Six years... Six years have passed in mourning, in grief. Those were so long, colorless, dull, cold years. They were like the late autumn. Each of them was like a lifetime.
Six years Karagoz was a prisoner of widow bed, living like a bird in a cage. Day after day passed without warmth, without a smile. And it seemed that Karagoz resigned to her fate: she did not languish, and did not miss anyone, and did not dream about a different life. Karagoz surprised people, and perhaps, was proud of her resistant, loneliness, and that she was not like the others. Widowhood became her habit, her custom. So the traveler becomes accustomed to the pitch darkness of a rainy night, he comes as a blind man, but it seems like he sees something...
Today, as usual, she is silent and avoidant. And the whole village jubilates noisy.
Karagoz’s aul is on the wing. Back in the early dusk the yurts were dismantled and loaded, the sun was barely burned near the top of the hill and the men were in the saddle, the property was on the wheels, the cattle was on its feet. They continued their way, and spacious roads came to the mountains, to the other encampment, which lured them with thick grass, shady trees and cool lakes.
Talkative motley well-dressed crowd of women on horseback thronged near the carts with their children. Young men drove a herd of horses in four or five goals ahead, shepherds led flocks of sheep. Horses and sheep reminded of effervescent bubbling stream that escaped from the valley into the open virgin meadows.
Joyful stream of life invaded virgin silence... People were festive. Naughty and fun-loving girls were all over men and boys, they met and accompanied them with barbed remarks and salty jokes. But the men liked it and that’s why they came to the carts. Stallions danced and roared, rushed to the herd. And the men keep them at a gallop over and over again, and with a whoop and whistle they flew to the herd, driving it. Hundreds of horses, waving mane in the wind, carried away into the distance, and they thunder shook the ground stomping.
A lively and bustling ‘kosh’ - nomadic aul, perhaps, is able to awake the ancient rocks from centuries of slumber. You look and see how moss-covered rocks kindly grin with their stone wrinkles from its precipitous heights, sending greetings to guests and paying them honor... Dzhaylyau, which was forlornly empty for a year, reveals its arms to ‘kosh’ like a branching crown to migratory bird. All around, just like at the great feast, is breathing intoxicating joy, violent force.
It is hard to keep yourself from jumping, screaming and laughing as loud as you can. Overall excitement captured and fascinated not only young people. There was no a single person in a aul who would not be affected by the unconscious vague dream of something extraordinary, so reachless before, and now so close.
Shepherd Bulat passed half a century. His mustache was streaked with gray. However, when ‘kosh’ passed by his flock with the hubbub and girlish squeal, he also rode on his roan mare and ran into the crowd of horsewomen. He was also cracking jokes with his peers, teased them, winked at them and fished on nifty. And when a young, red-cheeked woman suddenly lashed his roan filly by the whip, he seemed younger. He felt like a knight worthy of her attention, and he straightened portly, touching the gray mustache.
Karagoz was riding in a carriage drawn by a triple. As it passed the shepherd, she suddenly called out to him:
“Aw, Bulat ... and you still have something to profit for Shaytaan! And you still have sparks from yesterday fire!”
Those words were tricky but Bulat understood their meaning. Yeah, he thought, here Karagoz herself noticed us. He gallantly and respectfully stood in his stirrups.
“What is there to talk about, my dear! Young women are just like boiling water, I'm melting because of them. So it goes and breaks through all the veins...
Karagoz turned away. Only she, the mistress of cattle and the landlady of the aul, the first and the most beautiful woman in this naughty and friendly crowd, is indifferent to everything. She is wrapped up in her grief. She is in despair. And it lasts for six years…
She was a little more than twenty when she covered her head with black scarf and slammed the door of joy in front of herself. Before that, she thought she was the darling of destiny. Before that, she was cheerful. The sudden wicked death took her husband, and broke Karagoz. Karagoz did not know anybody among her peers who was equal to him.
His name was Azimhan, he was the only son in the family. His relatives lived in their villages, with their concerns and needs, and eventually moved away from him. The closest person to Azimhan was his father Usen, and he has already crossed the threshold of seventy years old. Although Azimhan was the only child – he hadn’t got siblings, he became famous throughout the vast Irgaylinskaya parish. Perhaps no other man of small family could have achieved such fame and respect as Azimhan have.
Long since irgaylian people were in discord with family of Konyrtauskaya parish. Life of one and another was troubled. Day and night, there was heard the birth cry, screaming: "On the horses!", violent clashes happened, mutual ‘barymta’ was resistant.
Before he was married on Karagoz, Azimhan was one of the most pugnacious, the most desperate men. Usually, he headed noblemen of his family and other families when they walked with spears and clubs to fight for the honor of irgaylian people. But often Azimhan went into a journey to konyrtaustian people alone at his own risk, and got involved in an argument. Evil tongues say that konyrtaustians especially hated Usen’s family. It was heard not once but many times. There was a special reason for that.
On one foray of konyrtaustains, irgaylintains answered with two or three. In this case, the son of Usen was tireless. The other reason of conflict was that there was a girl, named Karagoz, and since childhood, she’s been betrothed for konyrtaustain, grandson of Sybanbay, the head of the richest family.
Azimhan didn’t like that Karagoz was the bride of konyrtausta... Karagoz did not like it too. She caught fancy a desperate irgaylinain.
Karagoz’s Groom was lame, he injured his foot in his youth. Even his own family did not respect him and even dislike.
Karagoz was ashamed to marry a miserable and decrepit, offended by God person. Although it was impossible to disobey the will of her parents, and she didn’t try to hide displeasure. But her father had already taken bride-money for her.
Karagoz’s mother was a relative of Usen and of course wanted to reach him. His aul was also close to the heart of Karagoz. She used to come to this aul and was staying there for many days, with her mother or alone. There was a boy, who was alone in the family, he had no siblings. But he was such a bully, as if they had had seven siblings! Karagoz liked this boy even more than she liked his sisters.
Actually, his parents betrothed him to the other girl when he was little boy, and when he grew up, they married him to her. Every bullet has its billet.
Then two misfortunes happened in one year: Karagoz’s father died and Azimhan buried his first wife. And before it was known that Karagoz does not want to marry a grandson of Sybanbay. But you never know what whim came into the girl’s head! Her mother did not listen to her complaints, saying that the time will come, we'll see. When mother’s become a widow, she began to listen to her daughter more attentively.
And sweet brave Azim came to their home. He came just to visit ... Everyone thought so. So, perhaps, he also thought so, because he became a widow. When he came in the yurt and saw Karagoz, not the one that he had known before, but the one that he has not seen before, which he had only heard about from people and had a guess, his soul was filled with determination.
He remembered her as a child, a teenager. Now there was a girl in front of him - tall, thin, flexible and strong. What a beautiful hair she has! What beautiful eyes! But he had not seen her all year ... there was the bride in front of him, the one he’s been dreaming about. Here it is, his fate. Karagoz looked shyly, but on her cheeks played the hot blood. She could feel his excitement, and she was happy for it. Their joy was shared.
And when Azimhan, after greeting her mother, turned to her daughter with usual words: "How are you, my dear?", and Karagoz briefly replied, as if they shared a silent recognition. They did not need words to understand each other. They spoke by hearts. Their hearts were full of hope.
Shortly, after the meeting, difficult negotiations began.
Karagoz’s relatives did not oppose Azimhan. They favored him. A mother, a widow, was in a hurry to rely on family of Usen. She was looking for protection, and no protection is safer than kinship. Azimhan got a secret agreement. However, it was a half of the battle. There was mountain range with a dangerous pass – Sybanbay and konyrtaustains, on the way of the bride and groom. The bride was a foreigner. She was sold to an enemy clan.
Sybanbay was furious after he got to know about the plans of old Usen and his son. Konyrtausts had feathers fussed, all of them - young and old, they were hard to hurt and offended. It was clear that they would not give up to the bride without a fight.
Who knows what would happen, probably something bad, if one more unexpected death has not happened. Sybanbay’s grandson, stunted lame man, was not tenacious: he gave his soul to God. All other Sybanbay’s children, sons and grandchildren had the wives and all brides were seek in marriage for future use.
Still stubborn and obstinate old man said he would not give up its matchmaking.
“Let Karagoz wait for some of my younger grandchildren”.
He wanted to preserve the beauty for the great-grandson. But now argue with him felt better. The unwritten law of the steppe was on the side of Usen.
Usen reimbursed to Sybanbay entire dowry paid for the Karagoz and betrothed her to his own son. A year later Azimhan brought her to his aul with a rich dowry.
It would seem that it was possible for irgaylintains and konyrtaustains to live in peace. And in fact, the feud seemed to be hushed. Two or three years they’ve been living as good neighbors, although in this happy time both parties was jealously watching each other and did not forget the old times. The old things are imperious in the ancestral steppe.
Whenever the rumor that Usen achieved wealth by his strength was resounded, Sybanbay did so to subdue his strength, reduce the wealth. And Usen was pleased when stumbled Sybanbay. They became embittered by their tribal pride. They had the upper hand over each other in turn and could not get even. It was not given to these people and their families to divide among themselves the great steppe, sanctify it with the peace.
Again nomadic barymta broke out, as plague, and went for a walk.
In the fateful year Usen’s aul migrated to the river Kainda, to the favorite home ground, where Karagoz’ kosh moved six years later. The nights were restless. In the Usen’s village people were waiting for a retaliatory ride, and therefore the raid was left at the hitching post under the saddle steeds, strong and fast horses. They slept sensitively. And here came the familiar cry: "On your horses!" Azimhan was the first on his feet and in the saddle.
The night was quiet, moonlit. Karagoz ran after her husband, grabbed the bridle of his horse chestnut. Never before she’s been so alarmed, never before she’s been so afraid.
“Do not do it yourself,” she asked. “Send the others... Don’t do it today, dear…”
He did not listen to her. He didn’t like her fear. Evil will seethed in his veins and called ahead. He was in a hurry and hastily pushed Karagoz.
Another three or four men rode together with Azimhan. They noisily swept through the rocky mounds, like a small collapse, and disappeared in the distance.
The whole aul hectic hubbub after them. Those without horses, were shouting, waving their arms and ran back and forth to no avail.
And there, where Azimhan rode away, the herdsmen were shouting frantically, looking at barymtachi stealing their herd. The herdsmen were chasing vile thieves, but at a considerable distance, because the others were too much. Thus, at least it seemed so overnight.
Azimhan did not ask herdsmen the number of enemies, which was in front of him. He sent his horse right on the loud clatter of a stolen herd like roar of a mountain avalanche. Azimhan vividly caught the raiders. And then, without looking back, to check if there were horsemen behind him, he ahead of his own and others, with a whoop rode to overtake the herd, trying to wrap it up and stop it.
Azimhan was proud and hot-tempered. He did not know fear or dread, and that’s why he arouse fear in others. However, he was not particularly strong, and not too clever. He fought fiercely, but did not have the skill or dexterity of the ‘barymtach’ because he was the master's son. He lacked composure.
He usually carried with him the most timid and lazy louts-athletes, and scared away enemies. At this time, there was a fleeting battle.
Two strong guys, who was taught in combat, noticed in the moonlight rider on a red steed. You will not catch him. There was too frisky horse under him! But he came back to them, turning the herd. And they met him...
“Here he is ... Come on! In the grip... in the grip...”
Azimhan ran between the two lads, like an ax in the viscous tree. He was like stuck. All three of them began to spin in the same place at the screeching, squabbling horses. Azimhan first whacked with a club in the head strapping fellow on the right, sitting on a yellow racer. The blow was out ringing, short, light. The return shot went whizzing past, Azimhan dodged, lying to the mane of his horse. But the guy on the left, sitting on the yellow stallion, slow and seemingly ungainly, without aiming, with a reversal club punched Azimhan right in the forehead. The beat was dull, scary.
This strike has stopped the rider and his chestnut horse.
Azimhan didn’t feel when he slipped and slid to the ground, bending the legs, throwing his hands. The horse pulled up to his face and pulled its muzzle, wheezing, dancing on thin legs.
The men, who hit him, pulled up and leaned out of the saddle and bent over lying Azimhan, and said to the other, whom Azimhan hit:
“Oh, you ... Rather badly he fell from his horse. Have you seen how he fell? God forbid, he dies ... Can he die?”
“How do you beat ... Do not know how you beat?” the other muttered.
Azimhan lay dead, before he could utter his lover the last "I'm sorry." The club has split his skull. When his men rushed, he was not breathing.
Karagoz felt his death in the aul, in her yurt. She cried, wringing her hands. She fell to the ground, listening to it, looking wild-eyed into the darkness. And She heard from a distance, from the meadows, from where the fighting had suddenly subsided, new, not old, mysterious noise. The voices have been dreary, with a tear. It was those herdsmen drove to the village, shouting long:
“My men! My tower of strength!”
There was a night when six years Karagoz’ mourning has started.
Irgaylintains did not remain in debt to the offenders. In one battle they also killed a man, young, because young men went in raids... Besides konyrtaustains had to pay a ransom for murder, equal to the cost of a hundred camels. A huge redemption! Konyrtaustains were frightened... They wanted to please the young widow. But Karagoz was disconsolate.
Either the old father-in-law Usen or small son Mukash could distract her grief.
Relatives watched with hope on a two-year Mukash. "Better a live mouse than a dead lion", they said, and think about how the child will grow out of horseman, he will remember his father's shed blood, and reward for it. They all prayed to God for Mukash, the last in the family, as if centuries and generations destined to be at odds irgaylintains and konyrtaustains...
Seventy-year Usen has waited for his son commemoration, which are celebrated forty days after his death, and died, decrepit, having exhausted his strength, made in his life the best he could.
Man's burden fell on Karagoz’s shoulders. It is not easy for a woman to manage a large farm. It is not easy for a young widow to manage a family of her husband and her father-in-law. There were a few hunters around her and to her wealth, and to her beauty! Among them were stubborn, affectionate. Other seduced her, frightened her. She coped with everyone. Unlike her mother, she was not looking for protection and support. And her herds, and her flocks were fine.
At first, it seemed that she’s grown old at once. The feeling of emptiness and hopelessness came over her like a shadow. She was alone, and her longing was hopeless. At dusk, the time of romantic dates, and at dawn, at the time of the sweetest sleep, Karagoz, hiding her face under a scarf of mourning, cried. She could not control her feelings and she didn’t want to. It was heard her voice in the village, heard her lamentation, melodious, like a prairie tale. She called her husband and talked to him for a long time:
“My dear falcon… my only one… tall as a poplar by the brook ... my gold... My strong, formidable, my fortress and my will...”
And those who heard it, memorized the words and music of her crying like a catchy song. This song was bitter, bitter then a wormwood, but it was passed from mouth to mouth. And soon the entire Irgaylins parish it was known how Karagoz was trying to take live and couldn’t say goodbye to Azimhan, as her sighs fired, her tears was caustic and how her eyes fade from them, cheeks get pale.
After some time, people started talking about her, a prisoner of mourning covers, with praise, as rarely talk about any woman:
“Look how she mourns beloved one...”
Old men and women who have seen all during their lifetime, spoke of her with the words, which are not usually used for living, but for those who lived and remained in legends.
“There was no such a woman as Karagoz! Her mourning is long, her mourning is holy... For bad people it’s a burden, for wise people it’s an example, for God it’s a favor.
This glory got back to Karagoz, like an echo in the mountains, many times. This fame raised her up and her pinned down as winter cold binds turbulent waters.
Spring seasons were in bloom, they spilled over dzhaylyau like green seas. In pursuit of the springs, the life aul wandered. Mukash Mukash grew and gained strength. Karagoz remained true to herself, her rare glory. She lived a widow, as old people and God wanted, and she didn’t fondle anyone except her son. She succumbed to a thousand of the temptations and never showed weakness. And it lasted for six years.
Thet’s why, when Karagoz said shepherd Bulat about Shaitan, and a spark of yesterday's fire, her words seemed pious to him.
Yet she was young. She was alive. her sad black eyes were still beautiful, dark complexion ruddy cheeks were burning. Tears did not exude her beauty. Her body, white-white, slightly plump, was youthful. It breathed by health, fast and gentle strength. Hot blood throbbed in it, indifferent and restless.
Karagoz was a woman, a mother. She loved and was loved. She tasted the fruits of happiness that not every mortal is destined to taste. And suddenly she appeared in prison, behind a cast-iron door. Oh, if you, people, who sang her lamentations, knew, what flour Karagoz carried!
If the flour is pleasing to God, it is truly of hell. Karagoz, blowing out the lamp and lying down on a lonely bed, read a prayer. In vain she prayed to God for the grace of sleep. Others had sleep and rest, weak, sinful, those who was not praised by the old men. Her destiny was a dark night delirium, delusions of passion. Fiery serpents crept through her veins, and they crawled on her breasts and kissed her on the neck, entwined and racked her body by sweet and oppressive cramp. And there was no salvation from these snakes. From dawn to light Karagoz could not break, catch her breath, get over it. In excruciating languor, blind and deaf, she lit a lamp, called the old trusted maid, naked in front of her and told her to beat her, Karagoz, to tear creeping snake-like fire off her chest. The maid was afraid that Karagoz was bewildered and she also prayed in fear. Karagoz was writhing in front of her, as if in a fit. The maid did not dare to think that this was youth which was torn from the funeral entanglement, that it was life looking for a freedom.
There was a time when Karagoz’s nature has changed. She seemed insane because she became rough with people. You just blow on her, she flashed like gunpowder, indignant, angry, and she was angry for nothing, was intolerant, ridiculed and offended people without pity. And sometimes she shrinked into herself, crawled like a mouse in a hole, and sadly kept silence for weeks, did not raise an eye on the people, as a girl, and she caused pity. Then even offended by her thought about her that she did not spare herself, and ridiculed ones wondered, how strict she was to herself. At other times she hit people with her non-human will, the master astute, authoritativeness, sizzling as whip.
This spring, in the seventh year of widowhood, Karagoz became unbearable again.
The days were warm, festive and bright, joyful, icy but clear nights, starry, beckoning. Mountains, meadows, water rejuvenated. Everything was shining, everything was buzzing. Horses' hoofs, the bleating of sheep was a desired music in the vast dzhaylyau. People were drunken from happiness to live on those altitudes, under eagle skies. Each and every person had something of his own in souls, secret, cherished, maybe hope can dream. Shepherd Bulat, who often did not sleep at night, watching on sheep, and he did not hesitate, he shouted with all the people that the hop was in his veins and it goes and breaks through...
Karagoz’s turned away when she heard it. But because of one innocent witty "sweet", from the shepherd husky voice, fiery serpents crawled over her body. Karagoz drove forward her triple and drove it to the shore of Kainda.
Here she came down from the wagon, leaved her Mukash sleeping. She walked slowly along the shore, overgrown young birch and impassable bird cherry. Water was murmuring loudly and softly. The morning chill blew Karagoz’s face, neck, and burning chest. Her legs were weak, her knees were shaking. She wanted to lie down, pull over to the ground, hug birch trunks, with its silky bark reminding living body.
On the familiar meadow, she saw an unharnessed old-fashioned chaise with the shafts battened down in the sky. Neither the men nor the horses were nearby. “There will be neighbors,” she thought indifferently. Here, at the Kainda Karagoz first has known about the death of Azimhan. But she was thinking about it slowly. It was hot, just at sultry afternoon. Her heart was beating hard and loudly.
From the lush and shady grove leaping young laughter came. It was girl’s laugh... Then the cheerful calling cry came. It was a guy ... Karagoz heard them like in a nap. She wanted to go away, but went into the grove for the sound.
She stopped at the woodside. Nightingale whistled. Then one more whistle and he started to crackle clicked biting, like a little whip. How many times Karagoz have heard the nightingale on this tract! And passed by. Now she was standing there, raising her swollen face, squinting her eyes and listening, reveling. Nightingale whistled a song, it’s been never heard before, Karagoz understood it.
He sang the song of the cliff that towered above the grove. The cliff is alone, he is wounded in the heart, he longs. He sent a nightingale to sing Karagoz. Let her know what is collected on a stone heart. She is inconsolable the seventh year, and he – the seventh century. They peers in feeling, in pain.
Then the nightingale sang a song to response to Karagoz. Now she sent him to answer the cliff. The nightingale was singing how she beautiful was, how her black eyes are burning and there was nothing more brightly than her eyes, because her name means “black-eyed”... Nightingale sang about emptiness of her heart, it was deserted, desolate, no droplets of moisture or green blades of grass.
Karagoz listened to the singer and asked him mentally in the sweet numbness: what are you getting at? Where are you taking?
Insensibly she went into deep groves and winced when she saw behind the thick foliage the broad back of the guy and the girl's shoulders, clenched by his hand. The guy was in the white shirt and black vest, his curly hair, were messy, of course, with her help. The girl was smart and neatly dressed. They are sitting, arms around each other, on the green bank and slap on the water on bare feet. Kainda answers them with quiet splash. They do not see Karagoz, they are playing and laughing, constantly felling each other on the grass. No trace of thought.
It was bride and groom from the village of Ismagul, a distant relative of Karagoz. She knows them. The guy is good, besides he is a competent scientist. All summer on dzhaylyau he will be with his fiancee, and parents will not wherewith their freedom.
Once they are the bride and groom, they are free to decide whether they prefer each other or not. However, it is clear that they feel good together, they would not separate.
Karagoz was staring at them through the foliage although she should be running without looking back. Her head was spinning around. With amazing strength fiery serpents bulged in her veins and invisibly crawling on her chest, wrapping her neck, arms, legs, and body. Another minute and they would have knocked her to the ground breaking her bones in excruciating irresistible spasm. With the last effort, Karagoz overcame herself and went back, trying not to noise. Her face was burning with shame and fear of herself.
Karagoz’s kosh rolled up to Kainda with a joyful din, driving herds and flocks in front of it.
They took off from carts, disassembled and put the yurt. As usual in such cases, they fussed until late evening. They’ve calmed down when the moon rose. They were tired when went to sleep. All fell asleep. Even sleepless sheep guard Bulat, perhaps, lay down under a bush, not far from the herd, and covered himself with ‘deruzhka’ and dozed off sensitively, like a dog.
Karagoz did not sleep. She lay on the bed, braided by fiery serpents. And she saw universal human joy this afternoon, on the way to Kainda. Now it seemed to her that all men, all women, was laughing with each other, laughing at her, because she was black sheep among them.
For the first time in six years, Karagoz dreamed young man in the dark yurt, handsome, with disheveled hair, wearing a white shirt and black vest. He went straight through the walls of the yurt and wrapped her cool hands, clung to her neck, laughing and whispering in her ear. She wanted to hug him, but he was gone, and she heard his whisper - he called her. Karagoz cried:
“Oh, Allah, I cannot suffer anymore! Oh my God, why do you need me like that?”
She jumped up and rushed out of the yurt, she didn’t know where. Aul was bleached and silvered by moon, and it was quiet. It was empty between the yurts. The grass was glistening under Karagoz’s bare feet, a thin shirt shone under a black stream of flowing hair. Karagoz did not feel the night chill. She was on fire. She came to the river, walked into the clear water on the knee and lay back on the sloping shore. Her body was exposed. It was blindingly white. And it was crept by fiery serpents.
Hoarse voice called out to her like from the top of the cliff:
“Karagoz dear ... It is you, isn’t it? What's wrong with you?”
She did not know who it was and what he said. She heard a man's voice, and immediately held out her hand, without getting up from the ground. And when heavy man's footsteps passed through the grass and a man came up and leaned over her, she drew strength him to her, embracing him with the whole body, and began to kiss.
Moonlit sky darkened, splendor of water and grass faded, hazy glare of distant mountain proteins faded. But the fiery serpents danced joyfully in the veins of Karagoz. In the darkening of passion, she had only seen Bulat’s silvered cheek and his sparkling, like a wolf’s, white teeth.