This is the one of the stories that I told in the Bardic competition a couple of weeks back. It is a re-telling of an old folk-tale that is based (somewhat) in history. More on that and some links at the end of the page.
The Dream of the Silver Veil
Bohemia, when the Czechs climbed over the mountains and first lived in the land, was rich in fertile soil and plenty of water, many trees and meadows, but the precious metals were quickly mined out and by the time of Charles IV of Blessed Memory, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, even silver was scarce and expensive.
In Prague in that day there lived a boy, Josef, (YO- sehf) and there lived a girl Maria, called Mařka (MUSH-ka). They played together, learned their letters together and quarreled, as young things do, and grew to adulthood.
The girl’s mother loved her dearly, and scrimped and saved to buy silk thread to make her a wonderful veil for her wedding day, for the Holy Corner of her home, and to pass to her own daughters.
The boy’s father loved him well, and taught him his own craft of making wonderful jewelry, everything from the smelting of the precious metals, to the setting of beautiful gemstones, so that he could pass the craft to his own sons in due time.
Josef and Mařka were married, for they loved each other dearly, despite the quarreling, or maybe because of it, and were very, very happy. Mařka wore the silver veil on her wedding day and then hung it in the Holy Corner of her home, as her mother had dreamed. As young people do, they dreamed dreams for themselves and for their children, for certainly they would be the wonders of the world!
Josef and Mařka gave each other a son, then they gave each other a 2nd son, and then a 3rd son, but never a daughter, and then Mařka died, leaving Josef with his small boys and dreams shattered by her loss.
Josef made a small box of cedar wood and covered it with beautiful silver work, and placed the silver veil in it, for it hurt his heart to see it hanging in the Holy Corner of the house by Mařka’s picture.
Each day, Josef worked in his jeweler’s shop, laboring to earn the money to feed and clothe and school his sons. Each evening he taught his sons their letters and to grow to be good and godly men.
…but after they were finally asleep, he would go to the Holy Corner and open the little box and weep, saying “Mařka, how will I fulfill our dreams without you?” …and he would wipe away a tear, and sigh, and close the little box and go to his rest, alone.
The years rolled on and the oldest son followed his father in the craft of the jeweler. The second son was clever and studied to become a priest. The third son, who had always been a happy child and the light of Josef’s life, found his own love, the daughter of a prosperous barley farmer, and became a brewer of fine beer.
…and still, each night, Josef would open the little box and speak to his Mařka, so far away in heaven, and wipe away a tear, and sigh, and go to his rest alone….
Josef’s hair grew grey and his son took over more and more of the work in their shop. His second son became a parish priest and did well, as he was wise and compassionate, having learned it from his father.
…and the 3rd son and his wife had a son of their own, a sturdy little one, who Josef doted on, in the way of grandfathers.
Then one night, Josef, before retiring, sat in the warm chimney corner with his mug of beer and his pipe, and by the time the mug was empty and the pipe gone cold he was fast asleep. As he slept he seemed to be walking up a dark path, a path was steep enough to steal his breath. As he climbed he saw a bit of light ahead of him and then a bit more and then a beautiful valley full of green grass and flowers opened up before him. He heard a voice calling him and looked up to see his Mařka at the head of the valley, wearing the lovely silver veil, as she had on their happy wedding day, beckoning him and saying, “Josef! Come to me, my Josef!”
…and he jumped up to run to her and woke himself, standing by the fire, wanting to run to her! He paced the floor in excitement, the whole night through and when his son woke in the morning he found his father bursting with the tale of this wondrous dream.
Josef told his son every detail and that he meant to find this wonderful valley.
The son thought and then said, “Dearest Father, you have been working too hard, I think. It was just a dream. Mother is in the churchyard, surely. I will take on more of the work so that you can rest and not go to her too soon.”
…and Josef sighed and did as his son had said.
After a while, though, he found that he could not forget the dream vision, and finally went to his son, the priest, to ask for advice.
After Josef had told him the tale, the priest thought and then said, “Most gracious Father, surely this is a temptation of the devil to take you away from your work and home. It was just a dream. Mother is in heaven, surely, not here on earth. Go back to your work and I will say some extra masses for her rest.
…and Josef sighed and did as his son had said.
After some months, he stood one evening looking into the little box and thinking about the vision of his Mařka and instead of going to bed, he went out into the windy night to his 3rd son’s home.
His son’s wife opened the door and said, “My Darling Father, what are you doing out at this hour! Come in and beat off the snow and warm yourself! Is anything the matter that you call so late? Your little grandson is long asleep. Come, I will give you some soup to warm you and you and your son and I may sit and talk!”
…and Josef did and they did and he told them of the vision. His son thought and then said, “Precious father, it was just a dream, you are too old to take up the vagabond’s life hunting for a dream.” …and the wife said, “See, you have a life here, and work, and a little grandson and sons and I who love you. Do not leave us to go chasing a dream!”
…and Josef sighed and did as they had said.
…but after the winter comes spring, and the restlessness that moves even the oldest of dreamers… and Josef took out the little sock in which he tied his personal money and counted it. He went out and bought a pair of stout boots, a piece of canvas and a little donkey, come home and rolled up his featherbed and put it and a bag of barley and a little cookpot on the donkey and left his home without saying a word to anyone, to follow his vision.
He was careful of his money for he knew well that “bez penize, nesou hospode!” (without money there is no hospitality). When the weather was fine he slept under a tree at night rolled in his featherbed. When the weather was not so good he put up his canvas and slept next to his little donkey under that cover. When it was truly foul he traded farmwork or pot-mending for a spot in a barn or haymow and so saved his pennies.
…and so the spring rolled on. His sons were frantic at first, but then heard from neighbors of the father’s departure and they knew what he was doing. They sighed and shook their heads and went back to their work, hoping that he would come to his senses soon.
…and the summer followed the spring and the weather grew hotter, then began to cool towards harvest, and his barley was low in the sack… and Josef was still hunting his dream.
Then one day he was in the mountains north of Podhory, almost to Kutna Hora, and he was climbing a steep path that took his breath. The stone of the cliffs frowned down on him and clouds covered the sky. He thought to himself, “Perhaps my boys are right and I should go home and forget about the vision,” but he kept on climbing with his little donkey right behind.
The clouds began to break up and there was light ahead of him, so he climbed a little father, and saw the cliffs begin to open up. As he turned the corner, there was a beautiful valley full of lush grass and flowers. He took a few steps more and the sun came out from behind the clouds, filling the valley with light.
…and there at the end of the valley he saw the silver veil waving in the breeze! His Mařka must be there! He dropped the little donkey’s lead and started to trot toward it, only to stop in his tracks and begin to laugh at himself through his wheezing, when he realized that the veil was a waterfall, sparkling in the sunshine, dazzling his eyes.
Smiling at his mistake, Josef went back for the little donkey who was quite happy to graze on the lovely green grass, and then wandered up to the head of the valley, to sit on the stones at the foot of the waterfall, idly picking up rocks and tossing them into the pool. “Soon the snow will fly and I must be home when that happens. I don’t wish to die of the cold, dream or no. Ah, Mařka…”
As he went to toss another rock into the water he stopped and stared at what he had in his hand. “That… is that… is that silver ore?” He trotted back down to the little donkey and pulled out some tools and tested the rock. Yes, it was! …and trotted back up to the waterfall and tapped and tested all the rock around.
Josef slept by the waterfall that night, after thinking hard. In the morning, he packed up his things and took the little donkey with him to a village he had passed through on his way up into the mountains. He inquired as to who owned the little valley, then asked directions to the home of the Baron who owned it.
When he got to the Baron’s, he inquired of the steward whether the little valley might be sold and how much it would cost to buy it, as he had taken a fancy to it. He was told that it would cost thirty dukati, 30 golden wheels of the king, which was a lot of money for a small parcel of land. He said that he would return with the money very soon, and headed back to Prague.
When Josef arrived you can imagine the scolding he got from his sons! I don’t have to tell you that they were unhappy with the way he had disappeared, and for so long! He listened to them, all three, and played with his little grandson, and ate well of the food that his daughter-in-law cooked for them all, and just smiled.
In the evening when everyone was heading home to sleep he went to the Holy Corner and took out the little box and went out again, to the house of a childhood friend, Francis, who had done well in business in his life.
Francis said, “What on earth have you been doing all summer? Come, sit and have some beer and we’ll talk.”
Josef told him about his travels, but only that he had found the place of his vision, not what it held. “My old friend, you know this box and what it contains and how precious it is to me, holding the dreams of my Mařka and myself. Will you loan me thirty dukati and hold this for me? I will redeem it as soon as may be, by next spring at the latest.”
Francis said, “Are you sure about this? That is a lot of money. What are you going to do with it?”
Josef said, “I cannot tell you until it is certain, but you will see it. I give you my word.”
…and Francis gave him the thirty dukati and shook his head, thinking that perhaps his old friend had grown crazed with age, but what is a friend to do?
So, before dawn, Josef packed up the little donkey, his featherbed, more tools, another small sack of barley and the thirty dukati and headed back out, after buying another pair of stout boots in the market, since the ones from the spring were nearly worn out, and a pair of stout saddlebags for the little donkeyu… and then thought, counted his pennies and bought a second little donkey and saddlebags to take with him.
Josef went straight to the Baron’s home, paid the dukati, and left with the papers proving his ownership of the little valley, leaving the Baron and his steward shaking their heads at his folly.
He went right to the valley and as quickly as he could picked up every bit of silver ore that he could find, then spent some time picking ore out of the rock behind the waterfall, just enough to fill all four saddlebags, and then turned right around and headed home just as the mountaintops began to whiten with the approaching winter.
Josef got to listen to his sons scolding him again, but he took it in good part, and spent the winter, talking with his sons, playing with (now two) grandsons, smelting his ore, and then creating lovely things of it. In the late winter he paid back the dukati to Francis and explained what he had been doing for the previous year, based on his dream. Francis returned the little box with the silver veil and congratulated him.
In the spring, he sold the last of the pieces that he had made of the ore, and this time, having explained to his sons where he was going and what he was doing, he left again, never to return to Prague.
Josef lived out his life in a little house built near the head of the Silver Veil valley, developing the mine, giving his children and grandchildren much, so that they could fulfill their dreams, creating work and wealth that fulfilled many others’ dreams, and through what he paid to the king in taxes, helping to build the Charles Bridge, Karlstein and many other wonderful things.
…and at the end of his time here on earth, he lay down in his little bed, holding the silver veil in his hands, received the last rites, and then went to be with his Mařka at last. At the end, a life lived well, that fulfilled many, many dreams.
…and I know this to be a true tale, for I ate at their table, drank at their feast, and danced at their wedding!
Author’s note – This story, although it is my re-telling of an old folk-tale, has an historical base. The town of Jáchymov, was the site of a large silver strike in 1512, which fueled a lot of the prosperity of the area for centuries. Agricola, the author of De Re Metallica, based a lot of his work on what he learned in this mine. The Silver Veil mine was the first of the mines in the area and the industry of the miner’s wives in making veils of silver lace may be the origin of the tale.
Some information about the mining in the area may be found here: http://magazine.cim.org/en/mining-lore/minings-bohemian-boomtown/
More on Agricola and De Re Metallica here: http://magazine.cim.org/en/mining-lore/the-miners-bible/