Translating the poem "The Other"

Once upon a time there lived a young warlord, the carrier of Hot Obsidian, a warrior-poet. Let’s just call him Max, for short.
had a foster daughter he loved dearly. He wrote a book of fairy tales for her, all of them poems. This poem is one of them.
“The Second One” is a story about two brothers who ruled one realm. The elder brother was the King everyone knew. The younger brother, unknown to common people, ruled from the shadows. He played his game so well he managed to get rid of his elder brother, of the famous hero who fought him, and of his own accomplice in one go. Then he laid low to wait fo the right time to return and become one supreme ruler over everything.
The trick is that this simple fairy tale is the main poem of book 3 of “Obsidian Trilogy”, the key to its central puzzle.

Let’s return to Max.
Max fought a war. Max won the war. Max fought and defeated the magical creature responsible for the war himself, one on one, where no one else could see him or help him. He got mortally wounded and, as he died, laughed at in an especially cruel way. The magical creature he defeated told him the last secret, knowing he would die before someone shows up to hear it.
The secret: his victories meant nothing. The real enemy, the one behind everything, was still alive and well, waiting in shadows for his time to return and take over the world.
What was Max to do? He had mere seconds left to live. He could only hope that someone would investigate the matter in future, so he left a clue, by writing a single word in the snow with his own blood: “Vtoroi” (“the second one” in Russian).

Years later Kangassk investigated the matter and got the final clue when listening to a little girl read her favorite book of fairy tales, the one her foster father wrote.

About the translation:
- naming the brothers might be tricky. When I tried to translate the poem myself I thought of Primus and Secundus, but wasn’t sure whether it was the right choice. You can give them other nicknames, whatever is short enough to write in the snow in a few seconds.
- from the poem itself we need only the main story to survive, everything else is replaceable. Two brothers rule, one is the King, one is a power broker ruling from shadows. War. Hero. The hero gets tricked by a soothsayer and dies. The soothsayer gets tricked by The Second One and dies as well. There is no one left to know The Second One’s secret plan. He is waiting for the right time to return knowing he has already won.
- it’s a fairy tale written for a child, so it’s easy to read and is not overburdened with cruel details.
- you can get rid of two moons if you wish. They’re just a link between the description of the land and the description of the brothers ruling it.

The original Russian text:

Второй

Есть мир далекий, мир иной,
где в небе две луны.
От моря там подать рукой
до сказочной страны.

И ту страну в недобрый час
увидел я во сне:
там о беде пророк кричал
и дело шло к войне.

Как две луны на небе том
восходит из-за гор,
так правили страной вдвоем
два брата с давних пор.

Я их имен до сей поры
не вспомнил наяву.
Я лучше Первым и Вторым
двух братьев назову.

И если Первый был король
и правил на земле,
то незаметен был Второй -
как тень при короле.

Да, был тираном первый брат,
но тот, кто из теней
смотрел, опасней был в сто крат,
коварней и страшней.

Страна такая - злой сосед;
пришел войне черёд.
И Первый на виду у всех -
в бой армии ведет.

Громит чужие города,
пленит детей и жен.
Он на виду у всех всегда
и всеми проклят он.

Дела Второго не видны,
как смертоносный яд.
Шпионы, воры, колдуны
ему благоволят.

Они являются везде,
где их никто не ждал.
Не раз в ночи такой злодей
ворота открывал.

Врывался враг, и град тонул
в безжалостном огне...
Казалось, как плохому сну,
не знать конца войне.

Меняли облик колдуны;
царил повсюду страх.
Бывало, другом в дни войны
прикидывался враг.

Но вот в печальный год потерь
нашелся свой герой,
в бою безжалостен, как зверь;
фанатик и святой.

Он королю другой страны
на верность присягнул;
переломил он ход войны,
надежду всем вернул.

Златой грифон всегда при нем -
зверь множества легенд.
Сияет меч его огнем;
он сам - оживший свет.

Крушит врага в бою герой,
могуч, непобедим.
И той же раненых рукой
врачует паладин.

Но смерть оставила печать
на благостном челе;
ему жизнь мирную начать
нет права на земле.

Гадалка молвила, смотря
в огромный черный шар:
«Цена победе - жизнь твоя,
несчастная душа».

«Что ж, я готов,» - сказал тогда
герой, потупив взгляд...
И вот уже недолго ждать,
последний замок взят.

Встречай последнюю зарю,
осталось жить чуть-чуть...
Не внемля страху, к королю
он прорубает путь.

Сражен в бою грифон златой -
сей знак несет беду.
Речами же гадалки той
надломлен гордый дух.

Он молод, он дитя еще,
как можно не жалеть
о том, что дням подходит счет,
что скоро умереть,

что, кровью землю и траву
своею напоя,
он сложит светлую главу
за злого короля...

Он принял бой, и в том бою
сражен им был тиран.
Герой же, кровь пролив свою,
погиб от страшных ран.

Его народ в тот славный день,
ликуя, горевал.
И, неприметен, словно тень,
Второй на то взирал.

«Что ж, ведьма верная моя, -
он обернулся к ней;
та, хладнокровна, как змея,
смотрела из теней, -

Сыграла ты гадалки роль
Прекрасно. Что ж, виват!
Свершилось: мертв святой герой,
и мертв мой старший брат.

Глупцам недолго пировать
на выжженной земле.
Я - Тьма, а Тьма умеет ждать.
О новом короле

пророки скоро закричат,
и я верну свой трон.
Настанет, ведьма, день и час
нам править здесь вдвоем.

Так выпьем вместе за войну,
что я так долго ждал!» -
сказав так, ведьме протянул
Второй вина бокал.

Кроваво-красное вино
та испила до дна.
Но, знайте, с темным колдуном
не стоит пить вина...

Смертельный яд был в чаше той,
и ведьма умерла,
и тайну страшную с собой
в могилу унесла.

Погиб злодей. Что впереди?
В земле почил герой...
А меж тенями, невредим,
момента ждет Второй.

My rough translation

The Second One

There is a far away world, the other world
where two moons shine in the sky.
From the sea there is a short way
to the fairy tale realm.

In a perilous time I saw
that realm in my dreams:
a prophet was screaming about the disaster there,
the war was imminent.

Just like the two moons in that world
rule the sky,
two brothers ruled
the land there.

I still don’t remember
their names,
So I’ll name them The First One and The Second One
for our tale.

The First One was the king
who ruled the land,
The Second One was unseen,
the king’s shadow.

Yes, the first brother was a tyrant,
but the one hiding in the shadows
was a hundred times worse,
insidious, and dangerous.

Such a country is an evil neighbour,
it started a war soon.
Everyone could see The First One
lead his armies into the battle,

Burn the cities,
enslave children and women.
Everyone knew him,
everyone cursed his name.

The Second One’s doings remained unseen
like a deadly poison.
Spies, thieves, sorcerers
were his agents.

They appeared everywhere,
unnoticed, unexpected.
Often one such villain
would open a city’s gate in the night,

Letting the king’s army in,
dooming the city to be burned.
The war seemed to have no end,
like a bad dream.

The sorcerers changed their appearance,
made everyone suspect everyone.
In that war who you thought was your friend
would often be an enemy in disguise.

But in the darkest year
a hero appeared,
unstoppable in battle like a wild beast,
yet faithful and pure.

He entered the service of the king
of the other realm,
he turned the tables,
he reignited the hope.

A golden griffin fought on his side,
a beast of many legends;
his sword shone with light;
he was a child of light himself.

He fought his enemies,
a powerful, unbeatable warrior,
and cured his wounded allies with the same hands,
a true paladin.

But his noble brow
was marked by death.
No right he had
for a peaceful life in future.

A soothsayer said,
looking into the dark crystal ball,
“The price of the victory
will be your life, you poor soul.”

“Then I’m ready to pay it,” replied the hero,
his eyes lowered…
Now his time is almost up,
the last castle is taken.

Meet you last dawn, hero,
you don’t have long...
Waving his fears aside
he fights his way to the evil king.

His golden griffin is slayed,
it’s a dark sign.
His noble spirit is broken
by the soothsayer’s words.

He is young, he is almost a child still.
How can he not regret
his days being numbered,
his death being close,

his blood being destined
to quench the thirst of dust and grass
as he pays his price
for slaying the evil king…

He fought his final battle,
he defeated the tyrant.
Then the hero died
of his mortal wounds.

His people that day
cried bitter tears for him as they celebrated the victory.
The Second One watched
all that from the shadows.

“Well, my faithful witch,”
he said, turning back to her.
As cold-blooded as a snake,
she returned the gaze.

“You played the soothsayer’s role well.
Congratulations!
It is done: both the noble hero
and my elder brother are dead.

The fools will not be happy long
in their burned land.
I am the Darkness and the Darkness knows how to wait.
Of a new king

the prophets will soon begin to cry,
then I will get my throne back.
Then we will, my faithful witch,
rule this realm together.

So let us drink for our victory in the war
I waited for so long!”
this said, the Second One
gave a goblet of wine to the witch.

The blood-red wine she drank,
draining the goblet…
You should know, though,
never to drink wine with a dark sorcerer.

A deadly poison was in the wine,
the witch died,
taking the horrible secret with her
to the grave.

The evil king is dead. What lies ahead?
The hero is dead as well…
In the shadows, unseen,
The Second One is waiting for his time to return.

Alan Jackson's comments and translation:

[This is a very long and very difficult poem. I have tried to imitate the general sound of the Russian by avoiding ‘sing-song’ rhythms as much as possible, and using a metre that encourages broken and ambiguous accent patterns. I have revised virtually every stanza from the first version, of course, but it’s still not quite there.]

The Other

Dreaming I saw, under a sky
Where two moons sail,
Distant, seawards, a strange realm
Land of my tale

Dark were my dreams; dark the time
In that sad land;
Seers shouting, foretelling ill;
War was at hand

As the two moons governed
The dark night-hours,
Two brothers ruled in the realm,
Single their powers

Memory fades, dulls my mind
Names slip from me;
So in my tale, the One,
The Other they’ll be

Seen by all, One ruled the land
From his high throne;
But the Other in darkshade dwelt
Unseen, unknown

One was the realm’s dread tyrant,
The Other its curse –
Terrible, subtle, by dark hidden,
A hundred-fold worse

Evil realms ill neighbours make;
War was its play
All saw the One lead his troops
First in the fray

Crushed cities burning, children,
Women enslaved,
For all, One’s name on the eye is seared,
On the heart graved

Secret, unseen, the Other’s works,
Poison the land
Sorcerers, thieves and spies
Tools for his hand

Tools that worked everywhere
Hidden from sight
Tools that opened city gates
In secret night

Thus the One captured and burned
Cities unfought
Endless the war, the land’s nightmare
Hopeless past thought

Wizards shape-changed, mimicked foes,
Played a new part
You’d welcome an old friend’s face
On a traitor’s heart

Then, in the darkest of hours
A hero new
Blazed out, lionhearted,
Faithful and true

Foe to the One, and sworn to heal
The nation’s pain
He alone the war-tide turned –
Hope flamed again

His friend a gryphon, golden, steadfast,
Heart unbeguiled;
His sword a shining sword of light
For the light’s child –

Enemies fell before them
All through the lands
Foes he conquered, friends he healed
With paladin’s hands

Death marked his brow, cut the thread
Of his life’s lease;
For him no hope, no future joy,
Safety nor peace

Dark is the globe the scryer reads,
Dark are her eyes
“Sad, hapless soul, your life must pay
Victory’s price.”

“I’ll pay the price!” His heart seals
The vow spoken.
Short is the time: the last fort falls,
The last gate broken.

Dawns the last dawn, steadfast his heart
Though hope is gone
Fearless, his sword carves his way
Straight to the One

Slain is his gold gryphon companion
An omen grim
Powering the dark scryer’s words
And breaking him

Young he is still, a mere child
His soul must grieve
All the years, joyful with life –
Life he must leave

Doomed to fall, doomed soon to feed
The hungry grave:
Life bartered for the One’s life
The land to save

The One fell; of tyranny’s rule
An end was made –
The hero’s blood spilt in death
The price had paid

Bitter the tears shed for him
That victory day
Hid in shadows, the Other watched
The people play

Turning, he gazed back at his aide -
Snake-cold, ill-wise.
“Good! My faithful witch!” On him
She turned her eyes.

“Well you played the scryer-game!
Perfect! Well done!
All’s tidied up! My brother’s dead,
The hero’s gone!

Fools may rejoice – brief their time
In the ashes’ reek
I am Night and Night can wait!
Soon seers will speak

Glory foretelling: the royal throne
Restored again –
You and I, Witch and Shade,
Single we'll reign!

Drink then! To long-awaited
Victory at last!”
Joyful, the witch to the Other
Offers her glass

Red is the wine, red as blood,
She drank her fill
Drinking a dark sorcerer’s wine
Is drinking ill…

Death she drank from the marred cup
The Other gave
Taking her grim, terrible secret
Down to her grave

The One, the tyrant, is fallen;
The hero died
Waiting in shadows, unknown, his time
The Other bides.

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