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The King's White Horse

By Ivan Karasev

Old Iphigeneia held horses. But there was one mare she loved almost better than herself. The horse was snow-white and the old lady was hiding her from strangers’ eyes. It was only late at night when she let her take a walk alone in the meadow. But can one hide anything from people’s eyes? However, knowing Iphigeneia’s stern temper, nobody dared to attempt at her riches. And everybody knew that wherever the white mare was on a moonlit night – whether browsing on emerald grass or bathing in the dark river – the old Iphigeneia was watching her closely. But then, nobody had ever seen them together, either: the old lady seemed to be shy of her only treasure.
But one day a king’s son was crossing the place, and he heard of the white mare. So he disguised as a wanderer and decided to visit Iphigeneia. Now, the old woman was not in the least surprised either at his visit, or his request to sell him the white mare. She just became somber like a dark cloud, and her face went red, and so did everything, lit by the sunset.
“Take her free”, Iphigeneia said, “but on one condition. The mare is young as yet and skittish, therefore when you stable her, keep her separately from the others and never spy on her at night”.
There was something familiar in Iphigeneia’s face, but what was it? The young king’s son could not recollect.
Iphigeneia entered the house and never went out again. The king’s son began to worry: 
“Pulled my leg, she did!” 
The sun had long since set, and long shadows streamed from the high pine trees. The king’s son entered the house, but nowhere could he find the old woman. Suddenly a hard wind blew and there was neighing to be heard outside. A white horse was standing in the green meadow in the dark twilight with the moon dimly emerging over her tousled mane.
It was a really royal gift Iphigeneia had had a burst of generosity for, as there could hardly ever be anybody cleverer and more beautiful than the king’s white horse. No-one ever understood him better, nor loved him so dearly as she did. All those years the king had stuck to the prohibitions of old Iphigeneia, but one night, while he was passing the stable, his legs in spite of himself brought him to the place where his cherished pet was standing, and hands involuntarily opened the forbidden doors. 
On the floor instead of the horse there lied old Iphigeneia. Black blood was trickling from her mouth and ears. And on her left hand the king saw a ring exactly like his own.
 
(Translated by Marina Martinova)
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