Queen of the Night and Stone Flower

On the souls of those who live life free under the skies-with the blades of grass, at the edge of the forest, on hills bedizened with bright flowers of the field-it is written that they must know many hidden mysteries. The eyes of the Roma know exactly when the earth's heart begins to stir deep down at spring's root, reviving the shoots of grass and the buds of trees until the green sap bursts with love before the Sun's eyes.

How many things my grandmother Lulika knew! Time had made her hair white, but her face was without wrinkles, unlike the faces of the other old women in the camp. Old Lulika was always beautiful. She had learned that in life, however long you are given to live, you should enjoy all things until your eyes see the Sun's blinding light. Those who suffer and take everything to heart die like the leaves of grass when the autumn's frost kills them. Give day your sorrow, smiling man, because you will never find this day again.

Grandmother Lulika's greatest joy was simply to walk through the green grass, looking at the sky. One day, wandering on the hill, she met a shepherd. Grandmother Lulika approached him and asked to tell his fortune, because she very much enjoyed telling fortunes. When she saw heavyhearted or troubled people, she approached them and told them what she could tell, and their eyes would begin to glow with future happiness.

The shepherd seemed quite miserable. "Leave me alone," he told her. "I'm very upset. Look! My sheep won't graze on this grass..."

The old woman examined the grass very carefully and understood at once the reason the shepherd's flock refused to graze on the grass. She smiled and started to laugh, telling the man, "Well, you are staying here with your sheep in vain, because they'll never eat a single blade of this grass."

The shepherd asked her why. He appeared very more than eager to find out the reason why his sheep wouldn't eat the grass there.

Old Lulika felt very happy whenever someone asked her "Why is this?" or "Why is that?" As a little child, she always used to pester people asking "Why?" and it seemed natural to her to learn the hidden mysteries from the camp's elders. Grandmother Lulika told these stories to children and taught them all that she knew, because in turn they themselves would have to teach their children and their children's children, too, so in this way nothing would be forgotten.

"Tell me, Old Fortuneteller, tell me why my sheep don't want to graze on the grass in this particular place?"

"Well, look very closely at the grass. What do you see?"

"Grass and flowers, that's all."

"Grass and flowers. Yes. It's the flowers that are guilty."

"The flowers?" The man was much amazed.

"Well, all animals eat grass and flowers. But these two flowers, which you see here on this hillside, no animal comes near."

"It's only you who think so, Old Fortuneteller. Look, crowds of bees land on these flowers and collect their nectar all day..."

"The bees, yes-but your sheep, no. Let's move on a little farther where these flowers don't grow. Then you'll see your flock eating, because the sheep are ready to faint with hunger."

"What are these flowers called?"

"They are called Queen of the Night and Stone Flower."

"If I herd my sheep to that other spot and they start eating the grass, please, Old Fortuneteller, be so kind as to tell me the mystery of why my sheep won't graze on the grass where these flowers grow?" "I'll tell you, of course. But you've got to give me something-because, look here, my purse is empty."

The shepherd whistled to his dogs and took his sheep where these two flowers couldn't be found. The old fortuneteller was right. His sheep started to eat the grass blades greedily and with a huge appetite in the new spot where Queen of the Night and Stone Flower couldn't be seen.

The man looked greatly pleased and said to old Lulika, "You have great wisdom. Here's a coin, and take this slab of bacon, too, and this cheese. Now, while my sheep are busy grazing, tell me about this mystery of why my sheep wouldn't eat the grass there where those flowers grow, Queen of the Night and Stone Flower, as you called them."

Grandmother Lulika sat on a large rock, took her pipe out of the pocket of her skirt, filled it with tobacco, and then, very contented, started to tell her story. The shepherd made himself comfortable on the same rock near Grandmother Lulika, like a child ready to listen to a story.

***

Long ago when the Sun thoroughly warmed the Earth blessed by the good gods, where the Gypsies lived their lives, I mean, where our country once was to be found, there stood a camp pitched not far from a forest, at the edge of which was a beautiful castle. In the castle lived a widowed queen with her daughter, a child of about five. The queen was very fond of coming down from her castle into the Gypsy camp, to visit the old women who would tell her fortune. Each time, she'd dress poorly and come in secret, together with her daughter. While the queen huddled together with the fortunetellers, the little princess played with the Gypsy children. She especially loved the pleated, multicolor skirts of the little girls when they whirled about. They used to dress her in traditional Gypsy clothes.

The little girl's wish to be very beautiful because she was a princess was granted by the gods and good spirits, may they be praised: hair as bright as the sun's rays and eyes as blue as the sky when there's not the least breath of wind in the air. She could be recognized very easily among the group of Gypsy children, for her complexion was fair while the other children had dark-skinned faces and jet-black hair.

Each day just the same as the day before, the queen came to the camp, week in, week out. She stayed with the fortunetellers, and her daughter, the little princess with the golden hair and sky-blue eyes, with the children. The princess loved being there in the camp so much that, after a short while, she learned the language and started to speak Romani and dance the Gypsy dances. The princess stayed all day, playing. When she had to remain home in the palace, she cried and begged her mother to bring back her to the camp. For the little princess, night was a worse torment, and she fell asleep with the hope that when she awoke, she would go back to be with her friends again. Among the children, she loved most of all to be with a little boy who played with pebbles every day. He knew a thousand and one games, all requiring pebbles and small stones.

A very strong friendship formed between the two children such that they made a vow to each other before the Sun: "Nobody in the world will ever separate us. We'll be friends forever, even when we get old. We'll be best friends. Nothing will ever separate us."

As a sign of their vow, her little friend gave her a little gold chain with half of a gold coin. The other half of the coin he put around his own neck. Then they swore before the Sun that never would they remove the necklaces from their necks.

The two little friends had a special song they used to sing together, feeling joyous and carefree because they had a song all their own.

Their life was play, gay spirits and song. Not a care cast its shadow over their faces. The day wasn't long enough for them, because they had no sense of time's passing. They ran, swam, climbed trees, and a whole flock of children played with them. The children never lacked something to eat. When their stomachs grumbled with hunger, they returned to the camp and, together with the little princess, they'd eat whatever they found.

The queen was also very happy because the little princess had made a lot of friends among those people who were like us. Her own heart was sick with sorrow and loneliness because her king had left the world too soon on the road with no return.

One day when the princess woke up and went to the queen's chambers, she found her mother without life. She too had left on that road to that place from which nobody can ever come back.

From that day, nobody in the camp could see the little princess and she couldn't return there. The little boy cried and cried, but he couldn't go to the castle to ask about her.

One night something very strange happened in the camp. After midnight, a terrible life-and-death struggle started up. What really happened to the people in that camp only the good spirits might know. Many died and others fled the place.

When the little boy woke up the next morning, he was on the bank of the river, lying on a hard boulder. He looked around completely puzzled, stood and set out to find his parents, his relatives and all the rest of the people. Nobody was there. All that could be seen were fires in the fireplaces where the tents had been and a lot of the Gypsies' things, but not a single person. The little boy started to cry and scream. He ran in every direction, crying and screaming. Nobody answered him except, now and then, a forest echo.

After an entire day of searching, when the sun set, he collapsed on a flat stone as if dead from exhaustion and slept. Suddenly he heard women's voices. He opened his eyes and, right before him, he could see a group of women peering down at him, scarcely able to believe their own eyes. "Who are you?" they asked.

The language they spoke was the same as his, so he could answer them. "I don't know."

"What camp do you come from?"

"I don't know."

"Where are you living?"

"I don't know."

"What's your name?"

"I don't know."

The women had big loads of branches on their back and they were preparing to go. The boy begged them, in tears, "Don't leave me here! Take me with you! Please take me!"

"Then, come along with us. We won't let you stay here to be eaten by the wild beasts of the forest. Now night has begun to fall. We'll take you with us. Let's go."

He could remember nothing about his former life or his parents. Everything had been erased from his mind. In this way, the boy arrived at another Gypsy camp that received him with only love. These people raised him as if he were everybody's son. He helped them and he would do everything they asked of him when they sent him for anything, so that everybody loved him. From a happy and carefree child, however, he'd changed into a sad and worried one. In his childlike mind, he kept trying remember something but couldn't. Then he'd start to cry and toss pebbles up into the sky, catch them in the hollow of his hands, roll them in a thousand and one ways.

One spring, the boy went to the river and broke off a branch from an elder tree. He made a wooden flute from it and started to play. He didn't know what he was playing, but it was as if someone had poured over him a spirit of power, because he played so wonderfully. Everybody went to the river to see who was playing this magical music never heard before.

When they saw it was the boy playing, they didn't know what to say or to think. But from that day on, they loved him more. They tried whatever they could to make him happy, but he remained the same, sad and pensive, his mind far, far away. Some said that he understood the language of the forest's birds and had learned from them how to play. Others believed that he stayed on the riverbank playing his music because his heart could descend to the depths of the waters where Nivashi's daughters were singing and steal their songs to give them to mankind. But not a bit of this was true. His songs came from his soul, so full of pain.

One day, the Bulibasha summoned him and told him, "Child, you fill an emptiness in my soul with your wonderful songs. For this reason I'd like to give you a gift. Ask me for anything you desire, and I'll give it to you."

"Great Bulibasha, since you say you would like to give me a gift, I desire nothing other than a violin. This is the only thing I wish for."

The next day, the Bulibasha set out for the city. Three days later, when he had returned, he summoned the boy to him and gave him the promised gift, a violin. The boy didn't know how to play it and there was nobody to teach him. But when he put his hand on it, he knew that this was his life. The violin was the magic spell of his heart, steeped in sorrow. This was what he had played for those who listened to him. The spell would spread its wings, and, however miserable you might be, you suddenly turned happy when you heard the magic of his music.

Days came and days went, our boy grew up and became a handsome young man such that, just looking at him, all the girls' hearts were broken. One day, he went to the Bulibasha and told him, "Great Bulibasha, I don't know how I can thank you for all you have done. May the gods and good spirits reward you! I wish so much to go into the world to play my music and sing. Please, give me your blessing, that I might depart and find my purpose in life..."

The Bulibasha looked through his eyes to the bottom of his soul, thought it over for a while, then looked at him again and said, with a smile, "If this is what your heart wants, I should let you go your way. May the good spirits be with you wherever you are!"

The Bulibasha gathered the people and told them that their child, everybody's son, had decided to go forth into the world to play music.

As is natural with us, and just as the custom still exists among us Gypsies, the camp made a great feast as a good-bye for our boy. During the feast, the eyes of all were wet with tears. Seeing them so sad because of him, the boy promised them he'd come back again, after he had collected many coins of gold. Then he said farewell, took his violin and clothing and set out on the road. He didn't know where his feet would take him.

Nothing in this world happens without the will of destiny. Everything is well known; only we human beings don't know where we have to go. What must be, must come about, with or without our will. The boy went forth set out into the world with his violin and played and sang every place he went. Wherever he went, people listened to him, greatly pleased, and gave him money. He played music on the streets, in markets; wherever people gathered, there he started to make music.

One day a man dressed in a fine white suit approached him. "You play and sing wonderfully," he said, "but you earn very little money. In truth, you're wasting your time. If you would like, I can take you to play for a king, and there you would earn many coins of gold."

What should he do? The boy pondered and pondered. Then, without giving it a further thought, he went with the man in the white suit. In this way he arrived at a foreign country he had never heard of.

The man in white was, in fact, truly kind, and he behaved honorably toward the boy. He loved to hear the boy's songs. The boy was very lucky he had met him. When they arrived at the king's palace, it happened there was a banquet, so he started to play on his magic violin and sing until he had bewitched all their souls.

His wondrous music also brought the queen herself to the celebration. The king's wife was a beautiful woman with hair so light it seemed plucked from the rays of the sun and blue eyes stolen from the clear sky when there's not the least breath of wind in the air. Though very beautiful, she was deeply sad. However much the king did for her in order to make her happy, to see her smile, she seemed as if she weren't there in the palace. Her thoughts were always somewhere else.

When the king saw her come to the party, he was astonished; likewise, the man in white didn't know what to say. In fact, he had been hired by the king to find musicians and all sorts of unusual entertainers to please his beautiful queen and, in this way, to win her heart which seemed composed of ice, because she couldn't enjoy anything. But now something had happened. Never before had she taken part in one of the feasts given in her honor by the king. Only the violin's music brought her there, to see who played that song.

Something strange had happened to the queen. She let herself be stolen away by the magic song of the violin, and, without realizing where she was, she began to smile. She was happy. This was her first smile since she and the king had been married. The king saw her smile and couldn't believe his eyes. His queen had smiled! He quickly threw the boy with the violin a purse filled with coins of gold and asked him to go to the queen and play his music.

The queen was very beautiful. "That so much beauty can exist in this world!" the boy reflected. "How happy it must be to be a king and have such a woman as your queen. It would be wonderful to live in the king's place." He went on playing and singing while feelings of love for the beautiful queen soared through his mind from his soul.

Those who truly love each other find one another again.

The queen's face brightened, her countenance was all smiles. She opened her eyes wide and listened closely to the magical music. She recognized it, she knew it well, she had lived and breathed it in the past. But where? Where?

The party ended, the music as well, and the queen again lapsed into sadness. The king offered the boy with the violin a place to stay and engaged him to entertain his beautiful queen. What good luck for him-he couldn't want anything more. When he had gone to his room, he lay down on his bed, but all night long, he couldn't close his eyes. "Why was the queen so happy when she heard my song? Did she like my song? ...or was it really me she liked?"

The night passed in the same fashion for the queen. She couldn't sleep, either. Where . . . where did she know that music from? How wonderful she felt while the dark-skinned boy with the violin was playing his music. Finally, toward daybreak, she remembered something, but she quickly drove away that amazing thought about her life. It couldn't be true.

The following evening, there was another party given in honor of the queen, and many guests had been invited. On this night, the queen came in good time. As soon as the music of the violin could be heard, she fell under the magic spell of happiness. So it was true. She wasn't wrong about it. She had been happy like this only once in her life, before her mother's death. She felt she had to speak with the musician. How could she? What pretext could she find?

On his part, when he saw how much his songs pleased the queen, the boy heeded the summons of love and his heart beat as if would leap from his chest. Never had he seen so beautiful a woman. That night, yet again, he couldn't close his eyes and make himself sleep. But he had a bit of luck instead. Once, when he opened his eyelids, he caught some brief flashes of a very fair little girl with blond hair, and very, very beautiful.

He couldn't understand what this meant. Surely ...had he seen her somewhere? Had he ever met her before? Tomorrow he had to speak to the queen, even were he to pay for it with his life. He felt he could die for her. The poor boy, he couldn't speak about any of this to anyone. He felt he was suffocating, he had no air, so, on impulse, he took his violin and went out to the palace gardens. He was looking for some spot far away from the palace itself, and without knowing where he was going, he arrived at a lake.

It was a clear summer night and the moon shone brightly. The sky was full of stars. When he saw how far from the palace he was, he sat down on a large rock and, gazing into the sky, he started to cry. When your heart is weighed down with suffering, tears lighten the load. He took out his violin and started to say all that weighed heavily in his soul through the magic of a song as sad as his own tear-filled eyes.

At the very same moment, the queen felt as if someone were summoning her outside. Like the boy with the violin, she felt she had no air to breathe. Come what may, she had to be outside. Her steps directed her to the palace gardens and straight to the lake. Suddenly she heard the unexpected sounds of a song, and as she approached the lake, the music became much clearer. It was a song she had loved very much since she was a little child and used to go with her mother to a Gypsy camp.

She couldn't be wrong. The boy with the violin had to be the same little boy she couldn't forget, the one with whom the happiness of her childhood was bound.

She approached him slowly, very slowly, without his seeing her, and when she stood very close to him, she started to sing along with him in the Gypsies' language, because she hadn't forgotten the words. The boy supposed he was dreaming and slapped his own face. Ouch! No, this wasn't a dream. It was real. Before him stood the most beautiful being he had ever seen.

Her golden hair, which she had unclasped so that it reached below her waist, gleamed in the moonlight.

She was dressed in a white silk nightgown cut low with lace trim, and around her neck he could see a necklace of gold.

He asked her in the Romani tongue, "Who are you, beautiful apparition?"

She answered him, "I'm the one that you are looking for, because I know now, you came here for me."

"This is the first time in my life I've laid eyes on you..."

"What? Have you forgotten me?"

"I've never seen you before, my beautiful Queen. From where do you know how to speak my language?"

"You yourself taught me. Don't you remember?"

"My Queen, forgive me," and he began to cry, "I can't remember ever meeting you."

"What's wrong with you? Don't you want to play with me again?"

"Oh, may this thought be far from me!"

At that moment she reached out her hand to his neck. She hadn't been wrong. The necklace with the half of a gold coin was there. She reached her hand to her own neck and showed him the same necklace with the other half of the coin. "Have you forgotten our vow when you gave me this necklace?"

Suddenly, at that instant, he again saw before his eyes the face of the beautiful girl with golden blond hair and eyes the color of the sky, and he said to her, "Forgive me, my Queen, but I cannot remember when we saw each other or when I gave you this necklace. I'm an orphan, raised in a camp of Gypsies who took pity on me when I was about nine years old. All that happened in my life before then, I cannot remember. True, I wear a necklace like yours, and many, many times I have wanted to know what happened to me.

The queen sat down beside him and began to tell him the story of how she used to come to the camp accompanying her mother, and how he and she had used to play together. While she told him this story, the boy's eyes remained wet with tears, because a veil of fog gradually lifted from his eyes. Little by little he began to see those places where the two of them had played. He had never known what happened to him. The queen knew everything; her mind had held it all in sharp detail. While she told him the story, he could only sigh. In this way, he found out that one day, when the two women returned home from the camp, they had been seen there and followed. Her mother hadn't died a good death as she had believed then but had been murdered, so that her fortune would remain her family's. In order that this secret not be revealed, because the fortunetellers could have told everybody what happened to her, those evil people went one dark night and butchered almost the entire Gypsy camp. From the day when she herself left the Gypsy camp for the last time, she had never had a day that was good, only suffering and tears.

They had married her very young to the king, who was a kind man but did not know what he needed to do for her. And what might he do? All that the king gave her was in vain. She couldn't forget that she had pledged her heart to a little boy who had given her half of a gold coin on a necklace. She believed always that he would come for her. She had been waiting for him all her life, and now he was beside her.

"So you're the beautiful girl who appears before my eyes? Finally I can remember, and I know what happened to my family that night."

He knelt before her and then she knelt before him as well, and they couldn't speak a word. They gazed into each other's eyes and their lips joined in a kiss which not even death could undo. They could now near the clamor of soldiers from the palace approaching on horseback to search for the queen. They had nowhere to hide, nowhere to flee. They remained embracing in their kiss of life from beyond death. The soldiers stopped short and stared at them. They couldn't believe that the queen could be kissing the boy with the violin. Just then the king arrived, too. He hurried to them and reached out to separate them. But the moment his hand touched them, the strangest of things happened! The pair of them turned into a pair of flowers: one flower with white petals, and all around it as if in an embrace, another flower carpeted the earth with small red petals. These flowers are Queen of the Night and Stone Flower. Queen of the Night opens its flowers only at night, filling the air with its perfume, because it was at night that the pair of lovers confessed their love from the days when they had been children.

Old people say that these flowers will be turned back into human beings when the whole of this world no longer exists, and another world comes to be, one that won't know them. He will be the king, she, the queen, and they will rule over all their country.