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The Tale of the Jumping Serpents of Bosnia (Revised and Reedited 7/2008)
Along the coast of the Adriatic Sea lives what now is called the “poskok,’ better known as the ‘Jumping Serpent’. These creatures are some five-feet long and to my understanding can jump some three feet in the air and leap some five-feet in any direction they wish, simply by aiming at whatever, wherever. But this didn’t happen by chance, this really and truly happened by necessity. And this is the tale you are about to hear, the ‘why,’ of it, how it came about. And to be quite honest, you will be the first to hear of it.
The poskok has a macabre-hissing tone to its dynamic language, a hissing that bellows out fear, and out of fear and inborn aggressiveness, its impulses create a neurological reaction that makes it leap and jump. Again, the why of this will come out in the tale! But it is always prudent to know the background of things, and so I am equipped to share it with you. In addition to its poisonous bite, it has quite the temper, and at times it can look no different than a log or branch by a tree, or alongside a lane or road, or within a dense forest laying next to rocks and decaying wood. And let us add to its natural abode in this narrative background: it prefers-if given a choice, the natural background of trunks of trees-to live amongst.
Of Olden Times
(Advance to the story)
It was during a time when noble monarchs ruled Bosnia (and the lands surrounding, know as: Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia)-during what was known as Medieval Bosnia (958-1463) this story takes place; a time when cold snowy winters plagued this mountainous land with bluish-purple, violent crosswinds coming from the Adriatic by way of the Mediterranean Sea, when the lands had hellish terrain for its people to crossover, such as the Dinaric Alps, and the beautiful Drina River, which flows endlessly through villages and towns, in Eastern Bosnia, surrounded by hills and mountains, and the Neretva River, which flows in the south into the Adriatic: here the Dinarides provide shelter to the old ruins of fortresses that dot this mountainous landscape, at this point is where our story begins, and ends.
Some folks have said, the old Man, Mr. Goose, came down from Mount Zlatibor, after visiting a village area known as Sirogojno, perhaps he was doing business in that area before he came to King Mon’s Kingdom, no one knows for sure, but here he was a stranger surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, and the woodlands in Eastern Bosnia, where he traveled, which was heavily forested along the river Drina; on this journey, we know he passed through Gorazed (a kind of trading settlement), the folks of that village saw him, said he seemed shackled on some idea, paid them little attention, “Keep away from us,” the country folks yelped outside of the town, others asked, “What you aiming to do around here?” it was as if this old ugly man knew something they didn’t know. They say, blackbirds followed him, stretched out their wings, and swung, stooped and shuttered as he walked by, swaggering in the Bosnian sun. Then he ended up all the way down to the Adriatic Sea to the south, to the old city of Dubrovnik (7th Century), in-between all this was a kingdom which ruled by the old Feudalism system, known as King Mon’s realm. It would seem the old man was surveying, checking the lands from the mountains to the rivers all the way to the Sea, to see the scope of his task, a task he had yet to commit himself to, but one he was seriously thinking about.
And now come and join me for my tale of tales, and think naught that there isn’t a feather of truth in this tale, for it would be ill-advised to think otherwise…:
Once upon a time, several hundred years ago, or thereabouts, there were a multitude of snakes along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and within the mountainous area thereof, in a land now called Bosnia. They grew the length of the men of those far-off days, in that far-off land. These snakes ((Poskok) (Vipera ammodytes)) were a reddish-brown in color and for the most part, quite clever; that is to say, a brainy kind of breed of a snake, with sharp fangs, which were quite poisonous; these snakes also being rather aggressive for the most part.
Along with living in the trunks of trees, in lack of a better home, and accommodations, and liking the sun, these snakes slept on the side of the roads to a high extent, where often times they chummed with one another-(figuratively speaking that is); looking like dried up old branches, logs and so forth- especially in the fall season (autumn)-laying over one another like little lions. But as winter came around, back into the trunks and holes of trees they’d find themselves. And when they’d see a passerby, especially during the long hot summers, they’d play possum [dead], and when a female-in particular, would be carrying water to the nearby village or to her country residence, and if they’d walk by them, they’d twist their bodies slowly and positioning themselves just right-after that, quicker than you could say ‘help’ they’d have their fangs, in one’s leg. And the water being fresh would feed, and quench, their thirst. It should be noted, because of their aggressive temperament, even on the best of days-the best of their days, it would be hard for them not to do their dirty deeds; they seemed to be simply born with an aggressive nature (character or personality).
-Well, this went on for the longest of times-or so it seemed, and one day, during one sunlight hour, after hearing-year after year people’s complaints and protests, the King, King Mon of the region announced that whoever could rid the region of these nasty and evil serpents, he’d reward them by allowing them to marry his beautiful and youthful daughter. Ah yes, it was indeed a luring reward, and all within the kingdom’s province, wished they had such courage, if not skill, or perhaps even a spell to subdue these creatures with-to do this task, to receive this reward. But none came forward.
Fine, all is fare in love and war, so they say, thus, Mr. Goose, an old man from Croatia, whom I’ve introduced you to a while ago [eighty-two years old at this time in the story], went to the little mountainous kingdom and spoke with King Mon about his reward to be, should he clear the land of these creepy-crawling type creatures that infested every nook, tree and, oh well, let’s just say, the whole landscape, would he be allowed to take-without question, his daughter, the princess in marriage?
Said the King, with a skeptical eye,
“It would take an army I fear to wipe these hills and mountains and the coastline of these aggressive, antagonistic evil doers that have taken, killed, eaten, over a thousand-lives, a thousand lives I say, from my kingdom, my kingdom’s past of which it has been some forty-years, to now; yes, yes without a doubt, how can one man expect to do this, it is beyond me? (Plus the old king didn’t like his integrity being put in question, which the old man implied might be less than what he proclaimed.”
In a way, it would seem the king was giving up, had a loss of hope, despair, but he nonetheless, kept the reward posted throughout his kingdom, and assured his word was as good as gold, he was a king, but also a man of honor, what he said he meant, did, without question; he had integrity, and he implied he, along with his integrity should not be questioned on this matter to Mr. Goose.
Said the old man (to the king), an old man who had an odd looking hunchback and legs that looked more animalistic than human with mammalian hairs sticking out all over the place, meaning, in all the openings of his pants, where threads were loose and dangling, likewise his shirt, which had holes in it, and on his face and arms; also inside his ears looked like a bird’s nest with all its hair, and his nose had hair sticking out of it, like thin short spaghetti; in addition, he had a wide mouth, that went almost from one ear to the other; a long pointed skull (tapering towards the back), and that is to say, a very long slant it had to it, with a brow that receded back to his prickly looking hair; and quite thin it was also, and a smirk on his face, that showed he had secrets, secrets beyond our imagination perhaps, and a thin, slim, small mustache, which blended into the rest of his hairy face, and a thin bone structure, big eyes and feet, everything patchy and hairy; his fingers and toes, they were as if claws from a hawk. He also had small ears and short legs for his torso, which was longer; in a way, everything above his shoulders looked similar to a goat almost, in human form. Plus his skin was thick like rawhide, he said (Ah! but said it keenly and sharply to the King 🙂
“I will take your daughter for my reward, as you promised afterward, should I accomplish the mission of course, but if you want to know how I shall do this feat, it will cost you your kingdom.”
His receptors protected him from the toxic venoms of the snakes, embodied into his nervous system. Also, it should be added here, his agility and cunning, allowed him to capture snakes with little effort, and he was in his own way, witty and intelligent.
[How insolent thought the king] With a stiff upper lip, and eyebrow reaching into the air, the short and old stubby king, with his curly locks of golden hair dangling over his ears, and long golden beard, stood up in front of the beggar type looking man, who had a deep-set of eyes, big, yes big and confident eyes, that had a small and thin bridge separating them from what was called his nose but looked more like a reptilian type snout with simply two air holes-poked into his upper face, with only a small arch and slits to inhale though.
Said he, the King, said he with scorn on his cheekbones, stiff bones, perturbing bones-even through his fat:
“So be it, you will have my daughter, not my kingdom, should you achieve this task, this mission, and should you not, I advise you, you old coot, to be gone from these hills-far gone, for I will surely have you stripped and beaten to your last gulp of air, should you not accomplish this, simply for your absurd audacity to think so highly of yourself in front of me, and question my intention if not integrity.”
Ah yes, the king was feeling his oats indeed, sharp was his words, and weighty was his heart.
-There was no more to be said, the old man now had turned around and with his shifty looking dark eyes, ebony-eyes that resembled a rat’s intensity, he walked out and through the door, as strangely as he had walked in, almost silently, not looking any which way but straight.
Upon the door opening up, and the king still sitting at his grand throne, two soldiers came in with a huge eight-foot (poskok) snake to show the king their good deed, their catch of the day. They had its mouth tied shut with a rope, and carried it on a long heavy rounded polo. It must have weighed two-hundred pounds or more. As the two soldiers walked past the old man, the king started to stand up to get a good look at the snake, a closer look, a more deliberate kind of look-in the process, the serpent got a look at the old man’s eyes-it was the hiss from his mouth (the old man’s mouth), yes the mouth most certainly, like thunder erupting it was, or possibly like the sound from a volcano, the snake started hissing back, and struggling wildly, its back, head, mouth and through the whole length of the snake, all stiffened-a firm kind of restlessness engulfed the serpent; the closer the old man got to the snake, the more it hissed, stiffened and jumped as if out of some kind of uncontrollable neurological reaction-involuntary reaction.
As the old man now walked next to the snake, almost eye to eye, and shoulder to shoulder, although the snake did not have shoulders, but it did have sides, it, the poskok, seemed as if it was about to fly off that pole out of pure fright, right out of the two soldier’s mitts, trying to get free, trying to escape the old man’s presence. Matter of fact, the viper was so frantic, frenzied, and hysterical, that the snake even started to eat the rope it was bound and tied securely with.
When the soldiers witnessed this, they dropped the pole, along with the bound snake onto the marble floor within the King’s throne room, as the King looked on, on towards the snake and the old man with one glance, a glance he had given the snake, and just one little glance towards the old man, he, the King noticed the fleeting look from the old man had frightened the snake, it was him indeed, thought the king, hence, he knew this man was extraordinary, and although he wanted to, he hesitated in mind and soul to stop this potential marriage right then and now, but he had no other recourses left, the old man was it-who else was there, should he not make the deal, in consequence, there’d be no kingdom to rule in time. And the princess need only wait, time would do the old man in, and she’d be free to remarry again.
As soon as the old man was out of the throne room, out beyond its door: out of sight, the snake regained its weakened composure back to its former self-controlled, pose-it had prior to seeing this old and deformed gentleman of sorts; tranquility, or call it peace, whatever, calm was restored.
For that reason, and beyond, that is, for five-years to follow, the deal was sealed; and now the old man would walk slowly up and down the paths, lanes, roads of the valley and mountains kingdom-to and fro daily; looking in every tree trunk and nook, walking the coast of the Adriatic, and combing miles and miles of forest land, areas within the vicinity of the King’s domain, wiping out all the snakes that he could find: he ate them, like an animal eating flesh, ripped them apart like a rat to a hen. It had come to a point, as it was said, that the area had over 10,000 snakes at one time, at this juncture, that number was being dwindled down quickly, so far down, there was only ten snakes in the whole area left.
Yes, oh yes, indeed, there were only ten snakes left, almost poskok-genocide had taken place in and around this little kingdom, and these ten got together, and by way of necessity (inevitable one might say), started learning how to jump, and leap. They’d gathered by the waters, the lakes, the rivers, wherever they could and watched the frogs as they moved about, leaped, hurled, dived, then even watched the toads jump, lunge, and drop, all and any creature that skipped, hoped or jumped, they examined, watched closely, then by instinct, and need for continued existence, within a years time had learned how to leap some three feet in the air, and some five to seven feet in any direction-straight forward that is. As a result it was their way of escape from this snake-eating human animal of sorts: the old man.
Along with this new acquired skill, and with the new younger generation being born, the elders tried to explain to them the value of learning, the jumps, and leaps, and the sounds they make in the fall leaves, and when spring came they got excited to play, but they learned as long as the old man was alive, it was not safe, no matter what. And even in the winter they needed to be shrewd and conscientious where they went, the reason being, they’d leave a trail in the snow, they were told, and this was not wise, the old man would follow it. In essence, they needed to be shrewder than the old man, if they wanted to survive.
The elder snakes even reinforced the fact the new younger snakes needed to be wicked to the point not to let neither their minds or bodies decay in the winter, so they were swift in spring and summer, and light on their bellies; by and by, they absorbed all such learning’s.
-Four years had now gone by, and the old man was at this time eighty-six years old. His heart was tired, failing, and he wanted more than anything to leave a legacy behind-, but had one more year to keep the land free of these evil serpents, should he fail, he’d lose the beautiful bright-eyed young princess: and in his mind, this could not be tolerated, as the old expression goes, he’d lose ‘the goat and the rope,’ so careful he needed to be, astute, perceptive he needed to be, but this time with the king more so than the snakes.
At this, the old man found those ten snakes, all in different locations (not knowing of course they had offspring hidden away): some in trees, others alongside of the road playing dead, and others by the great waters of the sea, he’d go to grab them, and before he could touch them, they’d jump, leap right through his hands, right out of his fingers. Because of this, you could see on the old man’s, a flavor of worried triumph.
Several leaps and the serpents were gone, out of sight. Well, this bothered the old man to extremes, but he knew if he kept the snakes hidden, and busy, he’d still get his reward, or could if he was deceptive enough, a little bit perhaps misleading. And consequently, play, as if nothing had happened-he’d continue to take part in this-what he called- competition, or diversion, and the king would be none the wiser; the end result, being, the old man kept walking the mountain paths-as all the villagers saw him do, day after day after day-and word got back to the king all the roads were clean and clear of snakes.
Yet, in checking out the trees, and road sides, he occasionally found a snake or two, but it again would leap out of his presence to safety (and again I say, no one had seen snakes for a long time now, no one that is but the old man, so the king was not any the wiser to his charade). And slowly but surely the old man saw the number of snakes started to increase, but they were simply baby snakes, and the mothers kept them hidden from him for the most part, and he wanted to keep it that way, until after he received his reward that is; for he knew himself, his reflexes were not as they were a few years ago, and each year lacking more and more in the impulse reaction area; anyhow, slow they were, and with the leaping, it was impossible to catch them now; yet again, I must stress, in fear they’d become extinct all over again, they hid when they could, and jumped when they had to, or leaped to safety or some hidden area, should they become aware the old man was around.
And so again, I repeat, no one had seen them, and the snakes knew the old man was aging, and would not live forever, in consequence, if only they could out last him, out wait him-in many cases this is the only way to deal with such a menace as the old man, so the snakes concluded, and so they would out wait him. And in between now and his death, they hissed with laughter on finding a way to out smart the Old man. But as the old saying goes and the snakes did not know this saying, ‘He who laughs last, laughs longest.’
And now, the fifth-year had come and passed, the old man, had completed his task, his mission-and so, the old man went to the king to claim his reward. There in the throne room, he, Mr. Goose, stood in front of the king, telling him of his endeavors.
For the first time the princess burned with curiosity, eager to hear what the old man had to say. She leaned forward so she could see through a crack in the curtains in the throne room. At first her thoughts were thin at best, then thinking he could have accomplished the mission, she listened even closer, more attentive, her eyes closed upon hearing he did, and as the old man stared at the moving curtains, he mumbled:
“And for the love making, let’s hurry on with the wedding.”
He, Mr. Goose, was by no means, couth about the matter, rather quite blunt.
The King looking quite dreadful at his parting of his daughter gave her to the old man nonetheless- called her over from behind the curtains to meet Mr. Goose, with not much to say, and thereafter, brought forth a great celebration.
The lovely twenty-year old princess was adorned with all kinds of flowers, and jewels and riches beyond imagination. And the party went on and on all night.
Surprisingly, during this time the king noticed that he, the old man had only eyes for the princess, his daughter, not the riches she possessed. Somehow that seemed to dignify the whole matter much more, in an ugly kind of way, that is. As the bride danced with the groom, all the young bucks looked on with disgust and envy, perhaps a little more envy than disgust. The princess although in dismay, said nothing, not a word to disgrace her father’s will, like a good daughter, she kissed her husband and bid good evening to the guests, as they went into their room to consummate the marriage.
It was early evening and the moon that had been hidden behind clouds, emerged with a warm wind blowing through the castle bedroom window, and the old man now was about to seek his pleasures. There was the sound of music in the bedroom, blown under the bedroom doorway; it gently branched out, throughout the room-black shadows, raced to and fro, from corner to corner in the bedroom.
Heretofore, the love-making had tired the old man to where he was dosing off and on, starting to even snore, his arms underneath the back of his head, lying on his back, eyes closed, save, a little look at his new youthful, and beautiful bride, and wife, off and on, and more off than on as the night went on.
As the extraordinary evening went forward, the old man fell to sleep, and in the morn, the princess tried to wake her new husband up for breakfast, only to find him, lifeless, dead, deceased. She was mortified, and yet relieved, she called quickly to her father, and he called for doctor and the guards. Word had gotten out quickly that the princess’ husband had heart-failure, and she would be in mourning. But the serpents in the area were refreshed by the news, and came out bravely, back onto the pathways, and around the trees and coastal areas with their young ones, almost as if to have a fiesta.
The king now seeing this new resurrection of the snakes didn’t know what to do, but it was not half as bad as it was five-years past, and figured he’d look for another man of same qualities, and tried to find the Goose family to no avail. Then, finding out his daughter was pregnant, he got thinking, possibly, just probably, whatever the qualities the old man had inside his genes, they might be in his blood line, thus, in his grandson to be [hoping it would be a boy].
“Awe,” he said with glowing and ghastly eyes, “sure,” he said to his daughter, “should she give birth to a son, he will be the tempest for the snakes.” (The king thinking, ‘all is fair in love and war.’)
And so the king and his kingdom all waited for the birth of the child.
-And then it happened, the ninth-month, third day, in the early morn, the sun had just risen: all waited outside the doorway to hear the baby’s cry, but there was no cry, yet a baby was born; with a loud hiss!
As the doctor looked at the child, he was flabbergasted; the child was horrifying to look at; hence, in all regards, in all the days of the doctor’s life, he had never seen such a hideous looking child; deformed, long thin hanging nose, bug-eyed creature; he was simply stunned at its appearance he just shook his head, nodded his chin back and forth as if to grab onto some sanity: it looked like a ferret, yet it had human form to it. It seemed the lobes of the child’s brain extended outward, that is to say, pushed the skull like rubber to form an impression on the surface of his head, which had no hair. His eyes took up, one third of his face.
At this point, the doctor remembered what the old man had looked like: comparing child to father-or perhaps using some imagination, comparing child to when the father was a child or might had been a child, or perhaps what he didn’t see of the father he imagined, and as a result, made his own comparisons; and now thinking of the king, he pondered on what to do, for the king and the kingdom.
He didn’t show the child to anyone, not a soul (although he told the king), and ordered all to stay away, that it had the plague; and needed to get the child out of the castle before an epidemic occurred; the king concurring, like-minded with everything he said. And during the late night took the child out of the kingdom, telling all concerned, the child could be contagious (which it did not have of course any such disease), should it touch anyone, it would only kill them only to look at it-figuratively speaking again. But who could understand such ugliness, and perhaps the princess would have wanted to keep it. And so the doctor left the castle.
Soft were the dark shadows as he walked down the lane, into the forest, into the tall grass, stealthily past barns and houses, farms, and roads.
He, the doctor who cared now for the child, called the child ‘Mon-goose’, taking the king’s name and the father’s. And left it in the woods-neither one, ever to return to the castle; hence, the Mongoose was named and born.
In time the old snakes had died out, all but one, and the young snakes had now forgotten those trying years with the snake eater, the grim sights of him searching and stalking their parents. All this had been forgotten, until one day, one of the snakes, that elder snake, I just mentioned, perhaps the only one left of the bygone generation that lived through those trying days of Mr. Goose, saw a man, he looked like the old man Mr. Goose, as he resembled him, but he was much youthful, and the old snake said out loud (and other snakes nearby heard him, while stiffening his body in horror),
“The snake eater is back!” or so he said, and all the other snakes wondered, questioned him, if he really saw what he thought he saw, and the old snake just prayed it was an illusion. And said not another word, if anything, he was hoping it was an automatic reaction, perhaps to post traumatic stress.
End of the Tale.
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