Zhivko the Sabotnik

22 Oct

Zhivko Bregov was a man whose profession was determined and defined for him by the day of the week of his birth.

He was a Saturday child, born in the 1880’s in the Kyustendil region of Western Bulgaria, close to the border of the Turkish-ruled provinces of Macedonia. His mother had to raise him practically on her own, since his father was a roaming laborer who did not return to their native village of Boboshevo for years on end. Zhivko grew up thinking of this parent as a faraway stranger whom he rarely saw in his childhood.

“When shall my father come and visit us again?” he would ask her at scattered times when the image of the man began to fade and grow weak.

“When he decides it is the best time to return and see us, my dear,” she smiled brightly at him on such occasions. “He is busy with his labors and we must wait for him to be free enough to write us a letter.”

It was no wonder that the boy forgot his absent parent for long stretches of time. But then something would rekindle his memory and he would as his mother again, then again.

Zhivko was motivated more by curiosity than filial love and emotion.

It was his maternal uncle Boris who revealed to Zhivko the craft to which he was destined to enter.

He spoke to the lad when he was twelve years old. The two took a long walk together into the woods beyond the village. They rested on a high ridge overlooking Boboshevo when old Boris introduced Zhivko to the secret knowledge he possessed about the future fate that was possible for his nephew.

“I think that you are old enough to understand what you can become in your adult life, my boy,” the white-haired uncle began. “One such as you, born on a Saturday, has the capability of becoming a sabotnik, if trained in that craft.”

“What is a sabotnik?” asked the suddenly curious Zhivko. “I have never heard that particular word used before.”

Boris grinned at him. “That is a subject that is not brought up unless there is a need for the services of one such person.

“A sabotnik has different names in different places. Sometimes they can be termed a svetocher. I have heard them called a glog, and even a dzadadzhiya. A sabotnik is a specialized hunter who is invited to come to a location because of the presence there of a vampire. He is one with the gift and the knowledge of finding, identifying, and destroying a vampire who disguises himself as a normal inhabitant of a village that he imperils with attacks at night.

“People such as us rarely talk about the character and the skills of a sabotnik except when there arises a need to call one to perform his craft for us. They are individuals who roam the land, going to settlements where there is a crisis concerning some vampire.” Boris fell silent for several seconds, gazing into the eyes of his excited, interested nephew. “I have to reveal a certain secret to you, Zhivko. The reason that your father only rarely returns to Boboshevo is because he wanders about in many places to provide his skills as a sabotnik. You see, he was also born on a Saturday, the same as you.”

A long pause followed, as Zhivko digested what he had just heard said about his absent parent.

“Your mother does not know what your father is engaged in as he makes his long journeys to different regions,” added Uncle Boris. “I thought it best that she not become concerned about his safety and well-being, because the work of a sabotnik can at times be dangerous. A vampire posing as a villager is a difficult foe to contend with. He does not voluntarily surrender or leave a place that provides him victims.”

“How can I learn the ways of a sabotnik?” suddenly asked Zhivko, surprising his mother’s brother with his eagerness.

“I will teach you the little that I know from my long friendship with your father. The rest will have to come to you from experience and the talents with which a sabotnik is born.”

As the two of them walked back to Boboshevo, Boris began to instruct his nephew in the arcane art of getting rid of a vampire.

In six years, Zhivko was a tall, strong young man with long black hair and the beginnings of a beard.

His father had not returned home and no aid had been sent them from anywhere. The only possible conclusion was that the man had passed away in some distant village.

Uncle Boris once again took his nephew on a lengthy walk into a nearby mountain. He had important advice to impart to the youth.

“You are now at an age when a sabotnik often leaves home and becomes a roving wanderer, going where there is a need for him to deal with some vampire. You and your mother have a hard life here at home, but if you could earn money out in outer places, you would be able to send her the help that she needs to have.” The old man looked beseechingly at the younger one. “I have revealed to you that I know about how to identify and defeat a vampire. They are devilishly clever creatures, no doubt of that. Their sharp minds can see through traps set for them. My knowledge is limited and you shall have to learn many things from hard, brutal experience.

“Are you ready, Zhivko, to leave Boboshevo and go forth as a traveling sabotnik?”

The face of the young man seemed to glow with courage and fearlessness. “Yes, Uncle Boris, I am prepared for whatever happens to me.”

At first, Zhivko walked through villages in the vicinity of the town of Kyustendil, making ever wider circles around it. He visited communities in the Kamenitsa lowland, following the Bistritsa and Dragovishtitsa rivers. He saw the 70-meter waterfall near the village of Kamenichka Skakavitsa.

It was in an inn at the latter location that he heard a rumor of trouble with a vampire at the village of Chertirtsi. The man who told him about this knew few exact details beyond the general news he had picked up. “Some people there think that they could use the service of an able vampirdziya,” said the peasant who informed Zhivko of the situation there.

I must go to Chertirtsi and see what I can do for them, said the sabotnik to himself.

Where was the newcomer to stay in this small community with its whitewashed cottages and barns?

Zhivko decided to take the risk of asking about to find out if anyone in the village needed an extra hand for summer field work.

The first man he encountered on the single path into Chertirtsi directed him to a tiny cabin at the far end of the settlement. “That is the home of Tosho, the shepherd. If you know anything about sheep-herding, you can probably be of some use to him,” smiled the pleasant local stranger.

The neophyte sabotnik went to the small building that had been pointed out to him. Is this Tosho at home? he wondered. How should I approach him, and what will he think of me asking him for employment and help?

The old figure who emerged out of the cabin was tall, thin, and muscular. His gray hair hung down over his ears and temple.

“Yes, how can I be of help to you?” he asked the young he realized was not a villager of Chertitsi.

“I am a traveler who left his home in Bobashevo and have come in this direction to seek useful employment of some sort. I am able to carry out all kinds of jobs connecting with farms and pastures.”

“Have you had any experience in the herding of sheep?” asked the one called Tosho. “Do you think that you could work as a shepherd under the command of the owner of a flock?”

“Certainly,” answered Zhivko in a positive tone. “I have watched small flocks for farmers who kept them for wool and Sunday meat. My experience in my native village would make me a successful herder and guard over sheep and their lambs. There is no question in my mind that I can do such work.”

The old man looked Zhivko up and down, then stared him in the face for a time.

“Come with me,” ordered Tosho. “I have my flock grazing in a pasture up on the slope behind this cabin. It will be useful for me to see how you relate yourself to them, and also how the sheep react to you.”

Zhivko did as he was told, certain that he was going to be hired as a shepherd by this hermit.

It was easy for the new shepherd to fit into the routines of his employer, the friendly man who until then had lived by himself, with no assistant.

“This is a lonely, but mostly happy life that I lead,” said Tosho to the young Zhivko one evening after the flock had been put to rest in the fold behind the little cabin.

“You must be acquainted with everyone here in Chertirtsi,” smiled the newcomer, preparing to lie down and sleep on a pallet that he had made for himself.

“I know them by sight, but they do not associate with someone as lowly as a poor shepherd,” ironically noted Tosho. “The village, for the most part, prefers to ignore and avoid me as much as they can.”

“There are rumors that I have heard about a certain danger that threatens Certirtsi at night.”

“Danger? What danger?” The old man seemed to bristle up at these words.

“I am not too certain about it, but I have picked up mention of a vampire that stalks about at night. No one who mentioned this gave any specific details, though.”

“Is there any truth in such talk?” inquired Zhivko with unconcealed interest. “Or is this only empty, idle gossiping?”

The voice of Tosho seemed to come from faraway. “It has been years since a number of strange incidents occurred here in this village. Small children, animals, and young women suffered night attacks, it was bruited about.

“It was long ago, though, and then the talk suddenly came to a halt. There have been no reports of anything like that for a considerable time, I can tell you. It has been and still is mysterious to a simple person like me.”

“Perhaps some sabotnik or vampirdzhiya happened to visit Chetirtsi and rid your community of the unnatural creature,” speculated Zhivko.

Tosho wrinkled his broad brow. “I do not know, because I do not involve myself in such difficult business as that.”

The conversation ended as both of them turned in for the night.

The following morning witnessed an unforeseen event in Chertirtsi.

Three sheep of a leading villager had been found with their throats cut with large teeth marks on them. Word of the crime spread swiftly from one end of the community to the other. Tosho noticed what his neighbors were doing and inquired from one of them close by. He then informed Zhivko of what had happened overnight.

“Could it have been the work of some kind of vampire?” said the young shepherd, his brown eyes dilating with excitement.

“We can only guess about that,” muttered the older man. “It appears as if the old danger has returned to Chertirtsi.” He stared with force at his assistant. “There may be suspicion about you, a new person now in our midst.”

Thinking quickly, Zhivko decided this was the opportune time to tell Tosho the truth about himself.

“There is something that you do not know concerning me, because I hesitated to reveal it to you. It is about a particular skill that I acquired and developed in my home village. This is not easy to admit or explain, Tosho, but I am something that I concealed from you.

“I am a sabotnik, born on a Saturday. My special ability is to discover and destroy vampires dangerous to human life and well-being.”

He studied the blank face of his employer, but found no sign of reaction to what he had just revealed about himself.

“Yes, I recognized that there was something unusual about you, my boy, but I could not determine exactly what it was. I now know your secret and am glad that you have told me what the truth is.

“Perhaps it will now be possible for you and I together to find and destroy the monstrous being that has appeared again here in this village. We could work together as a special crew that fights against the crimes that may only have begun.

“I have a fear that the next victim may turn out to be a human being, one that is weak and cannot defend itself from attack by a vampire.”

“That must become our common goal and purpose,” said Zhivko with rising emotion.

“I already have definite suspicions concerning who is doing this,” murmured Tosho in a lowered tone.

“Who can that be?”

“Our head chorbadzhiya, the wealthy landowner named Kocho Daikov.”

Zhivko pondered several seconds, then explained what he wanted to do. “If you tell me which house is his, I can keep an eye on it from time to time and see what he looks like.”

On several occasions the following day, the young sabotnik passed down the main pathway on which the cottages of Chertirtsi stood facing each other in two lines.

By noon, he had completed three passes that took him past the larger building where the chordbadzhiya who owned a lot of land made his home.

It was a tall, full-figured elderly man in a formal European business suit who emerged out of the front entrance. He had a wide moustache of snowy white and a cylindrical top hat on his head, yet there was something familiar about his facial features that the passing observer noticed immediately.

Zhivko sensed a thundering shock pass through his entire body.

He quickened his stride so as to get away as fast as seemed normal. A single idea, one he could not comprehend to its depth, took firm hold of his mind and body.

It was necessary for him to flee from Chertertsi as soon as he could. This was his first encounter with a possible vampire. How could the monster be a man who looked like the father he had not seen at home from his earliest years of childhood?

Zhivko escaped out of the cabin of Tosho while the shepherd was fast asleep.

He departed the village and headed back home to Boboshevo. The man who could clear up his profound confusion was his Uncle Boris.

Once he had embraced and greeted his surprised mother, the returned sabotnik went to see his old advisor, his maternal uncle.

The two men sat down in the latter’s kitchen and the nephew described his experience in Chertirtsi.

The eyes of Boris grew large, as if seeing something incredible. It took the old man a short time to organize his thoughts.

“It is a strange tale that you are relating to me, but it has to be true, my boy. The meaning is very hard to grasp, but I believe I can understand what it all means.

“You happen to be a dhampir. That is a special kind of vampire-hunter who has that ability because of being the child of a vampire.”

Boris paused in order to look carefully at his nephew’s face.

“I am born of a vampire father?” asked Zhivko, his voice trembling.

“If that is so, that does not make you yourself a vampire. Not at all. But it means that you will become an especially skilled hunter and slayer of those unearthly creatures. Your senses are finely attuned to their detection and identification, and you shall never have fear of any such monster.”

“Thank you, Uncle Boris,” said the stunned young man, rising to his feet and exiting into the fresh mountain air outside.

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