you. They're not to be had in Metopolis or The Wool Citadel or anywhere else near here. When you receive them and when you feel them on your feet you'll think they've come from nowhere and have grown from your mare's bones, since you've got the red head, body and legs of a slim mare." Her nickname was getting under way. And it was the first time that, when the young girl, who'd been left all alone after Fibula's departure from the gold smithy, thought about this nickname while laughing and shaking her mane, throwing herself on her back upon the bed, lifting the long, straight legs towards the ceiling, beating with them the hot air of the gold smithy and rubbing the skin of her ankles to check if she might not possibly feel on the bone the incipient growth of her red boots. At the ankle joint, she fancied some kind of pain; she'd feel the sore spot only to realize that the pain went much higher up, contaminating the whole leg bone with its grip, then reached under the sole where a hidden smoothness was throbbing, which she knew absolutely nothing of; she'd clasp the soles in her palms to see if the points of the shoes were not actually sprouting there. But she'd be suddenly seized with fear. What if a duck's web should start growing to grip her toes for good? She'd jump on her soles fast, there, on the sand of the gold smithy and she'd raise now the length of one leg, now the other, in the direction of the dazzling forge flames, moving her toes all the time for fear they might get stuck together, or if they had already begun to, to burn in the fire all trace of a duckling's webs. For years on end now she'd kept moving her toes to keep them awake, and she'd never stopped moving them, not even when she'd started walking on shod feet, not in sleep either, when you could get more easily enveloped in the mist of unknown happenings that could be traced back to the duck's gait of those who lived and slept before yourself. THE DICOMESIANS. HOW TO MAKE YOUR WAY IN THEIR MIDST SO AS TO LEAVE OPEN YOUR WAY OUT The-Red-Mare came into her full nickname when she received her boots and crossed to the other side of the big river, walking on the ice up to the beginning of the lands of Dicomesia, where the Dicomesian masters of the plain attract with their wheat, horses and pristine customs young women and people who wish to get rich. The Horses' Island - stretching in the middle of the big river roughly from the area of the Wool Island and Metopolis as far as the waters around the Mavrocordat town - belongs to the Dicomesians; there do they raise and leave their horses to stop caring for them but also to let them grow wild and have them always swift and with the devil in them. In Dicomesia it is not only the families who own horses but even children, they choose while very young a horse or a foal each, as soon as they are able to swim everyone on his own to the island where they learn how to ride and fight with those of the same age. When they approach the marriage age they clap eyes as early as the autumn on what seems to them the most untamed horses, for the races of the Epiphany. The barbarous horse races in the snow, on the plain stretching from the Wool Citadel to the acacias at Glava are almost exclusively run by the young Dicomesians as it's been a very rare thing to see a foreigner from the lands of Dkcomesia appear at the races and dare the local youths in the gallop of the scouring horses. At the races they abduct girls, who have come to watch them from almost every settlement lying to the left or the right of the big river. The abducted foreign girls become Dicomesians and in this way the Dicomesian stock increases, is kindled afresh and renewed with each young generation and gets reborn from the love that begins every year in the snow.