When we were children mullah taught us in the house of grizzled Aytiles.
The motionless heat. A mirage is playing in the hills. Cattle is getting in the water up to their necks trying to cool in the lake. The sun is directly overhead in the afternoon, and shadow of a man is hiding under his feet because it cannot find a place for itself. The shepherds, who look like a skinny calves that have not yet got out winter wool, are baked in the sun. It seems like they burned on sun and that theirs “kupy” are shriveling on their bodies crumpling and puckering. Women are hardly plodding with bags on their backs, which went over six hills to collect the pressed dung. The sweat mixed with dust is flowing on their dusty faces.
Every time I was going to Aytiles with an old Arabic alphabet book, which was like tattered as the old saddle-blanket. If children have not been coming yet, then Aytiles usually talked to mullah or to his habitual friend – trader Ramazan, who was friable as a bag for kumys. Aytiles is a blind old man with snow-white beard, he smoothed his broad beard with powerful fingers when he was speaking. White and fluffy, it covered his robe like a chestpiece embroidered with silver.
Aytiles cleaned old, rusty oblivion events and stories in his retelling were sparkling by glitter. When the old man became blind, he gathered all the light in his chest and ears and shook up the bygone days as a caked fur.
“When we were young and still were playing with horse’ ears!”, Aytiles started, “At that time ‘paluan’ Janay was eighty-two, and perhaps all of eighty-five years. His heart was still hot, although he started to lose his strength. His sonorous voice played over ‘shanyrak’2. When this person was telling us something, we were sitting on the hunkers near the yurt, flipping the felt near the door’s jamb, and were listening, infusing every word in the ears and plaiting in the minds...”Listen what Janay was telling once...
“It was a long time ago, we were young”, once Janay started to tell.“Paluan Zhalpak was summoning us to the raid to Ergenek’s auls. So it was happening this way... Paluan Zhalpak was Balabai’s son-in-law. Once Biy summoned paluan and said to him:
- Hey, Zhalpak! Ergenek twice made a raid to our auls. One time they robbed me, another time you were robbed. They took my cattle, but you gave them your soul. You gave them your soul, if you gave them your bride, for whom your father paid forty seven heads of cattle... But you were young. You were so young, that couldn’t even revenge them. And even when you met them in the steppe, you barely escaped because you gave away your horse. But now you are ‘paluan’. Why do you forget about revenge?
1 Kupy (kut) - outer clothing lined with camel or sheep's fleece (spring wool).
“Biy!”, Zhalpak exclaimed jumping to his feet. “I did not know that there is black spot getting dark on my forehead... they told me that that bride was not mine! I was six when they took away my horse... If the victory will be with me, I kill enemies. If they win, I will stay dead in the steppe but without a shame on my forehead! Goodbye! I will sit on the horse in a red-letter day – on Wednesday!’
1 Paluan - professional wrestler, strongman.
2Shanyrak - the upper range of the yurt’s skeleton.
Biy - main in the family, tribal judge.
“Hold on, ‘Batyr’!” said Balabai. – Yes, you will go and you will make a raid. But here is an advice: do not chase for the former fiancée, she already became a woman. It will be better, if you look on the dense herds of horses!”
And here we are going to the raid – forty chosen zhigits, holding the West on the forehead and South on the left elbow. Zhalpak (in the shoulders - like a yurt, fists – like a clubs and if you look at him from behind – he looks like a furnace) rode ahead in a short distance. His bald horse with a light mane was bending down like a “sadak1” when it was shaking his head, and jumping like the saiga antelope. None horse kept up with him!
In the twilight of the seventh overnight stay Zhalpak dismounted and said:
“He was not a simple person! We will spend this night at his grave...”
All of us have dismounted. There was big black grave on the six steps in the circle. At the entrance was the inscription. We have not read it, because none of forty zhigits was illiterate...
“When I think about it” Aytiles says, distracting from the story, “my heart become high. If I can’t get district guys, but at least I did not give the parish dogs to tear myself to pieces! Give the children cheese!’ he said over his shoulder to his old lady and continued the story on behalf of Zhanay.
... We lit a flame with flint and made a fire. We went to sleep, throwing two handfuls of dried meat in the mouth and putting the saddle under the head and the numdah under our bodies. Zhalpak warrior jumped to his feet when the constellation of the Pleiades rose to the sky, and the beautiful star Urker gets at the height of the forehead:
“Zhigits! Do not spare the horses, loosen the front cinch, and pull together stronger the back one ... When the sun rise to the height of a spear, we will meet our prey. If the desire of my biy come true we will raid on the horses...”
1 Sadak – a bow.
2Saiga - steppe goat.
“It turns out that this is the tomb of the old paluan Baisar” Zhalpak told. “He told me at night: «You, whom I gave shelter over my dead head, you, whose horses graze at my grave, do not even try to touch my people. You would have problems if you do that». We argued with Batyr all night long, but did not come to an agreement. If he is warrior, who are we - women? Zhigits, get on your horses!
Horses was seasoned for the trek and prepared for the way, they were chewing bits, turning as the spindle and curving like a saiga antelopes.
The sun rose to the height of a spear, and we saw herds that covered the lowlands and hills. We rushed to the herds. Two riders jumped out of their grounds and rushed to the hills. We decided not to pursue them.
I saw the black-eyed girl with a bag of dried dung on her back when we were screaming and whistling drove horses, turning herds from one end. Her eyes were like those of camel. My whole body began to ache. The horse under me was called Kudai-cok1. I rushed up to her like an arrow, picked her up in the saddle, I shoved her hands into my belt and flew on. From a distance, I heard the cry of her mother, she wailed with disheveled hair: « My colt! ». Mother’s cry hurt me less than a midge bite.
Soon with lashes we have gathered a large herd and drove it over two hills. Then paluan Zhalpak have seen a girl on my saddle, and, apparently, he liked her.
“Sauga2!” he greeted loudly.
“If she found favour in your eyes, what more could she wish? Take her, Batyr!” I said.
He came alongside with me and patted the girl's head, kissed her wavy black hair and rode away. From that moment, touching of this beautiful girl, which threw me into a fever all the time, became for me colder than a frog.
We rescued so much horses that it was difficult kept them together. In the crush foals were falling under of mares’ feet and lagged with a thin neighing.
We have already drove herds at a distance of half nomad, when the dot started to turn black in the wilderness behind us. It raced like a shooting star. Before we could blink, a bay horse crashed into our unit, carrying the old man. It was an old, experienced herdsman, well-worn: he did not look at us, and rode straight to the paluan Zhalpak:
“Let us assume that everything is all right: you made a raid, you stole the biy’s herds ... But for what do you need the only daughter of herdsman? If you need a slave – take me. But give back a daughter, poor mother stayed in sorrow. She has just one child, which expanded the close womb and has melted the mother's rock breast.
Would warrior listen to those words? Zhalpak chuckled under his breath and blinked to zhigit Keiki, who was riding beside. Keiki was fast and powerful; he drove his spear in the chest of herdsman, twisted old man in the air and threw to the ground.
The bay horse lunged to the side like a beautiful saiga antelope. Three zhigits rushed in pursuit, but the bay just waved his tail, as if he rode only to deliver a herdsman and rush off back.
*Kudai-cok - gray god.
« Sauga! » - « With prey! » According to the old tradition, the Kazakhs gave part of the booty, to the first who greeted them.
The girl began to cry and freed her hands from my waist. I shifted her backward and examined carefully. Her eyes were really those of a camel. Streams of pearl tears across the face flowed. Sometimes it happens that the beauty is like a gentle spring flower! I even had compassion and did not dare to embrace her with my petrified hands...
We have passed through the steppe another transition of the Lambs. What had happened to a herdsman did not remain even a shadow in our heads. The horses became hot. The herd of horses went ahead and pressed each other, being frightened of the screams.
Suddenly we looked back: like an arrow, like a hunting bird, like a star, the black dot appeared in the steppe again. We had not time to shout: "Hey! Stop it!", when noticed something whitened.
“Sheshetaim-ai”1 shouted the girl from saddle. It turns out that it was the same bay, and now herdsman's wife was sitting on him, the mother of a girl. With whooping, she flew up to the herd, and then, turning, flew forward and raced to the right. And the whole herd lunged behind her! We are trying to turn it aside but it jumps to another.
We want to catch a woman but the bay does not admit, we cannot stab a spear or a cudgel. Several times, we wrapped herd ago, but then it scattered in all directions, either whips or cudgels did not help. Finally, herd ran through the only passage to the island in the middle of a wide river. It cannot be driven out from there ... It was a hillock in the middle of the island. The woman drove to the hillock and waved to us with “zhaulyk’... Well, we thought that now we could pierce her with a spear!
“I am a woman, I am mother of this girl!” she shouted. “I am a mother to all of you! The same mother gave birth to each of you... You do not fight with mother. What blame to you my only daughter has!.. Come to me, my little camel!”
I do not know how she jumped out of my saddle and how she hung around the neck of her mother. They do not care about us, who could barely breathe from the wrath, at whom the blood was dripping from the brow. Mother caresses daughter, daughter caresses to mother, they are by themselves.
Keiki gave way:
“Batyr”, he said to Zhalpak, “with your permission, I will bind them and drive on the stallion. Daughter will be a wife and her mother will drag the firewood!”
Zhalpak looked at Keiki, looking round him with a broad as the palm eye, and then turned to the woman:
“What kind of person you are? Your courage amazes me. Tell me, who are you?”
1 Sheshetaim-ai - mammy.
The woman replied:
“Warrior, get off the horse. There is no one to chase you. If you made a raid on this aul, then our zhigits went to the raid in the morning too, on neighbors. You'll be able to steal the herds by easy stages.”
We dismounted and located around the mound. “What kind of nonsense of that black woman he is going to listen?” we thought, and we were dissatisfied with Zhalpak.
Woman unclasped her daughter and began to speak:
- I am mother of this girl. She is fifteen years old. In the same age that happens with me too; cold frost and black brand of those days rests on me even now... About what kind of people I should tell you about? They say that it was aul It-Kula of four yurts, which was eked out a living along the riverbanks. I am Sanim’s daughter from those aul... There was (I do not know what family he was, he should born in the wilderness!) biy Balabay. Once, on the occasion of the circumcision of his son he had arranged a celebration. As a prize for the races, he placed nine heads of cattle, and the grand prize - a slave. As the prize for the fights - also nine goals and the grand prize - slave woman. Will anyone give his daughter for the prize? Bay sent zhigits to find a girl in the steppe...
My father was repairing a bullock cart and mother was cooking the porridge, then ten horseback riders flew up, I looked at them from a hut. “Hey, zhigits, let your way be lucky!”, my father greeted them. “Let there be no lucky way, but would be a girl!” they said, and rode on, picked up me on the saddle...
The next day, after a fun race and fight, they put me on ‘nar’ with carpets and gave away as a prize. The winner of the fight was paluan Baisary, whose tomb is in this steppe. Arriving at his aul he presented me to bai Kuletke. Bai betrothed me with one of his slaves, and made a milkmaid. I lived this way for two years.
Kuletke gave his daughter in marriage and arranged a celebration. I was set as a prize for second place, and the slave who was betrothed with me was set as the main prize. He was given in one hand; I was given into the others - to the bai Sarma, whose herds you hijacked today. Sarybay has a herdsman named Kairak and he begged me to marry him. “All our life we will be dogs at your doors” he begged bai. “Be the herdsman, she shall be a milkmaid. You will be free after working for a while” Sarybai promised.
Fifteen years have passed from henceforth. The death today has liberated my husband, and here I am standing in front of you. A long noose of slavery attacked today on my daughter's neck, so I galloped to you: Give me a colt, I will plant a daughter and take her back...
лNar- Arabian camel.
Zhigits who were ready initially to break the woman, lowered their eyes. There is neither question nor answer, eyes rested in the ground.
The woman probably looked into our hearts. She held out her black palms to us.
“As an equal, I lived with my husband for fifteen years, I saw his body, and I know. You sent the power of hands and sharp spears not to a strong and deep-chested warrior. Does he was a formidable enemy, and not pleading cripple? How did you pay for him? Planted on the saddle, carried out his daughter? Does it look like courage or a justice? My daughter will be your slave. If she will stay with me, she will be growing in freedom. I’m taking my daughter with me.”
Sheepish Keiki, for the first time in his life he heard such words from a woman, and he said:
“Women are created to be the men’s wives, what else they got to do in the steppe? If you buy a girl, she will be your wife, if you conquer a girl in the campaign, she will be your wife too. Zhigits! Let us make this old woman get silenced; let’s take her away with us too! We have the dung for her too!
Paluan Zhalpak sat lost in thought for a long time. Then he stood up and led his Savras to a woman.
“In atonement” he said, “I give you what belongs to me. Take it, do not think that this is not enough! If you want to get rid of slavery, take horses from this herd as much as you want and travel with them to the ends of the earth. But I have not heard that there were people on earth, where there was no slavery. That is why come with me: I will not let anyone to beat you with a wing, and torment with a beak!
“How many horses from this herd will be yours?” woman asked.
“Maybe none... Biy knows about that” Zhalpak answered.
“Then do not propose a herd, and do not give your horse. I cannot go with you: you are free warrior, until you get to your aul. And there you will loose your freedom and become a mere stick of your bai or biy. I saw a lot of warriors and paluans. You are pushed around like warrior, I am - like a woman, and this is only difference. You are not freer than I am. Aren’t you, my warrior?
Paluan Zhalpak lowered his head again.
“We, zhigits, are blind predatory owls,” he said. We will shake when they poke us in the eye, if not, we do not see anything. You took off a thorn from my eye, ‘apa’! I was thinking of making your daughter briefly toy in my wide life. But now I retreat from this idea... Until I am free, I want to give a freedom to a person. Your daughter belongs to you. Live as a free wind!
The dress of the unfortunate was in rags, hands was so black as a ‘talks’1 fingers, lips was cracked in forty places. But her furrowed brows, the eyes, which showered the fire - the soul was trembled of it. There was no pleading and no fear in her eyes, - she was overwhelm of forty zhigits. These two women was waiting for the paluan words: one jumped on the roan, the other - on the bay, and rushed. Only then, we have come round.
1 Talks (Talces) - device for skin punching / tumbler.
1 Shirkin - exclamation expressing the highest degree of admiration for anything.
3 Arabic words from the Quran.
“Shirkin2, the best of women” paluan Janay ended the story this way every time, said blind Aytiles, and we are, the children, perched in a semicircle, dragged on the order of Mullah: “Aguze... bessmeliay... irasiri... irasiri...»3.