The ballad of the stolen goat
While my oxen drink (they are very old, time to turn them into minced meat),
We will sit and chat and smoke our pipes while waiting away the heat.
We will smoke the precious pipeweed from town, like the best one we had before,
And I’ll tell you what happened at the side of this stream on the eve of the Russian war.
This was more than half-hundred years ago, but that’s what I always say:
“Let the oxen live long, let the goats be damned, wither and die away!”
We were driving our herds uphill, we were two, my Father and I,
The swift Kodor rumbled to the left, and the clouds roamed the sky.
A young lad, I was distracted by some sweet berries I just had to eat,
Climbed back to the path to catch up with Dad, there was a sight I was fated to meet:
A stranger was dragging a goat behind, a goat that I recognized,
And I knew the face of the person, too; was from our herd his prize.
He stayed in our house once for a while, he was hiding, that was for sure;
He might have been a convicted man, a deserter evading his due.
But we didn’t ask him then who he was, was he thinking of good or ill,
Nobody was breaking the right of the guest to be silent and to speak at will.
I shouted “Stop!” and I ran towards him, “That’s a goat from our herd,
Remember, you stayed in our home, drank our wine and ate our bread,
But we didn’t ask you then who you were, were you thinking of good or ill,
Nobody was breaking the right of the guest to be silent and to speak at will”.
But he smirked at me smugly and pointed then at the rifle on his shoulder right,
“Whatever I take I choose to make mine by the long-shooting rifle’s right;
I don’t count the places I stayed in, I don’t care where I drink or eat,
And the bread I ate at your father’s hearth has long since turned to shit”.
I choked on this shame as a dog at a wake chokes on its own bile,
What could I do! When a rifle speaks, a stick would better be silent.
But still I reminded him: “You partook in our meals and the warmth of our home,
And we did not ask you where you had come from and where you chose to go”.
Then he pushed me roughly away and said: “Off my road, boy, and let it go,
Otherwise the goat he has lost today would be the least of your fathers woes”.
He whipped the goat with a leather cord, drove it down to the riverside,
What could I do – if a rifle is to speak, the stick would better hide.
He didn’t know my comrade had started that way in the morn with his hunting gun,
“All right”, I thought, “I’ll wait on the hill, you go down where the waters run”.
He let his tongue run loose, he did, he badmouthed my father and herd,
He might have not meant it, but the words were said, and I was the one who heard.
And so when he reached the riverside, the river was singing loud,
From afar I saw my comrade walking that way, armed, agile and proud.
I was shamed and angry, and my voice flew like a crow over the reckless man,
The river hid it, but it carried my words to my comrade; he was ready then.
When I came downhill, I saw the thief standing straight as if he’d been hung,
His arms at his sides, and the lock of his rifle on the grass like a torn-out tongue.
My comrade made it all ready for me, he spread out his cloak in the sun,
And sat there silently, holding the thief at the point of his hunting gun.
I threw down my stick, I picked up his rifle, and I put the lock back in place.
“Now”, I said, “it’s your turn to be silent and my turn is to speak with grace”.
I took his cord off my goat’s neck and threw it at him saying: “Catch!
Steal a devil in hell, tie him to yourself, all the better for you to fetch.
You said you don’t care where you eat or drink, and who’s stronger has the right?
Behind your right shoulder your right is, you said, I’ll be aiming at your left side”.
He was frightened blind by the sight of me, tried to flee and backwards he stumbled,
Where gurgling down stones, the swift Kodor into the darkness tumbled.
I might have spared the bullet then, let him fall and get smashed there on the spot,
However, I didn’t want to be playing with God, and I felled the thief with my shot.
Since then many waters did flow away, crystal clear or of reddish hue,
I know the measure of my own guilt and the measure of my rightness, too.
I aimed and shot, I was shot myself, stabbed by a traitor amongst my kin,
Through the tumultous times of war I lived and bog ague under my skin.
I was shot myself and I aimed and shot back, and I knew that this would return,
That the ones who shoot will be shot themselves, when the time comes for their turn.
What’s a goat, you say? A couple of horns, a home for ticks and fleas,
But the honour of the hearth is worth more than a life, as our custom decrees.
If you choose to steal, go and steal away, on your conscience it well may rest,
But don’t you dare to touch a needle in the house where you were a guest.
Since then many times spring came and went, grass grew and died away,
The honour of your homeland and of your hearth you see in a different way.
Each time has its custom which later on would be seen as weird and quaint,
But what tomorrow will be quaint, can bring us today to fight.
We distilled spirits from wild-growing pears, and you from wild waters – light,
And all those never drink from puddles on the road, who choose walking upright.
There are two main roots in every soul – the eternal Fear and Shame,
And each time Fear gelds a person like swine, they are human only by name.
These are the two main roots in every soul for the people of our ilk,
And each man whose Shame drives away his Fear, honours his mother’s milk.
That custom might be out of date, but never will be a slave
Who loses his blood first, and only then — his courage on the brink of his grave.
While the honour of your homeland and of your hearth you see in a different light,
But if you guard it the way we do, you will forever be right.
But don’t put your rightness, don’t put your act in the faces of other folk,
We plant the pipeweed, we dry the leaves, it’s our right to smoke.