The aul stretches along the southern slope of Koksenger. It is evening. The time when watering is coming to an end. Herds of neighboring auls are slowly moving to the steppe on pastures. The air is full of frantic bleating of sheep and lambs which are stragglers from them. To get away from this noise, we, together with the aul elder aksakal Zhortar, were heading to a rocky hill that rose on the other side of the well. Closely tangled flocks rolled back farther to the south, enlivening the green monotony of the steppe and delighting the eye. The last rays of the setting sun filled the steppe with a golden soft crimson light, and because of it, evening aul seems particularly picturesque and lively. Higher we ascend to the hill, the broader unfolding the majestic picture of the evening steppe before our eyes. Clean and clear air, the feeling of immense spaciousness gives birth in the soul of vague hopes, make you think and wake up dreams.
I still have not understood my state of mind, have not comprehended desires, but I felt a sudden longing - to hear a story about his past from the lips of Zhortar. In his youth, Zhortar was a Batyr and the whole Kazakh steppe knew him. People tremble at the mere mention of his name. Any barymta, or the battle did not do without him. He was brave and skilled warrior, who owned a spear skillfully. Seeing him already an old man, I tried to imagine how he was at the time of his distant youth. Tall, arshin’s shoulders, a large head and a calm pleasant face spoke of the batir's health and congenital strength. Deep wrinkles, furrowed his face over the years, seemed to keep the traces of a harsh riotous years. Faded, yellowed with squirrels, but still retained a lively sparkle eyes, big ears, large expressive nose completes the look of the legendary batir.
Yes, Zhortar was a true representative of ancient times. When we reached the top of the hill, I dare to express my desire. My companions unanimously supported me.
In response to a request to talk about the past, aksakal gently and politely said: “My dears, a lot of yhings I've seen, have already covered with the shadow of oblivion, I can hardly remember anything.”
There was an awkward silence. Aksakal Kudaibergen who sat down next to us, helped break it:
“Tell guys about something. We, the elderly, now have only to remember and talk about the past.”
And Zhortar began a story. He spoke simply and at the same time colorful and bright.
I remembered his story almost word for word. Here it is.
“I will not tell you about the battles and wars”, Zhortar said, pulling Shaksha, a horn snuff box. “It is better to hear how much I got a fright once.”
In anticipation of the extraordinary story we could not take our eyes off the Zhortar’s face.
“I was young like you are. Day and night I was looking for adventures. In those days, we, dzhigits, even in the distant campaigns almost always went alone, left at least for a week or even for a whole month and more. We went usually at Tarbagataj, in Karakery, Semiznayman, Muryndy.
It happened in the autumn. I was going to campaign. After reaching the nomadic Syban’s genus, I remembered that batir named Tobet lived here. I heard that he had long sought an opportunity to meet me. He was not my enemy, just wanted to try one's strength.
After a long and boring wandering across the steppe I got to the Tobet’s auls. It was a rainy autumn. And on that day tedious rain poured continuously from the morning. I hoped that the clouds would disperse by the evening, but the weather didn’t change and rain did not stop. Moreover a strong and cold wind had risen. Twilight quickly replaced by a dark and impenetrable night.
I have never went astray from the path and wander, neither in storm nor the dark night. And this time, despite the utter darkness exactly came out to the Tobet’s aul. Through the howling wind, I caught a barely audible neighing.
Horse under me was white, strong and hardy. However, it could not indulge at a gallop straight off, but then when it gained speed, no horse could catch up with it. But that night, due to heavy rain, the horse went reluctantly and languidly. Suddenly it sniffed and stopped. I lay down on the mane and peered. Something blackened in front of me. Approaching closer, I saw a rectangular crypt - mazar.
“Perhaps it is the grave someone from the Syban’s genus”, I thought. Thoroughly drenched and chilled to the bone, I decided to sit in the crypt, and then, when the rain stopped and cleared up, continue the search of Tobet. I dismounted and led the horse to the leeward. Tying the reins back to the belt, I walked inside quite high and spacious mazar and sat in the front corner. It was dark as pitch. Wind behind the wall is rushing with the howling. The rain is lashing...
Frankly, it was scary at first, but gradually I calmed down.
They said earlier that devils wandering at night in the cemeteries, witches’ Sabbath and other evil spirits. But I’ve never thought about it. Slightly warmed, I stuck the handle of Kamcha in the ground, leaned on it with both hands and quietly fell asleep.
I slept slumber, but sensitively as always. Suddenly something snapped in the opposite corner. I opened my eyes. Dark mazar was full of bright light. My dream was gone immediately. Then the light goes off for a moment, and something groan in the corner. I realized that was the devil, and began to read all the prayers that I only knew. I was not strong enough to approach a place where there was a crack. I cringed, glanced sideways at the corner, and it seemed to me that something huge and black stirred there. The fear gripped me.
After a while the crackling repeated. Inside the mazar it has become even lighter, but soon the light began to fade and died. I bent down and at first could not even look at the other side but when it was almost dark, looked up and saw the monster.
“Not otherwise dragon or the devil himself”, I thought. It has no similarity with a man. It was completely naked and black as night. Tremendous growth, taller than me perhaps. Hair sticking out in all sides. But his mouth seemed to me the most terrible. It was huge, like a cave, it spewed fire, teeth sticking out like fangs. The fire rushed out of the mouth like a dragon.
Honestly, I was so scared that I could not get up and run because my legs did not obey to me. At this time, something twice cracked again and again the fire started. I glanced furtively and saw the same fiery maw.
I hunched shoulders and shrunk so if there was at least some kind of fissure at the earth, I would fall in it. I did not have the strength to even move. Utterly scared, I sat and waited for the monster tears me to pieces.
During the first outbreak of the fire the horse broke reins and rode off. I did not think about the horse. Of the weapon, I had cudgel and spear, but they remained at the entrance to the mazar. I’ve got just a small dagger in a sheath, but it seemed to me that if I only stir the monster immediately pounce on me.
The midnight was coming. The wind was still madly rushing, and its howling seemed to be even stronger. Rain lashed against the walls. With each look at the monster I thought: “This is my death. Apparently, in a deaf steppe in someone’s mazar, all alone I was destined to meet death”. My sad thoughts were interrupted by the fact that the monster suddenly rose and headed toward me. I shut my eyes and felt the approach of something cold. I began to read a dying prayer. There was a crackling and I opened my eyes. For a while it was flooded with blinding light all around, the monster with a deafening roar came slowly and bucked over me. When the dark hulk approached me, I could see its hands. Black fingers were bent as the golden eagle talons, and the whole arm was like a gaping wolf’s maw. And here were two such hands reached toward me. When the monster bucked over me, I thought that it instantly turns my bones into flour with these hands. But nothing happened. Albeit his grip was strong but its hands seemed to me like human’s.
Grabbing me by the shoulders and pulled up to itself, the monster shouted imperiously:
“Take off your clothes and lie down in the grave - you're dead!” Voice, no doubt, was also human’s. It reassured me somehow. And when the monster began to pull me, I firmly took him by the hand, stood up, and we got to grips.
“If I take off my clothes, then you are probably going to wear it?! But I was born a man. God is a witness to this”, I said.
There was no answer.
We are locked in a dark mazar as two bears, and stood in the stranglehold.
Neither he nor I let the hands go. At first it was hard to take his naked body, but then when I clasped my hands in the lock behind him, I felt a little more comfortable.
We have to fight for real, noisy breathing and struggling pressing against each other. It seemed to me that he is not stronger than me. Seizing the moment, I gathered all my strength, tore off a monster from the ground, raised above my head and struck of the ground and sat on his chest. In retaliation for the fright I grabbed him by the throat with one hand and began to choke, and another, after several hard strikes to the chest, reaching for the dagger. When I angrily raised the dagger to the throat of the enemy, to separate his head from his shoulders in one fell swoop, he saw blade flashed in the dark and shouted:
“Zhortar, is it really you?! I immediately recognized you by your fist punch.”
I also recognized him by his voice and threw a dagger into the side. It was a batyr Bura-altayak from Togaya.
We have been friends with him for a long-time and more than once shared the last piece of meat in the campaigns. The monster, who scared me, was a close friend!
Bura-altayak also came to sybans for exploration. But when he was resting in the desolate mountains, Tobet swooped and took him prisoner. He spent a whole month in captivity, but now, in this rainy night he escaped. Easily dressed, he took refuge in mazar, to wait out the bad weather. When I went in there, he decided that God granted him mercy. He had no weapon. He had only a box of matches. Not relying on force, he decided to take me by trick, he undressed naked and began to light a match, and when a match was burning out he took a cinder in his mouth and frightened me. The reason for my fear was ordinary matches.
“But who among us, Kazakhs, knew at the time about the matches? If we needed a fire, we have extracted it with a wick, flint and kresal. That's how I was scared by some matches”, finished aksakal and laughed contentedly.
We also laughed at his story. Dusk were coming, and we headed to the aul.