Wistful summer night. Moonlight etches the landscape with ancient sadness. The sky pristine, not a cloud in sight. Stars winking to one another - reddish, green, yellow. The heavens gazing downward, waiting—the world on the cusp of a new drama.
The stars are watching over a sleeping river in the forest shade. The river loops here and there, then reaches over and scatters itself on Karadzhal. Beautiful Karadzhal, there is no better place in the jilauw—the high mountain meadow. For this reason the migratory Caucasian villages were situated there, on the banks of the river.
Drowsy river, breathing the cool air. Slumbering stones diving into the ground. The stars are watching...
Two riders appear seemingly out of a lumpy hummock that looked like the snout of a beast. They rapidly descend. Their horses, one light red with a white mane and the other white, gallop side by side. The travelers engage not in conversation, riding in silence. Reining in snorting mounts, the riders directed them to a grassy meadow. Sleek horses, shaking their heads, trot briskly through the cool night, giving heed without a crop. The mounts, it seems, are about to pop out from under their riders.
As the rider on the red horse passed out of the shadow of the rocky mound the vista of the Karadzhal opened before the him, silver-blue in the moonlight. He slanted his hat over one ear, then just brushed it away. Several times he sighed, then took a deep breath. The bright light of the moon fell on his gaunt, thoughtful face. Tangled strands of long black hair cover a pale forehead. A white shirt and black vest are visible underneath a wide-open black caftan. The young man on the red stallion feels like a hero today. Guided by love.
Young people drifted out of the upper village to travel to another, Zhakipov. Kabysh, the rider of the red mount had graduated from high school and had come home for the summer. In all of the Moyildinskoy parish, where all are smart—the parish having produced many literate folk—Kabysh maintained a reputation for high intelligent. The rider next to him, Zhumatai, raised his pointed beard, admiring the blue shades in the moonlit valley. Zhumatai and Kabysh are inseparable companions in their summer wanderings.
Kabysh held a secret in his heart, it forced him to return home.
The young man had gone to a distant city but could not forget the black-eyed beauty, Zhamesh. A slender, willowy Zhamesh was his old dream and secret sorrow.
While living away from home, this girl beckoned him like a mirage. As the years passed, the passion Kabysh felt would not cool down, even a drop of his blood would not run cold if it fell into the snow. He wrote many letters over the years, but had not received a single response. Zhamesh remained silent, though she knew how to write. So he lived a fantasy. His last summer dark, bleak. Not until the day he departed for home did he get news from Zhamesh. Not a written message but a message carried to him by Zhumatai, a few spoken words of greeting, "The future will show..." she'd promised, vaguely.
Winter had passed, Kabysh again flew in pursuit of his dream. He believed the girl could not be forever proud and unapproachable. There will come a time for her to think about her future. Zhumatai kept encouraging him. But Kabysh returned too late, Zhamesh had already become engaged.
Engaged to wealthy Kenzhehan!
Kabysh would not believe this even after he'd been told, he thought they were making fun of him. Then when he realized the truth, it was doubly painful. The girl had willingly become engaged to a fifty-year-old man. She would not listen to the advice of her brother and waved away the persuasions of her sister-in-law. Her one adviser in this matter, her old grandmother, was always right, regardless of the truth. And her father allied with her grandmother, so Zhamesh agreed to enter the house of Kenzhehan, to become his second living wife.
Five years previously the wealthy Kenzhehan had taken a second living wife from this same village: Kadisha (Zhamesh's sister) the eldest daughter of their father, Hodgie Zhakip. But this past spring Kadisha passed away, leaving a son and a daughter. Kadisha was capricious and willful and ran the affairs of the entire estate. As she was dying she firmly asserted her will, "I do not want my bed taken up by a stranger, because I'm leaving little children. Respect me!” she appealed to her husband and family, “Bequeath my place to my sister, Zhamesh."
So Zhamesh was suddenly engaged.
The matchmaking was rapidly dispatched even before the village had migrated to its summer location. Zhamesh's parents immediately announced that the wedding would take place here in Karadzhal. Kenzhehan had already come to pick up the bride. And now, Kabysh raced through the moonlit night to look at Zhamesh one last time.
Kabysh was severely afflicted, as if his soul was crushed by a dark stone. But his love for the girl prevailed. Even if Zhamesh would always remain inaccessible, cold, like a distant mountain peak, Kabysh still would have flown to her. Some incomprehensible force pulled him to this already claimed beauty.
What do girls in Moiyldy dream about? Of course, to meet a handsome and definitely educated young man. Today's girls appreciate the courtesy and the habit of the always neatly dressed. But most of all, education. Ready to forget parents' blessing, and named groom and bride, and bride price—all are ready to quit worn out traditions for the sake of love dear to the heart, for the sake of one of equal age. But Zhamesh was not like that. Brushing aside these precious gifts offered by Kabysh, she ran away. Free, unrestrained, she commits emotional suicide by going to the old man; and moreover, as a second living wife! Zhamesh's behavior challenged young people of the day, their aspirations, dreams, pure thoughts.
What happened to the Zhamesh? Why was old Kenzhehan more desirable for her and better than Kabysh?
He racked his brains over this unsolved mystery. Love, jealousy and anger seethed in him but hope never left him.
Zhumatai sorrowed for his comrade, so he travelled this morning to the village of Zhakip, to see if anything had changed. He had met Bibish, the sister-in-law of the young bride to be. Bibish said, "Tonight wait in the woods behind the village, and let luck shine upon you. I will not try to encourage you but at least look again on the girl. She will be alone with Kabysh and maybe ponder over her destiny. Whatever happens, tell him to be in this place, I will bring her as soon as people are asleep." It was for this reason that the two companions were making their way in the night to the village of Zhakip.
As they rounded another bend of the mountain trail the companions saw the village drowsing on the banks of the river. Kabysh's heart sank. Here his proud sweetheart waited for him, the first time he will be alone with her. What if this is all hype, a mockery? The cold beauty will come and begin to heap praises on her old man. So let it be. Kabysh will still see her this bright, moonlit night. At least to see, to talk; after all, it was for him only a dream for many years.
“Well Zhumatai, are we really are going to Zhamesh?” Kabysh asked as he glanced at hsi companion, “Perhaps Bibish may have deceived us? How can Zhamesh change so quickly? Will she really want to come to us in the middle of the night? Now she seems a complete stranger, and this village a cold, alien place. Help me, Zhumatai, to believe! Banish my doubts!”
Zhumatai is a savvy fellow. Within two heartbeats he always knows how to respond to romantic situations. Not for the first time. Who would know? But he has been aware of Kabysh's sad situation for quite some time. Not in vain Zhumatai always consoled his young friend, grinning assurance through his mustaches.
“Don't worry, Kabysh. Today we'll catch the girl's skirt, if she is the same Zhamesh that I know. Beautiful, whimsical, carefree. Yesterday she went to Kenzhehan. Today she will come to us. Everything now depends on you, square your shoulders. Be brave. We'll make her to repent today. She'll understand the love of a young horseman, and then let her flee like a wounded wild goat.”
Kabysh cheered up. “Maybe you're right,” he said. “Maybe today Zhamesh will repent of what she did yesterday.”
“Of course!” Zhumatai confidently replied. “I realized this when I spoke to Bibish this morning. Believe me, she is eagerly preparing for this date. Well, now hush, we are approaching the place. Let us decide where we are going to leave the horses.”
Young people had come out on the left side of the river. To avoid being visible from the village the two riders made an immediate turned into a forest of young trees and stopped between narrow trunks. Taking shelter in the deep shadows, they were able to glance now and then on the village through breaks in the forest.
The time arrived for the quiet rendezvous. The tranquil night was praying to the glorious moon in unmeasured silence; as if to apologize for the bitter words of reproach that may fly out the lips of Kabysh. He still loved Zhamesh. Oh how he loved her!
Silence. Not even the voice of the night-guard was heard. Even the village dogs were quiet. There was not even the blinking red-eyes of fires in the hearth. People slept. Kabysh forgot doubt. The music of love raging in him as all around him became hushed, as if listening, what's next?
Zhumatai, is a reliable companion. His heart is free, lovely women have no power over him. Calm, alert, listening to the night sounds, calculating where best to leave the horses, and where to conceal themselves. First, the landowner's moon-bleached pavilions suddenly sprang into view. No way to get closer on horseback.
But Kabysh is oblivious to his surroundings. He dreams of Zhamesh, her beloved face in front of him. Loosening the reins the chestnut horse stepped out of the black shadow. Enamored, he found himself in the open meadow. His spoiled horse, apparently bored by the night silence, shook its head, then moved to noisily dig oats out of the bag. Suddenly, the horse curved its neck, stamped its hooves against ground and snorted loudly.
Kabysh recovered, pulled on the reins, and cropped it on its head. Another mistake. With a jingling of harness, the well-fed, skittish horse, pulled back in fright and began to snore more. It all happened so fast that Zhumatai barely had time to say, "Boy, perhaps you do not understand the village is near." The chestnut horse walking backwards broke a delicate sapling. The snap shattered the silence. Dogs immediately began barking. Rousing, the watchman shouted to rile the dogs into noisy a frenzy. The volume of the barking increased and they raced to the river. Now the whole village will wake up and run out of their tents to investigate. Before the villagers will have calmed down morning will come.
"We need to turn around before it is too late and we are discovered," decided Kabysh.
But Zhumatai grabbed the red horse by its bridle. “Stand there and don't move,” he ordered and Kabysh suddenly found himself in deep shadow. “Do not be afraid, the dogs will not reach this place, the river will stop them. In a few moments they will calm down. Now look, be more careful.”
Kabysh silently obeyed. The dogs barked for a long time, but they never crossed to this side of the river where the two friends were hiding. The dogs never even approached the water just opposite the hiding place. Only one black and piebald dog refusing to calm down ran farther than others, listening to the silence of the night. Initially, the guard had screamed in fright. Then his voice became softer. Then it seemed like the old man was singing a sleepy lullaby, as if trying to persuade himself, "There is no one, go to sleep." And then he became absolutely silent.
All became quiet. Only the black and piebald dog refused to believe in the silence and kept barking. Guarding the landowner's wealth, as if to say, "Do not worry, boss. Sleep. A stranger will not find anything good in our village that is not guarded.”
Kenzhehan and Zhakip must have purposely placed this dog to guard Zhamesh, to prevent any tryst.
It seemed that this black evil creature now embodied all the obstacles and trials that stand between Kabysh and Zhamesh. If now the beautiful woman would come to him, fearing not the anger of the dog, the boy will never say a word of reproach to her.
Kabysh was crestfallen. Maybe they should turn around.
“Oh, Zhumatai! the village again seems to me distant, hostile, like it has been taken away to a high snowy mountain that no man can climb. This black dog seems like an evil spirit, saying, "There is no happiness for you, Kabysh, turn back."
“You are too timid!” Zhumatai laughed. “Hold on a little bit longer, and this dog will stop barking.”
It took another half hour, and indeed, the piebald dog stopped yapping. Zhumatai led the horses deeper into the woods, brought the reins over the saddle pommels and very firmly tied the horses side by side. Now we have to get to the appointed place. Hunching over, they stealthily skirted the edge of the forest and came to a clearing in front of Kasim's pavilion, the brother of Zhamesh. Bibish must bring the girl here. Shush, Kabysh, do not move, stand still, she will be here now.
What really happened with Zhamesh? Why did she give her youth to Kenzhehan?
It all happened so unexpectedly. She was not even thinking about marriage. And suddenly, matchmakers arrive! Kenzhehan, the husband of my deceased sister, called Zhamesh to be his wife. Relatives also wanted it. Well, submitted. How can the family wish her harm?
There's not a girl more obedient than Zhamesh in Moiyldy parish. She sees everything through her grandmother's eyes. And not just Zhamesh but everyone in the village of Zhakip looks through the eyes of Makhen, listen through her ears, repeat her words. The grandmother is the principal matriarch of the village; overbearing, with a male mindset. Even in the surrounding villages her words carry much weight.
She took Zhamesh under her wing as a baby and molded the child according to her own image. From her earliest memories Zhamesh saw how her sisters-in-law always stood in awe of their grandmother. Walked humbly, afraid to utter or peep. Even as Zhamesh's mother aged into her forties yet she still trembled like a young girl before her mother-in-law. Moreover, as the mother, even the father, Zhakip, would not dare to start any business without first talking to Makhen. He never became the true head of the village. No matter who will come, a simple man or political activist, aged silver-beard or a youthful black-beard, all go to Makhen. It was never necessary see Zhakip. Mighty Makhen, never embarrassed, frankly expressing her opinions, what is good and what is bad. The village had long since gained a reputation of wealth, they had become accustom to the bold judgments of its headstrong mistress: whatever she said, they carried it out to the letter. Thus Makhen became arrogant and boastful. She would not tolerate anyone praising another before her.
Only those from her own family could be considered worthy in her village, she would never consider the qualities of outsiders.
Under the wing of such a woman did Zhamesh grow. And she became the second Makhen. The only difference between them was the fact that one was beginning her life, the other finishing. The grandmother's character traits were sharper and more noticeable in the younger girl. Zhamesh could not tolerate any who might appear superior to her, it was easier to blame than to praise. No one could be her equal, she believed only in herself—herself and her grandmother.
After visiting a nearby village, Zhamesh and her grandmother meticulously criticized everything they saw and heard: they were greeted poorly, the homes were messy, the clothes were dirty and of inferior styles. This mighty matriarch reproached her peers, and Zhamesh also condemned her new sisters-in-law and peers.
For Zhamesh there was only one example, her grandmother. Whatever she would say, that was the truth. The advice of others would go in one and out the other, never leaving a trace.
In recent years Moiyldy was increasingly shaken by disturbing news: a young girl choosing her own husband, a husband leaving his wife to run away with his lover. "Who does such things?” Makhen angrily resented. “Such spoiled girls! Why are they spoiled? All of these fruits come from their ancestors, bad roots."
The grandmother saw the root of this evil in education. So much misdirection. These “educators”:windy, thoughtless, good-for-nothing elitists. Among the misdirected was her grandson, Zhamesh's sibling. Having returned from his education, he was not slow to show his erudition. With a dismissive gesture Makhen said of him, "I have never seen any child improved by such an education. And he is one of the most dissolute in our parish. Lost to us. Just let him be! I pray to God that he would just go away so that he would not infect the other children." Sitting Zhamesh down, Makhen berated this awful contagion. Neither did Kabysh escaped her tirades. More than a few times did the poisonous words Makhen fall upon him. The only problem with her diatribes was that he was so humble. Who could find a fault in him? Perceiving the flaw in her own argument the grandmother shrewdly redirected her tirade against his relatives. And putting on airs she played down a poorer neighboring village.
Thus lived Zhamesh, clinging to her grandmother's skirt, never straying far at all. And there was no man who would gainsay her grandmother or suggest that she look around or listen to the advice of the good people....
On the contrary, Zhamesh's mother and father never tired of advising: Take heed to the wise words of your grandmother, and learn of her while she is still alive. None of the other girls have such a leader, be worthy of her.
The old mentor taught Zhamesh about everything, but was silent about her future. And Zhamesh didn't consider her future, either. If Grandma is silent, then so be it. The young girl was groomed to lead the village. She became a sensible girl, understanding economic affairs, very competent. The people praised her. In truth, no matter who she spoke with—neighbors, women, shepherds—she always managed to find the right words. Everyone knew that she would be the next leader of the village, surpassing all previous leaders.
Zhamesh clung to outmoded attire. She liked old-fashioned wide sleeves, wide hem, loose dress, refusing newer styles. None of those "swanky" clothes for me, she said.
As the village migrated, she sat astride her ambling horse, a fur cap plumed with feathers on her braids and a tightly belted caftan covering a short-sleeved tunic. Admirers, remembering pretty girls from older times, feasted upon her visage.
Zhamesh was not attracted to the brides of her peers, frivolous, seeing life as just a game. Refusing marriage customs, they'd just run off and marry whoever they choose. Grandma is right, so much corruption among the people! And what do these lovers achieve? Why are they bringing down the curses of their relatives upon their heads? Enduring shame they live together, so what now? Will this make their lives better? Zhamesh hadn't noticed that the fate of a runaway bride lifted her up to more happiness than an obedient one. She was just a married women, like all the others! An ordinary village wife, submissive, meek. And if she would not adapt as all others, it's even worse. She becomes estranged from the village. What she says is folly and what she does is silly, denying what her parents taught. All of those who run away with these "educators" become foolish and ill-mannered. And Zhamesh grew increasingly firm in her opinion; no, she doesn't need this new life.
Zhamesh's late sister really had an enviable situation. From time to time, the grandmother reminisced at length with Zhamesh about how well life treated Kadisha.
Zhamesh was four years younger than Kadisha. When she was given in marriage to Kenzhehan, she resisted, did not want to go to the old man. His second living wife! But grandmother persuaded her to cast away her silly fears. She still hid herself from Kenzhehan in her family home to before the wedding. But then she settled in her new village, a year had passed, and you wouldn't have recognized her.
Kadisha honored Kenzhehan. She constantly extolled his good qualities. Always quoting his words. Whenever he appeared she instantly did whatever his soul desired. Thus Kenzhehan relinquished the governing of his estate, all his wealth, even his own head did he put under the hand of of Kadisha. Zhamesh must live up to such a model! Makhen never tired of praising the Kadisha.
Kenzhehan's first living wife, growing older, was a quiet village woman and never dared to say a word. Never interfered with anything.
Kadisha became mistress of a large village, the owner of huge herds. Whatever she desired she was able to make it so.
When she got bored she would bring together distinguished guests from the villages, young and old, girls and married, and brew open-air festivities, fun and games.
Her life seemed to Zhamesh a continual holiday.
Kenzhehan could not admire his second wife enough. As soon as he left his home he missed her and hastened to return.
With her guests, great people from villages near and far, Kadisha dared to laugh, joke and regale with them, not giving Kenzhehan a chance to open his mouth. Nowhere else were guests treated this well. "Your home is a full cup, you live in paradise," her grandmother said.
Every year Zhamesh and her grandmother stayed with Kadisha for two months. And every time, whether winter or summer, her house seemed joyful and cozy to Zhamesh. Each season has its own cares and entertainments. Thus Kenzhehan had much free time and was able to offer his guests such diversions as: race horses, hunting hounds, hunting birds. Hunting, horse racing, it all turned into a holiday for the Kadisha. Servants jumped at her command and the friends of Kenzhehan humored her. "This is happiness," Makhen exclaimed.
Zhamesh was imbued with respect for the old brother-in-law. Honorable men bowed their heads when Kenzhehan rode to the village on horseback, surrounded by about fifty riders. Just think of it, her own sister was the most beloved friend and wife of this activist leader, noble and respected by all. Pride grew in Zhamesh's heart.
It didn't matter to her that her brother-in-law's hair and beard were streaked with some grey, and was missing three front teeth, he was still handsome. These things even adorned him. Old Makhen couldn't help often praising Kenzhehan's handsome figure to Kadisha, and of course Zhamesh overheard these things.
Yes, my sister was happy! All five years Zhamesh never saw her sullen or pained.
So what did Zhamesh ponder? Kenzhehan asked her to come to his home as her dying sister pleaded. Zhamesh agree. The grandmother's coaching were not in vain. All her life the old lady had groomed the girl unto this end. And in an instant Zhamesh was defeated, like a prairie goat taking a shot in the chest. Her brother, Kasim, protested indignantly, "Enough is enough of Kadisha's misery, Zhamesh will not marry!" -
"What's the disaster? What does Kasim know?" Zhamesh became angry. She didn't even want to talk to her brother.
But Kasim knew better. He had sent a man to tell her, "Do not agree to this, you'll ruin yourself. Kadisha was not happy, she was living lies, all was for show. She'd cried upon my shoulder telling me about her miseries. You are bedazzled by the festivities and did not see the sadness in her soul. She hid everything from grandmother. Think about it, get advice." And Zhamesh consulted. With whom? With her grandmother, of course. Thus, here was her response, "Tell Kasim to look after own affairs, do not poke your nose into my business."
Well, and then everything went smoothly, matchmakers, dowry, Kenzhehan visits. So two months have elapsed. And yesterday the wedding took place. Very glorious. Many people had attended from all around. It was boisterous, fun! The people honored the bride and groom and went home. Night had fallen. Kenzhehan had long been brother-in-law, an elder, respected as a father or uncle. That night all the disguises were pierced. Zhamesh learned what her brother had been trying to protected her from.
What did Zhamesh experienced that night? What disappointment befell her? She has entrusted her secret to nobody. Even to Bibish, her same age, a close friend of Kasim's wife, she refused to enlighten.
She left her husband's pavilion early the next morning just as the village began to rouse. She went to her grandmother, lay down next to her, but she didn't sleep, only sighed in torment, as if drunk with poison. Then she got up, called for Bibish and led her behind the hill. She didn't say word then suddenly burst into tears and said quickly, “I want to see Kabysh.”
Bibish was surprised. How do I understand these words? Zhamesh, accustomed to command, said sharply, “Don't ask me anything. Today, I have nothing to say. I have to meet with Kabysh, so many years has he requested this. I will see him once, nothing will happen. Find him, let me know.”
Bibish put her own interpretion on these words, it is clear that there was something between the girl and the young man and she decided to help them.
The day passed. In the evening Kenzhehan was invited to visit another rich village. It will not do, they say, to only be a husband, it's time to remember the people. He went with all the guests. Zhamesh was left at home.
A quiet night settled. Kabysh and his friend crept to the village. At that same time, Bibish and Kenzhehan's young wife were laying in Kasim's tent talking quietly. The village slumbered. Soon the horsemen arrived. Dogs began to bark.
Bibish, clenching her girlfriend's hand whispered, “They're here...Oh, why are they so careless, maybe they're in a hurry. They need to be careful so that the dogs won't notice them...”
“Stop worrying!” Zhamesh whispered sarcastically. “Do you think this is their first date?” She frowned.
Zhamesh was not angry with Kabysh but rather annoyed by her sister-in-law's bluntness.
The noise in the village subsided, everything calmed down. And Zhamesh, tugging Bibish's sleeve, ordered, “Well, lead the way!”
Pulling the hood of her black caftan over her head, she followed Bibish.
In the dark silence, the easy pace caused the medallions on Zhamesh's dress to jingle. But her heartbeats drowned out the quiet jingling. Her heart beating and singing as if a serious illness was flying away.
The door of the moon-bleached tent is closed. The moon welcomes the beauty. Haggard by her trails of the day, Zhamesh's face paled.“Faster, faster!” She sighs, squeezing Bibish's hand.