Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why is the saw-fly red?

The Story of Ileana, Voinic and the Archangel Gabriel.
The following legend is told of this little beetle.


I DO not know how long ago it was that Ileana Cosinziana (Ileana the fay) walked about with her young, beautiful, and brave hero (Voinic inflorit), and, singing with a loud voice, they filled mountain and valleys with their music. It must have been long ago, for at that time the archangel Gabriel also walked the earth in the form of a very old man, leaning on iron crutches. He went about warning the people that God would send upon them a new flood of foreign tongues and wild nations, if they would not stop their quarrels and put an end to their curses. After having travelled through many countries and empires, St. Gabriel found himself one day at the top of a cliff, so high that it made your head turn when you looked down. There he met Ileana Cosinziana, who was weeping and singing a doleful tune. With her was Voinic inflorit, whom she had met in the land of the fairies, just as God makes men meet in their journeys. "How far art thou going?" asked Voinic, seeing the old man. "Much farther than thou wilt go," replied the archangel Gabriel. The young man looked up, feeling wroth with the answer. And quite naturally so, when he heard a very old man boasting that he was going much farther than he. Was he not a young sturdy man, and more likely to walk ever so much further than a bent-down old fellow grey of hair? "O old man, you must take me for a weakling, when you say that I cannot walk as far as you do."

               "Young man, your sweet, strong voice will not be heard any more a year hence."

               "And why?"

               "Because such is the will of God."

               "Yes, that might be so if you were the brother of Christ," replied the young man, sneering.

               "I may not be the brother of Christ, but that of St. Peter I may well be. If you do not believe me, let us enter a wager that a year hence we will meet here again. But you will be weak and broken, much more so than you think me to be now."

               "Well, be it so, but woe betide thee if I win the wager."

               "So it shall be."

               And wishing one another good-bye, each went his own way, bent on winning the wager.

               "Who was that daring old man?" asked the Ileana; "it seems to me that he is not so old as his grey hair betokens. He is a valiant man. God knows who he may be, but one thing is certain, he is not an old man."

               "How did you know it?"

               "Well, when he put out his hand, he gripped mine with so much strength that he very nigh burnt my soul out of me with the fire of his hand."

               When the young Voinic heard it, he got so angry that he was more like a wild beast than a human being, and being overpowered by his fury, got hold of her by the hair of her head and hurled her down the cliff so that she broke into a thousand pieces. He then began to run away so fast that the earth seemed to fly away under his feet. And thus he continued running through many lands and many countries, until the year had come round when he was to meet the old man again. On the last day of the year, Voinic remembered the wager, and looking into the water at the bottom of a well, he saw himself much weaker and older than the old man had looked a year ago. In his anger he threw himself into the well. But, in accordance with the will of God, the water would not keep him, and cast him out. He had got very old indeed, for the thoughts and worries had cut deep furrows into his face; his hair from black, turned white as the snow. This was because in his fury and in an unlucky hour he had killed his beloved Ileana by throwing her down the cliff.

               The archangel Gabriel, who knew all that had happened, changed into a young man beautiful as the sun, valiant as a king and brave as a lion. He was mounted on a charger black as the night and swift as the wind. Thus arrayed, he came to the cliff where they had arranged to meet. Voinic noticed that against his will he had also come to that spot. How great then was his fright when, instead of a decrepit old man, he found there so valiant a knight.

               "Good morning, Voinic."

               "All hail! I am no longer a hero full of sap; I am now an old weak man."

               "He, he, seest thou now that what I had told thee has come to pass? I have grown young and thou hast grown old. So it is, for who can alter the will of God? He can do what he likes, and man must submit to his decrees. So it is, indeed, but how now about our wager? Where is that beautiful maiden of thine, in whom thou didst believe more than in God?"

               "She died soon after we met."

               "True, she is dead, for thou, O wretch, hast killed her."

               "I assuredly did not; she died by the will of God."

               "Oh no, thou hast thrown her down the cliff. I know it well, for I have seen the rut on the cliff she fell down."

               "That is not true, for I have buried her with the assistance of the priest of the next village. If thou dost not believe, come with me, and I will show thee the grave."

               "This is an infamous lie. Thou hast murdered her. Thou come and I will show thee her real grave and her blood."

               And, getting hold of him, he took him down and showed him a place which seemed covered with red blood. But it was no blood. It was a vast number of small red beetles. "Out of the blood of Ileana, seest thou, have come these little flies."

               When Voinic heard this, he was seized with such a great fright that he became changed from the old bent man that he was into a small black insect, which unto this very day cries for his lost beloved Ileana. The people call it the little cricket, or rather the bull or cow of the Lord (Lygaeus equestris). The little red beetles which come out of the blood of Ileana they also call Easter beetle, for it was on Easter Day that she was thrown down the cliff.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why is the saw-fly red?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: unclassified

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