Early autumn morning when the cold dump wind was blowing, two hunters came out of the yourt and quickly untied the saddled horses. Bekpol, an elderly man with a rare grizzled beard, quickly tucked the bridle into his belt and just raised his foot in the stirrup when he heard an alert snort of a horse behind. Bekpol instantly turned around and saw a horseman rushing to the nearest hill. Behind the horseman the gun rocked. In the damp dawn darkness it was difficult to recognize the riding.
- Who can it be? - Not looking at his companion and puzzled Bekpol asked.
Bekpol’s friend Janibek, a tall man with a mountain tan on the face and hands, in his turn, was astonished:
- Who the hell is that riding here so early?
Bekpol silently frowned. It was obvious that the sudden appearance of a rider in the early hour, not only surprised, but also alarmed him.
- Why, it's Ospankul, the foreman of the stud farm. Where could he race with the lark? - Bekpol exclaimed, watching the rider coming closer.
Slumbering peacefully until then on Bekpol's hand the mighty hunting eagle, apparently inebriated after the close and stuffy yourt with fresh and tart autumn air, suddenly roused himself and spread his huge steel-blue wings. At the noise of flapping wings of the bird golden plumage, trembled, like the dry reed trembles and rustles, disturbed with a steppe gusty wind. Brown Bekpol’s horse alerted, snorted and viciously snatched a bit, glanced toward the bird with his eye. Kzylbalak (the name of a hunting bird) was shaking with such force that frightened the horses shied away and even people were dumb-founded. Bekpol, having seen in a lot of strong, agile, sharp-sighted and predatory hunting birds in his lifetime, especially valued the eagle and sometimes, perhaps not to the extent boasting, said: "My eagle’s feathers is delight for the eye and they rustle like satin gown of the beauty" .
Janibek with his eagle on his arm was squatted down. His Karaker kept trying to knock off the leather cap from its head. The cap has been put on the bird by the master before the hunt. It was a young eagle, which still not quite mastered the skills of hunting birds. Hectic, crazy, he was worried, trying to break free from unusual, hindering headdress. The bird wanted to see the surrounding world with its piercing eyes.
- Do not let him knock down his hat – Bekpol ordered the young hunter. That way you will give him the will - will run wild, nothing good then could be expected from it on hunting.
So talking to each other and not taking their eyes from the restless birds, hunters have not noticed how the rider pulled up close. And only when up their ears heard the tinkle of the stirrups and the distinct drumming sound of horses' hooves, they turned around and Janibek exclaimed:
- That’s Lyska. It must be trained for October Bayga.
- That is not the horse, that is the fire! – Bekpol was excited with the harsh and smooth trot of the horse.
Under the rider easily and gracefully the restrained with reins thin-legged horse was dancing. With the bright crescent-shaped bald spot on a dark forehead, with large shining eyes, the horse especially beautiful, even feminine; and not without reason the hunters so enthusiastically admired it and haven’t noticed at once the dark face of Ospankul sitting in the saddle.
- Where are you going, dear? Is everything safe in your herd? - Bekpol finally asked anxiously, looking closer at Ospankul.
On grey, wrinkled face of the foreman one could see the signs of fatigue and insomnia. Catching his breath, Ospankul began his story staying on horse; flushed of a long way and swift running horse could not calm down: it impatiently fidgeted supple, carved legs and hindered the rider from speaking.
- Would you get off - Janibek advised him.
And the rider dismounted and continued the story. However, it was brief.
That night in the hills and in hollows of Sarym-Sakty, as it could be seen from there, one of the herds from horse farm was grazing. It was foreman of Ospankul’s herd. The long autumn night was nasty, slate-black and windy. Heavy, dense clouds covered the sky. Suddenly, in the dead of night the herd was alarmed with shrill neighing. Then a strange hum, shouting and whistling was heard. Horses, though surrounded by a wolf pack, scattered. From side to side the bewildered shepherds darted. But in this nasty, impenetrable darkness of the night they failed to collect the herd which instantaneously scattered in the vast steppes. Just before the dawn, after much effort, Ospankul collected the runaway horses and counted them; he discovered the theft of nine selected horses. According to the herdsmen, the horses were not frightened by an animal, but by a man, and for all that a stranger.
By all indications, the missing horses were in the hands of horse thieves. Having sent out horse-herders in search of horses, Ospankul himself rushed to the border commandant's office for help.
On the way he decided to warn the collective farm hunters, who spend their days in these desolate border mountains. Finishing his story Ospankul addressed Bekpol:
- Beck, you have not once been hunting down and catching the four-legged predators and more quirky, cleverer enemies. It will be a new test of your hunting skill. You know, the best horses were gone! Three horses, which I prepared for the October baige, are gone. Bestride, Beck, you trusty steed, take your sharp-sighted bird and ransack the entire Kerge-Tas, - Ospankul pointed at soft bluish peaks of high mountains.
- You see, - said Bekpol after some thought - if the horses were stolen, the thief, I suppose, are on the other side ... Assume they could not even get to the border. During the day they will not go. So, they will wait for the next night.
- You're right. So we think, - Ospankul said. - In the most furious leap they could reach the border only at dawn. Could our miss them? Are the guards asleep?
- Clear, they will not - Bekpol said. – Though, horse thieves, in my opinion, will hide in the mountains of Sarym-Sakty for a day. Therefore, you probably ought to rummage around there, in your reign.
Bekpol thought a little, gathered the reins in his left hand and his right hand, which was holding his eagle, put on the pommel and easily sat into the saddle. Touching his horse, he turned to Ospankul and pointing to the right, at bluish gloomy rocks, and hushed:
- So you rush to the commander's office, and we will ride to Ozhar.
Ospankul did not really like that. Bekpol’s decision to go to Ozhar, not Kerge-Tas he interpreted as a refusal to help in search. Gloomy, almost impassable gorges and mountain wilds of Kerge-Tas were obedient to Bekpol only. There, he knew every little perceptible animal trail, he knew every stone, and he knew the harsh look of those ancient mountains. And Ospankul decided to insist on the hunter’s ride in those mountains.
- Beck, I came to you for help. Are your foxes more expensive than the best horses? - Not hiding the hurt and grief, with unusual annoy Ospankul said.
Not wanting to further annoy the anxious friend, Bekpol declined to answer, but his decision has not changed.
- On Kerge-Tas our hunters with hounds went. And if there are thieves, they will not go, 'he said briefly.
Ospankul knowing hunters, which were discussed, with even greater irritation observed:
- No dash it! Those green messengers! They even do not know the mountains. What are they with their hounds going to rise to the top? And they did not hear the alarm at night. I know these beardless hunting foxes!.. - And Ospankul sneered.
Janibek jumped on his horse and fidgeted impatiently in the saddle, not really listening to the friendly conversation. In good conscience he wanted to go to Ozhar. Their last hunt on Kerge-Tas was not of the lucky ones. His Karaker before hunting a fox every day in the last few days unacceptably smeared and did not hunt any.
And on Ozhar, as Janibek heard, foxes were found, and still no hunter has gone there. Those places have long fascinated Janibek’s hunting soul. In the seductive and bright dreams he saw a myriad of lush abundance of foxes, dutifully sprawled under rapidly falling on the outstretched Karaker’s wings.
Oh, those unique, exciting hunting dreams! Oh, that old, forever young hunting passion! How close, dear, and familiar it was for Janibek! He is understood that for hunting he should go right to Ozhar. "But what about the missing horses?" - Janibek thought and mind slowly began to violently repress a firing hunting passion. That's why he said firmly to Bekpol:
- Answer me straight, Beck, we are either to hunt, or set off in pursuit of horse thieves. Let's do it soon and we will not Ospankul.
Bekpol hesitated to answer and finally said to Ospankul:
- Tell you what, my friend, go in the commandant's office and say there to Alexander that Bekpol did not listen to you, and went on Ozhar. After all, you did not find traces of horse thieves? Therefore, we must first find those tracks. Trust me! - Bekpol finished and then spurred his horse and called Janibek: - Follow me! We will not only catch the foxes today.
Ospankul puzzled with resentment and anxiety, watched the retreating horsemen for a while. In amble smooth trot they left afar, to the surrounded with soft bluish gauze mountains.
Bekpol’s behavior seemed strange to Ospankul, the stranger with Ospankul knowing firsthand about the famous hunter of the Collective Farm, a meeting with who was always so studiously avoided by the border violators. Bekpol was known throughout the steppe as loyal assistant of the district boundary group. This led Ospankul to Bekpol. But his behavior confused and upset Ospankul and he sadly went to a border crew camp. Occasionally looking back, he saw the vague outlines of the two riders retreating toward Sarym-Sakty; above their shoulders rhythmically swayed and sailed the vague silhouettes of the birds...
Foothills, in which the hunters were driving, were covered with a thick low ash-gray feather grass. A trained sharp Bekpol’s eye immediately noted that, despite the cloud and nasty night, there has not fallen a single drop of rain. Maybe because of the dust, and could be, the heavy fog in the early morning, the air was hazy, imperceptible fluttered veil. The Fields and slopes of the foothills with yellowed, just rusty grass and all the surrounding rocks were sullen veiled with gloomy shadow. But the sky was cloudless, fresh, and washed and autumn cold. Looking at the sky, the old hunter already knew that the day would be serene and clear. There the first gleam was brightly playing in the rays of the rising sun on the jagged peaks of Kerge-Tas. Distinctive, invigorating chill foothills pulled towards the riders. Dizzyingly deep dark Ozhar gorge was close. In the predawn mountain forged horses' hoofs distinctly rang, and that sound filled the valley with melodic echoes. And even a bird, until then peacefully dozing on Bekpol’s hand, not seeing from beneath leather cap where the hunter took it, instinctively sensed the approach of the mountains. The eagle raised his thin bluish tinged beak resembling a polished flint, and greedily inhaled the cool air of the native steppe, open space steeped with wind, ancient mountains which nursed it.
Janibek thought it was strange that Bekpol rode without changing direction. He knew he had to turn aside, and then they could not once take the caps off their eagles and pull the birds to devour. Far behind were the famous peaks with fox burrows in the foothills, and Bekpol doggedly pursued his way, not responding to repeated Janibek’s questions.
Thus they went until came to the hills of Sarym-Sakty. Only then Bekpol, pensive and motionless before, suddenly started, just as a hunting bird, sensing a kill, and resolutely turned to the left, to the Mutton Hollow of Ozhar. Janibek obediently followed the old hunter. The hook made by a hunter, he attributed to Bekpol’s wistful distraction.
Turning off the mountain, Bekpol went into a trot, impatient, urging his horse. Janibek overtook Bekpol, followed at his heels. The young hunter looked around curiously. He looked at piles of rocks and gorges’ passes.
He saw there the convenient for eagles and the hunters-observers peaks was minute waiting any minute now when the time comes to remove the caps on their heads and let the birds go from the top of the peaks on the prey.
When the riders came down into the gorge, Bekpol reined in his horse and rode in slow pace. "Aha! He is afraid to flush out a fox! "- happily thought Janibek. But Bekpol, riding on a small, overgrown with small feather grass thrust and suddenly stopped, peering inquisitively at this feather grass, and turned to his companion in a low voice:
- Come over here, dear.
Janibek hesitantly approached Bekpol; he looked puzzled at the barely noticeable trace of horses' hooves.
- Look! - Almost whispered Bekpol. - He said that the horses are gone, and here are the traces of the foal.
When he looked more closely at the tracks Janibek laughed and said:
- Oh, you don’t think, Beck, that we have discovered the theft, do you? In vain! Just yesterday our horses were grazing here.
Coldly looking at the laughing young hunter, the old man did not answer him, and silently went further on the trail. However, traces soon disappeared in the thick mountain grass. Bekpol then turned to another thrust, overgrown with small rare feather. They passed a hundred steps, and he again called Janibek and said to him:
- Look, do you see this muck? It is quite fresh. The horses were here at night. Do you understand me? And our horses were taken from here yesterday at noon ... And then - he went on after a moment - there was one track, but here, look, like scattered the muck is. Muck falls this way only when the horse gallops, and not when it is peaceful on the open pasture. The old Beck tells you that, and you have to believe!
Janibek was silent. He was surprised by the quick eye and insight of the old hunter.
Looking at Janibek with senile dull eyes, Bekpol instructively noted:
- Assume they went to Ozhar. We still have one thing: to find them. I know Ozhar is great. Of course, they have placed the guards. They are watching us. But we will be slier! They should not think we are pursuing exactly the bandits.
And in front of the old Janibek Bekpol suddenly transformed, as if regained the lost youth, former long ago faded in his once clear eyes young enthusiasm.
- We're hunters! – Bekpol said cheerfully.-So let's proceed slowly, intelligently, carefully. Only in this way we shall find their lair. Do you understand me, my friend?
Instead, the answer Janibek readily said:
- All right! Arise, Beck, on this rock - he pointed to the left - and I'll search the pile of stones at the bottom here. I feel that it is home to foxes!.. - And he spurred his horse and started down.
Bekpol rose to the top, and immediately took off the cap from the head of his red-legged, as if wrapped in morocco ichigi, Kzylbalak, and pulled the bird. The eagle shuddered and covered with growing internal ramble, scrutinized yellowish widening eyes down at the foot of the mountain where the Janibek rode. Kzylbalak eagerly moved his elastic neck and rustled uneasily its golden feathers. The bird felt the proximity of prey, and its growing anxiety was gradually passing to hunter. He was also noticeably nervous and, moving dry, flexible fingers, was looking around warily.
Janibek slowly searched every stone. He hit with a whip on the pommel of his saddle and short tried to raise foxes with staccato whistle. However, those places did not see the hunters; foxes not frightened by them did not go up after a night sleep in warm, comfortable lairs. Just going close, the hunter could scare this sensitive, intelligent animal.
Bekpol took a long strap from eagle’s foot, with familiar gesture plugged it behind his belt, and entrusted the upcoming hunting to Janibek and his bird. He kept his watchful, faded from strain eyes on distant, menacing-defined peaks of Ozhar. Not the slightest sign of life could be seen among these dumb rocks. Deep wrinkles, furrowed the high Bekpol’s forehead; they have become even deeper and kneeder.
"Did they stop on Ozhar or moved on? Where did they take a shelter: in these remote, inaccessible canyons or in thick woods? "- Bekpol thought. Only one thing was clear: the perpetrators hid in a secluded place, they are well aware of these gorges and cliffs, and they seem to have a reliable guide, a fine connoisseur of these almost impassable places.
And suddenly old hunter’s thoughts were interrupted by a piercing scream of Janibek. As this scream reached Bekpol’s consciousness a huge eagle, frantically flinching instantly took off the hand of the hunter, like a stone, plummeted down and then soared in a powerful impetus to the shining in the sunlight Ozhar peaks. And it was hard to understand whether it was Janibek’s voice that raised a sensitive bird, or whether it was driven by her subtle, soulful flair for prey of mountain birds. The bird took off for a long awaited catch.
Enchanted with an unusual Kzylbalak takeoff, Bekpol stared at it when the bird, with lightning speed, was receding into the blue sky. He loved this powerful, inspiring bird which was not inferior in strength and feathers beauty to the wild eagle, the mountain dweller. What could you say about the eagle, which managed only in the last ten days to catch thirty good foxes for the farm, with lush fur breathed in hands, almost like a living being?
Anyone who saw this majestic flight of an eagle soaring in the blue, to dizziness high sky, the one who has ever felt the mad thrill that gripped the bird, sensing prey would know the power of emotion, which the hunter experiences at that moment.
Bekpol, staring at his bird, quickly descended from the peak. Janibek rapidly raced through the canyon. Bekpol have not seen a fox, but he felt, he knew it was there somewhere, among the rocks, trying to hide in the cracks, get away from the eagle. But the eagle, blindly flashed in the sun with steel sprawled wings suddenly fell down and disappeared behind a pile of stones.
And at that moment Janibek, just like an eagle, head over heels slid down. Bekpol reined the horse, and not hiding the excitement, watched as the predator will take an animal - whether it will strike with fatal blow or undecided rise above it again. It was a test for the eagle, which the demanding hunter gave so much thought... Always discreet, cold-blooded and thrifty Bekpol, despite the huge excitement, did not lose self-control and the sight of Kzylbalak. Eagle did not fly up...
In a slow, firm step Bekpol passed through a pile of rock. Janibek was sitting on his haunches and fed the overheated eagle with a tongue of a killed fox. Not dismounting from his horse, Bekpol asked:
- How is it? How was a stroke?
- Fractured the spine! - Janibek said and spread the dead, with a broken spine, fox in his arms.
- Good! Eagle is in a groove. I have never seen such a flight! - Bekpol responded enthusiastically.
Hunters long and silently admired the eagle and prey taken by it. But soon they startled, alert with deaf gusty whistle and raised their heads. They saw some wild bird floating above them. It was the most common prairie hawk. Not taking the watchful look off the hawk, Bekpol asked, puzzled:
- The ravener saw something. Where is he directed?
- Probably, to Kzylbalak’s prey- Janibek suggested.
- No, - Bekpol said hotly. - He's probably in a hurry to breakfast on the top of Ozhar. - And then, his eyes fixed on the retreating to the top bird, Bekpol said: - Hold on, friend! There is another. He, too, is making his way there ... You know Janibek, this is no accident. Take a fox - and get on your horse!
Obedient and agile Janibek never contradicted Bekpol. Quickly in a practiced motion he passed Kzylbalak to Bekpol, took off Karaker from the stone and jumped into the saddle.
Bekpol continued to follow the hawks. He knew that if his suspicions are correct, these birds will come from all sides. Finally, wistfully looking at Karaker, he said:
- Look, Janibek, get up on that pile of rocks and stay there. I‘ll go on that rock – he showed with a handle of the whip onto the red rock, unclearly rising from the depths of the gorge. - And when I give you a sign, you will release Karaker. Kzylbalak will not fly without seeing the prey. I put a lot of work to make Karaker fast and obedient. Like every eagle taken nestling from the nest, it is greedy for the bait, meat, and always lets you know where it was. I can hear it by his screech. That is why today it is more useful to us than Kzylbalak.
Without waiting for an answer from Janibek, Bekpol moved to the cliff, and barely rose to the first ledge of the rock, gave a sign. Janibek did not have time to pull a cap off Karaker as the eagle soared instantly. As well coached bird, Karaker dutifully and quickly took off from any spot and sought an invisible prey.
Janibek followed its flight, and saw in the same direction where Karaker flew, three huge black hawks following each other.
It was evident that the eagle was flying, carefully surveying the surrounding hollows but hearing the alert scream of wild hawks, he went even higher and quickly went after them. It scared Janibek. He got the idea that the eagle, passionate about its mission, will go after them. That is why Janibek rushed to Bekpol. But coming up with Bekpol, he, to his surprise, did not see on the face of the old hunter any sign of anxiety. The old man looked calmly afar, mentally conducting the air path on which the hawks just disappeared. And when Janibek tried to express his concerns to Bekpol, the old man, without a word, imperiously handed him his eagle:
- Come on! Do not tell me what not to do. Here, take my bird.
"He's probably paying the price for Karaker with his eagle" - Janibek thought with pity, not knowing whether to take this precious gift to replace the lost Karaker.
However Bekpol said:
- Do not think that I give you my eagle. I will not give it to you. I will not give it to you, because yours will be back. Look, - he said more profound, and even quieter, slightly touching the elbow of his young friend - look, I know, I feel that the enemies are here! They are on Ozhar, on the other side of the peaks. It was them who lured the hawks for breakfast: apparently, they've killed a foal ... But who would have this foal, them or us - that is the question!.. – Bekpol concluded grinning.
After a pause, he, in a harsh and demanding voice, said to Janibek:
- Immediately gallop with my eagle to the commandant frontier. Fly to Alexander! By the time you arrive I will try to release Karaker, and if possible, release it straight from the lot. Watch out - this will be my signal.
Everything was clear to Janibek. And he without words, without waiting for an explanation, resolutely turned his horse and rushed to opposite, to the border. Bekpol also slowly ascended to the bluish remote heights, beyond which, according to his assumptions, the predators were hidden.
When the hunters split up, it was an early morning; the sun was above the horizon at the height of the peaks. And Bekpol determined that the people of the commandant's office will come when the sun will move to the western slope of Ozhar peak. Until that time, he had to locate the enemies and give a sign.
But the steep and almost inaccessible were the Ozhar slopes. Horse, exerting his last strength, went in small, heavy steps - even a mild trot he could not do.
Ancient, dense spruce forest, encircled the hill, crossed the road. Primitive damp coolness breathe went from thick firy rock ledges. Silence. The piet was occasionally chattering afar. Sometimes the muffled scream of the falcon, indefatigably soaring high above was heard. And among this mountain drowsy silence carefully sneaked the lonely travelling hunter in a gray coat, and a marmot cap. He drove carefully listening to the silence. Eyesight was tense. Hearing was tense. It seemed every nerve, every muscle was tense. He went silent among gloomy rocks, further and further delving into the gorge, on the argali path. Those bathing in the glow of the autumn sun mountain peaks always beckon a lonely traveler. They were majestic and transparent. It seemed they were burning with their own inner light. How easy it was to breathe this time! How great was the desire to reach the goal sooner! And the more difficult was the path, the greater was the desire to overcome it ... And Bekpol hurried.
He dismounted and stood on a high cliff. In front of him widely opened the other slope of Ozhar. He saw that down there, stretched the dark, as if made of lace, wood strip, crossed here and there by deep valleys, cliffs, and dips.
But where were the enemy? In which of these canyons they have hidden from prying Bekpol’s eyes? Under the protection of the rock cliffs or in the woods?.. Bekpol asked himself those questions and didn’t find an answer. Lying on the ledge of a sharp cliff, Bekpol looked around the neighborhood, enchanted by the beauty of a faraway farm fields, close beauty of the dear to his heart land – the land that was so jealously, so vigilantly he kept for many years helping to protect it from invasion of the foreign offenders.
After a while Bekpol again mounted his horse and led with an inner instinct, took exactly the direction that led to the lot which was the forest refuge of the enemies. Their presence was given up by the horses which cooled down after a long race. They were tied in pairs. Bekpol noticed that red and roan horses had strange saddles. Those were the kyzay and Suai saddles - from the kind of Chinese Kazakhs. It is for these saddles that Bekpol immediately determined that the thieves came from the other side. Carefully looking at horses, Bekpol realized that horses were exhausted by a long and severe road.
"But where are the people? – Bekpol asked himself. - Maybe they're asleep?" - he thought. At the same moment he heard a terrible demanding cry:
Bekpol anxiously looked around and felt, rather than saw in the covert, a person with a dark bloodless complexion. The man leaning out of the dense thickets directed a gun straight at Bekpol and with contemptuous serenity, without raising his voice, he ordered:
- Get off your horse!
- I will, dear - calmly replied Bekpol. - But you should first ask, if I an enemy to you or not. After all, I'm alone. Did you take me to be a chase? Weirdo! I'm just a hunter. I'm looking for my lost bird.
These words, uttered with genuine tranquility and a warm friendly smile, apparently influenced the bandit. He quickly jumped down from the tree, ran to Bekpol and snatched a whip from his hands. Then, without saying a word, he ordered Bekpol to follow him with an arm move.
Bekpol had to obey. Only then he noticed that three people were sitting behind the trees. They seemed to have grown out of the ground. Those people, too, were armed with guns. And not far from the gray-bearded gunman on a tree stump Karaker was sitting. The bird was in concentration and with enthusiasm biting a stringy piece of fresh meat.
Bekpol suddenly, glancing down at the bearded thief, stepped back and froze. The bearded man also recoiled in surprise and opened his eyes, staring fixed and blearily at Bekpol.
- How Bekpol? Is that you? – the bearded exclaimed in amazement and hostility.
Bekpol instantly mastered himself and falsely gleefully shouted:
- Satbek! Satbek my dear, are you alive? I do not believe my eyes ... You're alive!
The other two bandits approached the hunter and looked at each other in bewilderment, expectant silence.
Satbek hesitantly approached Bekpol and muffly asked:
- Are you one of us? Or are you an enemy?
At that moment, the rest of the bandits started searching the hunter. It was unpleasant to feel their hasty and crude touch. However Bekpol did not protest. He continued to stand still, staring at Satbek with a falsely cheery sight. He pretended so skillfully that it seemed, as if he was really glad about this meeting and experiencing this joy with all his being.
- Of course, one of you! I am still loyal to you, Satbek. - Bekpol answered in a tone leaving no place for suspicion or insincerity.
- Is that true?
- I never lie.
Bekpol was searched and having not found anything suspicious, the bandits retreated.
Bekpol meanwhile, was looking carefully at the familiar face of the old man, studying it, and found that over the past five years it has not changed, remained the same motionless and wild. It was the same insolent and sly old fox, once known throughout the county. This gentle landowner and atkaminer deftly avoided confiscation by giving his daughter in marriage to one of the large regional employees in the name of which he was able to escape in time the deserved punishment. Only a few years later vague rumors came in the wilderness: some said, he settled down somewhere in Siberia, others - that he entered the service somewhere near Tashkent, others have said he was long buried. Only one thing was true: that the man appeared here and there, cleverly disguised, confusing and dodging his tracks, as winds and confuses on the autumn snow crust, sensing pursuit, the hunted hare. Bekpol’s coeval Satbek with his family spent his whole life working for this atkaminer and, did not see anything from him except for insults. Bekpol cared for his eagles. Skinny horse and a pathetic leaky yurt - that's all that Bekpol then had. And now, when they met in this remote corner of the mountain, Bekpol realized in what danger he was. That's why he gathered his nerves into a ball. That's why, suppressing a surge of hatred for the man, Bekpol so skillfully and subtly led the game, depicting always obedient servant.
Satbek kept an eye on Bekpol. He believed and did not believe him.
- Well, come here – in a more peaceful tone of the old man said, sitting by the fire, and began to ask: - How many of you, hunters, here? Who are your companions? Where are they now?
- Fellows I have not. I am alone. That's why I lost the eagle. If there was a comrade, he would help me to get a fox, and I would not have let the eagle far away, - Bekpol replied with feigned calm.
Probably not quite trusting those explanations, still worrying internally, Satbek, nodding toward Karaker sarcastically remarked:
- Is that an eagle? This is a beggar who collects the occasional handouts! How can a real eagle fly on carrion?
Small penetrating Stabek’s eyes ran across the Bekpol’s face. But that keen, searching look did not embarrass the old hunter. Bekpol grinned and with the former, not leaving him calmness replied,
- You see it well, Satbek! You're right. The fact that the bird belongs to a young, inexperienced hunter. He messed up with it...
Satbek kept silent, glancing sideways at the hunter, as if getting ready to jump. Bandits came and began to ask Bekpol too, trying to get from him information they needed. They wondered whether there was a chase after them. Whether they were looking for missing horses? Who had he seen the evening before?
The hunter was alone. He did not see anyone except his eagle. And he did not know anything, a humble man.
- Well, - suddenly and decisively Satbek intervened in the conversation. - Well, I agree. But if you're our man, you're going with us? - he asked glopping, approaching Bekpol.
After a second silence Bekpol said firmly:
- Do not look at me so severely, Satbek. If I say the first word "yes", you're not likely to believe it. I told you that before, old and faithful Bekpol stands in front of you. You are talking to me as my former Satbek. Isn’t that enough for you?
Without answering, Satbek looked at his companions and gave them a sign. All four of them immediately got up and walked away. By muted talk Bekpol realized that they were discussing something. He knew he was watched by Satbek’s keenly perceptive eye, and therefore kept quiet.
A minute later, people switched from whisper to loud altercation. One of them, all black, as if charred, furiously argued with Satbek. It looked like Satbek was left alone.
Suddenly, three bandits attacked Bekpol. Before he knew it, they pressed him and in front of his eyes the knife with a bright yellow handle subtly glazed. Two others piled on Bekpol’s feet. But this time Satbek deftly grabbed the hand of one of them:
- Stop it! For my sake let him go. He's my age. Let me talk to him.
- What would you say to him? There's nothing to say, - people were shouting, holding Bekpol.
- Then ask him yourself and, if he lies, kill him, - Satbek said.
"Yeah, that's what he’s gone for!" – Bekpol realized.
- Let your old man swear to be with us. Otherwise he's dead! On the edge of sword there is no friendship ... – squintly and angrily staring around a black bandit said, tightening his knee on the chest of the old hunter.
But that did not bother and did not scare Bekpol. Anger and hatred grew in him with each passing second. In age-related memory, like in a kaleidoscope, flashed bleak pictures of bygone days. And hatred to Satbek suppressed fear in him. Moreover, a sense of suppressed protests in Bekpol suppressed even the instinct of self-preservation. That's why, tightly clenching his yellowed with age, but still sturdy old man's teeth, Bekpol was stubbornly silent. And this evil old man silence enraged bandits.
- Are you dumb or what? You see, I stood up for you, I asked ... – Satbek began.
But Bekpol cut him and shouted:
- So get them off!
He rushed for dear life. Satbek estranged his men, and when Bekpol rose, turned to him with the words:
- Well, I’ll vouch for you. Join us and help us at night to overtake those horses abroad. Do not worry, when we get there, I'll take care of you. We will be the same Bekpol and Satbek. Do you agree?
Bekpol furtively looked at the sun and happily noticed that it was nearer to the other side of Ozhar.
- Listen, Satbek! Listen to me, all of you! All right. I agree - at ease and almost cheerfully he said to alerted peopled. - Enough of talk. Let's better to cook the meat. Let’s eat and make haste. We must hurry. God, send us luck!
People fussed. Fire blazed merrily. Bitter flavor came from the fire from burning fir branches and fragrant boiling meat. Satbek and Bekpol sat by the fire and talked quite peacefully, like old friends talk after a long separation.
- I'm with you - Bekpol said - and that's a bird I have to say goodbye to. The eagle should be set free.
Hooked up with hectic romp around the boiling meat, the thieves did not pay attention to the Bekpol’s words. He looked searchingly into the eyes of an eagle, gently ran his hand over its chest and said:
- Remain the memory of me and Satbek here, at our home. I do not take the rings off your feet. Good-bye! Fly away, my friend, free!
He, with his usual dexterity, threw Karaker up, and the bird, darted off his hands, immediately went high, drawing gentle circles over the tops of spruce thickets. Bekpol was watching the eagle long, as if he really said goodbye to his beloved bird. Then, sitting down beside the fire, he threw on the coals the beam of green leaves and dry grass and began to fan the flame. Above the dense spruce the blue smoke went up.
Soon the meat was ready. Hungry people eagerly and quickly dealt with it.
Suddenly the saddled horses pricked up their ears and looked up.
- What is it? – Satbek asked anxiously, instinctively grabbing his gun.
Instantly the others jumped up from their seats and grabbed their guns.
The thieves were scattered, hiding behind trees, behind the lips of the rocks. Satbek rushed to the tree where the horses were tied. Bekpol followed.
A shot was heard, followed by a second, more muffled, by all accounts - a shot back. And at that moment Bekpol saw how, struck by a bullet, ridiculously waving his arms, the tall black bandit fell flat on his back.
- Hands up! – The command, loud in Russian and Kazakh, sounded
- Give up!
- Drop your guns!
Satbek was about to send the barrel of a gun at Bekpol but Bekpol knocked Satbek with a fast strike of the heel in the knee. The latter crashed heavily to the ground. At that moment Alexander, Bekpol’s friend from a frontier, arrived in time to help the old hunter. Having located the enemies, he could not stop thinking about Bekpol’s fate, fearing that at the decisive moment the bandits will kill the old man. That's why he so slowly cautious hurried to help.
Ospankul and Janibek and Red Army frontier soldiers rushed happily to the found horses. Bekpol led Alexander to Satbek:
- Look, Alexander, this is Satbek. He was born in the same year with me, and before the arrival of the Soviets, to my gray hair, he sat on my neck as a badger. After all, you heard not once from me about this man ...
- Yes, I heard, my friend. I know him, - Alexander said, warmly shaking hands with an old hunter.
And at that moment, rustling with wings, a young eagle Karaker went down. It was the day of his hunting maturity.