From Klechdy: starożytne podania i powieści ludowe, collected and edited by Kazimierz Władysław Wójcicki (1807–1879). Second, enlarged edition, published in 1851, in Poland, Warszawa, w Drukarni Jana Jaworskiego. Pages 132-138.
Read more about this volume in my post “Fables: Ancient Folk Tales and Narratives | Klechdy: Starożytne Podania i Powieści Ludowe, by Kazimierz Władysław Wójcicki”
On a Holy Day, under a sprawling linden frolicked a group of children from a nearby village. They picked flowers, they jumped, they played on wooden horses. The braver ones climbed the linden, having noticed sparrow nests.
There was no crying. Happiness reddened their robust faces. Happy chatter and innocent laughter rang all around.
One could hear a bell from a nearby church, where a pious priest celebrated a mass. Pious villagers, parents and older siblings or the children, on their knees, sent their fervent prayers to God.
From among fir trees, along the balk between the fields of wheat stepped out a short girl in a white garment. Her face was tawny, as if of Tatar parentage, her eyes goggling, cold, spellbinding.
A wreath of wild poppies on her black hair stood out like embers over black coal. A blood-red scarf wrapped her braid. She wielded a black rod in her hand.
She walked slowly, wherever she stepped, flowers withered, grass burned as when a poisonous viper slithers.
First she stopped by the village cemetery. She unearthed old graves, took old bones, hid them. She broke old coffins and from those she also took skeletal bones. Wherever she neared, shortly gravely cold blew, a chill of a dungeon, musty and damp.
She spoke to no one, but muttered to herself in an incomprehensible tongue.
A villager coming from that side of the forest heading for church, bumped into this girl, and immediately lost his senses. He didn’t even reach the church, he hanged himself on a dead willow.
She walked on, from the cemetery through the village, but the settlement was empty, because the elders prostrated before God, and the children played under the linden.
As soon as she noticed the group of innocents, she hastened her step, her goggling eyes even more staring, and touched with the black rod a rosy-cheeked girl who stood the closest. The child shuddered, shivered, and fell dead. Her blush vanished as her cheeks blackened like coal.
Gravely cold shrouded the group of children. Happy chatter and laughter stopped. Screams of terror rang all around.
The Silent One beat with her rod, and children like strangled nestlings fell and blackened.
The older ones began to run away, fear gave them strength. They scattered in all directions. In vain tried the Silent One to overtake them.
Scattered children gathered in in a green oakwood, calling to each other in subdued voices, as a scattered flock of partridges. There, with their hearts pounding, they breathed, tired. The oldest boy stood and from an oak saw the girl who so killed so many of them returned to the cemetery.
The sun moved past noon. Fathers and mothers ran through the fields and gardens, looking for the children. A young mother was the first to come across the lawn under the linden and with a cry of despair fell on the blackened corpse of the first girl. It was her firstborn.
At that terrible sound women and fathers ran, the elders gathered. Mothers with piercing cries wanted to bring back alive dead children. Fathers cried mutely. And the elders with tears in their eyes said “Child reaper was here, a girl named the Silent One.”
The first mother, who called the other ones with her cry, didn’t get up anymore. Other women were led home by their grieving husbands. The elders took the corpses of children to bury them in consecrated land.
In a green oakwood a warm wind blew. The sun shone with the last of rays, and the remaining group of children didn’t dare move from their spot.
A foggy cloud sailed over their head and from inside stepped out a beautiful girl with a pleasant smile.
Some children stretched their arms toward her and cried “Mother! Mother!” And ran to her as to her mother. The girl hugged them to her bosom, shared treats. The others, seeing that, happily joined the first, and the girl sat them in a row in the cloud. Once she gathered all of them, the foggy cloud lifted up. It sailed easily. Children chattered happily, because the girl cradled and hugged them like a mother.
The bells tolled in the village. First they carried the dead mother. The women cried for their bereaved state, because no children were left in the village. Men with their heads bowed to their chest stepped slowly. The elders carried the blackened corpses of the murdered children.
The moan of the funeral bell rang all around. The Silent One was carrying an apron full of bones. She heard that slow sound of the bell. She understood it well, because her still, dark face brightened with a smile, and foggy eyes lit with fire.
Then the foggy cloud sailed in, in which the girl Kania lifted the remaining group of children, ripping them forever from their mothers’ bosoms.
One elder, who realized what was taking place, cried terrified “Children! Kania is flying!” and hugged his grandson’s blackened corpse.
Futile fear. There was no child left in the village. The first ones were murdered by the child reaper, the others dark cloud carried away forever. And bereaved mothers dissolved in tears, in vain waiting for the return of the lost children.
translated from Polish by Jolanta Davis
The original story mixes past and present tense. I decided to switch it all to past tense.
It’s hard to translate “Cicha” – the name of the child reaper, as it’s not a first name. It’s an adjective that can be translated as quiet or silent. I decided to translate it as the Silent One.
If I understand correctly an article I found in Prace Literaturoznawcze, issue 2018 / 6, “Demons of Plague According to Kazimierz Władysław Wójcicki,” by Sabina Kowalczyk from Uniwersytet Warmińsko-Mazurski w Olsztynie, Cicha seems to appear only in this one story by Wójcicki. I found interesting a theory that Cicha might have been a human once, and either died suddenly or was incorrectly buried. One more thing to research…