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„Isak and the old Castle“

It is the last summer of the nineteenth century. Beyond the mighty mountains of the Caucasus, lives a six-year-old boy called Isak. Like all other boys in the world, he has a lot of wishes – about as many as the shepherd Agasi has sheep in his herd. If every wish could be put in a box and the boxes were placed on top of one another, they would make a mountain. One almost as tall as the mountain above Isak’s village with the ruined castle on its peak! The castle and the network of subterranean passageways below conceal many secrets.

Isak knows who could help make his wishes come true: the spirit of the beautiful princess Gayane, who lived in the castle long ago and was forced to marry an old warrior from another land against her will. Gayane’s spirit appears in the forest from time to time, but only on summer nights.

One day – the last day of summer – Isak overhears the two maidservants, Zara und Asmik. They whisper excitedly that the stable hand Pogos saw the spirit of the princess the previous night. Isak slips away from home and rushes to tell his friend Akop, who is a slightly older, so they can run off into the forest together to where the stable boy saw the spirit of Gayane – at the ruins of the old temple. But Akop has been grounded for getting up to mischief in the landowners’ gardens and is confined to his room as punishment. So Isak runs off into the forest alone. He has all sorts of encounters and mishaps that ought to teach him not to run away into the forest at night. But he is not discouraged. Isak penetrates deep into the dark, spooky forest. His way to the ruined temple is barred by a huge rock. He falls down beside the rock, exhausted, and hears the howl of a wolf nearby. He has visions of riding on the lord of the wolves right up to the ruined castle, which is besieged by an enemy army, finding a casket with a red-garnet ring, seeing the princess in her wedding gown, finding a treasure chest and creeping through the labyrinth with his friend Akop. These nightly visions trouble him the next day. Was it all a dream? That same morning Isak rides with his father to the spot in the forest where he fell. Lo and behold, the huge rock is gone!

He does his best to work out if what he saw was a dream or not, but he still can’t tell. Neither the shepherd Agasi, who had found him lying in tattered clothing in the forest, nor his friend Akop can help. Isak’s wise grandfather, Dedo Markos, knows all about the former prince’s castle on the mountaintop but says nothing or just makes jokes. The two boys decide to seek out old Anahit the next night. Anahit is the local miracle healer, one hundred years old, and also a witch; her name means “goddess of darkness”. Isak and Akop know that the way to her hut begins somewhere near the spring. Their first attempt to find the aged Anahit fails because two lovers are there on a moonlight rendezvous – the village teacher Sarkisyan and the maidservant Zara. But the boys don’t give up, and their perseverance is rewarded when they find the old woman. Anahit speaks in riddles and proverbs, which don’t help them much: “Only when you know the letters of the alphabet can you enter the past,” she says. “If you follow these tracks you can journey through time. They are footprints in the history of humankind.” Isak now yearns to go to school so he can learn the alphabet. Especially when his grandfather tells him that writing was created to help preserve human wisdom. But the teacher only lets children older than six attend school. What can he do?

©2009 Marina Loose

These storie had not yet been translated from Russian into English language.