Sombre are the clouds crawling over the sea, clinging to the foamed waves in damp tousles of mist. There is no end to them and to their crawl. Then, all of a sudden, the wind comes, bold and warm, from a far-away land – crumpling, spreading the clouds, and the angry, grumpy sea looks at the spring sky with its blue eyes.
The Rampant Grey, a male fish of the Azat-Maya kind, shivers, bends its body, strong as a steel rod, and rushes towards the sun and the spring blue – a silver sword over the rampant sea.
Most of the time the Rampant Grey is as dim as the weed in the winter sea, but now…
It is time for a mad rush. That’s why his eyes are shining and there bright, pearl-coloured spots all over his body. The Rampant Grey is piercing the grim blue of the deep sea, just like a shooting star pierces the midnight black of the sky.
Today he swims in wide sweeps. He forgot all prudence and caution, forgot his usual stalking places and waiting spots forever. He is proud, he is wild, he jumps high for everyone to see him. The warm wind from the land had told him a great mystery; the blue eyes of the spring sky had met his.
“Let all the underwater world look at me,” he says silently. And he is no more timid and cautious of the wide, sharp-toothed throats of the predators.
The Rampant Grey escapes into the vast expanses he had never been to. Whenever he meets female Azat-Maya fish, living in peace under thick ice, he drives them forth, steers them to the shore, excites them, hastens them. Like an eagle, soaring free high above in the skies, he is in for a great fly.
More than once did the sea-dwellers flee him in terror, grieving and mourning over his victims. More than once did he flee stronger beings himself. In the sea jungle, there is no mercy for the weak.
However, today his toothy, crooked jaws are tight. The weak are none of his business anymore; he does not fear the strong. With a disdain for everything, as if on fire and driven with a miraculous force, he abandoned the quiet and gloom of the seabed, leaving for the open sea. He is rushing tirelessly.
All of sudden, the Rampant Grey sees that he is not the only one plowing the depths of the sea. All his peers, all Azat-Maya males had surged up, stirring and disquietening the deep sea. They are rushing, too; they are sparkling, too; they are blaring their marching song, too.
There are more and more silver lightnings over the sea; there is more and more glitter and sparkles.
These lightnings are calling, carrying away the female fish, showing the way in the great march. They are calling them to come to the mighty river running into the sea in the far south.
Only the weak, dim-witted males, lazy and indifferent keep calm and take their time to join in along the way to the great triumph. They are still grazing near the seabed, moving their fins feebly, and snuggling up to the old, hoary Rampant Greys who are not interested in such marches anymore.
Not everything is set for the great march yet – there are still some helpless and weak things. The dim-witted males are indifferent to all of this. Their bellies are their only concern. They are not even ready to go themselves; they are pale, not having renewed their apparel.
The Rampant Grey had not called them to join him in the march. He dashed by – strong, proud and full of disdain.
The flounder-like, blunt-snouted stringrays were hiding among the lilies near the seabed, lurking in wait for their prey, their poisonous bone awls jutting out. A thousand gluttons with wicked snouts are excited by the great feast. They easily gorge in the commotion, covering their ribs in fat.
The Rampant Grey dashed through the blood-thirsty pack, not fearing them. Who can, who dare catch the lightning?
The lampreys are setting up their trap, too. Though fish in name, they are as slender, as wicked and as sly as leeches. A lamprey creeps over some fish, clings to its gills – and there is no way to tear it away, no escape. Then it trails after its prey like a slender bowel up to fresh water, to the spawning grounds, where it gobbles fresh roe. Yet there is no fear of lampreys in the Rampant Grey today.
Mysterious peace and quiet reign in the thick underwater jungle. The starfish – pink, yellow, brown – are moving their arms feebly. And the female Azat-Maya fish are swimming drowsily among them, enwrapped in their concerns.
Their bodies have not caught fire yet. Little do they know now that there is a great way waiting for them ahead. Big-bellied, ready to burst with heavy roe, they are calm and indifferent. Are these pot-bellied females not the crowning glory of the upcoming march, of the wild, sparkling fun?! They carry the future generation of the Azat-Maya within them. Later, when they come to the fresh waters, to their sacred place, will a dozen gorgeous Rampant Greys dying for one of these big-bellied females be a pity?
But the female fish have not caught fire yet, their song and their dance are yet to come. They are still calm, relying on the omniscient, omnipresent males...
Then the Rampant Grey knew that it is not soon that he would manage to captivate the females with a yen for the march with his headlong flight, his sparkle and shine.
Oh, this song was flowing from above! This wordless song had stirred up the cold souls of the fish. That was a fire burning to a cinder even in water, that was a sacrament, a miracle bringing even the dead to life.
The Rampant Grey was rushing, breaking the water into splinters, brushing the females with his body, studded with scarlet pearls. And they would blaze with rainbow, as if on fire, the very same moment.
There was many a sparkle and many a bubble under and over the sea. The time had come when nothing could hold the Azat-Maya back. All males and females dashed and rushed in packs and schools towards the spawning ground – towards the river. The great march made the great sea shiver. Frightened jellyfish started swinging, blushing with fiery, blood-red lights. King Salmon and Red Salmon, Silver Salmon and Salmon Trout, fish related to the Azat-Maya, followed them.
Young damsels without a single roe in their hollow bellies tried to follow everyone, but no one asked them to join in. And they wanted so badly to take part in the great march, to revel in the general joy! The school were going to travel up the river and reach the shallows, where the females were going to spawn their roe and the males were going to spill their white milt over it. The long way would surely be great fun! The Rampant Greys would hedge the females, sparkling their blades, shielding them.
The Rampant Grey knows what the young damsels are thinking about. He drives them away, into the thick of the jungle, hitting them. The great excitement is not a sight for everyone...
Trying to plead with the Rampant Grey, to mellow him with their charm, the young misses are hanging around mischievously, but, frightened of his appearances, so forbidding and fierce, flee into the sea jungle in fear. They cannot break the law of nature.
The age-brown males know it perfectly well. They do not set out, do not meddle with others, only gazing after the leaving school. How many times they went this way when they were young; how many times they headed the march! Now they do not even know what is going on – their eyes just glint from time to time, as if reflecting a distant lightning, and fade immediately under the glaze of age, as if there were a sudden commotion of something forgotten in their fish souls. The world of hopes is already obscure to them. They forgot everything. That’s why they are driven into the thick of the jungle, into the darkness, to the moss-covered stones with starfish unable to swim clinging to them.
More than once had the low sun of the north risen over the sea, more than once had it fallen over its edge, igniting the sky with the seven-coloured rainbow of the spring, more than once had the darkness fallen over the world before the males and females finally reached the creek of the deep river flowing into the sea.
Trouble was waiting for the great march in the river’s narrow arms. Wicked-snouted fish from all over the sea had gathered here. They would not bother chasing, ambushing the school like dogs instead.
The grief of powerlessness overcame all Azat-Maya males, all the Rampant Greys. For they are only formidable in appearance, having no weapons except their fast motion, as fiery as the lightning.
And then, dashing to and fro, they gathered the scattered school and rushed upstream stubbornly, ringing the females tight.
Now the monsters with wicked snouts were snatching the Rampant Greys, but the procession was rising, stubbornly moving upwards. And the predators would fall behind, returning to the sea, while tens of thousands Azat-Mayas were dashing as one with no one swerving off.
The march had captivated everyone, gathering them and driving forward. The Rampant Grey is leading, heading the school.
Suddenly the strong bodies of the fish hit the nets set by larcenous poachers. But can there be a barrier able to hold back the flow of life? It rushes, blazing through everything in its path. Some fish die, while others go ahead.
Can there be a song better than the one sung by the cross-current of a mighty river in the spring? Can there be anything stronger than a common drive towards a great goal? Feeling it, the school were levelling out and dashing in the quick streams like a host of flying shadows.
Before the dawn of the following day the Rampant Grey felt they were going to meet a waterfall soon. The supple weight of the water was squeezing his chest, the flow was speeding up and he fancied a rumble ahead.
The Rampant Grey started tossing about the school, urging on the weak and the reluctant. On surging over the water, he saw a three-metre wall of white foam. The water was tumbling from the tall rocks, clouds diamond spray rising to the sky.
The school started to worry. And then, the Rampant Grey dashed again, carrying everyone with him. The water, calm above the drop, gave way and swallowed him. The Rampant Grey proudly swam to the shady bank and started waiting for his school.
The males that had been swimming with the Rampant Grey to the fore were the first to follow suit. For a moment it seemed like someone was enjoying oneself near the waterfall throwing silver daggers. The blade would surge up, glint in the sun and vanish, piercing the water.
It comes hard on the females. The rapid water is shaking their sagging bellies. They shoot up and, never reaching the crest, fall on the stones, where the precious roe shoots out of them in sharp jerks.
Those who fail to surmount the waterfall retreat to surge in the air once again.
It comes even harder on those fish that have a mean lamprey stuck to their gills. Powerless they are – like horses caught in their own reins. Not only females are overcome by the lampreys – the lazy, sluggish males are also having a hard time. They are hitting the sharp stones, bloodying themselves, failing.
The Rampant Grey is calm. He has no pity for them. It is not the first year when the Rampant Grey is on the march, so he knows – those who do not surmount the obstacle will not return to the sea. Why should anyone pity them? The dying ones were at the tail-end of the shoal, they were among the last at everything, ever. They were shoving each other while swimming, scurrying, and their movements were unsightly.
Meanwhile, the whole school has gathered around the Rampant Grey, playing. Tired females are nestling under the bank.
“Seems like we’ve come… Let’s have some rest…” – they are saying with their looks.
Now only occasional loners were flying across the waterfall. The Rampant Grey started darting around once again, sparkling; once again did he lead his army forward.
Their journey down the river took the school two days and two nights. The chest-pressing, flank-squeezing weight of the water vanished. A pale, early dawn would rise above the world.
The Rampant Grey, who was leading the way, surged up, as if making sure of something known only to himself, and leapt with joy, breaking the calm surface of the river with his heavy body. He knew that place. Here the females of his breed, of the Azat-Maya, would lay eggs every year; here he was born himself one day.
And then, bubbling over with joy, happiness and the feeling of his strength, the Rampant Grey started storming into the thick of the school, breaking its array, as if trying to tell the females: “We’ve come… Let’s stop here… Down to our business…” All males started playing and leaping.
It was a secret realm of peace and quiet. A minor river was flowing into the great one, covering its bed in the yellow velvet of sand and rubble. The school came there, and the tired fish dispersed all over the shallows.
However, none of the females sought peace and food, and the festive sparkle in the eyes of the Rampant Greys did not fade.
Their heads against the current, they started digging round, saucer-like holes in the soft sand and tiny, coloured stones.
The Azat-Maya were going from a cold sea, fleeing from the wicked-snouted monsters, tearing nets and hitting the sharp stones at the waterfall to spill their roe into these very holes, into the creek of this quiet, distant river where they had been born themselves, where they could engender their progeny. That’s why they are making such a haste to finish their preparations for the great sacrament, that’s why they forgot about their hunger and fatigue.
The Rampant Greys, proud, gorgeous males, are sweeping near, guarding the females from jeopardy. Should someone lose strength, they rush to their aid.
The tired fish, attenuated by the journey, had been doing their hard job for two days and two nights, and then, when time had come...
The gold red roe started spilling into the holes like shooting stars. The Rampant Greys, who had previously been observing the course of the march, seemed to have gone mad now. They were fighting each other, seeking to have the roe spilled by no milt except their own.
The eagles battle furiously and ruthlessly in the skies, people – on the ground, while the fish world engages into battle underwater. The Rampant Greys became intoxicated. Their eyes could not see and their ears could not hear anymore. The great battle lasted for ten days and ten nights.
The wise, intelligent Rampant Greys forgot everything. Throughout the march they had been thinking of their progeny, guarding the school, but now... They are fighting over the holes full of tender roe, spraying their springy milt, showing their agility and courage. Still, there is more and more often a shade of tiredness in their movements – they gave up everything for future’s sake. The males who had been patiently waiting, not taking part in the great battle of love, leaving it to others, are already leaving the shady banks.
Thrilled with enjoyment, they swallow the golden seeds greedily and, twitching their tails with satisfaction, spill their milt over the rest of the roe. They are no fighters, they cannot pit their strength against others like proper males. They come when others have got tired. They are satisfied, they are happy. Scoundrels profit even in a stern battle.
And when the great triumph was over, when the fiery dance of love was over, every hole covered with sand, the Rampant Grey saw that everyone was exhausted. He failed to see many of his peers alive. Some had perished along the way, while others, having totally spent themselves, were rocking on the waves blind-eyed. Yet their progeny – many a million of progeny – were lying in their cradle of sand, clear water flowing over them, caressing them. Half a year later tender youngsters would sparkle and scurry near the light-gold river bed. They would swim in the clear water like schoolchildren with yellow bags on their sides.
The Rampant Grey had turned extremely thin and weak in the month of the march, his eyes dimmed and extinguished, his movements languid. He can hardly swim along the bank. He looks plain. Even in the ice-cold northern sea he had been full of fire and strength, but now, in a warm and tender river, his body shudders all over fluidly. Swallowing some food, he starts feeling sleepy.
However, fatigue does not obfuscate the Rampant Grey for a long time. He knows there is not enough food in the river to feed the school he is in charge of. Something horrible can happen – the fish may starve, and the weakest ones may dig up the precious nests and start gobbling the roe. He was no stranger to this woe. Nothing can sate the females with their hollow, empty bellies – only the vast, generous sea with its shady jungle can save them.
The Rampant Grey felt all of that and started swimming in wide circles, patrolling his school. There was no marching song in his movements – he was singing a different one, being full of great love and worry for the progeny. Strong and captivating was his new song.
The school came to life, and the Azat-Maya fish started gathering all over the river, and once again they swam, obeying their leader’s call, following him. Other males, guessing the Rampant Grey’s intention, rushed the school towards the sea, hastening them.
A blue moon is curling the crests of waves, but there are no silver blades of the playful fish sparkling over them anymore. Dark is the deep of the river, and swift shadows are hurrying towards the sea as one, urged by the current. Only males circle the school from time to time, guarding them from their enemies.
The Rampant Grey stopped near the waterfall that was still rumbling with its waves and gnawing at the stones as usual, giving way to the school. As tired fish done with their great mission were passing by he was following them with sad eyes. Others were destined to lead them to the sea.
He turned his head against the current and slowly, fighting his fatigue, swam back to the precious holes. The night river was caressing him, the silver of the moon flowing towards him, ringing against the stones. What the restless streams carried with them was worry, not peace. The world was wrapped in perpetual silence, as if no joyful triumph had taken place and the deep of the sea or the river had not been rolling with the fiery dance of life so recently.
Yet the Rampant Grey knew the joyful song was not over. He was swimming back to guard and rear the progeny, and then, when the time was due, lead millions of new Rampant Greys to the deep sea for them to repeat the great march and the marvellous song years later, obeying the perpetual call of life...