“You took an advance months ago and they’re getting impatient. Either produce a finished documentary or make your excuses directly and return the money; there is no third choice.”
“Okay, I’ll return the money. I can’t imagine going anywhere with Walter right now, let alone to a foreign country where I’ll have to rely on him for company in the evening after spending the entire day with him.”
“Fine, but let me warn you that if you bow out now you’ll probably never work for them again, or anyone else in the industry for that matter. At least not in the near future.”
“Bart, it can’t be as bad as that.” I insisted.
“Morgan, you’ve built up a nice little career producing unique travel documentaries but there is a limited market for this kind of work. If you screw over one client, how many others will be willing to hire you? Think about it. So what if you and Walter are having problems, he’s a talented operator. Wait until the project is finished and then dump him. It’s a win-win situation.”
“For everyone but Walter.” I interjected, feeling guilty.
“True, but you’re going to dump him anyway, what do you care?”
“Five year’s worth is what I care. Even though things are on a downslide, I would hate for him to use me for a project and then say ‘sayonara’ as soon as it’s finished.”
“Then maybe you should be up front with him and make the trip strictly business.”
“And how do I know he won’t sabotage things just to get even? It’s too late to get someone else; all the good camera operators are busy. There’s no one else available if I’m to complete this on time.”
“Then go finish the project, come home and have a heart-to-heart with him. Maybe he is feeling like it’s time to move on as well.”
“Do I have a choice?” I groaned.
He ignored my rhetorical question and dialed the Bulgarian embassy to see what was required in the way of visas and permits for Walter and me.
All the way home I pondered Bart’s comments on the possibility that Walter was also feeling the way I did. Perhaps he was being possessive and pushy deliberately. He knew how strong-willed and independent I was. Maybe he was waiting for me to make the first move so that I could save face, although that wasn’t very Walter-like. As generous as he was in spirit, he would not want to look like the injured party. Once the documentary was finished, we’d have to talk about our situation and decide whether we could part amicably or not.
* * *
I was amazed at the breathtaking beauty of the rock formations ahead of us. All the major rocks had names, some of which were obvious when you studied the subject. It was incredible, in one
moment you felt like you were in the middle of a mystical landscape replete with fairies and fair maidens. In the next moment a massive brooding shape took on a threatening persona that made you quiver.
While I had seen similar landscapes in the United States and Canada, there was something about the history of these rocks that captured my imagination. Of course having read about the fortresses they helped form and the various occupations by the Romans, Bulgars, and Turks played a part as well. My mind drifted and I thought about the days when the pass was used as a major trade route.
“Are we done for the day? We’re losing the sun.”
Walter’s impatience was evident in every syllable and I didn’t understand why he couldn’t appreciate the majestic beauty of the Belogradchik Rocks the way I did. I began to wonder just what it was we had in common and what had brought us together in the first place.
“Yes, let’s head back to the motel and examine the footage.” I sighed. The magic was lost.
We packed the gear and drove back to our motel that was just minutes away. The silence made the trip seem longer than it was and I couldn’t wait to escape the vehicle.
“I’m going to the pub for a couple of cold ones; you don’t have to wait up if you don’t want to.” And just like that Walter took off, leaving me and the equipment deposited outside the motel room door. He hadn’t even asked if I wanted to join him.
I watched today’s filming with awe and anger. As beautiful as everything was, how could Walter have not seen the horseback rider on top of one of the ridges? Was he out to ruin the project, or was he simply not paying attention?
Walter stumbled in around one and although I was awake, I pretended otherwise. I was fuming. He knew that we were going out at first light, what was he thinking? Between the rider today and this inconsiderate behavior, I was ready to hand him his walking papers and go it alone.
* * *
“You needn’t shout.” Walter whined as he massaged his temples.
“I’m not shouting. If you have a headache perhaps you shouldn’t have had so much to drink last night.”
“So that’s it. You’re choked because I went out drinking without you.”
“No, I’m choked that yesterday’s film is ruined because you failed to notice the horseback rider in the background.”
“What rider? There was no one in the background.”
“Then we had better schedule you for an eye exam because there certainly was someone there.” I left him watching the film as I took my shower.
“Sorry, I could have sworn there was no one there.” His tone was contrite and I decided to let him off the hook, for now.
“We’ll just shoot that part again. It shouldn’t take too long.”
We were halfway through the day’s shoot when a cute little thing drove up in a yellow Skoda that had seen better days.
“Walter, are you coming to dinner tonight?” the newcomer asked as she walked in front of the camera.
“Oh, this is just too much.” I muttered. “Yesterday was ruined and now this footage is shot as well.”
“Desislava, this is my partner Morgan. Morgan, this is Desislava. Her father owns the local pub.”
So I was now relegated to the role of partner, which could mean anything or in this case nothing at all.
“Pleased to meet you.” I extended my hand, which she shook limply. “Walter, we might just as well call it a day. You can catch a ride back with Desislava and I will see you in the morning.” Taking the equipment out of his hands and stowing it in the trunk I drove back to the motel, leaving him with no choice.
Obviously he had been with Desislava last night. Is she the reason I wasn’t invited to join him? Had they made the date earlier or met last night for the first time? Did he deliberately seek out someone who was my opposite? Desislava was petite, dark, beautiful, and feminine to the extreme. I was blonde, tall and although I bordered on being athletic I had enough beauty, curves, and style to hold my own against any woman.
Some women might have been upset, but I was relieved to have an obvious excuse to call it quits. I was angry that he was fouling up production whether it was intentional or not, and decided that I would finish the project on my own. If he needed time to dally, so be it! I would hire locals to describe the various wonders of Bulgaria while I did the remaining camera work myself.
Watching today’s film I was once again entranced with the beauty of the scenery and aggravated to find horse and rider present once more. What the heck was going on? Walter can’t possibly claim not to have seen him again today. It was growing dark but I decided to drive back out to the rocks and take a look around.
If I thought the rocks were amazing in the daylight, I was totally unprepared for their striking beauty in the moonlight. I had traveled to many awe-inspiring locales while making documentaries, but I had never felt this humbled before. Unexpectedly my eyes welled up and I felt like I was standing on the edge of something momentous. I took several pictures before I heard the soft whisper.
I strained to hear where his voice was coming from. Obviously he was trying to remain out of sight. Was he forbidden to see Bisera? Was she too young for him? Were they each married to someone else, or was one of them from the wrong side of the tracks? All kinds of scenarios sprang to mind as I walked toward him. Tripping over an unseen object my head struck a small rock.
“Help me, please.” I could only hope that someone who whispered a name so lovingly would not turn out to be a maniacal killer. Just a few yards away a man rose slowly from the rocks and walked toward me. He looked down at me for several seconds before he scooped me up into his arms. Placing me on a magnificent animal he climbed up behind me and we rode further into the rocky fortress.
“Where are you taking me? I have to get back to the others.” I wanted him to understand that I was not alone and others would look for me if I went missing.
“I waited for you.” He lifted me down and sat me on a rock.
“You waited for me? Was that you up on the ledge?” My head was reeling. Was this my mysterious horseman?
“You didn’t come, I waited for you but they came instead. I kept coming back to wait for you.”
“I don’t understand. Who came?”
“It doesn’t matter, we are together now.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to get back to the motel. People are waiting for me.”
“I waited for you Bisera. You said you would come.” He insisted.
“You have me confused with someone else. My name is Morgan.”
“Morgan?” He looked at me closely and realized that I was not his beloved Bisera. “I will take you back; perhaps Bisera is there now, waiting for me.”
“That’s a great idea.”
He put me on the horse once more and we rode back to the car. He stopped short, dismounted, and lifted me off the horse. He rode off without another word.
“So much for chivalry.” I sat behind the wheel wondering if I should try to drive the short distance to the motel or if I should just bellow until someone found me.
“There you are. I’ve been waiting, why are you just sitting here?” Walter was obviously in a mood and I wondered what the lovely Desislava might have done to upset him so.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m injured. Can you help me back to the room and see if the manager can locate a doctor who will come around?”
“Oh gawd, now what?”
“Just help me will you? And take a look at today’s shoot, our rider is back. In fact, he might have been the one who came to my rescue tonight.”
“You were with some strange man this evening? That’s why you sent me off with Desislava?”
“Well I doubt he was any stranger than your companion. By the way, where is she and why are you back so early?” It was just like him to twist things around to put me in the wrong. He had gone off the night before and left me alone, but seemed to forget that just now.
“It seems her father isn’t too keen on her taking up with a foreigner. We’re going to meet later. I came back here to get the car. I trust you won’t be using it.”
“Hardly. We need to talk about the project tomorrow. It seems to be spiraling downward and we have to get things back on track.”
“Yeah sure, whatever. I’ll have a word with the front desk before I leave. Catch you later.”
* * *
“You don’t have concussion. The bruising looks bad but it will be gone in a few days. Take these tablets for the pain and rest as much as possible. Call me if the dizziness persists.”
The doctor was a sweetheart who looked just a little like everyone’s favorite grandfather. He was more concerned for me than Walter was and I had only known this man ten minutes.
“I was going to go back to the rocks tomorrow to finish filming there. Do you think I’ll be able to?”
“My dear child you really should rest. I’m surprised you managed to walk back to the car on your own.”
“I didn’t walk. A young man on horseback brought me back.”
“On horseback? What did he look like?”
“It’s funny but I didn’t really notice. He’s about my age, dark and not much taller than me.”
“What was his name?”
“He never told me, but he was waiting for someone named Bisera.”
“Bisera? Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, very sure. Do you know her?” I hoped I didn’t just get the poor girl in trouble.
“There was a Bisera here a long time ago but she died.”
“I’m sorry. He obviously doesn’t know that. He’s been waiting for her.”
“I suggest you avoid him in the future, he is not someone you should become involved with.”
“Why? He seemed nice enough.” The pills were making me loopy. I was asleep by the time the doctor left the room but before he left I could swear I saw him making the sign of the cross.
I awoke feeling much better and wanted to get the filming over with. Walter appeared to have had a successful night. He was whistling and in great spirits.
“Much, thanks. Let’s try to wrap this part of the filming up today. Then we can finish up the rest of it and get back to the States.”
“Yes, well about that…”
“I might stay on a bit longer. Do you mind?”
“Would it matter if I did?”
“Not really” He admitted.
“Sure, stay. It’s beautiful here. I wouldn’t mind staying myself.”
“But you aren’t, are you? Going to stay, that is.”
“No Walter. I’m not going to stay, but I might come back for a visit some day.”
I covered the bruising up as much as possible and Walter filmed me from the left. It was a relief to get it over with. The rest of the documentary would be filmed with locals talking about major historical events and their favorite tourist attractions, including the Magura Cave.
We finished packing and while Walter went off to have a drink with his sweetheart, I decided to visit the rocks one last time. It was a chore to go the distance, but I wanted to see if he was there again. I had to tell him that Bisera was dead.
“It’s me, Morgan.” Just then Walter grabbed my shoulder and spun me around. I lost balance and fell.
“Meeting your lover again? Didn’t you tell him you were already spoken for?” Walter reached down to pull me up when my rescuer knocked him off his feet.
“Walter, what’s the matter with you?” I started to back away when I was once again scooped up and gently placed on the horse. We rode toward the fortress and this time I didn’t protest. At the moment I felt much safer with this stranger than with Walter.
“Did you see Bisera?”
“Bisera can’t come, she died. I’m sorry.” I was sorry to be the one to have to tell him this. Regardless of his reputation or social standing why hadn’t someone else shown him this small courtesy? Tears spilled down my cheeks.
“She promised to come. I waited and she didn’t come. I came back night after night.”
“I have to go; I only wanted to let you know so that you could stop waiting.”
He turned the horse around and rode back toward the motel.
“I don’t see Walter anywhere; I think you can leave me here. Thank you.” Before he rode off I had the presence of mind to ask his name.
“Valko.” He smiled and was gone before I could think of an excuse that would make him stay.
* * *
“Bart, I don’t understand how he kept appearing on the film. At first I blamed Walter for not paying attention, but I took the stills and he was in every one of them.”
“Don’t worry about it. The client thinks the mysterious rider adds to the documentary and loves it. So you and Walter are really finished, what happened over there? Are you okay?”
”He fell for the daughter of a pub owner. It turns out the girl was leading him on. Once her father saw her cozying up to an American, her previous suitor suddenly looked more acceptable. Walter went to the pub to tell her he was going to stay in Bulgaria and arrived just in time to hear her engagement being announced. He downed a couple of drinks in record time and went looking for me. When he saw Valko he went ballistic. He tried to apologize in the morning, but I had already had enough and told him it was over.”
“So what are you going to do now? I have a project you might be interested in.”
“Actually I’m going to take a well deserved vacation.”
“Do I even need to ask where you’re going?” Bart smiled.
“You’re right; I’m going back to Bulgaria. I’m fascinated with those rocks.”
“Are you sure it’s the rocks you’re fascinated with and not the horseman?”
“Well, if I happen to see Valko while I’m there, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
* * *
I stayed at the same motel and drove out to the rocks to walk around. I didn’t see Valko anywhere and went back to the motel feeling disappointed. On my third morning back I bumped into the doctor.
“Well young lady, I’m happy to see you again. How’s your head?”
“Doctor, do you have a few minutes?”
“Certainly, is everything okay?”
“I just wanted to ask you a few questions about our last conversation. Can we go somewhere for a coffee?”
We slipped into a small café and I waited for the server to leave before I broached the subject.
“Do you remember what you told me about the young lady who died, Bisera?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“I’m trying to find her friend, he inadvertently appeared in several scenes of my documentary and the client loved it. I want to compensate him for his time.” I felt bad lying to this kindly old man, but it was better than telling him that I flew back here from America because I was infatuated with a total stranger.
“Take my advice and do not pursue the matter.” He looked very uncomfortable.
“What aren’t you telling me? I don’t care if he is socially unacceptable. I just want to speak with him one more time.”
“One more time? You spoke with him after your accident?”
“Yes, I told him Bisera had died and he shouldn’t wait for her. But I was hoping you could tell me where to find him.”
“I can do better than that, I can show you.”
We finished our coffee and strolled through the village toward a ruin. He pointed to an ancient marker and told me my rider was buried there.
“What do you mean buried there? How can that be?” My temples were starting to throb and I felt like I was standing in a vacuum.
The doctor spread his jacket over a boulder and told me to sit.
“It was long ago. The Black Knight would ride along the trade route and rob unescorted travelers. A price was put on his head but no one could catch him. The lovely Bisera was his downfall. She and her father were coming home one night when he came upon them. He let them go but followed them to their farm. The next night he came to her window and asked her to come away with him. Eager to escape her father’s domination, she promised to meet him by the barn the following night. Her father heard and sent word of the meeting so that he could claim the reward. Instead of a young maiden’s embrace, he was greeted with a hail of arrows. Although the archers claimed one arrow pierced the Black Knight’s heart, he had managed to ride off into the night. Days later his remains were found over there and buried. From that time on, people claimed to have seen him riding on the ridge. As far as I know, you are the first person who has actually spoken with him.”
“So that’s what he meant when he said he waited for her but ‘they’ came instead. What happened to Bisera?”
“Her father had sent her to her aunt’s in a neighboring village so that she would not be there when the Black Knight was ambushed. The aunt agreed to keep Bisera locked up until her father came to fetch her. Bisera tried climbing out the bedroom window; she fell and broke her neck.”
“How awful. Poor Valko.” Poor me, first I fall for Walter and then for a ghost.
“Valko? Where did you hear that name? He is always only called the Black Knight.”
“He told me. I remembered to ask him the last time I saw him. But if they’re both dead, why was he still here waiting for her?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”
I snapped a couple of pictures of the area and we walked back in silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts.
I was certain I wouldn’t see Valko again now that he knew Bisera wasn’t coming. I was mistaken. When I developed my pictures he was there once more, only this time he wasn’t alone. It seemed that Valko’s long wait had finally paid off.