A retold tale from the people of Siberia
As the night draws her cloak around the shore of Lake Baikal, spirits and shadows wake up. Not everything is as it seems in this place, for Siberia is a land filled with magic. Sit down at the water’s edge and, as darkness falls, listen to the stories it has to tell.
Baikal was once a God. He was strong, fierce and proud. He had 337 children, but of all of these he loved Angara the best. She shone like a sky full of stars, her soul was deeper than the water of the lake and her mind as sharp as the ice shards of winter.
Many princes came to ask for Angara’s hand in marriage. They would travel from afar and stay at her Father’s house, singing great ballads of their love, reciting reams of poetic metaphor and showing Baikal how brilliant they were in conversation and competition.
But Angara was not interested in any of these visitors.
One day, as she was wandering the shore of the lake, a traveller sat by the water's edge gazing over the still waters. Around him was a deep quiet, the quiet that comes with the first snow fall of winter when all noise is cushioned and all becomes still. He was tall and his eyes were as wide as the ocean itself. His name was Yenisei and he was journeying from the frozen north to his mountain homeland far to the south.
"Sit with me if you wish," he said.
They sat for a while in silence and then they began to talk.
Yenisei was full of stories. He told her of proud antlered reindeer, of huge white bears that rise up on their hind legs and bellow at the moon; of the dancing of silver fish in crystal clear waters and mountains that touch the frozen fingers of the moon. They sat together and talked in this way until the sun hid her face behind the hills and sat together quietly, watching side-by-side as the world grew dark around them.
That night, Yenisei asked Angara to marry him. She smiled a smile that made the moon shine brighter and said “YES!”
“I must leave now. I will be back soon to speak to your father about our wedding,” said Yenisei, “but here, I have a gift for you.”
Yenisei gave Angara a tall white bird - a Siberian crane. “If you need me, this bird will always find me and I will come for you, even if I am a thousand miles away.”
And Yenisei was gone.
The next day, Baikal came to find his daughter
“My dear girl, my beautiful Angara, I have found you a husband at last!”
Irkut was an older man with cold eyes. He had no stories and it seemed to Angara that her heart would freeze if she spent too long sat beside him. But she was too afraid to tell her father about the man she had promised herself to or challenge his choice.
Do not forget, Baikal was a God.
Angara whispered her woes into the ear of the white bird. The crane collected every word and every tear and flew off and away into the sky.
Days passed, but no message from Yenisei came. Meanwhile, Baikal was busy preparing for her wedding to Irkut. Each night there were great feasts and Angara had to sit beside her father's intended son-in-law and suffer his cold breath on her cheek, his bony hand on her arm. Angara’s heart felt heavy and her stomach thick with fear.
The night before the wedding, Angara could not bear it any longer. She no longer cared that her father was a God - she would rather die in the wilds of Siberia than marry that man.
She crept out of her room, down the stairs and out of the door. She took a proud white stallion from the stables and whispered “Run my friend. I beg you - take me far from here.”
When Baikal awoke with the first rays of the sun and found his daughter had gone, he raged and roared. He scanned the land and found the path his daughter was riding, out of the valley and away from the lake. Terror caught Angara's breath as she felt his eyes upon her.
“YOU WILL DO AS I SAY ANGARA!” Baikal screamed. He ran to the shore of the lake, picked up an enormous rock and with all his strength, he threw the rock at his daughter.
The rock flew through the air. It would have crushed her but the horse was fast and swift and she escaped!
Angara rode and rode and rode. How long she rode, I do not know, but I do know that although her body escaped unscathed, that rock had crushed her heart and made it hard to breath.
River. Mountains. Rock. Ice. Wind. Snow. Rain. Snow. Ice. Rock. Mountains. River.
Finally, she reached the Sayan Mountains and there, galloping towards her on a strong black horse, was Yenisei! He took her in his arms and she wept. Yenisei led her up high into the mountains and sat silently beside her, holding her hand softly in his. They sat in this way as the sun hid her face and the moon man turned the grey rocks silver.
Up in the cold air of the mountains, Angara found she could breath again.
Angara never returned to her Father’s lake. Of over 300 rivers that flow into Lake Baikal, only the Angara River flows out. The rock that Baikal threw is also still there in the waters of the great lake. The shamans - the holy magicians - of Siberia say that the rock holds secrets and stories for those who know how to listen.
And that is the story of Angara’s escape from her angry father to the mountains of Sayan where she runs free forever.
Copyright Abigail Simmonds 11/11/17